The Making of "Fleeting Skies"


For information about my dolly or turntable, see The Motion Project.


Scene 1: Hawk Hill, overlooking San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge

The sun rises behind the city for only a few weeks each year, and I was busy during the week, so I only had a few chances to film the scene. This area is often obscured in fog, so I frequently checked fog reports. The first time I tried to film this scene, several friends and I left Berkeley at 5 AM and drove for an hour to get to Hawk Hill. When we got there, it looked like this:

After standing around for a couple hours without the fog clearing, we packed up and went home.

The next weekend, as I was about to go to bed late Saturday night, I casually checked the fog report--no fog was predicted. I drove out there Sunday morning and caught the scene without fog.



Scene 2: Yosemite

I shot this scene while on a 2-day Spring Break trip to Yosemite. One other person and I left Berkeley at 1 AM and arrived in Yosemite in time for the sunrise. We spent the day in the valley and went to the famous "Tunnel View" location at night. We stayed up until 1 AM or so doing night photography. I set up the camera on the slope below the lookout point so that it was out of sight. We slept in a car, got up to catch sunrise the following morning, and then drove back to Berkeley, exhausted. Due to the cold, my batteries died sooner that I expected. Because of this, the Milky Way only begins to rise at the end of the clip.

Star trails:


Scene 3: Marin Headlands, north of San Francisco

I went hiking here. There are a bunch of abandoned WWII-era military bunkers built into the cliffs to defend the Bay Area from invasion.


Scene 4: Shaver Lake

There are a few shooting stars visible in this clip. Andromeda is the fuzzy object in the top right at the beginning. Polaris, the North Star, is in the top left.


Scene 5: Mount Baldy (also known as Mount San Antonio)

I hiked this in the winter.


Scene 6: Joshua Tree Rock Arch

I only had one night in Joshua Tree, so I made the most of it. I set up the camera in front of the arch for the first part of the night. At 2 AM, I got up, hiked the 1/4 mile to the camera, and moved it to a Joshua tree (Scene 29). The moon rose behind the arch, which added a really cool effect. Orion is visible in the upper right at the beginning.


Scene 7: El Capitan and Merced River, in Yosemite

I filmed this scene the morning following the "Tunnel View" clip. It was COLD.


Scene 8: Tree in Idyllwild


Scene 9: Ruins at Eden Landing

These ruins are remains of the salt industry that once dominated the South San Francisco Bay economy.


Scene 10: Davenport Pier Remnants

This pier was located on an inaccessible beach at the base of a large cliff. The pier was built in the 1860s for whaling and was abandoned in 1880. I really don’t know how they descended the cliff to reach the pier. The first time I came here, I wasn’t able to find a path down at all. When I returned a second time, I found a narrow, sloped, crumbling path over the side of the cliff and managed to descend it. The person I was with couldn’t get enough traction and was unable to climb down. He’s at the top in the photo below. From what I’ve read, other photographers have set up belay systems to safely descend the cliff. There was a tunnel going into the hillside which was filled with bats that flew out at night.


Scene 11: Yosemite Falls

Filmed on the first morning in Yosemite.


Scene 12: San Luis Obispo

My roommate and I camped here while driving to SoCal from Berkeley.


Scene 13: Idyllwild

I used my Arduino-controlled turntable for the first time in this video. I plan to adjust the gearing so it moves more slowly in the future. I set it to follow the Milky Way across the sky.


Scene 14: Lilly Rock, Idyllwild

The stars move so quickly in this video because I used a telephoto lens (around 200mm). The shutter speeds were actually 1/3 as long as those I normally use (20 seconds instead of 1 minute).


Scene 15: San Francisco Lighthouse

The zoom is computer generated.


Scene 16: Racetrack Playa, Death Valley National Park

Racetrack Playa is an amazing place. Scattered across the flat lakebed are rocks with trails behind them. No one knows how they move, and they’ve never been observed to move. About 20 miles of off-roading is necessary to reach the Racetrack Playa.


Scene 17: Davenport

This is another of the amazing beaches of Davenport.


Scene 18: Moon

I shot this at 300mm and then cropped in more. The moon was shining through a thin layer of clouds.


Scene 19: Moon

A similar scene, but at 50mm.


Scene 20: Eden Landing

These are the remains of windmills which were used to pump water from one salt pond to the next.


Scene 21: Campanile at University of California, Berkeley

This was one of the first times I used the dolly, and I think it came out fairly well.


