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I know, I know - everybody releases their reel in January and it's pushing into March but sometimes, time and tide awaits no man, or woman.  So, without further ado...

Traditionally, there's normally a lull in January for tv folk in the UK - it's cold, wet and miserable and nobody wants that on their tv screens so production companies take time out.  This is where I'd normally sit down with a cup of tea and put together my reel of work from the previous year.  

With the advent of 24/7 content, I find my Januarys are no longer free which is great news as sitting around drinking tea is nice, but shooting is my real love, so apologies for my tardiness in delivering my normally-on-time visuals if you were expecting them.

In an award-winning style speech, I'd like to thank the following companies for allowing me to continue to shoot solely timelapse as an actual career and for taking many chance on crazy ideas and rigs: Stepping Stone Media, Ilan Eshkeri, BBC, Google, Apple, Grow Wild, Trailer Park, ITN Productions, HLA, ZUT,  Boreham Media, Shoot the company, Nextshoot, Arrival, DMS Media and Iceni

Kit wise, I'd like to thank Canon UK, Dynamic Perception and 3 Legged Thing for their continued support and very reliable products!

Right - formalities over - here's the Reel:

 

 

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Apart from the odd sunrise or sunset, I normally only get one shot at capturing each timelapse I undertake whilst shooting on location.  Unlike traditional filming, there's no 'cut' and start over from the director - there's often no director with me so I'm left to my own devices to get the shot in the can.  This task however, was a bit more of a rare occurance.  We're not talking solar eclipse rare; more of a couple of month's wait and by that time, I would have missed the transmission date anyway!

A post shared by Chad Gordon Higgins (@chadchud) on Sep 2, 2017 at 10:45am PDT

The Flower

'Discovered' in 1801, there was a rush by the Victorians to successfully grow this species in England.  The cold weather here was a challenge, especially when trying to recreate humid environments with only some glass, a framework and a burning stove. 

The Duke of Devonshire was first past the post and presented a flower to Queen Victoria, hence the name.  With lily pads growing up to 3m in diameter, it must have been a strange sight in Victorian times!

The flower itself only opens for two days; the first as a bright white (female), briefly closing then the second night pink in colour (male).  Whilst it's open, it attracts beetles and flies to fertilise it. 

The Rig

A post shared by Chad Gordon Higgins (@chadchud) on Sep 2, 2017 at 11:43am PDT

My brief was to film the opening of the flower for a short segment to be broadcast on Gardner's World on BBC2.  Exact duration of the flower opening times were roughly in the five hour region but my experience with all things nature-related told me otherwise!

The production team were relaying info to me as I was effictively on standby waiting for the start to happen.  A final call and I was told that it was 99% going to open that night so I headed on over to Kew Gardens to set up.

The Princess of Wales Conservatory is a humid affair so I arrived early and with plenty of time to let my cameras adjust to the change in humidity. - the last thing I wanted was the lens steaming up before I'd even started!

I wanted to setup two cameras, normally the bare minimum I'd use for a shoot like this.  One is normally a backup should something go wrong (it never normally does but there's always a first time) and it's always useful in the edit to have a couple of options.

The first was a static so no issues there on the timing front as I'd just use a fixed interval.  The second rig was set up on a slider and as it had to know where to start, finish and over what period of time, I set it to run for 6hrs to give a little overlap and should it take any longer, it would just sit at the end of the track shooting away.

I was only here to capture the initial opening of the flower and it was going to get dark during the shot so I'd bought a few LED panels with me to light it.  Access to anywhere other than the front of the water was limited so I'd have to rely on a couple of front lights only, and using the internal lights above as a top-light. Mixing light colours is not something I'd like in this situation but I tried to match it in advance as best as possible.  I was shooting raw as always so I could always shift the temperature if needed in post.

The Delay

Apart from a two foot catfish going beserk sporadically and causing a small surf that the other fish seemed to enjoy, I was three hours in and the flower had only opened a small amount.  Thoughts of having to come back the next night had entered my mind but I carried on regardless.  The five hour estimate looked to be way off at this point but I wasn't a lily flower expert and hoped that it may just spring open at some point.  Other flowers I've shot can take seconds to burst open in the final stage.

Six hours in and it was still opening.  I didn't know if it was the lights putting it off or it was just mother nature giving me grief.  I'd come this far and I wasn't going to give up now!  At this point, it was dark.  I'd ramped the exposure on the camera during sunset and twilight and I was now shooting roughly 10s exposures.  The other problem with this was that with any ripple in the water, the image would have a slight blur.  Luckily, apart from the random catfish exploits, the water was pretty calm.

I wasn't alone this night.  I'd been warned by the crew that out-of-hours there's an army of cockroaches that wander around.  No surprise with the humidity I guess but I wasn't freaked out.  An army of snakes may have changed my mind however. 

Hour ten had passed and the sun was making it's way above the horizon.  I started ramping the exposure back again to correct for light changes, ate some breakfast (or was it dinner?) and ploughed on.  The flower now was pretty much fully open but I wanted to have a few frames extra, thinking of the edit.  In timelapse terms, it's a couple more hours!

After twelve hours of shooting, I was done, partly because I'd only been booked for the one night, and partly because I'd been awake for over 24hrs as it was a last minute call!

The results? Pretty satisfying:

A post shared by Chad Gordon Higgins (@chadchud) on Sep 2, 2017 at 11:18am PDT

Kit used
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Shooting a timelapse longer than 30 minutes has it's challenges.  Lighting is the main issue swiftly followed by predicting the future then throw in a mix of good fortune. In this post, I'll tell you how to overcome those and how I achieved the end result!

The Taxi Driver

I absolutely love the hand of fate that gets handed to me each day.  I've had a pretty random life so far and the best part of my 'job' is that I'm very rarely doing the same thing twice.  The amount of new challenges I face each week keeps me entertained as I bore very easily. 

A photographer tends to shoot one subject - portraits, landscapes, weddings etc but a timelapse photographer can enjoy a menagerie of subjects - at it's simplest, I'm a problem solver.  At it's equivalent, I'm a taxi driver.

Eh? you say? Yes - a taxi driver knows that they'll be driving a cab all day but their route and journey are never the same bar airport pickups.  As a pro timelapser, I know I can shoot a decent timelapse but when given the opportunity to apply that to something you've never done before - that's where the excitement lays for me. 

Of course it's a two-way street (pun intended) - to do it you need experience but to learn you have to do it - taking my knowledge from 7.5yrs of shooting only timelapse, I knew nothing about filming cherries so I did as much research as possible and got on with my journey!

The Rig

It's a fairly simple setup - a peli case with a hole drilled in for the lens which is sealed with a glass filter glued to the front.  Intervalometer inside and power coming from 2x 22Ah 12v batteries in their own case on the floor.

To keep the shot as stable as possible, it's attached to a standard scaffold pole which was then buried in a bucket of cement (post-fix) in the ground.  I used a bucket to avoid any possibility of damanging the root system with lime etc from the cement.  I also added a second pole into the ground from the main one for extra stability - any movement in the shot apart from natural causes is going to be very visible in your end result.  Space was tight, hence the 'bi-pod' approach.

