a Road Trip Timelapse

Well, the Holiday Season is finally here, I have been so busy the last few weeks that they have absolutely FLOWN by.  I have been updating all sorts of things here on my blog, on my website, www.dswalecphoto.com, and on another site that I have been setting up for a project in 2012.  For now, I wanted to let you know that time-lapse videos that I have created throughout the last few years are finally up on my site… (with a few more from last years SHREK tour hopefully still be posted in the upcoming weeks.)  The highlight of the time-lapse video’s is of the trip that I have been blogging about in my past 2 posts.  Check the video out at the bottom of this post, and Happy Holidays!

As I have said in my past two posts, at the end of this past summer, I embarked on a road trip with two friends from Los Angeles, CA to New York City.

We took 13 days to drive over 4000 miles, zig-zagging our way from coast to coast, stopping to camp and check out some amazing sights along the way.  I decided early on in the planning stages, a few months before we set out on our journey that I wanted to capture it in an interesting and unique way.  Somehow I wanted to document the trip from beginning to end.  The idea of doing a time-lapse video to document the journey started to build into something that could be possible as I continued to compile more and more time-lapse recordings throughout the Shrek Tour.

Time-lapse seems to be a relatively simple concept to me now.  Having done quite a few videos of the setup and tear down of a few different shows as well as a few other projects in the past 5 or so years, I have become relatively confident clamping my camera on to something, setting a timer and walking away for days or weeks at a time.  Something that I had not become accustom to is the idea of clamping my camera down to a moving vehicle and driving it across the country.  To be honest, even after completing the drive without incident, the idea still bothers me a bit.  After doing some online research I began to realize that the idea of time-lapsing our journey wasn’t that big of a stretch.  Lots of people seem to do it every year.  Problem being that they all seem to do it with inexpensive cameras, or cameras that are mounted on the dash safely inside their windshield…


If I was going to undertake the task of driving across the country, and wanted to document it through time-lapse, I decided I was going to do it with my current camera gear.  That meant a Nikon D700 and the Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 lens.  After going through a few ideas about using suction cup mounts rigged with arms and these cool things called ‘cheese plates’ from the motion picture industry to rig the camera on top of the car, I kept picturing the suction cup letting go and seeing the $4,700.00 camera and lens combination bouncing across the highway in the rear view mirror.  Between these thoughts of the camera flying off, and the idea of what a rogue stone would do to my poor wide angle lens, I decided a case or housing of some sort was a necessity if this project were to become a reality.

After doing some more online research into the commercial field of time-lapse recording, I realized that there are commercial niche photographers out there that seem to do nothing more than time-lapse recordings of construction projects, commercial demolition projects, and anything else that their clients want to have documented over time.  I found a company, harbortronics (www.harbortronics.com), that specializes in selling weather resistant time-lapse systems, and their components.  Deciding that buying their housing and mounting it to a pole (like a customer posted in one of their sample videos on their website) seemed way to easy to me…

Over the course of the last month of the Shrek Tour I brainstormed and with the help of Mark at harbortronics.com, I came up with a plan for my enclosure.  It would be based around a pelican brand watertight protective case, (bright yellow just incase it were to fly off the roof) in which I would cut a window and seal a piece of plexiglass on to.  The camera would mount to a Really Right Stuff quick release plate that works with my current camera mounting system, and would be triggered by my Nikon MC-36 remote.  The only things that I had left to deal with were the method of mounting this case to the roof, and the issue of power to the camera.

I knew that the roof rack to mount the case to would be the last piece of the puzzle, as it was going on a rental car, and we wouldn’t know what that vehicle was until two days before our departure.  I did my research, and once we chose our car, I was able to find the last mounting kit in the greater Los Angeles area for the 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan.  (after trips to three stores).  I spent the morning of August 3rd in the roof-top parking lot of the Hollywood Home Depot perched atop a minivan bolting a bright yellow case to the roof rack.  I am still amazed no security guards bothered me that morning.  So, the housing is mounted hours before our scheduled departure, and the camera is installed and firing away as I finish some last minute errands in Hollywood.

As annoying as it was putting off the roof rack mounting until the final days before departure, power proved to be the reoccurring issue throughout the trip.  As we planned, I knew there were times when I would not be able to rely on being able to charge the battery for my D700 overnight.  While I did have 3 batteries to rotate through the camera when we began the trip, I was not sure how long those would last.  After researching a bit with harbortronics, I opted to mount two 5w solar panels to the top of the case.  Using their solar charger, I used these two panels to charge their two 11.1v 9Ah batteries wired to their Battery Converter circuitry to step the voltage down to one that my camera would run on.  After all of that, I continued to lose power mid-day to the camera, and came to the conclusion that there just wasn’t enough direct sunlight to power the camera while taking close to 4000 photos I was hoping to take in an 18 hour day.  With the addition of a very long cigarette lighter adaptor, I ended up plugging the battery converter (and therefore the (2) batteries and my camera) into our van’s 12v DC power port to supplement the need for added power up atop the van.

I hope this gives a bit of an idea as to what went into capturing this drive.

Throughout the last 6 months, I have spent hours at my computer as it animated the 30,000+ images into movie clips consisting of 30 images each second.  I then sped those movie clips up to anywhere from 2x to 20x of their original speed in Apple’s Final Cut Pro software.  Once I had completed editing out the gas stations, rest areas, wrong turns, days in which the van wasn’t moving, and smoothing out the jumpiness created by animating these still images together, I began the search for the perfect music.  Having decided I wanted legit, legal music, I purchased rights to use “Westward Ho” and as I added it to the video files, I found that it fit perfectly.

I really do hope you watch my time-lapse, and have enjoyed seeing a bit into the process that went into speeding up a 13 day trip to just over 8 minutes.  To link to the final time-lapse video on my website, please use the link below… to just watch it, check it out on Vimeo at the bottom of the blog.


Lots more from 2012!


[vimeo video_id="34132135" width="800" height="600" title="Yes" byline="Yes" portrait="Yes" autoplay="No" loop="No" color="ffffff"]

This entry was posted in CityScapes, Completely off topic, Cool Photography Techniques, Tour Cities, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.