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"In reaching for the stars, I'm on a quest to empower others to do the same."

Photographing the Milky Way and Night Time-Lapse: Part 2

February 19, 2019

For information on photographing night time-lapse videos, please read part 1. In Part 2, you will learn how to process your time-lapse images.


There are hundreds of files for a time-lapse video. If you want to keep storage space to a minimum, you may want to shoot small JPG or small RAW file type. Full HD is 1920x1080 so I recommend you set your file size to that or larger. Note that full HD has a slightly wider aspect ratio as DSLR files are 1620x1080 if keeping original 3:2 aspect ratio. You can always crop your video in post-production, but remember when making your composition that you will lose some vertical resolution when outputting to any standard video format.

Choose the file type that best fits your needs. Use RAW if you want to make a big print, sell your work or do extensive processing, otherwise you can use JPG. However, JPGs can cause banding in solid color areas like a bright blue sky and in night skies too.

When I photographed a beautiful night scene, I used full-sized RAW files to take some still shots and I was happy with those for making a print. I changed to small RAW file type to save storage space for a time-lapse yet allow for extensive editing. A client saw the time-lapse and wanted a poster-sized image of one of the frames from the middle of the video, when the Milky Way and mountain lined up over a lake in the middle of the night. Unfortunately, I could not provide a large, quality print because I used small RAW.

I now shoot full-size RAW. This allows me to choose any frame for the best composition or for something unexpected like a meteor. You may want to shoot RAW plus JPGs so you can make your sequence into a video right away to see it. After processing the RAW files, delete the JPGs.


Memory Card

Make sure your memory card has enough space to store your entire time-lapse sequence. Using a 16GB or 32GB memory card or larger is a good idea. Canon cameras will tell you how many frames you can take with your memory card and file type settings. Look at the window on the top of the camera or the menu where you set the file type. Once you have the number of frames, you can determine the possible video length.

Battery Power

Make sure your battery will last for the entire time you want to photograph your time-lapse. For my Canon 5D Mark IV and EOS-1D X Mark II, a battery in good condition lasts a little over four hours. It can last less time in cold weather. Adding a battery grip allows for using two batteries in applicable camera bodies like the 5D Mark IV and I find these last for at least eight hours. Additionally, you can use an external power supply, however, I have not found the need to photograph more than eight hours. In addition to having a fully charged battery, the charge it will hold can be checked in the Tools menu on your camera under Check Battery. Select that to see if you have green or red lights for the battery life. Green is good. Red means it will not last as long as four hours or shoot as fast for doing continuous high-speed shooting that is often used with wildlife and sports.

Sturdy Tripod

I have accidently knocked my tripod in the middle of a time-lapse while adjusting exposures, so be careful to keep the tripod in place. As a result, I could only use sequences either before or after I bumped the tripod.

Using a lightweight tripod works for landscape photography but for not very well for 30-second exposures that can be easily bumped or moved in the wind, ruining your time-lapse sequence. Use a heavy tripod, or steady your tripod with your camera bag or something heavy from the hook at the bottom of the center column of your tripod.


There are a several options for advanced time-lapse techniques to have the camera move for more dramatic effect. To create in-camera movement, use photographic rails with motion control to move the camera from one position to another while shooting. Another option is to use a device that rotates the camera, changing the viewpoint, while photographing the sequence.


Process your night images. If unexpected light is on the foreground, it will show up as a flash of light in the video. If the foreground is black, use the brush tool in processing to paint it black. If the foreground is lit, clone the foreground from another exposure into the one that has the unwanted light on it.


Make JPG files from your RAW files that you want to use in your time-lapse sequence. There are many options for doing this. If you shot as JPG with a resolution of 1920x1080, then you don’t need to convert to JPG or make it smaller.

Choose images that are in a continuous sequence without interruption. You do not want distracting car headlights, bright lights or changes in composition from tripod movement.

In Adobe® Bridge® or Lightroom® select the first image in the sequence you want to convert, hold down the Shift key and click on the last image of the sequence. Now with the sequence selected:

  • In the Bridge, choose from the menu Tools > Photoshop > Image Processor
  • In the dialog box select: “Save in Same Location” radio button, by File Type select “Save as JPG,” in Quality type desired such as 10 or 12, Check “include ICC Profile” and use sRGB. Click Run. In Lightroom, from the menu select File > Export. In the Export To drop-down menu, select “Same Folder as original photo.” In the Image Format drop-down menu, select JPG. From Color Space drop-down select sRGB. In Image Sizing select 1920 x 1080.
  • For both the Bridge and Lightroom your new JPG images will be put in a new JPG folder at the same location.

