Capturing the world through photography, video and multimedia

// Width here // Height here

Behind the lens: Star trail time-lapse over Death Valley

For photographers, personal projects are often a way to express an independent vision, or are just an excuse to get out there and shoot.

Gavin Heffernan and Michael Darrow, photo by Rachel PayneWhen filmmaker Gavin Heffernan and his friends, producers Michael Darrow and Rachel Payne, needed a break, they set out to do a time-lapse project in Death Valley National Park. The result is the video “Death Valley Dreamlapse.”

The three did their location scouting online and found actual shooting spots on the fly, having never been there before they arrived just before sunset. Death Valley was chosen for its dark skies away from light pollution.

In below-freezing temperatures, with boxed wine and firewood for warmth, on the peak night of the Geminid meteor shower (Dec. 13), they witnessed an “incredible galactic palette,” Heffernan wrote.

They captured star trails, the meteor Shower (2:20-2:35), the occasional passing planet (1:15-1:30 and 2:15-2:25) and some unexplained lights (1:30-1:35) with 25-second exposures using Canon 5D & 7D, with a 24-millimeter/1.4 lens and a 28-millimeter/1.8. Gavin Heffernan and Michael Darrow, photo by Rachel Payne Each camera shot a scene for roughly three hours at a time (that’s when the wine came out). No special equipment was used, just tripods and the rotation of Earth’s axis. They set lanterns near the cameras to find them in the dark.
Along with color and contrast, the stars were given a streak effect using freeware StarStaX.

This video is the latest in a series of nighttime time-lapse projects. See more here.

Upper photo: Gavin Heffernan, left, and Michael Darrow at Eureka Dunes in Death Valley. Credit: Rachel Payne

Lower photo: Rachel Payne and a Canon 7D. Credit: Gavin Heffernan

More time-lapse videos:

Space shuttle Endeavour’s tek across L.A.

Mulholland Drive bridge removal during Carmageddon

Hollywood Sign repainting



  1. January 25, 2013, 9:16 am

    The "unexplained lights" seem to be circling aircraft.

    Changing the 'U' in "UFO" to an 'I' in "IFO".

  2. January 26, 2013, 3:03 am

    Wow. Simply breath taking work. Thank you for sharing the information on how this was accomplished. I'm sure the work put into making this short video required far more effort and skills than this article describes, it aspires and empowers me to believe it is possible for me to create such beautiful works.

    By: Noy
  3. September 24, 2013, 5:27 pm

    Beautiful Exhibition of what is our night sky. It would be cool to get something similar to this Death Valley video only on the Valley floor watching what happens with nature when the sun goes down in the Vast desert.

  4. November 21, 2013, 8:47 am

    The "unexplained lights" seem to be circling aircraft.

    Changing the 'U' in "UFO" to an 'I' in "IFO".

Add a comment or a question.

If you are under 13 years of age you may read this message board, but you may not participate. Here are the full legal terms you agree to by using this comment form.

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until they've been approved.


Required, will not be published

Browse All Photos »