Louisville in Winter

louisville-skyline-winter

First I would like to thank Meadow Ryann for providing the music for this video.  She is a great artist and can be found here: http://www.meadowryann.com/

Shooting a video of Louisville in all four seasons would never have crossed my mind four or five years ago.  I just started a new job after leaving a a startup where I didn’t feel like I fit in and was constantly over worked.  With the start of my new job at the time I had my evenings and weekends back and was able to learn a new skill, timelapse.  It was only after shooting “Louisville in Motion” and receiving such a positive response that I eventually decided to shoot the remaining three seasons of Louisville.

louisville-winter-statue-of-david

Winter is rounding out the last season for the Louisville video collection.  I love the way that snow can totally change the look of a city or landscape, the only problem with capturing it is that it usually melts so quickly around here and it only snows enough one to three times a year in Louisville to make a video like  this.

louisville-winter-barge

This video was shot over two years and I believe I ended up recording one day each year.  The first year was shot with a Blackmagic Pocket Camera on a DJI Ronin Gimbal and the second year was with a DJI Phantom 3 Professional.  There’s not too much else to say about the video, I always appreciate the amount of color correction I can do with a camera that shoots in a raw format.  I ended up changing the color of the river with the Phantom 3 shots from a mud brown color to a light blue.  There is definitely a little color blocking going on in a few parts of the river scenes but I felt that it was small enough and the color correction added enough to make the compromise worth while.

louisville-winter-downtown

I hope the video has been enjoyable and I look forward to putting out more content this year!

Eric

Louisville in the Fall

As the season transforms from summer to fall the days gradually become shorter and cooler.  The changing of the color of the leaves on the trees happens so gradually that at first it’s not really noticeable then all of a sudden the bright warm colors are the trees are everywhere.  To see the video click the picture below

louisville-fall-poster-frame

Most of this video was shot in 2014 with a Blackmagic Pocket Camera, and stabilized with a DJI Ronin.  It was shot in raw then colored in DaVinci Resolve, before being edited in Premiere, yes I know that’s the reverse of how post usually works with the color grading being done last.

If you want to see the Ronin in action and how I shot most of this video click on the picture.

Ronin Slider

In 2015 I added a DJI Phantom 3 Professional drone to my inventory and used that to add a few more shots to the video in both 2015 and 2016.  Even though the Phantom could shoot in UHD, it wasn’t surprising how much further I could push both the color and exposure with the Pocket Camera which only shoots HD but is able to record raw data.  Being able to shoot in raw is awesome when you’ve got the time to really tweak the colors.

old-louisville-fall-trees

I decided to shoot this project in 30p since I wanted to be able to slightly slow the footage down to make it 24p in the end.  This had the benefit of slightly smoothing out some of the gimbals shots and I think warp stabilizer was only applied to 5 shots that made it in the video.   You’ll notice a good portion of the video has sun in the shots, while I don’t remember going out to record with that in mind it just kind of worked out that way since I would get out of work around 5pm then I would have a couple hours to shoot before it was dark, luckily that’s when the sun was closer to the horizon and gave some really interesting light.  I did shot on some cloudy days but after playing around with the edit those shots were just bringing the entire video down.  It’s kind of strange, when I shoot timelapses I’m usually hoping for a lot of clouds or a completely overcast day since clouds show the passage of time so well and also acts as a giant softbox giving a nice soft light.

louisville-shawnee-park-fall

Initially I thought this was going to be a quick video to put out since I could get so many shots so quickly with recording regular video instead of timelapses.  The problem and benefit to that is that it’s super easy to acquire a mountain of footage.  I had so much footage that I just kept putting off the color grading, and I also didn’t want to have to sort through all the shots to pick out the best scenes.  After all the shooting I ended up with around an hour and a half of footage and of that, 1 minute and 48 seconds made it in the video…. a roughly 50 to 1 ratio.  I realize an hour and a half doesn’t seem like a lot of footage to go through but it’s about the equivalent to color correcting the length of a feature film….obviously a feature film should be more difficult to color correct since there are people in it, but a feature length movie was probably lit pretty well to begin with.  Another reason for the long delay in putting out this video out was trying to find some music for it, I just couldn’t find anything that I thought fit with it.  Usually I try and use local music for these projects but I’m not really well connected to the music scene in Louisville.  I ended up going with some music I found on Premium Beat.  I felt it was still missing something so I ended up writing a little narration to go with the video and have a voice over artist read it.  This was my first time writing a “script” for any of my work, I’m not sure how it will be received but if you don’t try new things you don’t learn, and its always easy enough to mute the audio if anyone doesn’t like it.

louisville-fall-timeline-edit

Anyway, I hope these details were of some interest to anyone who may have read them.  That’s three seasons down showing off Louisville throughout the year.  Winter will hopefully be up this year or super early next year but who knows what if any difficulties I’ll run into with that.  If I remember correctly winter should bring a return to focusing on downtown since trees are no longer a big focus of that video.

Louisville In Bloom

First I have to give credit to Ben Sollee for creating the song “Unfinished” that was used in the video, if you want want to check out more of his work click this link: bensollee.com

 

Photographing spring is a race against time.  For a fleeting moment each year trees become giant flowers, then transform into the way we see them the 11 months of the year, either with leaves or bare.

The inspiration for this video came after seeing a friend’s photo on Facebook of a street lined with blooming trees.  After thinking about how to show off how cool the rest of Louisville looks during this time, I figured another timelapse video would do justice to this subject.  Normally on a personal project that requires as much time and effort as a timelapse video I’ll shoot over the course of months, however when capturing spring I wasn’t afforded the luxury of time since the flowering trees only lasts around 30 days.  Thankfully for the month of April, when the trees where in full force that year, I was able to shoot every evening except for about three days when it was raining too hard….the camera can handle a little drizzle but not full on rain.

