Some things happen slowly, and whilst the natural world is awash with the instant spectacle, from a cloud burst to a volcanic eruption, other processes and transformations occur at a pace, which takes time to unfold.
If we wish to witness such processes we would have to fix our attention for lengthy periods of time, and like fingers moving on a clock, the gradual changes would be imperceptible. That is why, for those wishing to document and display the passage of events in the natural world, Time Lapse Photography can be very useful indeed.
Most people have seen a ‘time lapse’. It’s where a series of photographs are taken from a fixed point at prescribed intervals and then the individual shots or frames are edited together. When played out at around 25 frames per second, the affect is to condense time to show lengthy processes acted out in a fraction of real time. It has been used to show caterpillars turning into butterflies, the rotting of animal and vegetable matter, plants growing, the bursting of flowers into bloom, or the passage of the weather and the seasons. However, it has also started to be used to raise awareness of the perils that threaten our planet.
We sometimes deny that the ice caps are melting or that the Amazonian rain forests are disappearing or coastlines in precious parts of the world are being eroded by rising sea levels. Indeed, it is easier to deny them when the processes unfolding – just like the hand of the clock are occurring at barely perceptible rates.
However, time Time Lapse shatters the illusion of stasis and helps raise our awareness of what is really occurring to our planet. Film-makers, naturalists and environmentalists are using the technique to document and learn about what is occurring and the rate at which it is happening. But, at the same time, they are also using the results from time lapse movies to inform a public; that all too often is in denial, or willing to put such issues to the back of their minds.
Seeing such processes unfold more immediately and having such processes demonstrated, makes the message that our planet is undergoing perilous changes, less easy to avoid or to deny. Technology has made this possible. Particularly advances is the capability of cameras and the ability to network and transfer large quantities of digital data coupled with the robustness of camera housing set-ups, means that specialists can install unmanned, remotely controlled time lapse systems ‘in the field’ in extremes of conditions and for lengthy periods of time.
It is great to see that technology – as well as being blamed for many of the planet’s woes – can also take some credit for raising awareness of them.