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My Gizmodo Contest Entry

February 9, 2011 1 comment

On January 18, I mentioned in a post that the technology site Gizmodo was hosting their first ever video contest until Feb. 9 and the theme was time-lapse.  I decided to make this video of Sutro Tower because I see it every day but feel it doesn’t get much acknowledgement here in San Francisco.  Look at any clear panaroma of San Francisco or the Golden Gate Bridge and you can usually find Sutro Tower in the background.  Despite this, I’ve actually met people who’ve lived here their entire lives without knowing the tower’s name.

Those who are familiar with the tower generally dislike it and think it’s an eye sore.  I think this is a shame because it’s one of the most prominent features of the city and really no worse than The Eiffel Tower or Tokyo Tower.  Unlike those towers, however, Sutro only serves as a broadcasting station made necessary by the city’s famous hills.

The rules of the contest state that all videos must be made during the contest dates.  I’ve posted some of the original stills below to prove they were taken during this period and to briefly explain how they were made.  It’s been warm and sunny in the bay area the last couple of weeks so I had to get creative with shots.  As always, all photos were taken with a 6MP Canon point-and-shoot.  Click and download each photo for a full size version and for EXIF data including date taken and camera settings.

HDR from Golden Gate Park


This was the last clip I made in the series but the first in the video.  I used CHDK and an intervalometer script to take the pictures and Photomatix Pro 3.2  to batch process them as described in an earlier post.  I was scrambling the day before I posted this video to try to come up with another clip despite a week of cloudless skies.  My apologies to anyone snowbound right now–I really shouldn’t complain about California’s weather.

Sutro from Below


There wasn’t much special about this shot.  There was almost no breeze this day so the clouds were barely moving.  I believe I set a ten second interval instead of the usual two seconds.  I used a polarizing filter to darken the sky and then spent an hour editing out birds and planes with the healing brush in Photoshop.  You might notice the Golden Gate Bridge in the lower right.

Foggy Tower


The fog was so thick this day I couldn’t get a picture of the tower without standing almost directly below it.  I accidentally set the camera to ISO 400 so you can see lots of noise in the shot.  I didn’t bother editing any of the birds because there were so many and because the quality was already so low.

Little Planet


I really like some of the “little planet” photos around the net, especially this one.  The thing I haven’t seen is a time-lapse version.  This was my first attempt and I think it turned out alright.  I definitely need more practice and to work on my blending skills but the final result is passable.  The problem with making a little planet time-lapse is that any clouds will look odd at the seam.  I tried to use the setting sun as the moving element in this time-lapse instead of cloud movement.  I edited the photos by making a Photoshop action based on Photojojo’s little planet tutorial.

Fog Over the City


This clip doesn’t actually feature Sutro Tower but it was shot from the street below it.  I really liked this clip and had to shoe-horn it into this video.

Star Trails


I made this clip with my star trails Photoshop action.  I set the camera to 15 sec. exposures and turned off dark frame subtraction in order to make smoother trails and spend less time outside at night.  I then used Photoshop to subtract camera noise using a dark frame and then added the trails.  You can see the purple glow in the upper left corner in this unprocessed photo.

Video Processing

All the clips were made using the free software VirtualDub because it offers a lot of flexibility and add-ons.  I put the clips into one video with Windows Live Movie Maker, which can also be used for time-lapse.

The music is “Night on Bald Mountain,” performed by the Skidmore College Orchestra.  I found it on a website specializing in public domain music.

I’m hoping to revisit Sutro Tower in a later video once I start shooting with a DSLR.  I think it would make an interesting study over the course of a year.  Thanks for visiting and please let me know if you have any comments or questions.

Categories: My videos

Experiments in Tilt-Shift

December 29, 2010 Leave a comment

I mentioned a couple of months ago that I’d started playing around with tilt-shift videos. Here’s a collection of some of those videos. It was shot over the course of a few hours without a tripod. Each segment was processed differently in an attempt to find what works and what doesn’t. I wasn’t sure if I should post the video because of the low quality but finally decided I wanted to show what I’m working on and what to expect from future posts. I’ve already started a write-up and plan on posting a Photoshop action in January. Do any shots work better than others? Please let me know in the comments.

Categories: My videos

Planes Landing at SFO

December 23, 2010 1 comment

I’ve wanted to record planes landing at a major airport for a while and finally took the opportunity after renting a camera from BorrowLenses.com.  I headed to San Francisco International Airport (SFO) expecting to shoot from a hotel parking lot.  Instead, I found a nature preserve directly adjacent to the tarmac.  Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll get a chance to try another video later this week once holiday travel really kicks in.

Major thanks to photographer exxonvaldez for the inspiration.  I didn’t realize until after I made the video that I picked almost the same spot he did.

