Time lapse photography
Keywords: photojournalism, photographic, disciplines, guides, tips
Something that has been an interesting topic and one that I'd like to give a try is, creating Time Lapse videos. And who better to talk to, then Nikonian, Dennis Owens (DennisOwens). He takes great pride in his work, and has a creative edge like none other. His Time Lapse (TL) Videos are something else, and remarkable, to say the least. So, who is Dennis, and how did all this all come together? Let's take a look, at an exclusive interview and find out more :)
1.) Please tell us a little bit about yourself (Where you are from, what your hobbies/interests are, etc.)
Well, my name is Dennis Owens (52), and I am from Colorado Springs. I have been living in Germany now for almost 19 years. I am a retired USAF MSgt, my main career has been and still is as a Computer Technician on the USAF and NATO AWACS aircraft both in-flight and as a ground computer systems maintainer. I am still employed by NATO as a civilian and still go where our AWACS jets goes to maintain the onboard computer systems. It was the USAF that brought me to Germany in January 1994. I like Europe so much I decided to stay here after I retired. Germany and Belgium have the best beer in the World!!! My hobbies are naturally Photography and auto racing like Formula 1. I try to go to two races per year, the Belgium and the German Grand Prix.
2.) Who or what influenced you to become a Photographer? Has it always been a passion of yours? (did you take photography in school, graduate in this field? Why is Photography important to you?)
I remember my father taking a lot of slide film when I was very young as he was in the military and we toured Europe. I have a digitized copy of that work he did and I really enjoy looking at them with him. I have that camera in my Guest room of my house today. I remember a time when I was about six years old, I had an old Kodak Brownie, you know the kind that was mostly plastic and you looked down the viewfinder, and my father showing me how to compose the photo. I remember taking photos of Arlington when I was that young. Interested yes, skillful no way at that age.
Photography is very important to me because once you understand light and the language of light you can speak to anyone in the world with your work. I love the way great photos are remembered forever.
3.) When did your career start in Photography and have you evolved over the years in experimenting in different areas of Photography? (ex. Different styles of photography, Time Lapse video, etc.)
This is an interesting question… I have always had cameras through my life, I remember back in the very early 1980s getting my hands on the Canon AE1 and thinking this thing is doing a lot of the calculations for me, Super! I had a lot of fun with that camera, but slowly lost interest again for many years. I would pick up another camera and use it for a few months and lose interest, then get another one and for a while it was all new to me, but it was the wait for the film to be developed that I did not like.
Then in 1998, I met an Olympic photographer and my dear friend now, Mr. Charlie Booker. He was a Nikon guy with the Nikon F4 and F5 and D1 and some great lenses. He later became the only official photographer for the FIBT, Federal International Bobsleigh and Toboggan. The FIBT is the governing body for the winter sport with Bobsleigh, Skeleton and such just like the FIA is for the sport of Formula 1. Charlie took me with him to shoot a few World Competitions. Man, did I learn a lot about panning, portraits, lens choices, shooting in the cold and that sport. I also saw his relationship with the athletes. Charlie owns this sport as THE photographer! The athletes love him! I thought that would be cool if I could own a sport like that someday. Charlie gave me an old fully manual camera and a bunch of film and taught me to creatively expose my photos manually. We shot many things together and later compared our notes with the actual results of the image. Attention to detail was really fun and extremely necessary when you shoot with film. I really enjoyed shooting Christmas lights after dusk with him. Low light photography is cool! It was Charlie that taught me the most about photography in my life. I am forever indebted to Charlie for passing this “virus” on to me called photography. You can see Charlie’s work at www.bobsleigh.de.
I shoot almost all subjects of photography from macro to night photography now, including weddings, portraits, sports of all kinds, landscape and now I am dabbling in Time Lapse. I have not found a subject of photography or lighting situation yet that I could not get my head around it and perform well. I absolutely love using flash both onboard and off the camera!
