The Art of Time Lapse

As a title The Art of Time Lapse sounded pretty good, I thought, and after all The Art of Noise had a bunch of hits in the UK and that sounds similar – now I just need to think of something to say that doesn’t sound too pretentious and has some value. What I can do is talk about a few of the real life challenges.

We had a call to shoot a time lapse program for an agency and their solar system client in San Francisco just the other day. The agency guy said he wanted a single camera placed for a high shot for two or three days. I suggested some other options, but said that if that was what he wanted then we could do it, and it would just need an appropriate body there for the whole time to run it. He asked why we couldn’t just take a camera there and stick it in a tree or something (this was in the middle of Palo Alto in a position where the only viewpoint was from the street) then collect it later that week with it all finished, and he was also a pro photographer so understood the whole thing. This may sound weird, but it is a fairly standard impression of how you shoot a time lapse. So I had to go down the list of why this wasn’t a viable solution:

1. The very expensive RED Epic cameras and lens sets we own and use would be stolen.
2. It wasn’t our property to climb a tree and stick the camera, it was someone’s garden!
3. We shoot at 5k RAW resolution and have lenses to frame a shot exactly, which isn’t the same as a GoPro.
4. Exposure changes between day and night – a lot, it changes when a cloud goes over, so someone has to be there all of the time to monitor and constantly set the aperture/ shutter speed/ iso value to change the exposure, as well as the color balance, and change media and batteries.
5. In order that they can eat, pee and sleep someone else has to take over from time to time.
6. You do have to go to the location and survey it beforehand to find the best shot/s, talk to the property owners that you may need approval from, judge ongoing interference from traffic and the like, see where the sun really is falling throughout the day, work out what to do if it rains, talk nicely to a policeman about why there will be a person and chair on the sidewalk for three days and nights, and evolve a backup plan to get other angles to cut away to in case the camera moves or is moved.
7. No that’s not the end of it – then the RAW footage has to be balanced and rendered out to DPX files, and then to ProRes 4:4:4:4 for editing, and finally to a 1080P file with soundtrack for delivery.
8. Yes, your mum could do all that in her sleep, and hardly charge anything, but the camera might be stolen while she is sleeping… and there goes the time lapse

At CLAi we do quite a few things with time lapses – at the most obvious we create straight pieces that have a single viewpoint and record a scene and all that happens in it over a period of time, which is then compressed into a much shorter period of time. I try and avoid these wherever possible because they are not a very interesting video experience for a viewer after the first few seconds. What we do instead is to either integrate time lapse sequences into our “regular” program production or create entire time lapse programs that have more or less the same cutting pace between different shots and angles as would a “normal” program but each take happens to be shot at ultra-slow speed to give an ultra-high speed playback. This provides a much more interesting and rewarding experience for the viewer, and is a style that can now carry a storyline. A recent project for Verizon Corporate, which we have stills from in another blog, is a good example of this – shot using three camera systems moved around a wide variety of positions for around 11 days to capture the complete picture of a two storey facility being finished off internally, with a huge mural, night/dawn and sunset/night sequences. It will be up here soon… and we’ll add a link to this blog.