Milky Way meets lightning storm in epic time lapse movie.
Recently, I had the honor to shoot a time lapse movie at and for Dedon Island resort at Siargao Island, Philippines. The result is a surprising movie of the luxurious resort where the Milky Way is met by some fierce lightning storms: footage that made a dream come true for me!
I approached the resort with some of my viral Milky Way time lapse scenes I shot the weeks before and offered to create a time lapse movie of the resort: showing it from sunset to sunrise, focusing on their resort & furniture and capturing the Milky Way during one of the few weeks that it would be clearly visible. They loved my work and embraced the project.
Milky Way rises above the nearby deserted Guyam Island in one of my viral videos:
About Dedon Island
Dedon Island is one of the most exclusive resorts in the Philippines. The resort creation and design was a dream came true of Bobby Dekeyser, founder of the German exclusive furniture brand Dedon. Following its unique philosophy of Barefoot Luxury, with the aim of leading to a peaceful state of mind, in which engaging with nature is superbly linked with the most personalized and memorable service.
The resort showcases a lot of the furniture brand’s fantastic outdoor products, there for you to enjoy. It is an incredible resort – the location, the view, the surroundings, the furniture design, the service and the great team – it really does not get much better, anywhere. The resort ensures the privacy and wellbeing of their guests, so it is not the place you walk into to have a look. Being on the island for a while, you experience the delightful mystery that surrounds Dedon Island, known from rumors and whispers on how outstanding and exclusive this resort is.
I am fortunate and thankful to have had this resort as my working place and becoming a friend of the house. It is a true photographer’s delight to work at such a great location with countless great angles to find and to work in while being taken care of as one of their guests. Sipping fresh and nicely cooled coconut juice while shooting footage at such a place – can’t think of anything better!
The final movie:
About the movie
As it goes with many things in life and especially photography, ’sometimes you’re lucky, sometimes you’re not’. Both happened. I had to deal with a lot of rain showers, making it impossible to record. The first night, I shot only a few short scenes in between rain showers. It also took me quite a few tries before I had some colorful sunsets and sunrises.
The other 2 nights were ‘plagued’ with lightning storms in the background. I’m saying ‘plagued’ because I never intended or even wanted lightning to be part of this movie. It didn’t fit the atmosphere I had in mind, so at first I was very displeased with it. In my mind, it was all about colorful changing skies and the serenity of the Milky Way turning in the sky (actually we’re turning). But when almost all scenes had lightning in it, I had to work with it.
At the same time though, a personal dream came true, something I thought I’d be hunting the rest of my life and might not ever achieve at all.
Being a lightning and storm lover/chaser for years, one of my ultimate photography goals was to someday capture a lightning storm with the Milky Way in the background. This is much harder than it might sound if you’re not into this kind of photography: there are only a few weeks in a year that you can capture the Milky Way well (during 4-6 months when moonlight is minimal). To have a lightning storm at that time in your area is rare, but then to be at the right location so you can frame both in the same shot takes a lot of luck, especially if you’re on a small island.
Even if I managed to achieve all of this, I didn’t know if it would be possible to have the exposure correct for the lightning and Milky Way: lightning storms being really bright (I sometimes shoot 5sec at ISO 100) and the Milky Way really dark (20sec at ISO 3200). It all depends on the brightness of the storm, the distance, and the way it is moving. My fear was that all the flash/lightning frames would turn out completely overexposed, ruining the whole scene. Capturing it as a single photo using several exposures (allowing testing and changing exposures) would certainly be possible, but capturing the scene as a time lapse (using the same settings) was the real challenge.
During the second and especially third night I got ‘lucky’ beyond my wildest dreams, managing to capture both at the same time. Combined with the location it turned out into something ‘out of this world’. The lightning was just dark/light enough to not completely overexpose; it was at the right distance and remained in pretty much the same area for hours, a rare occurrence by itself! I was there at the right place at the right time with the best gear setup I could have ever dreamed of, 4 cameras rolling at this event in one of the greatest resorts on earth!