Living in a very small town in Germany you get to know everyone. I started doing a lot of street photography like the carnival, the town parades when they would celebrate the newest town king, band parties, Oktoberfest, First Communions and such. I was highly advised to create an official business with the German government so as I sold my prints for peanuts, so I would not get into trouble on the German tax side. So, I officially started my business in 2001 as a “Street Photographer”. It has evolved into the Dennis Owens Event and Studio Photography business, that it is now. Today I mostly shoot Equestrian events, weddings, portraits, and sports of all kinds for the local High Schools and towns.
I had discovered my sport of choice, Equestrian; these people have the money and desire to purchase great photos of them and their horses in action. In May of 2005, I was asked if I would be the official photographer of a Horse Tournament in a local town in Germany. I had to learn quickly the sport of Equestrian, Dressage and Show Jumping. You cannot walk into a sport like that as the event photographer not understanding what makes a great shot in the right phase of movement of these majestic animals performing the will of the riders. You won’t last long. I listened to the critiques from the riders as I asked them how I could make the photos better and slowly I was nailing that specific millisecond of timing needed to capture the exact timing of the horses in action with one shot consistently in both dressage and jumping disciplines. Gymnastics and wagons pulled by one to six horses soon followed. I really like the equestrian people; they seem to have both feet in the mud. Nobody today covers an Equestrian event like Team Dennis Owens here in Germany. Check out this video, this might give you a taste…
4.) How did the idea of doing Time Lapse videos come to you?
I first saw and understood that I was looking for time-lapse videos on CNN a few years ago as the little fillers in their broadcasts and thought hey, that is cool! They were showing traffic on the street intersections of many different famous cities. I thought that was really cool and I wanted to give that a try too. But the one that blew me away was the one called the Mountain from Terje Sørgjerd facebook.com/TSOPhotography, “TSO is also known for "The Arctic Light", "The Aurora" and "The Mountain" time-lapse movies.”
Terje went up to the tallest mountain, El Teide in the Canary Islands for ten days and came up with this, Masterpiece. This blew me away, and then I knew that I wanted to combine my love for low light photography with this new style time lapse.
Another TL Artist and passionate photographer, a guy that I would love to meet someday is Tom Lowe. Tom spent two years to create a Time Lapse film called TimeScapes, that runs some 45 minutes that is brilliantly shot, edited and musically scored by John Stanford. The movie trailer and more information can be found, here. This film is worth watching as well as the making of!
5.) What types of events/categories do you find best to do Time Lapse videos for?
To me, Time Lapse categories would include anything that moves, preferably slowly. Anything you wish to show a great deal of time in a very short period. Some examples would be the building of a new building, a stadium filling up, the game and the exit of all spectators. Weather patterns, moving stars through the night, busy intersections, train stations, river traffic, and an eight-hour road trip you make looking through your windscreen. The macro world of flowers opening up, fruit rotting and so many more subjects that move or change would be a great subject for Time Lapse. You are limited here only by your imagination.
Yet, for some reason, I just don’t think watching paint dry would be a good TL subject.
6.) I noticed that you use smaller (less expensive) cameras to do your Time Lapse Videos, rather than using a larger Nikon, any particular reason why? What are the pros and cons to this?
I do use my Nikons mostly in my TL work, but I have found something that is great and very portable… I use the fabulous Hero 2 from GoPro now as well for my TL. These are the little cameras that one can mount almost anywhere. You see them on the helmets of many people doing sports like bikers, skiers, skydivers and such. They are even waterproof and provide great footage to surfers and divers. These little cameras can take HD video, they can take 11 Mega Pixel still photos, they can shoot a burst of 10 photos per second, and they also have a Time Lapse mode. You can control up to 50 of them through a single WIFI controller on your wrist. These are really great versatile little cameras for so many reasons. The Hero 3 was just announced to the world in the past couple of months.
I also use the Nikon D3, D3s and D800 for my TL as well. I just love the Low Light capability of these cameras when you are shooting Stars. Plus the 36.3MP output from the D800 is untouchable. A great feature I find in the Nikons is the Interval Timer! I have not yet seen this in any Canon camera user next to me in the field. But if I could ask Nikon to improve on the Interval Timer in the menu, Please, Please add a fourth digit! Currently the max you can go up to in shots is 999. I would love to see the max being at least 9999 shots. This would save others and me from having to use an external timer device on your wonderful Nikon camera!!!
