Are you feeling lost in the continuing expanse that is Creativity? Have you just witnessed the most epic / stunning / must see / amazing timelapse you've ever laid your eyes upon but didn't capture it as you thought? At some stage or another a little voice in the back of your head will place doubt into your mind as to whether you're pursuing the right path in your career. Let me explain...
I've been shooting timelapses for a third of my life now, full-time and professionally for nearly the past six years - it's all I do as it's my hobby as well as my career. I'm a perfectionist at heart and for every shoot I undertake, there's a little voice in my head that tells me I could do better when I look at the results.
Is that self-doubt a good or bad thing? It depends on how you handle it. I'm fortunate enough to be surrounded by a wealth of Directors, Producers and Production Managers who call me on a regular basis and hire me for work. There's the old tv saying of 'You're only as good as your last job' and as long as my phone keeps ringing, the self doubt is kept at bay.
On the other hand, I need that self doubt to keep driving me to create new shooting techniques and stay one step ahead. The only time it's a negative situation is if you let that little voice take control when it needs to be kept on a leash. You left your lens on AF, your shot is ruined because your sensor is dirtier than a Labrador in mud - whatever the reason, experience will test you to your limits but it's worth the ride! Mistakes have to be made - it's the ONLY way to learn as long as you do actually learn from them. The definition of insanity, as Einstein so eloquently put it, is repeating the same task over and over and expecting different results, which leads me to:
When I was a teenager, I had the opportunity to hire the school's 'latest' *professional* VHS camera from the IT department (I'm guessing back then, information technology was a much broader topic) and me and my mates used to go out shooting with it. I recall shooting and cutting my first video called 'The Fernandez Affair' - a short 10 minute video about some random 70's drug bust and some primitive slo-mo cop scenes with decidedly dodgy pornesque music. It went down a storm in the morning assembly with the kids but the teachers wished they'd screened it before it aired!
My first short film and my first venture into a career in Television. As popular as it was, I was still not happy with it and having been a fan of film since forever, I found myself comparing my newly-learned skills to that of Steven Spielberg, The Cohen Brothers and Ridley Scott etc. The fact I had edited it with three borrowed VHS recorders hadn't entered my mind but the beauty about disappointment is that it grew my urge to learn more and to improve.
I've seen a lot of posts of late with comments about how they wish they could shoot like that or in this way etc but they don't have the kit, the money or maybe the time. First of all, you don't need a £10K setup to create beauty because that comes from the heart - it's all about the passion and your passion will directly translate into your work. Secondly, comparing your chapter 2 to someone's chapter 12 will rip that little voice from it's leash to bring no end of self doubt!
I'd say I'm a quarter into my unwritten book of timelapse and it's been a great journey so far. I've shot for some big clients and I've shot for some small clients but the work ethic remains the same for each shoot. It's strange that when I look back to my humble beginnings when I tinkered with my dad's Canon Super8 camera and using it's frame-by-frame movement to create my first timelapse to where I am today and the journey I've made.
The thing is, you'll never be able to jump chapters when shooting a timelapse (or any other career for that matter) - it's all about putting the work in, the countless hours in snow, heat, rain; the lack of sleep and paranoia that comes with it and editing, rendering and uploading clips until your computer burns out. Those first few steps on the ladder are covered in grease but with a strong enough grip, you'll get there eventually!
I was flicking through my 'favourites' on youtube a few days ago and looking at some of my earliest likes was a video from Jay Burlage of Dynamic Perception fame. Under his username of Milapse, he'd uploaded a video about creating a pan and tilt move with a telescope mount and adapting it for timelapse. I noticed it was uploaded in 2007 and his journey is testament to what's achievable when you really want it.
It seems almost unbelievable that this is the way you'd shoot a pan and tilt move now with what's available on the market, almost akin to rewinding a cassette tape with a pencil when it was jammed and spooled out everywhere. If you've not seen it - here's the beginning of what would become Dynamic Perception:
I asked Jay to send me an overview of his journey so far so you can get an idea of what it takes to succeed:
This all started when digital cameras started to become affordable (to a hobbyist) and I was fascinated with the idea that digital would allow me to play with capturing timelapse. I was an architect at that time working in teams as a designer and a CGI specialist. Animation was just starting to become a part of my workflow so I was familiar with the basics of post production and youtube was just coming into it's prime. Ron Frike was my main inspiration and I quickly was attracted to dissecting what was special about his work and if we consider his amazing artistic eye a given the thing that stuck out was motion..
