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The “Skyward” Story

SkyWARD (A 4k Motion Time-Lapse Film) graphic

Photo Trekker presents “Skyward”, a 4K motion time-lapse film that captures some of the most majestic landscapes of America in stunning 4K resolution. It was the most challenging 4 years of my life, shooting for weeks at a time in remote locations but more than that, mastering the skills needed to perfect the art of time-lapses. A whole portion of my life devoted…because of watching a single video online. If you’re into time-lapses I bet you can guess what video it was.

Stock Footage available here:


Keith Kiska shooting a 3 Axis motion shot of a “Sailing Rock” in The Racetrack Playa. Death Valley NP, CA.

November 2010

My assistant Kyle and I just finished watching Tom Lowe’s “TimeScapes: Rapture” (see right). It was an epic little teaser video for his new film “TimeScapes” that blew our minds at the possibility of motion time-lapses. Before the digital revolution these types of motion shots especially at night were near impossible, at least for our budget. Then came Eric Kessler. Tom and Eric worked together during the filming of “TimeScapes” to perfect a line of time-lapse tools and goodies to make it possible for filmmakers like us to realize our vision. After looking at what a real experienced astrophotographer can create with that equipment, I was sold.

TimeScapes: Rapture from Tom Lowe

We purchased the Kessler Rev 2 motorized head and the biggest slider they had and started planning the trip. I had just finished shooting “Photo Trekker 2” and saw this as a great opportunity to start a new adventure. After months of testing our new gear we painstakingly taught ourselves the art of time-lapsing. There are so many tricks that take years to learn when you first start and was a great online community of fellow time-lapsers that really helped with the process. You still have to teach “yourself” how to do it, freezing and alone in the wild. Fast forward 4 years later and you can just watch a number of videos online that guide you through it, like the one I produced with Rich Harrington, HERE. …Shameless plug.

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Keith Kiska & Rich Harrington discussing a time-lapse live on camera for, Red Rock Canyon, NV.

Badwater Sunset – A still frame composite photograph from one of our time-lapses in Badwater, Death Valley NP, CA.

Dealing with flickering was near impossible!

Getting your lights to last long enough, having the right color temperature and not freeze up in the desert at night was a huge challenge. We had to insulate the Oracle controllers and the batteries as the temps got down below freezing because we didn’t want the time-lapses stopping half way though the shot. Understanding our Canon Mark II’s settings and ISO sensitivity was pivotal during the night shoots. All the preparation in the world couldn’t prepare us for how many challenges we would face on our trip…or should I say “trips”.

April 2012

Our first time-lapse trip was the almost a year after we saw “TimeScapes: Rapture”.  Having tons of experience shooting remote locations, I was like a kid in a candy store picking locations that would hopefully yield the best time-lapses ever! Death Valley and Arches were the winners for our first trip time-lapsing. We planned a 10-day loop around Vegas.  Las Vegas has always been the cheapest to fly into and is usually the base of operations for most of our trips out west. Nice cool days with very cool, almost freezing nights in Spring time. It’s also a great time for stars with really clear nights with out freezing your fingers off in the winter months. Oh yea, there is also the NAB Show, which is only the biggest Film Convention of the year (NAB), and the actual premiere of “TimeScapes” in Vegas the same week! That sounded like a good trip to me.

The Racetrack – This is a black & white photograph of the rocks at The Racetrack Playa in Death Valley NP, CA.

The loop was an ambitious one but I knew it would be awesome. The plan was to fly into Vegas, party at NAB and watch “Timescapes” Premiere at The Palms Theatre. Then pack up the SUV then head to The Racetrack Playa in Death Valley. After 2 hours of 4×4 off-roading we arrived at a remote valley hidden by the mountains.

As night came we set up our time-lapse shots.

Hours later, in the middle of the desert, we were nearly blinded by the darkness. Our only guide was to the east, the faint silhouette of a mountain peak that I scouted earlier. The only things visible were the stars, and they were bright. On the flat surface of the Racetrack Playa in the middle of Death Valley I walked ahead with my head tilted towards the sky, staring up at the Milky Way. My watch read 2:15 am when I first spotted it, a faint red light flashing directly ahead in my path at least a 1/2 mile away.

As I got closer I saw another light, and then another. All alone in the middle of blackness my time-lapse set up was hard at work. This is when the feeling of true isolation sets in. All the other night photographers called it quits hours ago, but not us. This is where time-lapses come alive, in the absolute dead of night spanning hours and hours. I arrived at my set up and my time-lapse already took over 400 shots and was still chugging away. I noticed a faint glow just past the mountains, directly in my shot. “It can’t be the sun” I thought, “it’s 3 am.” I checked the Skywalk app on my phone and low and behold, I missed something. That was the MOONRISE! It was going to rise directly in my shot and I was thrilled. The moon was a quarter full and it’s brightness wouldn’t over expose my shot. I was going to get a perfect exposure of it. I snuck up real close to the camera and took a peek at the settings. Confirmed; the camera is still running! Whew…there’s a relaxing breeze and I take the best seat in the house, all alone (Kyle was off checking another shot), in the middle of nowhere.  It’s then I realized what I loved most about night time-lapses. It was the intimate connection you get with your surroundings, to study it, understand it and to appreciate it. All of life was in slow motion, and I just couldn’t wait to get home and speed it up. I was hooked.


