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.