‘The Perfect Storm’, shot with 4 cameras at one of world’s most amazing resorts!
This ‘Perfect Storm’ time lapse is my favourite work of 14 months in the Philippines. Actually it’s my favourite one of all time. This time lapse is more than a dream come true – it’s achieving a photography goal that I thought would be so hard to do, that I’d spend the rest of my life pursuing it. And even if I would find the right conditions and magically be in the right location, with my camera and tripod, I didn’t think it would be possible to capture in a single exposure.
Capturing a photo of lightning is hard. Capturing a long time lapse of a lightning storm is much harder. But to capture it with the Milky Way in the background is the hardest thing I can think of. Top that with capturing it with red sprites (rare huge electrical discharges above the thunderstorm) and you have something nearly impossible.
If you’re into photography, you will ererstand the difficulty of it. You can plan the Milky Way, but you can’t plan a lightning storm. Even if you manage to find both at the same time, you need to be very lucky to be in the right location to frame both, without the sky getting too cloudy as well. Above all that, you’re dealing with an extreme difference in light: very bright lightning versus the very dark Milky Way. They usually require completely different settings.
Shooting ‘The Perfect Storm’
When I was shooting my time lapse movie at the Dedon Island Resort at Siargao island, I got lucky beyond my wildest dreams. Not only was I at a perfect location at the exact right angle, but I was even armed with 4 cameras and managed to capture 4 stunning time lapse scenes at the same time. And most amazing of all, this lightning storm stayed at the right distance, at the same location for nearly 5 hours. Thanks to this, I was able to capture both storm and Milky Way without the lightning frames getting too overexposed. What a lucky night!
And to top all of that, even some red sprites appeared! They are vague and only appear 1/24 of a second in this footage, but they’re there. To be honest, I didn’t even notice it myself at first, someone who spend years trying to capture it, pointed it out to me. I once said in an interview that my ultimate shot would be to shoot red sprites. Back then they had never been been photographed properly before. It has only been since the last few years, since digital camera’s have got very light-sensitive sensors, that a few people have been able to capture them.
Gear, software & settings
Shot with a Nikon D800 + 14-24/f2.8, D800 + 16-35/f4, D7000 + 17-7-/f2.8-4 and Sony RX100iv. Edited (RAW only) with Lightroom, Photoshop and LRTimelapse, composed in After Effects.
At the time of setting up my cameras, I didn’t really know what the ideal settings would be. I had no idea what the lightning storm would do, if things would too over exposed as it came closer, or underexposed as it moved it away. I had to go with one setting and leave it with that, you just can’t change settings while shooting this. But I was there to shoot the Milky Way, so for me I had to focus on that and set my settings for that, just hoping for the best. I did some testshots and decided to underexpose slightly, hoping that I’d still be able to get the Milky Way right in post, without overexposing the lightning frames. Settings used were ISO 1600-3200, 15-20 seconds shutter speed at the lowest aperture for each lens.
Things worked out pretty well, only some of the brightest frames were overexposed and in postprocessing my RAW files I was able to lighten the Milky Way. I did have a very hard time creating the scenes with as little flicker as possible. To fix this I had to decrease my editing a lot, basically only adjusting white balance, exposure, contrast and highlights. Where I usually add Clarity, fix Shadows, increase Whites, adjust Blacks and adjust my Curves, for some reason it all caused flicker in these scenes. And de-flickering a lightning scene like this doesn’t really work, as you can imagine 😉
It’s not about the gear
What’s interesting about the gear is that I used 3 classes of cameras. The D800 being a professional full-frame-camera, D7000 being an ‘amateur’ crop-camera and a tiny Sony compact camera. The question we photographers get asked most, above anything else, is what gear we use. People always tend to think it’s the gear that achieves the result. A bigger better camera does not make you a better photographer, any experienced photographer will tell you that. It is more important to know your camera (and post-processing) than it is to have a more expensive one. I’ve achieved amazing results with each 3 types of cameras. Can you even tell what camera I used for each shot?
So people, don’t let your gear ever stop you from creating whatever you want. It’s not about the camera, it’s about the photographer. Of all things that go into capturing something, your type of camera really is the least important 😉
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