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Time-lapse Sculpting: The Process of Finding It

As discussed in a blog post last year, time-lapse film production is a two-step boogie: data collection and data management. Now I’d like to discuss my artistic approach to this mostly technical photography genre…

Producing your time-lapse story is similar to a sculptor turning marble into something beautiful, thoughtful and engaging. Once the photographs, video snippets and sound effects are logged, identified and archived, reviewing the story arc begins.  Based on my pre-production scribbles, shooting notes, observations and daydreams I imagine how the completed film should look, play and sound. And for how long. I look at and review dozens of pieces already published, (mine included) read up on new techniques and software advances to see what may be appropriate for your story.

These two frames depict the level of change in a 5-month time-lapse. The top image is the finished waterfall and below you can see where we began. Impressive. (a little bragging here, this film was selected for the 2016 Time Lapse Film Festival in Los Angeles. Click on the thumbnail to see the film)

Once these steps are in their stages of process and completion, multiple software “chisels” are brought into play and the process of carving out your story begins. First order of business is discarding the pieces that impinge. Second, discard the pieces that impinge. Third, discard the pieces that impinge. This takes a lot of “chiseling” time. Oy! But it’s the necessary step in getting from here to there: a logical and entertaining story that leaves your audience better informed and satisfied.

The next step is putting the chosen sequences into a timeline. A timeline is the order in which things occur. And they don’t have to be chronological! You’d think that in a time-lapse film, order is everything. Especially when it comes to a construction story. Most of your film will be in a chronological sequence but the way I direct and edit, it ain’t necessarily so. As long as the bits and pieces are recorded properly, changes in chronology are useful and necessary. Trust me. :()

For example, this time-lapse of tree trimmers working on my property was put together with a few ideas in mind: black and white, one sequence plays forward and back, a lot of quick cuts to cloud movement, sound effects and music were mixed in a way that makes the film short, sweet, jumpy and fun. And it’s ever so slightly out of chronological order. But it engages you to watch: Tree Trimming

After roughing out your story arc, the refinement process commences. Decisions about where to transition, when to transition, and why begins. Should it be a cross dissolve, jump cut or effects driven? I use ‘em all to great success. Absolutely love this process. Added into the mix are time-lapse sequences with organic movement, (or static sequences that have it added later). I spend a lot of time with this critical component. Quality demands it. My muse says so!

At this point the story is working at a level where rendering is required for further evaluation. This render, (output, video, etc.) is high-quality video and designed to work inside another software application where titles, other graphics, sound effects and music are added. After watching the film several times with music and sound in place, it becomes apparent that some transitions have to be changed. This happens because a particular dissolve, jump or effects transition isn’t in sync with the beat of the music. So it’s back to the prior application to make a change. Output another video file to replace the first one to gauge the accuracy of the change. If it’s good to go, cool. If not, the process is repeated until it works. This iterative process is part and parcel of how a successful time-lapse producer works: The Loop


Thanks for reading.



We did it! Bingo! Score!

Excuse Me

I have to brag a bit about my success. It’s such a sweet feeling to achieve recognition in a crowded field.

Film Festivals

As I began my incredible journey directing and producing construction time-lapse films in 2011, I laid out several goals for myself: make a living, have fun, elevate the mundane, meet new people, learn new stuff and gain recognition for the work. I can now safely say that 100% of these goals have been achieved: two of my films have been recognized and accepted for inclusion in the premiere of the worldwide Los Angeles 2016 Time Lapse Film Festival.

Lingering Clouds Peak and Syncreon’s deliverables were well-defined by my clients. These two amazing people were guided by their instincts in commissioning me, they believed in my value proposition and trusted me to deliver results. The recognition of my work bears out their trust in me and I’m very happy and excited for all of us.


Because both films were photographed and produced under ideal circumstances for a commercial artist: 100% trust from the clients and just about as close as one can get to 100% creative freedom, we came up with winners by working towards common goals. That is one of my value propositions: that of a dedicated and thorough professional, who looks around corners you don’t even know exist. I am your eyes on a project. Deliver results, not excuses.

Thank you Jim and Marjorie.


Trimming My Trees


Good-Bye Tree

After several years of putting off the inevitable, it was time to deal with two of our aging and annoying trees, trim one and take down the other. A perfect subject for a time-lapse! And this was the rare occasion for me, where no money was involved nor was there a client. (except me)

I used three cameras, that were relocated several times each during the six hour job. As I reviewed some of the footage, it was clear to me that this was going to be a black and white film.

Black & White

The right ingredients for a black and white story were in place: lighting angles of the sun, (height in the sky) the contrast of the light, (no clouds per se) and color. (bright sun at 5200˙kelvin) Whenever I can, I arrive on location for my time-lapse construction films as early as possible. Beautiful morning light cannot be beat. Its’ color, lighting angle and contrast are simply ideal for time-lapse film making.

As my stories unfold, one day leading into the next, early morning light affords great opportunity for sequencing a story together logically, naturally and emotionally. And my clients love the look. Perfecto!

Plan B

But when morning light is not available, plan B goes into gear; how to turn less than ideal light into a watchable film? Color is going to be my first choice due to electronic photography’s ability to separate colors into discreet levels of hue, saturation and brightness. But this same feature can be used effectively by removing saturation and using hue and brightness only to push and pull values.

I added a few effects at the beginning, (titling) middle, (forward and reverse) and end, (music, no rooster this time!) of this film because it’s different subject matter and being short needed to be different.




