Guest post: Time-lapse Landscape Astrophotography

This guest post about time-lapse landscape astrophotography is written by Christoph Malin from Austria. He has been a Nikon NPS Photographer for many years doing mainly outdoor, landscape and sports (bicycles) photography for various international magazines and bicycle manufacturers:

Last year I got myself into landscape astrophotography as I was invited to do a story about that topic for a German Nature Magazine. As I dug deeper into the astrophotography scene and all the dedicated international websites, conferences and events, I got to know many interesting astrophotographers. Some of them often do time-lapse astrophotography with a second or even third camera whenever they do skywatching and deep space imaging. For the latter, they use special astronomic mounted telescopes with dedicated cooled CCD cameras and computerized GOTO software to follow and find stars... very hardware intense...

So this got me interested, and one year later my new astronomic time-lapse Video "Black Hole Sun" is featured on National Geographic News:

My spin-off video is a statement against so called "Light Pollution". A problem we have on our beautiful planet, that hinders us to watch a clear night sky from our crowded cities or illuminated landscapes. Even here in Tyrol, Austria, where we live in an area with some silent and dark valleys left with low population, Light Pollution has become an issue in the recent decade.

Some words on how the video was produced:

I have taken all footage with Nikons D700 (my astro-favorite), D300, some footage with D3x just to test and just recently I added a D7000 to my setup. I like the D7000 a lot as it is super fast, lightweight, has a very good noise-to-signal behaviour and a crop which is useful for deep space astrophotography. It also has far better battery life than the D700.

Time-lapse photography itself is demanding on cameras as well as on the hardware in post processing. In fact, it is the most demanding photography I have ever done. On long sequences, one takes up to 3500 or more images a night with one body and you run into a lot of challenges:

  • CF or SD card reliability and size (64 GB the least)
  • battery consumption, making external power sources necessary
  • exposure, high ISO (problem of noise)
  • focusing (using LiveView on bright stars to manually focus)
  • flickering (small variations on luminance per each shot due to aperture variances)
  • camera shake due to winds etc
  • low temps during winter footage
  • moisture in spring

The modern TL photographer these days struggles around with so called "Dolly" Systems to get panoramic moves, like

  • Dynamic Perceptions Stage Zero Dolly (of course it needs mobile power source in the field)
  • additional 3D heads for extra tilt and pan that are mounted to the dolly, like the astronomic Skywatcher/Orion/Merlin or MEADE heads that move all the Nikon SLRs around (of course some more mobile power is needed)

Count all that power consumption together and think "low temperatures". Demanding.

Time-lapse is also extremely demanding on post processing, as you get lots of gigs of NEF raw images to finally extract the time-lapse footage. There are different workflows with different TL photographers. I use Mac hardware and my workflow consists of:

  • batch lens error corrections in Nikon Capture NX on all NEF files and batch export of those images to JPG
  • import into Apple Aperture, great Luminance, contrast and other optimization tools there whitch can be easily batch applied to all TL images in a sequence, batch export of those further optimized images as JPGs and import to Adobe AE
  • de-flickering in AE with Granite Bays great deflickering filters, sequenced
  • choosing a great soundtrack and cutting the sequences to that, in my case "Black Hole Sun" from Soundgardens milestone "Superunknown" album from the 90's
  • export to Adobe Premiere, cutting and exporting to final video and various formats

All this can bring even fast machines to their quad- or more core limits.

But in the end, when you first watch your time-lapses on the big screen, it is very very rewarding.

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  • disco


    • +100 And I thought I produced something half decent from time to time until I saw this…

  • Nice images.

  • AnoNemo

    Very nice work.

  • what an impressive video – it realy captures the bad light pollution but it is fascinating to watch, too – thanks for that

    Light pollution is a serious Problem which is not only an issue for astrophotography it is wasting energy as well and has a bad influence on plants, animals and human health. But there are ways to avoid this. There is one city here in Germany taking care about it. Augsburg improved their public lighting which is now saving energy and darkening the night sky. Hopefully this is a role model for other big cities.


    • Hello Lucas,

      it sounds promising what Augsburg does. Hopefully it sparks other Cities to follow.