The Positioning

Trying to second guess nature is tough.  In a three month shoot almost anything can happen.  Luckily I was armed with a bit of research and a bit of advice from the farm.  Only 10% of the buds will turn into cherries - problem one - solved with pure luck!  I picked a branch that had a lot of flowers on their way but there was never any guarantee.

Problem two - eventually, the weight of the cherries would take the branch downwards - how far I didn't know so I shot a slightly wider shot than normal and in 5K so we could crop in later.

Problem three - The leaves don't spring into action until the flowers are out from the buds so I had no idea if the cherries would be obscured by the leaves.  This one was solved with pure luck - I had no idea how the leaves would hang or how many but mother nature was on my side for this one!

The shoot

The client's brief was a 30s shot but knowing full well that clients change their minds faster than the big bang, I always overshoot.  I basically capture more than is needed.  A timelapse can easily be sped-up, but you can't slow it down once it's done without a lot of work in post.

I set the interval for a shot every 20 minutes.  The camera would power-down in between each shot to save on juice and it would shoot 24/7 in aperture priority mode.  I leave it running all day and night because of the light changes, as in, the days getting longer or shorter over three months.

Sure I could set up a computer and have it calculate the exact sunrise and sunset times for shooting and program it into a module but I like to keep things simple as I've found in the past that the more complicated the rig, the more likely it will break!

The Edit

Fast-forward three months and it's time to edit.  I've got 6,480 pictures which at 25fps, is nearly 4.5 minutes of footage. At this time of year, there's roughly 12hrs of daylight so it was time to go through the shots and delete all the night ones leaving me with roughly half of that.

I processed the shots via Lightroom and LRTimelapse, de-flickered then rendered. Some of the exposure changes were as expected - England's weather can deliver four seasons in a day so the contrast between a bright sunny day and a miserable moody mother of a cloud was inevitable. Shooting in aperture priority here helps smooth it out somewhat.

When I first got the call, I wanted to shoot this in my studio - it's a controlled environment, the lighting is constant and there's no wind to flap the leaves about.  Adding in temperature control and grow lights would give the perfect shot.

There's a big trend at the minute of 'natural' shooting - joe public is starting to recognise what's real and what's CGI more often so the client wanted this to be shot as natural as possible - completely understandable but it still pains me knowing that I can make it look better!  Kind of like an artist painting then re-painting forever! Of course there's no CGI involved in the studio apart from adding in the background of classic rolling clouds but it would have been more stable!

Without further ado - here's the final video:

As always, thanks for reading and feel free to post any thoughts, questions or criticism down below and / or give me a follow from a choice of your favourite social media site (except myspace) down below ;-)

 

 

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I know I usually release my showreel at some point in January but it's been a hell of a start to 2017!  All good though may I add,  and for reasons that I can't disclose just yet, you'll just have to wait for my excuses - they're pretty good though!

Without further ado, here's what I got up to last year:

We did a lot of island hopping in 2016 - Fuertaventura, Dominican Republic, Ireland, Ibiza, Cape Verde (Boa Vista & Sal), Rhodes, Crete, Menorca, Majorca and The Isle of Wight to name a few. We also did a lot of mainland shoots in Germany, Spain, Wales, England, Scotland, Holland, Egypt, Italy and France.

All the shots here were either shot or broadcast in 2016.  We can't always release the footage from shoots the year before as we've signed various contracts.  There's a few films we shot last year but you won't see one of those until the 2018 reel comes out!

Kit wise, I'm still shooting on Canons - 5DIII and IV's.  I have used the Sony A7sII for a few shoots but it's just not as tough as the canons - various failures means I always carry a spare Canon with me!

We had a chance to play with quite a few different lenses this year as well as our usual plethora of Canons - Arri, Cooke and Panavision anamorphics have all been used and I had a chance to shoot with our newest lens, the Petzval!

I'm still using Dynamic Perception kit - stage 0 and 1 and the R rotary system - nothing to complain about here as it's been the most reliable kit I've ever used along with my Canons.

Right - I'm off to Barcelona for a commercial - see you in a year for more of the same, but different locations ;-)

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A photo posted by Chad Gordon Higgins (@chadchud) on Apr 7, 2016 at 8:49am PDT

In late 2015 I was given the opportunity to capture seasonal change of Grow Wild's four flagship sites dotted around Great Britain covering England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  The idea was to start filming in April 2016 and re-visit each site to capture the change in growth over a couple of seasons or so.

'Grow Wild is the UK’s biggest-ever wild flower campaign, bringing people together to transform local spaces with native, pollinator-friendly wild flowers and plants. 

Supported by the Big Lottery Fund, Grow Wild is the national outreach initiative of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Through them millions of people are doing something positive where they live; connecting with wild flowers, plants and places around them, taking notice of nature, getting active, learning new things and sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm.'

What follows here is a journey of how I did this, the ups and downs and the end result!

A photo posted by Chad Gordon Higgins (@chadchud) on Apr 9, 2016 at 2:07pm PDT

Planning

Without any shadow of a doubt, it's imperative that you plan as much as possible if you're going to shoot a seasonal timelapse.  There are an infinite number of variables and random occurrences along your journey so you'll want to eliminate as many as possible!

For this shoot it was a fairly complicated task.  I had to cover four sites, two of them twice and two of them three times over the course of six months.  On top of this I had a work schedule from hell with various shoots abroad so I threw my social life out the window and cracked on with it.  Make hay whilst the sun shines and all that jazz.

Once the four key areas had been discussed in a meeting, I decided the best method to use would be the old faithful 'length of wood cemented into ground method' - this enables you to remove the camera and return to exactly the same spot but more on how and why I do this later.

We organised with each location the kit I'd require to set up the shoot and planned my first 'tour' of Britain which was to cover Wales, England, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

 

Going for a drive

To squeeze in four locations on a single shooting trip I decided it best to drive instead of fly.  The main reason was travelling with kit - I didn't have a van full of the stuff but enough to want to avoid hefty extra baggage fees.  I'd also have to hire a car anyway once I landed and all of this would add up in the end in time and money.

For some reason Google maps thinks it's best to travel via Dublin and wouldn't let me change it but the first leg was basically from mine in Surbiton to Ebbw Vale in Wales, up to Liverpool, catch an 8hr overnight ferry to Belfast from Birkenhead, Drive to Coleraine, drive to Larne then a two hour ferry to Cairnryan, drive to Barrhead in Scotland and drive back home. 

Random weather is what we're known for and this is what I got.  It's one of the variables I try and plan for on my shoots but in Britain it can be snowing in Scotland and a sunny day in Liverpool so weather planning went completely out the window for this shoot.  The only opportunity I had if it was raining was a few hours at the start and end of my trip to shoot so I would try and use this time as much as possible.

I did a lot of variations on this route for each visit but it's roughly a 1250 mile round trip taking anywhere between 26 and 40hrs depending on traffic!

A photo posted by Chad Gordon Higgins (@chadchud) on Apr 11, 2016 at 7:11am PDT

The shoot

I'd be visiting each site either two or three times and I wanted to get at least three seasonal change shots for each site so the easiest way for me to reposition the camera for each was to install a wooden post.  It's also fairly inconspicuous rather than burying a tripod so for each site I did a quick recce, decided where the flowers were likely to grow and buried a post in each position. I then drilled a small hole in each post so I could attach my ballhead with each visit.

