Time-lapse photography is the art of standing next to a tripod for hours on end hoping it doesn’t rain. Well, that’s what it feels like anyway. Time-lapse is the photographic technique of taking a sequence of frames at set intervals to record changes that take place slowly over time. When the frames are shown at normal speed, the action seems much faster – in essence creating a very short segment within a much larger edit.
I had been asked to make a film for my apprenticeship and decided to research time-lapse photography for this. After being amazed by a video I recently watched on Vimeo called “The Watchtower of Turkey”. I decided I wanted to make something similar to this and quickly realised that I would need to be able to shoot some excellent time-lapses to be able to pull this off.
Instead of making a video on Turkey, I have picked Italy as the location for my film. Why? It’s always been a place I’ve wanted to go to… I will be shooting in Rome, Venice, Turin, Genoa and The Dolomites to get footage from a wide range of locations that will hopefully give the viewer a glimpse into the country’s diverse landscape. As well as time-lapse photography, the film I plan to make also incorporates other techniques such as slow motion, drone shots and hyperlapse footage.
I could – and should have, judging by my bank balance – picked a less ambitious project for this, but once I got this idea in my head, my mind was made up. For this trip to Rome, I’d planned to film 3 time-lapses which will be used as transitions in the final film. I wanted to shoot The Pantheon, The Colosseum, and a random colourful street.
I did manage to film some adequate time-lapses and I have attached some sample clips throughout this piece. They’re decent pieces, but there is something stopping them from being top quality…Please view them in 1080p, as I find mediocrity looks best in HD.
Let’s get technical…
I hired the best gear available for this shoot, starting with a Canon 5D Mk IV camera paired with a Canon L-series 24-70mm lens. Along with this, I took an intervalometer, a 10-stop ND (Neutral Density) filter from Hoya and a professional stills tripod from Slik.
I had to buy the 10-stop ND filter as they are not available for hire, but every article I’ve read and every tutorial I’ve watched on time-lapse photography has informed me of the importance of them. They are so strong that they allow you to shoot with a long exposure of one to three seconds even in bright sunlight, so you can achieve motion blur at any time of day. The motion blur gives the time-lapse a much smoother look to it by making traffic and people blur more effectively as they move through the scene.
I wanted to shoot raw images so I would be able to colour grade the images in Adobe Photoshop Light room in post. I knew the settings needed to dial into the camera, so I could shoot with a long exposure of one to three seconds to increase the motion blur of any movement in the scene, shoot one image every two seconds for people walking down the street and five seconds for normal cloud movement. So armed with this knowledge and having hired some of the best kit available it should have been pretty smooth sailing to get three time-lapses done in two days. Or so I thought!
The first problem that halted my progress was, when I was shooting the Pantheon, I arrived at 10.30am and thought that I would breeze through this one as I had given myself four hours to get it done. I was wrong: after I had set up my camera, a violinist sat down right in front of my lens. Then he played, a crowd formed, people cried and I stood there eating a Yorkie waiting for him to wrap it up. After standing there for an hour and ten minutes, I headed off to Burger King with the sad violin music playing as I went.
There was no way to shoot around him or the baying crowd that formed. So I came back a few hours later when luckily the sun was still out and I managed to shoot with no problems.
After uploading the images to my hard drive, and sampling some fine Italian cuisine for dinner (see image below), I headed off to the Colosseum at around 9pm where again things didn’t go smoothly. As I set up the tripod, I realised that one of the legs had come loose – I had nothing to tighten it with so there was no way to keep it upright. It was dark and freezing, and I hadn’t brought any gloves so my hands were numb. After what felt like several hours, I finally manged to tighten the screw using the zip on my jacket, and secured the shot. Anything’s possible!
At the end of this time-lapse, I started to move the tripod forward one step at a time in between shots to create a moving time-lapse commonly known as a hyperlapse. This was more of a test than anything as Venice will be the location where I will be doing most of these. It came out looking alright, although I only walked about ten feet and in Venice I will have to walk fifty or more for some shots.
There was one more shot I wanted to get, of a random street in Rome, as I didn’t want to just target the obvious attractions. I wanted to get a more “boots on the ground” feel of the city so people gained a better sense of what it’s like to be there.
This was easier to do in comparison to the others, as there were no crowds and I had brought a screwdriver. I set up a nice shot with a scooter in the foreground and opened up my aperture to drop the focus in the background so it gives the shot a bit more of a cinematic look.
Once I returned, I hired a MacBook Pro to edit the raw still images using the Adobe Creative Cloud programs Lightroom and After Effects. Once finished, I watched them back and they looked pretty good, but still not quite at the level I would like. I’m sure there is a lot I still have to learn and I will continue to practise and research until I can take my work to this kind of level, like the Turkey film….
So it may take me a while, but I will achieve my aim of perfection – ciao for now!
Ciaran Whitfield – Video Production Assistant Apprentice at drp