Monday, January 9, 2012

A series of time lapse videos recorded in the southwest region of the US. Most of these were recorded during December of 2010 in locations including Death Valley NP, Zion NP, Valley of Fire SP (NV), Dead Horse Point SP (UT) and Lake Mead. Luckily, I went to this region during a time of frequent snowstorms, which made for lots of cloud action above the landscape. There are two things that time lapse can reveal, events that unfold too slowly for you to notice them progressing and patterns in events that occur rapidly. In an outdoor landscape shot, you will most often be dealing with the first type, watching shadows and stars move as the earth rotates or watching the development of cumulonimbi.

One new thing that I decided to do here was to create the entire movie in black and white. I usually post landscape photos in black and white because I like the contrast. I wanted the clips in this video to literally be landscape photos with moving scenery. I use Silver Efex Pro to convert to black and white in photoshop. Because the camera (and most of the scenery) is stationary during a clip, I could record a number of operations (contrast adjustment, burning, dodging) and then automate the application of those same operations to all the frames in a clip. I had resized all of the frames to 1024x720 px before doing this so that the automation would run faster.

Surprisingly, this video represents only about 5 hours of actual picture taking time. I recorded about 9000 images at an average of 1 frame every 2 seconds while making these videos. I only needed to stay in each spot for about 12 minutes because the clouds were moving so quickly. I used considerably slower settings for recording moving shadows during sunset, and usually spent about an hour taking those clips.

You might notice that the camera appears to be slowly panning in some clips. This is pure luck on my part. Sometimes I was using my tripod to take still images with my other camera and would set my camera recording time lapse on top of my camera bag while it recorded images. I think that the slap of the mirror inside the camera was slowly moving the camera around on the bag. Depending on the slope of the bag it would appear to pan upward, or twist, or pan side to side.

The best way to find really good stuff to record time lapse in nature is to just get out there and look around. So many of the clips in this video were of things that I had no plans to photograph. I would be sitting there waiting while my camera was recording one thing that I had been planning to capture and would notice something spectacular occurring in the other direction. I'd quickly snatch my camera and change lenses and would only be able to catch a little bit of the action. However, these are my favorite clips, not the ones that I went out there intentionally to get.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

State Fair 2011

Composed from video recorded at the 2011 North Carolina State Fair. I'm still learning how to use Adobe Premiere and would like to redo this at 24fps rather than 29. I'm also trying to work with some video stabilization filters to smooth out some of the clips. The slow motion clips were recorded at 120fps handheld. Normal handshaking slowed down 4x creates a nauseating bobbing motion on some of the clips.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

I guess that the website can't really be called "undercrank" if I'm including slow motion video which would be overcranking the camera. This is some video that I took during Raleigh's 4th of July fireworks display at the state fairgrounds. I started with the idea of just getting a lot of close up shots during the 15 minute fireworks show but quickly realized that in just 5 minutes I had already recorded 20 minutes of 30fps video at 120fps. Being used to spending 30 minutes to get 10 seconds of time lapse video I was unaccustomed to being so unhurried to find the right framing for the video and had time to mess around a little bit.

I was using a Casio FH100 which is a little $200 point-and-shoot that has the ability to record 120fps at 480p, 240fps at 330p along with 480fps and 1000fps at resolutions that would only be useful for experimentation. I was actually very impressed with the picture quality that the camera put out, and it seemed to have a decent built in lens. I was pleasantly surprised to find that when I intentionally put the camera out of focus, the bokeh created by the sparks of the fireworks had a pleasant round shape due to the shape of the aperture of the lens when it is wide open.

