GoPro Time Lapse in Harpers Ferry

This past weekend I made the drive to Harpers Ferry, WV, home for my Worldwide Photowalk this year. I had a couple of reasons for going. First, I wanted to do a little scouting in terms of parking for my participants and some walking routes to discover. The second reason was to shoot some time lapse videos. Although I did get to do a little scouting, the majority of my time was spent on the time lapse, which can take up huge chunks of time with very little to show for it on the other end.

Camera-wise, I chose to use my GoPro HD Hero2 camera. I have used it in the past for some driving time lapses but had not used it for any stationary work. The beauty of the GoPro is that it is small, easy to set up, and doesn’t require any intervalometer. My Hero2 is a little limited in time choices for time lapse work. I can select from .5, 1, 2, 5, 10, 30, and 60 second intervals. It seems like a large choice but compared to the options of a DSLR, it is a little limited. That being said, I went with a 2 second interval with the camera set to a 5MP image size. No sense in using 11MB images when they will get downsized to 1920×1080 in post-production.

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Had I just gone with the GoPro on a tripod, my life would have been pretty simple but I decided that I needed to add some flare to my time lapse videos in the form of lateral movement. This can be done through cropping and key frame movements in post-production but I wanted the real deal, so I broke out the Kessler Stealth Slider with motor and a Basic Controller module. The Stealth slider is about 40″ long and, when paired with the motor and Basic Controller, allows for some very sweet automated slides that can be as short as a few minutes to many hours to cover the slide length. The only problem with using the slider is that it is not very mobile. The slider itself is kind of heavy but then when you add in the motor, ball head camera mount, cables, battery, and tripod you get a very heavy and cumbersome rig to move around. If you are going to be shooting in the same spot all day, this thing is a dream. If however you are planning on moving around a lot like I did, it quickly becomes apparent that a travel dolly would be a huge help.

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For my first series of images I chose to shoot in the Harpers Ferry cemetery that is located just above the old town section. I set up the slider on an angle to see how it would look going from low-right to high-left. I now wish that i had moved closer to the two headstones seen in front of the setup but overall it was not bad. This first segment was set to run for about 45 minutes so I took advantage of the time and walked around with my Sony A-99 and tooks a few HDR brackets.

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Once my sequence was complete I moved my setup down the hill to get a little bit of an overview shot of the town. There was an old house directly in front that had tourists coming and going, which I thought would add a nice touch. You can also see a train coming out of the tunnel on the other side of the river. I set the slider to move a little faster for this sequence so that the total travel time from one end of the slider to the other would be about 30 minutes.

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For my final sequence I decided to move down to the waters edge to see if there were any interesting vantage points. I was looking for some nice rocks to set in the foreground that could be fairly close to the camera. The closeness would help to accentuate the movement of the camera. Even though I was using the slider for the previous two segments, the movement isn’t that drastic looking because there isn’t anything really close to the camera. I wanted to change that so I walked the shoreline until I ended up right at the confluence of the two rivers and found a really nice spot to shoot from with some large rocks right on the shoreline.

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Once I had located my final camera position I set up for a 25 minute sequence and let it run. I had to wave off a couple of people that tried to wander in front of my setup but was pretty successful overall. Once the camera had made the full run of the slider, I packed everything up and then made the long, uphill walk back to my car.

Once I got got back home it was time to process everything. I started by moving all of the files from the GoPro SD card onto my external drive. Then I added them to Lightroom for a little processing. I tweaked the exposure and color a little and set the crop to 16×9 to fit the 1080 HD format. One of the reasons I like to use Lightroom for this is that it doesn’t really do anything to the images until I export them, which means that after I fix one I can then select all of the other images in the sequence and sync all of the changes to the entire image set. It’s super-fast and really helps streamline the process. Once all of the images have been synced it’s time to export them to another folder. I set the image size to 1920×1080 and let it rip. The reason I do the export is that I want the Lightroom edits applied and the images resized prior to creating the video sequence.

After Lightroom finishes the export it’s time for some video editing. The first step is to import the images as a sequence. This is really easy to do in Premiere Pro CS6. All that’s required is to create a new project and then right-click in the project window and select Import… from the pop-up menu.

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When the import dialog opens, navigate to the folder where the image sequence is, click on an image and click in the Image Sequence checkbox. This tells Premiere that you are importing a series of images that need to be used as a video clip. That’s all there is to it. Technical Note – Your images have to be in a numbered sequence so when you export them in Lightroom you must either use the original file names or use a Custom Name – Sequence option for renaming the files during the export process.

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From there it’s just a matter of dropping the clip on the timeline, adding some transitions, a couple of titles, a little music track, and bam – you have a finished timelapse video. Oh, for the music track I go to Free Play Music and locate an instrumental track that is about the right length for the video. They have thousands of music tracks to choose from and you can use them for free on YouTube projects. They also have licensing plans if you want to use them for some other purpose. It has quickly become my favorite music site for personal projects like this.

Now that I have told you the whole creation story, it’s time to check out the very short fruits of my labor. If you have any other questions about the gear I used or the processing, please drop me a comment. Oh, and if you are one of my upcoming photowalkers, please stay tuned for a message from me concerning important information about our photowalk.

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