Monday Motivation: Barry Chall’s Milky Way Timelapse That Will Remind You to Look Closer

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YouTube channel Yosemite Channel – Barry Chall Films has created a truly fantastic Milky Way Timelapse. It is going to teach you everything you need to know about coloring the Milky Way Sky in a way that Roger Clark can appreciate. And it reminds you of the awesome detail there is to be found in the Milky Way galactic core!

…filmed over several months and features the Milky Way core as it travels over beautiful landscapes and seascapes…I estimate that the film has about 150-200 hours in post.

Barry Chall | Yosemite Channel Video Description

After watching this Milky Way time-lapse, I immediately decided to do some time-lapses of my own with a telephoto lens. I sent an email to the creator Barry Chall to learn about his process and more about this inspiring Milky Way Photographer.

BARRY: I tend to use a tremendous, sometimes ridiculous, number of masks both in Capture One Pro – I don’t like Lightroom – and in my NLE (non-linear editor), Edius.

Between the two programs,  I sometimes will have 10 or 15 adjustment masks. My workstation is often not happy with this! This 5-minute film actually ended up being slightly over one terabyte, and again, my computer was pretty pissed off.  There were around 9000 120MB stills from the 43mp a7R II plus a million and one adjustments in this project.

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AARON: You mentioned you captured this Milky Way Timelapse over several months, how many different locations and nights went into this work? 

BARRY: Most of the sequences in this film were shot from May to September in 2019. The remaining ones were shot in 2016 and 2017. I had hoped to get more content for this year’s film, but bad weather caused the cancellation of a couple of trips, and on another, out of 7 days on the road, we only had one clear, usable, night. But it was a good one!

The scenes in this film were filmed from beaches along the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor near Brookings Oregon, Alabama Hills, Ca., Mono Lake, Ca., Crater Lake, Or., May Lake in Yosemite, and another obscure lake in northeastern Ca.

I think about 13 nights of time lapsing went into this one. I also estimate that the film has about 150-200 hours in post work. Of course, there are quite a few hours spent making lots of changes, as I may change my mind on a scene.

AARON: Many time-lapses have still frames of the foreground composited over the timelapse of the night sky. Did you capture the landscapes separately, or are these the ACTUAL foregrounds under the timelapse, and you just decided to use a single foreground frame and repeat it for the full timelapse? 

BARRY: Regarding the use of still frame, sometimes I will shoot a dedicated still frame at a longer shutter speed, and other times, I will just grab a frame which was shot around dusk and use that one. 

ALL foreground still frames used in this film were from the ACTUAL scenes. I have never composited a moving sky over a still frame taken elsewhere, although I think it’s fine if other people do it. Hey, it’s an artistic choice.

The use of still frames for a foreground matte in time-lapse has a lot of detractors who don’t like the fact that there is no noise in the mattelike in the rest of the background. They feel that at the very least, you should add some noise effects. I don’t buy into this and tend to ignore such criticism. I’ve already gotten some of it for this film. When I do use a still frame matte, it is run over the entire sequence.

In the film, I mainly used foreground matte/masks to eliminate the flashing caused by passing headlights, flashlights, etc. These, unfortunately, are a constant problem when doing multi-hour time lapses. I think about 1/3 of my time in post goes into trying to edit out these unwanted lights. However, that being said, on occasion, I’ve actually used a lit up frame– after adjusting it- as a substitute for light painting. So, sometimes, bad things can work out well! 

The most problematic sequences to edit in this film were the ones with the clouds moving over the Alabama Hills foreground. Unfortunately, even though it was quite late on a Monday night in the offseason, there were several instances of intermittent headlights intruding onto the foregrounds. So, the problem was that if I used a static foreground matte, I would lose the subtle lighting and hue changes which were caused by the passing clouds. I was not happy with the choices. When I first put the film up on YouTube, I used the static matte.

But, it really gnawed at me, and as you are aware, the day you contacted me about doing this feature, I actually pulled the film down and put up a corrected version after I finally figured out how to solve the problem.

AARON: How did it go following Roger Clark’s color grading in your post-processing? I know it is technical like you hinted at, so I am curious how many hours of work it took to get right!