Sometimes I'd find a location with something already in place and use this instead if I thought that it would still be there after a few months.  There's never any guarantee as plans will often get changed without you knowing, especially as each area I was filming was open to the public. 

 

A photo posted by Chad Gordon Higgins (@chadchud) on Sep 10, 2016 at 2:36am PDT

Re-visiting

The first trip was relatively easy although a lot of time was taken up installing the posts, shooting the seasonal change shots as well as shooting additional material.  Now comes the tough bit - re-aligning the shots from the first trip!

The way I do this is to take a still from the first trip and place them on the memory card for each sequence.  This is where you have to be very organised in advance and label each shot as you go along.  Another thing to note is that you'll not want to format your memory card.  Sounds stupid but it's an easily automatic thing to do, especially when you've been driving round the country for hours on end.  If you've got the card space, take a couple of copies with you because you'll never be able to align the shots from memory, unless you're rainman.

It takes a lot of practice but if you've also taken note of each lens, focus points and also a picture of your original setup, you're in with a fighting chance.  One thing to note as well is that the ground can and will move over a long period of time so your post may have moved slightly.  On a wide lens you'll probably get away with it with a bit of fiddling in the edit but you can forget it if you've shot anything past 50mm. 

I attach the camera back on the post, find the original still on the card (I group them in folders), study it on the camera screen from a few seconds, line it up by eye through the viewfinder (on a traditional DSLR, not mirrorless) then take a snap and then scroll between the two to see how far off they are.  I'll zoom into the picture 100% and keep repeating until it's as aligned as I can get.  Sometimes the years of practice pays off and I hit it dead-on in a few seconds and other times I'm knackered, want to eat and practically blind through lack of sleep and it will take a little longer, more so if it's raining!

On a re-visit to the Liverpool site I discovered that the wooden post for my main shot had been removed - either by bored kids or the council I will never know so referring to my location photo on my phone, I set up a tripod instead and spent about 20 minutes re-aligning it.  It's not impossible to use a tripod each time but it's up to you on whether you'd rather save time or not.

The result!

So after a few thousand miles in the time machine, a lot of soakings (Coleraine by name, rain by nature), 180K photos later and the opportunity to tour around beautiful Britain, here it is:

Time-lapse Film shows the UK transformed with wildflowers - YouTube
Kit List

2x Canon 5D III

Samyang 14mm VDSLR, Canon 16-35mm, Canon 50mm, Canon 70-300mm

Lee Filters 6 and ten-stop ND and filter holders

Dynamic Perception Stage 1 + Stage R motion control rigs

3-Legged Thing's Steve, Albert and Nigel Tripods

As always, thank you for taking the time to read this and if you should fancy, or have any questions, follow me at one of the SM sites below and ask away! If you'd like to take a look at how to make a seasonal timelapse part one, you can do that here.

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It's 23:39 and I have to be up in a little over six hours to go and shoot.  Nothing new there but I've been itching to get this off my chest for a while now and there's no time like the present apparently, even if it does leave you with a lack of sleep...

Going Freelance

It's a tough decision for most.  Being your own boss has a lot of benefits but it also comes with great responsibility.  Some choose the route whilst others have little option to do anything else for varying reasons.  I'm a big fan of the freelance world and day by day more and more people make the 'jump'.  I'm not going to give you a list of pros and cons as I, nor anybody else can make that decision for you.  To help you see life on the flip side though, here's a few of my experiences that may help you out.

Today

I awoke way too early than I had planned but at 6am, half-riddled with manflu and with 4hrs to do something with, I decided to do some work.  As you may or may not be aware, I shoot timelapse sequences as my day job (and most of the night job on occasion) and this equates to around 60% of my waking hours on average.  What people don't see is the hours I put in to edit these sequences, the time I spend writing blogs, expanding social media following, paperwork, building kit, packing kit, replacing kit, cleaning kit... you get the idea.  There's a whole circus of operations that run in the background along with all the 'business' side of things to take care of but I wouldn't swap it for anything else in the world, apart from maybe a trip to Mars or another dimension. 

So, with four extra unplanned hours I got to work investigating new areas of timelapse and searching for new clients to reach out to.  I wouldn't say I need any more clients per se, what I'm searching for is new avenues of creativity and collaboration to expand my knowledge base.

I had a meeting at 11am and in order to get there, I needed to leave at 10am.  Just as I was about to leave the house, I get a phonecall asking for a quote for a shoot.  I didn't want to be late for my meeting as it was a big client, but I also didn't want to delay any potential quote as for whatever reason, unless a shoot is timelapse specific, it's often an afterthought and very last minute when I get called in for a job! Dilemma 1 was put very quickly to rest and I arranged to send a quote over at some point in the afternoon. 

During my meeting, my phone kept silently harassing me in my pocket with various emails, one of which involved a very last minute trip to Barcelona for two days, in two day's time. I found a spare five minutes in the meeting and nipped out to make the call, discussed costs, travel times etc and from the general way the shoot was being talked about, it seemed like a goer.  Time to re-think my weekend as I'd planned on a trip to see the old folks for a couple of days but they understand my love of travel and support me beyond fully!

Fast-forward to the end of the meeting and it was agreed that we should meet again on Friday at 10am.  In a blind panic, and without checking my diary I said yes, thinking for some reason that was ok.  The pressure of five top film execs often does send you into a blind panic when they say 10am and start nodding their heads.  You find yourself nodding as well and before you know it you've said yes.

Driving back home I then realised I'd agreed to help out a good mate of mine with some camera tests he's doing on Friday, at 9am.  It's voluntary but he's spread the good timelapse gospel around for me plenty of times so Bro's before Film Execs (or however the saying goes) as he'd already re-arranged the test, twice, to fit in with my often corrupt schedule.  Luckily, a quick email rectified my original error and all was sorted, for now. 

Arriving home at 2pm, I took a further three calls asking me to shoot over the weekend which I had to decline because of Barcelona and then settled in to answer a myriad of emails - some for work, some I didn't have time for (yes, the two people who contacted me to ask which slider I would recommend and 'which is the best camera for timelapse?' - sorry, but there's a whole world of information available and how do you think I found out?!) and some requests from a Nigerian Prince who wanted to transfer vast sums of money into my account.

By 4pm I'd sent all the emails and quotes I needed to and decided it was time for some lunch / dinner.  Just as I sat down to eat, my phone rang and the Barcelona trip was not going to happen as it was all a bit too last minute.  Bizarre that they'd called me last minute but that's life sometimes as a freelancer and I'm sure my parents will be glad of a visit!  I gave up telling my parents long ago of my potential work plans as in the Tv and Film industry, things can change direction as often as a gazelle being chased by it's hunter...

The trip to Germany

Around ten years ago, before my journey into timelapse, me and my colleague were booked for a shoot in Germany, Frankfurt if I remember rightly.  We had a huge Jimmy Jib so it was a drive to the ferry at Dover then a drive to the location - around a 10hr drive.  We left early, arrived at Dover to catch the ferry and whilst waiting to board, got the old cancellation call so headed back to the office.  About 30 miles away from the office, we got another call to say the shoot was back on and having wasted about 5hrs already and cancelled the ferry, we headed back to Dover and then on to Frankfurt. 

