Last weekend I decided to get up early and see if I could create a cool time lapse video of sunrise over a Salt Lake City Inversion. I got up early and drove to a trailhead above downtown and started hiking. I wasn’t really sure if I could hike high enough to get out of the inversion before the sun came up, but decided to try. I hiked for a awhile while in the dark, cold, and fog, second guessing whether or not this was going to work. Shortly after that I popped out into a beautiful scene just as the sun was starting to come up. I set up my camera and started shooting. This is how it turned out. I love it when you follow your gut and it pays off. Enjoy!
Now days it’s easy to find yourself shooting various projects in conjunction with video production crews. Agencies and companies like to do this because they can shoot both print stills and TV commercials at the same time. This not only allows for a consistent look and feel for the entire campaign, but it typically is cheaper for them to just overlap the two instead of doing two separate shoots. Photographing in these situations can be challenging for photographers. Here are a five tips to get what you need and keep everyone happy on set.
One of my favorite clients that I shoot for often is almost always in conjunction with a video production crew. Sometimes that crew is big and sometimes it’s small. I’ve had to learn to adapt to this working environment for shoots. It can definitely become harder to get the shots you need in the amount of time you are given, in these types of shoots. Here are a few things I’ve learned with my shoots when video is on set also.
#1- As the photographer, you most likely aren’t going to have much say in things before the shoot. In my experience, the video production company and the agency is doing all the pre-production, casting, scouting etc. As the photographer on these types of shoots, you pretty much have to bring the equipment and necessary crew you think you will need and make it happen. Generally you will know where and what types of situations you will be shooting in, but rarely will you get to scout them out beforehand.
#2- I hate to break it to you, but the video takes precedent over the stills. This can be hard for us photographers because on a normal stills-only shoot, you are the one calling the shots, but that’s not usually the case here. Video takes more time and is more expensive to shoot, so that typically has priority. That doesn’t mean that what you, as the photographer, shoot doesn’t have value or is less important. The client and the agency still expect you to get great shots. It just means that you have less time with more pressure. You will still be able to direct talent, find the best spot to shoot to an extent, and do what you normally would do; but you usually only have about 10-20 min per shot to do it.
#3- Depending on who the director for the video is, can make your job easier or more difficult. I’ve worked with directors who tried really hard to get me the time I needed to get my shots and others where I’ve felt like I’ve have to fight for every shot, which is hard. When that happens you still have to get the shots you need, but be respectful and good to work with, even if the director is making it difficult. Try to be flexible and not get irritated, even if things aren’t going exactly how you want. In order to keep everything going smoothly on set you just have to kind-of go with the flow on these types of shoots. I’ve learned getting frustrated doesn’t help at all. You just have to get in there, do the best you can and make things happen. Even if its not the best time of day, you don’t have the time you want, the talent are already tired, etc….
#4- There is going to be a lot of down time for you. Make yourself and your team useful and get shots where you can. Have lighting preset as much as possible. I’ve always tried to get shots in between takes or if they aren’t shooting audio at the same time they are shooting. This just gives the client more options since most of the time they aren’t exactly sure what they want or how they want to use the stills. I’ve found using a telephoto lens and just getting back and out of the way is a great way to pick up extra shots and keep everyone happy.
#5- Lastly, try and piggyback off the video lighting as much as possible. This will save you time and keep a consistent look for the client. As much as you can, talk to the director and key grip to see when you can use the existing video lighting to shoot with. Most of them time this will work unless video is moving to a new location. In my experience, using what is there already and adding a single strobe with an umbrella or something quick can get great results quickly. I’ve found allowing video to shoot first, then me second, keeps everything on schedule. There are times when you can shoot while video is setting up, just be aware of what will work and won’t work for each set up.