Shooting in Cherokee Park with a slider.

Shooting in Cherokee Park with a slider.

Most of the video focuses on Old Louisville and the Cherokee park areas, it was important to include some other neighborhoods around Louisville and I wish they could have been featured more, but since time was limited to shooting with the few hours of sunlight after work, maximizing the number of scenes shoot in an afternoon was critical.  With the tree lined streets of Old Louisville and the Cherokee park these areas were the quickest way to end up with a bunch of video clips.  Over the roughly 30 days of shooting I ended up with 92 shots.  Of the 92 locations 66 made it in the video.

Louisville Main Library

Louisville Main Library

 

Often when I think of a city known for flowering trees I think of Washington DC with their cherry blossoms, but if you want something a little closer to home with less tourists just take a walk through Old Louisville or around the Cherokee park neighborhoods, they are in incredible site to see.

Eric Stemen

 

News and blog sites are welcome to pull images and text from this site if you’re featuring one of the videos here.

 

Shooting in Old Louisville

Shooting in Old Louisville

Downtown Louisville Spring

Downtown Louisville Spring

Old Louisville at Night Spring

Old Louisville at Night Spring

Old Louisville Spring

Old Louisville Spring

Louisville in the spring

Louisville in the spring

Gimbals

A Few Tools for Moving A Camera

 

Pulling off a smooth shot where the camera is moving has generally involved a fairly slow set up process.

You can use dollies but the set up time can be long if trying to lay track on uneven terrain, plus dollies aren’t generally very compact and the length of shot is limited by how much track you have available.

Stabalizer

Operating a Stabilizer

Steadicam’s or stabilizers allow the freedom to walk and get fairly smooth shots but require a decent amount of time to balance, not to mention skill to operate.  If you are trying to shoot a bunch of scenery around a city, a stabilizer is somewhat cumbersome since after arriving to a location a vest has to be strapped on, then a spring arm has to be attached, next a sled placed on the arm and finally a camera mounted to the sled.  Not a particularly easy task with one person and trying to keep a small footprint.

Jib

Using a small jib

Jibs offer a great deal of movement and can provide some really dynamic shots by booming up and down, but when a remote head is added, a tripod that rolls, plus the addition of counter balance weights the logistics of transporting and set up time make it impractical for certain situations.

Gimbals are a fairly new way to pull off smooth camera movements and once initially balanced are an incredibly quick way to shoot a lot of shots at many locations in a short period of time.

They are a great tool but aren’t perfect.  Dollies are almost always smoother and if the camera operator is riding one they can devote most of their concentration to keeping the camera framed up.  Stabilizers have a spring arm that helps account for vertical bounce.  Jibs can push in on a subject and rise or lower more smoothly than a gimbal.

As has been mentioned many times there is no one perfect tool for every situation.

 

“Run and Gun” Style Shooting with a Gimbal

 

 

The video in this article goes through my set up process used for an upcoming project.  It also gives some operating tips as well as how to let a remote operator monitor the operation of controlling the pan, tilt and roll of the gimbal.

 

 

The purpose of the project was to capture the fall colors around Louisville Kentucky.  I knew that this would be done through video and I would want every shot to have movement for added interest.  Since predicting how long the leaves would remain on the trees is impossible, I  wanted to make the most of my time in the two hours I could shoot each day after work.  Using a gimbal was the solution I used for “run and gun” style shooting.

Ronin on Bike Rack

Gimbal Balanced on Bike Rack

 

After initially balancing the gimbal I would leave as much of the gimbal built up as possible and stow it in the trunk of my car.  When I found a nice looking place to record I would place the gimbal on my cars bike rack which acted as the gimbal stand and then slide the camera onto the gimball’s quick release hitch and connect the rest of the cables.  With this technique I could be up and shooting in two to three minutes after parking my car.

 

Gimbal Operating Tips

Ronin Slider

Treating the Ronin like a Slider with small moves.

 

Current gimbals won’t compensate for horizontal or vertical bounce.  Much like a traditional stabilizer you’ll want to keep your knees bent while walking to take out as much of the vertical bounce as possible.

Practice walking your path beforehand to see if anything on the ground might trip you up.

If possible repeat each shot at least twice so you can pick the smoother shot of the two.

If making use of foreground objects that are really close to the camera walking won’t provide the smoothest results.  Instead keep your feet in one spot and just use your arms to float the camera from side to side.

Obviously if you shoot in slow motion the results will look smoother.

While gimbals do a pretty good job on their own, I still run most every shot through warp stabilizer.

 

Wireless Monitoring

Ronin Reciever

Wireless Monitoring Option

 

There are times when you either want someone to see what you are shooting or have an assistant operate the pan, tilt and roll so you can just concentrate on walking with the gimbal.  For these situations a wireless video feed is necessary.  There are a few options on the market but I’m going to go over the Arrow Paralinx Plus.  This is a plug and play solution which transmits up to 150ft for non line of site(although when going through a cinder block wall I’ve maybe gotten 75ft) and can go a little over twice the distance in optimal conditions.  I decided against using DJI’s light bridge since I read on some forums that the signal delay could be up to as much as a second, although I’ve never used their system first hand so this could be completely untrue.  The Paralinx Plus out of the box works with HDMI so if your camera only has HD-SDI you’ll have to buy Arrow’s Crossbow adapter or a third party SDI to HDMI converter.  The Arrow Paralinx will also need power.  It can operate from a P-Tap power source or usb battery packs.  Pretty much any USB battery pack will work with the transmitter but the receiver needs one that can supply 2.1 amps from a single USB port.  I’ve used a regular 1 amp pack for the receiver to test it out but I have heard of complaints on-line that the receiver drains those batteries really fast.  I assume these users weren’t using a battery that output the 2.1 amps that are recommended.  I picked up a limefuel battery for the receiver and this has been working great.

