Amazing time-lapse video captures the night sky

Claudine Zap
Claudine Zap
The Upshot

Temporal Distortion from Randy Halverson on Vimeo

Think you've seen the night sky? Not like this. Photographer Randy Halverson took months (when the weather was clear) to shoot the stars overhead of the White River in central South Dakota, Arches National Park in Utah, Canyon of the Ancients area of Colorado, and Madison, Wisconsin. He put it all together in a time-lapse video set to music by the out-of-this-world composer Bear McCreary, who wrote the moody soundtracks to "Battlestar Galactica" and "The Walking Dead."

Along with a star-filled sky, the photog caught the tail of a meteor and the northern lights. The score adds a dramatic and other-worldly counterpoint. Feast your eyes. Here, Halverson takes us through "Temporal Distortion." If you can't get enough of this amazing light show, check out the extended 23-minute version.

What made you think to do this?
I've been shooting time-lapse for over two years. I really just wanted to get some unique angles of the Milky Way; the aurora were mostly unexpected. On a few of the nights I was actually set up to shoot the Milky Way. When it showed up I had to turn the cameras to the north to shoot it. I contacted Bear McCreary last fall and asked him if he was interested in collaborating with me and doing the music for it. I thought his music would fit perfectly with it, so I held on to the footage until he had time to do it.

Seems like a great way to get people to appreciate astronomy who might not ordinarily be stargazers. Was that your goal?
My goal really was just to get some good Milky Way shots, but when I ended up getting the meteors, aurora, and other phenomena like airglow or noctilucent clouds, I thought it would make the video more interesting. I'm an amateur at astronomy myself, but I can always ask a real astronomer if I have questions about what I catch.

Have you done this before?
I've been shooting just time-lapse for over two years, but my most popular have been my last two: Tempest Milky Way and Plains Milky Way.

What is the technique?
I use Canon DSLR cameras and take still images, not video. The shutter is open for 20 to 30 seconds on most of the shots. This allows the sensor on the camera to gather more light than the eye can see and makes the stars, Milky Way, and aurora appear brighter than they are to the eye. I also have the camera mounted on a Stage Zero Dolly from Dynamic Perception. This motion-controlled rig moves the camera slightly between each exposure, and gives the camera the motion you see in the time-lapse. I then have to edit the thousands of still images together in a computer, to assemble it into a movie.

Are you surprised by the response?
Yeah, I am. I think music is really important on these videos, and I think Bear McCreary's music works really well with the video, and that helps.