Tv is never this disorganised normally but plans often do change.  This was the extreme and I've not seen it since but it certainly keeps you on your toes!  Shooting timelapse for most part is weather dependant so in order to keep everything running smoothly, you have to adapt to your environment, whatever your chosen career path.  This not only keeps you up to date with new skills but also gives you an understanding of time management. A little digression there, so...

Back to Today

Having consumed 400 calories of Marks and Spencer's finest salads (I'm on a diet, it's working, I'm ok, more on that in around 6 months when I'm beach body ready etc) I set about sorting my kit out for the shoot today - yep - it's now 1:05am but I rarely need more than 5hrs sleep for some reason beyond my control.  With all the kit prepped, I took an hour to chill out and it was 9pm.  I got back to work on a separate project which is currently top secret as it's taken me over two years to build and having spent two hours doing that and nearly two hours typing all this dribble, we're currently back up to speed. 

But Why? 

I've always, as far back as I can remember been full of energy.  As a child my favourite saying was 'I'm bored' apparently but it probably wasn't boredom, it was more a build up of excess energy!  5hrs sleep is the norm for me, sometimes a little more and sometimes less so a career in timelapse fits the bill perfectly.  Yes I sometimes moan but it's never normally related to my paid hobby, it's normally a cover for something else.

The point I'm trying to get across here is that a 19hr day of work is what I do to achieve the things I want to achieve.  I know freelancers that work for 6 months a year and take 6 months off but I couldn't do that as I'd miss my hobby too much! I definitely seem to have a problem in some people's eyes, maybe even some sort of twisted addiction to time,  but as long as I'm happy, I'll never stop.  Sure there's ups and downs but that's life and I'm a firm believer in the more you put into it, the more you get out of it. 

If you're looking to chase your dreams and become a freelance anything, make that decision now or you'll be waiting the rest of your life for the 'perfect' opportunity as something will always crop up.  Broke? Work your 9-5, eat, then work on your future from 6 to 1am.  You'll be tired, but once you've climbed that first mountain, your journey has begun.

As always, thank you for reading and if you feel like you've gained anything from this at all, want more, or have a deep hatred of me for whatever reason, follow me at one of the Social Media sites below and express your feelings of love, hatred or sexual tension and I'll get back to you as soon as possible or alternatively, scroll down to leave your comments and questions.


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When the pressure's on and you're neck-deep in schedule, it's raining most heavily and you're being blown off your feet in 70+mph winds it's not unusual to question yourself, asking what on earth it is you are doing with your life.  There's a reason you do it though...

This is a slightly longer post than normal but stick with me or if you're short on time, scroll down for the usual 'final result' videos!

The Client

2015 was a pretty hectic year for me with back to back shoots travelling all over the place and whilst shooting in Croatia at the end of September, I received a call asking if I'd be interested in shooting a commercial for Visit Scotland.  My answer was an immediate yes as I love Scotland and had shot there many a time in the past.  It was a challenge to organise as it was all a little bit last minute and I was abroad but having fixed the dates the job was confirmed to go ahead towards the start of October. 

I was genuinely excited for this shoot as I'd been informed we were shooting on anamorphic lenses and in timelapse terms, I don't get this challenging opportunity enough! I'd also be working with award winning director Ben Craig, and that's never a bad thing!

Tshirt and ice cream weather. In northern Scotland. In OCTOBER? If it gets any hotter I'll have to put my shorts on. #scotland #hotland #travel #travelgram #climatechange #icecream #hot #october #mallaig

A photo posted by Chad Gordon Higgins (@chadchud) on Oct 8, 2015 at 3:39am PDT

The Recce

What's a recce? It's an informal term for reconnaissance, a military term adopted by the tv and film industries to basically take a look at locations and see what kind of shots we can grab and what kit we'll need.  I got back from Croatia on the 1st September, took a shower, grabbed some food, had around 3hrs sleep then flew up to Glasgow to meet with the crew.

For the next five days, we travelled over 2000 miles jumping between mainland and islands on planes, ferries and by minivans taking in some incredible sights and growing my excitement even more.  The only doubt in my mind was the weather.  Ninety percent of the time I've shot in Scotland, it's rained.  We were about to undertake a shoot in October and as you all know, timelapse and rain don't mix that well unless you're going to commit to wiping the lens inbetween each frame! For some reason though, although it was windy in places, the sun stayed out during the recce - even to the point I was eating Ice-cream in Maillig!

The question was, would it stay sunny for the rest of the shoot?  We arrived back in Glasgow on Wednesday night and just the travelling alone had tired me out! I grabbed a bit of sleep then awoke on Thursday to the news that there'd been a huge aurora display the night before and I'd missed it.

Technically, you don't normally do any shooting on a recce but I did have my camera with me for the odd pic which made it all the more painful, especially knowing that the client wanted some Northern Lights action if possible.  I spent most of Thursday watching aurora forecasts and towards the end of the day, we decided I should go out and attempt at least one shot of the aurora just in case.

The only problem was that I was in Glasgow and it would have made sense to shoot one of the locations up north but we didn't have time for that so I grabbed a runner and we drove out as far as possible with my head hanging out the window looking for dark skies and a glimmer of white, shape-shifting clouds.

We eventually found a location by a lake, pointed my camera North and hoped for the best!  The skies were fairly clear and after around an hour there was a small glimmer of green on the horizon.  Nothing compared to the pictures I'd seen from the night before which were making me cry but it was something!  We headed back at around 2am and I grabbed my usual couple of hours sleep before finishing our last day of recce-ing on Friday.

A photo posted by Chad Gordon Higgins (@chadchud) on Feb 10, 2016 at 8:46am PST

The Violated Assistant

We decided on the recce that I needed an assistant and a driver as although we'd be spending some time with the crew, I needed to be independent for some of the shots and also because we might spot some opportunities on our travels and stop to shoot if time permitted.

I've worked with Rob Myler for a few years now.  He's very switched on, can just about keep up with my mental lack-of-sleep pace and we share the same twisted humour which helps when you're spending long nights together in the cold.  Bromance is a word I use sparingly but we do occasionally hold the odd wistful gaze.

I was glad he could make the shoot, even though every shoot I've taken him on he's been violated in some way or another.   He also doesn't complain much for a Mancunian and can read my mind before I know what I want - a useful skill for every pro camera assistant.

I flew back from Scotland on Friday night from the recce and Rob travelled down to London to come and help me prep the kit as there was a lot of it! We spent all of Saturday sorting the kit out which seemed like an endless task at the time as I'd not slept much then loaded the van and headed up to St. Andrews on Sunday afternoon - just a short nine hour drive away!

This is where the deviant in me started to show - every time Rob fell asleep before me, I'd take a picture of him.  This not only proves that I remained awake, but that my 10-year age difference and being able to cope without sleep still outshines that of someone who's got ten years less age on me.  You can see from the few select pics, I'm doing ok.