Ronin Transmitter

Transmitter Attached to the Ronin with 3M Dual Lock Velcro

Once the batteries have been bought I’ve found that some 3M Dual Lock Velcro works pretty well for securing the batteries, and Arrow components to your camera and Monitor.  I do recommend wiping down any surfaces that are going to have velcro stuck to them with some rubbing alcohol or denatured alcohol to make the Velcro’s backing adhere better.

 

Ronin in Studio

Gimbal Cover Image for Download

 

DOLLY ZOOM TUTORIAL FOR TIMELAPSE AND HYPERLAPSE

For anyone who has ever seen those shots where it looks like the subject of the scene stays the same size but the background recedes away, this video is a quick tutorial that explains how to achieve the shot in camera.

The video above is more detailed but here is the summary.

 

First you’ll want to know how to do a hyperlapse or at least the idea behind them. If you aren’t familiar with the technique it’s basically using a tripod as a dolly without a track. You take a photo, move the camera forward a little, take another photo and repeat the process many times, then stabilize your footage with a program like Adobe After Effects. If you need a more detailed description you can check out this article on DPreview.

Hyperlapse 01

When I get to an area that I think will make for a good dolly zoom I’ll raise my camera to eye level since I’ll be picking up and moving the tripod about one hundred times. I also will almost always use an ultra-wide zoom lens since this will really emphasize the effect. In this case I used a Panasonic 7-14mm lens which on a full frame sensor would be a 14-28mm.

Next I’ll take three sample photos of the scene. I start back pretty far from the subject of my scene and zoom all the way in on the lens. I then walk forward quite a bit zoom out about half way take another photo and finally walk forward again and zoom out all the way.

These are from the final video. When doing my test shots I had initially started to close to the building on the right and would have ended up cropping most of the top of the building off. Doing test shots is very important.

Hyperlapse 02

Once happy with the test shots, the rest of the technique is pretty much the same as doing a regular hyperlapse while moving towards your subject. The only difference is that you will be zooming out almost unperceivable between each photo. This can be done by twisting the zoom with your hands but I’ve found that using a follow focus as a zoom controller makes this process easier since the zoom increments are so small.

Hyperlapse 03

 

The follow focus I used as a zoom controller is the CAMTREE Solid Gear Follow Focus. While it doesn’t offer the focus stops the higher end products have, it is much more affordable and works well for the vast majority of shooting.

Other than zooming out I put my camera in autofocus for this type of a move since most lenses not designed for video aren’t parfocal and won’t hold focus when zooming.

Once you’ve run out of your zoom range you can either stop your hyperlapse or continue on as you would for a regular hyperlapse. I recommend making sure you have at least 100 photos before quitting the process though. With 100 photos the resulting video clip will be just a little over four seconds in length if playing back at 24 frames per second. To get an idea about the time you should expect to commit to this, the video in the tutorial ended up lasting about five and a half seconds and from my first shot to the last took 35 minutes not including test shots.

 

GEAR LIST:

SOFTWARE LIST:

  • LRTimelapse – For smoothing out exposure jumps as the sun went down
  • Adobe Bridge CS6 – For selecting photos when there was an exposure bump
  • Adobe Camera Raw CS6 – For giving the photos a look and matching exposure bumps
  • Adobe After Effects CS6 – Makes photos into a video file and smooths out shaky video.

Louisville Timelapses 2012

Louisville Timelapses 2012

First Timelapse Created for Louisville In Motion

First Timelapse Created for Louisville In Motion

On February 28, 2012 this whole project started by accident.  The day was unusually warm and by the evening the temperature was still in the low 60’s instead of the usual low 40’s.  Around the same time I started a new job and one of the employees was into shooting timelapses.  I already had the gear to do some motion control timelapses, but had never learned how to use it until I started at Videobred and had a few days that were pretty slow at work.  I’m not sure what makes someone stick with a hobby or long term “passion project” but having a success or victory early on probably helps.

 

I crossed the second street bridge and drove into Indiana to a park that would have a good view of the Louisville skyline.  Knowing that a foreground element would would be necessary to make the scene a little more interesting I choose to use some plants that the camera would push through towards the city.  At the time I only had the CS3 suite of Adobe programs so I had the camera shoot raw and Jpeg so I could check out the results by using the jpegs and when I bought a new computer and CS6 later I could process the raw files.  This first experiment lasted about 15 minutes.  I had no idea about what would make for a decent pause between shots or how far the camera should move each time.  I took what I had shot home and loaded the jpegs into After Effects and ram previewed the video.  My first thoughts were that it looked sort of neat.  The clouds moving were a pleasant surprise, I don’t even remember noticing them when I was shooting, but the city just looked dull and depressing and I fixated on this and how the plants I used as foreground objects moved widely between shots due to the wind.  “Well, I guess anything that can potentially move is a pretty bad idea for a foreground object.  I won’t do that again.”  It would be almost a year later in early January of 2013 when I would process the raw images and decide that the shot really did turn out pretty good with the fine tuning of colors.

Whiskey Row

Whiskey Row

I was driving down Main street one day and noticed the old Whiskey Row buildings were being lit up by reflections from an adjacent building.  Knowing the reflections would move with the passage of time I kept this spot in mind and would shoot it within the week.  My first attempt of showing this was on June 8, 2012.  I tried shooting it from two different locations from inside the stairway of a parking garage and both of them turned out terrible.  The reflections cooperated, but I think this was my first time shooting from a parking garage and didn’t really know what I was doing.  The results were so bad I never bothered to process them into a video.  I still wanted to get this shot so I would come back later and retry since the reflections had already disappeared.  A few days passed and on the 13th I picked out a new location that properly showed the buildings off and the shot turned out great.  Little did I know at the time how lucky I was to have a cloudless sky that day.  I just showed up assuming that the reflections would be there.  Thankfully everything worked in my favor and I didn’t have to re shoot for a third time.

