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Dakota Skies Time-Lapse Video

You *must* click to make this full screen.

In this jaw-dropping time-lapse video, photographer Randy Halverson has captured the crisp, starry skies over South Dakota in February.

According to Halverson, most nights he was out shooting were sub-zero, sometimes with a wind chill of -25 degrees F (-31.6 degrees C).

Shooting the scenes involved a dolly, two Canon cameras, two lenses, and a cooler packed with hand-warmers to help keep the equipment working in the deep freeze. [Update: In case you are wondering, the dolly Randy used is called Stage Zero from dynamicperception.com.]

—Picture copyright Randy Halverson

Each 10- to 12-second-long segment in the video includes about 300 frames, most shot with 20-second exposure times, adding up to several hours of filming—not counting setup and travel time.

But the chilly effort was certainly worth it!

Opening with a glorious moon halo, the video shows a number of familiar star patterns in sharp detail, such as the constellation Orion—complete with “sword”—and the “seven sisters” Pleiades star cluster.

The beauty of the long exposures is that the snowy landscapes appear almost as bright as they would in daytime, with the star-spangled sky overhead.

What’s more, despite the seeming remoteness of the vistas, the video captures several signs of life. What appear to be planes streak through the stars, blurred cars zip along the country roads, and if you look close at the abandoned house around the 1:30 mark, dark blobs that may be raccoons slink in and out of the attic!

—Picture copyright Randy Halverson

Thanks, Randy, for granting permission for us to share this incredible work.


  1. CP
    Brainerd, MN
    September 22, 2011, 9:42 am

    Randy, you have captured the essence of what living in the country is all about……being surrounded by natures beauty….there is so much right in front of us that alot of people don’t get to see or choose not to see. The only thing that would beat this timelapse, is seeing it in full frame, HD, through your own eyes in realtime:) I’m a fan of your work and have pursued this type of photography/art as a hobby, for now, simply because it is fascinating. I willing admit my jealousy as well as inspiration that I feel about your talented work, which is more than I can say for Mr. Bruce Salem!

  2. JD
    Rochester, New York
    August 3, 2011, 7:48 pm

    Love it, thanks for re-posting Vicky.

  3. […] a 2 minute, 43 second video of the night sky, featuring the constellation Orion passing overhead. National Geographic called his videos "jaw-dropping." Watch and you'll understand why. Photo by Randy […]

  4. Ben Lamp
    Siou Falls, SD
    April 18, 2011, 2:51 pm

    Bruce Salem….Shut up…… I’ll bet you don’t even know where South Dakota is you probably think it is in the south.
    I appreciate this for what it is, it would have been just as unique if it would have been played with any number of genres. I can’t wait to see Bruce in South Dakota next winter filming his perfect depiction of our Dakota skies. Great Job Randy! I wouldn’t change a thing.

  5. Diane
    Sioux Falls
    April 18, 2011, 1:29 pm

    THNAK YOU for showing me the beauty of a winter’s night. It looks so serene, yet the weather is so harsh. A great contrast of the best and worst of nature.

  6. Mary Abu Ghazaleh
    Sioux Falls South Dakota
    April 18, 2011, 11:36 am

    Randy, thank you for showing the beauty of our state to the rest of the world. Everywhere I travel I speak of the incredible state that is our home.

  7. Jack Mortenson
    Mitchell, SD
    April 18, 2011, 10:32 am

    Randy, I’m a professor of multimedia and will have all of my students view this. You truly inspire all of us to experiment and explore. THANX!!!

  8. […] This is fun…but probably more fun if you’re under the influence of hallucinogenic […]

  9. Dodkár
    April 12, 2011, 6:22 am

    I am sitting at work and try to do something, and finally found this video that refreshed me by its chilling cold beauty and breeze of infinity space as if it has blown from the video.

  10. Natalia Gironzi
    Bahía Blanca,Argentina
    April 10, 2011, 10:46 pm

    What an AMAZING production!
    I have no words to describe how I felt watching this video..just

  11. […] National Geographic A voir égalementAirVenture : le plus grand spectacle aérien du […]

  12. Aya Asakura
    April 9, 2011, 1:37 pm

    absolutely beautiful and totally awesome. u’ve found one of the best way that possible to see all the shimmering stars while i’m living in the metropolitan area, that at least could see orion, CMa, CMi, gimini and virgo. care to share ur email?

  13. Candy Wagner
    April 9, 2011, 10:31 am

    Beautiful. Just what I’ve always wished I could do

  14. vikash verma
    April 9, 2011, 7:12 am

    thatz a nice tool u used…. Nice work….

  15. Irene Granat
    April 9, 2011, 5:25 am

    WOW! Totally fantasmagorical!! I loved it and i loved the music you added to it no matter what anyone says…. thanks a lot it was great.

  16. Cp
    April 9, 2011, 3:33 am

    Bruce your incorrect use of then/ than is “more than distracting”

  17. Waterdance2010
    Vancouver, Canada
    April 9, 2011, 1:59 am

    So beautiful, it’s hypnotic!

  18. dyah
    April 8, 2011, 11:49 pm

    great great job randy … this video makes me really really see the dakota’s sky at that moment … the sky, stars, moon, are wonderfull. thanks randy…for this beautifull video…

  19. Bruce Salem
    April 8, 2011, 1:43 am

    Or even Beethoven String Quartet in E Minor Op 59 #2 second movement which he composer says was inspired by a celestial clockwork in the starry night.