It doesn't happen that often but I love shooting Timelapse on anamorphic lenses! #sadbuttrue #timelapse #photography #anamorphic #scotland #film #canon #hacked #plmount #arri

A photo posted by Chad Gordon Higgins (@chadchud) on Oct 12, 2015 at 9:42am PDT

The Shoot

I won't cover the full 14 days of shooting here as this post will go on for eternity but I will cover my favourite bits!

Organised brutality - partly self-inflicted and partly foreseeable - that would pretty much sum up the shoot.  We'd already travelled 500 miles (no proclaimers pun intended) to get to location and over two weeks of shooting, we'd travel another 2100.  We arrived in St. Andrews on Sunday night and met with our driver and second camera assistant Tom Bearne.  Although technically a designated driver, he and Rob took it in turns when sleep was at a minimum.

An early start on Monday morning, just in time for sunrise pretty much set the bar for the amount of sleep we were going to get over two weeks.  Our first shot was of a restaurant with (hopefully) a decent sunrise in the background.  Unfortunately, this didn't happen so as the rest of the crew headed to Glasgow for the 2nd day's location, we stayed on and decided to try and re-shoot it to see if we'd get lucky with some cloud action.  This was our only opportunity in the schedule to do something like this so I made the call - a small step but showing the client from day one that you're dedicated to your passion is never a bad move.

I wouldn't say that you should run yourself into the ground for 24hrs a day until you get the shot but if you have a hunch and you think it's worth it then go for it.  The sunset wasn't perfect by any means but it turned out much better than the sunrise so we headed towards Glasgow for day two, a little tired and weary but ready for action!

Glasgow was a day of fun shooting long hyperlapses, drivelapses and nightscenes.  I left Rob on the roof by the river for 5hrs shooting a day to night shot I'd set up whilst I travelled around shooting the city.  I'd filmed in Glasgow a few times but I really enjoyed capturing it's diversity and beauty in detail.

From Glasgow we travelled to Oban, jumped on a ferry and arrived in Tiree on Wednesday for a couple of days.  From there we went to Fort William, then to the Glenfinnan Viaduct then onwards to Mallaig.  On Friday we travelled to the beautiful Skye...

A photo posted by Chad Gordon Higgins (@chadchud) on Oct 18, 2015 at 12:38am PDT

Skye, the deliverer of goodness

It was Friday night, I'd only slept for 45 minutes the night before and we were itching to take a break.  A gap in the schedule meant we weren't due to shoot until Saturday afternoon so we decided to go out for a *few* drinks in the small village (town?) of Portree.  Fast-forward to 3am and a full sampling of the finest Whiskey around coupled with bumping into a group of beautiful women who took us on a tour of the local nightlife, and you'll have a rough idea of the chaos. 

We managed a decent sleep and prepared ourselves for what lay ahead - a full-on nightshoot to capture stars over the Shulista cabins at the very tip of Skye.  The weather had held out so far on the shoot and although there was a few clouds dotted around, I was nervous and eager to grab some astro timelapses without rain. 

The brief for the shoot was basically to composite slow motion action with timelapse footage so for the cabins, we were to rig in exactly the same positions on two different cabins.  Having done this, the main unit went back to the hotel for a warm dinner and local beverages no doubt whilst me, Rob and Tom set up for the final shot which would take us until 5am to complete - only a 6hr shot for 10 seconds of footage ;-)

As you can see from the rig it was pretty mental.  The Dynamic Perception Stage 1 Plus was holding out well considering it had a heavy duty lens on, lens heater and a huge cable to power it all running back to 20 V-Lok batteries.  At around midnight, the clouds started to part, the temperature dropped rapidly and Rob and Tom took it turns to grab some sleep in the van and try and keep warm whilst I basked in my natural element, the cold.

I looked towards the distance and noticed a wisp of white cloud moving strangely - it wasn't very windy and my aurora-radar kicked in as I've seen it a number of times now.  Holy shit were amongst the words I were shouting - 'I can see the northern lights'! I checked the shot on the camera and there they were - creeping over the horizon.  Rob was asleep but he soon woke up.  They grew stronger and stronger with bright green and red.  To place the cherry on an already delightful and sexual cake, the milky way dropped into frame as it started - mission accomplished.  We travelled back to the hotel in Portree and whilst the guys went to bed, I decided I'd take on another step in pleasing the client. 

I was exhausted but switched on the laptop and rendered out a clip.  For those not in the know, this means copying files from the camera, importing them into Lightroom (a program for adjusting pictures) then rendering them, compiling the pictures into a video so I had a playable timelapse sequence, ready to show the client as a breakfast treat. 

Come 8am, dazed and confused and still without sleep, I whipped out the laptop and showed the crew the shot - not the most epic aurora display I've shot but very happy considering we only had one attempt at it and the weather, for once worked in our favour.  An actual round of applause later (first time for this to happen to me!) and smiles all round, we departed Skye and headed to our next destination: Arisaig.

We've spent the last 10 days driving around Scotland in a tiny van and we've just been upgraded for the remainder of the shoot. Rob is happy now. #timelapse #photography #upgrade #van #LWB #film #Scotland #newwheels #enterprise #exciting #morelegroom @8thcolourmedia

A video posted by Chad Gordon Higgins (@chadchud) on Oct 21, 2015 at 3:23am PDT

The Additional 4 days

On Sunday we left Skye, travelled back to Mallaig then onwards to Arisaig to shoot some Kayaks.  From there we wrapped and I spotted what looked like a promising sunset.  The crew told us to go back to the hotel to catch up on sleep but my experience and heart told me to carry on shooting as with always in timelapse, it's very rare to get a second opportunity and I like to deliver.

We drove around for about 10 minutes, against the clock but eventually found a location and the sky was gorgeous reflecting in the sea and rock pools.  We only shot for another hour but it was worth it as it ended up in the final edits - another client pleaser!

On Monday it was a trip to Loch Lomond, Tuesday at Caerlaverock Castle and Wednesday at The Kelpies and the Falkirk Wheel.  We finished our last shot at the Kelpies and for those that had a small amount of energy left including myself and Rob, we decided to go out for a *few more* drinks back in Glasgow.  Cut to 4am and a further four days of filming and our hardest was yet to come!

Due to there being 3 separate camera units on the shoot (Us with timelapse, DOP Extraordinaire Ben Moulden and his motley crew and a additional content camera unit), along with 30 plus crew at it's peak, the schedule was a challenge for even the most god-like assistant director.  Some of the crew had to be together all of the time and some of us or all of us had to be separated for different locations.  This meant that with the main crew wrapped the timelapse unit had to shoot for an additional four days.  No biggie, just a hike up to 700m elevation over 5 miles with ALL of our kit as a starter, followed by a trip to a different island and a nightshoot.  No complaints - just a show of severity ;-)

With a hangover in tow we made our way back to Skye to shoot The Old Man of Storr, waving goodbye to the crew and weeping continuously for five hours.  Though technically a travel day, Thursday was one of those journeys that delivered and my addiction to my love meant that I wanted to stop every five minutes as I'd seen a great location or cloud formation.  Luckily Rob's common sense kicked in and he kept me to a minimum of three shots, which one made the edit!

