Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Time-lapse Movie Using an iPhone

That time-lapse episode I produced sure clicked something to the "on" position in my head because I can hardly stop thinking about it. Recently I've been tinkering with my iPhone and checking out apps that can accomplish this task; more specifically those that have an intervalometer feature. I also like free stuff and came across two programs, both created by JOBY, called Gorillacam and Frame X Frame.

After playing around with both apps I find myself much more attracted to Gorillacam even if it has been replaced by the newer Frame X Frame. For me the reason is simple, because Gorillacam saves full sized images while Frame X Frame only saves them as puny 512px x 384px files. The iPhone (3GS in my case) may not have a spectacular camera, but using its 3MP images I can create 720P HD videos. Yeay! The quality using those tiny pics was so lacking in my opinion, that I didn't even bother posting that test movie created using Frame By Frame. Boo! :(

Essentially, both apps are more or less identical but I believe there are more sharing options in Frame X Frame versus Gorillacam (like uploading to YouTube, Facebook, etc.). Personally, I like to have flexibility with my work and as such I'd rather have access to the full sized images. As you can see in the video, there's a slow upwards pan done with Premiere which wouldn't have been possible using the smaller files... that is unless I were to resize them which could degrade the video quality or created a movie with dimensions even smaller than those pics. Yuck. But for those individuals who aren't necessarily going for quality but something quick and fun with little hassle, Frame X Frame would suffice I guess.

So my choice will remain Gorillacam and I'm glad the company hasn't taken it down from the iTunes App Store. The interface seems to act a little odd during screen or page transitions, but if it wasn't for my iPhone's depleting battery power, all thousand frames of this movie would have been shot perfectly. Speaking of which, when I tried using Frame X Frame to shoot the time lapse series (saving as images and not directly into a movie file) the app crashed before it reached 300 frames. Not cool if you're shooting time-lapse movies.

I think I'll certainly be creating more time-lapse movies using my iPhone and I'll be more adventurous when selecting the locale. The movie you see below was shot through two glass window panes, hence the slight lack of detail and sharpness, and the view... well that's just looking out towards my backyard, so indeed nothing that spectacular. Although I always find the way the clouds move, evaporate, and appear from seemingly out of clear blue sky quite neat. As for my next Photography with Imre episode, I'm still not too sure what topic I'll be selecting, but there are a few viewer requests I haven't done yet so it's not like I have no choices (but feel free to make a suggestion!). L8r!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Part 2: Time-lapse Photography - Photography with Imre - Episode 36

I couldn't be happier with how the time-lapse episode turned out. There's a lot of information in this show and I also have a few new and expanded details to add in this post. Don't forget to check out the Web Resources section below as well, because there are some really cool and awe inspiring time-lapse flicks to watch, amongst other cool sites to explore on the topic.

In my video I talked a little about intervalometers and the ability to purchase "devices" that can be hooked up to the camera. More specifically, these are essentially "smart" remote cable releases that can be setup to take shots at particular time intervals. Some manufacturers make their own and there are a variety of third party ones available too; click here to see what's on Amazon for example. Since I haven't used any of these, I cannot recommend any models so be sure to do your own research on them.

Many DSLRs can also be tethered to a computer and controlled via software. Again, some manufacturers have an intervalometer feature in their programs, while in other cases you can purchase third party packages. There is a also a third option for the code savvy DIY-ers out there, which is to download a software development toolkit (SDK) from the manufacturer (if available) and program one yourself. I recently downloaded the Olympus SDK and if time permits, I'll be trying my hand at it.

Choosing a Time Interval
The time interval chosen will essentially set the pace for the time-lapse movie. In addition, depending on how long you planned your movie to be, the time interval might also determine how long a period is required to shoot the series of photographs. For example, if one chooses a slow pace for the movie with time intervals spanning two seconds and a movie length of 10 seconds, then at 30 frames per second (fps) one will need a total of 300 frames, so the time-lapse series will take a mere 10 minutes to shoot. On the other hand, let's say you want a time-lapse movie of the sun crossing the sky from rise to set in 10 seconds playback time. Well already you know that'll take a half of a full day to shoot, but let's do the math. Assuming that on this particular day the sun is "up" for 12 hours, here's what we need to know:
  • We already know that a 10 second long movie played back at 30 fps requires 300 frames
  • In 12 hours there 720 minutes (12 * 60 = 720)
  • We can divide the number of minutes by frames to get time interval needed for this shoot. Thus, 720 / 300 = 2.4 minutes between shoots or 144 seconds (or 2 minutes and 24 seconds); that's 25 photos in an hour
One hopes that if you're shooting something this long you can leave the camera safely alone to do it's work, otherwise you might be in for a busy day! Anyway... I'm sure you get the idea in regard to working out how many frames you need; quite simple math really.