  • Great stuff!!!

  • Wow this is freaking awesome!! lot of great work! my respect!

  • plug

    These images are really fine. Wow!

  • Tex

    Thanks for a good read.

    But I was wondering why you don’t import the RAW files directly into AE? You should be able to do all processing there and end up with material ready for editing.

    • well, I’d love to, because it would speed up the process significally – you are absolutely right there.

      however, AE does a) not offer the lens corrections that Capture NX comes with, and in a second step Apple’s Aperture enables me to do subtle and very detailed (batch) lumincance, contrast or color corrections from the 1st image of a sequence to the last (where there are a lot of changes in brightness, hue etc) I simply didn’t find elsewhere. Neither in PS, LR nor in AE. I’d even say Aperture is the most underrated imaging software currently on the market for what it offers.

  • Acutia

    Great, great work. Thank you for posting!

    Enjoyed it immensely from Soundgarden land in Seattle

  • Very nice images!!!

  • Great video!

    I am wondering. Since a D7000 is tested for 150k shutter actuations. A short movie with 24f/s will easily contain more then 1000 shots, so in theory, you can only make about 150 movies before the camera wears out. Right?

    What are your experiences with this? I’d love to do more with time-lapse.

    • Jeremy

      I never worry about it. I’d be surprised if the shutter replacement cost a lot more than fixing the zoom ring on the 14-24mm lens every time I drop it ($229 each).

      • Apooo

        Ahhh… good to know the average repair for a lens. I just had my 70-180 micro repaired (“sticky” zoom mechanism, clean and adjust; ) for $220.

        What was done to your 14-24? Did Nikon replace the fixed hood? The scratched on my hood from the lens cap drive me up the wall…

        • Jeremy

          The lens hood was not replaced. The service orders showed that the zooming mechanism was replaced, auto focus was checked, and the general check & clean. And I underreported the cost, sorry: $282.42.

    • Apooo

      Hi Wouter Nieuwerth,

      If you can hit 150k on your shutter and fail within the warranty period of your body; then bonus!!! You’re covered. Most consumers won’t come even close to that and Nikon doesn’t expect them too. “Go big or go home” 🙂 Anyway, do you really want your body to last forever? D8000 and D9000 is around the corner. 😉 That’s a good excuse to upgrade.

      • my d200 is about 200,000 frames.

        I have canons 5d and 30d in the studio that do an average of 1500-2000 frames a day. they are old!!! thats 45-60k frames a month, 540,000-720,000 a year. they do break but seldom the shutters and they just get repaired!

        just saying so, dont give me crap about using canon aswell. but i am so bored of waiting for d700 replacement that i might aswell have switched…

    • good question. actually I didn’t take that into account much. but I don’t do much TL above 3-4 hrs, which is about 600 images and the most is done with D700. well, OTH I’d say Nikon Service would be surprised once a D7000 comes in with 150000+ releases 😉

  • Jimmy Lamont

    Very good video. I hate the song, but great video. Even though we all know the earth is moving and rotating, it’s surreal to watch the stars move over a seemingly static landscape.

    As for the video, I am curious as to the ISO and overall exposure. If you’re keeping this far under 30 seconds to prevent star trails, you must be really pushing the D700 – possible to ISO 3200 and with a minimum of ƒ/2.8 in any given exposure.

    I’ve wanted to pick up a D3s for this purpose for a long time now.

    Also, on the light pollution – most cities use Low-pressure sodium lighting because it’s EASIER to edit out for observatories! LPS has a very high luminous efficacy (lumens/watt), and it is actually almost monochromatic, with a very high, small peak of yellow (hence the 2000K color temperature), and if one removes that spectrum in photos, the pictures will show up much, much clearer. High-pressure sodium is also used, but the spectrum is much wider.

    If anyone cares to read more :

    • Rob

      You could only remove a sodium line from a telescope image if you’re doing some kind of spectroscopy or filtering. I don’t know how big an issue that is. But if you’re doing pure unfiltered imaging, a bright sky can be a big problem, and certainly is something astronomers are pretty concerned about.

      Funny that the wiki article says these lights are preferred in observatory parking lots… the few I’ve been to has been completely dark!

