Amarillo by Morning

June 09, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Incredible colors just seconds before the sun appeared on the horizon.24 mm, 1/8 sec, f/8, ISO 100

This morning I got up early to capture a sunrise time lapse at a wheat field on the edge of the city. I've shot a couple of time lapses in the last few weeks since getting the Sony a6000, but this was my first attempt to get a sunrise. Our 6-year old daughter was the flower girl in a wedding last weekend, and I noticed this spot as we passed it several times going to and from the wedding venue. I knew the sun would rise across the wheat field, and thought it would make for a really nice sunrise shot with the nearly ripe golden wheat in the foreground. I never imagined I would get rewarded with such a spectacular sunrise (although I did get a little excited driving out there and seeing the city lights reflected in the low clouds!)

For all my landscape shots, I use the Sony Zeiss 16-80 mm A-mount lens adapted to the a6000 using the LA-EA4 adapter. I bought this lens used a couple of weeks ago and am just astounded by its rendering of color and contrast. The lens is also very sharp and takes full advantage of the 24-megapixel sensor of the a6000.

My photography planning app (PlanIt! Pro for Android) said that sunrise would be at 6:32am with blue hour starting at 5:50. I wan't sure exactly when I needed to start shooting, but I figured the start of blue hour would be good. I arrived around 5:40am. I hadn't really scouted the location ahead of time, although I did look it up on Google Maps the night before. There is a row of street lamps behind the camera, but fortunately I was able to turn off the main road and get a hundred yards or so away from the lights so that they did not affect the shot.

I set up the camera just on the edge of the wheat field and zoomed in slightly to exclude the road that is just out of the frame to the right. By the time I arrived, there was already some faint light above the horizon, so it was easy to tell where the sun would appear. The photo below shows my camera setup (captured at about the same time as the title photo just as the sun appeared on the horizon).

I used the Sony Playmemories Time-lapse app as the intervalometer and to control the camera settings. The app does a great job of simplifying the capture process, and also provides some useful presets. I used the sunrise preset, but I did change the default settings. I set the camera to shoot in RAW+JPEG so that I would have the raw files to process for the final video. I also changed the capture interval to 8 seconds and extended the capture duration (number of exposures) to about 50 minutes so that I could get about 15 minutes of photos after the sun rose above the horizon. I set the auto exposure tracking to Mid (just a guess on that one). Also, I changed the Interval Priority setting to Off. Since it was still fairly dark when I started capturing, the camera needed to use an exposure longer than the 8-second capture interval, and this setting allows the exposure duration to override the specified interval. The camera wanted the first exposure to be longer than 30 seconds, but 30 seconds is the maximum exposure time allowed by the app. Finally, aperture and ISO were fixed at f/8 and ISO 100 by the preset. You can also see from the screenshot of the camera that I still had 62% battery life remaining after capturing 390 frames, so the app does a good job managing battery usage.

Playmemories Time-lapse app settings With the app set up, I was ready to shoot so I leveled the lower rule of thirds line on the horizon, focused on the clouds, and started shooting. While I was waiting the 52 minutes, I tried to read the chapter for my 7am Thursday morning Bible study, but the sunrise was more than a little distracting!

The Playmemories Time-lapse app automatically creates a movie file, but my experience has been that the files suffer from flickering and are not very smooth, so I prefer to post-process the photos and produce the video file afterwards. For this shoot, I developed the raw files in Lightroom. I expected some difficulty to get a smooth transition from darkness to light, but had no problems at all and had to do very little to the raw files to get really incredible images. First, I selected an image from the most intense time of the sunrise to use as a template and applied my standard landscape preset which includes highlights/shadows and white/black point adjustments, camera calibration, sharpening, and lens profile corrections, then I adjusted the white balance. I also added a graduated filter on the bottom of the frame over the wheat field to brighten the foreground and bring out the golden color of the wheat, then I cropped to a 16:9 aspect ratio for video and synced the adjustment to all of the images. Images were exported at 4K resolution; it took about 2 hours to export all 390 images.

The exported images were exported to a video file using VirtualDub with the msuDeflicker plugin which does a great job of removing flicker. I was tempted to try using LRTimelapse, but the Sony app did such a good job controlling the exposure that I didn't need to use it.

The final step was to add in some music (good old George Strait, what could be more appropriate?) and render the final video. Enjoy!

Wheat Field Sunrise


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