Terra Australis – Shooting yet another timelapse film
A day ago, we released Terra Australis on Vimeo. It’s a collaborative timelapse film that was shot by Clinton Harn and me whilst I was visiting him in Australia. Clinton has given his thoughts on the shooting process on his blog and there is a short Interview I did with Preston Kanak on Kessler University here.
Now, even though those articles cover a lot of ground, I want to touch a little more on the technical sides of shooting timelapses, because there are a lot of questions concerning that topic too. Aside from the fact that Clinton and I had a lot of fun making this and were experimenting with new things, I want to go into detail about the technicalities of the film, because I want to share the tips and tricks that go into making timelapse videos like these with other people, so they can create their own films. After all, it’s all about sharing what you learnt and nurturing the community!
A word on timelapse in general:
Shooting timelapses has a lot to do with experimenting, but there are a few things to consider most of the time. Before you get frustrated because you are not getting the results you wanted to get, let me say straight away, there are so many things that can go wrong. You forget to put in a fresh battery, your card is almost full, your motion control is too fast or too slow, you forgot to take your camera of auto whitebalance (not a problem when you shoot RAW), you accidentally bumped the switch to a different mode, you’re not 100% focused, you bump your camera during your timelapse, or the biggest timelapse killer: The light simply just being wrong and the scene not unfolding like you wanted it to. You saw a great sunset a day before and came down the next day to capture it again and it’s just completely dull. Yes, we had that happen a lot for “Terra Australis”. The perfect example: We were setting up our improvised timelapse crane in the blue mountains. We set up a good 2 hours before we wanted to start shooting the sunset. We were testing and testing, perfecting the move and dialling in the settings, trying different lenses and checking everything dozens of time. The system worked perfectly. We started shooting an hour before the sun would set and programmed the move to take roughly one and a half hours so we get the light after the sunset too. To our disappointment, the light on that particular sunset was just bad. There were no beautiful clouds like the day before and the light was rather bad too. Even in post production I couldn’t get anything beautiful out of the shot. Now, we drove to the blue mountains for about 2 hours. Set up for a few hours, waited for another few hours and it didn’t turn out like we wanted it to. Don’t let it get you down. It happens and it happens quite often. Try again the next day!
Here’s the gear we used:
We shot the film mainly on Clinton’s 5D Mark II. Some shots were done on the 7D or on the Canon 550D. You can shoot a timelapse with pretty much any DSLR, however for Milkyway shots you need a camera with a great low light performance, because you’re pushing your ISO quite a bit.
For motion control, we used the Kessler Crane Pocket Dolly. We had 2 of those, Clinton owns one with a 200 series motor and I own one with a 500 series motor, which we ended up using most of the time. Both pocket dollies were controlled with the Basic Controller. For some shot’s a Kessler revolution head borrowed from a friend was used too.
We used Carl Zeiss lenses. Clinton has a lovely set of ZF.2′s and Contax primes. I brought some Samyangs, but for various reasons we shot on the Zeiss lenses, the biggest reason being, they’re just optically superior.
How we used the gear:
Pretty much every shot we did was a motion control shot. The reason for this being is simply that the film flows a lot nicer if you have movement in your shots! Dolly moves are really desired in timelapses and they look incredible when you nail them.Clinton and I decided to shoot most of the sequences in manual like we always do. Some of the sequences however (sunrise and sunset) we shot in Aperture priority mode and planned to deflicker it in post using LRTimelapse. On some sequences it worked, on some it didn’t. You always have to have one reference area which LRTimelapse can recognise for it to work. When you have quickly changing clouds, it simply won’t work as well as when you have a clear sky. It’s a thing we learnt from shooting sunset and sunrises and I myself will start shooting with a ramping device soon, to get a lot better results.
The Canon 550D is a lovely little camera. When you shoot at ISO’s of up to 800 you won’t notice the difference between the 5D and the 550D (T2i). However when you start shooting in low light scenarios, you will start to notice the difference. The milky way shots were done with the 5D. The milkyway rising behind the tree and the one rising over the field were shot with the Zeiss 18mm ZF.2 F3.5
Now, I am not saying the 550D is useless in low light. The timelapse shot where the title appears was shot with the T2i at F2.8 with ISO 1600 and 30 second exposure. I think it’s a lovely shot and really noise free to be honest! For the other astro shots on the 5D, basic settings were ISO 1600, Lowest aperture value available on the lens and shutter speed 30 seconds. Now this gave us a nice image to start of with. Because we were shooting RAW, we were able to pull quite a lot from the image in post!