My original attempts at introducing motion were quite humble with hacked clocks to tearing apart and re-assembling telescope slewing parts to ultimately making my name showing how inexpensive telescope heads could bring some basic pan/tilt motion on a budget. Eventually through my youtube adventures I started to have conversations with a bunch of like minded guys all over the world and the states. One of those guys was Tom Lowe who floated the idea of creating an online forum where we could pool all the talented guys we knew and have more open conversations about the ever changing state of image technology, rigs and anything timelapse.. So together we founded the timescapes forum and spent a lot of collective time curating and contributing to the community. It really opened my eyes to realize that there were a lot more shooters interested in this world of timelapse than I ever imagined.
I still had my day job and it was fine for me to remain in the serious hobbyist camp, but I was meeting more and more talented professionals through timescapes and I also started meeting guys that wanted to push the equipment and technology forward.. My original business partner (Chris Church) approached me and we started formulating a plan that was supposed to be a 'garage business project' (we both had full time jobs at the time). We both recognized and talked a lot about how there was a huge gap between the DIY projects we were seeing and the high end expensive systems out there so it became a challenge to figure out how to bring that DIY spirit out of the dark ages and bring it one step closer to these high end systems.
Then 2009 and the financial melt down hit.. almost over night there was 60% unemployment in architecture and I was not spared.. A huge library project that my firm had worked so hard to land, worked on for over a year already and was to last 3 more years suddenly was put on indefinite hold. We had no backup work, the owner decided to shut the shop down so I had a lot of time on my hands. This was when I really started to put my mind to a timelapse dolly system and got serious about pushing the business project forward. I designed what would become the 'Stage Zero' system in about 3-4 months and my partner was working on the electronics side that eventually became the 'MX2'. I had more time so I finished some of my first protoypes before he had made significant progress on the control side. My first prototype just happened to get it's first real world test by Sean Stiegmeier in Iceland (it didn't even have a controller!).. Little did we know that Sean's video would go viral and Dynamic Perception (my name idea, Chris wanted 'Lunadyne') was born ( https://vimeo.com/11673745 )
To be honest the first few years were complete chaos.. We had more business than we could possibly handle, we were constantly back ordered and to make matters worse my partner was still holding down a full time day job! It was insane for me, on one hand I was happy about the success and all the great things guys were doing with our systems but on the other hand it was relentless work and stress. Slowly we added new products and made improvements, but I was not happy with the slow progress and quality we were putting out there though, my primary role was sales and service and I was constantly butting heads with the team working on everything else. Eventually it came to a head, I was pulling in millions in sales per year and taking care of thousands of customers all by my self and on my partner's side we still were using the same basic DC technology and our digital systems were nothing but delay after delay. Competition was appearing around every corner so I resolved one way or another we needed to consolidate and reorganize the business. That ultimately became an offer to buy out his share which he accepted and in the middle of 2013 I basically hit the reset button on the company, moved it 2000 miles and built it back up from scratch.
Within 6 months after the transition I had brought 75% of our manufacturing in house, launched a successful kickstarter campaign to add a pan/tilt system to our line up and finally finished the long time project of binging digital repeatable system to the market. On top of that our system was and still remains the only one that offers both Android and iOS control as well as Windows and OSX. I then set my sights on completely redesigning the Stage One system which we completed earlier this year and you have the longest one on the planet! Our quality is now something I'm really proud of as well.
I had a brief idea of the birth of Dynamic Perception but I hadn't realised just how much Jay had been through to get to where he is now! It just goes to show that eventually a passion will always deliver if you stick at it! You very often just see the end result and those who've been through the mill will recognise what it takes. If you're looking to start shooting with motion control, you can get some amazing kit from Dynamic Perception here.
As mentioned earlier, making mistakes is key. I'm not talking about being booked for a shoot and then deliberately kicking your tripod off a cliff on purpose. Timelapse is a very broad subject and has a plethora of individual areas. Some people specialise in plants whilst others in astrophotography. If you want a rich and varied shooting career, it is possible to learn a wide array of subjects but to do so, you'll have to practice each one individually.
It took me a solid month to nail shooting a night to day shot - it may take you less or more but the key here is getting it right and having the confidence to be able to turn up and do it when you do get that call. When I'm not shooting for a client, I'll spend my spare time developing my skills in lots of areas so when I do get a call for something random, I'll be able to say with confidence that I can do it and also be able to show a potential client that I have done it.
To get you on your way if you've just started out, I've written a little something for you:
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: