Chris Field shot this amazing time-lapse video, but that’s not all he did; he also generously shared with us the BTS video, which is a dream come true for anyone who wants to see how others do it. Chris spent three months of shooting and over 80GB of images and video. As you may realize, putting all that footage together is a process on its own. On his website, Chris shares with readers all of the ups & downs of such an elaborate time-lapse shoot. It is absolutely mind boggling all that went into creating this video. Chris spoke to Fstoppers about the process in great detail.
I picked up my first camera about seven years ago. I have always needed creative outlet, I bounced around between wood carving, painting, drawing, etc. My first camera was a Nikon D40 and I immediately fell in love with photography and learned as much as I could. I got some paid gig here and there, usually by word of mouth. I never did any advertising. I already had a well-paying day job, and intended to keep it as a hobby. After a couple years my passion moved to astrophotography where I started building barn door trackers to increase my exposure times. I spent about a year learning astrophotography and had teamed up with a friend to build a better tracking device. Around that time I saw my first motion controlled time-lapse, I believe it was one of Tom Lowe's works. That was also around the time Fstoppers was running a BTS contest. I think this was 2011. I had looked at the various Moco equipment online and everything seemed awfully expensive for what it was, and decided to design/build my own system. I figured I could do a better job than the current offerings. While I was at it, I was going to keep it open source and create an online recipe [so that] anyone who wanted to build their own could just follow the instructions. The BTS video I made was about that system, I did not win [the Fstoppers contest] of course but there was some stiff competition projects much better than my own.
A gentleman in Canada saw the video. He did not think he could build one, but wanted to know if I would be willing to do it for him. That gave me a chance to refine the recipe by repeating the build. Then an Australian asked for one. And another person, and another. For the last three years I have been building motion control systems non-stop, and we always had orders in the pipeline. We eventually had to create a business to stay legit with taxes and started The Chronos Project LLC. We have built hundreds of time-lapse motion control systems at this point, and we have rigs on every continent, including Antarctica. We also did several one-off custom jobs. I helped many people design their own systems, troubleshoot their builds, etc. We ran a successful kickstarter campaign for The Lens Apparatus, and as much as I was enjoying all of that, it started taking so much of my time I never got time to go and do time-lapse myself.
A few years back I had picked up a flower and used a spare room in my basement. [Then I] picked up a cheap fluorescent grow light and ran a time-lapse of that flower. It went very well, and I committed myself to learning how to properly time-lapse plants.
I started the Biolapse.com website to track my successes and failures (of which there were many). I have always been very open and enjoy spreading knowledge and technique to anybody who is interested. I wanted to do carnivorous plants, but the first ones died very quickly, the light flickered in the clips, all in all it was very unimpressive.
The story gets a bit convoluted, but in the end I ended up building the BCM. This is an intervalometer that can actively control humidity, temperature, watering systems, and coordinates the grow lights versus the fill lights and triggers the cameras. This gave me very precise control of the environment in the studio, and after trying several types of grow and fill lights I finally found a winning combination.
I started collecting the carnivorous plants around February 2014. By then the BCM was running and I had managed to iron out most of the technical challenges. I had started working on building sets while I collected more plants, and spent some time filming other plants perfecting the techniques to get smooth growth, no light flicker, no soil shifts, etc.
When I was satisfied I had everything prepared, I started shooting, and continued to do so 24/7 for 107 days with just a few short breaks to give the plants some real sunlight and some fresh air. Both cameras were running 24/7, shooting every 15 minutes and dumping the images to my computer via eye-fi cards. For the first 60 days of shooting the cameras were stationary on tripods, afterwards I started getting some motion-controlled shots. I used one of Brian Burling's eMotimos for a couple shots, most of the Moco shots were one on my own personal Chronos Lite and Chronos HD rails, along with a lens apparatus to control the focus pulls. The Chronos rails are somewhat unique as they offer a far tighter control of motion than anything on the market. I can easily break a single inch into thousands of small movements with ease, so they are perfect for macro work. I think the shortest I ever managed was 1/32,000th of an inch when using a ramp on a one-inch macro time-lapse.
Everything was moving along pretty well, I had a few clips that did not make it. Only one of the eMotimo shots made it in the final cut, but it really did outperform my expectations.
I spent quite a bit of time in Photoshop correcting the color and ensuring that there was a consistent color and tone throughout the time-lapse. Then I assembled the images into master clips, then those clips were used in the final cut. I have quite a few images of them eating bugs, which I would find around my house, and I would feed the plants while they were taking a 2-3 day breaks from shooting and film it.
My goal with this was to present a feeling that this was being filmed out in the wild, not in a basement in Littleton, Colorado. In that regard, I think I managed to succeed. I wanted to present something that people may never have seen before. Something different and unique. I don’t have the patience to sit outside overnight for astro time-lapse, and there are some incredible landscape photographers running landscape far better than I could ever do. What I do have that a lot of people do not, is a spare room in my basement, and the knowledge to build whatever equipment I needed to do the shoot.
I am very surprised about how fast this has spread and the attention is has gained. I expected to get a few thousand plays, that is really about it.
I suppose I have my work cut out for me with the next project, to prove myself as a time-lapse photographer and not a gimmick one-hit wonder. I am already gearing up for the next project, which is going to show things that nobody has ever seen before.”
Here is the completed time-lapse video:
Here is a list of the gear Chris used for this project:
Chronos HD Timelapse rail
Chronos Lite Timelapse rail
Chronos Lens Apparatus
Environmental and Control
Biolapse Control Module (home built)
Heavy duty Humidifier (home built)
Various Tripods, lighting stands, grow lights, fill lights, boom arms, air hockey table, artificial plants, DIY sets, cables, clamps, kitchen sink, projector, spare laptop, temp/humidity monitors, bins, etc.
You can learn more about Chris' work on his website:
All images and videos were used with artist’s permission.