Keith Kiska waiting under the stars for his time-lapses to finish at The Racetrack Playa in Death Valley NP, CA.

The Racetrack Playa is amazing!

It was one of the coolest places to shoot time-lapses for the first time. We actually met Ben Wiggins, one of Tom Lowes buddies and chilled with him the first night, which was very cool. He was using a Dynamic Perception rig and really knew what he was doing.


Keith Kiska scouting a shot with Ben Wiggins and Kyle Rhoderick at The Racetrack Playa in Death Valley NP, CA.

After a great couple of nights we headed off to Zabriskie Point. There was no real subject like the rocks at the Racetrack but in the dead of night the sky was just fantastic. The clouds over the stars created a very dynamic shot.

A composite shot of Keith Kiska shooting an overlook at Horseshoe Bend in Page AZ. The sky however is from Zabriski Point in Death Valley NP, CA.

Feeling a little defeated from Zabriski’s lack of magic, we took the a chance and drove all the way to Canyonlands NP and tried our luck with Mesa Arch. At that point we were still experimenting with our lighting a lot and making some bad choices with our ISO. Most of the time-lapses we shot that night came out way too noisy so we had to scrap them. Even all of our stuff from Arches National Park a couple days later, the noise was just unbearable at 12,800 ISO. After 10 days of shooting, and probably 30 time-lapses in the “can”, only about 3 made the cut into “Skyward”. We learned 3 main things from our first Time-lapse trip into the wild.

  1. We need more shots, which meant more trips, SUPER COOL!
  2. ISO 12,800 is just not cool, we can’t go higher than 4,000 for clean images
  3. The SUV wasn’t cutting it. We had to upgrade to an RV!

November 2012

With only 5 days to shoot in November we hit up Joshua Tree National Park which was really cold, but worth it. We still had the SUV and really learned our lesson when it got down into the 20’s at night. Man was it cold! The car was right nearby so we didn’t have to walk far but it was a huge challenge finding the right area, far enough from the light and from traffic and still having a good selection of trees.


Keith Kiska setting up a 1 axis slider shot with the Kessler 5ft Cineslider in Joshua Tree NP, CA.

And don’t even get me started on how hard it was trying to find the right tree! The one below took hours of scouting but came out perfect!

Joshua Tree Sunrise – The sun breaking through a pair of trees at early dawn in Joshua Tree NP, CA.

After a successful couple of nights at Joshua Tree we headed off to another one of my “Bucket List” places, Channel Islands. This chain of islands off the coast of California, they looked so exotic and unique at sunset. I had to see what it would look like at night with the Milky Way overhead.

After an hour at sea we arrived at Anacapa Island.

Channel Islands Stars -The Milky Way lining up directly over Inspiration Point on Channel Islands, just of the coast of California.

It was quite the hike to get all our gear in and we were not expecting that. Right when you arrive, they drop you off and you have to climb a 20 story metal staircase up the cliff. With all of our gear, it was a real smack in the face. Then the mile hike to the campsite, and then after we arrive a ranger tells us that there was an outbreak of Hantavirus with their mice but it was confirmed on the other islands… We still shot all night but those mice were all over the place, all around our gear and freaking us out! We had to take a whole day after to clean our gear and sanitize ourselves. It was a real HAZMAT situation we had on our hands. All and all we got some amazing shots and it was a great experience.


Keith Kiska setting up a static time-lapse at sunset on Anacapa Island in Channel Islands NP, CA.

March-April 2013

We still had so many shots we wanted to get but didn’t have nearly enough to make and fill a whole video. Kyle and I agreed that we needed to take these trips to the next level if we really want to start getting some cool shots. We needed an RV to be able to get sleep right at our location, which doubled our productivity. We also agreed that we needed at least 2 more big trips, back to back. So we planned 2, 10-day trips in March and April of 2013. We hit Natural Bridge, Mobius Arch, Badwater, Mono Lake and Lake Tahoe both in March and again in April.


Kyle Rhoderick setting up the Kessler Rev 2 Head at Mobius Arch in the Alabama Hills, CA.

We gave ourselves 2 chances at each of these locations, and we needed it. At the end of those trips we nearly perfected our time-lapse shooting. From a technical stand point we were finally able to create technically perfect, flicker free time-lapses. Smooth and paced shots that were noise and flicker free. Victory!

