40 Days of shooting. Updates, Lessons learned.

So I am about 40 days into shooting the Sedum Tile set.  I have thousands of frames captured, things are moving right along. I decided to go over some of the lessons learned.


1)      Grow Lights
For timelapse LED grow lights are the clear winner. I moved from Hydrofarm T5 fluorescent lights, to iPower 600w HPS/MH, to Dirt Genius grow lights.

  1. Hyrdrofarm T5 4 foot Light Fixture.  This was the first light I experimented around with.  It works fairly well for various plants, mainly those which do not require full sun. It works very nicely for grasses and various kinds of small ground cover. It was a total hit and miss when it comes to flowering.
  2.  iPower 600w HPS/MH kit. This thing is killer. When I moved from the T5 lights to the iPower I immediately saw a difference in vegetation and growth. It puts out quite a bit of heat, and kept my studio about 85-90  degrees. The difference in growth was like night and day. The only problem is it is terrible for timelapse. The color output of the light is extremely unnatural with the HPS bulb, and the MH was better but not ideal.  The big problem is these systems are NOT intended to be turned on and off repeatedly. I managed to kill my bulbs within a few weeks. If you do not mind constantly replacing bulbs every few weeks this would be a great system. However the bulbs are 20-30  bucks, if shooting for several months this is not a very viable option
  3. Dirt Genius LED Grow Lights. This was a gamble. I had looked online for LED lighting as I needed something that could be turned on and off at least a thousand times a week, and I wanted something affordable. The Chronos Project does sponsor some of this, but a majority of this project is funded by myself.  I had looked online and people were calling these Chinese knockoffs of Blackstars. I did some looking into the company and it claimed to be California based and did have a California phone number. I suppose it could be a ruse, however It was a lot easier to afford a $180 Dirt Genius than a $500 Blackstar.  Sometimes we just have to work with what we have.  So far I could not be happier, I am hoping I can get them to sponsor me with another light, I asked once and got no reply. I will finish this shoot, get some footage for them to view, and try again.  I would really like to have a second one. I Don’t know if they perform as well as Blackstars or other higher end grow lights, I keep mine about 18 inches to 2 feet off the garden and everything is flowering like crazy.

2)      Dealing with Flicker
Flicker is a pain in the ass. Nothing is worse than rubbing 1000 frames out of your shutter and spending a week and a half just to have flicker filled time-lapse. I have finally managed to eliminate ALL flicker.

  1. Lock the aperture. If you have canon use the lens twist method. I do not, I have Fuji. And Fuji rocks, you can even do the same with Fuji lenses! However, when you do this and the power is decoupled even the slightest bump will knock the focus out of place. I finally ended up getting a lens adapter for Nikon G lenses which gives me aperture control.  Generally I have been shooting at f/8 to f/11 on a Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 lens. I am usually right around the close focus distance, so a smaller aperture really gives a much better DOF.
  2. Use solid consistent lighting. I am using a small LED panel light, it is efficient, and provides very consistent lighting.  I was origionally using the BMC to tie the operation of the light to the shooting sequence, but now I just have it plugged in and ON constantly. Be careful with some lights, they may exhibit some changes in color temperature as they warm up. By using a LED panel that is constantly on you get very consistent color.
  3. Long exposures. This here is clutch. I will tighten the aperture, use ND filters, and reduce the brightness of the LED panel to ensure my shutter speed can be at least 1 second at the minimum. I prefer to keep it at 2 seconds or longer. The need to have longer shutter speeds is also a benefit as you do not need extremely bright video lights. Using a smaller one with an umbrella will give nice soft diffused light.