But what isn't that simple to determine necessarily is to get the right look for the subject you're shooting. This is why I deliberately varied the time intervals during the city skyline time-lapse movie seen in the show. By doing so, the apparent speed things move at depending on the interval used became fairly visible. For example, at 15 second intervals the clouds drifted noticeably faster across the sky than at 5 or 2.5 seconds. But in my opinion, the subject alone doesn't solely dictate what time span(s) should be used between exposures, because one also has to consider the audience for the video and in many cases the creative aspect. Maybe a producer wants to use a quick time-lapse clip between action scenes in a short film to denote a hectic, frantic pace or feeling of excitement. On the other hand, a short time interval will result in smoother motion and could present a calming or peaceful effect; can also show more detail since things are moving so quickly in a scene. My ultimate suggestion here is to watch many time-lapse movies made by others and see what it invokes you in and then start shooting various subjects to see what you get and like.

Acceleration and Deceleration
I certainly haven't come across many time-lapse videos that use acceleration or deceleration, in other words, most I have seen use a constant time interval between each exposure throughout the whole movie. But nonetheless, when I have come upon it, the effect is quite cool.

Basically there are two major ways to achieve this, one easy, and the other being a bit more involved. The easy method is simply to shoot a time-lapse series with a constant interval and then speed up or slow down the resulting movie in a video editor. That's it. Or there's the more challenging method of varying the time intervals as time passes. Now a question does pop up. Does it make sense to bother varying the time intervals when you can do this without much fuss in an editor? Well perhaps some producers might feel that varying the time intervals keeps the movie "real", while others might believe that it's more cost/time effective to use software. Whatever the case, here's my view which you might find interesting.

If I were to accelerate a portion of a time-lapse movie then I would use a video editor. But for slowing things down to a crawl I would actually shorten the time intervals during shooting. Here's why. When you accelerate a video clip, the software basically drops frames in order to accomplish the effect. Another way of seeing this is that the visual difference between each consecutive frame becomes greater, thus motion will appear faster. If I was shooting a time-lapse series and making time intervals longer between each exposure to speed up the action, the end result will basically be identical because the difference between each consecutive image will be greater just as if the video were to be sped up using an editor. Essentially, I can save some time and effort by using the editor to get the same result.

On the other hand, if you've ever tried to slow down video using an editor, the motion generally becomes choppy or somewhat unnatural even with frame blending or other filters that are supposed to smooth out motion in such cases. This effect occurs because frames are reproduced multiple times in order to get that slow motion look. So to get natural and gradual decrease in speed, I would instead rely on reducing the time interval during the time-lapse shoot. This way, no frames would need to be doubled, tripled or whatever to get a reduction in speed.

The bad part about this is that it requires some planning before the shoot and potentially manual operation. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't know of any intervalometers that can gradually increase or decrease intervals --although for us programming folk, we could tether the cam to a computer and write software to accomplish such a thing. But anyway, this may not be as bad as it sounds and here's a few steps you can follow:
  • Consider how long you want the deceleration to last. Let's use 3 seconds as an example; at 30 fps that would equal 90 frames.
  • This effect usually looks better if it's more in-your-face than subtle, so hopefully the time intervals you're starting with are fairly long. To continue this example, I'll start with 15 second gaps.
  • The next thing to consider is the time interval you are ending with. Let's say... 1 second.
  • In this particular example, we're dropping 14 seconds off our time (15 - 1 = 14 easy). I take the total number of frames, 90 and divide it by 14 which equals 6.4 that I will simply round to 6 to make life easier.
  • What that means is that every 6 frames there will be a 1 second decrease in the time interval between shots. So the interval between frames 1-6 will be 15 seconds, 7-14 will be 14 sec., 15-22 will be 13 sec. ... and so on until you reach frame 90.
This might keep you a bit occupied for a while, but the end result should be a fairly gradual decrease in speed when the movie played back.

Tracking (Moving the Camera During Shooting)
In the show I briefly discussed tracking, a sidewards motion of the camera, and if you check the Web Resources section below you'll find plenty of links to professional and DIY time-lapse dollies and tracks (along with some pretty wicked videos that were created using them; some cinematography terminology links too). You'll probably notice that the videos tend to look more interesting if there are foreground elements fairly close to the camera, as those objects tend to create a stronger sense of depth and motion in the scene; perhaps keep that in mind if you're creating such footage. Maybe someday when I have more time I'll look into either building one of these units myself or getting one if it's not too expensive. And by the way, I'm not affiliated with any manufacturers mentioned here; their websites are posted for further research and information.

Putting it All Together
You might have noticed that I kept the part about putting a time-lapse movie together quite short in the video. If I was to present my version of how to do it, then I would be using Adobe After Effects or Premiere; those employing other packages would have to figure it out on their own anyway... which in my opinion is not very hard. With After Effects and Premiere, all you basically do is import the photos as an image sequence and then drag the clip to wherever you'd like it in the timeline. Then to add some pizazz to the footage one can start applying various other effects like color grading and vignetting or whatever else. Applying those effects are easy... it's using them wisely and creatively that can be more challenging.