Train Crossing Bridge

Train Crossing Bridge

While riding my bike along the river I notice the city had an overlook that went out over the river’s bank and gave a cool view of the city.  Every time I would ride on the Louisville Loop I would stop at this spot and admire the view.  I’m not sure when this project went from just learning how motion control timelapses worked, to becoming a full on timelapse video of Louisville, but once I determined this was going to be an actual video, I knew that I would shot from this overlook.  The first attempt to pull this shot of was a failure.  I tried on May 26, 2012 for about 45 minutes and used a fence as a foreground object…which seems pretty cliche.  No barges went through and the train bridge didn’t raise up.  I went back and shot again on May 29, 2012 and was determined to stay there until I got what I wanted.  I brought an umbrella with me this time so I would have some relief from the burning sun.  The first try this day lasted from 6:00pm till 6:34pm.  A barge passed but the bridge didn’t move.  I repositioned the slider and shortened how far the camera would move each time.  This time I was successful, a barge passed under the bridge and later the train bridge moved down into place and a train went across.  To get this shot I started shooting at 6:44pm and ended the shoot at 9:30pm.  The timelapse makes up nine seconds of the video but with drive time, setup time and processing of the images the real time was about 9 hours and 51 minutes.  One other interesting thing about this location is that a parking lot isn’t all that close to the overlook so when I parked I gathered all the gear up and rode to the location on a bike.

Downtown Louisville Being Rained On

Downtown Louisville Being Rained On

Since a good timelapse often involves the weather I wanted to make sure and include some rain in the video.  Like the train bridge shot above this proved to be difficult as well.  You can check out weather reports and the clouds and guess if it’s going to rain at a particular time, but you don’t really know where it’s going to rain.  Also water and electronics aren’t the best combination so finding a place that is covered can prove to be a challenge.  A parking garage is a good place to get an elevated view of the city and is also covered with openings to see out of.  I tried two previous times to get a good shot of the rain but failed.  With the failed attempts and the shot that worked, this ended up taking roughly 8 hours and 45 minutes and made up seven and half seconds of the video.

 

Not all shots take multiple tries to get, some work on your first attempt and definitely help keep you going.

H.G. Young Druggest building on Frankfort Avenue and Pope Street

H.G. Young Druggest building on Frankfort Avenue and Pope Street

This is the intersection of Frankfort Avenue and Pope Street.  It’s a place I drive past every day and I think the building just looks neat with the steeple on top.  Instead of doing a day to night timelapse like normal, I instead chose to leave the exposure locked and let the scene fade into darkness as the sun went down.  Seeing the stop lights remain at the same brightness was pleasantly unexpected.

First Hyperlapse next to The Henry Clay Building

First Hyperlapse next to The Henry Clay Building

Keeping on the same theme of things working first try was my first hyperlapse.  I first saw a hyperlapse in a video from zweizwei on Vimeo.  He would do these incredibly long dolly style shots but you could never see any dolly track in his videos and setting up that much track would be expensive and very time consuming.  After thinking about how he could have pulled this off for a few days I decided to try one of my own in a parking lot in downtown Louisville.  I choose to use painted parking spots as my guides to keep the tripod walking in a straight path and a red marker light on a building to aim the camera at.  I would move a foot, level the tripod’s half ball head, re-aim the camera at the marker light on the building and repeat until I had run out of parking lot.  I took the footage to work the next day since After Effects CS3 didn’t have warp stabilizer, but CS5 at work did have it.  Once warp stabilizer had done it’s thing, to my surprise the hyperlapse worked flawlessly and would become one of my most used methods of timelapsing.  Finally I had a technique that could simulate walking while everything around me was moving in fast motion.

First Day to Night Shot taken next to The Great Lawn

First Day to Night Shot taken next to The Great Lawn

Another first for me was a day to night shot.  I had seen the outcome from them in videos before and it always impressed me but I didn’t know how to shoot one.  Talking to another employee at Videobred he told me that I would need some software called LRTimelapse and to just change the shutter speed as it got darker.  I decided to give it a try and headed down to waterfront park with my slider on May 10, 2012.  I set up with a railing as my foreground object and the city in the background and let the camera click away for the next 2 hours and 15 minutes and came back with 508 photos.  I had no idea what I was doing so I shot way too much and ended up speeding the video up in post.  The results were wonderful but I didn’t find that out until late December of that year since I was waiting to get some time off work and really figure out how to process everything I was shooting.  Not knowing how to process exposure ramps during all of 2012 I was always uneasy of changing shutter speeds during a shoot but thankfully they almost always turned out fine.

Note the slider in the lower right corner

Note the slider in the lower right corner

There isn’t much to say about this shot.  The clouds were pretty cool, but I’ve included it in this write up because you can see a little bit the slider in the shot….kind of a behind the scenes shot that made it into the video.

Last Shot of 2012 Next to the Slugger Museum

Last Shot of 2012 Next to the Slugger Museum

Going into this project I really thought I would have enough clips to make an entire video with just the scenes from 2012.  I know Louisville is known for it’s Louisville Slugger bats so I thought it would be good to include the large bat in the video before all the leaves fell off of the trees.  So on November 10, 2012 I shot the bat at nighttime with a slider and a turntable attached and figured I would be done shooting the entire video…sure there were lots of other things in Louisville I could record and also wanted to get like Churchill Downs, but I also wanted to release the video that I had spent so many hours on.  I wanted to hear feedback from the world.  Over Christmas and the new year I had a week or a week and a half off and in between visiting family I learned hwo to use LRTimelapse and processed everything I had shot during spring summer and fall then started editing.  I think it was mid January when I realized I really didn’t have enough footage to make a video.  If I let the shots go as long as possible and use everything I had captured even if some of the shots weren’t all that great I could almost fill the entire song I had selected.  I could fill some time with graphics in the beginning and end and have a video, but it wouldn’t be up to the quality I wanted.  I made the tough choice to properly finish the video.  I would wait till spring when the leaves started to show up on trees again and aim for getting it out in late May or early June.  Those deadlines I set for myself came and passed.

