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Aurora Burst

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Aurora Burst

So last night the aurora finally came.  It had been predicted for a while that the sun would blurt out some more space junk that would hurtle towards us and probably cause an amazing aurora display when a particular portion of it rotated into view again.  It was supposed to be here on Sunday, but there must have been some traffic jams up there since it showed up casually late on Monday night.  It put on good display for some, but it also wound up being pretty random for a lot of people.  I stayed out quite late and only managed to catch one brief 15 minute or so display from my vantage point.  My cameras were clicking away capturing it all and I didn't really know what it was looking like.  It'd have to be a lot stronger before we see the great displays this far south with our naked eyes like they get on a regular basis in Alaska, but a long exposure can capture some detail your eyes are completely missing out on.  A little bit of post processing can bring that out even more.  So when I got home and did a cursory check I got pretty excited by my initial processing of a few shots and posted a shot to Facebook amongst friends, but it was nearing 5am and I was dead.  The rest would have to wait until I woke up.

So after a bit of sleep, I hopped back into Lightroom and checked out my other camera.  Lo and behold, this was even better.  There's something about the 6D, even though it's a lesser camera than the 5Dmk3, it makes some pretty fantastic images.  Maybe it was the different lens/focal length or the fact that it was 15' away from the 5Dmk3 and had a slightly different landscape/angle, but it managed to create an image that I was trying to make my original post look like with ease.  

With that in mind, I jumped into Photoshop and batch processed a large range of photos that spanned the event and brought them into Final Cut Pro X.  From there I noticed something.  It was very rhythmic.  There were fish that were jumping in the little lake/stream system I was in front of that were producing waves that perfectly matched the explosions of light.  Even more subtle were some bits of fog rolling across the water that almost made it look like ghosts were marching across the frame.  

So I knew what my music was going to be; no music at all.  Instead, some pulses.  I found some crashing waves, messed it up and added a bunch of bass.  Then I looped it all for about 30 seconds.  There's enough rhythmic action on the screen that you kind of don't notice the stars jumping back 15 minutes in their progression.  In the end we have this:

I then reworked the whole thing and try to throw in a zoom.  While it worked and made the rhythmic pulses even better (it felt like Jurassic Park as it pulled away from the ripples in the water), it made the star shifts very noticeable.  So I backed out and just worked up a 4k version instead for YouTube.

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Distant Stormlapse

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Distant Stormlapse

On Sunday there was the threat of severe weather across the state, but it wound up not forming much except in the far south and east and over the lake and in to Michigan.   This meant one thing; awesome towering thunderheads in the distance.  So I went out right about sunset to see if I could capture anything.  I didn't get much that I liked, but as it darkened I realized these were some pretty active storms.  Now I'm thinking forget the pictures, let's get a timelapse.

So that's what I did.  I headed to the southern edge of town to a field where I knew I'd have an unencumbered view south/southeast.  The only problem was the street lights.  I kind of didn't want them there and yet I also did.  I thought the lights lighting up this field would provide a nice contrast and color combo, but it's a bit overpowering at times.  So much so that there's actually flare in my 16-35mm (the wide shots) and the light is literally behind me.  

So what's the setup?

  • Canon 5Dmkiii with 16-35 f/2.8L II
    • 3,297 shots at 16mm f/2.8, 2s, ISO 3200
  • Canon 6D with Tamron 70-200 f/2.8 Di VC USD
    • 1,668 shots at 70mm f/4, 2s, ISO 3200

There are actually about another 900 shots taken, but I wound up not using them.  I shot some at 200mm, and quite a few with my 400mm f/5.6.  I thought I could end it by zooming into the moonrise. While it worked, I deleted it because it was so out of place for the subject of the video.  Going from lightning to a crystal clear moon shot changed the subject matter way too fast.

In the end, I took them all, batch edited in Lightroom, exported and ran them into a 1080p 60p project in Final Cut Pro X.  So each second represents 2 minutes of real time.  A soundtrack and sound effects were then added to recreate to the atmosphere, with a tad bit of creative freedom.

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