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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Yosemite Range of Light

Shawn Reeder’s masterful time-lapse explores Yosemite National Park

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Shawn Reeder, a photographer, filmmaker and musician based in the magical nexus between the majesty of the Sierras and the expansive grandeur of Yosemite, recently completed an engaging time-lapse project called "Yosemite Range of Light." At just under five minutes, the film is comprised of nearly 7,000 still images that took the self-dubbed "destination visual artist" more than two years of shooting and editing to piece together. The gorgeous project quickly went viral once posted online, bringing Reeder's website and portfolio a large degree of attention from the media, fans and peers alike.

"Time-lapse has been a wonderful evolution for me," Reeder explains about his love for this specialized art form, "and it has given me a whole new set of tools to share the power and beauty of nature. I love how it gives a sense of altered reality, a lot like slow-motion photography. They both change our perception of time, which I find fascinating. And there's no question that beautiful photography coupled with moving music elicits an emotional response far greater than just imagery or music conveys on its own. That synergy gives film a special place among artistic mediums, and the rise in a popularity and acceptance of short films via the Internet has opened up so many opportunities for people to share their work and inspire others.

"When I first started shooting time-lapse, instantly, I had a vision for a piece that showed the inter-connectedness between Yosemite and the High and Eastern Sierra—the Range of Light," he continues about the project. "Living in one of the most beautiful places in the world, here in California's Eastern Sierra, is a landscape photographer's dream. It gives me great access to Yosemite, King's Canyon, Sequoia and Death Valley National Parks. They're all within 90 minutes, not to mention the bristlecone pines and Mono Lake."

Time-lapse is a hybrid art form that combines the best of cinema, principally motion, with the benefits of high-resolution still photography. Though most sequences will last from seconds to at the most a few minutes, each scene will require hundreds of stills to piece together a fluid sequence. A time-lapse sequence of 1,000 frames will measure in at a bit above 40 seconds in total length when using a standard 24 fps frame rate for the final video. But the process is actually a lot simpler than many people think it is. Most of the processes behind stitching together the individual frames that make up a time-lapse are automatic as long as you have a tripod, a DSLR and a way to stagger your shutter-release intervals, either physically through a basic intervalometer or digitally through software. Much like video, still shooters will find that the most difficult aspects to time-lapse is learning how to successfully use motion, as well as learning the math behind converting stills to video.

To showcase the power of motion, Reeder employed a number of visual tools like pans, sweeps, tilts and zooms that he was able to achieve through the use of programmable time-lapse equipment. Because a large degree of the film was taken at night, Reeder naturally used slow shutter speeds for taking stills. Referred to as "dragging the shutter," a slower shutter speed during time-lapse will provide more natural cinematic movement when the stills are combined into a sequence later. Deciding on which shutter speed is best for your project ultimately will depend on taste. You want it to be fast enough to capture detail, but not too fast because then subjects can be too sharp with crisp details that make movement seem more like quick cuts rather than a long, extended take. Neutral-density filters will give you more control over shutter speeds when working in bright light.

Many time-lapse photographers use longer intervals between shots to save on memory card capacity, but Reeder chooses to use shorter intervals of one to three seconds between each programmed shutter release so the motion is fluid between shots. It also gives him more leverage for speeding up the film during editing by dropping frames as needed. Alternatively, if you have a final video length in mind, you can plan exactly how many shots you want and the interval needed between exposures. The formula is Interval = Total Video Length in Seconds/Frame Rate in Frames Per Second. So a 30-minute sequence (1,800 seconds) played back at a typical frame rate of 24 frames per second (fps) would require an exposure taken every 75 seconds. If you wanted your interval, in this case, to be much shorter, let's say five seconds, then a shot taken every five seconds and stitched together into a 24 fps sequence would produce an extremely long sequence at 450 minutes.


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