21 Sunsets – a timelapse project

I love doing timelapses – especially of natural phenomena.  But I admit it can be a lot harder than it first appears – if you want to do it right.  But moving to Namibia and finding housing on a westward-facing hill – I knew that would be a great opportunity to hone my timelapse skills.

The first few months I lived here, I don’t think it rained once.  Not for like four months.  And hardly a cloud in the sky.  Still, the sunsets were pretty awesome.  But then, around December, as spring and the rainy season started to approach in Windhoek, it was like the evening sky had shifted into a whole different gear.  Every evening was amazing – in the afternoon it would start to cloud up, and then there would be a break near the horizon to let the sun peek through – the perfect setup for an amazing lightshow.  I told my friends and relatives back home we had pretty sunsets, and they were all, “oh, that’s nice, we have them too”.  And I said, “No, really – you don’t understand.”  And I thought to make it clear I would try and film as many consecutive sunsets as possible, to drive home the point, “No, really – every night here is an amazing sunset.”

So this is how this video came about – one of my most time-consuming projects, once you add everything up.  I used my iPad, which has an excellent timelapse app – and because it fits pretty much just one way in the railing, so that I got the same view every night.  Most of the missing nights in January, the sunsets were just as spectacular, but we were out.  In February the rains began in earnest, and the project really started to peter out.  I think you can see the clouds get thicker too – they are not as colorful at that point.  Then I thought it would be fun to see how I could combine multiple sunsets, and experimented a bit.  Here it is:

I think it turned out pretty good.  A few notes that may be of interest to other videographers.

  • During the first section, where 21 sunsets all blend into each other, it’s important to make sure the shots are all aligned.  So if you have an object that shows up in every shot – like the trees in my case – they should be in exactly the same place.  I had a millimeter here and there of variation.  If you don’t line them up, you get “jump cut” effects.  Which isn’t noticeable if you let the sunset run all the way through to darkness – but I found that didn’t look as good in the video.
  • To stretch the three sunsets across one screen, you have to uncheck the little box that maintains the ratio between width and height.  I don’t think all editing programs let you do that.
  • When you run 4 or 9 or 16 screens simultaneously, you don’t want to eyeball the size and placement.  Go into your editing parameters and write down the x and y coordinates, and make them all the same percentage of the original.  Otherwise it takes forever to get it right.
  • It takes a lot of processing power to run that many tracks simultaneously.  In the shot where there are 16 tracks running at the same time, every little edit took forever to make, while the computer churned away.
  • Remember to put your settings on manual – white balance, shutter speed, focus – whatever your camera does automatically, make it manual.  With the iPad it’s not as big a deal – in some ways the auto exposure gives you a longer timelapse because it increases the number of good frames you can grab when the sky is at its lightest and darkest – but you get some flicker.  On a regular camera it is much worse.
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