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!
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!
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.
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.
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:
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.