DPP Digital Professional Photo: You can convert your RAW files to JPGs with free Canon software that comes with your camera. To download it from the Canon USA website click on any camera, click on Drivers and Downloads and then Digital Professional Photo.


There are many options for converting your JPG still photographs into a video. Here are a few that work well:

  • Time Lapse Assembler: Free Mac app that is very easy to use
  • VirtualDub: Free Windows app
  • Adobe Premiere Elements: Fee based app
  • Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom: Pricey fee subscription. Use to make your JPG files using Adobe Bridge or Lightroom. Photoshop can make time-lapse videos of your sequence.
  • Adobe After Effects and Final Cut Pro: These pricey apps are more complicated but allow advanced editing including assembling several time-lapse videos together as a movie.


LRTimelapse 5: Fee-based app. There is a free trial version that lets you use up to 400 frames for a 16-second video. I use this excellent app to adjust all my time-lapse exposure sequences for creating smoother transition of exposure from light to dark, adjusting color balance changes and to remove the flickering seen in time-lapse videos. Exposures change during the duration of your night time-lapse because the light changes drastically during the transition from day to night. Even though I have manually changed the exposure throughout that transition, there will be jumps in exposure which cause flickering when viewed as a video. LRTimelapse is very useful for all time-lapse but I find it especially helpful for sunsets, sunrise, day to night time-lapse or when shooting with Aperture Value (Av or Aperture-priority). It works with RAW files or JPG files. You can use it to edit your still files in Lightroom or Adobe Camera RAW/Bridge. Their website has excellent video instructions and the developer answers any questions in the form.

Jennifer Wu Canon Timelapse Video Bryce Canyon 2 video thumbnail

Milky Way and Airglow Time-lapsePhotographed in Bryce Canyon National Park, UT, I set the composition to allow the Milky Way to move through the scene. The greenish colors are due to airglow, the faint and colorful light that is seen close to the horizon. 1 I used a fisheye lens and you can see how it creates a curvature of the Milky Way as it moves through the frame. This 12-second clip has 354 images. Photographed for 3 hours and 15 minutes. Photographed with a 3-second interval between frames at f/2.8, 30 seconds, ISO 6400, EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye, Canon EOS 5D Mark III.


Remember to have a fully charged battery and a spare, if available. If it is freezing, keep the backup battery warm in your pocket to preserve the shooting time on the battery. When cold, it loses power and slows down or stops working. Use a hand- or toe-warmer on the battery area to keep it warm.

To prevent dew from ruining your time-lapse, keep the lens warm. Secure a hand warmer with hook-and-loop tape or a rubber band on the lens or use a toe-warmer with a sticker. Use your lens hood to prevent a cool breeze from causing dew on the front element of your lens when cold. Have a chamois or quick dry type cloth to remove any dew from the lens when shooting between frames.

Have plenty of memory cards. Use a small red flashlight or red headlamp to preserve your night vision. Check the weather for cloud cover and clear sky forecasts before going out and see the resources. Bring what you need to keep yourself comfortable including: warm clothes, insect repellant, water, food, something to read or listen to and something to sit on, as the ground can be cold.

I hope you will make some stunning and beautiful night sky time-lapses. Feel free to share your experiences with me through my website. Enjoy the night!


Apps: Determine sunrise and sunset times, phase of the moon, and location of the Milky Way.

  • Starry Night: Desktop app that I use for planning
  • StarWalk 2: Use this in the field for locating constellations by pointing your mobile device at the sky and planning
  • Stellarium: Free, desktop app, easy to use for planning your shoot
  • PhotoPills: For planning and shows the night sky overlaid on a map of your location
  • The Photographer’s Ephemeris and 3D: For planning and shows the night sky overlaid on a map of your location

International Dark-Sky Association (IDA): Help protect the night sky and find dark sky locations

Timescapes: Forum for time-lapse photography

Online Class: Check out Jennifer's Online Learning class on Landscape Photography


1. Definition of airglow

All Canon contributors are compensated and actual users of Canon products promoted