Statistically speaking, if you’re reading this site, it’s because of this video:
It’s actually a few months old, and (as the name suggests) the second attempt at a project, Glide, that I described here back in July. I also posted it to Reddit then, garnering a few hundred hits, which is about as much as I can usually hope for. However, Glide 2 was languishing at forty-something views, so last week I thought I’d try and get it some more attention by posting it to b3ta. It made the newsletter, spread in a few directions via twitter, and the hit counter seemed to stabilise just above 5,000- so I smugly posted that on facebook and set off to Edinburgh to graduate.
Except it seems that the hit counter hadn’t so much stabilised as jammed: by now it’s gone thoroughly viral, with just over 100K views- more than everything else I’ve put online, combined, by an order of magnitude. However, along the way plenty of people have been a bit confused as to exactly what they’re seeing, so I thought a proper follow up post was in order.
I’d made acouple of attempts at slow-motion filming of fireworks in Edinburgh, but crowds meant I couldn’t get a stable setup. So I’d been patiently waiting for Guy Fawkes Night in England: not just because it’s my birthday, but to attempt a better capture. I found myself once again at the University of Bath for their annual display, and as hoped it was big enough for some decent fireworks but not so busy as to stop me setting up the tripod, activating the camera, and being able to ignore it whilst enjoying the show myself. Obviously this has left me with a vast amount of footage which I haven’t thoroughly trawled yet; but the clip above is of the finale, which I’m expecting to be one of the highlights!
So, here’s a plan that I had the idea for ages ago, but only managed to assemble the relevant ingredients (a slam-door intercity train, a first class ticket, a daytime journey, some decent weather…) for this weekend.
In all my slow-motion work so far, I’ve used a static camera to capture a high-speed event. But, I wondered, what would happen if the camera was the fast-moving object? For instance, if you use a 210fps camera at 35mph, on playback at 30fps it’ll seem to the observer that they’re moving at walking pace- but everything observed will be operating at 1/7th speed.1
What I’d hoped to do was film the people on a railway platform from a train as it blasted past, but since the places they don’t stop at tend not to be listed in the timetables, this would be hard to co-ordinate. I figured that being at the very front of a fast train as it approached a stop would suffice; although the ‘frozen in time’ effect is less pronounced towards the end of the video, the platforms at non-stops tended to be mostly empty, so there’d be less to capture anyway. Helpfully, people don’t seem to move too much as their train arrives!
Here’s the most successful of my attempts, then- as it happens, the first stop, Bath Spa, had the best lighting. Youtube has, as usual, mangled things somewhat- it’s a lot smoother at the original quality, but vimeo does no better, so this’ll have to do.
Without a slow-motion camera you can achieve something similar by convincing a large group of people not to move! This improv-everywhere scene experimented with just that, which inspired a ‘big freeze’ flashmob in Edinburgh whilst I was living there. Portraying lack of motion in a photograph strikes me now as a fools errand, although like many others I did try, and the (annoyingly uncredited) photo in the BBC coverage is one of mine. The opposite problem, of compressing a block of time into a single frame, can give fantastic results, and is in some sense the inverse of what I’ve been trying here, which is to stretch a moment into an extended video. I find all this mucking around with time endlessly fascinating…
1 I’ve reworded this bit slightly as a lot of people have assumed the train was doing a mere 35mph- British rail isn’t that bad! I believe intercity services such as this can hit 125mph, although I don’t know whether they can build up that much speed between Bristol and Bath – or how fast you’re allowed to enter a station.
Spring is slowly taking hold in Edinburgh, so I felt it would be good to take advantage of the sunlight and try some high-speed shooting outdoors. With a friend, Jaclyn, as glamorous assistant, I had a go at an old standard: capturing water balloons just as they burst. Caught at the right moment, the water retains the shape of its now-absent container before collapsing.
It should be noted that sunny in Edinburgh needn’t mean warm… Next time I think it’d be a good idea to fill the balloons with hot water, as after a few soakings with cold water it’s hard to operate the camera! Still, at least the combination of 40fps and pre-record meant that we got the desired capture from each burst, although the shape and positioning wasn’t always ideal (I had hoped the balloons would be more spherical). The skin will end up on the opposite side to the puncture, so perhaps piercing at the bottom is best for a clear shot of the water- we discovered that simply dropping them onto a pin doesn’t work, however.
Last weekend Gravity Vomit held a juggling and circus skills convention at the University of Bath (where I spent my undergrad years), so I headed east to the west country with the high-speed camera. The flickr set contains some individual grabs from burst mode, as well as a few experiments with capturing multi-motion images.
However, slow-motion video quickly turned out to be the real crowd-pleaser, so I concentrated on that: as well as the highlights reel above, there’s also a playlist of longer clips available on youtube.