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!

Cherry Blossom

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!

custom timelapse rig

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.

Cherry water droplet

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!

Bee in Cherry orchard

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!

Lone Cherry

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 ;-)