The night sky has largely been an afterthought for camera manufacturers, who tend to think in feet and meters rather than parsecs and light years. But that hasn’t stopped VideoBlocks Marketplace contributors like Derrick Lytle, who regularly hikes through deserts in the wee hours of the morning to capture otherworldly astro time-lapse footage.

Lytle is proof that you don’t need NASA’s Long Range Reconnaissance Imager to film outer space, nor the f/0.7 lenses NASA commissioned from Zeiss. Really, the only prerequisites are a functioning camera, patience, and a basic understanding of light—though childhood dreams of space travel and a passion for hiking are a bonus.

Lytle’s “go bag” includes several Canon 5D bodies and a variety of motion control equipment (e.g., sliders, dollies, and control units); however, he started out using an entry-level T2i and low-budget tripod—a system that allowed him to experiment and fail.

“I can’t even count how many shots I ruined when I was starting out,” he says.

The good part about failing, though, is that you learn. Unwanted star trails tend to disappear if you shorten your exposure, and that “flickering” effect goes away when you expose your shots manually.

Lytle captured this astro time-lapse of Elephant Rock in the Valley of Fire.

Yet the heart of Lytle’s experimentation came from outside his camera settings—testing different headlamps, lanterns, and diffusion techniques to illuminate the foreground (his favorite to-date remains Voltaic’s USB-powered Touchlight). He’s become a self-professed “weather geek” to avoid cloud coverage, and takes an atypical approach to location scouting.

“I do a lot of trail running,” Lytle says. “When I go out and run, I’m constantly looking for spots to shoot. The benefit of this is that I can cover a ton of ground in a short period of time. The trick is to always be looking. When you’re in a city, be observant. When in the mountains, notice where the sun is, how it hits, where roads are, etc. Just look and observe.”

Lytle recommends bringing snacks on an time-lapse excursion, as this video demonstrates.

These runs are also prep for hauling his equipment miles off-road.

“Long hikes are part of the game,” he explains. Getting far off the beaten path helps to avoid light pollution and intermittent headlights, not to mention police officers who might be (understandably) suspicious of grown men running around wearing headlamps after midnight.

Lytle has uploaded much of his favorite astro time-lapse footage to his VideoBlocks Marketplace portfolio. You can also follow his hiking adventures on Instagram.

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Explore Lytle’s Time-lapse footage ►