The Astronomy Photographer of the Year award winning image which features features a 4,000 year old bristlecone pine tree against the Milky Way. This photo is actually a single frame of time laps footage featured in Tom’s film TimeScapes.
Recently we caught up with Tom Lowe, time lapse photography guru, to pick his brain about his technique, gear, and adventures! If you’re not familiar with Tom’s work, you should be! Tom and his production company Dreamcore were instrumental in the resurgence of time-lapse photography by pioneering new techniques and designing motorized time-lapse dollies and motion-control systems for capturing the mesmerizing visuals that define the genre. He is also working on bringing like-minded creatives together through his online community forum at TimeScapes.org.
Tamrac: You have done some impressive work with time lapse photography. What is it about time lapse photography that has drawn you to this
Tom: The main draw for me was the ability to film at night, capturing the stars and the moonlight. You simply cannot do that with conventional movie cameras or techniques. Second, time lapse is a great way to get into film making, because the gear is relatively inexpensive. When I first started in late 2006, using a $600 Canon 350D Rebel, I was able to shoot incredibly sharp 1080p+ video that totally blew away the images from Sony’s top-of-the-line, $200,000 F900 digital movie camera.
Director, Cinematographer, Editor, Producer, Tom Lowe
Tamrac: Your film TimeScapes [view the trailer at the end of this post] showcases your stunning time lapse photography work and is the first film to be released for purchase in 4K. Along with pushing the boundaries of distribution, what are some of the boundaries of the time lapse technique that the process of making this film gave you the opportunity to push?
Tom: Without question, no film has ever contained anywhere near the amount of dark-skies (Milky Way) astro-time-lapse that “TimeScapes” has. Director Ron Fricke and producer Mark Magidson’s 1992 film “Baraka” was and remains a huge inspiration to me, but they were limited in what they could shoot at night due to the low ISO/ASA rating of chemical 65mm film. Basically, they could only shoot in moonlight, but they could not capture the Milky Way. The higher sensitivity of digital cameras, especially when coupled with modern cinema and stills lenses, also allowed me to really push the boundaries of how time lapse cameras can move. Instead of just using dollies, sliders and jibs, I was shooting astro-timelapse from moving cars and boats.
Tom attaching his camera to the windshield of his truck.
Tamrac: TimeScapes took you 2 years to film during which you spent 250 nights sleeping outside under the stars as your cameras shot through till morning. Do you have any funny/interesting stories you’d like to share that happened on your two year adventure?
Life of a time lapse shooter. Members of the Dreamcore team, Ben and Mike, camping out on an unfinished tower in Dubai
Tom: Well, let’s put it this way. Aside from gas and food, our largest line item production expense on “TimeScapes” was… beer! At Dreamcore, our motto is “Film like Terrence Malick, Party like Led Zepplin.” So we had hundreds of epic nights blasting dubstep at
all-night bonfire parties in some of the most spectacular landscapes on Earth.
Location scouting and camping under the stars in Yemen.
Tamrac: What kind of cameras and lenses are you using to capture these images?
Tom: Our main camera on “TimeScapes” was a Canon 5D Mark 2, with a Canon 16-35mm lens. That is a timelapse workhorse combination. But we also used a special, modified Canon 1D4 camera with a PL mount, which allowed us to use the 1D4 with the super-fast 16mm f/1.2 Zeiss/Arri Master Prime 16mm lens. Without the Master Prime, I simply would not have been able to successfully film the “astro boatlapse” sequence at Lake Powell, for example.
Getting ready to shoot with his Canon and Optimo combo in Dubai.
Tamrac: What kind of equipment are you using to get such fluid camera motion?
Tom: I used Kessler and camBLOCK motion-control gear on “TimeScapes.” We actually invented some new rigs while shooting as well, like the Kessler “Timelapse Crane” setup. That piece of gear was spawned from an informal phone conversation I had one morning with Eric Kessler.
Sunset time lapse with the Kessler Crane CineDrive motion control system in Jordan.
Tamrac: You sent us a really cool picture of a number of Expedition backpacks piled in the back of an SUV getting ready for a shoot. So how many Expeditions are you using for all your gear and what is it that you like about your Expedition backpacks?
Loaded up with Expedition 9x after Expedition 9x.
Tom: Haha, we probably have 15 or 20 Tamrac Expedition 9x bags. The 9x is our main method for moving gear around, whether we are talking about motion-control kits, lighting, or cameras. We actually keep our Red Epics totally built inside the 9x… that’s one of the main reasons I love it, because I hate disassembling cameras.
Packing up the Expedition 9x’s for a shoot.
Tamrac: What are some words of wisdom you might share for someone interested in trying time lapse photography for the first time?
Tom: If you really want to become a great time lapse photographer, it’s not patience that you need, it’s dedication. It’s easy to pass time while the camera clicks away, but it’s hard to get your ass up at 3am in the freezing cold and move a camera dolly up the side of a mountain. Dedication is the key.
Tamrac: How can people find out more about you and your work, and keep up with what you’re doing?
Tom: They can follow me at
View the TimeScapes trailer!
TimeScapes: Rapture 4K from Tom Lowe on Vimeo.
And they can purchase “TimeScapes” here:
Thanks so much to Tom Lowe and his crew at Dreamcore for answering our questions! We’re excited to see what you guys will come out with next!
For more information on the Expedition 9x backpacks. Check them out here: