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An Experience – The Bay Bridge Time lapse Photography

In Photography on June 21, 2011 by shsmani Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

We had just completed another round of shooting in San Francisco around places like Golden Gate Bridge, Treasure Island, Hwy 280, Lombard Street (which you can check out here) and were driving back home. We were driving through the bay bridge discussing that enough has been captured of the bridges in San Francisco from various different perspectives and it was time to do something different. Something more intensive, interesting and the output should be way different from what of was done before.

That is when it occurred to me that I should try my hands at Time lapse photography. I had immediately decided that I would indeed do time lapse photography. So my friend pops up the question, what is this time lapse? Well, I explained what I had read in Wikipedia, this is what it said..

Time-lapse photography is a cinematography technique whereby the frequency at which film frames are captured (the frame rate) is much lower than that which will be used to play the sequence back. When replayed at normal speed, time appears to be moving faster and thus lapsing. For example, an image of a scene may be captured once every second, and then played back at 30 frames per second; the result would be an apparent increase of speed by 30 times. Time-lapse photography can be considered to be the opposite of high speed photography.

What was left to be decided is only when and where would I do this?

While we had a number of locations in mind that we had previously scouted, we were keen to do something with Bay Bridge in it, since it has the San Francisco downtown as its backdrop. We knew the only place where we could locate a spot like that would be on the Treasure Island. Treasure Island was not just a private area, it was also a federal establishment, since there was a naval base out there. We did not want to risk straying into unwanted territory and get ourselves into trouble.

Treasure Island Map

We spent hours on Google without much luck. Then we pulled up the Google map and tried to see if there was any place that would give an amazing view of the bay bridge with the SFO sky line in the background. The map did show a couple of spots which might work. However there was this construction of the new Bay bridge which was in progress which more or less closed down the spots we had zeroed in on. We then decided that we will go the following Friday evening to scout for locations. If anything works out, we will return the following day to carry out the actual shoot.

In the meanwhile, I had to ensure I had all the necessary gear to ensure the shoot proceeded as thought. I figured out one important gear was still missing, that is the interval-o-meter. Interval-o-meter is the device used to automate firing of the shots from a camera in a preset interval. While in the past I had used Nikon camera pro software, coupled with a laptop and connecting cable, it proved too much of a hassle and too much to take care of on a dark night at a place which I still don’t know anything about. So I got back to our savior “Google”. After a lot of digging in and a lot of second thought and consideration, I took some risk and went in for this generic interval-o-meter. Well, this thing never had a proper review, but after some deep digging, I figured out it is the same product as several others, except for the nameplate. I was easily saving anywhere between $20-$70 bucks. I took the risk and amazoned it.

I am of the firm opinion that higher price does not always translate to higher quality, so except for the camera and the glass, everything else is carefully selected to give good value for money. While there are a number of tripods running into hundreds of dollars, I picked up a sub $50 tripod back in 2008 and I am very happy with my purchase. Same is the case with the rain cover and a number of other gear in my camera bag. Thankfully, so far those stuff have been working fine and I have no qualms.

Camera Gear used:

  • Nikon D90 dSLR Camera – The ultimate in camera body.
  • Nikon 18-105mm VR lens – the versatile Glass for most occasions.
  • Sturdy Tripod Stand – Anything that is sturdy enough to take wind speeds up to 30 mph.
  • Rain cover for the camera and lens – Essential since you never know when it is going to rain in the bay area.
  • Interval-o-meter – To automate photo taking every few seconds (basis of time lapse).
  • Cleaning Kit – To defog the glass, again a must have in the bay area.
  • High speed and Large capacity memory cards – since the camera is going to chunk out about 60 images per minute, each of it of the highest JPEG quality possible.
  • Fully charged batteries with as much backup juice as possible.

