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Full sky star trails

This is a shot I’m very excited to share! It has taken many years of research and development to pull it off. I would like to publicly thank Promote Systems and Type & Colour for helping me with this project by going above and beyond typical customer service and adding many custom, advanced features to the Promote Control and Panoneed robotic head. Definitely check their products out!

For quite a while I have wanted to take a spherical panorama timelapse. This night shot completes one of the major objectives to achieving this challenging goal. This image represents a timelapse consisting of 41 stitched panoramas. Every panorama is made up of 6 images, each 15 seconds long. I only shot the upper hemisphere to cut down on time since the ground was underexposed anyway. The individual hemispheres took 2 minutes and 8 seconds to shoot. This is what is causing the gaps in the star trails. I used a 14mm rectilinear lens; I would have to get a 16mm fisheye to take less than 6 photos to cover the whole sky and decrease the gaps. I stitched one panorama with PTGui Pro using the .xml positioning file from the Panoneed and batched it out to all the rest as a template. The accuracy of the Panoneed is nothing short of astounding! I overlapped the first panorama of the timelapse with the last one, zoomed into 300%, and there wasn’t even a pixel-length difference in alignment from motor drift. The Panoneed is truly a precision tool.

Here is the interactive spherical panorama. Click the photo to zoom in and pan around. I also included a single frame with a few common constellation outlines, just click the second thumbnail on the top left to see it.

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I realize that 41 frames aren’t anywhere near long enough for a timelapse video (it’s only 2 seconds long), but it makes for wonderful star trails! The timelapse was cut short when the camera battery died after nearly an hour and a half of keeping the shutter open. I can’t use my vertical shutter grip and extended battery with the motorized head to get through an entire evening like I do with static timelapses. It’s not a matter of weight, the Panoneed handles it fine at a higher torque setting, it’s that I can’t get the camera centered over the tripod with the vertical grip installed. If anyone knows where I can get a cable to power a Nikon camera off a portable DC power supply with a car adapter, let me know! I really don’t want to waste energy or carry more gear by going through an inefficient AC/DC inverter. Stay tuned for more on this fun project throughout the summer!

 

Gallery

MetalPrints and more can be purchased through SmugMug:
http://galleries.aaronpriestphoto.com/Night/2013-04-29-2/

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  • Ian Wilkinson

    Very impressed with your efforts and look forward to seeing how you progress this summer :)

    I happened upon your work after investigating a post that you made on Nasim Mansurov’s website, then I saw that you managed to upload a pano shot as the cover image on your G+ account. Intrigued, I’ve spent the last couple of hours following links on your website – a very enjoyable distraction! I’m even more keen now to explore this interesting aspect of photography…

    • http://www.aaronpriestphoto.com Aaron Priest

      Haha, thanks Ian! Feel free to add me on Facebook or Google+ and chat from time to time if you’d like. I’ve been working on this project more this month using two Promote Controls: one to trigger the Panoneed robotic head and take the panoramas on intervals (timelapse), and the other Promote Control inserted between the Panoneed and camera to take either HDR brackets or do bulb ramping. My interval wasn’t quite timed right on a couple of the tests so they didn’t “pan out” on the tail end of the bulb ramp, but a third one was very promising. Storage and battery power are my two big obstacles now, I also need to get an 8mm or 15mm fisheye to shoot less photos per sphere and speed things up. Another challenge is getting the video compressed enough to display smoothly on a 3Mbps or so internet connection. Still a few more obstacles to hurdle… :-)