BARRY: I generally use some of the same techniques which he espouses, such as doing color grading by means of curve subtraction, as opposed to using white balance. I absolutely believe that the nearly exclusive use of curves, as opposed to using white balance, brightness, contrast controls, etc., gives a much better end result.

I prefer not to use any of those other methods, although, in our 2017 film, The Milky Way, A Journey Through The Sky, I did grade the film entirely by means of white balance, brightness, contrast, etc., as I was trying to achieve a particular feel to that film.

I think Roger shoots all his content with the camera set to daylight white balance, 5600K, and subtracts from there. I prefer to use 4800K as my custom WB setting.

I suspect, but can’t say for sure, that he also might be more comfortable with allowing more green airglow in his skies than I would. If I think that the green is just too dominant, I will tend to subtract it down on the green curve.

I grade each film to achieve the kind of aesthetic artistic effect and feel I’m after. More often than not, I will heavily lean toward a more natural color grade, as I do like working with it and feel that it’s far more interesting, looks better, and shows more detail than when using a cooler bluish grade. However, not to say that in the future, I might not decide to make another film that way.

In the film’s information section below it, decided to include a link to Roger’s website article on night sky colors, since the film uses a fairly natural color grade. My goal was to educate those who might be wondering why my Milky Way skies are not blue as they are used to seeing. I’m pretty sure I’ll be getting some comments and questions about this.

So, after having Roger review the film and give it his seal of approval regarding my color grading, I added the link. I think that most people are surprised when they find out that the night sky isn’t blue. 

I know I was when I first started doing this. I think it’s just fine if people want to grade toward blue. That is and should be an artistic choice, however, it’s just nice if people are aware that blue is not a realistic depiction of what is actually out there.

One of the lenses Barry used was the Zeiss Battis 28mm f/2.8.

AARON: What lenses did you use?

BARRY: Most of this film was shot with three Sony A7R II, with just a few sequences shot with a Sony A7S II. We often use two, and sometimes three cameras rolling at once. The lenses on the cameras are:

AARON: The tight shots of the Milky Way have a lot of detail, was that just a virtue of a telephoto shot of the core or did you do some extra processing to bring out the colors and detail?

BARRY: The tight shots were done with the 28mm, and 55mm and were graded using only curves for color, contrast, black levels, etc. Again, I believe that this method is far superior than trying to achieve good color and clarity with white balance, brightness, contrast, etc. But, that’s just my opinion, and reasonable minds may differ.

I like using several different optics as I really like to do a lot of pan/zoom/tilting in post, sometimes simultaneously. The Ken Burns effect! 

For instance, the Crater Lake sequences were filmed with all three lenses. The sequence starts with the wideangle 18mm, then transitions to the 28mm where the camera zooms in post, and then the rotating tight zoom star fly through was done with content from the 55mm.

AARON: Where can we point people to follow your work? 

BARRY: For people who want to follow our work, I say our because my 20-year-old son Ryan travels with me and helps in countless different ways, you can subscribe to my Youtube channels. These time-lapses appear on Yosemite Channel – Barry Chall Films, and 4K Universe- Barry Chall films, which has a couple of alternate versions of the time-lapses on the Yosemite Channel with more daytime content and different music. I also have been making underwater films for years and have another channel called Underwater 3D Channel – Barry Chall Films.

Coloring the Milky Way Timelapse to Make Roger Clark Proud

…if you’re wondering why the night sky isn’t blue …the night sky is not blue like in the daytime, although many photographers mistakenly, or intentionally, will color grade it that way. It may look good, and I sometimes do it myself, but it is not accurate…

Barry Chall | Yosemite Channel Video Description

While he can be a bit curmudgeonly at times, Roger Clark is the brilliant mind behind the color grading techniques used in this video. From the description of the video: “Roger is an MIT educated scientist and probably the world’s foremost authority on color grading night sky digital images. He can be pretty technical at times, but if you read his article, you’ll come away with a whole new understanding on what is really going on in the night sky.

LEARN HOW TO CORRECTLY COLOR THE NIGHT SKY here: https://clarkvision.com/articles/color.of.the.night.sky/

kdk 1/13/20