Petronas Twin Towers – A Timelapse

Timelapses have always been a source of fascination for me. To be able to see the passage of time in just a few seconds gives me a sense of wonder.

Armed with my bread and butter equipments, the Sony A7 v1 and the ultra-wide Samyang 14mm f/2.8, I decided to create my first ever timelapse with the Petronas Twin Towers of Malaysia as the main subject. I already had a vision on how the final product would be:

The contrast of the twin towers’ immovable and massive nature against the dynamic but diminutive size of the cars and the people whizzing past them.

I knew I had to make a long exposure in order to be able to capture the motion of the cars and the people. I also knew that in the early evening, these cars would become light trails when the exposure is just long enough.

Picking a spot to frame my vision was rather easy as I had already scouted a great location from way before. It is the pedestrian island right in front of the twin towers. Perfect spot!

On the technical side of things, from my research, I need to be able to capture the right number of images for the duration of timelapse I wanted. I used the following formula:

Number of images = shutterspeed * fps * desired-timelapse-duration;

Due to a limitation in card space (I only had 2 16gb cards at the time of my first attempt), I opted for a 20s 24fps timelapse. Using the formula above, I need to take at least:

1s * 24fps * 20s = 480 images

I do not have an ND filter at the moment, so in order to be able to capture the light trails I needed to wait for the right time to expose at 1 second. In Kuala Lumpur, the sun sets at around 7:20 so I had to setup at least 30 minutes.

Setup

I used the Manfrotto 190XPROB with the 222 ball head to keep things stable. I dialed in the following settings on my Sony A7, Manual exposure, ISO 50 (lowest possible), 1s, f/16 on the Samyang 14mm f/2.8, matrix metering, auto white balance, image quality set to RAW. For hands-free shutter operation, I used the Sony RM-VPR1 wired remote that can lock the camera shutter in place and have it fire away for as long as possible.

Shoot attempt

In my first attempt and after I burned through my first 16gb card, I realized that the 1 second exposure time was not enough for the shots that I wanted. I quickly changed my shutter to 2 seconds.

With the formula in mind, I knew that I would not have enough storage space for the images (total of 960) that should be taken for the duration that I wanted so I just let it be and just use up all the space it could. Little did I know that committed yet another blunder.

Post-processing

In my RAW workflow, I exclusively use Adobe Lightroom (now called Adobe Lightroom Classic CC 2018). At this time I realized that I had not reset the image quality setting of my camera from RAW+jpeg to RAW! In effect, I did not have the number of images necessary to create a good duration timelapse due to the extra space occupied by the extra jpeg photo.

Nevertheless, I still proceeded developing the RAW files making sure to utilize the sync functionality of Lightroom to copy settings (especially the spot removal!) into multiple images. I yielded around 500 images and exported them into jpegs.

Creating the timelapse video

When the jpegs in a folder, I imported them up as an Image Sequence into new project in Hitfilm Express 12 with the following settings: 4K UHD 24fps, GOPRO Cineform YUV 10Bit codec. The timelapse rendered well at the frame rate set but it was too short for my liking.

Second attempt

Rectifying the mistakes of the previous attempt, I came back to shooting the timelapse with a considerable bump in my memory card capacity. I bought the SanDisk 128GB Extreme Pro SDXC UHS-I Card. I wanted to shoot for as long as the memory card lasts. I also made sure that I had set the camera image quality to RAW.

Post-processing Part 2

I came back from the second attempt with over a thousand photos which pushed the performance of my computer to the brink. Upon rendering the timelapse jpegs, I saw for the first time how Lightroom uses up all the available threads of the CPU (8-core 16-threads Ryzen 2700X) and utilizes them to their maximum! It took almost half an hour to render the thousand photos and equally as long to render into a 4K video in Hitfilm.

De-flickering with LRTimelapse

With the second attempt, I was able to record a 48-second timelapse that spans the time at dusk up until the early evening. The differences in exposure were extreme. This is where I saw the effect of timelapse flickering. Even with manual exposure set, my post-processing affected the resulting jpegs in such a way that they exhibited fluctuations and dips in exposure values.

Enter LRTimelapse 5, a tool that, amongst other things, makes it easy to eliminate or minimize flickering. The tool is quite easy to use and the developer has put out an easy-to-follow tutorial on Youtube on how to use it.

Re-doing my workflow according to the prescribed LRTimelapse way, I managed to minimize the flickering on my timelapse so that I can proceed to create the film that I had originally envisioned.

The final product

After two attempts and several re-renders of the jpegs and 4k videos, I finally completed the film.

Needless to say, it was a fun exercise learning new workflows and tools. I cannot wait to shoot new timelapses and share them to the world.

Hope you like it!

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