Louisville Timelapses 2013

Louisville Timelapses 2013

Hyperlapse While Zooming

Hyperlapse While Zooming

The weather started to warm and trees began to bloom so it was time to finish shooting the video.  I first started shooting the remainder of the video on April 7, 2013.  I had been watching other people’s timelapse videos over the winter to help come up with new ideas of what to shoot and while watching one of the videos I notice someone had incorporated a zoom while doing a hyperlapse.  Thinking it was really cool I wanted to include this technique as well.  While riding my bike on East Washington Street I notice most of the trees overhead were in bloom and the road wasn’t very busy so on a Sunday I set out to shoot.  I started pretty close to the intersection and worked my way backwards while trying to keep the house at the end the same size in the frame by zooming.  In the full length version of the shot you could really see the trees in bloom with their white flowers, but the tripods placement was moving too far left or right to really have a smooth looking scene so I ended up just using a small portion of the total clip, but I still think it’s pretty awesome.

Louisville Water Tower

Louisville Water Tower

Realizing from the end of 2012 I needed more Louisville landmarks I wanted to show off the Louisville Water Tower.  I don’t remember why I choose to shoot this during a storm but I’m glad I did.    On June 17, 2013 a storm had started towards the end of work and knowing storms make for awesome clouds I was pretty excited to go out and shoot.  I guess I had been thinking about the water tower that week so that’s the location I decided on.  While driving out there, the weather was not ideal for shooting since it was raining, but having nothing else to do that day I continued driving and pulled into the complex and waited for a break in the weather.  Eventually around 6:15pm the weather cooperated and the rain let up but I could still hear thunder and see clouds lighting up from the lightning.  I felt uneasy about doing a hyperlapse in this weather but felt that it would be alright since there was a large group of people playing soccer in the nearby field and they must know there isn’t any danger.  This was shot with my widest lens and the camera moved about two feet between each shot.  I choose to use my widest lens, the Panasonic 7-14mm(this would be a 14-28mm on a “full frame” sensor), to capture this.  I really wanted to give the sense of moving in on the water tower and show of the clouds as much as possible.  I shot this another time afterwards since I didn’t know if the shot would be any good; then I was about to shoot it a third time with the motorized slider but by that point the lightning started to pick up and get closer.  I decided the third shot was not worth getting electrocuted for.

Crescent Hill Reservoir

Crescent Hill Reservoir

Another shot involving lightning was the Crescent Hill Reservoir near Frankfort Avenue.  I had originally captured this back on July 15, 2012 but when I processed the image I realized it was out of focus so it would have to be re-shot.  An unfortunate thing about having lenses that are focus by wire is that they apparently focus to infinity if the camera turns off.  I wanted to shoot earlier but waited for probably a couple weeks to get the gate house due to a lack of clouds in the sky, and finally on August 31, 2013 the clouds were finally good….maybe a little too good.  I was going for at least a five second timelapse but was cut short when the lightning that was over a mile away judging from how long the thunder took to reach me, suddenly was within 300 feet of me.  Feeling afraid for my life I compacted the tripod and walked as fast as I could to my car.  I could have run but felt that if lightning did hit me and I fell to the ground I probably would have been pretty scraped up from sliding to a stop if I managed to regain consciousness…at least if I was just walking fast I would probably just go limp and fall down.

University of Louisville

University of Louisville

The most frustrating shot of the entire video was trying to capture something from the University of Louisville.  I initially shot the bell tower but upon looking at the outcome didn’t really think it said UofL.  So I went back and settled on the location above.  Re-shooting isn’t too frustrating if you know it’s going to be a significantly better shot.  What is frustrating is when weather doesn’t cooperate.  To get from my house to the UofL location was 7.5 miles, so even if the clouds looked good where I lived there may have been no clouds around UofL.  On July 20, 2013 after four attempts everything finally worked out, there was just one problem…the clouds.  Don’t get me wrong, the clouds looked fantastic, but they would block the sun, casting big shadows on the lawn and if it can be avoided I would rather have a consistently bright or shadowy scene.  The final shoot probably took five or six tries on that particular day to have a window that let the sun shine down on the campus consistently.

Bardstown Road

Bardstown Road

The most electric looking scene from the project is probably the hyperlapse of Bardstown road.  This was another clip that involved a re-shoot.  The first two attempts were alright but when I processed them didn’t really give me the feeling of traveling through the area.  I drove up and down the road a few times and finally found an area that seemed to have a lot going on and was really lit up with signs and crosswalks.  Once I parked, I walked in the general area trying to figure out how best to show off this unique part of Louisville.  Eventually I figured I’ll just make this look like how it does when you walk down it in real life.  I used a sign in a window as my mark to keep the camera centered up and it turned out great.