    • hi rob, with the illuminated valleys and cities below, about iso 1200 and f2.8 is enough. I am currently looking for a ND filter that fit’s the AFS 14-24/2.8 by the means of a attachment holder. I’d like to lower the city lights a bit from time to time on stills, to enhance the skies (did that with a piece of paper or the palm of my hand). anyone any experiences or sources?

      for darker skies and scenes, yes I ramp up to 3200 or sometimes more. but that depends on the lens: the AFS 14-24/2.8 can easily be used with F2.8 so you have some reserve, it is still incredibly sharp with open aperture.

      with the good old AF 16/2.8 fisheye I try to stay at f5.6 as long as possible, as it is really soft on 2.8 (compared to the 14-24 monster).

  • Slon

    I have been watching for a post like this for a while now…thanks 🙂

  • 2cents

    Thanks for sharing such a good post and video. The video is awesome! What settings are you normally using while taking the time lapse? ISO, aperture, shutter speed and all that kind of stuff. I would imagine those settings would have to change when moving from dusk to midnight, right? Thanks again and great work!

  • Batuhan Uslu

    How frequently are you taking pictures ? how many shots are there in a 10 second video ? I’m trying to get the basics : )

  • Amazing! The change at ~1:10 is truly unbeliavable, would love to see some sort of a tutorial on this.

    • this is just the change from moonlight to dark. when moon sets dark skies take over. but you have to start with the exposure of the dark. I usually have a printout with me where I have printed exif of my most popular scenes from the past, so I have a hint which exposure to use as a rough guideline. but again, only at light changes. If you start in the dark you immediately get the results of various adjustments so you can circle that in quite fast.

  • AnoNemo

    NR Admin, I like this post very much but I have question which not related to it. (My apologies)

    Looking back to the recent posts, there is absolutely no rumors while looking at the sonyalpha site they seem to have a steady stream. What is going on? I mean all we see are patents, weekly nikon news flash, some company makes a nikon accessory, and 1-2 published interviews.

    Help me out here; when the D3 and D300 were announced we heard some rumors months before that. Approx how many months before an announcement do you have any info (even if it is not 100% accurate)? Just curious.

    • AnoNemo

      Hi broxibear;
      I think it would not be a bad idea having a section where rated rumors are posted on regular basis in a similar manner as they appear on the sonyalpha site. I think that’s the purpose of the rumor. It would be even better if visitors can vote on those rumors in terms of “how likely they are true” in a scale of 1-5.

      I understand the impact of the earthquake but I would argue about it. Just alone the earthquake is not an explanation of the lack of information. I have a feeling that more things are at play. One thing for sure, that the new products (if anything exists) were completed and ready for manufacture before the earthquake.

      First D800 rumor in July 2, 2008? The D700 was introduced on July 15, 2008. I think that D800 rumors was the D700 but maybe I am wrong.

      On the other hand, quite few people are holding back their buying decision because they are expecting a new FX line. My personal view is that Nikon does neglect the FX line. Almost the entire DX line (except D300s replacement) is new but the FX line is outdated and no new FX camera is in sight.

      If the sony rumors are turn out to be true then this year we’ll get a D400 and nothing else. I think it would not hurt Nikon to come clean and tell those who have 1000s invested in FX lenses to hold on in 6 months “we’ll throw you a bone”. But this quiet does not indicate good outcome. Let’s think logically here for a second; if there is something ready from Nikon to be announced in 1-2 months of time then we should have some kind of “noise” by now. On a personal note I like sony’s approach to show something such a prototype. This generate and keeps interest high but Nikon is like Cinderella.

      Back to the supply chain. I read somewhere a report about Toyota and they say by end of this month they will produce over 95% of their capacity in Japan. Also, I read an article about Suzuki and their factories now capable of supplying the european assembly plants again with enough parts. This one I can comfirm as I have a friend who works for suzuki in Europe. So things seem to improve but again other news are saying the opposite.

      There is one thing that made think, how on earth apple was able to manage to get the parts (or replacement) needed to avoid massive shortages. I mean they must do something better than Nikon or Canon. (?)

