Newcomer Colin Rich has found an interesting niche in time-lapse cinematography. Everyone, from commercial to feature shooters, relies upon time-lapse at some point in their careers. But it’s still mostly unexplored terrain in many ways.
“A lot of people don’t understand the challenges,” Rich explains. “On most sets, the mentality is to set an interval and walk away. But a good time lapse, one that really lends to the overall tone or storyline, is much more involved.”
Rich would know. His recent short NightFall is a dazzling visual homage to the City of Los Angeles. It’s a three-minute tour of light that traverses the shooter’s favorite time to shoot.
“Capturing the transition from day to night while looking back at the city as the purple shadow of Earth envelopes the eastern skyline and the warm, distant twinkling halogen lights spark to life never grows old,” he says.
To create his vision, Rich called on an interesting package of gear: Canon 5DMKII and 5DMKIII cameras, Zeiss Prime ZE lenses, FloatCam’s DC-Slider for Matthews Studio Equipment, Kessler’s Revolution head and Cineslider, and “a lot of other modified bells and whistles, plus a proprietary post workflow,” he adds.
Most of the shots were done with DC-Slider or Kessler’s motion-control stepping motors for linear moves. For more complicated transitions, Rich added an external manual bulb ramp to control exposure changes from day to night using photographic reciprocity, longer or shorter bulb exposure times, and neutral density filters swapped or pulled depending on the changing light.
“I can monitor the exposure changes through a waveform,” he continues. “But if I am shooting a transition shot, I really need to understand the changing light and anticipate the final exposure. Through a bit of tinkering I’ve been able to create transitional movements, bulb ramping tied into the motion control equipment to create seamless transitions with changing exposure times. These are my favorite shots because they are quite involved and very dynamic.”
Rich makes it sound easy, but it’s anything but. For starters, he had to seek out new ways to portray L.A. exteriors already documented millions of times. In certain situations, like shooting around San Pedro Street and Skid Row, it meant becoming one with the environment, i.e., using a grocery cart to move his camera, and physically blending in with the large homeless population in the area.
“I was frequently harassed by security guards,” he winces. “They would walk in front of the camera and block the shot, even when I was on public property. Sometimes I would get into a discussion with [the guard] about something unrelated. He felt he was doing his job blocking my decoy camera, while behind me the real shot was feeding me images from the opposite direction.”
Time-lapse of and from skyscrapers are always troublesome because, as Rich says, every element has to be rigged and secured. “Setting up on the 57th-floor roof deck of a downtown skyscraper for a day-to-night motion-control transition shot,” he continues, “I saw something zoom past in my periphery. By the time I had tied the securing cable to the DC-Slider, my camera assistant shouted, ‘Look out!’ We were in the nesting grounds of a falcon, which had gotten very defensive. When I looked up again, a male and a female falcon were circling. They dove at me in tandem, talons out. I jumped up holding a Noga arm above my head to protect myself. In no less than four minutes, I had the setup for a day-to-night transition with angry peregrines dive bombing all the while.”
That kind of crazy dedication to craft has paid off for the young DP. NightFall went viral after being posted on Vimeo and has 525,000 plays and counting. The Los Angeles Times, NBC, CBS, Huffington Post, Yahoo News and others picked up a story on Rich’s stunning imagery, and the film will soon make the festival rounds.