We arrived back on Skye late evening and still in party mode for some unknown reason, we decided to meet up with the girls we'd met previously.  Working hard and playing hard is painful sometimes but sometimes you just have to let go to compensate for the lack of sleep and besides, who wouldn't want to chill out with a group of beautiful ladies ;-)

A photo posted by Chad Gordon Higgins (@chadchud) on Oct 24, 2015 at 7:15am PDT

70mph Winds and quite literally, blown off my feet

Another day, another hangover but we'd managed a decent sleep.  It was Friday and we met up with some sherpa-types to help us carry the kit to the top of the mountain.  It's no Everest but the challenge was the weather.  Our guide told us we were nuts for going up there to rig, sleep the night and catch the sunrise (if it happened at all) but you have to be slightly wired incorrectly to get the results otherwise everybody would be doing it.  The forecast wasn't great but we'd come this far so we'd give it a shot.

We travelled up with half the kit slowly as it was blowing a gale.  There's a path that will take you half way but the rest of it was trudging through bogs and over rocks and a bit of climbing.  I got blown over three times on the way up - that's 90Kg of me plus around 25Kg of kit - well played mother nature.  Whilst Rob and I started rigging, building tents and starting to die of exposure, the other guys headed back down to grab the rest of the kit.

Once the kit arrived, we were left with our guide who didn't have a clue about the kit so he set up his camp in a sheltered area which we couldn't do as we wanted to be near the kit.  Whilst we continued rigging the 25m of track, it started to rain and then someone picked up the whole of the Atlantic Ocean and dropped it on us.  

We abandoned rigging and made it to our tents only to discover there were small rivers running through them.  I tried to sleep that night but with the battering wind and rain and wondering if we'd still be at the top of the mountain the next morning, I couldn't get any rest!

Saturday morning was still cloudy, but we had to continue rigging just in case the sun decided to make an appearance and as luck would have it, it did!  I scrambled to the very top of the mountain to grab a static shot then set the tracking shot going.  We had about 1.5hrs of shooting time and even though it hailed and I was soaked through, I smiled all the way back to the van.

A photo posted by Chad Gordon Higgins (@chadchud) on Oct 25, 2015 at 4:21am PDT

No rest for the wicked

And no more drinking either.  On Saturday afternoon we jumped on a ferry from Skye to the Isle of Lewis to go and shoot the Callanish Standing Stones.  We checked into our hotel, ate dinner then I delivered the last piece of bad news to Rob.  The planned 'sunrise' shoot looked like a washout.  We'd come a long way again so I decided (as now acting DOP - don't tell Ben M) we should try and capture the stars at night if possible.  Rob's face was an ambivalent mix of violent disgust and admiration and having grabbed an hour of sleep in the hotel, we travelled another hour to location.

The weather was temperamental at best - nothing like I've ever seen.  Thick, rain-laden clouds widely dispersed gave us an opportunity to maybe grab some shots in 45 minute intervals.  We would set up a shot, start it and five minutes later there'd be a downpour then back to clear skies.  We continued this until sunrise and at this point I was so tired that I had no idea what the shots would look like, let alone them being used in the final edits!

On Sunday afternoon, Rob dropped me at the airport to fly home as I needed to start editing the shots asap for a fast turnaround.  Unfortunately for Rob, this meant he had to drive the van back to mine alone but he was granted many a fine hotel to stay in on the way and all the food he could muster.

How to please your clients

If you've made it this far, you'll see why the clients were happy.  It's not just about showing up on time and being polite.  You need to excel in every turn, adjust and apply your skills to every changing situation and then some. 

Colleagues in my old tv career would argue that they're not being paid overtime or they've done their 10hrs and it's time to wrap but unfortunately you can't do that with timelapse, you have to take the bull by the horns, teach it how to not sleep and make it your bitch.

On that note, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Rob Myler, whose demand for pot noodles, beef jerky and M&M's almost blew the budget, for his most excellent work and company when all hell broke loose.  Also Tom who didn't quite make the additional four days but entertained us with his aggressive Glaswegian accent and mad skills for ten days.

I also want to thank the rest of the crew for being nothing short of epic throughout the whole shoot, in particular Ciara and Ben - you guys crack me up ;-)

Right - with my acceptance speech out the way, here's a couple of the edits that will be going out worldwide!

Scotland. A Spirit of its own: Spirit Waves - YouTube
VisitScotland Advert 2016 | Scotland. A Spirit of its Own - Spirit Lights - YouTube

As always, thank you for taking the time to read and if you have gained any knowledge from this or feel that you've just wasted part of your life somehow, follow me at one of the SM sites below and air your views or leave your comments and questions below:


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One of the questions I get asked most is what camera to buy for timelapse photography.  It's a question that I can't answer as I've shot timelapse on everything from a Canon AE1 to the Phase One - it's all down to personal taste and experimentation.  If you're starting out on a limited budget however, there's always the second hand market and it's not always bad news...

Why buy a used camera?

Timelapse is a fairly unique sport and requires reliable kit as you'll be chugging through your shutter count in no time (unless you're that wedding photographer I once witnessed who pretty much held his shutter button down for the whole day like he was going to miss a shot every other nanosecond).  Practice shoots and learning the art saw me going through over 150,000 actuations in my first year with my first Canon 5D and it was always in the back of my mind that one day it will give up. 

You may be looking to upgrade but don't quite yet have the budget for new or you might just want a second body as a back up which is highly recommended.   There is nothing wrong with buying a used camera if it's been looked after well.  I've bought them for situations where the camera may come off badly during a shoot, for personal use and for experiments where insurance doesn't cover me!

There are risks involved, certainly, and as long as you do your research, you should be fine.

Choose your source wisely

There's a plethora of second hand kit knocking around out there and there's definitely some bargains to be had.  Hobbies come and go out of fashion very quickly.  That year long gym membership you bought and only went once? It works the same way with cameras and the amount of almost brand new bodies out there from people that simply 'gave up' are there for the taking.

There's many a story of people buying from ebay and receiving a box with nothing in it but a brick but ebay does give you an opportunity to ask questions to the seller and find out if they've a reputable score.  You're also protected if you buy with Paypal so it's not all bad news if you do get double crossed.

There are also many independent camera shops out there which give you a chance to get some hands-on action before you buy.  Be careful though - what may look like a nearly new camera could be hiding a whole host of problems...

What to look out for
  • Shutter Count - The lower the better.  It's not a sign of how little it's been used (see next point) but if you can find out then it's worth knowing.  Some cameras will display this but others can be plugged into a computer and there are many programs available to find the count.  Looking for a mirrorless camera? These still have a shelf life otherwise manufacturers would go out of business - the next point is for you
  • Dead / Hot / Sticky pixels - Sensors can become extremely hot when used for video or long exposures at high ISOs and over time, this may result in dead pixels on the sensor. Your camera could have a relatively small shutter count but it could have been used for hours for video so it's worth finding out about the sensor if you can.  Take a long exposure at around 1000 ISO with the body cap on then zoom in and have a look around.  Out of the millions of pixels, there'll always be one or two but if there's a few clumped together, you may have a problem, especially if you're shooting a slider move as you'll need to remove them in the edit, frame by frame and nobody wants to do that.
  • Dirty sensor - Take a long exposure shot with a lens on at f22 or higher and hold a piece of white paper in front of the lens whilst pointing at a light source - feel free to move the paper around.  Zoom in on the pic and you'll see how dirty the sensor is.  Sensor cleaning is easy but there are times when certain dirt just doesn't want to move so you'll need to send the camera to be serviced which is an extra cost you don't want.
  • Pricing - Do your research on your model.  If it's too good to be true then it probably is.  Independent camera stores will likely charge a little extra but it does give you the opportunity to get a hands on test and practice your haggling skills.
  • Wear and tear - Check all the buttons, open the battery compartment, look for scratches on the screen.  The grip will always show signs of wear over a long period of time and make sure you take some pics if you can.

