Decisions That Drive The Time Lapse Narrative Forward

Dynamic Perception Stage 0 Dolly and the eMotimo TB3 Black
Dynamic Perception Stage 0 Dolly and the eMotimo TB3 Black

What should be your guiding principal when planning shots, especially when it comes to motion control time lapse sequences? The four keywords I keep in mind are: education, documentation, preservation and entertainment. Every decision I make rides on the backs of these four words.

I jumped into time lapse photography in ’03 and have been hacking away at it ever since. During this time, I realized I was developing a new specialty: the commercial time lapse narrative. Now I offer a boutique experience to my market in that I shoot time lapse projects with the mindset of a movie director. I offer and provide multiple camera set ups daily, weekly and monthly. In addition to the usual fixed or static camera that records all that happens in front of it I also place what I call rover units throughout a site in order to tell the complete story, whatever it may be…thus the decisions that come with this approach.

The first order of business is walking the site to determine where, when and how the static camera(s) will be placed. Power is a consideration, so is safety and will it be out of harm’s way? Most important on my list is…will said static camera position capture the needed footage? How will I use this footage during the editing portion of the project? Will it be easy to cut away and cut back to? The static camera position is my master (or wide) shot and it sets the context of the time lapse and then the rover units bring out the details. Often on a given day I’ll have multiple rovers complimenting the static camera footage.

Which brings me to the second consideration and the point of this post: when placing the rover units, (I have 7…yikes!) I must consider how will the footage, (sequence) of the narrative that comes before this about-to-be-shot footage from the rover unit tie in? How will I incorporate it into the video: Jump cut? Cross Dissolve? Fade to up? Fade down? Will it drive the narrative forward? After that decision is made I then have to think about how will the end of this newest footage tie into the footage that will come after?

In other words how will both ends of any footage/sequence tie into the narrative at its’ specific location in the story: both the beginning and the end? Again the big question is, will it drive the narrative forward? A yes answer and I’m good to go. A no answer and I rethink the placement of the rover unit and what it will be recording.

This impacts every rover unit camera decision. Every time. If I don’t think about in these terms, I’ll most likely have an unpleasant surprise waiting for me in the edit bay…and that ain’t no fun folks, a real headache to deal with.

This is the crucial and most difficult part of constructing a viable commercial time lapse narrative: at the end of every work day I walk the site to see what has been accomplished, and where I might effectively place my rover unit(s) next in terms of story integration and continuity…

I’m review the story in my head daily, I review camera footage nightly, I make edit notes and dictate thoughts while driving. It’s a complete immersion into the world of storytelling via time lapse and all that goes with the process: cameras, intervalometers and motion control apparatus that allows me to create engaging, informative and sometimes humorous content.

Below is an example of what I’m writing about…I put this together to show the Chinese laborers who have been working on this 1000 foot long walkway (by hand) for nine weeks what I’ve been doing…they were understandably curious why I kept putting cameras overhead, at ground level and far away:

Thanks for reading.


Michael Stern

My work depicts, appreciates and honors the people who build. Their specialized equipment and stunning challenges are marvels I behold and get paid to interpret. Hope you enjoy this site.

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