Hope that helps and here a just a few side notes. I’ve had to put myself in the shoes of the director and try to be more understanding. Most of the time the production company doesn’t even know that I’m going to be on set shooting until sometimes a few days beforehand. They have planned the shoot out to make sure they can get what they need and then I show up and tell them I need to get shots also, which can make their jobs more difficult. Be mindful of their needs and in most cases they will do the same in return. Keep in contact with the producer. They can let you know what is coming up and what to expect. Work hard and shoot as much as you can and as quickly as you can and the client and the agency will be happy and want to use you again. When done right, shooting stills and video can be a fun, collaborative effort!
Enjoy and, as always, thanks for checking it out!
In this post we are going to dive into some of the new features of the latest Nikon DSLR the Nikon D810 that I just picked up. Before we do that however I just want to mention a couple things. July was a crazy month. I had a couple of bigger advertising and commercial jobs come through that took a lot of pre production with castings and scouting etc. Everything went well though, clients were happy. Still working on finals for them once the run and use them I will post. The other thing is in a couple of weeks I’m heading to ICELAND!!! So stoked! Heading there for 10 days to shoot with a small group of guys and get a few shots for a few clients and explore the amazing landscapes. Definitely a dream to be able to go.
Getting back to things, a couple of weeks ago the latest Nikon DSLR the D810 was released which I was lucky enough to get the day they shipped. (Thanks to Pictureline!) It was announced about a month ago and I was pretty eager to get my hands on one ever since. It is an update to the popular D800. I currently shoot with a Nikon D4 which has been an amazing camera. The D4 is Nikon’s flagship Pro Body designed for sport photographers and photojournalists. The D810 is designed for landscape and portrait photographers that want lots of detail thanks to its 36mp sensor. Since I shoot sports, lifestyle, portraits and landscapes having both bodies is really the best of both worlds.
After I picked up the new camera I decided to test it out in Teton National Park on a backpacking trip I was doing with my Dad. Rugged mountains, wildlife, crazy weather, and tons of activities going on there all the time it’s a great place to shoot. I was excited to try out some of the new time lapse features, see how the improved sensor worked and one of the coolest new things about the this camera the ability to shoot 1080 HD resolution video at 60 fps.
Here are a few of images that I liked from the trip. We ended up having to come out a day early so I didn’t get as much time as I wanted to up there but we got a few nice shots and cool time lapse out of it.
So zoomed out all the way your like it looks good but what is really amazing is this that the images are 24″x16″ and at 100% the image below is what you get. So crazy! It is going to make amazing prints and for for clients it will be great to retain detail in large format presentations.
Overall I like the smaller body when you are out hiking or backpacking like we were on this trip. I did miss the backlit buttons of the D4 when shooting at night but other than that it worked great. The images seemed sharper than the previous D800. The new time lapse features are really great for getting nice smooth time lapse videos, thanks to the new exposure smoothing feature. I didn’t get a chance to test the new video capabilities on this trip but will definitely get the opportunity in Iceland later this month. All in all I was really impressed with the camera and look forward to getting out and using it for clients and for my own personal use. Well done Nikon.
Last month I was hired by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to shoot a time lapse of the Temple Square Christmas lights coming on. Temple Square is a block of downtown Salt Lake City in which the Salt Lake Temple of the church stands. They wanted it shot from an angle that would best show an overview of the sit, the moment the lights come on, and as many of the lights/people as possible. I thought to myself “I can do that, shouldn’t be that hard”. The camera I shoot most all my stuff with is the Nikon D4 and it has a built in time lapse feature. I’ve used this feature enough times that I thought it would be fine for this project also. When you use the built in time lapse feature of the D4 the camera shoots at specified intervals and at the duration that you want. Just like you would do a traditional time lapse but instead of having 600 still images at the end of shooting, the camera captures those images, processes them, and outputs a single .mov file that is ready to view an send. Pretty rad hu? Works great as long as the light doesn’t change and you don’t need to adjust your exposure at all. I did have my concerns. As I thought about it more I realized that I was going to have both of those problems. Shooting from day to night, which I had never done before, and still get the Christmas lights to show up nice and bright. I then thought it shouldn’t be that much harder. I’d just need to adjust the exposure along the way and I should be golden. I didn’t realize however that this would require much more planning and effort than I anticipated. In the end it would require me to actually learn and shoot a time lapse the traditional way not using the easy way out of the built in feature of the D4.