Keith Kiska hanging out with a 3 axis parallax time-lapse shot using the Kessler Rev 2 Head and the 5 ft Cineslider at Bonzi rock in Lake Tahoe, NV.

Finishing those two trips left us in a really good place. 4 weeks total in an RV traveling these wild and cinematic locations, as a time-lapser was super cool! We made sure to plan it around NAB in Vegas so we could see all the new video toys and hang with our time-lapse buddies. Those 2 trips were by far the most successful, capturing some of our best stuff!

Mostly we shot time-lapses videos but we were able to grab some still photograph shots as well.  Here are some our favorite shots that came from the trip!

We’re in the Smithsonian!

Mobius Arch at Night – A single frame from a time-lapse shot that became the cover shot for “Skyward”. This photo was chosen as a Highly Honored Winner in the 2013 Natures Best Photography Windland Smith Rice International Awards and is currently on display at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington D.C.

Kyle Rhoderick and Keith Kiska checking out their shot on display at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum in Washington D.C.

Mono Lake Panorama – A sunset Panorama of these amazing Tufa structure located at Mono Lake, CA.

Natural Bridge Sunrise – A warm sunrise at Natural Bridge State Beach in Santa Cruz, CA.

Bonzai Rock – On the east coast of Lake Tahoe is this little known rock with a “Bonzai” type tree growing from the top called Bonzai Rock. Lake Tahoe, NV.

September 2013

We planned a little 3 day trip to Horseshoe Bend in Page, AZ. It’s only one of my favorite spots…EVER! We lugged all the gear to the overlook and just hung out there in a Minivan for 3 days. We shot nothing but time-lapses, from every angle, every time of day, twilight and night, and with every lens we had!

Keith Kiska and Kyle Rhoderick shooting on time-lapse shot on the cliffs edge Horseshoe Bend in Page, AZ.

Shooting at midnight from the cliffs of Horseshoe Bend was unnerving.

You really have to be careful; rocks have been known to give way. You have to be extra cautious, especially walking around in the middle of the night. The moon was almost full which gave us really bright nights and these great shadows that dragged like fingernails across the landscape. It was really amazing. The only drawback to such bright moonlight is that the stars are no longer as visible. It looked like daylight out there, only with stars. Horseshoe Bend was a great way to end off our trips out west for “Skyward”. At that point I felt that we had enough time-lapses in the “can” to make a whole video. If we didn’t… then too bad, we’re just going to have to make one anyways!

Keith Kiska and Kyle Rhoderick shooting on time-lapse shot on the cliffs edge Horseshoe Bend in Page, AZ.

We shot all of the time-lapses for “Skyward” on the Revolution 2 head from Kessler. At that time it was the peak of awesomeness for time-lapsers.

The Kessler Rev 2 Head in action at The Racetrack Playa in Death Valley NP, CA.

Recently Kessler released their new “2nd shooter” motorized head and we can’t believe at how much easier and more compact it is than the last setup. It is so much smaller and lighter making our hikes ridiculously easier. The head is also so much lower and more compact making it rock solid, and able to handle real strong gusts of wind. Not to mention it’s a video powerhouse, getting tons of use for our client video productions.


2014: Back at the Office

It took almost 2 years to perfect the editing and processing of the time-lapses for Skyward. In the end there were 140 time-lapses to choose from and only about 40 made the cut.

Getting work done at the Kiska Media offices in the winter of 2014, nestled in the mountains of Mercersburg, PA.

I was only able to finish the edit with the help of my new 5k iMac that has enough power (finally) to process these shots in full 4k. I had the music custom composed by Martyn Axe (, a fantastic composer who just knocked the music out of the park. It was just what I was looking for. We went through about 6 versions and it was a great process working with him.

Editing a time-lapse shot using After Effects.

Skyward encompasses the best, and the first time-lapses we ever created. It’s the culmination of 6 amazing treks into the wild over a 3-year period. They were true adventures that are the reason I have my own business. The freedom to follow our creative dreams and perfect our art, all while having real experiences that make life worth living. Time-lapses seemed like a great excuse to get out there and do what we do best…have fun.

Keith Kiska and Kyle Rhoderick driving somewhere in the desert with a fish eye lens.

The only question now is… Where to next?

“Skyward” is sponsored by Kessler Crane and LensProToGo.

Special Thanks to:

Kessler, LensProToGo, Rhed Pixel & for your support. Martyn Axe for writing the epic musical score. Kyle Rhoderick for your tireless shooting in the field and members of the time-lapse community such as Tome Lowe, Drew Geraci, Ron Risman, Michael Shainblum, Rob WhitworthShawn Reader, Dustin Farrell and Rich Harrington that never cease to inspire me.

Keith Kiska
Owner / Creative Director
Kiska Media LLC

Copyright © 2015 Kiska Media LLC / Photo Trekker ®. All rights reserved.

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