  20. Bruce Salem
    April 8, 2011, 1:38 am

    There are plenty of other sky time lapse vids out there which are much more skilled than this. I don’t have the link at my finger tips but there is a person from Australia who did several fisheye full sky vids at star parties in both hemispheres, his real gen is a time lapse on the Solstice Lunar Eclipse of 2010 on Dec. 21 which used Debussy Sierens fron Orchestral Nocturnes very effectively, so I know of what I speak. Even using Neptune or Saturn from Holst’s The Planets would have been OK, if obvious. Morrison Planetarium ran several of its shows using Bach’s Musical Offering. One could easily imagine the Six Part Ricrecar from the Stugart Chamber Orchestra, a full string orchestra arangement as very effective, or even The Art of Fugue Contrapunctus IV or !X.

  21. Bruce Salem
    April 8, 2011, 1:21 am

    Did any of you notice the clip where Ursa Major ran in reverse? I suppose this is of no importance to people who don’t know their stars, but to me it was worse then distracting, and I agree that the music was cheesy, especially given the inspiring content. I don’t even care that there are many shots of Orion, it is a beautiful part of the sky, but the cutting of the shots was jerky, the whole thing needs to be re-edited.

  22. Adi
    South Africa
    April 7, 2011, 2:36 pm

    as we look at this photograph of the heavens, i wonder how may of these stars are still alive, anyways, who made the music ? its awesome.

  23. Harold Pardew
    Sioux Falls SD
    April 7, 2011, 1:03 pm

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Great job Randy; keep up the good work.

  24. Gerardo Primo
    April 7, 2011, 1:20 am

    Excellent work!!!! y love time lapses

  25. R Kirkbride
    United Kingdom
    April 7, 2011, 1:01 am

    What a beautiful video. Clearly time and effort was put in to this. Personally I liked the music, I felt it suited the incredible dynamics and the transitions were great. Of course tastes will differ but for anyone who finds it difficult to be inspired by the night sky- living in a busy city in England, it can be difficult to get a clear dark night where it can be appreciated- I would certainly show them this as an artistic and inspiring piece. Thank you for making this.

  26. Charlotte Petrick
    Rapid City
    April 6, 2011, 9:54 pm

    Around Quinn?

  27. Ken Patrick
    April 6, 2011, 5:24 pm

    There’s always somebody out there who thinks they can do a better job but yet you never see their work just their cheesy criticism… Once again Randy great job!!

  28. Ken Patrick
    April 6, 2011, 5:11 pm

    What an awesome video!! Nice job Randy!

  29. Corrine
    April 6, 2011, 4:58 pm

    AWESOME and inspiring! Thank you so much for sharing this.

  30. AC
    April 6, 2011, 4:38 pm

    I enjoyed the video overall. I found the music to be incredibly cheesy and your copyright was very distracting in full screen. I wish I could see the stars like this where I live!

  31. Tim
    April 5, 2011, 11:48 pm

    @Bruce Salem, How can you have a timelapse that shows real sky motion, it’s a timelapse.
    Maybe Orion is in most of the shots because it was done in the winter when it’s the most prominent constellation. The music is great, not everyone likes the same thing. Maybe you need to broaden your horizons! If you think you can do better, where is your video? What a troll.

  32. R. Sevillano
    Seattle, WA
    April 5, 2011, 6:36 pm

    @Bruce Salem- I can’t believe that there are internet trolls on National Geographic. If you do not have CONSTRUCTIVE critism, then please refrain from commenting. In case you need clarification, telling someone that they don’t know any music of value does not help.

  33. tommy
    perugia - italy
    April 5, 2011, 10:57 am


  34. Bruce Salem
    April 5, 2011, 1:51 am

    I’m not trying to be nasty, but I wonder how well you know those constellations and stars you photograph. The Video is of pretty good quality but I disagree with the editing. It is disorienting both because of dark and bright juxtapositions and the discontinuities in the diurnal motion. I would have tried to be more true to the real sky motion because my eye knows those objects in some detail and I am frustrated by things I’d like to see getting cut out. It looks like the only constellation you know is Orion, there are many other beautiful regions of the sky. In general the editing makes what is in reality wonderfully smooth, quite jerky. I also disagree with your taste in music, you sound like you don’t know any music of any value and as majestic as the heavens. I would suggest that you spend some time broadening your horizons musically as well as in video technique and editing.

  35. ligent_nature_lovers
    April 4, 2011, 7:41 pm

    wow good

  36. Fr3d
    April 4, 2011, 3:02 pm

    The beauty that inspires poets.

  37. Samir Horsman Boutalbi
    April 3, 2011, 4:21 am

    Thank you sincerely for sharing this. Awing and inspiring!

  38. Randy Halverson
    April 2, 2011, 12:31 pm

    Paulette, It is Scorpio by Simon Wilkinson. A link to him and more info about the shoot is on the Vimeo page here http://www

    Randy Halverson

  39. DorothyAnne
    April 2, 2011, 12:24 pm

    first time viewer, Thanks

  40. DorothyAnne
    April 2, 2011, 12:22 pm

    It reminds me home, thank you for sharing this with everyone!

  41. Paulette Ward
    New Haven, CT
    April 2, 2011, 9:25 am

    That was truely beautiful. Your determination to stick out the cold was really brave of you. I loved the music, care to share name?

  42. Tamara
    April 2, 2011, 5:32 am

    That was awesome… thanks for sharing.

  43. Daniel Lowe
    Yorktown, VA
    April 1, 2011, 8:09 pm

    sorry, Jay, it’s Stage Zero, not Zero Stage – http://dynamicperception.com for more details

  44. Daniel Lowe
    Yorktown, VA
    April 1, 2011, 8:08 pm

    Congratulations on such an incredible video, Randy! You inspire me to get out there and shoot stars again with the Zero Stage & Orion head… Love the weight & strap to steady the tripod on the last photo.. I have an ankle weight myself. 🙂