Hyperlapse from Second Street Bridge

Hyperlapse from Second Street Bridge

One of the things I was most disappointed with from my 2012 shots was the lack of a good intro that said “This is Louisville”.  I thought about this problem a lot.  One day while trying to get a cool view of the second street bridge I noticed the pedestrian walkway on the bridge and the view from it wasn’t obstructed by the bridge supports, what luck!  I set out to do a hyperlapse from the bridge just before the sky turned completely black.  As I started I had no idea how long this bridge was.  I drove across it and parked in Indiana and figured I would need to have larger moves between each shot than normal so I used some supports in the bridge as my interval that I guess may have been 15 feet apart.  By the end of the hyperlapse I was mentally exhausted.  Doing something very repetitive that requires a good deal of concentration for almost three hours is tough especially after putting in a full day at work.  One of the challenges on this scene were vibrations.  Bridges seem like they would be very solid but if any large vehicles drove over it the roadway and sidewalk would shake, and when shooting at a slower shutter speed I would have to time the shots to miss the vibrations from vehicles.  If this shot took place during the daytime or if there were visible clouds at night it would have been ruined from inconsistencies in timing between each shutter actuation.  As of September 29, 2013 that is the longest hyperlapse I’ve done at right around 0.7 miles in length.

Last Scene of Video

Last Scene of Video

Luck and persistence have a lot to do with a good timelapse and thankfully luck was on my side for the ending shot.  A lot of times I’ll see good clouds while working and think “oh I’ll be able to get some good stuff after work” but when 5:00pm comes around the clouds will have disappeared.  On June 18 2013 everything just worked and I hit the cloud jackpot.  I needed to get some more of the downtown buildings towards the west end of the city so I drove out and first got a shot of the Judicial Center which can be seen below.  Somehow the clouds stopped at the edge of downtown and weren’t blocking the sun.  I couldn’t believe my luck that I actually had a fully lit building with clouds in the background.  This never happens; I couldn’t waste any opportunities this day.  I shot Metro Council in the same general area next.  The clouds weren’t nearly as good looking north but it was still usable.  On the third location of the day I finally ended up with the last shot of the video.  I rode an elevator up to the top floor of a parking garage and started a hyperlapse of downtown.  I started as far over as possible but knew I wouldn’t be able to move as far as I wanted since some of the parking spots still had cars in them.  Thankfully as I was about to reach a car a lady showed up and drove it away giving me a little more room.  I would have loved to have shoot more up there but ended up reaching another car.  I’m still very happy with what I got though.  I ended up getting one more shot from the same parking garage before the winds picked up and started storming.

Perfect Clouds

Perfect Clouds at a Judicial Center

This project has been a long journey, I started out having never really shot a timelapse with still photos before, and through the project started this website and explored more of Louisville than I ever thought I would.  I still have to use a GPS unit to go to specific locations but I’ve really enjoyed seeing all the different architecture the city has to offer.  I’ve only touched on a small portion of the city and there is still a lot for me and others to explore.  It’s an easy city to get around in both by bike and car, so if you are looking for someplace to visit keep Louisville in mind and check out some of the locations from the video.

 

Eric Stemen.

Sliders

Sliders

My first memory of noticing the parallax effect was probably when I was in second grade playing an NES game called “Snoopy’s Silly Sports Spectacular”.  This was a side scrolling game and for one of the challenges the cartoon character Snoopy was in a sack race and as he moved forward the background plate never moved but the houses a little further away would slightly advance and the street under Snoopy would advance the fastest as Snoopy neared the finish line.  I thought this effect was so cool.

Slider with Accessories

Slider with Accessories

Fast forward about 19 years to 2009 and sliders start gaining popularity.  They opened up a whole new way to create shots and could make less than interesting scenes hold an audience’s attention.  They do require a little bit of time to set up but require much less space and time than a traditional dolly.  One of the downsides however is that it can be difficult to keep the sliders rail  out of the shot if the camera is pushing in on a subject, and the lengths of the moves are usually limited to under five feet.

Slider in Action

Slider in Action

I purchased the Kessler Pocket Dolly in April of 2009 for $549.95 after being amazed at seeing what other people were doing with them.  I  tested it at a balloon glow with my roommates  Canon 7D and a 24mm f1.4 L series lens.  The results were so good that I knew it would be getting a lot of use.  I found it strange that less than a year earlier I had been working at a TV station that was still using Beta SP cameras on fluid head tripods that when new probably cost over $40,000 and I could now create nicer looking videos for under $5000.

 

Since purchasing the Pocket Dolly, Kessler has released an updated version of it to overcome some of the initial flaws.  This review will be for the first version of the slider.

 

The slider has a few cool features.  The track has a 3/8’s hole drilled in the center and also a ¼” 20 hole on each end.  This is very convienient when you want to get the camera up off the ground on a tripod.  The slider can be centered over the tripod and a magic arm can hold up one or both of the other sides of the slider to keep the ends level as the camera travels to ends.  This makes for a pretty light weight and very portable rig and adds a lot of production value to a shoot quickly and easily.  Another cool feature is that the slider is belt driven and comes with a weighted hand crank so you can crank the camera along the track.  I find that hand cranking provides somewhat jerky results.  Instead push or pull the slider at the camera’s base with the hand crank still attached.  The crank works like a flywheel to smooth out the move and reduce sticking.  Even with the hand crank attached the slider will sometimes bind if the camera is not balanced well enough over the slider, and your moves probalby will never be completely consistant since we aren’t as precise as motors are.  To get really consistant speed moves, Kessler offers a motor upgrade that is compatible with both the old and new version of the slider.  It’s an expensive upgrade but if you want to do more advanced things with your slider it’s nice to have.  If you’re just pushing the camera on the slider you will be limited to doing real time moves which isn’t bad, but with the motor upgrade you can repeat a move precisely over and over again which is neat for motion control compositing.  The motor upgrade also enables the slider to be used for timelapses.  Obviously the motors can also imitate hand moving the slider but requires much less concentration to get a smooth take.  At some point in the future I’ll do a more in depth review on the motors, but this post is primairly about the slider.

