In December, we headed down to Indonesia to catch Mt Bromo in the midst of an eruption. This was the first eruption in about three years, and although it hadn't started spewing lava yet, the plume of volcanic ash was already 1.5km high. Driving into Cemoro Lawang - the nearest village to Bromo - the weather afforded us a few minutes' glimpse of the smoke column before the evening descended into equal parts fog and darkness.
We had come with the knowledge that there wasn't much we could do in the area, based on a national park advisory. An area radiating three kilometres from Bromo was completely out of bounds. So before the trip, we decided we would spend our time camped on a nearby mountain, and make it our mission to take a timelapse video capturing both the sunrise and the eruption.
Here's four things we learnt about producing a timelapse video:
1. You need an intervalometer
Contrary to what its name may suggest, a timelapse video is not shot as a film; instead, it's made of individual frames taken at specified intervals, then compiled into a video. As an example: imagine you choose to take your frames each a minute apart, over a 24-minute period. You now have 24 minutes worth of frames that can be compressed into a single second of video time, thus achieving the sped-up effect. The intervalometer is the magic tool that allows you to program all these so that your camera can fire off shots automatically at the frequency you tell it to. The interval is of course up to your choosing, and is dependent on your subject matter. You can probably get away with one frame per hour if you are trying to capture a growing plant, for instance, but as we wanted to shoot the relatively fast-moving volcanic plume we decided to go with one frame every ten seconds.
2. Preparation is everything
Scouting for a location beforehand is extremely important, particularly if you expect to capture the transition from night to day. We hiked up the mountain at 2am in near complete darkness (no moon or starlight because the smoke had blotted it all out) and had a tough time deciding on a vantage point. Eventually we decided to take a gamble on the summit, figuring the higher we were the better, but as morning dawned we found our frame was partially obscured by a grove of trees that had been just beyond the reach of our torches. We ended up abandoning the attempt, and spent the morning scouting for a better photo spot for our attempt the next day. This time, we even went to the extent of marking out with stones where our tripod legs should stand.
3. Working in the dark
Framing our shot in the dark proved to be a challenge. There were no consistent points of reference we could use as Bromo was too far away for our torches to illuminate, and so we had to make educated guesses at our photo composition. We did this by taking long exposure shots of the mountainsides around us, then comparing the frames to photos taken in the day, which enabled us to make adjustments to our focal length and position.
What was also tough was focusing the shot when there were no visible stars or light references. We took dozens of test shots but couldn't really gauge the clarity because of the low light conditions... on hindsight, we should have spent some more time finetuning our settings - you don't want to shoot for hours then realise your photos are blurry.
4. Familiarity with your camera settings
Timelapse photography is done using the manual mode on your camera, so you have greater control over the exposure no matter what the weather condition. We found this particularly tricky since we had to react fast to the changing light as the sun rose - we had to toggle between the shutter speed and ISO almost every other shot once the first rays of pink blazed into the sky.
OK, enough said - check out our videos below (watch in high quality)! :) Drop us tips in the comment box if you have any!