My previous post ‘Timelapse mistakes and how to make them‘ proved to be pretty popular (even though people were still leaving their camera strap on for some unknown reason) so I decided to add another ten! Again, I firmly stand by making mistakes as it’s the only way to learn in a practical environment so feel free to make them, as I have done so…
1. Setting Up In The Wrong Place
As a timelapse photographer, you’re many things – Location scout, weather predictor, editor, grader, kit carrier, suspicious looking and a photographer. What did I miss? Fortune teller, kind of. As you shoot more and more, you’ll realise that you start to develop somewhat of a sixth sense for future happenings.
I first noticed this whilst shooting some traffic late at night. I set up and started shooting but unfortunately for me, I was too close to a bus stop and every couple of minutes on a busy Oxford Street in London, a bus would stop right in front of my shot.
I’m not just talking traffic here, you’ll need to judge your selected spot and predict what the worst outcome may be for your shot. Have you set up on the beach and the tide is coming in? Have you set up in a field and you’re unaware of the farmer about to release a hundred bulls into it? Wherever you set up, always bear in mind that you’ll potentially be there for a while and your location-specific surroundings can change.
2. Getting Caught Short
I’m not sure if this is just a saying in the UK or if it’s popular elsewhere but what I’m talking about is requiring to use a toilet whilst shooting. I’ve had my fair share of shitting in the woods as when you’re in the middle of nowhere, it’s the only place to go. What I’m talking about here is planning ahead. One of my first paid gigs as a timelapser was in London. I’d waited a number of days for the perfect conditions and my brief was to shoot an old warehouse on an industrial estate.
My car was at the garage so I took a taxi into town and set up. Little did I realise, only an hour into my sunrise shot, was that the coffee I had just wolfed down combined with a chicken madras the night before would send me into a blind panic. I couldn’t leave my kit and find a toilet because it was 6am and although I was in central London, I was a good distance from anything convenient. My only choice was to take the pain until my 8hrs of shooting was over.
What do I do now? If I’m to be left in vulnerable places, I’ll make sure I’ve got an assistant or at the very least, a runner to guard the kit for me should I find myself in a Coffee / Chicken Madras Conundrum again.
3. Not Levelling Your Slider
So you’ve just purchased yourself a fancy new Dynamic Perception Slider eh? This is probably one of the first slider mistakes you’ll make and it’s normally down to tiredness. You’ll set up the track, shoot a timelapse then re-locate it to somewhere else that looks just as flat but isn’t and one of the legs is cocked up in the air.
The outcome? As the dolly moves along the track will eventually re-level itself which is more than noticeable during the shot once you’ve put it all together. You could rely on warp stabiliser and fix it in post but why create yourself extra work?
4. Missing The Perfect Angle
Three hours into a shot I decided to stretch my legs and I wished I hadn’t. A brief walk around the corner gave my eyes a view I wish I’d never seen. All the usual timelapse video synonym titles come to mind – epic, stunning, breathtaking – I could go on but they really bore me these days (Spectacular is the next big title one would assume) – anyway, it was pretty special and I wished I’d have discovered that spot earlier but it was too late now.
From that moment on, I decided that once I’ve roughly found a location, I’ll spend the next 30 minutes or so walking around the area and looking for better options. It may mean 30 minute’s less sleep but if you’re going to spend a few hours on one shot to create a ten second clip, it’s worth it in the long run.
5. Forgetting Your Warm Clothes
I’ve been lucky to have travelled the world and as hot as a country can be during the day, it can become very cold at night. Just throwing a jacket in your pack may seem like extra weight but cutting a shoot short because hypothermia is setting in and you want your mommy is pointless.
The picture accompanying this section is my trusty rabbit hat (Vegetarians look away now). No – I didn’t kill it and skin it myself, I bought it in Iceland and it’s saved me more times than I can remember. The deer skin gloves I got in Finland are pretty amazing too. I’m not a fan of wearing animal skins for fashion but in the colder climates, they’re a necessity as there is not one item of clothing I’ve found that comes close to retaining heat like an animal skin.