Slider Moving Towards House

Slider Moving Towards House

I believe that the original version of the Kessler slider used Igus parts and if you want to pick up a stripped down version of these check out the Igus site at the following link.

http://www.igus.com/wpck/default.aspx?pagename=filmtechnology

On the page there should be another link you can follow to their amazon.com page and the price should rangefrom between $130 to $250 depending on the slider you want.  Alternatively ebay has tons of sliders also available and some are almost an identical rip off of the original Kessler slider.  If you can afford to go with name brand stuff for paying work I would spend a bit more and buy gear from companies who continue to invent and push camera technology further instead of reverse engineering an existing product.  After all research and development take time and money and I would like new and exciting products to continue to come out in the future.

 

Overall the slider was a very good purchase and has gotten an incredible amount of use and will continue to.  The Pocket Dolly Version 2 has overcome many of the drawbacks of the original but does cost a bit more.  If a used original Pocket Dolly goes up for sale it’s still a worthwhile buy but I wouldn’t want to spend more than $300.

Intermediate Timelapse

Wireless Intervalometer

Wireless Intervalometer

Starting Out

In this tutotrial I’ll share my preferred way of capturing timelapses.  I’m going to stay away from “day to night” or “night to day” techniques(also called the holy grail) since these are fairly advanced and can be overwhelming when starting out.  We won’t be shooting any video, instead we will capture the scene with photographs.  The only extra piece of gear we’ll need is an intervalometer.  These can be found in camera shops and online.  I don’t have a preference for which brand is best, the main thing you need to double check is that the intervalometer comes with the correct camera control cable.  This is the cable that will connect with the intervalometer and tell your camera when to take a photo(if possible have two cables on hand, cables will mess up at the worst time).  On the software side of things this does require more specific and expensive items but I’ll cover that part after the scene has been shot.

 

Inserting camera control cable into camera

Inserting camera control cable into camera

 

Starting out, make sure the camera is on a tripod with the pan and tilt locked so the footage doesn’t shake, wobble, or drift.  The first decision to make is whether to shoot .jpg or raw.  I always shoot in raw if at all possible.  Raw gives much more room to really manipulate the colors and brightness in post than .jpegs do, however raw images use up way more card space than .jpgs.  When you see just how much better raw images look the advantages to raw make the larger file sizes a non issue.

 

Once you’ve figured out the composition for the shot and you’ve gone with either raw or .jpeg the next step will be set up the intervalometer with the number of shots to take and how many seconds to wait between taking the next photo.  If there are fast moving clouds I’ve found shooting once every five to seven seconds works out pretty well.  If there are no clouds around and you want to show shadows moving across the ground one photo a minute works out alright except for sunrise and sunset.  Be prepared to stay in a spot for at least two hours if recording shadows moving.  Staying in a spot for this length of time is necessary because you would only capture 120 photos and if editing at 24 frames per second(the same number of frames per second most movies are shown) you will have a timelapse of five seconds.  Recording moving shadows is somewhat risky because if clouds do show up and block the sun the shot is pretty much ruined and a significant amount of time has been wasted.

 

Intervalometer attached to camera

Intervalometer attached to camera

After setting the intervalometer up we move on to picking our exposure.  I always choose to shoot in manual exposure mode if I will be around the camera.  Manual exposure is prefered over aperture or shutter priority because cameras can be easily fooled into making a scene too bright or dark if a cloud passes in front of the sun.  Most of the time setting the manual exposure to negative one EV(exposure value) works out pretty well but you really need to make sure nothing in the scene is overexposed to the point of pure white, or only have a very small portion of the scene pure white like just a small percentage of clouds.  If nothing is blown out in scene you will want the camera shooting as close to blowing stuff out as possible to try and keep noise out of the shadows.  Everything should now be ready to go, double check focus and then have the intervalometer start controlling the camera.

 

Looking through the electronic view finder.  Negative one EV

Looking through the electronic view finder. Negative one EV

After the desired number of photos have been taken the post production process starts.  A good length of time I’ve found for each clip in a timelapse montage is five seconds, so try to capture at least 120 photos if editing at 24 or 23.976 frames per second.  The advice for five second clips is for a pretty fast edit, if your video will have a slower pace plan accordingly and take more photos.

Some cameras make new folders if there are over a certain number of photos taken and your timelapse will be spanned over these folders.  All the photos will need to be in one folder on your hard drive before going any further.  For editing I use Adobe Production Premium CS6.  Out of all the programs in the suite I’ll use After Effects for this tutorial, but for “holly grail” timelapses more programs are required.

 

Start out by opening After Effects.  With the program open, Click on “File” >” Import” > “File…”

Select the first photo of the timelapse, then click on the “Force Alphabetical Order” check box, finally click “Open”

A window with your photo should open like this.

 

Importing a sequence into After Effects

Importing a sequence into After Effects

If you shot in raw making sure to barely blow your highlights out or get close to blowing them out the photo will probably look underexposed.  This was to be expected since the sky is usually brighter than the ground.  Check out the sliders to the right of the photo.  Bring the slider that says “Highlights” to the left and the slider that shows “Shadows” to the right.  Play around with the rest of the sliders and see just how much power there is to manipulate the look of the image.  In the photo below is my final color correction to the image…it’s a really big difference compared with what I started with.  If I can avoid fixing things in post I’m usually for it, but when shooting landscapes there’s rarely a good way around fixing it in post.

 

Abandoned House in the west end of Louisville Kentucky.  No color correction.

Abandoned House in the west end of Louisville Kentucky. No color correction.

Once happy with the color correction click on “OK” in the lower right of the “Camera Raw” window.

 

Abandoned House in the west end of Louisville Kentucky. After color correction.

Abandoned House in the west end of Louisville Kentucky. After color correction.

