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Mauna Kea Heavens II – Space Laser Timelapse in 4K!

By Matthew Saville on January 1st 2015


There are only a few places in the world where can you witness a giant laser beam shooting into space, let alone four lasers at once!

For those of you who don’t know what Adaptive Optics are, YES, the lasers are real. They’re used by observatories for better telescope imagery. If you haven’t already, check out the original Mauna Kea Heavens timelapse video that we first shared HERE.

This past year, photographer Sean Goebel filmed even more footage of the night sky atop Mauna Kea, on Hawaii’s Big Island, where some of the world’s best observatories are. As an astronomy PHD student at the university of Hawaii, he knew where to look to find the schedules of the Adaptive Optics lasers, allowing the creation of this amazing timelapse montage.  Enjoy!  Be sure to click the option for 4K, and let it load.  It’s worth the wait!

Sean’s Camera Equipment

Most or all of this timelapse montage was filmed using two Canon 6D‘s, however with night timelapses, you can never have too many cameras, so Sean often also uses an old Rebel as a 3rd camera, a number of sequences which appear in this video.  Never under-estimate the power of a properly used beginner DSLR!


As far as lenses go, Sean uses host of non-Canon glass that is optimized for astro-landscape and timelapse photography: a Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 (via adapter), a Rokinon 14mm f/2.8, Rokinon 24mm f/1.4, Rokinon 85mm f/1.4, Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8, among others.

Sean uses a big, heavy, old school Manfrotto tripod when necessary / possible, to combat high winds and other conditions.  Other tripods include Oben and Slik tripods.

Last, but not least, Sean uses external camera power via a homemade adapter with RC car batteries that hold about 4-5 times more than what a single LPE-6 Canon battery holds, at a fraction of the weight (or price) of any other option on the market.

Sean’s Timelapse Motion Control System

Sean’s motion timelapse movements are made using a completely homemade motion control system, including both a dolly and a rotary table.  Using ordinary parts from a hardware store and basic Arduino software, Sean’s setup is probably one of the most affordable timelapse motion setups ever made.


To read more information about Sean’s shooting on Mauna Kea, visit this link HERE.

View More Adventures!

Connect with Sean on Flickr, Youtube, Vimeo, or his main website,

Sean is a frequent co-adventurer / team leader with myself and a handful of other Southern California area photographers. Earlier this year, we accomplished a pretty amazing project involving climbing the famous Mt Whitney switchbacks at night.

You can always count on tidbits of information and tutorials from our adventures, such as this comparison of the Nikon Df and Canon 6D for the infamous “drivelapse” technique.


Stay tuned to see what 2015 brings! In a couple of days, we’re heading back to Death Valley to do more timelapse recording, using the new Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 fisheye, the new Canon 24-105 f/3.5-5.6 STM, and of course, the Syrp Timelapse Genie plus a bunch of other gear.  Hopefully, we’ll return with more awesome content for you all!

Take care, and happy clicking!

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Matthew Saville is a full-time wedding photographer at Lin & Jirsa Photography, and a senior editor & writer at SLR Lounge.

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Q&A Discussions

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  1. Graham Curran

    As an amateur astronomer I find this totally awesome.

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  2. Clare Havill

    Stunning video.

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  3. David Blanchard

    I’m not any sort of video guy, but this one is a pretty cool item. I’ve gone to the Big Island many times and always managed to talk myself out of getting up early enough to see the dawn from there. Maybe someday….

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  4. Stan Rogers

    You know, if pixel densities keep going up, one of these days we’re going to need a half-kilowatt laser to make up for atmospheric shimmer in our portraits. (That is, of course, a joke, but I can remember times shooting over tarmac with a 1600mm when I would have loved something like that, at a much lower power, of course — tracking aerobatics is tricky enough without the heat dance. But then the crybaby pilots with their incessant “you blinded me” if they walked away from the crash would likely get annoying after a while. There’s no respect for the artist anymore.)

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    • Matthew Saville

      Actually Stan, these lasers have to plan their usage very carefully, so as not to come even close to risking hitting a plane. ;-)

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  5. Brandon Dewey

    Cool time laps video

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