A conversation with time-lapse photographer Keith Kiska, creator of “Skyward”
KU: What is Skyward?
“Skyward” is a motion time-lapse film that captures the some of the most amazing landscapes of America in 4k resolution. The film was inspired back in 2010 by Kessler’s line of time-lapse gear. The making of the film was the most challenging 4 years of my life, shooting for weeks at a time in remote locations but more than that, mastering the skill needed to capture a time-lapse in general.
KU: Why Time-Lapses?
In November of 2010 my assistant Kyle Rhoderick and I just finished watching Tom Lowe’s “TimeScapes: Rapture”. It was an epic little teaser video for his new film “TimeScapes”. The video blew our minds at the possibility of motion time-lapses. Before the DSLR digital revolution these types of motion time-lapse shots, especially at night were near impossible, at least for our budget. That’s when we discovered Kessler. They already had a line of products that made it possible for filmmakers like us to create these amazing motion time-lapse shots. I couldn’t wait to adapt my landscape photography with this new technique. It was also a great excuse for us to plan a couple expeditions into the best national parks and wild lands America had to offer.
KU: What was it like shooting these remote locations with your new Kessler Gear?
After we purchased the Kessler Rev 2 Motorized head and the 5ft Cineslider we started planning our trip. After months of testing we were finally ready to hit the road. Our first trip was to Death Valley, California to capture the infamous Racetrack Playa under the Milky Way. This was the first time we ever saw The Racetrack Playa and it was one of the coolest places to shoot time-lapses, especially at night.
Our gear worked so efficiently, even in the harsh climates. Once we had our time-lapses set up it was time to relax and wait for the stars. Nearly blinded by darkness, our time-lapse shots worked all through the night. We focused shooting mostly night time-lapses because we figured those were the most complicated shots to master. That being the case I just had to try them. An afternoon or sunset time-lapse can last as short as 30 minutes, but night time-lapses have to run for half the night. If one little setting was off the whole shot was ruined. The REV 2 head was rock solid in the wind nothing could have messed the shots up, unless we bumped it in the dark.
The best aspect of having this new gear was the scouting. For the first time I could walk around the composition and plan a shot with absolutely no limitations on how I would get it. If the movement was less than 5 feet then I could achieve exactly what I wanted. That type of freedom was extremely valuable for the creative process.
KU: So where did you actually end up traveling to?
Over the 4 years we took a total of 6 mini time-lapse expeditions. The first were a couple of smaller trips to the Southwest to really get our appetite going. We hit Death Valley National Park, then drove to Canyonlands and Arches National Park with in the same week. Our next trip was a 5-day trip to Joshua Tree National park and then to Anacapa Island in Channel Islands National Park to capture more milky way action.
Then came our 2 biggest trips, where we rented an RV and made a 12-Day loop around the South West in March, then turned around a month later and did the same trip again in April. We hit Natural Bridge, Mobius Arch, Badwater, Mono Lake and Bonsai Rock in Lake Tahoe. Finishing those two trips left us in a really good place, we had tons of shots in the can, but still needed just a bit more.
Fall came creeping up and we got a hankering for some more time-lapsing, so we planned a local trip to Shenandoah National park on the east coast where we spent a couple of days shooting waterfalls and overlooks against the vibrant fall foliage.
That really just fueled the fire. We decided to hit the road one last time and take another trip out west. 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!
At this point we had more than enough footage to compile a short time-lapse feature. It was almost 4 years since we started shooting time-lapses and Kessler’s new Second Shooter was about to come out and we were really excited to get our hands on it, but sadly weren’t able to use it in time for “Skyward”.
KU: For Skyward you used the REV 2, and now you have a Second Shooter, what’s that been like for you?
We picked up a Second Shooter as soon as it came out. Combined with the carbon fiber 3-foot rails, this set up totally changed the game for us. The controller is really compact, magnetically clipping on to the motor and is very easy to use. The head itself is super compact and light as well, making 30mph gusts of wind in the desert not an issue at all. The amount of time we save now being so portable is amazing.
Seeing what Kessler products could produce led me to time-lapses in the first place. Skyward encompassed the best, and the first time-lapses we ever created were after purchasing our REV 2 head and 5 foot slider back in 2011. It’s crazy to think how one video online could change the trajectory of my career as an artist. Since I started time-lapses I have shot 3 time-lapse short films, authored a Lynda.com class on time-lapses, taught workshops, published articles and have fully incorporated time-lapses into my offerings to my corporate clients. Working with Kessler products continues to inspire our creative process and simply put, helps us get a better shot.