Concrete Batch Plant Demolition

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 2.53.51 PMDuring production on a recent grading time-lapse project for a new client, they asked me to produce a demolition time-lapse going on in another part of their soon-to-be-sold property. The resulting film is one that I’m particularly fond of, especially the opening and ending shots as they are the first time I’ve experimented with quick cuts and blended drone shots from before and after flights. Fun indeed!

Thanks for reading.


(click the thumbnail to view film)




Filling in a Hole, A Really BIG Hole!


When I was called and asked if I could do a time-lapse of essentially the filling in of a huge hole, (grading) located in Lomita, CA, I was at a bit of a loss for words…”filling in a hole”?

As the discussion continued I came to realize the challenge of recording the movement of dirt, especially on such a large scale. The client was incredibly supportive, green-lighted the majority of my ideas and made sure that their administration of the project went as smoothly as could be desired. A dream client and a truly wonderful experience.

I decided to pull out an old technique that made the rounds several years ago, (2006) and in fact was first spotted in still photographs taken by a National Geographic photographer David Burnett after hurricane Katrina: miniaturization.

This technique resurfaced again in 2010 in quite a few time-lapse films. A fun technique that is trendy, I used it here with a few tweaks: multiple layers of the effect, blending in and out of the frame and moving from top to bottom within the frame…

Given the rather mundane nature of the subject matter, I’m happy with the results.

Enjoy!       Chandler’s Sand & Gravel Pit


2016 Time-Lapse Showcase Reel


It’s always a struggle to keep current in the marketplace. I was especially busy with new and interesting work this past year and 2016 is looking even more interesting. But that’s no excuse when prospective clients tool around the web looking for someone like me and decide to go to my site. The work has to be fresh and relevant.

I had an abundance of material to cull through and at first this 2016 reel was 6+ minutes long. No way I would even watch it. So the trimming and clipping began. It’s still a bit long for my taste but I do think the time you’ll spend watching is going to be worth.

Hope to hear from you. Call me to discuss your ideas on how to professionally document, present and preserve your story.

I’ll be glad you did! :()

Thanks for reading.


From Zero to Hero in 31 Days

Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 3.01.01 PM
click on thumbnail to view film

Beginning on March 16th and ending on Grand Prix day in Long Beach, my newest film was commissioned by Downtown Long Beach Associates. They wanted a time-lapse film documenting the reclamation of an unused parcel that had been vacant for over a decade.

Unlike my traditional approach to construction time-lapse films, this one was process-oriented in that what you see are snippets of the work that went into transforming this barren locked up space into a vital gathering spot for locals and tourists alike.

Remote Time-Lapse System

My installation platform can be installed just about anywhere and function correctly.

I took a different approach to sound design also, adding crowd noise and other sounds that wouldn’t be happening at a construction site: the sounds of a roller coaster.

Can you pick the scene where those sounds occur?

Lastly, this film was shot over a 31-day period and delivered within 10 days of the last photograph taken. A record performance in that regard, usually post-production takes several weeks after-the-fact.

Construction time-lapse films go from zero to hero. This is no different. At the end we get to enjoy the beautiful scenery of downtown Long Beach with the Queen Mary in the background, lights, shadows, colors and of course The Loop.

Thanks for reading.


The Time-Lapse Challenge

The looming and constant challenge in my niche market is how to explain to potential clients why I do what I do. It’s not the photography but the thinking and feeling that goes into each film I deliver that is the ultimate challenge to get across the great divide. I’ve found this approach helpful to many of clients:

photograph of a gravel pit made to look like a jigsaw puzzle

It’s Like A Jigsaw Puzzle

The main camera provides provides context. I refer to this as the master shot. It is the border, the outside piece that forms and defines the boundaries of your story. The rover days, (the ground-based time-lapse footage gathered with moving cameras) video footage and drone work are individual pieces that I fit together in order to make your story flow. These pieces can be fitted in a variety of ways: the order in which they appear, the amount, (in seconds) each section of footage runs, the speed at which a clip plays back, how the head and tail (beginning and end) of each clip is connected to the piece that came before and the piece that immediately follows.

photograph of Michael e. Stern, time-lapse photographer scouting a location

On location scouting for the best master camera spot and our agreed upon choice.

And the beauty is, this process isn’t fixed. One can always revisit the master movie file and move things around, change a jump cut to a dissolve, ramp up or slow down a clip, raise or lower a the audio level of a sound effect or music track. This is your prerogative as the client when viewing rough cuts, to ask that the puzzle be fitted together differently. Although the work is so thoroughly finessed by the time you see the film that little if any changes are necessary. But you have the option. That is my guarantee as the puzzle master, that it fits together as you desire.

After Effects CC 2015 interface

This interface screenshot is from After Effects. This is typical of my films, many little pieces adding up to a cohesive whole.

Lingering Clouds Peak

Well it took awhile to finally get this film to a point where I can own the end result. An experiment in tone, color and softness, I have taken construction time-lapse work to a new place in the industry.


Screen Shot 2016-01-06 at 12.03.43 PM
Lingering Clouds Peak


Be it indoors or out, demolition, grading or construction, when I’m hired to produce your time lapse film, there are two things on my mind: data collection and data management.

Granted there are four sub-sections inside the two and that’s the purpose of this article, to flesh out exactly what needs to happen to do it right:

1)     Fixed Camera
2)    Aerial Video
3)    Rover Days
4)    Post-Production

Continue reading »

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