Sunset / Moonset Time-Lapse

Oh, I’ve got it bad.

I really feel almost addicted to making these movies. I know they’re not really any good, but I think they’re interesting (at least). And they’re helping me to understand how to create time-lapse movies, what works, and what doesn’t work.

Yesterday afternoon, I set up my camera and time-lapse equipment on the upstairs patio of my house, pointing at the sunset. Then I let it go, shooting one image every 20 seconds. It was nearly 11 PM when I turned it off. By that time, the crescent moon had set, too.

The resulting video included a lot of blank sky. My exposure was not lengthy enough to capture the stars after sunset, although one very bright star does set with the moon when it finally makes its appearance. I cut the video into two pieces: sunset and moonset. Here they are.

Sunset Time-Lapse

It was a pretty good afternoon for shooting the sunset. In Arizona, we don’t get clouds very often — although this year, our annual monsoon may be starting early. Yesterday afternoon, there were a lot of clouds out to the west — enough to completely filter the sun and give it something to paint with color as it set.

I should mention here that this is the same sky you can see in the time-lapse I did earlier in the day of the saguaro flowers. I just moved the camera upstairs and excluded anything other that the sky (and a tiny bit of a distant tree — darn it!). The only thing I wish is that I’d begun the time-lapse before the sun entered the camera’s frame. I think it would have been more interesting to see it drift in and then set.

I also need to point out that this video (and the one with the cactus flowers) really illustrates what I find attractive about time-lapse photography. It isn’t showing us anything we can’t see on our own. But it’s speeding up the process, making it possible to see motion where we normally wouldn’t. For example, this video is 20 seconds long. I created it using images spaced 20 seconds apart, then put them together in a 15 frames per second video. Do the math: 15 x 20 x 20 = 6000 seconds of real time. That’s 100 minutes. Would you sit still for 1 hour and 40 minutes to watch a sunset? And, if you did, would you see the clouds and sun moving as they clearly are in the video?

Moonset Time-Lapse

I cut out all the boring black night sky to produce this short video of the setting crescent moon. Not terribly exciting, I’m afraid.

One of the things I learned here is to set the exposure manually so all shots are the same. Let’s face it — the brightness of the image shouldn’t change. One exposure should do the trick. If I’d made a longer exposure, I would have had a brighter moon and more stars. And if I’d fixed the exposure to be the same for every shot, the brightness of the moon wouldn’t change from one shot to the next. (I sure hope some more knowledgeable photographers out there will correct me if I’m wrong on this.)

What Do You Think?

I’d love to get your feedback about my time-lapse mania. Are you enjoying them as much as I am? Am I wasting my time? Do you have any specific topics you’d like to see in time-lapse? Use the Comments link for this post or any of the other time-lapse posts to let me know.

Exact Sunrise/Sunset Times for Pilots and Photographers

Important data…and a special offer.

This is an old post with links to old files. You can find the latest version of this offer and currently available files here.

I’m a geek and know it. Each year, for the past few years, I’ve gone through a convoluted exercise on my Mac to extract, process, and import the exact sunrise and sunset times for Wickenburg, AZ (where I live) into iCal as individual daily events. That data is then synched across all of my Macs (via MobileMe) and on my Treo (via the Missing Sync). As a result, if you ask me what time the sun rises or sets in Wickenburg any day in the current year, I can tell you — usually within about a minute — no matter where I am.

Why I Bother

Why do I have this information? Well there are two reasons.

For one, I’m a pilot and I often need to plan for flights in the future. For example, suppose a client wants me to take him from Wickenburg to Sedona for a day trip on a specific date in March. While I’m allowed to fly at night, there are three mountain ranges between Wickenburg and Sedona that get very dark at night. My personal rule, established for safety, is to leave Sedona no later than 30 minutes before sunset. That gives us plenty of time to cross all three mountain ranges before it gets dark. So, with a glance at iCal or my Treo, I can find out exactly what time sunset is on the day in question and tell him when we have to leave Sedona.

As a pilot who often flies photographers around places like Lake Powell, this becomes really handy. The best light for photography is early in the morning and late in the afternoon. This isn’t a theory at Lake Powell — it’s a fact. Knowing what time of day sunrise and sunset happen helps me to plan flights in that area.

