I was fortunate enough to spend a week traveling across Utah and Arizona with Tom Lowe and Dustin Kukuk last month. While I was there, we successfully filmed two shots that made it into Tom’s insane new trailer “Rapture” (shown above). ”Rapture” includes never before seen production footage that he filmed over the summer for his debut film “Timescapes.” I am honored to be a very small part of this revolutionary project!
Quick note, if you don’t follow Dustin Kukuk on Twitter then you are missing out. He may only be 21 years old, but he is a hard working, passionate, and experienced filmmaker that is making a huge name for himself!
I learned so much about time lapse in the short amount of time I spent with Tom and Dustin. Yes, I knew the basics of time lapse after reading tons of posts on Tom’s forum at timescapes.org and from doing my own research, training, and tests at Yellowstone for my FXPHD DOP211 Course and from the time lapse below that I filmed in Shenandoah, Va. However, the real world experience and hands on training that Tom was willing to share with me was invaluable.
Over the past year I have been working on a time lapse checklist and I want to share it with you. There are so many steps to properly setup a time lapse that I had to start writing them all down so I wouldn’t forget anything myself. This list changes almost every time I do another timelapse. There is no perfect formula to get incredible shots like Tom’s other than practice, practice, and more practice. So please don’t expect this checklist or any of my advise to turn you into a pro. Use the tips that are helpful and disregard those that aren’t!
To keep this checklist up to date at all times, I use Google Tasks. I then sync the cloud data to my iPhone and iPad using GeeTasks. This combination is unstoppable because GeeTasks has an offline editing mode. Therefore if I’m out in a remote location and need to make a change to my checklist, create a note to myself, or add a piece of gear I want to do more research on later, I can easily type it in on the go. The next time I have internet connection, GeeTasks will automatically sync that data back up to the cloud so I can access it anywhere at anytime. I won’t get into a long discussion about using Google Mail, Google Calendar, Google Reader, Google Docs, Google Voice, etc. but please keep in mind these are productivity tools that will make your life a million times easier.
One last thing before we get to the checklist… you will need to buy an intervalometer! Now you could go all out and buy the Canon Timer Remote Controller TC-80N3 for $144.95 or you could save yourself some serious cash and order this $20 version on Amazon. I ordered 3 of the these cheaper versions and they are an exact replica of the Canon model and work perfectly. It might take up to 3 weeks to receive the LinkDelight version but it’s well worth the wait in my opinion. Other than Interval Mode and Long Exposure Mode, everything else can be zeroed out.
With that said, back to the list… Please keep in mind that these are rough notes and most are just random thoughts I type in as I learn something new so please don’t expect complete sentences. Therefore, if anything doesn’t make sense feel free to ask!
- Set lens to manual focus
- Put lens hood on to prevent lens flares
- Disable IS on lens if using a tripod
- Set camera to manual mode for intervals of 2 seconds or less. Bulb if greater than 2 seconds. Rule is to do around 30 seconds in long mode at 2 seconds in interval mode for astro (long mode is for long exposure)
- Use Manual Mode at all times other than when in Bulb mode. If you have to use AV or TV modes, make sure you are set to evaluative metering – Preferably use AV mode as TV causes more flicker
- Focus Lens using + button on Primary Subject (use a flashlight to shine on subject to lock in focus at night)
- Study the moon paths and moon phases for best light from the best direction for astro
- White Balance Set to Manual and don’t Change Throughout the Timelapse!!! (Auto White Balance makes it impossible to color correct unless you are filming in rapidly changing lighting conditions)
- Set to RAW!!! – Unless you are doing a quick and dirty timelapse and then you can shoot SRAW or JPEG
- Auto reset file number so when you format your card it resets the count to 1 (helps in post)
- Set F-Stop to around F3.2 or F4 to avoid flicker and for a sharper image. Set to wide open or 2.8 for astro or for a DOF effect.
- ISO not to exceed 3200 on a 5DMKII
- Set desired shutter speed for the effect you want (motion blur or not) Keep in mind the shutter speed has to be faster than the interval unless in bulb mode which will dictate how long the shutter is open
- Set camera to Live View to determine your framing, exposure and focus using the zoom button – Set to exposure simulation (not movie mode) so you can adjust the shutter slower than 1/24th
- Keep camera in Live View the whole timelapse so the mirror will stay locked up. Drains more battery but less headache than using mirror lockup which requires you to calculate the intervals differently since the first interval rotation will lock the mirror up and the second interval rotation will take the picture calculating the intervals. Important for the mirror to be locked up to avoid it from causing blur in a long exposure
- Zero out the intervalometer in all modes and then set the interval mode to desired time. (bulb is 2 seconds interval / 30 seconds in long mode for Astro shots) otherwise just set the interval only if using Manual mode
- Start a test Record for about 5-10 shots and review it using the wheel on the back to get a quick preview of the shots in succession
- Double check framing, focus and or exposure one last time if needed
- Format CF Card to get rid of all the test shots
- Make sure batteries are still fully charged
- Start recording the final time lapse
- Come back in 8-12 hours (if doing an astro shot) and pray that you nailed the shot!
