Time Lapse Guru Tom Lowe Q&A

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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
technique?

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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

http://www.facebook.com/tomlowefilmmaker
http://www.facebook.com/DreamcorePictures
http://twitter.com/DreamCorePics

View the TimeScapes trailer!

TimeScapes: Rapture 4K from Tom Lowe on Vimeo.

And they can purchase “TimeScapes” here:
http://timescapes.org/products/default.aspx

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:
http://www.tamrac.com/frame_exp.htm

 

Your Backpack Saved My Camera Gear

We work hard to design bags that are easy to use, last a long time, and protect your valuable camera gear without compromise. Our reward for a job well done are the stories from our customers that are putting our bags to the test day in and day out. Here’s a story we received a few days ago. Enjoy!

Dear Tamrac,

I want to thank you for producing a truly excellent camera backpack. I have an Aero Speed 75, and this past weekend the backpack saved my gear from certain disaster.

Into Infinity

Into Infinity, Sean Goebel

A friend and I decided to shoot a long-abandoned whaling pier located in a rarely-visited strip of coastline north of Santa Cruz, California. After shooting some photos looking down on the pier (see above), we rock climbed down the crumbling 150-ft sandstone cliff to the beach. The small beach behind the pier had steep, loose sand and was choked with rotting kelp.

I had warned my friend of the importance of keeping our backpacks on at all times, but like fools we set them down on the beach 20 feet behind (and 5 feet above) us. I watched several waves slam into the first piling of the pier and set up my 5D Mark II on a tripod for some long exposures. Although the waves came quite close, the beach was so steep that the surge stopped quickly.

Almost my Last Photo Ever

Almost My Last Photo Ever, Sean Geobel

I took one photo (see above) and was recomposing when a freakishly huge wave rolled in. It slammed into the pier, spraying sea water far over my head. I grabbed my tripod, with the camera on it, and spun, shielding it with my body. Suddenly waist-deep in water, I watched in horror as the wave surged over my backpack, spinning it around and flipping it. The backpack contained four lenses, a flash, radio triggers, and assorted other accessories, and I took several steps before being knocked over by the wave. I held the camera above the surface of the water until I could struggle to my feet and dive for the backpack. It had been under the water for several seconds at this point. My tripod case, which was strapped to the outside, had been sucked away.

After running to dry sand, I opened up the backpack and took out all the contents. Although some sea water had penetrated the pack, it was not enough to damage the lenses. We removed them and shook the water out of the backpack. We dried off the lenses as best as we could before repacking everything.

Climbing

Photo by: Simone Anne, www.simoneanne.com

Completely soaked, I began the rock climb back up the cliff face (see above). Although I didn’t get the photos I had in mind, I was lucky that any of my gear had survived. Thank you again for your awesome product. It may claim to be rain resistant, but in my testing it withstood a bit more than that.

Happy shooting,
Sean Goebel

Thanks for sharing your Tamrac story with us, Sean! The photos are awesome and all of us in the office are stoked that your camera gear is safe and sound so you can continue capturing these beautiful images.

Do any of you readers have a Tamrac story of your own? Please feel free to share it in a comment below!

Cheers!