Go-Bristol: A time-lapse video of the City of Bristol

This is it! More than 2 years in the making, it is finally here! My take on the City of Bristol which has been my home for more than 3 years now. A time-lapse video entitled Go-Bristol.

Long story short

My intention was to show Bristol at its best, its iconic landmarks and what to me represents the city and its people. Basically, 2 years in 3 minutes.

This “little” project took a very long time to come to life. Doing this in my spare time, waiting for the right conditions to shoot, and the sheer amount of work and time needed to shoot and edit each individual sequence is why it took so long (and maybe my lack of dedication 😉 ). The keen eyes will actually spot a few things I shot months ago that no longer exist.

There is a lot more to discover in Bristol than what’s in this video but I wanted to keep it short. There are also some places I wanted to showcase but for which I did not have/get the necessary authorisations to shoot (the drawback of being an amateur photographer with no credentials). Maybe I will create another time-lapse showing other beautiful areas of Bristol that shows a broader picture of our city but didn’t make it in the first one.

I hope it does justice to the vibrant city that is Bristol and I hope you like the final result, my first ever time-lapse video. Give it a thumbs up and share it if you do.

Technical details

Everything was shot with a Nikon D5300 paired with a Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8, a Nikon 18-140mm f/4.5-5.6 or a Nikon 50mm f/1.8.

This video is made of 20100 RAW pictures (465 GB), individually processed in LRTimelapse and Adobe Lightroom. The processed pictures were then imported, colour-graded and put together in DaVinci Resolve and rendered in 4K UltraHD at 30FPS. Some sequences required extra steps in Affinity Photo or Adobe After Effects. The whole process generated 1138 GB of temporary data.

It took more than 23 hours to capture the original photos and literally hundreds of hours of post-processing and rendering.

Despite all these big numbers, the final video is only 3 minutes long for a 6.3GB file.

Hang on! What’s a Time-lapse video?

Time-lapse photography is a technique where you take many pictures of a scene at regular interval (say, a few seconds apart) and combine them afterwards so that each shot makes up a frame of a video. As a video is usually shot at 24 or 30 frames per second, it has the effect of speeding up the scene, making any slow movement (like the clouds moving in the sky, people walking, etc.) appears a lot faster. If you want more details on the subject, Wikipedia is here for you.

The full story

Getting started

As a photographer, I am always amazed whenever I come across great time-lapse videos. They have been a trend for a while now, and rightly so, They look amazing, they often have this WOW factor that really makes the subject stand out and they somehow have a kind of relaxing and soothing effect on me. They have this dynamic and cinematic feel that is hard to translate in still photography. In fact, this is where photography meets cinematography, yet all you need to make a basic time-lapse is a camera (or a smartphone) and patience. LOTS of it!

As I already had the necessary equipment and I am always trying new things I thought I would give it a whirl. All I needed now was a great subject. I decided to head down to the Bristol Marina and shoot my first ever sequence near The Cottage Inn, looking up at the colourful houses of Cliftonwood and Hotwells across the floating harbour. I really liked the experience, taking my time to capture the clouds moving, the boats passing by, etc. It was totally different from the kind of photography I was used to.

Later that day, I came back home, transferred the 300 shots on my computer and tried to make an actual time-lapse video out of it. That’s when I discovered that making a great time-lapse video is way harder than it looks. There were so many things wrong with it! My framing was off, my composition was not great, I used the wrong settings on my camera, I accidentally hit my tripod while shooting and so on. It was beyond anything I could recover in post-processing (which is why it didn’t make it to the Go-Bristol final time-lapse).

Keeping it up

That did not discouraged me to try again. As with anything, the key to success is studying and practising. I watched countless online tutorials and articles. Each time I went out and shot, I learnt something new, each little sequence came out better and better and so did my post-processing skills. Before all this, I was no stranger to post-processing my images, but doing this for time-lapses is very different. The first steps are quite similar to what I usually do for still photography but real video-editing techniques (story telling, colour-grading, transitions, sound effects, etc.) were new to me.

As my technique grew stronger so did my confidence, so I started to shoot more complex scenes like sunrises and sunsets. I find them really beautiful, but BOY did they tested my patience to the limit! You see, when you take a single picture of a sunrise, you just need to turn up 20 minutes before it, setup your camera, shoot, pack up and go grab a coffee to warm you up. Easy peasy!