Amazon site showed that it is not expected to be delivered until the following Monday, a week in which heavy rains were predicted. But then, Amazon never ceases to surprise you. On Thursday evening, I noticed the voicemail lamp blinking on my phone, checked up at the front desk only to find out the interval-o-meter had arrived early.. woo hoo! I called up my friend and decided that we would leave work early the next day and try our luck with the time lapse photography. So again we were on the bay bridge driving towards treasure island discussing the possible outcomes of tonight’s adventure. We took the exit off bay bridge towards treasure island and from that instant on were scanning left and right for the right spot, only to get honked by fellow drivers slowed down by our enthusiasm to find a spot. We had to move on, we then took the right towards the Naval Base and wandered back and forth for about 45 minutes without much luck. I was also ready to pay fine for parking the car in unallocated spaces. But then nothing was getting us the view that we had envisioned.

We had almost given up, since the light was falling off quickly now, but my GPS (Nokia N95 8GB phone) had not given up, it kept spelling out instructions to nowhere (or so it appeared to us). We decided that as a last try we will follow the GPS. We got back into the car and drove as the GPS instructed only to find a small road to the right, we did take it with a lot of speculation, but then voila.. there it was. It was truly a breathtaking view, straight out of a holly wood movie. There was only one problem left, parking the car. We just pulled over onto the dirt surface, and parked the car along the slope, it was delicately hanging in there, but who cared about a rental car? More so when the view in front of us was mesmerizing at the least to worry about anything else. GPS photo

I set up the gear quickly, fired out some test shots, adjusted the camera settings and set off the interval-o-meter and relaxed a bit. But then, this was just beginning and over the course of the next 90 minutes or so, I was checking in on the light every few minutes to ensure that it was not getting too dark.  This was the first time I was trying a proper time lapse photography and few minutes into the shoot, I realized that I had chosen a very tricky subject. With light changing every minute, it was getting very difficult to control the exposures and I was concerned how the final results would be. Because every time I increase the EV value, the scene gets brighter than the previous shot, whereas the expectation is in dusk the video should progressively darken out. Nevertheless, I kept aggressively changing the settings to compensate for the deteriorating light conditions. Thankfully, it appears those changes helped and though the final video does have some flicker and shakes, the video did come out decent enough. More on the settings and time lapse photography techniques in another blog.

In the meantime, we setup my friend’s camera to take some long exposure shots and try out various different experiments. I must mention this about him, he was absolutely patient and supportive not just that evening but on previous occasions and the following morning when we shot another time lapse of the sunrise from Twin peaks. Thanks Saurabh! You were awesome company!

Oh well what an evening it had been, while we are yet to ingest the awesome view that we have in front of us, we saw 2 guys walking towards us, our hearts were pounding wondering if those 2 were cops. Thank god, they were just fellow photographers, trying to get a view of the city. Understanding they were, they never came anywhere close to our setup knowing that we were working on a time lapse. And yeah, we did end up without getting copped.

Having a very clear sky, we did not end our day here, we proceeded to Twin peaks, to do some panoramic shots, then proceeded to have dinner at New Delhi Restaurant and then returned to Treasure Island on the way back to do more shots of the Bay Bridge and San Francisco downtown skyline.

I wanted to do something more than just a timelapse video, that is when I put together the following image. I selected about 9 images from about 4000+ images, depicting each 10 minute period of the total 90 minute period. Picked up portions of the image and stitched them together to make the final image has seen here. I have to admit, that this is not a completely original idea and I have seen something similar elsewhere, I am just glad that it came back to me at the right time and I was able to put it together neat and clean.

Baybridge Timelapse

There is no end to the joy provided by San Francisco to the eager residents and visitors alike. There are endless possibilities and opportunities to photograph and each day is a different experience in itself. Hope I get more opportunities to visit this great city and capture such marvelous sights through my lens.

Hope you enjoyed reading and watching. Here are few more of my time lapse and motion stop photography. All of these videos are in HD, please make sure you choose the HD quality.

Here is the Bay bridge Time lapse Video:

Here is the sunrise from Twin peaks, that we shot the following day:

And finally, a different attempt. This time a Motion stop photography, on I880 Northbound on the way to work.

Thanks for watching and do drop in your comments below.