3)      Composition

  1. This is right now my biggest problem. I don’t really know landscaping, I am no good at floral arrangements. And my composition skills at this sort of work need some improvement. Right now the set I am working with was setup on a whim. It was mothers day, I was with my parents and they told me of this thing called “Garden tile” or “Sedum Tile”. They are these wonderful groundcover plants done in sort of a sod-type setup. You can cut them into shapes and cut them on some dirt and they start growing like crazy, making out at about 3-4 inches in height. I picked some of those up, and about a dozen other plants and some dirt.       There was not a lot of through that went into this, I just put the shorter ones up front and taller ones in the back. The results in my view started pretty good, but everything quickly hit its max height, plants were no longer moving much, and it was difficult to find new good angles to film.
  2. The set is just too busy. This was an important thing to learn before I start on the carnivorous shoot, sometimes less is more. It is nice to have a clear target to film rather than a big mess of flowers and plants. I am glad I learned this now.
  3. Another important thing is to be able to change things up, after about 4 weeks of shooting the same set I got pretty bored. About a week ago I went to my backyard and grabbed some remains of a tree that had been cut down and a few more pieces of wood and a few larger rocks and added them to the set, and it really adds to the entire scene, nearly changing it completely. Building a dynamic set where you can take multiple angles is a must, and being able to make small changes for big effects will pay out in the end. All things to keep in mind.
  4. Get ideas from nature. I am a big fan of hiking, and luckily I live in Colorado. We have a huge amount of trails within 15-20 minutes of the house. I have spent more time looking at the ground than I normally do, taking pictures of smaller low lying areas with various mosses and ground cover looking for inspiration on future sets.

4)      Leave It the hell alone!
I had a lot of problems with this as well. It is too tempting to scroll through the images on the card to get a sneak preview of the resulting sequence. Best thing to do is learn to ignore it.

5)      Water between sequences.
I have learned the best bet is to water the hell out of this stuff before you start shooting, you should be able to get 4-5 days before you have to water again. If you DO have to water again, use a long stemmed plant watering pitcher and be careful not to touch anything while getting the water in there. Another option is to use a stray bottle on the jet setting and you can target water directly to the base of the plant. If you dump water all over the soil the plants will shift and move and it could ruin your sequence.

3 thoughts on “40 Days of shooting. Updates, Lessons learned.”

  1. It sounds like you are learning a lot. A couple of questions: Are you now shooting with the lights always on rather than having a day cycle. If so are you noticing any difference in the growth (ie plant growing more consistently?) or is it just a less flicker thing? Also have you looked at using older Pentax lenses? They are cheaper and also manual iris/focus. Well thanks for sharing your insights!

  2. Hey Tim! Thank you for stopping by!

    I am still running day/night schedule with the grow lights, however the LED video light is on non stop. It is turned down pretty low to get the shutter speeds over 1 second, as it is right now im shooting f/11 with 2 second shutter speed ,ISO 200 , that should give an idea to the level of light output i am getting from that LED panel. So while they do not get true night on the night cycle, it is significantly darker.
    I havent check the pentax lenses….. I really dont know much about those older manual lenses, and im paranois that the glass is not up to todays standards, maybe i should look into it. Can you recommend a good 24mm pentax manual lens?

  3. I was just looking on KEH and the pentax 24mm manual lenses are running just around $230 – but if you look at the 28 mm manual lenses they are under $100. I shot almost all of my plants time lapses on pentax lenses – I think I have a 28 (or it might be a 24 that was given to me a long time ago) It was sharp enough (look for the SMC which is Super Multi Coated, there are forums and guides to buying these lenses).

    Another question or two – so does your controller, turn off an on the grow light? (i’m guessing so as the color would be off durning the “day”) and with the longer exposure are you seeing any bugs, or is that helping to eliminate them from view – I had these little white bugs in the soil, I figured out a trick in After Effects to get rid of them (I’ll share if you need it)

    As far as the exposure I know you are alway fighting for more DOF in these shots but good choice to not go above (or is it below, the numbers are bigger but the aperture is smaller) f11. I shot at f22 sometimes and paid the price when a bean grew right thru a sensor spot, arrgh)

    Well keep up the good work.

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