The pros and cons between them would be that the Nikons give me great quality that I can have complete exposure control from white balance, shutter speed, aperture and ISO. Furthermore, I can choose which lens and focal length and focus point I wish to employ. The cons about using the Nikons to me are the size and weight of the cameras with requirement of using a tripod or a slider system. This is a lot of gear to bring to your location.
With the small size of the GoPros, you can mount them anywhere with a bike handlebar mounts, suction mounts or double sided tape mounts that come with them. I mounted four of them on the Gondola at this past ANPAT when we took our hot air balloon ride. Two were setup for video and two for TL. So size and weight are perfect. They have several modes of focal length to choose from. You can have the internal battery only or add a second battery called a Back Pack and go from about two hours to four hours of useable time. Naturally with both the Nikons and GoPros, if you were shooting for an extended time, I would highly advise using an external power source. The GoPros accept a USB source as external power. The cons about the smaller GoPros are that you lose a lot of your creativity because you have very little control of your exposure. You have no ISO control, no focus control, and no aperture or shutter speed control at all. You can only tell it, how wide of an angle you wish. For me I shoot as wide as possible. It fits in the 9x16 final video format better.
7.) Could you tell us, how you would plan your typical Time Lapse Video? (sort of a check-list if you will, what supplies are needed, location plan and settings, people involved in helping?)
Hmmm, how do I plan a TL… I normally do my TL by myself, but when someone wishes to help me out I am never opposed and will let them change the battery or memory chip in the camera or discuss the physical setup of the camera. I look at moments like these to be able to pass on the knowledge and passion of photography and the making of TL videos. I love teaching photography of any type.
When one considers making a TL video, he or she should first think about the final product and who is your customer, a business or just yourself of even YouTube just for fun. How professional should it be? How long should the video be? How long is the duration or event that you wish to capture going to last? How often should you shoot a new frame, 1, 3, 5, 10, 30 seconds, one minute, 60 minutes or once per day? What is the rate of movement you wish to capture, polar ice melting or the pattern of ants moving? Do you wish the camera to be stationary or moving from a start position to an ending position? How many axis do you with the camera to move, Slide, Pan, Tilt, Zoom, Focus? What would be the rate of movement in your video, start slow, move faster, then slower later at a certain point, maybe a reverse movement as well? All of this is possible and relatively easy to perform with so many different types of slider panning devices. I have my favorites that maybe I can get into at another time. I would like to use more of them in the field first.
8.) How many hours go into planning, and executing your TL Video? And what is the average amount of hours needed to make a 5 minute TL Video?
I am glad you asked this as a follow up question to the last one because it has everything to do with the length of the final video.
Basically, if you break down a video, you have two main native formats excluding HD video. Your hands are not tied here, you still can do whatever you wish, but here are the two basics for example. The USA NTSC video format standard uses basically 30 Frames Per Second (FPS). The European PAL video format standard is 25 FPS. This means either 30 or 25 photos per viewing second of your video. There is also a resolution difference between the both NTSC and PAL, but that would be going a bit too deep here. I produce the great majority of my work in the HD standard at different FPS depending on the mood.
Now if I set my camera up to shoot one photo every 5 seconds, that would be 12 photos per minute and 720 photos per hour. This one-hour of 720 photos placed in a PAL video would go as fast as almost 29 seconds. Now, you still have full control as to how many frames per second you wish to display as you build your video, but this should give you an idea.
It would be a totally different video length if I were shooting the stars at 30-second exposure per photo. Even though there is no standard answer to this question, maybe I have highlighted some points to consider.
However, since I mostly prefer the final output to be in HD video, the resolution would be 1080x1920P, I am happy using 25 FPS with HD.
9.) With all this data you collect afterwards, it must be a monstrous amount, do you have a team that assists you in the final production, or throughout the entire procedure?