I hope you have a lot of fun creating and watching your time-lapse movies. I certainly found a few surprises which I couldn't see when taking the shots, like those construction elevators running up and down the sides of skyscrapers being built and the motion of the crane on top of the building. I have no clue what to do for the next episode and not because I don't have any ideas, but too many! So perhaps I'll put it out to a vote on Facebook. L8r!

Web Resources
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d1japIhKU9I - Great video on various filmmaking techniques

Monday, May 2, 2011

Part 2: Photo Copyright Protection Tips - Photography with Imre - Episode 35

Perhaps the episode on copyright protection tips isn't the most visual, but for those not familiar with the various ways to protect the copyright on your images displayed online, this show was a good primer. In this post I'll just be adding new material not in the video.

Before moving on and just like I pointed out in the show, I am not a lawyer or legal expert, so to be properly informed you should consult with a qualified intellectual property lawyer or legal expert in your area. Copyright laws usually differ depending on where you live, so keep that in mind as well.

Additional Thoughts about Digital Watermarking
In the video I simply stated that using a digital watermark on your photographs is basically your choice; indeed it is. But many of you still might not be sure which type of watermarking, if any, you should utilize or would be best for you. So here are some additional considerations you could take into account:

No watermark: If you are purest and like to show off your photos without any potentially distracting markings, then this is the choice for you. Obviously, the copyright of the image is still yours whether you have the notice there or not, and usually most people have text under the photo or on a legal page explicitly declaring the material is copyright and may not be reproduced without written permission. Those who might take your material without consent won't have much difficultly as there are no markings to remove, so I would recommend keeping the images at a fairly small size; this makes them more or less unsuitable for print reproduction at the least.

Visible watermarks: If you've seen any of my photos, you'll see this is the variety of watermark I use. Specifically, I keep the copyright symbol, my name and address of my YouTube channel in one of the corners of the image at a readable but not very intrusive size. Although I don't want my material used without my permission, I take the approach that I'd rather not hide my shots behind what could be a very distracting message. In addition, my name and web address does promote me and my work, so you could consider putting your own web addy or company name on the photo. The only thing to keep in mind about this is that if you are sharing your pictures on various websites, some guidelines may prohibit you from using them, but I've personally found this to be fairly rare.

And as seen in the video, if you're more concerned about your work being stolen, you could use a larger water that is faded across the image. This certainly hides more of your work, but it's also considerable more difficult to remove without damaging the photo.

Hidden watermarks: These sneaky methods of incorporating your mark could be used if you feel such a measure is necessary to protect your work, and allows you to use methods to prove the images are indeed yours. There are a few software companies that create such software and there are a couple of DIY methods too. I personally have mixed feelings on this. On one hand, I can't find anything "wrong" with doing this and it could be advantageous in various cases to prove the image(s) is/are yours. On the other hand, if someone in some far off country steals your photos then you're more or less out of luck unless you have lots of cash to burn just to take down a pic or two (even other methods can't really help in those cases). But I have a feeling that larger stock photo companies might employ this method; these organizations generally not only have the money, but several offices in various countries making it easier to handle such problems.

A Little More on Photo Sharing Websites
There's not a lot more I want to add in this section, but it's worth mentioning that not all of us want to be so strict with our photos. If you're open to sharing under some circumstances, some sites like Flickr allow you to change the copyright status on your photos. Notably, you can select a Creative Commons license, and you can read more about it by clicking that link (or in the Web Resources section below).

For some photographers, a major benefit to allowing others to reproduce and use their work is to gain exposure (no pun intended). Keep in mind, there are literally hundreds of millions of photos on the World Wide Web and many of those pictures are can be quite alike. So imagine this. A major advertising firm comes along and sees your photo, but notices the strict copyright. They see another photographer's image that basically looks the same but there is a less restrictive license on it; one that would allow them legal and easy use of the picture. The firm selects the other photographer's shot, gives him/her credit and that photographer just might see a little increase in business. It's something I'm personally considering because it's not like my shots are making much money unfortunately and more exposure (no pun intended again) would be nice. Hmm...

Copyright Protection Methods if Building Your Own Website
If you've decided to take the approach of displaying and even selling your photos on your own website, here are a few of my thoughts on that matter:

  • As mentioned in the video, you can still employ the tactics of adding watermarks if you wish and even embed your copyright info into the files. Also consider keeping the original image files off of the website unless there's a good reason to have them online and keep the previews around 1MP in size (about 1,000 pixels wide or high, whichever is greater).
  • Often times a copyright note, separate from the one on the image, is displayed under or somewhere near the photo. I also recommend adding a copyright notice on a legal page for example.
  • Although not foolproof, you could disable right-clicking via JavaScript, or there are some clever ways of using CSS and placing images on the background. But always keep in mind that if you can see an image, graphic, photo, or almost anything else on a website, there are ways of saving/copying that material.
  • Again, not foolproof, but the gallery could be created in Flash. This does bring up some issues though such as the potential difficultly/cost involved in creating one and compatibility with some mobile phones.

And that more or less sums it up. In the next few days I'll be working hard on the time-lapse post. L8r!

Web Resources