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Metropolis – A New York City Timelapse

“Metropolis – A New York City Timelapse”
Shot and edited by Will Boisture
Music: “Sweet Disposition” by The Temper Trap

New York City has been my home for seven years and as a filmmaker and photographer I can’t help but be in awe of the vibrancy and beauty of this place . I wanted to create a work that captures and conveys my love for it. This video is something that I have been working to create for two and a half years. As a freelancer, I shot this film in the little windows of time between work, looking for my next job, and getting engaged and married. I’ve shown some of these shots to friends along the way, but this single, unified piece has always been the focus of my filming and I’m very happy to present it now.

I want to thank two people who made this possible; first, my wife Pooja for putting up with my need to shoot sunrises and late-night shots when she’d really rather I didn’t and being my best critic, biggest fan, and muse. And secondly, my awesome friend and collaborator Brandon Bailey who was there from the very first shoot with advice, support and enthusiasm. Thanks for everything!

THE PROCESS

Two and a half years ago I began a personal project that became a passion and an obsession. As a freelancer, I shot this film in the little windows of time between work, looking for my next job, and getting engaged and married. I’d like to thank two people without whom this wouldn’t have been possible; my wife Pooja for putting up with my “need” to shoot sunrises and night shots when she’d rather I didn’t, and my awesome friend and collaborator Brandon Bailey who was there from the very first shoot. Thanks for everything!

Back to the story. Armed with my first DSLR, an already fairly-old Nikon D50, I was inspired to find a way to utilize its imaging power to improve my video productions. I’d long admired timelapse photography and decided I wanted to try my hand at some of my own.

First things first, I needed to do some research on A) how people generally shoot and compile timelapses, and B) how I could do that with my camera. I quickly found that the best place for information and advice was the Time Lapse Forum at Timescapes.org. Timescapes is the website of Tom Lowe, an unbelievable filmmaker and shooter who has created a vibrant community of people who are passionate about capturing the beauty around them in extraordinary ways. If you’re interested in learning more about timelapse shooting, astrophotography, and other advanced techniques go read his page, but be prepared to write-off huge chunks of time, you’ll be completely sucked in.

The second aspect of my research turned out to be the hardest. When shooting timelapses, there are several parameters you need to set in addition to the standard aperture, shutter, ISO and focus; most notably shot interval. Your interval is the amount of time between each frame of your timelapse and it’s a feature that is not available on most consumer-level camers. This problem is usually solved with the purchase of an intervalometer, or timer, which is a remote control that plugs into your camera and feeds it the command to fire at the proper times.

I soon discovered that the D50 does not possess a port capable of plugging in a timer, and thus, is just about the worst camera you could try this with. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the money for a new camera, so I kept looking and found a slightly less orthodox solution: the Pclix LT (at the time it was simply the Pclix). This little homebrew box from Canada works by firing infrared LEDs at the IR sensor on the front of the camera as if it were a remote control for a TV. It was a pricy way to go, but not as bad as a new camera and timer.

SHOOTING

I shot for that first year exclusively with my D50 and the Pclix, and in that time I was able to get some good shots (and a ton of bad ones). A couple of those original shots made it into the final video, but in most cases I re-shot them with newer cameras for the final piece. I love the Pclix for giving my old camera an awesome new ability, but I eventually grew frustrated by some of it’s shortcomings. Because it relies on the camera’s IR sensor and its own IR-LED it is not a very effective tool during the day, and even under more optimal conditions I could almost always count on a frame being skipped accidentally. It was with that experience behind me that I was really excited when I upgraded to the D90.

Now that I had a proper, modern DSLR, my timelapse shooting was re-energized. I bought my first intervalometer from an eBay seller in Hong Kong for $50, which was necessitated by the fact that while the D90 does have a suitable input for a wired remote, Nikon does not make one with a timer function. Still, having something hard-wired into the camera’s brain, making sure it didn’t miss a beat was a giant step forward.

It was also around this time that I began shooting some timelapses in the Aperture Priority mode. Aperture Priority mode is a smart, semi-auto mode that allows you to continue shooting properly exposed frames during dramatic increases or decreases in lighting (think sunrises and sunsets) by keeping the aperture constant and varying your shutter speed to compensate. Prior to this point I had shot everything in Manual mode, to prevent flicker as much as possible. The first time I watched one of my sunset shots and saw the transition from day to night with the building lights blinking on as the sky turned from pink to blue to black, I was completely hooked.

The D90 is one hell of a camera and still one of my all-time favorites. That Hong Kong timer, however, quickly became a liability. After only a couple months of use, it died on me and I was forced to replace it. Luckily during that time months, prices had come down and my next one was $30. Unfortunately it died on me too.