I understand completely that you may not be able to carry out all these tests in a store and especially not online but I'd advise you do if at all possible!

One more thing to note is that most stores only offer a 'Goodwill' returns policy so should you want to return something, you may only receive a credit note back or voucher.  As far as I'm aware the law only comes into effect when the item is damaged upon receipt so be careful when purchasing as you may not be able to return it.

Pros
  • A perfect Practice Machine for beginners - you'll only learn by making mistakes
  • Useful second body for multiple shots in one location or as a spare
  • Saves you money to spend on an additional lens or more kit - you can never have enough ;-)
  • Gives you a chance to upgrade to the next model without splashing out the big bucks
Cons
  • You may not be able to return it once purchased
  • It will become an expensive paperweight if you've not done your research.

Hopefully I've covered everything but if you do have any questions or additional tips then leave them in the comments section below and I'll answer as soon as possible.  In the meantime, I'll leave you with my recent showreel, some of which was shot on used cameras - can you spot which clips were?

As always, thanks for reading and if you have gained any knowledge from this or feel that you've just wasted part of your life somehow, follow me at one of the SM sites below and air your views:


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For the past few years there's been a lot of 'in my bag' posts where photographers list or take a picture of their kit.  For me that would be a challenge in itself as most of my kit is big bits of metal or just too long to fit into your average picture. 

Instead of a normal picture, I decided last year to show some of my kit in action on my 2014 showreel as a kind of mini intro to the video.  For this year's reel, I wanted to go big...

The Idea

I wanted to avoid the 'classic' timelapse shot of rolling clouds and a 20 minute shoot so the first plan of action was to try and get a shot over at least ten hours, showcasing all of my kit and all fitting within around thirty seconds.  The first thought I had was to layer all of my kit in a field and shoot it in action but you wouldn't have seen what the camera was seeing.

After many morning coffees, I decided the best Idea was to shoot with each rig individually but then jump back to a camera behind it to shoot that rig and it's own manoeuvre.  I'd already cut my reel together and had left a gap at the front for the intro so all I had to do was work out how many shots I required and where they would go.

The Location

Finding a location out of thin air is difficult.  I'd not shot many astro or night time scenes last year so wanted some starry skies for the intro.  This doesn't leave many options as although there are a lot of dark sky areas in the UK, I needed a location I could get to quickly from London, with easy access from a road for unloading all of the kit. 

Carrying kit to location was a top priority as the longer we had to travel backwards and forwards to the van, the longer the day would become and the more people I would have to hire ultimately leading to a bigger budget.  As it was a self funded project, I wanted to keep my ambition and desire under control!

Having typed 'startrail uk' into google image search, it eventually led me to a shot of Broadway Tower in Worcestershire.  I immediately knew this is where I wanted to shoot as it had relatively dark skies with no light pollution, was only a couple of hours drive away and most importantly, had nearby road access! After a few emails, permission was granted and we could go ahead!

The Planning

I couldn't find time to take a look at the location so as far as setting up each rig was concerned, I had to improvise.  One thing I could plan for however was the weather and timings for each rig.

I kept an eye on the weather looking for clearish skies and once the opportunity popped up, I set out my master plan which was a slight headache, but achievable.  I wanted to sync each shot with changes in the music so I jumped into Adobe Premiere and worked out how many frames each shot would be.

I wanted a little overlap towards the end of each shot into the next so you could see the kit in action so I added a few frames to the final shot as well.  I then worked out timings and as you can see from the picture above, we'd be shooting continuously for nearly 18hrs!

Add into this the fact that we had to travel to and from location and rigging time, it would end up being a 28hr shoot - I was going to need some help...

The Shoot

Luckily I chose winter to shoot this and it was a mild -4C - the perfect weather to be stood around for 18hrs!  Pain doesn't really define what we went through as nobody really makes any clothes to be stood around in.  At one point, whilst triggering the pixelstick animation for four hours, I could feel my left foot go numb followed by my left leg and then no feeling from the hip down even though I was wearing four pairs of trousers!

Regardless of the pain though, I was there for my passion and we struggled on.  We'd rigged the kit between 11am and 3pm so it was ready to shoot and I didn't want head torches illuminating the shot later on.  The only problem with this was that there was a slow build up of ice on EVERYTHING.  I'd rigged Dew Heaters on all nine cameras but that only kept the cameras warm.  There were some technical issues with kit a number of times but we managed to overcome them.

To help me out (carrrying kit around, rigging and holding my lack-of-sleep insanity at bay) were three camera assistants (Rob Myler, Nathan Waters and Sean Webb) and two runners (Jake Williams and Andy Barham).  Rob's been my assistant for a few years now and a big shout out to him for not only helping me prep a huge amount of kit until the early hours, but also for sticking out 28hrs with me!  Also big love to Nathan who turned up to load and also keep (nearly) awake for 28hrs ;-)

I planned on trying to get some sleep, even if only for 30 minutes or so but this didn't happen as I'd invested a lot of time and energy into this shoot for it not to go how I wanted so fuelled by love, I managed to just about survive for the duration and cold.  On a technical level, it was the biggest shoot I've undertaken as far as location shoots go and it was certainly a challenge both physically and in complication!

In My (Many) Bag(s)

What kind of Kit does it take to create this? 1300Kg of kit! Here's each rig broken down, some off the shelf, some self-built:

1) Static opening shot

Canon 5D II, Sigma 12-24mm, 3 Legged Thing Tripod, Intervalometer

2) Rotary Arm (Self Built)

Canon 5D II, Samyang 14mm, Rotary Arm, 2x Dynamic Perception Stage R, NMX Controller, 2x 27:1 Stepper Motor

3) Contrazoom

Canon 5D II, Canon 16mm, Dynamic Perception Stage 1 Plus, Zenslider Focus, Zenslider Zoom, 15 metres of Track, NMX Controller and 19:1 Stepper Motor

4) Standard track

Canon 6D, Canon 24-105mm, Dynamic Perception Stage 0, Emotimo TB3 Black

5) Long Track

Canon 5D III, Dynamic Perception Stage 1 Plus, 3x 19:1 Stepper motors, NMX, 15 Metres of track, Ditogear Omnislider + Bitbanger Pixelstick, 1x Magic Arm

6) The Windmill (Self Built)

Canon 5D III, Canon 17-40mm, Dynamic Perception Stage R, NMX + Windmill Rig

7) Inclined Track

Canon 5D II, Samyang 14mm, Dynamic Perception Stage 0 + NMX Controller, Manfrotto Tripod

8) The Beast

Canon 5D III, Samyang 14mm, ABC Speedy 100 Crane, 'Crane Contraption', 1rpm motor, Dynamic Perception MX3 Controller.