Intrigued by this effect, I recorded the rest of my video out of focus. I think it helps focus more on the colors of the fireworks and makes the whole thing a little abstract. Unfortunately, everyone to whom I've shown this video has been bored to death. I still enjoy it though and will try to build on this if I have time to go out to the fair again this year to make another video.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A series of time lapse clips recorded at the 2010 North Carolina State Fair. I've been really wanting to edit a series of clips into a short, themed movie for a while now. This year I went out to the fair with the idea of recording time lapse video of the nightly fireworks display. I had arrived about 45 minutes early and decided to wander around the fairgrounds for a while to find the best place from which to record the fireworks. While I was walking around, I realized that the wave swing could make a really cool time lapse so I set up and recorded a couple of rides worth of images. I set my camera to record at 3MP so I was able to "preview" the time lapse just by holding down the "next" button in the image review mode and having the pictures cycle rapidly. Pleased with the results I continued walking around recording rides until the fireworks started right behind one of the rides I was recording! I ended up coming back three more nights to get more clips of rides and fireworks.

One thing that I notice, which is a technical limitation, is the lag between pictures. This isn't noticeable for slow moving things like clouds, but for fast things that I'm wanting to make faster it can be very jumpy. This is mainly an issue with the close-up of the fireworks at the end of the video. Sometimes a mortar would explode between shots, resulting in a full star-burst appearing suddenly in one frame and then disappearing totally in the next as it faded between frames. How noticeable this will be is a function of the lag between pictures and the shutter speed you are using. For clouds, I usually use a 4 second shutter speed, making the relatively small 1/3 second lag go unnoticed. For the fireworks I was using a 1/3 second shutter speed, meaning that I really only recorded half of what went on when you take the lag into account. Nicer cameras can snap shots more rapidly and in the case of this video it may have been better to record the fireworks as video and then blend frames to speed up the action.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

This one is a really weird video that loses a lot in the compression that it endures at youtube. While I was waiting for the previous time lapse video to finish, I noticed some gnats buzzing around under the streetlights nearby. The light from above illuminated their bodies and gave the illusion of trails following tracing their flight path.

This is one video where you really notice the limitations of using a low end dslr for time lapse. The gap between exposures dictated by the limit on continuous shooting frame rate for the rebel XS means that a lot of the motion of the gnats was lost between exposures. This makes their paths look discontinuous. For something like cars driving down a street this isn't so bad because the path that the cars are taking is predictable and your brain will fill in the gaps. For these gnats, the path is random and the result looks like a bunch of squiggly lines.

Friday, May 7, 2010

I decided to have a little courage and go out and set my camera up in plain sight for a video. This shouldn't take courage but in today's security conscious climate everything looks like a threat and I definitely got some suspicious and evaluative stares as I had my camera mounted on a guard rail in the mall parking garage over one of the entrances.

If you time your video right around sunset, you'll see an amazing change in the luminance of the sky in a very short period of time (less than 20 minutes). In a scene like this where the lighting comes from cars' headlights, you don't have to worry about the sky getting darker. I'm going to have to start bringing a book to read when I do this though. Even though this video only took 20 minutes versus the 2 hours I spent shooting each sunrise in Arches NP it is much less interesting watching cars zip in and out of a parking garage.

This was a quick video I made of the moon rising behind my house. I liked the way that the moonlight was reflecting on the pine needles that were partially obscuring the moon. Because the moon is so bright, a very fast shutter speed is required to preserve the details of its surface craters. This means that trying to take a picture of the moon with something recognizable in the foreground (like a city skyline) is usually impossible without allowing the moon's highlights to become completely blown out. In this case, the dancing pine needles were the focus and it was OK that the moon just looked like a white orb. Unfortunately the compression inflicted by youtube ruins the only interesting thing about this video, as you can barely see the pine needles.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

So I got home early from work one day and some great clouds were blowing over my house. I thought about setting my camera up outside to make a video of the passing clouds but the wind was blowing much to hard and I knew my little tripod wouldn't be able to hold the camera steady enough, not to mention the risk of rain. It might be a good idea to spend some time building a box to shield my camera from wind and water. It definitely would have helped here and allowed me to get a better angle for the shot that didn't include bits of my house in the foreground.

