Friday, April 19, 2013


I burnt a vacation day by standing around watching airplanes land and take off.

I set my camera up at the corner of Ivy and Albatross in San Diego. From this spot you can see most of the length of the single runway of the airport. There is a parking garage that blocks the view of the near end of the runway. Maybe I could get the manager of the apartment building I was next to to let me on the roof of the building to get a better view. But probably not. I'd have to ask and I don't see myself doing that.

I had the camera take a picture every second for an hour and 20 minutes. They're played at a rate of 30 frames per second. Each minute of real time is compressed into just two seconds.

I enjoy watching airplanes. I need to go back to LAX to try making more videos at a busier airport.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Around the World in 80 Days

For some reason, I thought that the balloon ride at the Wild Animal Park would be a good subject for a time-lapse video. It was a tethered helium balloon that had a cage suspended beneath it for passengers to ride in. I thought the gentle swaying of the balloon at the top of its cable would look like a wild, E Ticket attraction when the action got sped up.

I never got the chance to make that video. They took the balloon ride away "for maintenance."

Now, there is no longer a "Wild Animal Park." It is now called the "San Diego Zoo Safari Park." And they have recently opened a new balloon attraction!

So, today I burned a vacation day (I have reached my maximum accrual) and dragged my camera, tripod and intervalometer to the Safari Park.

I recorded two ascents of the balloon. For the first ascent, I set up on the wooden walkway by the very popular lion exhibit. The walkway isn't the most stable surface to set up a camera. When people walked by, the camera would shake. When strollers went by, the camera would really shake. But, somehow the shaking isn't noticeable in the video.

I moved to solid ground for the second ascent.

As I was shooting the first segment, a large colony of vultures was circling in the distance. They show up at around 0:18 into the video. They're below the balloon, to the right of the cable.

As I was shooting the second segment, a very pretty sun dog appeared in the clouds. It appears to the left of the balloon as it is rising (at around 0:41).

In addition to those features, I was lucky to have nice, wispy clouds adding to the action. And there are the park visitors wandering around.

Whether the balloon itself is an interesting subject, well, that's up to you to decide. There was almost no breeze so there wasn't much swaying at the top of the rise.

Watching in HD is best!

Update: I went back and got a third ascent and replaced the video.

Now, I just need to clean my lens. Those spots are annoying.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Days and Clouds

I got a new tool for making my time-lapse videos!

I had wanted to add motion to my time-lapse videos but thought equipment to move the camera slowly while my intervalometer snapped pictures would be out of my reach.

A month ago, the Astronomy Picture of the Day was the video Namibian Nights (click on that link and watch the video before going further). (Go ahead, this will be here when you get back.) The video seems to have been created as a bit of advertising for the video's creator's tour business. It's very impressive. And pretty.

The video's description of on Vimeo gave me the name of the dolly they used for the motion. Googling it, I found the dolly and found that I could afford it. After watching their instructional videos, I decided that I probably could actually use the thing.

It's a Stage Zero Dolly from Dynamic Perception.

A really nice thing about this dolly is that the controller of the dolly's motion is also the intervalometer that triggers the camera. It is very flexible. It will be great for my nighttime videos. I can't wait till I get an opportunity to try that out.

The day after it was delivered I took it to the Oceanside Pier where I had made some earlier videos. This new video has a segment where we watch people walk up and down the pier. Today, Jerry and I went up Palomar Mountain to get some videos featuring another round of clouds.

It was a very windy day. For the first bit on the mountain I had the dolly's track on two tripods. I had a very difficult time getting it all set up. As I was getting one tripod set up, the other would collapse. Repeatedly. Part of the problem is that the tripods are made for lightweight cameras. The dolly plus the camera is a bit heavier that the tripods were built for. Then, once things were finally going, the wind came up and jostled the setup.

Note to self: get sturdier tripods.
Note two: before striking out for a nighttime shoot, get more practice setting things up. Night is not the time to learn how to assemble complicated instruments.

Here is my first video that uses my new doodad.

Here's a picture of the dolly carrying the camera up the track capturing one of the video's segments. I used only one of the tripods for this segment. The lower end's legs are sitting on a rock.
Wherever I go with it people ask what it is. I'm sure in addition to the size of the contraption that the pretty blue track gets people's attention.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Twin Peaks, Part 5

Here we go!

This time we watch the Hottop Coffee Roaster up close. I used my fisheye lens so I could look down the roasting chamber and down into the cooling tray.

You'll see:
  • The roaster preheat!
  • The green beans appear!
  • The beans churn!
  • The beans go from green to brown!
  • The beans GROW!
  • The beans cool!
  • A clock in the corner showing you how long things really took!
  • A strange man in the background fiddling with his iPad!
The settings I used made the exposure a little long so the drum and beans are somewhat blurry. And, like stagecoach wheels in old Westerns, the drum rotates the wrong way. When I set up the light, I didn't have anything in the roaster so I didn't notice that the camera was going to be shading part of the window. I did see that the light's reflection was there on the window but there isn't a lot going on in that part of the chamber. Well, there is the heating might have been fun to see it glow and dim as the roast progressed.

The pictures were snapped every second and are played back at 30 frames per second. The 30 minutes go by in just one minute.

The last frame of the video was my camera's 168,813th picture. The shutter apparently is rated for 100,000 cycles. I suppose I ought to send it in for a checkup and maybe a new shutter.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Stormy Weather

2012 was supposed to be a great year for meteor showers.

It was a bust.

This year, the moon's phase was new or at least before first quarter on the nights of all the major meteor showers' peaks. This was going to give me excellent opportunities for time-lapse movies of meteors.

Each one was rained out.

