On May 8, 2011, HSW instructor Michael Mariant and nine other photographers transited the Panama Canal in the passenger vessel MV Explorer as part of the Ultimate Travel Photography Workshop. To document the transit and condense it into a four-and-a-half minute time lapse, workshop participants employed several shooting tricks, including one utilized by cinematographers in the rolling boulder scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Here’s a look back at that iconic scene:

When we wrote about this Panama Canal time lapse show previously, we talked about how the strategy and storyboarding process was critical to the successful execution of the shoot. Mariant recalls spending a full day just on the planning, with more time spent on the day of the shoot managing set up, maintenance, and exposure changes. “We mapped out the transit of the canal into six different zones. Of the eight cameras, half were shooting continuously throughout the transit. We scripted the other cameras for specific purposes based on the storyboard and schedule.”

During prep for the shoot, Mariant helped illustrate the need for redundant coverage from multiple angles by referencing the famous opening sequence from Raiders. “For that boulder scene, the filmmakers only built a 30 foot section of track. They’d roll the boulder toward Harrison Ford, then at the end of the 30 feet, they’d go back and roll it again, shooting it from a different angle. In one cut, it’s a shot of the boulder coming toward the viewer. In the next cut, the boulder is moving away from camera. But it’s the same section of track each time. And the perspective created by camera placement is what made it possible to cut all those different angles together and make it seem like Indiana Jones is running more than 100 yards to get out of the cave.”

“So when we were preparing our cameras and staking out placement,” he continues, “I knew we needed to control for a few variables. When you’re shooting at five second intervals then playing it back at 22 frames per second, things move pretty fast. That’s fine when we were moving across open water. But that wouldn’t work when we were in the locks, for example. Something that took 10-12 minutes in real time would have appeared to last just a few seconds in our time lapse.”

“It’s the same principle at work when you see the tugboats in the piece,” he says. “It’s actually a single tugboat seen from two different angles. And we do it this way for a reason. We want to give the appearance of motion, but we don’t want to outstrip the human eye’s ability to process it. We want it to be pleasing to the eye and enjoyable to watch, not frenetic and distracting. So we had to use multiple camera angles to extend the action, just like in Raiders of the Lost Ark. ”

“You’ll notice that none of our side-mounted cameras are angled low. They don’t show the water line. This allows us to get away with visual trickery when we utilize multiple cuts that show the exact same event. We had a camera on Deck 5 facing forward and a camera on Deck 7 facing aft. Getting coverage from these perspectives is crucial because it gives us flexibility when it’s time to edit the show together. And in the finished piece it creates the illusion that these important, smaller events within the larger show take slightly longer, which gives the viewer time to process what’s happening.”

“In our workshop we say that time lapse is not photography,” Mariant notes. “It’s video. You shoot it like a video. You have to approach it as a cinematographer. The only difference is that you do so one single frame at a time.”




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