As you can see, I ended up setting the tripod up inside my house instead. There's even some noticeable spots on the video as bugs landed on the window outside during shooting. The video was made over a three hour span with a frame rate of one shot every four seconds. This resulted in over 2000 frames when I was forced to stop when my memory card filled up. I typically set my camera to take 3mp pictures for these videos because 3mp would allow me to build the resulting video in 1080p if I desired to do so.

I'm happy with the frame rate that I chose for the video as I think that it makes the clouds move fast enough to be interesting but not so fast that the viewer can't watch the individual clouds change and warp as they pass overhead. One thing I would like to try is using a slower shutter speed to blur the movement of the trees blowing in the wind. As it is now, they appear to vibrate as time passes. If a slower shutter speed was used, this vibration might not be as noticeable while making the trees slightly blurred. If you want to try shooting time lapse during the day, it is would be wise to invest in a set of neutral density filters for your lens which will darken the image coming into your camera and give you more options for using slower shutter speeds.

After the interesting results of the daytime driving time lapse I was anxious to try the same thing at night. For night driving, the choice of shutter speed has more consequences for the look of your video. A long exposure (slow shutter speed) will create light trails and give that laser-y look to the passing cars and street lights while a short exposure will give results similar to the daytime driving time lapse. Because the street lights and headlights are really the focus of this video, I chose to use a long exposure with a frame rate of 1 every 2.5 seconds.

The mistake that I made was in choosing a framerate that was slower than my shutter speed. During the time between exposures, my car obviously continued to move. This results in gaps in the light streams passing by my car in the video. The better choice would have been to set my shutter speed to 2.5 seconds to ensure the appropriate frame rate and then set my camera to continuous shooting and set the cable release to hold. Depending on how quickly your camera can shoot continuous photos at the current resolution you can all but eliminate the gaps between frames that are noticeable in this video.

Also, if you're wondering what happened during that white out portion at the middle of the video; I thought it would be cool to drive through the mall parking deck on the way home while shooting this video. Obviously the shutter speed I was using was way too long for the bright environment in the parking garage. If you are taking a video like this and move from dark to light or light to dark PULL OVER and change your shutter speed, don't try to do it while you're driving! It may seem like you're interrupting the flow of the video but when you put the video together it won't be that noticeable that you pulled over while shooting and if it is, you can always cut out the offending frames.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Here is another example of the usefulness of a arm-style camera mount over a tripod. For this video I clamped the camera mount to the metal rod protruding from the bottom of the passenger seat head rest I also could have clamped it to the handle for the parking brake. Both of these mounting locations are firmly fixed to the car and help minimize the vibration of the camera while shooting.

The choice of frame rate is very open here because while the scenery will be moving outside your car the cars in front of you will be relatively stationary in the frame as you drive down the highway. Because of this, the choice of frame rate really depends on how fast you want to car to appear to be moving and what speed you will play the resulting movie at.

When I started driving I was facing west and the sun was setting so I chose a shutter speed on the camera that would avoid a totally blown out sky. However, as my drive continued I began heading north and the pictures begin to get darker. It wouldn't have been safe to adjust the exposure while driving (obviously). I think that it is a good idea to take a test photo in all directions (N, E, S, W) and choose some average value to avoid severely under or overexposed pictures if you will be changing direction while shooting.

This is a video that I made while working on a part for my masters project at NCSU. The camera framerate was 1 frame every 3 seconds played back at 12 frames per second. I've found that the most useful setup for time lapse makes use of the "magic arm" produced by manfrotto. The manfrotto arm can be clamped to any solid object (preferably something heavy or bolted down) making it much more reliable when you need to be sure that the camera does not move. It also makes is much easier to move the camera around to get the angle you want. In this case I clamped the camera to a bar on the side of the drill press and on the back of the lathe for the second half of the video.

Luckily there was a plastic shield available that could be set up in front of the camera. I also used a clear filter over the lens just to be sure that no chips bounced over the shield and hit the lens glass.