I say the very last line of my timelapse checklist in all seriousness because there are SO many things that could go wrong while executing a time lapse. Your batteries could die, the CF card could crash or fill up, wind could knock over your rig, a bug could fly onto your lens, your intervalometer battery could die, and this list goes on and on. Worst of all, if something does happen to go wrong, you just wasted an entire day setting up and recording a single astro shot that can no longer be used… Also, please keep in mind that my checklist only covers static timelaspe shots unlike Tom Lowe who is pushing the bar with 3-axis motion control shots!!! Now if there weren’t enough factors that could already fail on a static shot, just imagine trying to pull off a 3-axis (dolly, pan, and tilt) motion control move.
With that said, Tom is using some extremely reliable and state of the art gear from Kessler Crane and CamBlock. This equipment and the feedback Tom is providing is pushing the boundaries of time lapse to a whole new level. For example, Eric Kessler is working with Tom Lowe to develop a state-of-the-art motion control 8-foot Kessler Crane with Shuttle Pod motor attachment. I helped set this beast up with Dustin and Tom at “Holy Land.” Here is a behind the scenes time lapse shot I recorded of the crane raising over a 10 hour period.
In addition, I also recorded a behind the scenes timelapse of a motorized Kessler CineSlider at “Natural Bridge.”
If you’d like to learn more on the process of setting up motion control timelapse rigs then I highly recommend you check out my friend Tom Guilmette’s awesome tutorial below. This is actually how I first learned how to setup the Kessler Cineslider motion control rig myself. Also, make sure you head over to Tom’s Blog to read more about his incredibly detailed tutorial. Thanks for putting this together for everyone Tom Guilmette!
Also, check out Philip Bloom’s awesome tutorial demonstrating the post production workflow for turning your JPEG sequence into time lapse video. This tutorial was featured on Gizmodo and all you need to get started is Quicktime Player on the Mac. However, if you want to process RAW files you will need either Adobe Lightroom or Adobe After Effects to do advanced color correction on your sequence. Thanks Philip!
So how on earth does Tom Lowe achieve such incredible results time and time again? Well, like I said above, practice makes perfect! However, here are my top five reasons why Tom is so successful at what he does:
- Passion – Tom Lowe loves his job. Plain and simple! Not only does he love the art of time lapse and filmmaking, but he also loves sharing his knowledge and teaching others. Some treat their craft as a magic trick that no one else can learn. Tom openly shares every trick in the book!
- Perfection – There are plenty of long days and nights spent on a time lapse shot that may never see the light of day. Why? Because if the shot isn’t absolutely perfect, Tom won’t allow it into his film. Tom has been sleeping outside almost every night on a cot in the freezing cold for the past 9 months gathering footage. Only a select few of these shots will make the final cut. He doesn’t get attached to his work because he knows the benefit of saving the very best for his audience.
- Professionalism – Tom is a great guy and he takes his work seriously. He is often quoted as the modern master of time lapse. Tom is a true professional not only when it comes to his hard work ethic but also when it comes to the way he mentors and treats others.
- Pride – You may not know this, but Tom used to be an enlisted U.S. Army Scout. As a result he served his country in the military and knows a thing or two about discipline, hard work, and taking pride in everything he does.
- Patience – Last but definitely not least, this is what sets Tom apart in the film industry. In my opinion, this is the biggest lesson Tom has taught me. Patience is the key to success. Tom could have easily released a sub-standard film by now and it probably would have been pretty damn successful. However, due toEVERY trait I mentioned above, Tom has remained patient which is going to pay off huge in the long run. When Tom’s film is finally released to the public it will be a revolutionary work of art!
Tom is not my only role model who preaches patience. Stu Maschwitz also mentioned the importance of patience during a recent Redcentre podcast. You really have to listen to this short segment from redcentre! Stu’s dialoge with Mike is so important and I know it’s something Tom believes in 100 percent.
I highly recommend you listen to the rest of Red Centre Episode #066! Actually I HIGHLY recommend that you subscribe to this podcast and listen to all of them. Nobody covers the film industry better than Jason and Mike. Other than This Week in Photography, Redcentre is the only other podcast I listen to religiously!
If you’re into time lapse I highly recommend you check out the following filmmakers:
John Stanford – Producer/Composer of “Timescapes”
Jay Burlage (MiLapse)
C. A. Church
Thanks again Tom and Dustin for allowing me to come hang out with you guys! I had an incredible time. You both motivate and inspire me!