Dustin Farrell's Time-Lapse Photography: Start to Finish
Illustration by John Hersey

Dustin Farrell's Time-Lapse Photography: Start to Finish

with Dustin Farrell

Video: Post-production in After Effects

Dustin: (MUSIC) I shoot raw probably 95% of the time, because having the raw data there is just priceless. There are gigs that happen that I shoot JPEG, because just for speed and we need to get shots out. But for the most part, I always shoot raw, because Quality is my biggest concern. Oftentimes when I first open up a RAW image on the computer it's definitely underwhelming. Usually they're kind of dark. And especially the night stuff, it will be a little grainy and noisy.

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Watch the Online Video Course Dustin Farrell's Time-Lapse Photography: Start to Finish
36m 25s Appropriate for all Aug 16, 2013

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Time-lapse photography allows Dustin Farrell to capture amazing imagery that no other medium allows—and that even eludes the human eye. He can track the passage of clouds and stars, and document the tiny changes in landscapes and everyday scenes over time. Find out how he shoots his time-lapse photos and reassembles them into remarkable films in this installment of Start to Finish.

We follow Dustin into the desert of Devil's Garden in southwestern Utah, to find out how he transports and sets up the equipment required to capture his shots—from dollies and motion controllers to LED lights and camping lanterns. Back in the studio, he demonstrates how he realizes his vision with tools like Adobe Camera Raw and After Effects. Although the process may be long and unpredictable, in the end he has a final sequence that is otherworldly—rendered with real-world technology.

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Dustin Farrell

Post-production in After Effects

Dustin: (MUSIC) I shoot raw probably 95% of the time, because having the raw data there is just priceless. There are gigs that happen that I shoot JPEG, because just for speed and we need to get shots out. But for the most part, I always shoot raw, because Quality is my biggest concern. Oftentimes when I first open up a RAW image on the computer it's definitely underwhelming. Usually they're kind of dark. And especially the night stuff, it will be a little grainy and noisy.

But, there's so much information in that RAW image you are able to preserve Highlights and pull up shadows and darks and get the detail out of shadows and darks that you can't even, when you're looking at the photo on the back of your camera, you can't even see it. One of the shots that I shot this week at Devil's Garden, was an HDR that has all of my highlight and shadow data in it. Shooting sunsets, there is a lot of dynamic range in the typical shot.

And I like to be able to capture all of it, if I can. So one exposure will not cover the entire dynamic, dynamic range usually of a sunset, because you've got the bright sun of course. And then oftentimes you have dark foreground shadows that the sun maybe, maybe casting. So I use HDR mode. I shot three photos that gave me some overexposed areas, and underexposed areas. I bring that in and I edit with a program called SNS HDR.

To process a flat image that has all of my highlight and shadow data in it. And that gives me, then, the opportunity to bring that finished tip sequence, it's a 16-bit tip sequence, into After Effects and now I have all sorts of latitude and color information so that I can do the final grade inside of After Effects. (MUSIC) a single exposure, the work flow is slightly different.

I just bring things directly into After Effects. When you import a raw image sequence, inside of After Effects, it automatically opens up Adobe Camera Raw. (MUSIC) Lenses like the 14 millimeter prime have a little bit of a Vignette and a Distortion, so there is actually corrections for specific lenses. Oftentimes there'll be some sort of a green tint from maybe my lighting or the natural lighting.

So, I try to reduce any green because it's usually not very pleasing. Another thing I do is a clarity. Shooting wide open, often some of the images will be slightly soft or just not as high. In detail. One of the first steps that I do inside of After Effects is I usually duplicate a layer. And I'll turn that top layer to a screen blend mode, which will immediately increase the white value.

Usually, that creates a little bit of a washed out image. So then I will bring down the black level of that top layer to bring back the vibrance. Which usually leaves just a brighter overall image. Usually, when I do that, though. I increase the noise. Because I shoot my nighttime images with a higher ISO of over, usually 2,000, sometimes at 3,200, noise is going to be there and it's just a part of shooting nighttime time lapse.

Even though the camera like the Canon 5D Mark III is an amazing camera at low light, shooting at 3,200 ISO is going to introduce a lot of noise into your image. So, I'll add an adjustment layer to the top, and click on the Neatvideo plugin and that does an amazing job at getting rid of noise. You're able to pinpoint an area of where the noise is occurring, so that it can eliminate it the best. I don't know how it does it, how it's able to decipher between, like, what's noise and what's a small little star, but it, it does.

It gets rid of the noise, and the star is just totally unaffected. Now with discovery of this amazing plugin, I'm not scared of shooting at high ISOs like 3200 anymore. (MUSIC). But I process everything in, quad HD. Or I double the HD resolution, which is titled as 4k by a lot of people. And even after I've made a 4k composition, the files I've shot are five and a half k. So, I have a larger than the composition file.

So then I'm able to. To recompose some things that I may not like of how I composed them in the field. Now that I've done so much time lapse, it's just second nature. Usually what I will do is, I'll shoot wider than what I really need to. There's a lot of resolution there for me to reframe and reposition. The extra resolution can also be used as a creative tool. So I can add key frames and I can adjust my framing as the shot is moving. And if I was to do just a simple locked off time lapse shot, I can still add some motion to that shot by doing a digital zoom or a digital pull or a pan or a tilt because.

I have four times the resolution there to work with, and when you using the camera that shooting in a 4:3 aspect ratio and you are going to output to a 16/9 that presents another challenge after you crop a 4/3 to a 16/9. Usually you have to chop off the top and the bottom, sometimes I don't like that so I will actually cheat it and scale down and then stretch back out the image, as long as I haven't distorted any things to make them look unnatural.

And I also like to render everything out in a 29.97 frame rate. And my experience watching a time lapse at 29.97 is more pleasing than a 24p. Because Time's Up already has a little bit of a stutter to it, so if you add the stutter of the 24P. Personally I don't like it, so I feel like a bit smoother, higher frame rate looks better. (MUSIC) the Metate Arch, but Turns out that we needed to go back about a month later, for the Milky Way to actually streak through the arch itself.

I still love the shot 100%. It was just kind of disappointing that the Milky Way actually didn't come through the arch. But, to tell you the truth, that happens a lot. I get in the car and drive for hours and have a shot in mind. And think that I have prepared as good as I can prepare, and it just doesn't pan out. (MUSIC) The second night time shot that we did of the Hoodoos, there were a lot of imperfections. I forgot to tape up a red light, from, it was either the camera, or the pan tilt box, so in my original.

Photos. You see, this hideous-looking red light, so inside of Camera Raw, you are able to manually control any color, so I just selected the red slider, I pulled the saturation down and a little bit of a hue adjustments and illuminance adjustment to the red channel and I after was also done, you can't even see the red light (MUSIC). Male: (INAUDIBLE). Yeah, rockaway /g. Dustin: Seeing how it was midnight and my energy level was definitely waning, I didn't put a lot of effort into the lighting, we just put up one side source which created a big broad kind of boring light.

So, what I'm able to do though in post is more or less shape the light, in this instance I put a bottom graph filter and I shaped a solid to knock down the exposure of the foreground it was way too bright. And I had an adjustment layer to only appear inside of the solid and it defocused and it turned down the brightness of the front there and it fixed my poor lighting job. It really ended up being a pretty nice shot. The final product always makes the process worth it (MUSIC).

(MUSIC) I've grown to really love the entire process. Sometimes it's tedious and it's a lot of work, but I enjoy it. The camping aspect, the getting to experience the outdoors, to enjoying it with my wife. It's just amazing. I've had a creative outlet and I'm getting to do something from start to finish. (MUSIC) (MUSIC)

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