The perfect storm, captured at the same time with 4 camera’s, including a few other favourite scenes.
Shooting & editing
I travel with 1 DSLR and 1 compact camera, so to capture enough scenes I could really use some extra cameras. Thanks to Viento del Mar for the 2 cameras and Shaka Siargao for the tripod! For most of the time, I was armed with a Nikon D7000 + 17-70/f2.8-4, D800 + 16-35/f4, D800 + 14-24/f2.8 and my Sony RX100iv compact camera.
(For those people that apparently think it takes an expensive full frame DLSR to capture the Milky Way like I do: can you see the difference between the scenes?! A crop sensor DSLR and even a compact give great results when you know how to handle your camera and the post processing phase. In other words: never let your gear stop you from achieving your goals, know your gear and understand post processing).
I used the Photopills app >link< for planning and QdslrDashboard >link< for shooting. Most scenes used the Nikon internal intervalometer for shooting the time lapses. For sunset/sunrise scenes I used a wifi extender to control my D800 with the QdslrDashboard app. That way, I only had to manually control 2 other cameras, which was more than enough running around the place to do that. To shoot time lapse with my RX100iv, I used the internal wifi and my smartphone with QdslrDashboard, which I could only use for 1 camera at a time.
I shot 20.000+ images (600gb). Quite a lot of processing to do on a laptop! (MacBook Pro 13”). I used Photo Mechanic and Bridge for image viewing. Photoshop and Lightroom were used only for RAW file editing. I used LRTimelapse for transitions and video-conversions and After Effects for composing the final movie.
For editing the lightning scenes, I divided all images per time lapse into 5 levels of exposure, editing the different groups to adjust the exposure and highlights quickly, then editing the most difficult shots individually. This way, I managed to reduce flicker and be able to recover white areas, which naturally occurred during these bright lightning flashes, but, fortunately, not too much.
The main challenge I had to cope with was that I couldn’t really shoot much between sunset, 7pm and 11pm, the time when guests would be at the resort’s garden. The garden had a lot of lights, only to be turned on or off with 1 switch. With all the lights on, the trees and furniture were heavily over-exposed at 20 sec. They couldn’t put the resort in dark when guests were there, so I had to deal with it. This meant I was missing out on half of the Milky Way scenes I had planned for; the day to night transitions and the rise of the Milky Way above the horizon.
I shot a couple of shorter scenes to have more compositions and variations. But with only 1 shot per 25 seconds and 24 photos needed for 1 second of video, it all takes a huge amount of time to record. I usually use a full battery which shoots 400-500 shots in 3-4 hours for 1 scene.
A disappointment I faced was that I had condensation on my 14-24mm lens twice in the morning, causing the center area to get blurred and thus spoiling the ‘night to day’ scenes. There are lens warmers available for this kind of issue, but I don’t have one and I never thought I’d experience that in this warm climate. Apparently, the 14-24mm is easier affected by this than other lenses.
Rain was another slight challenge, but it gave me something beautiful in return 🙂
I had hoped for some more Milky Way scenes, reducing the sunsets in the movie a bit. Also, I really miss my Holy Grail transitions from day to night and night to day. I only had a short time frame to work with, given the fact that the Milky Way was only visible for a couple of days after I started.
Nevertheless, it turned out into something epic!
Reaction from Dedon Island
It must be said that has been a pleasure and an honor to collaborate with Martien, not only due to his unlimited Photography passion and infinite dedication but for bringing it to a level of a memorable and greatly inspiring experience. We truly delighted ourselves with his wonderful creations, enhancing Dedon Island to a unique and different dimension, never seen before. Thank you Martien for this astonishing present. We can only wish you all the best and looking forward to collaborate with further projects in a near future.
Word of thanks
Big thanks (Salamat!) to Lucia and Nicolas at Dedon Island for giving me the opportunity and treating me with their kindness & hospitality.
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