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Creating a Milky Way time-lapse

Making a time-lapse of a scene is another way to tell a story. A time-lapse is not hard to do and many computers have the software to create them that come with your computer’s operating system.


I recommend making your Milky Way time-lapse capture while shooting in the RAW format. If you photograph in RAW, you can process your files to open up the shadow areas and tame your highlights if necessary.

Get the exposure that will record the Milky Way and still leave you detail in the foreground. Set your exposure with the camera in Manual mode. Using automatic modes can lead to inconsistent exposures leading to flickering which can be quite annoying when viewing the final time-lapse. Set your white balance to daylight or a specific Kelvin temperature for the same reason.

Many cameras now have intervalometers built in. If so, you are ready to go. If not, you can add an accessory intervalometer geared toward your camera from $20.

Place the camera on a tripod, knowing that the Milky Way will be moving through the scene from left to right. Set number of exposures and take a break while the camera goes to work. Think about how long you want you Milky Way time-lapse to play. In this example, I made 220 exposures at 13 seconds each using an Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III and an Olympus M.Zukio 8mm f/1.8 fisheye lens. My settings were set at 13 seconds, ISO 6400 and f/1.8.

Rendered at a normal 24 frames per second, the final QuickTime time-lapse is nine seconds in length. Longer videos will require more frames to be captured, or additional processing in another program. For more on that, see below.

Final video after rendering in Adobe Camera RAW, QuickTime and Screenflow

Process Milky Way time-lapse files

I use Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) for cleaning up my files. To get started, select all files. Then open them in ACR, and select all. Any corrections will be applied to all images the same. After color and exposure corrections I press the Done button. Files will return to Adobe Bridge with those settings in place. Depending upon the quality I’m looking to achieve the files are then processed out as JPEG or TIFF. Typically, JPEG quality is fine.

On a Mac you can use QuickTime to create the time-lapse. Open QuickTime. Select File > Open Image Sequence > Navigate to the folder containing images. Pick your settings such as video size, frame rate and quality. Render the video.

Additional processing

If you are going to do lots of time-lapse videos you may want dedicated software to increase processing options. In this case I processed the Milky Way time-lapse to a 4K size. Doing that enables adding movement without loosing quality when working on a 1080p timeline. I used a screen capture software — ScreenFlow from Telestream — for slowing the video and adding movement for more interest.

Yours in Creative Photography, Bob

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Rafael Jones

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