    • AnoNemo

      NR Admin,

      Maybe we should move my post somewhere else (even delete it). It is really off the topic.

      • AnoNemo, I understand your frustation, but there is not much I can do. I am putting much more efforts on accuracy of the information rather than the number of posts/rumors per day. I also want to expand this blog beyond reporting rumors and make it the one stop on the web for all things Nikon.

        • +1

        • That’s a plan.

          • Mock Kenwell

            Bummer. Where did your orangutan avatar go?

        • AnoNemo

          I agree and that why I suggested to have different sections for different posts.

        • AnoNemo

          NR Admin, I have a great idea. What if you create a section called “Wild Rumors” where people can vote about likelyhood of all kinds of Nikon related rumors. Have a section (perhaps the main page) where you have the rumors the way how they are at the moment and have a section where “Guess Posts” are present like this one. Just a note, this post is one of the best ever on your site and the funny thing is that it has nothing to do with rumors. I really enjoyed this so thanks for posting it. Then we can have a section called “Workshop” where good practices, workflows, and tricks are posted so we can learn.

          Then again, my apologies for sidetracking this post as I mentioned above this is way off the topic.

    • I have tried that few years ago when I had a “Page 2 Rumors” – readers generally did not like to click on a extra link to get to a separate section and I removed it.

      • AnoNemo

        I would put in the first page and have to “vote” option button next to it.

  • D7000 User

    truly amazing! my respect Christoph! just realized the potential of my D7000, where to find the tutorials? 🙂 and improve myself 🙂

    • is a good place to get so much impressions and ideas, and I would be surprised if the images didn’t contain the exif data there. everything else is you, a tripod, your d7000 and two or three dark nights (+ one with moonlight) and 3-4 hrs trying out different exposure times and iso rates in manual mode. you get immediate results. later, when you have about 10-20 images you like and are happy about, print them out with exif data and take that sheet with you anytime. so you have a nice refer to look at and get a feeling for exposure times.

  • Jimmy

    I was wondering if you could give some more details about the equipment you have used for your footage. What kind of lenses and settings did you use to get your results? What kind of external power supplies did you use and can you recommend anything?

    • hi jimmy,

      astronomic equipment is listed below the video.

      – as for the lenses I love the AFS 14-24/2.8 as it is extremely sharp even at f2.8
      – had good experiences with the classic AF 20/2.8 (however some light falloff at the borders at F2.8)
      – love the classic AF 16/2.8 fisheye (try to stay at f5.6 there, as it is “soft” with 2.8), and miss a extreme 10 mm /2.8 fixed lens
      – love the classic AF 50/1.8, ultrasharp and beautiful f-stars
      – like the AFS 24-70/2.8, very sharp
      – for deep sky on travle I use the 80-200/2.8 with converters, but suffer from some coma…
      – and sometimes if they are available to lend, I love to go for 500 mm/4 and converters, but then everything get’s heavy…

      settings for the video are mostly 25 to 27 secs exposure, 3o sec interval, ISO varies from 800 to > 3000 (depending on scene), f2.8 (depending on lens). normally I work full manual, but for day night transitions I had good results with program mode, iso auto, and matrix metering. but that only works for scenes where there is some illumination from a city or light polluted valley. if it is dark, you have to work manual.

      for external

      • for external battery power I currently work with a 300W 12V car converter (found at a car shop) and external 17 to 20 WH car batteries…, so I can use the NIKON wall power source… and power the Orion Head as well as the DP stage zero dolly.

        but DP has just come out with some nice 12V LiIon Batteries, so we will see.

  • broxibear

    Interesting stuff Christoph.

  • Lulz

    Best NR post in over a month!!!

  • Well, I like your video, I love astrophotography timelapse… I would have done some different things in editing myself. And I did.

    You be the judge, but for this moon cycle, I think I’ve got a better video here, just released this yesterday, also made with Dynamic Perception gear.

    “Night Motion Timelapse: Outer Banks”

    • Gareth

      wow this is very nice as well!

      i wouldn’t say it’s better, just different.

      both are amazing

    • Andy

      I’d agree with Gareth, not better, different. Although you get top marks for arrogance.