Boy don’t I wish! Actually, I am very picky about the final product and I would prefer to do all of the editing myself. The amount of data is monstrous for sure. A couple of months ago, I just returned from a “Bucket List” month of photography in six southwestern States CA. NV. AZ. NM. CO. and UT. In this month I shot with sometimes three cameras going at the same time, two terabytes of data. I still have not had time to go through them for editing.
10.) Are there any special software you can advise our readers who are eager to make their own TL Videos?
There are so many ways to get your series of photos into a video format. My preferred method is using Lightroom, QuickTime Pro version 7 and QuickTime Player for the final export.
Here is my procedure… First I would look at the photos in Lightroom either version 3 or 4 depending on which computer I am on at that moment. I would find a suitable start and ending point for this video in all of the thousands of photos. Different themes and scenes I would naturally do separately.
I would crop and adjust the exposure globally in all of the photos together in Lightroom. It is interesting that if you shot a sunset or sunrise that you do not adjust where your exposure is blown out at the beginning or ending of your video. I will crop all photos to a 16x9 crop and export them to a new folder at 1080x1920 format. This breaks it down for me already right there to HD quality. Once I have the output folder, I use QuickTime Pro version 7 ($29.00) to make an image sequence. I point it to my newly created export folder from Lightroom and let it build the sequence. Here I have the option as to how many frames per second I wish to make it. QuickTime Pro will then make a single video file from all of the individual photos. Now, this file is a couple to a few Gigabytes large and very choppy to play on your computer. I will save this file and open it up with the free QuickTime Player. Once I have the player running with the file, I will again export it as a Windows/Mac compatible 1080P video file. This will reduce the file size to just 1/4th the original size. It makes it good for YouTube and most devices, like the iPad, iPhone and Android.
11.) What does the future hold on TL Videos? Will it progress, or die out? Is there a reason to fiddle with this, rather than simply doing video and splitting the frames?
A long time ago, I dabbled in shooting video and splitting the frames out, but that seems to me to be very counter intuitive and a waste of media and time. Plus, you get much better resolution from the DSLR cameras and GoPros than you can with any video camera on the market today, except the Red Camera. So if you ever wished to up scale your final output to be larger than HD quality at a later date, you will still have the original files to do so.
12.) Are there any special equipment used with respect to lighting when doing a TL Video? Is it ideal for only outdoors, or indoors? Have you done a TL Video inside?
Great question here, generally I will use the ambient light that is available indoors and outdoors. I mean if you were interested in a sunrise or sunset you would not add light. The change in any TL video when it transitions between day to night or night to day to me is the spectacular moment!
I have shot a lot of indoor TL videos and I have yet to use additional lighting. Inside you generally have much more consistent lighting to deal with because you do not have clouds changing your available lighting. Just remember to use the correct white balance.
However, I was fascinated by a show on the Sky Documentary Channel where Sir David Attenborough did a show called the “Private Life of Plants” shooting TL videos inside at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the oldest botany garden in the world located in England. The TL experts would film a flower blooming and use a carefully adjusted flash to illuminate it perfectly for each frame of the long shooting through the night. Respect! I will try this someday too. Consistency would be the key word here.
13.) Have you always used wide-angle lenses to make your TL Videos and not long lenses, any reason for this?
For me, the wider, the better. I do use the 10.5mm fisheye DX lens from Nikon as well as the 14-24mm and the 24-70mm. Remember, you still have a great deal of latitude in post processing with cropping. There is another reason that it makes sense to go as wide as possible and that is when you are shooting the stars, the wider angle you use, the longer you can leave the shutter open without seeing that undesired star trails. This will make your stars much sharper. If I was to put the 70-200mm on the camera and reach into the Milky Way, the exposure time to capture that well would be to long and the stars would move too much to be sharp. I tried to shoot deeper inside the Milky Way unsuccessfully in Hawaii this year with this technique. Not recommended unless you have a celestial moving platform to shoot your camera on. But then, what will move in your TL???
14.) As a beginner and to any others out there reading, does it help to start off in learning to do TL Videos and then progress to doing videos or the opposite?
