An Epic Grand Canyon Timelapse

YIKÁÍSDÁHÁ: Navajo for Milky Way or “That Which Awaits the Dawn”

In April, I had the privilege of being invited to Northern Arizona University as an “artist in residence” to speak with their photography students about my timelapse experiences. While there, we also took shooting field trips to some of the magnificent locations a few hours away, most notably Grand Canyon National Park and Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park (spotted in many epic John Ford Westerns and countless other classics like “Easy Rider” and “Back to the Future III.” The weather was very intense at times, with high winds, frigid temperatures and stormfronts passing over us, but the locations were absolutely stunning and the clouds parted for long enough to reveal some incredible starscapes, meteors and the clearest Milky Way I’ve ever seen!

This was also my first opportunity to collaborate with old friend and former American Film Institute classmate Harun Mehmedinović, an incredibly accomplished photographer and now one of the professors at NAU. His passion and artist’s eye really elevated the quality of the material in a big way. Thanks again to Harun and the whole class for their awesome enthusiasm.

Most night shots were captured at 25-second exposures on our Canon EOS 6Ds and Canon 5D mk3s, with a variety of wide, fast lenses. Because the nights we picked had almost zero moon, the stars and Milky Way were exceptionally clear (once the storm clouds parted), which also made a perfect galactic palette for some star trails experiments, including a new mirroring/distortion effect at 2:56 that revealed a cool native pattern. For those not familiar with past vids, the star trails effect is created by tracing the rotation of the Earth’s axis, using a long exposure timelapse pictures and an awesome rendering program called StarStaX.

Keep an eye out at 2:10 (top center) as a meteor seems to BURST through the atmosphere and leave a smoke trail in its wake. As the great Phil Plait at Slate explains in his Bad Astronomy blog: “At 2:10 in, a meteor flashes, and leaves behind a curling wisp of what looks like smoke. This is called a persistent train, the vaporized remains of the meteoroid itself, and can glow for several minutes. The upper level winds from 60–100 km above Earth’s surface are what blow it into those curlicues.” Thanks, Phil!

Also, for those who were asking, the crazy burnt out forest seen in the Milky Way shots is all in Grand Canyon National Park, a much more diverse location than I imagined!

Try to watch in HD with headphones on and volume cranked if you can, for maximum immersion!

Shot and produced by: Gavin Heffernan and Harun Mehmedinović
Music: A Seated Night (Ambient) by Moby. Courtesy Native Chant
Thanks: Northern Arizona University, Grand Canyon National Park, Monument Valley Tribal Park.

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A Canadian-born indie filmmaker working in Los Angeles (primarily in the horror genre), Heffernan is also an avid timelapse photographer with a collection of acclaimed projects, including his Joshua Tree Journey series and a number of other popular works of astrophotography and experimentals. His timelapses and other videography can also be found on the festival circuit in his popular Devolution series, a still-incomplete trilogy of shorts examining the cost of mankind's progress. Follow him at: Sunchaser Pictures, Facebook and Twitter.


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