I think that I higher camera frame rate would have helped when making this video. To be sure that the camera caught everything I was doing, I often had to hold a position and wait for the camera to take a picture. This highlights the challenge of choosing a suitable framerate for recording an event in time lapse. Something like machining a part may take a long time but is composed of a large number of steps that are completed relatively quickly. Using too large a gap between frames may result in the viewer missing steps and making the video hard to follow.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sunrise at Landscape Arch in Arches NP. When I imagined taking this video what I had in mind was the shadow cast by the arch span moving slowly down the wall of sandstone behind the arch. However, some sandstone fins in front of the arch really block direct sunlight briefly at the start of sunrise so that by the time the shadow forms it is already half way down the wall. Also if I were to try this again it would be nice to find a higher vantage point from which to record the sunrise to get a better view of the changing shadows on the arch.

I got out here early enough that I could still see the stars in the west. This presented the challenge of trying to choose the right exposure so that the highlights wouldn't be totally blown out when the sun started to rise. I decided that there was not going to be any one correct exposure for the entire sunrise and decided that I would manually control the shutter speed while holding the aperture constant to maintain the same depth of field throughout. So, while I was taking pictures over the course of two hours I had the camera set to show the histogram of each shot after it was taken. When I noticed the highlights getting close to being clipped I would speed up the shutter by one step and continue. As you watch the video you will be able to recognize the places where shutter speed was adjusted. The change in brightness between shutter speed settings ended up being a lot more noticeable that I had hoped.

Its possible that more work in post-processing the images to blur the gap between shutter speed settings would help this problem but I'm going to have to continue trying to think of another way to achieve the effect I'm looking for.

I've painted this scene, which can be viewed at .

Monday, April 26, 2010

Sunrise at Dead Horse Point. The morning after I made the previous video, I got up and drove out here early to try and catch sunrise from this amazing viewpoint. When you see a series of time lapse shots in a movie like Koyaanisqatsi you think "Oh, that must have been fun, driving around Utah to a different place for every sunrise and sunset, I could put something like that together with 2 weeks worth of shooting". But, the environment has to cooperate or your results will be underwhelming.

This video suffered from clouds hanging low on the horizon to the east. The rocks are illuminated with the red color I was hoping for only briefly as the sun passes between clouds on its way up. This would have been fine for a still photograph where one can wait for the perfect lighting, but for time lapse you need perfect lighting for the entire sunrise. It may take numerous trips to the place that you're trying to record.

The tip that I can give based on another problem with this video is to set your camera to manual focus once you have your scene set up. Not only can a problem with autofocus delay your camera from taking its picture, changes in focal point can slightly change the framing of the shot and give the video a jumpy quality like the picture is popping forward and backward as the focal setting changes from shot to shot.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sunset at Park Avenue in Arches National Park. My first real attempt at time lapse and I learned a lot. First to describe the equipment that I am using. I have a Canon Rebel XS with some variety of lenses and a (at the time) a cable release. For this particular video I was carrying a cheap but super-light tripod that I always carry when I'm hiking. It is not particularly stable but is much more bearable to lug around in addition to my other gear.

The first thing I learned about doing time lapse with a still camera is: invest in an intervalometer. Unless you enjoy staring at your watch and counting off 15 seconds between shots almost 300 times over two hours, purchase the intervalometer, set it up to take the required number of shots at the desired framerate and let it go about its business.

Lesson number 2: pick aperture and shutter speed before you start shooting your time lapse. Lighting conditions will change, and your camera will not meter the scene consistently for every shot. So when your camera changes exposure settings between shots you end up with the horrible flickering seen in this video. Unless you plan to shoot the entire thing in RAW, it will be hard to correct this flickering afterwards. So take a few test shots to determine what exposure settings give you the best balance of lights and darks. Then consider what will be happening in two hours, in this case the sun was setting, so I should expect the pictures to start getting a little darker near the end. Choose some ideal exposure and stick with it. There are programs available to correct this type of flickering but as of now, I have not had much success using them.

I've painted this scene which can be viewed at