Time-Lapse Technique

In 2012 I purchased a new flash for my SX1 camera. The flash was the best one Canon made at the time so it was a bit pricey but I wanted the brightest flash on the market to help me fill-in the Florida sun so I decided to invest in my system and I purchased a Canon 580. I’m glad I did because while using it I happened to innovate, new to me anyway, a new way of capturing long version photo sequences and a process for editing them back together to make a movie-like visual stream.

Most wildlife photographers I know, any class pro or amateur – me included, don’t usually take a single shot photo anymore, we take a burst of shots “sports settings” to try to capture the right moment of the subject as it happens before our lens. Photographers all feel that we increase our “luck” of getting the single “best” shot by capturing more images in a sequence of the live event unfolding before us. Some of us, not me included, purchase cameras based on how many frames the camera will capture in one batch; I prefer a high quality picture and slower capture rate.

One spectacular day I was shooting at Green Cay Wetlands Preserve in Delray Beach, Florida. I had my tripod, an outrigger camera head to enable my camera to hang over the side of the boardwalk to shoot and I was sporting my brand new, high-powered flash, to help me “fill” the darker areas of any scene that happened to be in front of the lens. I remember that I had manually programmed the flash at 1/8 power so it would fill dark areas and not just blast the subject into white space.

After a couple of test shots here and a couple of shots there I quickly got the hang of how the flash reacted with the camera in broad Florida daylight. The 1/8 manual set power wasn’t enough so I increased the power to 1/4 power which resulted in a little better fill.

Part way around the boardwalk I spotted an American Bittern in the reeds beside the boardwalk so I set up shop and started clicking a few pictures just to see how the camera & flash combination was working. After a quick photo review I knew that the settings were mostly OK to shoot at this distance, in this light, with the camera settings. Even shooting in the wild you have to test your settings.

The images of the American Bittern were pretty nice, clear and well-lit, thanks to the new flash. About the time I was taking my last couple shots of the Bittern I noticed a snake slowly moving through the water just inches from the feet of the Bittern so instead of taking the rig apart to move on, I poised myself for the possibility that the Bittern would see the snake and slurp him up like a thread of spaghetti; I have seen other Herons do that over the years. I was ready for and expected to capture maybe a dozen pictures should that actually happen right in front of my eyes. I’m ready.

It’s always awesome when nature takes its own course, does its own thing and exceeds your highest expectations. This time nature pulled out all the stops.

I watched the snake start to slither past Charlie, the Bittern, but he saw the snake out of the corner of his eye and, with one swift swishing motion, he reached out and grabbed the snake and started to pull him with his strong neck. Even though I was ready, I wasn’t quite quick enough so I missed some of the beginning excitement.

Well, the snake decided he wasn’t about to be dinner so he immediately wrapped around the stick where Charlie was standing … and he tied himself into a knot. He wrapped himself…… (spoiler, watch the video)

Well, during a single “sequence” shot, after taking over 1200 single HD photos completely fill lighted with a new Canon 580 flash at 1/4 power there was a victor, you and me. The truly amazing thing about this sequence is that the storage chip kept up with the shooting speed of the camera (shooting full-def .jpg only at that time, not RAW) the camera hesitated only a couple of seconds every minute or so to catch up recording and the flash fired over 1200 times to give the little fill kicker light providing a clear look at the action happening in the shadows of the reeds below. This photo sequence capture time was between 15 and 20 minutes during a single press on the camera’s photo take button, my hand actually got cramped while shooting and I had to switch hands.

What a sequence! It’s the longest I’ve ever taken in one continuous burst.

Below is a playlist of time-lapse style videos I’ve taken and produced in the past 3 years since I shot Charlie and the snake. If you are viewing this on a large HD screen then you may enjoy clicking them to full screen to see the cool 720 or 1080 image detail.

The video above is the production I created using those captured images. I developed a process where each shot was roughly 1/2 second in length with a  4 frame overlap dissolve to the next picture. I used SONY Vega software to produce the stream and I used music I have licensed for such productions.

Nature, how cool is it to be able to capture nature like this? I shot film and video professionally since I was 18 years old but I never experimented like this until I had a surprise opportunity to  capture Charley the American Bittern having his dinner one evening at Green Cay. Who would have thought?

Jon-Mark Davey 2015 Music Licensed to Davey Digital

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