Of course, the sunrise/sunset times at Page, AZ aren’t the same as in Wickenburg, but they’re close enough to get approximate timing for preliminary flight planning; I usually check the exact times before finalizing.

I’m also a photographer myself. So it’s important to me to know what times are best for photography.

How I Do It — Briefly

Time PaletteI get the exact time information from a program called Time Palette. I bought this try-before-you-buy program years ago. It had the information I needed, but no export capabilities. So I asked the software author to add them. He did. (Try asking Microsoft, Adobe, or Apple for a specific new feature you need in one of their programs and see how long it takes for you to get it.)

The hoops I jump through to export the monthly data and import it into iCal aren’t worth discussing here. It’s technical and boring. But each year, I improve my solution to make it a little quicker and easier for me.

Special, Limited-Time Offer

I realize that there are probably a lot of other pilots and photographers out there who could benefit from this information for their localities.

So I’m making this limited-time offer: I am willing to create iCal-compatible ICS calendar files for 2009 local sunrise, sunset, moonrise, and moonset data for anyone who asks from now until January 2009 month-end. All I need from you is the name of your city/state/country and your exact time zone name. I figure that if enough people ask, it’ll motivate me to completely automate the entire process so it’s even easier for me next year.

You can use the comment form for this post to request your custom ICS files:

  1. Enter your name (first name only is okay) in the form’s name field. Don’t put the name of your company or blog or anything else.
  2. Enter your real e-mail address in the e-mail field. This keeps it private so only I can see it. And no, I don’t harvest this information for other use or sale. But I will use it to send your files, so if you put in fake information, you won’t get the files.
  3. Enter your Web site or blog in the Web site field if desired. You don’t have to do this, but why not?
  4. In the big comment field of the form, enter the following information (1) your city/state/country, (2) the closest large city/state/country with an airport (in case your city isn’t in the Time Palette database), (3) the exact name of your time zone, (4) whether or not your city observes daylight savings time, (5) a brief summary of why you want this information, (6) the name of the ICS-compatible software you plan to use the file with, and (7) any other comments you might want to share.

Please don’t leave out any of this information. If you leave out something really important — like the location or time zone — I either won’t be able to generate the information for you or it will be wrong.

One request per person, please. Full calendar years only — no special date requests.

I will create and send out these files as I find time. I’ll probably do them in batches. Don’t nag me. Don’t complain when you don’t get yours right away. I occasionally do work for a living.

I admit that I’m more likely to be motivated to create and send out a batch of files with a donation to my coffee fund. (Hint, Hint)

Don’t use the Contact form for this blog or my e-mail address, if you happen to have it, to make a request or ask questions about how I do this. I will delete your message and will probably ignore any other request you make through proper channels. My long-standing rule has not fallen: I do not provide support via e-mail.

And if you want this information for your locality, ask for it now. I’ll stop considering requests on January 31, 2009.

Disclaimer: I do not guarantee the accuracy of this information. It should not be relied upon without independent verification for any mission-critical operations. I will not take any responsibility for any use of this information. Use it at your own risk.

Download a Previously Created File

As I create these files, I’ll put them here for download by others who live in the same city. (I won’t create files for people who don’t have the courtesy to provide an accurate e-mail address, so don’t even try it; I’ll check first.)

The following files are already available for download; help yourself if you live in one of these cities:


Heli Camping

How to make camping more fun.

It was spring 2006 when my friend Ryan suggested I go with him to the Big Sandy Shoot and give helicopter rides. I didn’t know much about it, but I had nothing else do to that weekend. So I loaded my tent, sleeping bag, and air mattress into my helicopter and followed Ryan’s friend’s Sikorsky S-55 helicopter to the tiny town of Wikieup, about 40 minutes north of Wickenburg on highway 93.

I detail the events of the weekend here.

Helicopter and TentAlthough I did fly into this spot and I did sleep in this tent the night before, I didn’t sleep in this tent where it’s shown in the photo. I moved the tent to take the photo. With a dome tent like this, it’s easy. Just empty it out, pick it up, and put it where you want it. The helicopter was in such a pretty spot and the early morning sunlight make it look really beautiful. Why not take advantage of the light?

