As I write this, my film Terra Sacra Time Lapses is just passing 100,000 combined views on YouTube and Vimeo and continuing to spread to all corners of the planet. The six-minute short is a compilation of my favourite time lapse sequences photographed during assignments and personal travels between 2006-2012 on seven continents in 24 countries. I’m super thrilled by the overwhelmingly positive feedback but equally humbled and gratified by the many comments which praise the beauty of our Sacred Earth. This was the ultimate goal… To inspire a deepened appreciation for the world around us.
Influenced heavily by Art Wolfe’s vision to care for the planet and it’s diversity, I created Terra Sacra Time Lapses as a a means of sharing the intangible magic I’ve been so blessed to experience on these journeys to famous and remote places.
By far, most of the shots in the film were photographed during the making of “Art Wolfe’s Travels to the Edge” – truly a dream assignment for any filmmaker.
Art and Sean in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
I started experimenting with DSLR time lapse photography during the very FIRST episode shoot with Art in Utah back in October 2005. The technique involves using a DSLR camera and a remote interval timer to capture a series of images that can be processed into a time lapse video. Since the resolution and image quality of each individual frame from a DSLR (up to 5,000+ pixels) is many time greater than a single frame of high definition video (only 1920×1080 pixels), you can zoom and pan within the image without sacrificing pixels. The image QUALITY (colour range, low light sensitivity) from a DSLR is also greater than most professional video cameras. I immediately was blow-away by the creative potential of this new tool and would make a point of shooting these shots as often as possible. I could setup a time lapse with the 5D and use our production video cameras to continue filming all the other elements for the show. The time lapses would eventually become a signature look for the series and often be used as visual transitions between the scenes in each episode. I also employed these techniques on assignments for other television series for National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, and personal travels.
As romantic as it sounds to travel with Art for three years and film 26 episodes of the beloved TV series all around the world, it wasn’t always easy!
Here’s five of my worst moments:
• bluff charged and nearly trampled by a camera-shy male elephant in Kenya
The angry male elephant preparing to charge
• nearly run-over by our bush pilot the very next day as he pushed the comfortable boundaries of delaying his take-off for a dramatic shot (Art scolded him for almost killing his cameraman)
In the path of the Cessna traveling at over 100 mph just before take-off
• careening off a highway in La Paz, Bolivia, after a tire separated from the axel (we suspect thieves stole the lug nuts!)
The get-away tire in La Paz, Bolivia
• dodging a massive anaconda dropping out of the trees while cruising the Pantanal in Brazil.
• losing all my clothes to a nun in Peru after a horrendous case of “mistaken luggage identity” (my bag eventually got delivered by dug-out canoe a week later to our filming camp in the Amazon jungle)
On the flip side, here’s five of my favourite highlights:
• being swooped by the 10-foot wingspans of Andean condors after a steep four-hour hike in Patagonia, Argentina.
• that Cessna that almost killed me… I got to fly it from Kenya to Lake Natron in Tanzania (the rest of the crew slept in the back!)
• seeing Antarctica. Period.
Filming penguins in Antarctica
• sleeping on the sand beneath the most amazing star scape ever while en route from Timbuktu to Arouane (Mali) to film a caravan of camels in the middle of the Sahara
• photographing bengal tigers in India by elephant back. These felines are the most awesome creatures I’ve ever seen in the wild!
Thank you Art, again, for hiring me as the cinematographer for this amazing series and providing the great memories and adventures I’ll cherish for a lifetime… Hopefully Terra Sacra Time Lapses will echo the spirit of your mission and serve as a lasting showcase of our Sacred Earth.
Sean F. White
Shot-by-shot breakdown of each location in the film >>HERE
Most of the time lapses were shot with a Canon EOS 5D digital SLR at the maximum resolution using a TC-80N3 intervalometer. A few shots were taken with a Canon 7D and Canon 5D mk II.
All images are single manual exposures, no HDR composites.
Original full resolution images were colour corrected and processed in 16-bit in Adobe Bridge using Camera Raw and exported as JPEG sequences at maximum quality. The rendered JPEG sets were then opened in Quicktime Pro as image sequences and exported at their native full resolution (up to 5K) as Quicktime movies at 23.98 fps with the Apple ProRes 422 (HQ) codec. The ProRes 422 (HQ) files were then edited in Final Cut Pro 7.0.3 on a ProRes 422 (HQ) timeline at 23.98. The master file is ProRes 422 (HQ) 1920 x 1080.
Selected time lapse sequences were also processed using Adobe Bridge and LRTimelapse to smoothen aperture flicker apparent in some shots with large depth-of-field.
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All photos by John Greengo for Art Wolfe’s Travels to the Edge