The images were taken using a Canon EOS 7D at f/7.1, 55mm, 10 sec., and ISO 400.  I then used my star trails Photoshop action just as I did with my night sky videos.

If you go to this location, be aware there’s a somewhat aggressive skunk that doesn’t appreciate photographers.

Categories: My videos

My Lunar Eclipse Video

December 21, 2010 2 comments

My plan was to rent a camera and a tracking telescope to record tonight’s lunar eclipse.  Three days ago, the weather report showed nothing but clouds for all of California so I canceled the telescope rental.  Thankfully, I still rented a camera for tonight.  The following video is what I was able to pull together once the clouds parted about two hours before the start of the eclipse.

All shots were taken as photographic stills using a Canon EOS 7D, Canon EF-S 15mm-85mm lens, and Canon TC-80N3 Timer Remote Control from BorrowLenses.com.  They were compiled into a video using Windows Live Movie Maker.  Make sure to watch in HD.

If you made your own video, please post a link in the comments.

Categories: My videos

My First Tilt-Shift

October 31, 2010 3 comments

I was inspired by Sam O’Hare’s videos to try my hand at tilt-shift.  I made a few attempts and am surprisingly happy with this result.  I couldn’t get my camera to take multiple exposures in sequence, so I just pressed the button as fast as it would let me.  This caused a small amount of movement that’s most noticeable in the background trees.

I learned a lot from this short experiment and hope to do a full, multi-part write up soon.

Categories: My videos

Cleveland Skyline

October 21, 2010 1 comment

I shot this video between rainstorms while visiting a friend in Cleveland.  I used my maximum f-8 aperture but still shot at 1/80 sec., even with a polarizing filter.  I don’t particularly care for the choppy waves, so I’d try a neutral density filter in order to slow down the shutter if I did it again.

The other change I’d make would be to shoot on full manual.  I like the sun peeking from the clouds and changing the water color, but the clouds get darker every time this happens.  I used the aperture priority setting in order to get the longest shutter time possible, but I forgot it could change during the half hour shoot.

Still, I think this video turned out well because of the interesting clouds and light.

Categories: My videos Tags:

Star Trails Photoshop Action

March 29, 2010 8 comments

Music: Stars by Rivers

(Attention Photographers:  If you’re interested in “stacking” photos, simply use this action as described and select one of the final photos in the series, such as the one below.  Also note that this was made using a 6 megapixel point-and-shoot camera, so your photos will probably look better.)


Click here for the free “Star Trails” Photoshop action

Can you find the North Star?  I found the Big Dipper and Cassiopea and then just tried to point my lens in the right direction.  I got lucky because I almost edged out my focal point.  I find it amazing how little the North Star moves.

Why I Made this Action

Last week I posted a video of stars crossing the night sky to show the benefits of post production dark frame subtraction.  This week’s video uses similar photos and a simple action I made using Photoshop CS3.  This is my first time posting a Photoshop action, so I’d appreciate any feedback.  The small gaps in the trails come from a short delay between photographs.

I came up with this technique after watching jcmegabyte’s star trails videos on Youtube.  His videos are better than mine but I hope to refine my star trails in the future.  Notice the small patch of purple in the upper-left corner that’s indicative of post production DFS.  Without this post editing, his star trails would pulse instead of being constant.

My Photoshop action didn’t take long to make and is very simple, so you might want to edit it until you’re happy with the results.  It features a slow fade-away because I liked the result better than persistent lines.  You can see both types of trails in jcmegabyte’s videos.

Install the File

To begin, download the file to anywhere on your hard drive.  Run Photoshop and open the actions box.  When you click on the drop-down menu within the actions box, you should see an option to load an action.  Click this and find the star trails action.

Process Your Photos

Copy your stars photographs into a new folder.  This isn’t completely necessary, but I find it helps in case I accidentally process the original photos.  Open the first photo in Photoshop.  Select all, copy, and then close the photo (Ctrl+A,Ctrl+C, Ctrl+W).  With this first file in memory, you can begin batching your photos.

In Photoshop, select “File,” “Automate,” and “Batch…”  Find your stars folder and pick the star trails action.  Click “Ok” and then go make a sandwich.  Because this is a simple action, it shouldn’t take too long to finish.  You can open your output folder while you wait if you want to make sure the action is working.  Your first photo should look the same but the subsequent ones should feature growing light trails.  Now turn the photos into a video as you would normally.

I’m hoping to use this same action to create other kinds of trail videos.  I’ll post the results if anything turns out.  Good luck!

Update:  Erik Røstad made a much better video than mine using this script.  Good job!   http://www.flickr.com/photos/12328282@N04/4869251405/

I’ve also used this script for my video of planes landing at SFO.

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Categories: My videos, Software, Tutorial Tags: , ,
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