I like the symbolism of timelapses–snapshots of moments captured and contextualized. It kind of reflects how we view history. The understanding of little moments; piecing them together.
They’re effective for storytelling and relatively simple to produce too! If you’re ready to dip your toe into timelapse, here are some content ideas, as well as equipment to consider if you decide to try it out. A lot of the prime examples seem to be older, so please do comment if you’re aware of any other great use cases out there!
1. Growth of Plants
Living collections undergo changes during their lifecycle that people can’t stand around and perceive as happening. The range of sizes and displays can vary widely, and here is one of the most grandiose examples of this is the Corpse Flower, which only blooms every 7-10 years, from the Chicago Botanic Garden.
2. Conservation & Preservation Projects
The timelapse shows the restoration of the Great Hall at Chicago Union Station, including the 219-foot-long skylight that is at the center of the train station as well as the construction of a new high-performance skylight above the historic, 2,052-pane original.
3. Building & Construction Projects
Forget the Corpse Flower–if you’re looking for true scale, building projects are immense and can span a very great deal of time. Timelapse is the best option for capturing that journey. Here’s an example of the Gay Head Lighthouse being moved BY RAIL to protect it.
4. Participatory Art
Art&Seek and Art Conspiracy invited the public to create the event’s first “Graffiti Wall.” Attendees were invited to make their mark on a chalkboard mural. This is a great concept for potentially showing the demographic range of your audiences. The event page also has some useful tips on how the timelapse was created.
5. Illustrating Science
Illustrating cause-and-effect is one area where timelapse photography excels. Rather than explaining the science or process in detail, sometimes the simplest and most engaging approach is to show it first. This video by the Canadian Conservation Institute shows silver tarnishing at an accelerated rate using an egg. See many more of their interesting timelapses at their YouTube Channel.
6. Decorating a Space
In one of the more captivating examples of timelapse I’ve seen, The Royal Pavilion Museums and Trust shows the decoration of multiple spaces, from start to show. If you’ve got to decorate for a holiday or special occasion anyway, why not share the effort? You might inspire someone.
7. Documenting Environmental Effects
In 2017, I had just started my new position at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens when Hurricane Irma paid Miami a visit. We’d just gotten a new Brinno timelapse camera and one of the security guards suggested we tether it to a balcony overlooking Biscayne Bay to see what happens. That was an inspired thought! Though Irma was not a direct hit on us, the storm surge produced enough fury to knock down pieces of the “Barge,” a breakwater/sculpture just outside the museum’s Main House. The Barge largely did its work to protect the Main House, but sustained some battle scars. Fortunately, we had just 3D documented it. This timelapse shows the fateful event that September day:
8. Exhibit Installations
You can create a timelapse effect using video as well. The example below was a first attempt at this concept, using snippets of video to show the phases of exhibit installation at a museum I worked at in Philadelphia.
9. Contemporary Art Projects
Going back to Vizcaya, here is a timelapse I took of a contemporary art project in which coverings are being sewn for the furniture akin to what would have been done by house staff members ahead of the summer months back when the house was built 100 years ago. The public was able to watch the work being done during the museum’s regular hours. The timelapse was used in an iPad kiosk at this location after the project was concluded.
Tools & Cameras
Capturing a timelapse is fairly simple if you have a sturdy camera and trip, and adequate light. Since audio is not an issue, it reduces a lot of complexity.
Brinno: This is a workhorse brand that I’ve used for years, and was used (along with a weatherproof housing) to document the hurricane event above. Keep in mind, if the the preview screen is on the back of your camera (as is the case with some of these models), it’s going to be awkward to see if you tether the camera to a post or building. But some use AA batteries, which can last for three months, so you’re really only limited by the size of the SD memory card you put in it.
GoPro: The GoPro’s ruggedness and small size make it ideal for this task. It has a built-in timelapse feature and captures super hi-res imagery. On the downside, the battery drains fast, and your ability to capture may be just hours rather than weeks.
DSLR: If you want really good quality with endless flexibility for settings, a DSLR camera is a viable option. You choose the battery size, the memory size and the resolution. Here’s a guide to using a camera you may already have.
Smart Phones: Most everyone has a smart phone these days, which has the timelapse feature built into the camera. Here are a couple of tutorials that provide detail on the functionality. Check here for iPhone and here for Android.
To button this up, here’s a video comparing the above methods.
- Using Time Lapse to Share Best Practices in World Heritage Site Restoration
- Preserving history and iconic events with timelapse
Cover image credit on Wikimedia Commons