To me being a videographer first would not be necessary. To me being passionate about photography enough first visualize your TL, to have the patience to carefully preplan the TL output and painstakingly execute your plan and follow up with the post processing involved would be the ingredients of a good TL photographer. And you know what, if it did not work out, that same passionate photographer will learn what went wrong and do it again the next opportunity even better and more knowledgeable.
15.) Do you use different musical themes to correspond with the event in making your TL Video?
Ouch, I was hoping you would not ask this one because I have a moral compass issue here. Yes, I try to think of a clip of music that will enhance the TL video. However, most of the music I wish to use is copyrighted. Now the question is what would be the intent of the TL with that copyrighted music in it. I know that if it would be used for commercial purposes, then obviously one needs to get the license to be able to use it. Now I might be way off here, but I think that if you use it in a private or non-commercial way that it would be all right. I would love to find out the legal answer to this question. Too bad I am a terrible artist at Garage Band!
But to answer the question, yes music is crucial for any TL. It has to fit your scenes’ and mood of your TL. It helps place the viewer in the proper mood that you wish them to be in while they are viewing your work.
16.) Some more personal questions, in your opinion, what makes a good photographer?
I try not to take exposures; I let the exposure take me. A good photographer is one who anticipates the moment and is ready for it. For example when I shoot a wedding, I always have my eye on the mother of the bride anticipating when she will be crying, when I see the hanky come out, I will quickly pre-focus and when it happens, I have nailed it, while still paying attention to the bride and groom. I do not like to chase the moment; I do not like asking them to “Sorry, but can you do it again” because I missed it. Same thing is to keep an eye on the little kids too. They will always do something you can capture that will really enhance the wedding album.
Composition and timing are key to great photography. Bringing your camera to your eye should be muscle memory. As I bring my camera to my eye, I already have in my minds eye which lens is on my camera and I will be twisting the zoom ring already to the estimated crop for the composition. All of this takes place, as I am bringing the camera to my eye. I love shooting sports! Practice, practice, and more practice.
Someone said, your first 10,000 photos are the worst you will ever take in your life. I wish I could remember where I heard that. It is true. When I look at the shutter counts on all of my D2, D3, D800 cameras, I am, well over one million shots. Shoot, shoot, shoot, then get out and shoot some more.
Know your camera! Drive your camera like a Ferrari. Get that thing out of that mode called “P” for Professional. Run your camera in Aperture, Time or full Manual modes. Understand your camera(s). When you shoot something and it does not look like what you were expecting, change what you need to change in the exposure and fire away again. DSLRs are great for this as you have instant feedback to your shot and can do it again right away. Learn from your mistakes. Learn from others. Seek criticism in your work. Be honest with yourself and don’t have too much pride that you cannot listen to others as they give you an honest critique on our work. How else will you understand improvement in your photography?
Ask the athletes what they like to see and how you can improve to give them what they want to see. What the heck do I know about skate boarding??? But if I were to photograph skate boarding, I would be asking the guys what they think is Knarly! Work on your techniques until they are happy with your work.
17.) Do you think a person must possess talent to capture emotion and expression in a picture? – I’ve always heard, “You have to have a good eye”.
To capture emotion and expression in a photo is to be in the right place at the right time and right angle to get that shot. Again, it is letting the exposure take you. “To have a good eye” to me is already having the understanding of the Golden Rule of 1/3rds and not even thinking about it, but instinctively doing it. It is not placing the nose of your subject on the outside of the frame. It is not about chasing after the “Moment”, yet seeing it before it happens. Willing it to happen in front of you and capture it as you thought it should happen in that perfect world like the mother of the bride crying during the wedding. It will happen, just anticipate it and be ready for it. That moment will land in your camera and you and your customers will be Happy!!!
18.) What are the pros and cons to photography, in your opinion?
When I first understood this question, I thought, what kind of a question is this??? The more I think of this question, as a professional photographer I appreciate it and would love to provide my perspective…
Photography in the recent years since about 2009 and the very near future is booming! Now I mean that in the sense that almost EVERYONE out there has an affordable and great quality DSLR or at least an iPhone. Suddenly everyone can take great photos and we have no need for professional photographers anymore. Hey let Uncle Lou take your wedding photos, he has a great camera now!!!
