Time lapse; Jet Cars and Mountaintops

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Molas Pass at midnight

It’s about midnight and I am looking for a time lapse…

I’m sitting in my rental car in one of those scenic overlooks that you find on many highways in Colorado. I love this particular place because it’s accessible by car and the views are beautiful in all directions. Molas Pass. About 5 miles south of Silverton, Colorado.

This night was special. There was a full moon. I was out to capture the light hitting the mountains as the moon rose over the mountains to the east. I wanted to get a time lapse of the bright moonlight covering the mountains.

It’s was winter time. Temps were averaging about 15 degrees Fahrenheit. I was not interested in standing outside freezing to death for the hours it would take to capture this. So I devised what I call my rental-car-photo-setup.

The goal being, keep my ass inside the warm car as long as possible. This presents a problem. If I am in the car how do I know what I am shooting? Answer: Mount the camera on a tripod outside the passenger door. Tether the camera via USB cable through the window to my laptop nestled into the passenger seat.

I am charging that laptop with a cable that plugs into the cigarette lighter. Who uses them to light cigs anymore, so what the hell?

Set up complete. Every exposure shows up on the laptop screen as it’s being captured. So happy.

My time lapse rig outside the car on the passenger side.

My time lapse rig outside the car on the passenger side.

Laptop inside the car capturing the images from the camera.

Laptop inside the car capturing the images from the camera.

It’s late. It’s cold. By the time I adjusted the exposure and the interval for each shot, I was looking at a 30 second exposure once a minute. I’ll save you the math problem…. to capture enough frames to create a video long enough worth watching, this was going to take all night. I had to be at work the next morning, so this was not acceptable.

Time lapse plan B?

I was thrilled with the images coming into the laptop. With every exposure I saw the moonlight hit those mountains like it was the middle of the day. Breathtaking. But it was clear I was not going to get enough frames for a decent time lapse.

I called it a night around 2:00 AM. I drove back down the mountain feeling defeated. I thought I had wasted the night. I got some nice stills, but not the time lapse I was after.

The happy post-production surprise

Several weeks later I was home and going through what I shot that night. What I saw were really cool shots of cars passing though 30 second exposures, leaving trails of light like comets across the sky. I pulled all the images into Adobe After Effects and created a slide show of the images with cross dissolves between each. To my delight the images looked like a video as each one blended into the next.

Add some sound effects of pod racers and power wooshes, and I had a series of images that told a short story. Imagine a future where  jet powered cars cling to the mountain sides as they travel at hundreds of miles an hour. That would be a fun ride, wouldn’t it?

Strap on some headphones and crank up the volume. Join my vision of mountain travel of the future.