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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Landscapes In Motion

Take your movie clips and time-lapse projects using these professional techniques and tools

Labels: Gear
This Article Features Photo Zoom

This frame from "Magical New Zealand" is taken from the middle of a camera move. The slow rise of the camera contrasts beautifully with the fast-moving clouds.

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Although landscapes are fundamentally static, many nature photographers are discovering that you can use today's sophisticated DSLR technology to create breathtaking motion projects. A few years ago, time-lapse projects began showing up on YouTube and Vimeo, and intrepid engineers popped up on forums and eBay selling intervalometers that allowed a photographer to set up a shot and program the camera to take a prescribed sequence. Major manufacturers also made remotes with intervalometer capabilities, and several DSLRs came out with the function built in, which further simplified the process of image capture and automatic time-lapse creation. Like so many aspects of photography and filmmaking, what started as a niche endeavor developed by dedicated enthusiasts in the quiet confines of little-known Internet forums quickly went mainstream.

Simultaneously, DSLRs with HD video capture functionality came on with a rush. Certainly, video cameras had been around for decades, and anyone who wanted to embark on motion projects had access to tools that could do the job. But with HD video DSLRs (HDSLRs), a couple of things changed. First, still and motion capability was in a single camera. Second, the image quality was incredibly good. Consumer-level camcorders were good, but the look of footage coming off a Canon EOS 5D Mark II was a revelation. And, third, the process of getting the motion footage into the computer for editing was relatively familiar to most photographers and it didn't require any additional hardware. Once in the computer, there was a considerable learning curve in getting to know the editing process, but if you were interested, it was certainly something you could learn, with plenty of resources to help.

So that brings us to where we are today.

Shawn Reeder's "Magical New Zealand" shows some incredible camera movement footage. You can see it at OPTV in the OP Daily Blog section.
At first blush, landscape photography seems like a poor fit for motion, but when you look a little deeper, you begin to sense the extraordinary opportunities for showing a landscape. How many times have you set up a camera in predawn quiet and watched patiently as the sky slowly changed, ultimately revealing the scene that you previsualized? You take the photo, then pack up and move along. What's less obvious is how that entire exercise was really a perfect motion project. Motion capture doesn't have to be limited to a sprinting gazelle or a surfer catching a tube. Motion capture is ideal for recording the way light changes a landscape. A multi-hour time-lapse that reduces a day of cloud formation into a few dramatic seconds of wild skies or a real-time clip of a waterfall tumbling over a cliff are examples of scenes that single still frames can't adequately capture. But modern HDSLRs give you a much more powerful tool for telling those stories.

As you get into motion, whether it's time-lapse or standard movie shooting, your first projects are probably going to be pretty static. You'll be dealing with enough technology just getting the camera settings dialed in and learning how to handle focus and exposure properly. At this stage, keeping the camera anchored to a sturdy tripod is fine. You can try doing some simple pans (side to side) or tilts (up and down), but don't go too crazy until you're feeling comfortable with all of your camera settings and handling the files in the computer. Motion capture can be frustrating when it doesn't go right, so take your time to increase your chances for success.

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Once you're comfortable with the fundamentals of motion capture, it's time to kick things up a notch. That's where we add motion to the motion.

If you've spent anytime watching the time-lapse films on OPTV (www.outdoorphotographer.com/blog), you've probably noticed that the camera is seldom stationary. Unlike regular pans and tilts where the camera is pivoting from its anchor point on a tripod, the sophisticated moves you see in the work of Shawn Reeder, Tom Lowe and others isn't a pivot; it's an actual slide or lift. These moves are achieved with a slider or a jib.


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