Time Lapses with Edward Aites

05 20 2015

Edward Aites is one of the best time lapse shooters and photographers in the business.

We have used his work on many a project, including our latest work for Verizon (watch above at :22 for his adept time lapse visuals). Based out of the Pacific Northwest, Edward finds inspiration in his environment to beautifully convey the passage of time in a matter of seconds. We asked him about his experience with time lapse and what you might want to consider packing with you if you were to get into the time lapse business (warning: it’s not nearly as easy as Edward makes it look).

Do you remember the first time lapse video you saw?

Although I’m sure I saw time lapse video in NOVA and other documentaries, the first one that really clicked with me was a Toyota commercial during the Olympics that featured a circular pan shot of a Prius gradually changing from shiny new car to ancient relic, to emphasize conservation and recycling. There was an incredible sense of time compression and yet continuity of movement that was quite remarkable.

How did you know you wanted to get into it?

I have been intrigued by the process of time and the elusive way that we perceive it for much of my photographic career. When digital camera technology evolved to the point where hundreds or thousands of captures could be reliably timed and processed, I knew this was a path I really wanted to explore. I love still photography and continue to do that, but including the element of time and movement adds a layer of challenge and potential that is quite addictive. I also knew that the resolution and image quality of video created via DSLR stills would be far superior to that created via video camcorder, due to the much larger 5K capture format.

What is a time lapse shoot like? Is there a learning curve to it?

Although time lapse has its technical challenges and learning curve, it is similar to still photography in that the most important aspects continue to be pre-visualization of the imagery you want to achieve, and putting yourself in the position to capture the unusual and dynamic light when it does happen.  Sometimes it reminds me of fishing, in that there is a zen-like state of contentment with the process, which may take many hours.  And whether you actually catch the fish or not (sometimes the transformative light is unavailable!), it is still satisfying and you always learn something new. Making time lapse video also tends to sharpen your perception and observation of the landscape and how the direction and color of light changes with time. For my hyperlapse (motion time lapse) pieces where I am following a path and synthesizing the parallax of a very long crane or dolly shot, it is more like walking a tightrope. You are trying to maintain a shot cadence and tempo while keeping balanced and in perfect framing and focus.

What equipment do you use? Are there pieces you come prepared with for the unexpected challenges of the shoot?

I shoot with a variety of Canon DSLR bodies and lenses including 5d Mk II, 40D, 550D, 17-40mm L, 24-105mm L, 24mm and 40mm prime, Rokinon 14mm, various filters including  8x ND, ND grad, and polarizers. I am now moving toward more prime lenses for their enhanced sharpness and contrast. I have recently been shooting with a 1 meter motorized slider rail system (PocketSlider) for parallax motion effects. Particularly when shooting in the Pacific Northwest and the Cascade and Olympic mountains, I need to bring rain protection gear since this is a very wet climate and once a time lapse set is started, I may have to continue for hours.

What is your favorite single tool (lens, dolly, software, comfortable portable chair, etc) and why? 

Magic Lantern is a global open-source firmware enhancement for Canon DSLR which extends the capabilities of the camera in many ways, and I have found it to be an invaluable tool. It includes an internal intervalometer to trigger the camera at precise sequences, as well as screen overlays to monitor additional camera data. It surpasses the image quality that a stock camera is capable of.

Where/what do you most want to shoot next?  

My latest dream is to travel to Iceland and the Lofoten Islands of northern Norway, to capture Aurora Borealis, glaciers, mountains, and the stark but compelling landscapes there. For parts of the year, because of the latitude, the sun remains low on the horizon, giving a photographer a very long period of golden hour and blue hour light in a kind of extended dawn and dusk.

What is your favorite thing about covering the passage of time so visually? 

My favorite thing is the sense of exploration and discovery that comes with capturing the changes in the city and the landscape in this manner. Time lapse allows us to see slow processes that are otherwise invisible to our eyes. Often when I am working on post-processing, I’ll discover some elements of flow and movement in the light and atmosphere that reveal inner patterns and dynamics. From the distillation of time comes surprising insights and compelling beauty.