All told I went through 4 timers, only one of which I was successfully able to have the seller replace. It was frustrating and a little nerve-wracking, as I was now doing the occasional paid timelapse shoot for clients. The best advice I can give anyone is to always have a backup, whether it’s an extra camera body or an extra timer. You never know when you’re going to need it. In fact, just to be extra safe I took my Pclix timer along with me on those shoots and in one of the more hair-raising incidents, wound up using it with my D90 to pull off pretty nice shot. There’s a lot to be said for the universal approach of utilizing the IR sensor rather than some proprietary cable jack that gets changed on every model.

Last fall I was able to add the D7000 to my kit and it represented the last big upgrade; the integrated timer. In addition to it’s higher resolution, better low-light capabilities and vastly improved video quality, the Nikon D7000 was the first camera I’d owned with a built-in intervalometer, or as Nikon calls it, an “Interval Shooting Mode.” As you can probably figure out, this removes the need for an external timer, which in turn means that as long as your camera has the charge to stay on, you can timelapse all day without fear of missing a frame. The simplicity of this change does not adequately convey how much better it will make your timelapsing experience.

I wrote about my first impressions shooting with the D7000 when I got it and I’m happy to report that it hasn’t let me down yet. The only thing I don’t like is how much space its RAW files take up, but that’s a pretty nice problem to have.

Lastly, as I’ve been doing more and more traditional still shooting, I was keeping an eye out for a good deal on a full frame camera, and late last year just such a deal popped up in the form of a D700. This camera is legendary for its abilities, so I don’t need to pile on here, but finding myself with two cameras with onboard intervalometers suddenly made for much more exciting shoots.

These days, if I’m planning on shooting timelapses I take both my D700 and D7000 and 3-5 lenses that I can pair with the full frame and crop frame sensors for a wide variety of focal lengths. My go-to lenses are as follows:

Tokina 11-16 f2.8 ATX
Nikon 20mm f2.8D
Nikon 35mm f1.8 DX
Nikon 50mm f1.4G
Nikon 85mm f1.8D

I really can’t say enough good things about these lenses; each one is sharp and solid without being overly large or burdensome. The only one that separates itself from the rest is the 85mm, which is slightly less contrasty in certain conditions, but it’s a look I really enjoy in the right place.

POST-PRODUCTION

Once you get your shots “in the can” (or “on the silicon,” more appropriately) there are lots of ways to process, compile and output your timelapses. Anything that gives you a final product you’re happy with is a valid way to go, this is how I do mine. Since I shoot all of my timelapses RAW, the first thing I do is offload my cards to my hard drives, separating out the files for each shot into their respective folders (eg – “Midtown Sunset 1,” “Midtown Sunset 2,” etc.), and then import those folders into Apple Aperture which creates a project for each shot.

Once my shots are in Aperture I pick a frame that is representative of the shot as a whole and apply my color corrections to it. Generally I don’t do much more than some subtle sharpening, color boosting, and slight exposure adjustment, but it’s nice to know that I have the option to really alter things if I decide I need to. Once I’m done with my one frame I “Lift Adjustments” which copies all of the changes I’ve made, select all images in that shot, and “Stamp Adjustments” which applies those changes to each one. Now I’m happy with the look of the images and ready to compile my shot. I select my frames and export each of them as a Jpeg at “12” image quality and 100% of original size. For 99% of my shots, that’s it.

[Side note: I use Aperture because it’s what I know but I’m sure just about everything I do would also apply for Adobe Lightroom as well.]

I open up Adobe After Effects, create a new project and composition (1080p) and import my Jpegs as an image sequence. This is a wonderful function that takes images in a folder and treats them as individual frames in a piece of footage, meaning that my folder of 300 jpegs is imported as essentially one 10-second video file (assuming I’m at 30fps), where each jpeg has a duration of 1 frame. The dimensions of this image sequence/video file match whatever the dimensions of the Jpegs are, which means for my D7000 shots they show up at 4928 x 3264; that’s almost 5K! That means when I place this image sequence in my 1080p project, I have plenty of room to resize and move my footage around. The benefits on this are immediately obvious because your footage gains a new level of perceived sharpness when you scale it down, and you gain the ability to make simple 2D moves on your shots.

Once I have my shots framed up to a point where I’m happy with them I export them at full resolution in the Animation codec, which preserves all of the detail (at the expense of hard drive space). After that I recompress my shots to DVCPROHD in order to edit them easily. At the time I started this project 2 and a half years ago, DVCPROHD seemed like a good way to go, but these days I would probably choose one of the ProRes flavors. Since I knew I would be going back to my Animation codec copies for the final output, it really didn’t make much difference.

With my shots finally in a proper editable format, it’s time to take them into Final Cut for the editing. I don’t have any particular insight to offer here, except to say that you should be as critical with your footage as you can. Let the project and the overall impact of the piece be the deciding factor on inclusion, not how much you love a particular shot or how hard you worked to get it. You may have spent two hours on a freezing roof somewhere for it, but if it doesn’t fit with the rest of the edit or if it flickers too much, you need to cut it. I have twice as many shots as I wound up using that didn’t make it into the final cut because they didn’t work or just weren’t good enough. I hated not to include some of them but in the end I feel like it worked out much better.