9) The End Shot

Canon 5D III, Sigma 12-24mm, 3 Legged Thing 'Nigel', Triggertrap Intervalometer app + Cable

Misc:

15x 22Ah Sealed Lead Acid Batteries, 4x IDX Endura 95 Batteries, Various Pelican Cases, 9x Dew Heaters and Controllers, 9x Canon 12V to 8V converter, 72 Pags, 100 Wedges, 120Kg of Weights, Food and snacks for five, all of the coffee, a crew airbed and cold van to sleep in.

The Result:

A huge thank you to Jay at Dynamic Perception for getting some extra kit out to me very quickly and also the owners and kind and helpful staff at Broadway Tower for allowing us to shoot at the tower!

As always, thanks for reading and if you have gained any knowledge from this or feel that you've just wasted part of your life somehow, follow me at one of the SM sites below and air your views:


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Wait what? You want me to actually make mistakes?  Yes - an unusual title for some to comprehend and if you've not made them already, you probably will at some point.  We all make mistakes and it's the only way to learn in my view - practical knowledge is what gives us the experience. In this post, I'll be looking at how you can make mistakes to improve your technique.

You can read all the information you desire but until you put something into practice, you'll be far from gaining any real experience.  I've made countless mistakes whilst out shooting, luckily, the majority of which are during my 'practice' days.  Even after nearly 6 years of shooting full-time timelapse as a career, I still spend my free days going out to practice.  Why?  It keeps me up to date with new techniques, allows me to explore new angles and most importantly, it allows me to make mistakes.

Making mistakes during a paid shoot is very costly, either to me or the client and for the majority of what I shoot, it cannot be repeated.  Putting in that extra time will allow you to adapt your shooting to almost any situation you find yourself in.  I also think it's relevant to physically make these mistakes so you can understand why you shouldn't make them.  Timelapse takes time - stating the obvious I know, but if you've done each of these once during a shoot, the likelihood of you repeating it is slim!  So without further ado, here's a few things to put into action - expect much disappointment...

1) Leave a few camera settings on Auto.

Leaving anything on auto in your camera settings is going to kill your shot, especially if it's focus as you'll not be able to fix that in post.  Besides this, you're not going to want to go through potentially thousands of frames trying to fix this.  Shoot fully manual on everything.

2) Leave your camera strap on

I see this time and time again on people's behind-the-scenes posts and it drives me crazy!  If you're shooting a timelapse, why would you need the camera strap on?  If you can't handle a camera without a strap attached between taking it out of your bag and placing it on a tripod, then you probably shouldn't be handling a camera in the first place!  Remove it as it can cause your camera to vibrate more than it needs to when it's windy and it's just another thing to get caught on especially whilst shooting at night!

3) Run out of power

Know your batteries! How long do they last? Colder climates will alter battery charge so make sure you've calculated enough power for a single shot or buy an adaptor and run the camera from a bigger battery.  The last thing you want is to lose power mid-shot and if you've got a fairly short interval, you'll notice a jump in the sequence which is difficult to fix.

4) Fill up your memory card

If you're shooting raw images at full size then you'll want to make sure your card has enough space.  It's easily done - you're shooting away and you're excited because you've never encountered a sunrise so beautiful.  The warmth builds up on your cold skin and you breath in the crisp air and take in the surroundings that are basked in a warm glow.  You're tired because you left at midnight to set up but you're happy with the knowledge that this is truly epic.  Suddenly, 'CF Card Full' flashes up on your screen and you realise you hadn't changed card and you have none left. Again, depending on your interval, you may or may not have time to change cards as you'll get another 'jump' in the shot.

5) Place your tripod on a loose surface

Ah - the great outdoors - amazing to be out in but unlike shooting in the city, the ground is not always solid.  Sand, soil, grass - they're all hazards waiting to happen.  What may seem like a stable footing for your three legs initially could eventually move over time - only slightly, but it's noticeable.  I always carry 3 small plates of wood to place under the legs to spread the weight.  This works especially well if you're shooting on a beach.

6) Don't clean your sensor

Your camera's sensor is a magnet for dust, dirt and occasionally oil from the mechanism (SLRs only).  The majority of my work is outside and it's unavoidable to be changing a lens and not get anything inside.  If you don't keep on top of this, you'll eventually have splodges all over the place.  There's plenty of places to send your camera sensor to be cleaned but don't be afraid to do it yourself - it's a lot more cost effective.

7) Set up your intervalometer incorrectly

The average intervalometer has the following settings: Delay, Interval, Duration, Number of shots, Sound on or off.  It's pretty difficult to get these wrong as you'll either be shooting or not but it has been known.  If the number of shots is set to it's maximum (399 on some models) and you're planning a shot of 500 for a 20 second clip (25fps) then you'll need to start it again and if you mistime this, you'll get another jump in your shot.  I normally leave mine at infinite shots and calculate when it will finish, set an alarm on my phone then stop it.  If I feel there's still a reason to keep shooting, I'll just speed up the clip in post.  It's better to shoot more than you need than less as you can always speed up a timelapse, but never slow it down!

8) Format your card / Don't Backup

If you've been shooting all night and haven't slept, you're only a few button pushes away from formatting your card or thinking you've changed cards and formatted the wrong one.  Label all of your cards - mine are in a sequence of numbers and I have two separate containers - one for new cards, one for cards I've shot on.  One container has luminous green tape on and the other has luminous red tape on and the word 'NO' written all over it.  Also, when you backup, make sure you make multiple copies from the card each time as if there's an error with a drive, you're only copying that error.  Twice should be enough - it takes time but it's worth it in the long run!

9) Quit your shoot

It's been a long week - you've been driving around all over the place gathering shots and you're ready to go home but wait! There's a sunset breaking through the clouds and you've not captured a decent one yet so you scale a mountain, set up your tripod and press go. 

The cloud cover returns, it starts to get cold so you call it a day and head back to your car, sans sunset shot.  Ten minutes into your drive home, you look in your rear view mirror and witness the mother of all sunsets is now happening and it's all too late.  You wished you'd stayed put and thoughts of driving off a cliff enter your head.  I've done this once and never again - as much as you think you can predict what the clouds will do you probably never will, so stick around as you've already made the effort to start a shot.  You may even notice a location you've not discovered as well so there's always something to be gained.

10) Having a heavy hand whilst adjusting settings or checking shots

Initially it may seem daunting to touch the camera whilst shooting for fear of moving it and killing your shot.  For some techniques, you'll have to check exposure, change exposure or you simply want to look to check progress, battery life etc.  This will take practice and eventually, you'll be able to do it in the dark.  You need to treat the camera like a bomb disposal team or one of those tiny screws from your glasses or shades that has come out.   Know your camera, what each button does and where they are - I used to practice with a blindfold on so I could memorise where each menu item is - obviously whilst not shooting! Even the slightest movement on your camera during a shot will show up when you're watching it back so play nice.

As always, thanks for reading and if you have gained any knowledge from this or feel that you've just wasted part of your life somehow, follow me at one of the SM sites below and air your views:

Got any questions? Leave them below and I'll do my utmost to answer them asap!

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