Time-lapse photography

I recently attended a lecture by Saturday Night Live’s second unit cinematographer Alex Buono as he discussed the current digital “revolution” with the latest D-SLR’s hitting the market. It’s pretty exciting to me that I can afford to use the same camera as an Oscar nominated filmmaker, and it’s not because I’m rich – it’s because these cameras are so affordable.

I’m not going to discuss the cameras because you can go to hundreds of other blogs where they talk and test ad nauseam about the benefits and limitations of them, but I wanted to write about something I wasn’t aware of – the implementation of smart phone apps and Google maps to help with time-lapse photography and the gear used to make “motion” time-lapses.

The best time-lapses are ones that are shot during the “golden” hour. That is, when the sun rises and sets. But if you don’t know where the sun is going to exactly rise or set, then it’s a struggle to get the best footage. That’s where the app sun seeker comes in. Simply turn on the app, choose the day you’re going to shoot, find the spot you want to shoot and locate the sun on that day. It pinpoints precisely where the sun is going to be and what direction it’s going in. If you don’t have access to the app, Google maps is capable of the same thing.

The best time-lapses being created right now are by Tom Lowe. You can check them out on his website Timescapses. They are remarkable for many reasons, but the main reason is that they move. It’s hard enough to get a quality time-lapse on a tripod, but his are actually on a dolly! I’ve been researching for a cheap solution to create the same effects but hadn’t come up with anything better then an egg timer and a piece of tin foil. However, Alex pointed me in the right direction.

Someone with the moniker MILapse has created a great affordable system for motion controlled time-lapse dolly system. You can check out two videos MILapse created to show you how his dolly track works below.

Another cool thing would be to combine the motion of the dolly track to a motion controlled head that was capable of panning and tilting and now you’re talking absolute magic. I found a list of acceptable heads that work with the dolly track on dynamic perception’s webpage here. Here is one example on Amazon.

Dynamic Perception Timelapse Dolly Stage Zero Tour (part 1) from MILapse on Vimeo.

Dynamic Perception MX2 Dolly Controller Tour (part 2) from MILapse on Vimeo.

Here is an example of when you’ve got the dolly and motion head working together:

Timescapes: “Death is the Road to Awe” from Tom Lowe @ Timescapes on Vimeo.

One thought on “Time-lapse photography

  1. Sun Seeker looks quite neat. I’ve been using one called Sun Scout for a few months now. It was free when I downloaded it back then, but now it costs a couple of £ (or $).

    Pretty much does the same job as Sun Seeker. Extremely handy if you’re doing sunrise timelapses. You set your camera up, frame everything, and you know exactly where the sun’s going to creep out from the horizon in your shot. 🙂

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