Time lapse: Epic Skies

By Phil Plait | February 20, 2012 7:00 am

Photographer Tony Rowell sent me a link to a time lapse video he made of the American southwest. It’s all really very pretty, but honestly, the part that got me was the amazing lenticular cloud at the very beginning. You just have to see it to believe it!

Spectacular, no? Lenticular, or lens-shaped, clouds form near mountains, where the rising air condenses to form the clouds, and the wind gives them their shape. I see them commonly here in Boulder, but near sunset the colors are magnificent. Tony really snagged a great shot there, and I love how it looks like a jellyfish hovering in the air.

Finally, right at the end (at the 4 minute mark) he caught a bright fireball over Mt. Whitney that’s just stunning.

It appears over several frames of the time lapse, which isn’t actually possible: meteors move so quickly they come and go in a single frame exposure (or at most just a few, depending on the exposure times)! I asked Tony about it, and he acknowledged that the meteor was slowed down after the fact in the video so you get a better view of it. I expect some people might think this is cheating, but I wouldn’t agree. After all, a time lapse itself might be considered cheating! It’s an artistic representation of reality, and I think it’s OK to let the art triumph, as long as it’s clear that’s the case.

Credit: Tony Rowell, used by permission.

Related posts:

Incredibly, impossibly beautiful time lapse video
Lenticular clouds over the Boulder foothills
Superb time lapse: “My Soul”

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Astronomy, Pretty pictures

Comments (13)

  1. While lenticular clouds are pretty, as an aviator, I do my best to only observe them from a distance! They are usually associated with turbulence that makes you worry about wings falling off!

  2. Chris

    Was just the meteor or the entire sequence slowed down? Maybe it just happens too fast, but it doesn’t look like the background stars change speed. Either way, it’s artistic, not a publication, so I’ll let him get away with that.

  3. davem

    @1: If lenticulars are associated with standing wave effects, they’re very smooth indeed(if you get into the right part of them!) . Height records have been set in them for gliders. Next time, head for them, turn the engine off and enjoy! :0)

  4. @Davem (#3), old Boeing 707 airframes don’t do a great job at gaining altitude with the engines shut off. ūüėÄ

  5. IanR

    Where is the mountain?

  6. Catalyst23

    Ok, so seeing lenticular clouds in Boulder makes sense, what with the mountains and what not
    But what about at 2:12 or so? Do you also see boulders in Boulder, with boulderers bouldering on the boulders to be found in Boulder? Ha! Everyday with me is a bad pun day!

  7. VinceRN

    I think it is cheating, but it’s pretty awesome cheating.

  8. I saw the background stars continue to move behind the meteor, so that was a good clue that it was tinkered with. Pretty, though, and a good end to the clip.

  9. Martin

    What’s that appearing behind the cloud cover on the second to last scene (at 3:40-3:41)?

  10. mannon

    I imagine if he didn’t tinker with the meteor it would have only been visible for 1 frame in such a time lapse. I think he just cut in the meteor from realtime footage. You can see one star that fades out and then back in presumably due to the meteor footage being overlaid on top of it. Which also makes me think that the meteor did not actually occur right at that moment, else you would think that you’d get the star doubled instead of just vanishing, though he could have just edited that out or something. I don’t care either way. It looks great and it would be a shame to miss the meteor because it flashed by in 1 frame.

    My only problem with the film was the first song coming entirely out of the left channel. That really bugged and distracted me terribly, especially with my headphones on. O,o Feels like someone just leaning on the side of your head and I don’t like it. I don’t mind when that sort of thing is done for effect but you assume sooner or later it will shift to the right or at least have different instruments or something kick in on the right, but it was just the entire song coming out of the left channel and it kinda made it hard to appreciate the video until the next song started in both channels.

  11. Messier Tidy Upper

    Cheers! :-)

    Spectacular, no?

    Spectacular – YES! ūüėČ

    Like something out of that Independence Day movie with the arrival of the alien ships. Then we get that silhoutted elephant holding still so long* at the 2 minute 20 second mark – what’s the deal with that! Then finally the meteor over the Great Square of Pegasus. Epic time lapsed skies indeed. 8)

    Even if there is a bit of video / computer jiggery-pokery going on to make it all work. Wonderful clip.

    * Or, yeah, more likely a sculpture but either way unexpected and impressive.

  12. CJSF

    Where was this footage taken from again? I swear some of it looked more northwest US than southwest, but I’m sure I have a biased idea of what the “Southwest” looks like (having only been to San Diego and San Bernadino – ok, well I did drive out to Joshua Tree, which was freaking AWESOME).


  13. Matt B.

    You can see a small airplane over the horses in one frame.

    The seashore bit made me really want to see a time lapse of a full cycle of a Bay of Fundy spring tide.


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