Good time-lapse photography is like a joyride in a time machine, letting us race in place to reveal secret, slow-motion dramas all around us. Familiar sights like flowers, fog and faces erupt with hidden subtlety, while seasons speed by and the night sky comes to life.

A new video by photographer Michael Shainblum offers a perfect example. Titled "Into the Atmosphere," it's a 224-second tour of California scenery that quickly struck a chord online, surpassing 300,000 views within two weeks of its mid-December release. It has emerged as one of the year's best time-lapse films despite the late debut, earning a Vimeo "Staff Pick" award and even causing a veteran astronomy writer to choke up.

Shainblum describes the film as a "tribute to the state of California and the beautiful deserts, mountains and coastlines that exist there," adding that he wanted to focus on some of the state's less recognized natural areas. That includes landscapes like the Alabama Hills, the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest and the Anza Borrego Desert, but also the ephemeral clouds, sunlight and starlight that sneak across the sky overhead.

The San Diego-based filmmaker spent a year taking 75,000 individual images for "Into the Atmosphere," only about 16 percent of which made it into the final piece. "To create this video there were many nights sleeping outside, and many days spent in the wild to embrace the environment and get to know the surroundings," he writes on Vimeo. Despite the difficulty, however, he says "I love it and wouldn't trade it for anything else."

Thankfully, that's not the end of Shainblum's explanation. He also stars in a new mini-documentary, "The Art of the Timelapse," (below) that was co-released with his own video and examines his approach to time-lapse photography. Produced by the Creators Project, a joint venture between Intel and VICE Media, it's an enlightening and inspiring look at how Shainblum used photography to overcome his childhood learning disabilities — and how, with enough pluck and patience, almost anyone can follow in his footsteps.

Related time-lapse videos on MNN:

Russell McLendon ( @russmclendon ) writes about humans and other wildlife.

Behind the scenes of a time-lapse nature video
On top of his new time-lapse film, 'Into the Atmosphere,' photographer Michael Shainblum also stars in a documentary about how he made it.