Merged Time Lapse, Cloud Trails or Cloud Painting?

February 10, 2014 PhotographyTutorials  No comments

Merged Timelapse, Cloud Trails, Cloud Painting…call it what you will (because I don’t think there’s an official name for this technique yet, although I think ‘cloud painting’ is one that is used the most) is an interesting technique.  Of course it’s one of those photographic techniques that you either love or hate.

I attempted some test shots yesterday around my yard.  This time of year we have a terrible view of sunset blocked by a lot of trees but the clouds fairly high up in the sky picked up some color so I set up the 50D with Magic Lantern installed, set the intervalometer to one image every six seconds and did about 30 exposures.  I used the program Startrails.exe (find it here, it’s free: LINK)  to stack all of the images so I didn’t have to do it by hand in Photoshop (although there are free actions out there you can use in photoshop to do the stacking as well, try here: LINK).

I think my final merged image came out pretty neat and will definitely be trying this again but will search out a much better foreground.  Awhile back I had read a post on and it may help you if you’re interested in trying this as well…LINK)

We’re not wasting film here so it’s really a simple technique to try out when you get a chance.  I never look forward to summer here in southwest Florida but I kind of am right now because we get some phenomenal clouds in our skies that time of year.  I may lose a quart of blood from mosquitoes doing these in the summer but for me, I think the final ‘painting’ result will be worth it.

© Heather Green Photography

© Heather Green Photography


A few parting thoughts…

It’s all trial and error….a lot of factors go into this…. the clouds being a major part of it…how fast or slow are they moving?  Which way are they moving?  How much time between shots should you set your intervalometer for to get the space you want between clouds?  How many images should you take to get the clouds to ‘streak’ across the frame to make it interesting enough?  One idea is to set up (try five or six seconds between shots) and just let the camera shoot and maybe stop it after 30 images, then scroll through your images on the LCD screen and watch the clouds move across the sky and decide if your timing between shots and the amount of shots you took was enough.  If you’re a veteran at doing time lapse movies then you’ve probably got a good grasp already about timing in between shots.  If you’re not a veteran at time lapse then you may want to google around for some time lapse tutorials to get a grasp on timing in between shots.  I didn’t do that, I just guessed and enjoyed the final result ;-)  If I would have done less time between shots I probably would have gotten smoother movement with the clouds which I may try in the future as well.

I mentioned Magic Lantern above…this is how I got an intervalometer in my Canon 50D.  You can find the website at this LINK and download it for free.  Be sure to read everything and make sure that whatever model camera you have will work with Magic Lantern, and which Magic Lantern options will work on your model.  Also, you may need to have the latest firmware update from Canon on whatever model you have BEFORE installing Magic Lantern.  If you install it on one of your older model cameras like I did (figured I’d test it on my 50D as I already have the 7D and 6D and was a little nervous about putting it into one of my DSLR’s that I use all of the time in case there was an issue, but no issues for me!) you’ll probably find there’s a firmware upgrade from Canon for your camera like I found I needed on the 50D.

If you can’t get Magic Lantern for the intervalometer (or are a penny pincher like me and don’t want to spend the money on an intervalometer) you can always use a remote trigger release and use a timer and just do your time lapse shots that way.  If no trigger release (trust me, they are worth it and the cable releases are super cheap and the remote (not tethered) releases are not very expensive either) then you can always just hit the shutter release button by hand…but, you may get some blurry images if you’re moving the camera/tripod as you’re pressing the button.  There’s also Trigger Trap which is a dongle and an app for your iphone that can trigger your camera like an intervalometer as well…find it here LINK)

Don’t forget to check out the Petapixel link I mention above, it will also link you up to Matt Molloy’s flickr page, he’s got some stunning examples.  I love how he started some well before sunset or in the middle of the day.  I’m always looking for ideas of what to shoot between the ‘golden hours’ and cloud painting is definitely something to keep in your bag of tricks.

I’m by no means an expert on this, as I mentioned this is the first time I’ve tried it.  If you’ve done this before then feel free to leave a comment on this blog post with some tips or even link up to an image you’ve created using this technique.

Enjoy and happy shooting!

P.S. if you’d like to view the image above larger, you can check it out on Flickr LINK



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