The city night shots were shot mostly at an aperture a little more closed down. We tried to hit the sweet spot of the lenses most of the time and often found ourselves shooting at F4-5.6. Exposure times varied, but most of the time not longer than 10 seconds in the city. Again, noise was also kept under control by never shooting over ISO values of about 1000 when we didn’t need to.
I touched on the topic of motion control a little bit above, but there is quite a bit to it. I have shot a lot of timelapses with Kessler Motion control and am really happy with their system. Probably the best out there. The basic controller is a cheap option to get motion control shots as opposed to the Oracle Controller. It doesn’t give you a display and you can’t set the exact time you want it to travel but you can get it pretty spot on. There is a Kessler App you can download for your phone, which allows you to calculate the setting you need to choose on your basic controller to get a desired time to complete your move. This is pretty easy to do, set your travel length, choose your motor and payload, pulse setting and it gives you a setting you just need to dial in. We often used the pocket dolly in angled positions, going up or down and sliding vertical. I am really happy that I brought my 500 series motor and dolly, because I think that you wouldn’t have much chance of going completely vertical on a 200 series motor with a 5D with Zeiss lens + ball head loaded onto the Pocket Dolly. We also used Kessler’s All Terrain outrigger feet which I am really happy with. I am not fussy about my gear, so I didn’t hesitate to stick the all terrains in the water to get the desired shot. The great thing about those feet is that you can level your Pocket Dolly on uneven terrain without having to build some fancy construction to support your dolly!
Clinton and I came up with some crazy ideas. We did some focus pulls but also built a timelapse crane. Focus pulls were relatively easy to do and if you want to ask what gear you need to do it, you already have it.. Your hand. It’s as easy as pulling the focus on your lens in tiny increments in between shot. It requires a steady hand and a bit of patience but we nailed it the first time round. The timelapse crane required a more elaborate setup. First you set up your crane and balance your camera with counter weights. Now, we only used this to do sweeping up shots, so we mounted the pocket dolly vertical at the back of the jib. We than ran a piece of cord to the handle of the jib. Driving the cariage down the pocket dolly in vertical mode will thus pull the cord and the back of the jib down, translating into an upwards move of your camera. It is really that simple and you can still calculate the length of the move with your Kessler app and basic controller!
Always be patient and persistent. You don’t always get your desired shot the first time round. Often it takes multiple tried to get it right. Perfect example of this is the drivelapse at the end. I think we shot it around 4 or 5 times and ended up going over toll bridges and tunnels multiple times. (Luckily Clinton footed the bill. Just kidding, thanks buddy, want me to paypal you some money? ).
The second thing is that I always reccomend you drag your shutter, even if it’s just half a second. I don’t like timelapses in which every frame is sharp, it just doesn’t look right to me. It’s the same mentality as shooting video at a higher shutter speed. You shoot at 1/48th of a second most of the time to get a natural result with some blur.
First and foremost I want to thank Clinton Harn. Thank you for hosting me, thank you for inviting me, thank you for driving around with me, thank you for driving out to Narrabri with me to meet my bro, thank you for being such a funny and crazy dude! It was a heap of fun and something that has to be repeated in one way or another!
Thank you to Katie and Sharon of Fox Photography, for taking lovely pictures of us shooting timelapses!
Thank you to CR Kennedy and Shaun Medvedovsky who helped us out along the way and spent a cold night over the motorway with us. Oh and thanks for dinner dude, loved the BBQ King
Thanks to Indra Apriyana, who is such a great guy and let us use his Revolution Head
Thanks to Steven Rushworth at Genus. It goes without saying that he is an incredibly kind and knowledgable person who is always keen to help out! Oh and thanks for dinner once again man! Beers on me when we see each other the next time!
Thanks to RODE Microphones. Ming, Scotty and Ryan. You guys are simply lovely, fun to be around and very passionate about what you do! Keep up the attitude!
Thanks to Laurence Owen who compose the incredible music for this piece. He changed the second half of the music in 2 days because what we wanted before simply didn’t work! Thanks for being such a good sport, I can always count on you!!
Thanks to Matthew Allard! It was fun meeting you and hanging out with you. A superb shooter bust most important of all, a nice and very funny guy!
My last thanks goes to the folks at Kessler Crane. Your equipment performed top notch and there was no single fault with it at all! Keep it up!
If you made it so far, thanks for reading my blog. Leave a comment if you would like to, I am happy to answer them all! I hope I helped you out a little with the thoughts and tips and let me know when you create a piece of timelapse magic