A to Z of Photography: Hyper-lapse and Horst P. Horst

A to Z of Photography: Hyper-lapse and Horst P. Horst

From contemporary to classic in one breath, in this installment of the A to Z of Photography I outline the current, and oh so trendy, hyper-lapse technique before showcasing the work of the classic, and brilliant, photography of Horst P. Horst, including his signature work the "Mainbocher Corset". Read on for more!


As photographers we deal in exposure and in so doing have the ability to manipulate aperture and shutter speed. Exposure is of course only part of the story, and any changes we make have artistic implications. With shutter speed, that control is over time and setting it relative to any motion in the scene allows us to achieve specific visual effects. Video is the next logical step in recording time, usually taking individual stills frames shot at 24 fps so allowing the capture of relatively smooth motion. However what happens if you want to step outside of the 24 fps restriction by either expanding or compressing time?

When expanding time, we slow down events as they happen, allowing motion to be tracked that would otherwise be too fast to see. This is the territory of high speed capture. Following in the footsteps of Harold Edgerton, today we can use consumer cameras that are able to shoot at 1000 fps (such as the Sony RX100 IV) which means you can slow things down by 40 times.

The other option is to compress time and so speed things up which means shooting slower than 24fps. In this instance you enter the realm of time-lapse and are only constrained by your patience! Digital photography has led to a resurgence in interest in time-lapse because the barrier to entry is low, restricted only by your ability to shoot more photos. With all your stills frames in place, you simply combine them in to a video file and enjoy the results. Time sped up can be captivating, such as the example below showing a ship being built.

Hyper-lapse can be broadly defined as a time-lapse (hence the lengthy exposition!) where the camera moves. Leading proponent Geoff Tompkinson sees that movement as over considerable distances rather than simple pans and tilts that some time-lapse incorporate, even where they use motorized rigs.

Hyper-lapse has typically involved — counterintuitively — shooting video in real time, and then removing unwanted frames in order to speed up motion. The problem this creates, particularly with unstabilized video, is a product that is visually jarring and unpleasant to view. The solution, unsurprisingly, has been computational photography! Algorithms smooth the motion between frames to create something that feels more like a fly-through. On iOS, Instagram produce Hyperlapse, whilst on Android there is Microsoft's Hyperlapse Mobile. The Microsoft Research webpage has an informative video.

There is actually a second way to create hyper-lapse videos, and this is the one shown below by Eric Stemen of Louisville. The technique is actually to use the time-lapse methodology, but now incorporating camera movement, typically through the use of a motorized rail system. If you imagine that this takes a long time then you'd be right! Stemen estimates a 5 second shot typically takes 15-45 minutes, but can run anywhere up to four hours! The full 4:23 clip took 357 hours to produce, however the results are stunning and, because it's still photos and not video, it allows you to capture imagery that is otherwise difficult to produce. For example, his night shots are typically of the order of seconds in length allowing him to capture light trails.

Of course, if a technique is as easy to produce as using a Hyper-lapse app then everyone will use it, so to stand out from the crowd you need to be different. Which is exactly what makes Stemen's hyper-lapse videos so stunning.

Horst P. Horst

Horst P. Horst was a German born American photographer who rose to prominence in the uber-chique 1930s fashion scene of Paris before moving to New York, serving in the US Army as a photographer, then resuming his career as a leading fashion photographer.

If you were to try to categorize the most prominent work of Horst, then it would be the fashion still life, adding surreal, even whimsical, elements to visually play upon shape. More than that he was highly artistic, and a master of exploiting the interplay of brightness and shade, darkness and light, in his compositions, making then striking, even arresting.

His most well know work is the "Mainbocher Corset". Is it the most eye-catching fashion shot ever made? Possibly. It's unashamedly sexually charged, erotic in the way it doesn't reveal, leaving the viewer to interpret it in their own way. It is also simply conceived using a minimum of props, a pose that continually asks you to question why, and the back of the model displaying all of the corsetry marvelry, her face obscured from view. For anyone that has tried to shoot these types of images, the simplicity is hard to achieve. Light sculpts the body, creating gradations from white to black. Being able to reveal shape so delicately takes a master who has acquired lots of practice.

Horst moved to Paris in 1930, initially to study architecture, but became friends with, and assisted, Vogue photographer George Huene. He had his first photo published in Vogue 1931 and his first solo show in 1932 which subsequently propelled him to prominence. In 1938 he moved to New York and continued to shoot for Vogue. In all, he had a working life of 60 years, eventually passing away in 1999. Unsurprisingly he is known for shooting women and fashion, something his selected works show. He is also know for nudes, both male and female, along with architecture, still life, macro, and environmental portraits, along with many a Hollywood star. Whilst we primarily associate classical black-and-white work with Horst, he was a deft hand with color, used in a similar manner to his mono work. Colors are striking and used to accentuate shape. For more details on Horst's life and some more examples of his work, the V&A Museum have an introduction, along with media related to works on display in their Photography Centre.

Other Hs

Other Hs that didn't make the cut this week include Hassleblad, Ernst Haas, David Hamilton, Harpers Bazaar, Lady Clementine Hawarden, John Heartfield, heliography, John Herschel, Hill and Adamson, Lewis Hine, David Hockney, hologram, Dennis Hopper, humanist photography, Frank Hurley, halftone, Harris shutter, high key, and HDR.

A to Z Catchup

Alvarez-Bravo and Aperture

Bronica and Burtynsky

Central Park and Lewis Carroll

Daguerrotype and Frederick Douglass

Exposure and Harold Edgerton


Family of Man

Nan Goldin and the Golden Triangle

Lead image a composite courtesy of Skitterphoto and brenkee via Pixabay used under Creative Commons and Wikipedia, in the Public Domain.

Mike Smith's picture

Mike Smith is a professional wedding and portrait photographer and writer based in London, UK.

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1 Comment

Rather surprised that Hasselblad didn't make the cut. Those cameras are the only ones to have gone to the moon. Probably the most iconic and important photos in human history have been taken with them.