FINDING THE FINISH LINE

With a city as vibrant and vital as New York, there will always be something new and exciting to shoot. That’s something I wrestled with constantly on this project. When I started shooting, the new 1 World Trade Center was not above ground level, now it dominates lower Manhattan. With each dramatic change to the city, there was something new to consider shooting and the finish line seemed to get further away.

On top of that the scope of the city defies easy encapsulation in a short work such as mine. I made countless lists of places I wanted to film for this piece and just when I’d get near the bottom of that list I’d remember more I wanted to add. It was a work of passion and I could have kept filming for it indefinitely, but I finally reached the point where I’d much rather share it you all. I still have the urge to be shoot every perfect sunset or amazing cloud-filled sky, but I have new projects to look forward to now and I think that’s just as important as getting everything JUST right.

CHANGES

Would I change anything if I could? I would have loved to have something like the Kessler Oracle system in order to get some true movement in my shots, but I couldn’t afford it. The ability to move the camera during shooting as opposed to resizing the shot in post makes an extremely dramatic difference. Aside from suddenly having access to all of the locations I wanted so badly and could never get, that’s probably it.

REFLECTIONS

I’ve always been more of a narrative filmmaker and I can’t entirely explain the hold this project has had on me. There’s a very special beauty to be found in the interplay of nature and civilization on an untraditional scale and meter. Taking time to stand on the sidelines with my camera and watch this city pulse with life while the sun or moon moved overhead left me feeling blessed. My hope is that this video has been able to capture a bit of that beauty and that feeling.

-Will

14 Comments

  • Beth

    1

    Nice Job! Well worth all the effort and talent it took to make this. You should feel a sense of pride for this one. Thank you for sharing, congratulations! Beth

  • Martin

    3

    Outstanding work! I really enjoyed your video (and reading about how you did it). It really brings the city to life in a way that stills or regular video don't. I know what you mean about the 'finish line' - we've visited NYC three times now (and will be again this year) and it is just the most vibrant, fascinating and photogenic place. Always 'just one more' photo.... Best Wishes, Martin

    • Will

      4

      Thanks Martin! Ha, yeah, there's just more going on than you can ever see and it's all interesting in its own way. Hope this year's trip is fun, happy shooting!

  • Heidi

    5

    Just stumbled across your website and am soooo impressed and inspired! Amazing work. Debating on a D7000 upgrade and reading about all the problems. Is it worth it and did you have any problems with yours?

    • Will

      6

      Hey Heidi, thanks for the kind words =) I love my D7000 and am not familiar with the problems you're referring to. In my opinion it's one of the best cameras they've ever made, so I think it's worth it if it's a price you can justify. No major complaints on my end!

  • PARIS A. ROMAN

    7

    Nice, very nice job. Thanks Bill Boisture. You brought the city to the monitor of my computer making me feel that I was there.

  • Barlo Parlo – You Gotta Love New York

    8

    [...] capture and conveys his love for it. Filmed between May 2009 and September 2011. The Whole Story: willboisture.com/2011/10/10/metropolis/. The song is “Sweet Disposition” by The Temper [...]

  • Metropolis – NYC Timelapse | Adam Jones

    9

    [...] willboisture.com/2011/10/10/metropolis/ [...]

  • Ian

    10

    LOVE your video. The time lapse was aw-inspiring. I have a question for you though. So you were using the intervalometer to ensure no dropped frames. So my question is: how long did you shoot each shot for? EX) If I'm shooting an interval time of 3 seconds (1 photo every 3 secs.) that is equal to 30 FPS? So I would only need to shoot 15 minutes worth of RAW images to get 10 seconds of 30 FPS? This is new and confusing for me, sorry! and Thanks!

    • Will

      11

      Thanks Ian! You're correct with your math, a 3-second interval to result in a 10-second/30fps clip requires 15 minutes of shooting. If you kept the same interval and desired clip duration and were going to create a 24fps shot, you would only need to shoot 12 minutes. There's a very handy app that was just released (not by me sadly) called the Timelapse Toolkit that can really help with all of this stuff. As for my shots, I'd say the average shooting time was 15-20 minutes, though some went as long as 2 hours or so. Hope that helps!

  • Ian

    12

    Will, so far my timelapse has been going great and all thanks to you! Your video inspired me to create a timelapse of my own city. The product is near finished except for a few shots I need your help on.... I haven't shot my sunrises or sunsets because I am afraid of burning my sensor. I have read online that the lense is like a magnifying glass to the camera's sensor. How did you film your shots? What filters did you use? Or did you just film and hope for the best? Thanks again for your amazing advice and blog!

    • Will

      13

      Thanks Ian, that's awesome! I'd love to see your video when it's finished. As far as sunrises and sunsets, I don't think you have anything to worry about. I don't use any special filters to shoot the sun and I don't think I've heard of anyone with the problem you're worried about. It should be smooth sailing, so happy shooting!

  • ThEO!

    14

    Great job, sir! Truly inspiring!

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