Pack your warm clothes and take plenty of layers – the longer you can keep warm, the longer you can keep shooting!
6. Don’t Take Any Food And Drink Supplies
It seems like a simple thing to remember and although you can go a number of days without food, you’re left at only three days of life if you stop drinking water. It’s not all about being stranded somewhere up a mountain when a storm rolls in, it’s about keeping sane and energised whilst you’re shooting.
Hot or cold climates, you’ll want to eat at some point and should you decide that you want to continue to shoot because there’s an alien ship hovering above and it’s clearly the most spectacular thing you’ve ever witnessed whilst timelapsing, staying on for a few hours more will get you hungry.
Always take extra food and drink with you just in case as if you’re anything like me and have a severe addiction to timelapse, you’ll end up shooting for longer than planned.
7. Leaving Your Kit Unattended / Falling Asleep
This probably goes without saying and I’ve mentioned it before but never, ever leave your kit out of eyesight unless you’ve got someone with you. There’s a whole host of stories on the big www and it’s never normally a happy ending.
You may have walked for miles through blazing deserts and consider yourself alone but the world’s a small place and if you can do it, a thief can do it too and await your mistakes. Luckily I’ve never had anything taken from me but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen.
If you need to sleep, grab some fishing wire or rope and tie it to your kit and yourself – I do this when I’m sleeping in a tent as well. Obviously leave enough slack so your sleeping movements don’t disturb the camera or alternatively, buy one of those fishing rod alarms that detect movement!
8. Not Using A Lens Heater
There’s only a few places in the world that are so dry this doesn’t happen – dew. As you’re invariably shooting over long periods of time, at some stage, you’ll get a build up of dew on the lens – or as I once discovered to my horror, inside the lens!
Sunsets and sunrises are the camera killers or taking your camera from a hot car to a cold exterior – it takes a while for it to vanish naturally and all you’re left with is a big soft blob in the middle of your shot.
To combat this, I use a lens heater which you can find in most telescope outlets. You’ll need a bit of 12v power for this and it will last all night and into the morning. A lot of people prefer to use a sock with the end cut off and stuff it with handwarmers because they don’t want to carry the extra weight of a 12v battery – this works but they won’t last as long as a dew heater!
9. Shooting In Small Raw Or Jpg
It’s 2015 and I’ve been shooting 4K since the arrival of my 5D Mark II. Why I hear you scream? Futureproofing. Why offer your clients HD when you can add a little extra onto that invoice for 4K?
Sure it takes up more drive space and it takes longer to render but it’s like buying a Ferrari and only driving it on Sundays at 30mph. You’ve got the kit so use it to it’s full potential. What do I shoot now? 8K using the Phase One IQ280. To keep ahead of the game, you need to keep up with technology.
I don’t shoot exclusively 8K as a lot of my commissions don’t require it as of yet but for personal projects and shoots, it’s all about the 8K for future uploads to Shutterstock and various other stock sites. Over the past couple of years the demand for my 4K timelapses has tripled so make sure to shoot at the maximum size.
Have you ever looked back at one of your clips and wished it had gone on for a little while longer? Me too. That six seconds just didn’t seem like quite long enough. At a bare minimum, I’ll shoot at least a ten second clip but the majority of my shots will be twenty seconds or longer.
It’s easy to speed up a clip if it’s too long but you’ll never be able to slow it down unless you’re some sort of twixtor god. Always overshoot whether that means shortening your interval or shooting for a longer duration – you’ll be glad of it when it comes to editing or the editor praises you as they have a longer fade planned than usual.
In one broadcast I’d shot for, they ended up using one of my shots as a credit roll which put a smile on my face!
About The Author
Chad’s obsession for all things timelapse and attention to detail has earned him the affectionate nickname of ‘Mr Timelapse’ within the television and film industry. Born and bred in the West Midlands, he’s been wrangling cameras, in one way or another, since 1995. For updates, you can follow Chad on Twitter, Facebook, Vimeo, Youtube, IMDB and Linkedin. This article was also published here, and shared with permission.