Friday, September 16, 2011

Time-lapse of Mammatus Clouds - Part 2

Well this blog post is certainly overdue so I'll get right to it!

First off, I never intended to create a time-lapse movie of the thunderstorm that passed by on that warm mid-summer evening. Instead, I just wanted to take a few snapshots of the mammatus clouds which often form on the trailing edge of such storms. But after taking a few pictures it dawned on me that scene would make for an interesting time-lapse movie. The bad part about this situation was that the system was moving quite quickly and by the time I would have lugged out my tripod, placed my camera on it and started shooting, a fairly large portion of this storm would have moved beyond my humble line of sight in my backyard. So to heck with it I figured and I ended up hand-holding the camera for several minutes and ended up with four seconds worth of footage, a total of 120 frames --frames were two seconds apart.

Now if you viewed the video, you might have noticed that it seems quite steady; in other words not much shaky cam going on. Unfortunately that's not due to my incredible ability to stay completely still, but in fact good'ol Adobe After Effects and its stabilizer plug-in. It takes a brief minute or two to "run" the filter and voila, steady playback as if one had used a tripod. Honestly, although I really love that plug-in I would still prefer to use a tripod. For one, the filter would not need to be run which would save a little time and two, even though the video looks quite smooth, I'm certain there would be some minor improvement over the filtered version (looking carefully you can see just a little jittery movement once in a while).

And by now you are probably thinking that the pans in the video were also produced with After Effects. Well you'd be completely wrong! Just kidding. Yes, no big surprises there. Unlike the stabilization filter, I personally wouldn't for a second not consider using digital panning. I not only enjoy how smooth the result is, but also how the motion can be accelerated and decelerated into the pan, along with having the ability to create much more complex motion paths through the scene (that is to say, not just a linear route from point A to B but rather a twisting curve).

If you feel like experimenting with this type of pan, I can recommend a few things before you begin. As with the production of almost any type of movie, plan out what you will be shooting. Let's take for example a time-lapse of a ship harbor with a busy port in the foreground. Once you're at the location frame your scene and consider carefully the motion that may be pleasing. Perhaps you might start up close to capture the action of people docking a ship, then pan upwards and towards a large crane, finally panning to the right and zooming out to reveal the whole scene. Keeping your shot or framing wide will capture a great deal of action at once and resolution is generally not a concern as even an entry-level DSLR will provide more than enough pixels to roam around in, even if you choose not to increase the stills size to 100% during the editing.

In addition, I thought I'd make clear that I'm not against panning with a tripod or even something more sophisticated. I'm a huge fan of digital technologies, but there's just that something you can feel when you detect a hint of human behind the scenes (even if it's a stepper motor controller panning the camera, just feels more "real" in some ways; that unsteadiness in the footage that rears up briefly). Anyway, whichever method you choose I hope you have fun with it and come up with some great material.

I do have another episode in the planning stages on the topic of creating panoramas. I hope to get around to it soon and I have a fantastic idea for presenting it, but you'll have to wait and see what that is! No hints this time! ;) So off I run... I go to bed so late some days that I think I can get away with saying it's very early at 10:30pm. Yikes! L8r!