This next step is difficult to explain through words so I’ve included a picture going through the steps.  Note that this is going for a “film” look at 23.976 frames per second.  If you are looking for a more video look this can be changed to 29.97 frames per second in NTSC countries or 25fps in Pal areas.  If you’ve never really noticed the difference in the ways movies look compared to a soap opera try both the 23.976 version then the 29.97 version.  The results are pretty cool.

 

interpreting footage in After Effects

interpreting footage in After Effects

Now that the footage is at the desired frame rate click anywhere on the timeline.  This tells After Effects that we want to work with what’s on the timeline.  To export the sequence so that we can view it in real time click on.  “Composition” > “Add to Render Queue”.

 

Setting up After Effects for an Export.

Setting up After Effects for an Export.

Now we set up our settings for the export.  The settings I’m about to go through aren’t what I usually use in my timelapses, but they are good to quickly see how your timelapse will turn out while keeping the render at HD resolution and also a fairly small file size.

 

Exporting footage in After Effects

Exporting footage in After Effects

It’s not uncommon to have a render take 20 or more minutes for a 10 second clip even on a high end computer.  When the render finally finishes, find out where your timelapse was saved to and watch it in your preferred media player.

 

The steps I’ve gone through are just the basics for what goes into most every timelapse shot with raw.  It’s somewhat involved but I’ve found that this method generally provides better results than shooting video and speeding it up later.  After working with timelapses for over a year I don’t think it’s easier to shoot or process the images.  Both take a while to master and are repetitive and tedious tasks.  On more advanced timelapses it’s easy to spend more time processing a timelapse than shooting one.  I find processing of the images to be more enjoyable than shooting most of the time.  When shooting in real time you kind of have an idea of how things will look but it’s not until you reach the post side where you see if you created something cool or not.  It’s kind of like Christmas morning, you’re excited to see what you’ve got.

Eastern Kentucky Pt. 3

Last day and conclusion

Click here for part 1

Click here for part 2

Coal Tipple in Pikeville Kentucky

Coal Tipple in Pikeville Kentucky

On my final morning of the trip I woke up around 10:30 a.m., walked across the street to a Burger King, had breakfast, and then backtracked down the main road to an active coal tipple that could be seen from the highway.  Since this was an active tipple I didn’t want to get to close with the coal trucks constantly coming and going and also didn’t want to get run off.  Well the trucks never touched me but this was the only spot I was run off of during the entire trip.  I had been doing a motorized pan of the location for maybe 15 minutes when what I assume was a supervisor pulled up and asked me what I was doing.  Figuring this gentleman would listen to reason I explained that I had come from Louisville to show others how cool eastern Kentucky looked.  Unfortunately he didn’t believe me and thought I was working for an organization called Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and was there taking pictures to portray coal negatively.  He continued to go on explaining that many coal jobs had been lost because of this organization.  I told him I was sorry for the loss of jobs and just wanted other people to see this neat operation.  He ended up telling me “I don’t see how any good can come from this” and then to leave. Knowing I wasn’t on public property and he could have called the cops I figured it was best to do as he said.  On the plus side, the discussion bought a few more minutes of taking photos and I pretty much got as much of the location as I wanted.  From seeing the two other abandoned coal tipples the previous day I assume eventually there will be no more active tipples at some point in the future and all that’ll remain of these structures are photos.  This encounter was also by far the most anyone talked to me on the trip.

 

Abandoned Railroad near Drift Kentucky

Abandoned Railroad near Drift Kentucky

From Pikeville I slowly started making my way back home stopping at any place that looked interesting from the road.  I came upon a town named Drift and there was some road that had an interesting name which I no longer remember.  I traveled the muddy road and there were some train tracks next to it.  At one section part of the tracks were missing.  I got out and timelapsed this because I found it fascinating since at one point there must have been so much coal in the area that companies could just lay down railroad tracks and when the coal ran out leave the tracks in place and forget about them. I stopped in another couple of places, shooting some houses on a hill and the downtown of another coal community named Garret before reaching my last random destination of the trip.  From the road there was a sign for a park named Car Creek Dam.

 

Hyperlapse at Carr Creek Dam

Hyperlapse at Carr Creek Dam

A dam sounded pretty cool.  I got a couple shots while there.  One was a motorized move of the dam itself while the other was a hyperlapse of the backside of the dam looking off into the distance.  At the time this roughly 400 foot hyperlapse was the longest one I had pulled off, it’s also the opening of the video.  After packing the gear back into the car it was dark and I had decided it was time to get back and not worry about shooting anymore.  Out of the 39 locations photographed, 37 of them made it into the final video.

 

Driving in eastern Kentucky

Driving in eastern Kentucky

It was a fun but busy and tiring trip.  I had been working on shooting a timelapse video on the city of Louisville the summer beforehand but didn’t have a computer or program capable of processing the photos until a couple months before I started this adventure.  While I was shooting in the summer of 2012 I didn’t really know how any of the shots would turn out so I shot at quicker intervals than I thought I would need.  After processing the footage I found that shooting at each spot for an hour wasn’t really necessary since each clip wouldn’t stay up more than 5 seconds generally.  When I went into the eastern Kentucky project I figured I would have each shot last for roughly 5 seconds and shoot at a spot for around 30 minutes during the day to show a decent passage of time.  Upon looking back at the footage compared to other videos I’ve seen online and the Louisville project that is wrapping up, I’ve found that when there are clouds moving at a decent speed it’s probably better to shoot at a shorter interval between shots and stay at each location for maybe 10 to 15 minutes.  I believe for most of the daytime shots had a delay of 15 to 20 seconds and probably should have had a delay of 5 seconds to smooth out the motion of the clouds.  Overall I’m happy with the project and am glad to have seen where others live, while learning more about timelapses.

Click here for part 1

Click here for part 2