I cooked up the photo for possible advertising use. Flying M Air (my helicopter charter company) can do overnight excursions. There’s no reason why we can’t offer heli camping.

But, so far, we just haven’t had any calls for it.

Oh, and for the record, I’ll be back at Wickieup for their autumn (forgive me, Miraz) shoot in October. Anyone want to come along for the ride?

WebCam Timelapse – July 16, 2007

It’s getting closer!

My WebCam has been faithfully making timelapse movies every day. I’m trying not to bore you by showing you all of them.

Yesterday’s sky was extremely active. Cloudy then mostly sunny then cloudy with an approaching thunderstorm. This video shows an excellent example of a typical monsoon summer day here in Arizona. The storm was fast approaching and Mike and I really thought we’d get poured on. But when the sun sets, the storm’s main source of energy is removed. It dissipates quickly — usually within an hour of sunset. And although yesterday’s storm got close — probably within 20 miles — it died before it reached us.


Here’s the video from the day. I’ve tweaked the settings to shoot a new frame every 8 minutes and create the video at the framrate of 5 frames per second. That stretches out the video to 20 seconds without making a major increase in the file size.

Remember, after clicking this image, you may have to wait a few seconds for it to load before it starts playing. Be patient and click only once. It’ll play right in this window. QuickTime is required.


In Wickenburg.

Sikorsky S-64 SkycraneIn May 2006, a Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane stopped at Wickenburg for fuel on its way to Tucson. Three of Wickenburg’s four resident helicopter owners — including me — were on hand, attracted to the helicopter like bees to honey.

The helicopter, painted bright orange and carrying a crew of three and firefighting equipment, landed at Wickenburg Municipal Airport just after 10 AM on a Sunday morning. It had flown directly to Wickenburg from its last refueling stop at Bullhead City on the Colorado River near Laughlin, NV.

The crew took some time to chat with onlookers and provide information about the rare helicopter. At the time, Tanker 733, as this helicopter was designated for firefighting, was one of only three Skycranes operating in the United States. All other Skycranes were abroad on other missions.

According to the crew, the Skycrane, which weighs over 20,000 pounds, can lift over 25,000 pounds. Its firefighting equipment enables it to suck several thousand gallons of water from a water source at least 18 inches deep in less than a minute. The water is then mixed on board with fire retardant chemicals and sprayed with precision over fires. The helicopter burns approximately 500 gallons of fuel per hour — and you thought your SUV was a gas hog!

WebCam Timelapse – July 11, 2007

Lots of confused cloud activity.

The Arizona sky is making me a liar. In a post earlier this month, I talked about how most days started clear and the clouds built up throughout the day. This week, however, it’s been cloudy early in the day and clears up in the late afternoon. Makes me look like I haven’t got a clue, huh?

This is a great video (in the new “large” size) that shows off all the confusion in yesterday’s sky. Watch the clouds carefully — they move in various directions throughout the day!

After clicking this image, you may have to wait a few seconds for it to load before it starts playing. Be patient and click only once. It’ll play right in this window. QuickTime is required.

Although I can do a larger image movie, I think the 1.1 MB bandwidth is enough. I’d like to increase the number of images that make up the movie, but that’ll also increase the movie size and bandwidth when it’s played. If you have any preferences about this, use the Comments link or form to be heard.

And I do want to note that I’m not releasing these every day — just the days when there’s something interesting to see. This time of year, that can be several times a week.

WebCam Timelapse – July 9, 2007

Another interesting timelapse.

What I like about this one is:

  • Nice colors at sunrise. Remember, this camera points northeast, so we don’t actually see the sun.
  • About halfway through the day, the clouds going by seem to make a right turn as they move across the sky. I think there was a wind shift up there. Interesting.

You need to click the image to download and play the file with QuickTime. I did this purposely for the folks who aren’t interested in wasting bandwidth on something as trivial as this.

For those of you who requested a larger image, one is on the way. Yesterday’s big image was too big, so we’ll have to wait until the next interesting sky. Today’s might be a good candidate; lots of clouds. We’ll see.

And for those of you just tuning in, these images are my attempt to show how the weather changes here in Arizona during out annual monsoon season. Usually we don’t have any clouds at all, so these images really do show something special. I’m hoping that images created later in the season will include storms and, if we’re lucky, even a few lightning strikes.