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!

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

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:

Kit used