I love time lapse photography. I’ve been doing more and more of it as I explore creative ways of taking advantage of my DSLR on client projects—beyond traditional stills and video. So in addition to things like cinemagraphs, HDR photography, and 360º VR photography, time lapse has become a skill I’ve been working hard to develop. So you can imagine I was psyched when I heard about Hyperlapse, by Instagram.
The conditions were not ideal, but I admit that I am pretty spoiled. Below are a few shots I got from Big Perhentian Island, off the eastern coast of Malaysia, just a couple weeks ago.
Read more “New Underwater Video: Perhentian Islands, Malaysia”
What Is It?
Time-lapse photography is effectively the opposite of slow-motion filmmaking. By shooting multiple frames of a scene at intervals and then stitching them together into a film/video, the final product presents the passage of time in a unique, artistic way. It’s not a new process – the first time-lapses were done in the 19th Century. And it’s not a fad — with advances in digital photography, digital processing, and digital video, new creative styles are possible and the process has simply gained renewed popularity. To see the work of a great, contemporary time-lapse filmmakers, I encourage you to check out Tom Lowe and the stunning 4K film he produced, “TimeScapes”.
I’ve always been interested in this technique, and I’ve done some of it myself. There are a few time-lapse sequences in the music video I shot and produced for Astra Via’s “Fast Forward”. I’ve been playing around with it more since, and I think I’m hooked. What really sparked my interest in time-lapse photography was when I learned that, sure enough, “there’s an app for that.”
How to Do It:
TriggerTrap is a free iPhone and Android app that works as a programmable shutter release for your device’s camera. If you want to use it with a DSLR, you need to buy a small dongle for $30, so that you can connect your mobile device to your camera (which is what I did.) When connected, the app works surprisingly well. There are multiple reviews of the app and how it works, so I won’t get into all that here. To make your life easier, I’ll point you to this particularly extensive review on The Phoblographer. In a nutshell, the app gives you a variety of creative triggering options — not all of them intended for time-lapse. But for time-lapse (also known as “long-exposure photography”) you can set the overall time you want to cover in a scene, the number of exposures to take within that time, and you can even ramp the speed up and down at either end of the session to create a “warp” effect.
There are a few things to keep in mind when doing time-lapse photography. First, set your focus before you begin. If you leave your camera on auto-focus, and your subjects are moving in and out of a shot, not only will the end result look weird, it will affect the time your camera takes to prepare for each exposure and confuse the app. You also want to maintain the same exposure settings. This means either put your camera in “Aperture” mode, so that the shutter speed will vary without changing the aperture of each exposure, or leave it fully manual, which is my preference.
Once you have all your shots, you can then import them onto your computer and stitch them together into a single video file. I have been using a free program called TimeLapse Assembler, which gives you several options to set your resolution, frame rate and format. Once I have my exported video file, I can then ingest that into FCPX and edit the final piece with music, ambient noise, what have you.
If you go to Vimeo and do a quick search of time-lapse videos, one thing you’ll notice about the best time-lapse filmmaking is the way perspective is adjusted, adding another level of motion on top of the passage of time. I’m talking about camera motion that adds a 3rd dimension to the viewer experience. Of course, you can invest tons of money into motorized sliders and dollies that are timed to gradually move throughout a series of exposures. I cannot recommend against this. In fact, I would love a piece of kit that could do this, and I hope to have one soon enough. Check out manufacturers like Cinevate and Kessler for more on this. Vincent Laforet has a great blog post about his own recommendations in this motorized sliders.
But if you’re like me, and you are working with only a tripod (and no, don’t try manually doing this with your hands on a slider), there are ways you can spice up your video in post. The results aren’t exactly the same, but you can definitely add dimension to your time-lapses by creating a little camera motion. In Final Cut Pro X, I’ve been playing around with this. Something as simple as the “Ken Burns effect” allows you to set start and end points so you can zoom in and out, pan left/right, etc. And thanks to FCPX’s ability to natively edit up to 4K video, you can take full advantage of a using very high resolution video in a 1080p editing space. Think about it: your camera most likely shoots stills at much higher resolution than it shoots video. So if your photos are 5,000 pixels across, you can create and edit sequences in 4K, move the camera all around as you please, and when you output your video at 1080p, there will be virtually no loss in resolution — even if you zoom in to twice the size of your frame. Here’s a short example of a time-lapse experiment I did just the other day:
Try it Out
I have a particularly renewed interest in shooting time-lapse photography, because of the potential I see for the international school market, which I am focusing on with my new brand, International School Marketing (ISM). But schools aren’t the only ones that can benefit from this technique. I now have several video productions for various clients that I look back on and think, man, I wish I had thought of this sooner! The art form of time-lapse can add a level of professionalism and creativity to an otherwise straightforward video, and now it’s affordable for everyone.
As with 360-degree VR photography and HD video, the DSLR revolution has democratized professional filmmaking. Thanks to apps like TriggerTrap, time-lapse photography is now something that everyone can afford, and professional artists can focus on advancing their skills without breaking the bank.
I can’t end this post without showing you one of the coolest time-lapse films I’ve ever seen. I particularly like it because it highlights one of my hometowns, Saigon, Vietnam. Rob Whitworth is an Asia-based photographer dividing his time between time lapse and architectural photography. This award-winning video is another example of how cool this process can be — and it’s a reminder of all the great things that can be accomplished both in-camera, and (I’m gonna go out on a limb here) in post-production:
Introduction to VR
Somewhere between still photography and video lies what I believe to be an under-appreciated and under-utilized presentation format: 360° Virtual Reality (VR) Photography. (Yes, they still call it Virtual Reality, 1992’s “Lawnmower Man” notwithstanding.) It’s a really cool way to present a 3-dimensional area visually. While it isn’t exactly motion, like video—the vantage point of the viewer never actually changes, only the viewing angle—it can provide a much more realistic and detailed spacial experience than traditional photography.