The time came to shoot. Before shooting, I scouted out a nice spot from an adjacent building that had a 10th floor catwalk on the outside of the building that gave me a nice overview of Temple Square. We got permission to shoot it from there and the photo below shows my vantage point.
I had to be rigged up with a safety harness with my camera and tripod on the catwalk. I weighed down the tripod, lined up my shot and was feeling pretty good about things. I was a little worried about how it was going to go but I felt like it would be OK. I was set up by 4:35pm, and started the time lapse at 4:45pm in order to get the lights coming on at 5pm. I set the duration to end about 5:30pm. I figured by then it would be dark for sure. I was soon going to find out the limit of going the built in route. For the first 20 min or so the time lapse was working well, then I started to notice the exposure was going dark so I had to start manually changing the exposure in between frames which I thought would be fine. I had to do this because I was shooting in Manual Mode and the shots are taken as jpgs. Not only that, but I was having to guess what my white balance was going to be as the sun set, changing that along the way also. At 5:30pm or so the time lapse stopped and I was thinking I thought it would have been darker by now but it should be OK. As you can see I was making lots of assumptions. Not a good idea. It was extra hard also because there was no snow which made the overall exposure darker and harder to get the lights to show up. Here was the result of the first attempt.
I got back to the studio looked at it a number of times and didn’t really like it. As you can see it’s not good. It was shaky, had lots of flickering, needed post work, and wasn’t long enough to show a nice dark sky. I sent it over the client and offered to shoot it again for free so I could make it better. I realized the only way it was going to look good was to shoot it traditionally with still images put together into video in post. Problem was I’d never done this before.
I spent an entire day looking at videos and tutorials. I learned a lot and felt ready to tackle it again. This time I shot the photos raw, with aperture priority to compensate for the changing lighting conditions. I went the night before to figure out what my longest exposure was going to be, then figure out how long of a time lapse I wanted to do. It had snowed so I knew the exposure would be more even then with out snow which would also make it better then before. This time I spent 2 hours shooting it. The weather was a brisk 15 degrees. After all my preparation the results were much better. I processed the final images in Lightroom adjusting the white balance, exposure, etc then output them into Premier Pro where I put the final touches on it and exported the final version. Here was the final delivered and used by the client.
When it was all said and done. I was exited to learn from my mistakes and learn a new skill. I’m still developing my time lapse skills but I am enjoying what I learn along the way. To clarify also. I wrote this post to share what I learned. I don’t think these are the best time lapse videos ever or that I’ve mastered the task. These were shot for a specific purpose and client for which it worked well. There are still things I would like to do better moving forward. I just thought it may be helpful to see what I learned doing this so you can learn from my mistakes!
Lastly, here is another angle I shot at the same time the second time around with a D700 and a 24-70mm lens. I might actually like this one a bit better even.
10 Lessons learned:
1-Built in time lapse feature of the D4 works ok. In order to do it right you have to do it the old fashioned way, by shooting lots of raw still images and putting them together into a video in post after making the necessary adjustments.
2-You have to do a lot of prep for a good time lapse.
3-You need to figure out how long you want your time lapse to be before hand.
4-How many exposures you need to take to get 24 frames per second to get the final length of time lapse video you want.
5-How long your last exposure is going to be.
6-How much time in between intervals. You need to make sure your longest exposure is not longer than the interval you select or else it will ruin your time lapse. Don’t forget to add a couple seconds in for writing to the card.
7-You can’t make assumptions about conditions, length of time, exposure and white balance.
8-Shoot with a good tripod, lots of weight and if you can get an external intervalometer so you don’t have to touch the camera at all once you start your time lapse.
9-For a good day to night or night to day time lapse. Shoot Raw files, in aperture priority mode. Edit in Lightroom export images at 1080px at 72 dpi and compile in Premier pro.
10-Time lapse photography is quite a bit of trial and error but if you keep this stuff in mind you will at least have a nice foundation.
Best of luck with your first time lapse!