      • preston


    • hey daniel! great, great work. I love the shot at 01:34 (the tree), and the lighthouse is also beautiful. you live in a beautiful area to get such milky way footage. water and milky way – very special!!!

      I’d have some questions about your experiences with the Orion head, MX2 and moving speeds. I had some problems with the Orion in the past but it looks like it is a firmware thing (not of the MX2 but the Orion). keep up the good work!

  • It’s almost inadequate to refer to these as stunning.

    • I think your statement sums it up perfectly.

  • Total Awesomeness

    Great work my friend

  • By the way,we are preparing the gear for tomorrow’s “red” moon,your experience here will be very,very useful

  • Bart

    Utterly beautiful. I would love to do something similar. The problem is, I live in quite a crowded area. Yes, I could go to the Alps or something like that, which is not really THAT far away, around 8 hours with car. But I don’t have anything like a team or people around me that would do something like this. I hate the social barrier that keeps people away from doing creative stuff and the things they really want to do. With social, I mean school, family, work, etc.

    • nabia

      yep.. me too.

  • ABSP

    Christoph Malin said:
    “flickering (small variations on luminance per each shot due to aperture variances)”

    I suspect you’re sing a CPU lens and controlling the aperture with the camera. This type of control is actually pretty rough with the slightly antiquated F mount we all love. Nikon claims it can achieve 1/10 of a stop accuracy, but in practice it’s worse. Using AI lenses and setting the aperture mechanically would solve this problem of yours.

    • yes, you are right, good old manual lenses would do the trick… I know of some Canon TLers that they sometimes adjust the aperture, and then release the lens and turn it back about less than 1/4 rotation … so that the aperture is fixed manually. tried that with the D700 and the AFS 14-24/2.8 a couple of times, but then odd things happenend and meter readings freaked, so I just left it as is.

      I found that the GBD deflicker filter is great and solved the problem. additional trick: I just run 2 instances of the GBD. first corrects (smoothens) flicker itself, and second smoothens the results of the first filter.

  • hello everyone,

    thanks so much for all the kind comments and peter for giving me the opportunity to share my work. I am currently in the Dolomites on a magazine photo production, struggling with some ever changig weather (sun, rain, clouds, next moment, sun, clouds, rain etc ;)… back in the office on thursday looking forward to answer all comments.

    • AnoNemo


      This absolutely an astounishing work. Fantastic.

      Please come back to share your work and give us advise.


  • A Regula Readah

    Applause – both to the author/photographer/film maker and NR for posting.

  • amazing photos/results

  • iamlucky13

    Very well done. I especially liked the panning shots. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that done in time-lapse before.

    On the topic of astrophotography, has anyone found a good way to make stars stand out in prints?

    They show up fine on a monitor because the white pixels have high overall luminosity, especially compared to the surrounding pixels.

    On prints, however, you’re talking only about reflected light, and the stars tend to be almost invisible due to their small size.

    I haven’t tried many prints of night skies yet, but mine always looked disappointing compared to what I see on the monitor. One idea I tried was to slightly blur the sky to increase the size of the stars on the print, but it didn’t look natural.

    • nabia

      Hmm.. not sure how you’re printing those, but perhaps you could try ordering some prints from a photo studio on bright photography paper.

      Also, perhaps you can try adding some soft “spike” effects to the stars for a little enhancement…

  • Mark

    Absolutely brilliant work, painstaking and focused. Great imagination and technical skills.

    Puts my effort to take a picture of the moon to absolute shame. 😉

    I’m sending this link to friends who have kids – another way to get them interested in light pollution and in space.


  • Jen Jockwell


    Take a look at this article:

    “Nikon Du Jour”??? 🙂

    • weird, “Nikon Du Jour”?

    • Fotomoto

      “Nikon Du Jour” demonstrates that the writer, Mallary Jean Tenore, wrote this article about photojournalism but (1) she knows nothing about photojournalism, and (2) she completely misunderstood what she was told about the camera. Absolutely insane.

      By the way, that article by Mallary Jean Tenore was published on the Poynter Institute website. The Poynter Institute claims that “Poynter is a school that exists to ensure that Americans have access to excellent journalism…” What a joke.