Scene 22: Devil’s Golf Course, Death Valley National Park

Devil’s Golf Course is incredibly bizarre. The ground is covered with sharp protrusions 1-2 feet high. I wanted to set up the dolly here, but unfortunately there was extremely high wind. I was dropped off at night, set up the camera on the heaviest tripod I had, and slept alone nearby. The moon set behind a mountain, which caused the shadow to fly across the foreground. I was supposed to get picked up at dawn the following day, but the driver overslept. A ranger showed up at 6:30 AM, but fortunately she didn’t ticket me for illegal camping. I shot a lot of still photos here, but they were on medium format film, and I don’t have a scanner.


Scene 23: Valley Life Sciences Building, University of California, Berkeley/p>

I filmed this scene right after the Campanile scene.


Scene 24: Tahquitz Peak Fire Lookout

A friend and I left Idyllwild at 6 PM for a 2-day backpack trip. When night fell, we hiked by headlamp. On the summit of Tahquitz Peak was a small fire lookout tower. Because the windows were open, we thought (incorrectly) that it was occupied by someone who was asleep. We didn’t want to wake the occupant or be caught illegally camping the following morning, so we got up at 5:30 AM, packed our tents, and hiked out. As we were about to leave, I peaked into the tower and found there was no one there.

The Milky Way sails across the sky at the beginning, and Jupiter is the bright object that follows it.


Scene 25: Racetrack Playa night

As soon as the sun set at Racetrack Playa, the wind increased. The wind was too strong to do anything, so we sat in the truck for two hours. Around 10 PM, it almost completely died. We happily set up camp and prepared to spend the night. I set up the dolly at a rock that was a 5-minute walk from our campsite. I planned for this clip to be long--at least 15 seconds.

At 1:30 AM, I woke up. The temperature had dropped and it was COLD, the sky was completely obscured by black clouds, and (worst) freakishly strong winds kicked up. It was tough to get out of my sleeping bag without anything flying away. Even the truck was shaking in the wind, which was at least 40-50mph. After a quick discussion, the four of us unanimously decided we had to drive out. I had only been sleeping a couple hours per night for the nights beforehand, and in a zombie-like state I hiked out to retrieve the dolly. When I set it up the night before, I put a glowstick on the dolly in case I needed to find it at night. I hiked to the glowstick--and there was no dolly! In my daze, I eventually figured out that the glowstick had blown off the dolly and across the lakebed. I hiked upwind and (fortunately) found the dolly. It took two trips to bring it back. At the end of the timelapse clip, the glowstick can be seen blowing away. I was pleasantly surprised that the end of the video doesn’t have shaking from the wind.

In exhaustion, we drove away from Racetrack Playa. While off-roading, we drove through a massive swarm of flying insects that extended as far as the eye could see; even at 30 mph, it took us 5 minutes to get through it. We planned to photograph the sunrise at the sand dunes. When we arrived there, I was blasted with sand in the high winds. The visibility was terrible and the cameras would have been ruined by the sand, so we kept driving. We stopped in Stovepipe Wells, but the winds were too strong to cook breakfast. While driving out of Death Valley, we drove through several mountain passes. On the last pass, it snowed! We certainly didn’t expect SNOW in DEATH VALLEY in MAY.

This trip was quite the adventure.

Sunrise while driving out:


Scene 26: Campanile, Golden Gate Bridge, and Sunset

I filmed this from the hills above the U.C. Berkeley campus. There was construction on the top of the Campanile. Alcatraz is the island under the bridge.


Scene 27: Shaver Lake

This scene was supposed to be much longer. I slept on the beach of the lake to guard the dolly. The dewpoint dropped at night, and I woke up covered in moisture. Later, I woke up again and heard my camera firing in burst mode, instead of the expected one photo per minute. I discovered that a connection on the circuit board that controlled the camera had broken, causing the camera to fire erratically. After an hour of attempting to fix it, I gave up and returned to my campsite.


Scene 28: Astrocamp in Idyllwild

I worked at Astrocamp, a summer camp for kids ages 8-17, during the summer. Each session there was a "space night" on which everyone used telescopes. I set up a camera to catch the telescopes panning around the sky, and the cleanup after everyone left. The Milky Way rises at the end of the clip.


Scene 29: Joshua Tree

I filmed this scene from about 2 AM until dawn. I stopped the camera as soon as it shot a completely white frame in order to avoid damaging the sensor.