It’s not a new concept. You’ve seen VR photography before in online real estate ads and classifieds. The real estate industry recognized early on that by plunging customers into an interactive, 360-degree picture of a living space, they could not only provide more detail, but also increase customer confidence. After all, wide angle lenses, creative lighting and other tricks can make any old dining room look like a banquet hall. Allowing folks to explore every angle of a space, zooming in and out at their own will, is a much more transparent way to show a place off.
I see a lot of potential for this type of delivery when it comes to schools. Which is why I’m offering it as a “Plus Service” through my new brand, International School Marketing (ISM). For now I’m calling it the service a “Virtual Campus Tour.”
VR photography is not the simplest process in the world, and it involves 3 steps:
Step 1: Shoot the Panorama
The first thing you have to do, of course, is shoot a panorama. Basically, stay in one place and shoot the full 360 degrees of space surrounding you. Shooting a panorama is a relatively straightforward process, but there are a few things to keep in mind:
- – Although it may seem counterintuitive, you want to shoot in portrait (vertical) orientation, unlike the guy in the photo to the right, which I just stole off the Internet. By shooting in portrait, you can cover more vertical space. The horizontal area will be covered by all the multiple shots you’re taking.
- – Also, unlike the guy in the picture, use a tripod. In order to create the true 360° effect, you need to approach every angle from the same vantage point. They make special tripods for panoramic shots which keep the glass of your lens in the same place as the camera rotates around it. But for most purposes, a regular old tripod should do fine.
- – Allow for overlap. It’s recommended that you cover about 40% of the previous angle in each shot. This will make it easier for you to stitch the photos together into a seamless panorama. If you don’t allow for enough overlap, or if you provide too much, you will confuse your software and your computer will melt.
- – Keep your settings on “manual”. Once you’ve determined the proper focal length, exposure and white balance, leave your camera and lens settings alone throughout the shoot. If your camera is set to automatic, the exposure, focus and color will change with each shot depending on the subject, and the resulting photos won’t stitch together properly.
This guy does a pretty good job of saying everything I just said, except while showing how it’s done:
Step 2: Stitch it Up
Now that you have a series of photos covering the entire area you want to present, you’ll need to “stitch” them together. Adobe Photoshop has had a function for this process, called “Photomerge”, for a long time. It does a pretty good job.
However, there are other programs out there that are dedicated solely to panoramic photography and they tend to give you a little more control. Right now, I’m using software called PTGui Pro, and I’m happy with it. I won’t go into the details of stitching photos together, because the software is very intuitive, and it handles the work of alining and blending your images for you. One quirky thing I did notice about PTGui Pro: when you save a project, it names files with the extension .pts. I can imagine this becoming a headache for anyone who uses Avid Pro Tools.
Step 2: From Still to Movement
The final step is to take your panorama and turn it into an interactive motion experience. There is one very important consideration before you get to this phase: the left and right sides of your panorama must meet seamlessly in order for it to work. If you did everything properly, the stitching software should have created this alignment already.
I have been using a program called Pano2VR for this process. It’s fairly straightforward. You load your panorama into the software, enter details about the area (description, date, latitude/longitude), adjust your settings (output size, controller interface, etc.) and create your VR experience in the format of your choice. This is an important feature to have. See, the old Quicktime Pro used to create 360° VR presentations, but dropped this feature in Quicktime 10. Pano2VR can export to Quicktime still, although the rendered VR is pretty slow. Pano2VR can also export to Flash, all within a self-contained file. Of course, this isn’t going to work on any iOS device, so I don’t recommend it. Fortunately, Pano2VR can also export to HTML5, without any significant loss in image quality or render time. Below are two examples, the first one is a basic Flash VR (if you’re on an iPad or iPhone right now, all you’re seeing is a blank space.) And the second image is HTML5, with more bells and whistles—descriptors, a controller interface, zoom capability and an auto-rotate function.
Riverside Park Along Nguyen Duc Canh, Saigon, Vietnam
I’m still working on my shooting technique for this specialized type of photography, as well as full spherical panoramas which will allow viewers to pan up, down, diagonally, etc. But as you can see from just the two images above, there is already a lot of potential here. Just like stop-motion photography, HDR photography, or any other specialized form, there is a certain place for VR photography; it’s not for everyone.
On the other hand, when a client needs to present a realistic, photographic space in which visitors can completely immerse themselves—something I believe the international school community could certainly benefit from—I can’t think of a more appropriate application than this.
Great news! The latest video from Saigon South International School and Gypsy Creative Communications, are among the winners of the 2013 Global Cardboard Challenge Video Contest! I just got word of this during our holiday in Cambodia. What a great gift it was, and what an awesome way to kick off my new business: International School Marketing! I’ve put up a couple posts leading up to this, if you’d like to check out some of the backstory:
Otherwise, check out the video below:
You can learn more about Caine’s Arcade and the Global Cardboard Challenge from the links below:
I’m so proud of this video and so proud of the award. What a great way to start off the year! Here’s to hoping 2014 brings more opportunities to work with great kids and great schools. And… with a little luck and a lot of hard work, let’s win some more awards!