      @[NR] admin: “Nikon Du Jour” appearing in an article about photojournalism on the website of a journalism school is so crazy and amusing that I think you should publish an article about it on Nikon Rumors.

    • Jabs

      @Jen Jockwell.
      Nikon Du Jour = same as Soup Du jour or the Nikon camera of the day or occasion. They probably did not know what model or were not concerned with that information, as it was immaterial or unimportant to them. It is like saying they were using a stereotypical Nikon body or camera/lens combination and they were too focused on the Congresswoman to care or notice.

    • Jen Jockwell


      Carefully read the relevant sentence:

      “Using a Nikon Du Jour, Weis spent three hours photographing Giffords in her hospital room and in an outside area of the hospital.”

      The wording and capitalization makes it quite clear that the writer thought “Nikon Du Jour” is the name of a Nikon camera model. The writer probably asked the photographer something like “What kind of camera equipment did you use?”, and the photographer probably said something like “Oh, just some Nikon du jour”. Apparently knowing nothing about photojournalism, the writer thought “Nikon Du Jour” is the name of a Nikon camera model. Otherwise, instead of saying “Using a Nikon Du Jour…” the writer would have said something like “”Using some Nikon du jour…” (which actually, although technically more correct than the published wording, would have sounded stupid unless it was presented as a quote from the photographer). Keep in mind that what we are analyzing here is a supposedly scholarly article published on the website of a journalism school. That is why the “Nikon Du Jour” thing is so ridiculous. It would perhaps be excusable elsewhere, but not there.

      • Jabs

        @Jen Jockwell.
        Well, my personal take on this – I believe that the writer of the article has taken a stance or slant, wherein they reduce the camera to a commodity and the photographer to a ‘blue collar’ worker and then themselves perhaps to an elitist person above and beyond others.
        Simple arrogance is what I see and it reminds me of one saying ‘soup du jour’ or today’s soup made from yesterdays’ leftovers versus an exceptional soup and thus ‘nothing exceptional’ or an egalitarian outlook on photographers as ‘commoners’ and journalists like themselves as educated prudes or superior by them being from some ‘superior’ or elitist Journalistic Institution. I see it as sarcasm and egomania on their part and not a lack of knowledge or even a mistake in misidentifying a camera. They just see themselves as better than the photographer and their equipment – because they represent a superior ‘MIND’ and the photographer – ‘equipment user’ and common and/or ‘replaceable’ user wherein the camera thinks for them as in ‘digital robot without a clue’.

  • Narna

    Thankyou! Such amazing imagery, skill and imagination.

    Light pollution is a problem everywhere, the council here has laws governing light direction and spill, however they are very good at making retrospective exceptions to thier own installations!

    You have inspired me to head to a dark sky site and at least take more shots.

  • Perfectly awesome! The video was a joy to watch.

  • Great work. That TL video is absolutely stunning.

  • Mock Kenwell

    Fantastic. Great job Christoph and Admin.

  • kaze kaze

    that was awsome, thanks for posting it up.

  • monocle

    nice, what lens do you use? 🙂

  • Danonino

    Hm.. Very nice, B U T ! , I want to read latest rumors on the D800 and Nikon mirrorless asf…

  • broxibear

    An interesting Nikon patent was published yesterday detailing a new dslr viewfinder system

  • Perfect to try out on the lunar eclipse tonight!

    • The invisible man.

      You should have seen the full moon last night, with the smoke comming from Georgia (wild fires), the moon had a very unusual color.

  • The invisible man.

    Did he use a star filter ?

  • Brilliant work. Thanks for posting 🙂

  • Beautiful work and an amazing video!

  • Dominique

    How was the second picture taken? Just one shot or several shots together? Any data on exposure / shutter speed etc..? I would be glad if somebody has some info.

  • The invisible man.

    My kids loved the goat !

  • Astrophotographer

    Interesting work. For those interested in more Sky and telescope had an article on similar work by

    • nabia

      Yep.. that guy is also great! Love is work!

  • ahmed

    Beautiful work and an amazing video, thanks for posting it up.

  • Anton aus Tirol

    voll geil! fast so geil wie ich!

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