The peak of the Geminid meteor shower was the morning of December 14. Jerry and I scheduled a vacation day for the 14th so we could stay out all night in a dark location and record the shower then catch up on sleep later in the day.

Unfortunately, the wrong kind of shower happened. It rained.

We went out around 10:00 the night of the 13th to see if the sky was clearing up but there wasn't a star to be seen. We went home. Around 12:30 I looked out the window and saw bright stars in a hole in the clouds. We bundled up and went out to our driveway and saw that the clouds were breaking up.

Instead of getting back in the car and trying to find a dark spot, we just set up our reclining camp chairs in the driveway. I set up the camera. Before the camera got ready to record the meteors that might outshine the cloudy, light-polluted sky, we got to see some really impressive shooting stars.

After the camera got snapping, there weren't a lot that were bright enough to see. And the clouds came back. But they cleared up again for a little while. Then they came back and started dropping rain on us. We had had enough after only an hour and a half.

I took 15-second exposures every 16 seconds. I ended up with 308 pictures. I found four whole meteors in those pictures. It wasn't an impressive meteor shower in Escondido.

Here's a little movie of that hour and a half. You get to see two views of the sky. The first part simply plays the images as they were exposed (they are somewhat overexposed) at a rate of 15 frames per second. The few meteors appear for only a single frame so you probably won't see any in the first part.

For the second segment, I darkened the sky to try to compensate for the exposure. The clouds got really wild with that treatment. I also stacked the images with each new image at full brightness and the previous images progressively fading. That made the stars have short trails and the meteors appeared then quickly faded. I added pointers to the meteors so you have a small chance of seeing them. I also added a timestamp to each frame so you can see time fly. The timestamps are on daylight saving time. I forgot to change the camera's clock when time fell back.

I see the Leonids and Geminids won't have the moon ruining the view next year. Let's hope the weather cooperates. I want to get a movie with meteors!

Your best chance to see the meteors in this video will be to watch in HD.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

We Bought a Zoo

I bought a new gadget.

I've wanted to get some camera motion in my time-lapse videos. My camera has always just pointed at the same spot for whole videos.

A time-lapse video I watched on YouTube ended with a credit to the provider of its camera motion. I checked out the device it used and some similar ones. I settled on the StarLapse system by Losmandy. A Google search for information about the system took me to Oceanside Photo and Telescope who had it in stock. I ran over and got one!

It's a heavy thing. With all its pieces and my camera and its largest lens, it weighs more than 12 pounds. My tripods were all too feeble to support it. I ran back to Oceanside and got a new tripod and head.

This setup handles my 12 pounds nicely.

I took all this equipment out to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park (formerly the Wild Animal Park). Jerry was my Sherpa. I need a rolling case that will hold all of the camera pieces, the StarLapse and the tripod. We had to pause a lot as we walked through the park to shift the weight from one arm to another.

I recorded some scenes of the African Plains enclosure. I don't know what kinds of animals I got in the first segment. The second part is mostly giraffes.

I had the camera take a picture every five seconds. The StarLapse was panning at a rate of 40º per hour. That combination was just too fast. Especially for the first segment where the zoom was set at twice the focal length of the second segment.

I play the first segment at a rate of 10 frames per second. It's very jerky. The second segment is shown at 15 frames per second.

Another reason for getting the StarLapse is to take pictures of the night sky. Up to now, my pictures of the stars were longish exposures with a fixed camera. That results in the stars having trails.  Here's a 30-second exposure of the sky last Friday with the camera fixed:

And here's the same scene with the StarLapse moving the camera at the rate the earth is rotating. No more trails (except for the airplane)!
It took me a long time to get the camera set up so I didn't get these pictures taken before the moon started lighting up the sky. Its glow is seen at the corner of the pictures. The picture isn't all that great but it does show potential. You can see a lot more of the Pleiades than just the Seven Sisters. Unfortunately, the sky isn't dark and is rather blotchy.

I'll need to go out to the dark part of the world and try again.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Turtle: The Incredible Journey

A long time ago we cleaned up a heap of junk in the back yard. When we got to the bottom of the heap we found my long-lost Chia Pet turtle half-buried by gophers. Recently, while shopping at Trader Joe's I found a bag of chia seeds. Chia seeds, it seems, are today's miracle food.

Now, with a cleaned up Chia Pet, chia seeds, a camera and intervalometer in hand, I could finally make the movie I've been dreaming of ever since I started this little hobby.

I set the turtle in the garage on the crate we had our cash register shipped in. It's under the sky light that lights up our laundry area. I also pointed two LED desk lights at it so it was always lit.

I set the camera to shoot in Aperture Priority mode with a fairly small aperture so it would have a nice depth of field. I focused on the surface of the turtle but I didn't know how close the tops of the chia plants would be and I wanted them to stay in focus. I think it worked out.

I set the intervalometer to shoot a picture every 15 minutes. I play them back at at rate of 30 frames per second. That speeds up the action by a factor of 27,000.

I spritzed the turtle several times a day and kept the turtle filled with water. A couple of days after I started the processes we had some very hot days (it got up to 103º one day). I came home at lunchtime to spritz the turtle so the seeds wouldn't die before they got going.

The little plants grew quickly. After about a week I wanted them to think about dying so I quit watering the turtle. I guess the plants stocked up on the water so they happily kept living for more than a week longer.

They finally started dying but took five days to completely die and shrivel.

It took 19 days from the time I smeared the seeds on the turtle until the little plants got crispy.

1/27,000th of 19 days is less than a minute. I hope you enjoy watching the life and death of a Chia Pet. As usual, watching in the highest resolution your connection deals with is recommended.