Singapore Awakens: a time lapse experiment

Much of my work is away from home. Often I travel to places like Singapore, Thailand and Hong Kong to Shoot & Post my television commercial projects.However, I sometimes like to fill my spare time with an experimental project. As an owner of a Canon 5DMKII, I have been shooting time lapse for some time. I even recently posted a short film on Vimeo called the “The World in Motion“, which was shot all over the place using the 5DMKII and time lapse photography. On a recent trip to Singapore, I wanted to capture a sunrise and try and tell a visual story of a new “Dawn” in Singapore. I wanted to showcase the “Awakening” of Singapore as a visually spectacular and technological megapolis. My only problem, it rains in Singapore a lot! So I think I spent nearly 12 very early mornings, shooting the sun rising from various vantage points in the city. I even caught a taxi to “Marina Barrage” to try and film the Singapore flyer (Giant Ferris Wheel) and city scape at dawn. During editing, I could have used even more scenes if I had shot them! With only one camera, it’s difficult to maintain continuity, while still describing the sun rising all over the city. Nearly every single shot has differences from levels of clouds, rainy weather, sun, no sun etc. Still, I don’t think it matters now. Singapore looks amazing at night with it’s city lights. What’s actually more difficult to film, is the day time. I wanted to try and have a certain amount of blur in the motion of objects. That’s not easy, even at 100ASA with the iris stopped right down. So I started to look around for something to help me.

I had heard about a 10 Stop ND (Neutral Density) being released by Lee Filters, which I was pretty keen to hunt down and try out. using a 10 stop ND in daylight hours would allow me to expose a single frame for about one second, blurring the motion of any moving subject. I found one at Cathay Photo and picked it up. While the system isn’t cheap, it’s flexible enough to work with all my lenses, using the appropriate adapter rings. The large square (4×4) glass filter easily covers my largest element lens (82mm).

Using a square filter system is a lot easier to use then the circular types, especially if you stack them. I also purchased the sunshade system to protect the filter from sun flares. This is essentially a paper bellows which can be extended or retracted with relative ease. I did find occasionally that this would creep into frame at times or if I accidentally rotated the front filter holder system on a 45ยบ angle, using a wide angle lens. So my suggestion is to always check your edges before committing to the final position of the filter & shade system.

Another reason to use a 10 stop ND filter was because I was shooting with my new 24mm Shift & Tilt lens. For the most effective focus effects, you really need to shoot wise open or close to. Again in daylight, this would be impossible without a heavy ND filter. However, with the Lee 10 stop, I was shooting in the middle of the day, in full sun, at about f2, with the shutter set to about 1/4 of a second. That’s remarkable! While I didn’t do extensive tests, it is my opinion that there is very little colour shift when using the Lee 10 stop filter. Certainly, not enough for me to care. I graded the images you see in the film in Final Cut Pro. I had more difficulty in matching sunrise levels from shot to shot then any colour shift caused by the 10 stop filter!

Next tip is frame your shot first then put the 10 stop filter on. Otherwise you will see jack through the viewfinder! Luckily, the Lee Filter Holder has a very good quick release mechanism. Because I was working at heights, I was particularly careful with this release mechanism and the way the filter was installed in the Holder at all times. However, it’s well built and easy to use and I trust it now.

My last tip has to do with motion blur and shallow depth of field. The two don’t like each other much. I say this because I was trying to shoot wide open at night and also create some streaking light sources. Trouble is, the image can all look blurry or out of focus quite quickly! So my suggestion is to shoot night scenes, time lapse, with some Stops on the lens to increase your depth of field a little, especially if you are using longer lenses. I typically was shooting f4 at nighttime with a longer exposure time for blur length. If you are after less blur length, then it maybe OK to open the lens up a bit to say f2 but it does depend on your lens size.

Finally, “Singapore Awakens” was filmed using a variety of lenses including the 24mm TS lens, 100-400mm Canon Zoom, 24-105mm Canon Zoom and a Canon 50mm f1.4. I used my Canon Intervelometer again which is very useful and a very lightweight Carbon fibre tripod made by Manfrotto. I do love this tripod but with the heavy click of the shutter, this tripod is not ideal for time lapse. Using Mirror lockup isn’t an option either so my suggestion would be to use a heavier gauged tripod.

As mentioned earlier, I edited the footage in Final Cut Pro. The images were again converted into Apple ProRes (HQ) using Mpeg Streamclip and I scored the soundtrack in Garageband. Actually this was my first experience using Garageband only and it is definitely a very capable soundtrack editor. I normally will use Logic or Soundtrack Pro but I thought I would give Garageband a go.

That’s it for now. Enjoy “Singapore Awakens”.

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  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention wrote up a blog entry on using the Lee 10 stop filter while shooting my short film "Singapore Awakens" --

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