"Edge of Stability" - The Making Of An Amazing Timelapse Film

I always love a good well-planned time-lapse as I'm sure most of us do. Although, photographer and California police officer Jeff Boyce has taken it to the next level with "Edge of Stability." Earlier this year, he followed forecasts from the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center (SPC) and literally drove into some of the most dramatic storms occurring in over a dozen states to capture these very dramatic and beautiful time-lapses made from over 70,000 photos. Boyce was generous enough to share his story and his process with us below.

Boyce was cool enough to take time to share with us on how this project came together and how he captured it in case you wanted to tackle something similar.

How did this photo series come together?

This entire time-lapse sequence was recording between May and June of 2015. During this time, I managed to arrange about five weeks off from my regular job as a police officer in California, and set out in my truck with no particular destination in mind. I had only picked up photography as a hobby within the last couple years, and this was my first year ever recording or producing time-lapse videos. Having always been very interested in severe weather, nature, and traveling, I picked up storm chasing during the spring of 2014. I spent a few weeks in 2014 traveling and photographing storms, but without a solid goal or understanding of the concepts of photography. My interest in time-lapse photography of storms stemmed from seeing Nicolaus Wegner's "Stormscapes" videos around this time.

This year, I set out with much better equipment, more ambition, and a solid goal: to produce the time-lapse compilation that became "Edge of Stability." Using the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center outlooks (SPC), I was able to see generally where and what type of severe weather would occur during the next few days. Twitter also became a huge part of my decision making process — following the posts of more experienced storm chasers and meteorologists. I drove over 600 plus miles some days in order to reach areas where the environment would be favorable for severe weather. Typically the most intense weather occurs during late afternoon and into the night, so there wasn't a whole lot of sleeping — but it was worth it.

Where did you travel to capture these time-lapses?

I ended up traveling through California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, and into Manitoba, Canada. Most of this time was spent car-camping in my truck (I had removed the back seat and built a sleeping platform and storage compartments), but got a hotel room every few days. During breaks where there was less severe weather, I got a chance to photograph the Milky Way and other landscape scenes. I even, on a whim, decided to drive into Canada and attempt to see the Northern Lights for the first time. This paid off, and I was incredibly lucky to see brilliant displays of the Aurora Borealis both nights I spent in Manitoba. It even made getting detained by Canadian immigration officials for a couple hours and searched at the border worth it!

You must have had a lot of data to handle by the end...

By the end of my journey, I ended up with about 70,000 individual high resolution photos. Having recorded up to 8,000 photos per day, I had to buy two 4GB external hard drives just to keep up. I also had to edit and save each day's clips as I went. I used Adobe Creative Cloud's Lightroom and Premiere Pro, but even these phenomenal programs would take hours to compile time-lapse sequences only seconds long. I set up my Dell XPS 15 laptop to run off my vehicle's electrical system, and was able to let it work for the hours each day I spent driving.

Once I arrived back home in California, I began the long process of sorting, categorizing, and ranking my sequences. I had so many photos that probably less than 30 percent of my content made it into "Edge of Stability." In fact, to this day I still haven't even converted about 20 percent of the photos into time-lapse videos.

What gear did you use?

I used two Canon 6D's paired with a Rokinon 14mm f/2.8, Rokinon 24mm f/1.4, Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8, Tamron 70-300 f/4.5-5.6, and a Canon 50mm f/1.8. I used a Vanguard Alta Pro 263AGH tripod with a GH-100 grip head, and it worked great. When doing two sequences at once, the second camera sat on a cheaper and more frustrating tripod I picked up from Costco a year earlier. I installed Magic Lantern software onto my cameras which allowed me to use an internal intervalometer and not have to purchase two extra external devices. Magic Lantern, a sort of software hack on the camera, came with a number of issues — but it got the job done and did it well. The time-lapse sequences were recorded with a raw photo taken between every two seconds to every minute. The type of shot, movement in what I was photographing, and lightning conditions all played into this. Rapidly evolving supercell thunderstorms were recorded every two seconds in order to capture as much detail as possible and to create the longest clip in the shortest amount of time. On the other hand, I would leave my cameras on a mountainside exposing the Milky Way all night long, and might set the cameras to record a 20-second exposure every minute until the batteries ran out.

Any highlights from your trip?

The highlights of my trip included seeing the Aurora Borealis, some amazing supercell thunderstorm structures, and witnessing the birth of a tornado from a nearly clear sky. Seeing this "tornadogenesis" unfold in front of me was amazing, but even more amazing was that I had set up my camera in perhaps the luckiest position possible, capturing a time-lapse stretching from blue skies to touchdown of a small tornado. I never expected that, but in the back of my mind always dreamed of getting that shot! That entire sequence didn't make it into "Edge of Stability," but can be seen separately at www.vimeo.com/negativetilt/tornadogenesis.

I had to return to reality eventually and get back to work, but I plan to make it back out to capture some more images as soon as possible. All of the compliments I've received on this video have been motivation to continue my work and to produce an even more spectacular video next time around.

Because the entire video was compiled with high-resolution images, I can provide canvas or photo prints of any part of the film, and keep some prints on hand for those interested.

I've seen a lot time-lapses over the years and even captured a few of my own, but it would have never occurred to me to use the National Weather Service's SPC outlooks to find filming or photography locations. In fact, most people would use the SPC to avoid dangerous weather. I commend Boyce for his ingenuity and hard work. Make sure to check out Boyce's work on his website.

Douglas Sonders's picture

Commercial Photographer (mainly Phase One medium format digital) and filmmaker based out of NYC. Started a site called Notabully.org to spread stories about well-behaved and positive pitbulls. Love cars, 80s movies, dogs, and adventure. Free time is spent traveling, sleeping, adventuring, or working on my baby, a 1969 Mustang Mach 1.

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