Shooting a time-lapse of a sunrise is way more complicated. They are sometimes referred to as “Holy-grail time-lapse” because they are much harder to achieve. Why? First, because you need to be there before anything interesting happens, which means when it is still dark (and usually in Bristol, cold and windy). Secondly, a sunrise is a rather slow process which spans over an hour or more so you have to be on location for at least an hour and a half. And to top it all up, the light changes constantly during a sunrise or sunset so you cannot setup your camera and let it fire away for an hour while you run around in circles in a desperate attempt to keep your body temperature from plummeting. No no no! You have to stay there, check your camera settings and adjust them every five minutes as the light changes. This sounds daunting (and it is) but MAN is it satisfying to manage to capture a beautiful sunrise!

Kicking things up a notch

After a while, my time-lapses were looking OK, but I am a perfectionist and I felt like there was still something missing. I wanted them to feel more dynamic, more cinematic. One way to achieve this is to move the camera while shooting. Things like panning motions, sliding, playing with perspectives, etc. look better than a static point of view. But again, it’s more complicated than it sounds. Doing this for a time-lapse requires special equipment like a very precise motion-controlled slider and rotating head that only moves a few millimetres/degrees between each shot. A quick look online and the hammer dropped: this was WAY out of my budget.

I never back down from a challenge and I am quite good at DIY so I decided to make my own motion-controlled camera slider and panning head. It took me a while and 2 trials to get it right but I did manage to make my own for a fraction of the cost of anything equivalent on the market. I have written a separate blog post about how I built the slider but that’s what the finished product looks like, and it served me well!

Time-lapse Slider in Cliftonwood

With it, I was finally able to get the desired look I was going for.

The rest of it was planning, shooting, post-processing, repeat.

Personal growth

This personal project has really been a rewarding experience for me. I have learned a lot and grew stronger as a photographer, I discovered beautiful places around Bristol I never knew existed and it gave me the opportunity to interact with many, many people.

Shooting time-lapses has all the benefits of landscape photography but you get to meet a lot more people and engage with them. When I am out shooting time-lapses, I often bring lots of equipment: tripods, my custom slider, and of course my camera bag with lenses, filters, batteries and more. Needless to say that it gets you noticed. People are intrigued about all this gear. Most just pass by and wonder what it’s all about. However some people were curious enough to reach out to me and ask me directly “What are you doing?”, “What’s all this?”, “Are you making a movie?”, “Who are you doing this for?”.

This was usually the start of an interesting conversation with people I never would have met otherwise. I got to know them a little and we shared a conversation and ideas even if it was only for a brief moment. I also had more technical questions like “Are you shooting a time-lapse?” or “Is that a motion-controlled slider?” which often came from fellow photographers or creators with whom I shared creative thoughts.

I met many people from the neighbourhoods I was shooting in: a lovely curious old lady passing through the park on her way back from the shop who reminded me of my grand-mother, a young guy from Colorado who was visiting Bristol for a few days who asked me for local tips, a film producer from Manchester, teenagers who asked my if I had a studio, a family from Grimsby visiting Bristol for the first time who thought the other side of the Clifton Suspension Bridge (i.e. Leigh Woods) was part of Wales, and many more. We talked, we shared, we laughed.

I could go on and on. The point is, when I started this project 2 years ago, I never thought it would bring me this much on so many levels!

Update and Feedback (Feb 2019)

This video has been up for almost a year now and the feedback that I got from it has been amazing and exceeded all my expectations. When I made it public, I was proud of it – the first video I ever made – but I never expected it to do this well.

In total, it was viewed more than a million times (probably closer to 1.2M) from people all over the world. Articles where written about it on Bristol24/7, BBC News, BBC Radio Bristol, ITV, The University of Bristol, Bristol TV, etc. It made the #5 spot in the top 10 most read stories of 2018 on Bristol24/7.

The video was also selected by the producers at We The Curious to be broadcast to the public on the Big Screen at Millennium Square. Needless to say I was rather proud of it:

Go-Bristol showing on the Big Screen at Millennium Square
Go-Bristol showing on the Big Screen at Millennium Square

There were so many nice comments from people on Social Media. People that were born in Bristol but now live elsewhere, people that lived in Bristol at one point in their lives, people from Bristol, etc. I read most of them and I felt honoured about what people had to say about the video. The kind of emotions this little video made people feel is why I made it in the first place. Thank you to everyone who watched, liked, commented, shared and appreciated the video!

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