But what is missing, the passion, the professionalism, the study of that art, the skills to make sure all is setup in the camera before entering that venue, the backup gear incase something fails, the final product professionally delivered versus, hey here is my CD of your wedding!!!
When I see a guy with camera, at the Equestrian events that I exclusively shoot, an event when I am there as the official photographer paying the venders fee to be there and spending three or four days to provide consistent quality photography. When I see an amateur going for it, I will normally invite him or her into the parcor and hope to teach them a couple of pointers about the sport and the ability to capture it brilliantly in photography. But then there are those that would take advantage of the event and shoot from the sidelines and post the photos for anyone to have free thus taking business away from me. This happens too.
There are a lot of people out there taking business away from some of the real working pros. A great book to read about this subject is called the Perfect Storm written by a good friend of mine Dr. Henry Oles the CEO of a company called Virtual Backgrounds. This book can be found, here, for free. I am glad to mention here that Dr. Henry Oles is someone who truly believes in Photography as a profession. It was a privilege working next to him at Photokina in 2012. I hope to do more with him and the Virtual Backgrounds machine that I use in my Studio.
19.) What do you enjoy most about Photography?
Today is really one the best times to get into photography with the super technology of the affordable cameras today!!!
When I see the reaction to my work from very happy customers, it is all worth it! I love teaching Photography to young people. I love sharing the passion with like-minded people. That is what is so great about Nikonians.org. Some people have as their quote line in their signature block… “Nikonians, the second best investment after my camera!” I could not agree more. What a great community to be involved with. Share, Learn and Inspire is the motto of Nikonians. That, they do well! I love attending Photo Walks, Workshops and outings with fellow Nikonians. No matter how much you think you know about photography, there is always someone there to show you something cool and new!!!
20.) Lastly, do you believe in the expression: “A picture is worth a 1,000 words?” – If yes, why do you believe this to be true.
I think I can only answer this by talking about some Iconic photos mentioned here and most of you will remember the photo or photos… Photography is a wonderful thing when you can mention a photo and SO MANY people can remember it. If that is not worth a 1,000 words, I do not know what can touch EVERYONE in the world like this. Well okay, music. They are both terrific works of art!
Ask yourself if you remember these photos mentioned without looking them up online… Be honest now…
Who remembers the photos of …
- The Afgan Girl with her brilliant eyes…
- Neil Armstrong stepping on to the moon…
- The shot of the Vietnamese girl running from the napalm…
- That great Marble Blue photo of our Beautiful Earth from the Moon!
- Some of the famous Hubble Telescope shots…
- Abraham Zapruder film clip from November 1962 the assignation of JFK…
- Marylyn Monroe’s skirt going up in the wind…
- The sailor kissing the Girl on V-Day…
- Ansel Adams shot of Half Dome in Yosemite…
These are just a few iconic photos that come to my mind right now. But I think you get my drift here… There are iconic photos and there are photos.
All the best and Good Light! - Dennis Owens
Well, I hope you've enjoyed this interview, as much as I have, and have learned a few things along the way. If you're still craving for more, please visit the Nikonians Forums called: Master Your Vision-By-Speciality -- Time-Lapse Photography (there are plenty of videos and information shared here!).
Dennis is a great chap, that has a very creative soul, and is always willing to assist with anything he can. If you'd like to get in touch with Dennis, view more of his work, visit his website, and give him a shout.
Originally written on January 14, 2013
Last updated on November 30, 2017
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Tom Manson (slothead) on November 30, 2013
Thanks Dennis and Agnes for this great post. I think I gained the most from question 10, but the majority of them were all good info. I've only made a couple of TLs by strapping my N1 on the railing of a cruise ship balcony and recorded entering and leaving a port berth - pretty boring. I'm looking to do more and maybe celestial stuff.
Zita Kemeny (zkemeny) on February 27, 2013
Thanks for share with us this valuable thoughts.