Biolapse Shooting Tips
1) Use long exposures. Generally I expose for 1.5 to 2 seconds. When dealing with artificial lights you can get some flicker with the faster shooting speeds, the slower speeds allow for longer more consistent light collection.
2) Stop down your aperture. Generally your camera will be pretty close to the plant, so the DOF will already be awfully thin. But knocking the f-stop down to f/11 or so you will get a larger DOF, this also helps in dragging out the shutter speed for longer exposures.
3) Do not water the plant from above. This can cause the soil to expand when wet, and contract as it dries which will cause the plant to rise up and down from one watering to the next. Instead find a way to pot the plant in a basket or a small pot/containter with holes in the bottom and/or sides and it it in a larger tray with water. The larger the tray, the longer it will take for the water to be absorbed/evaporate. When done properly you will only have to top it off once a day and you should maintain a nice steady moisture level.
4) Long day cycle, short night cycle. Find a way to provide the plant a day/night cycle, but keep the night cycles short. I normally have a 23 hour day cycle and a 1 hour night cycle. Artifical lights do not always provide enough light, by stretching out the day cycle you can provide more light and the plants will appreciate that. The night cycle should be short due to the temp differences with the grow light on and off. When it is on the ground may dry up on the surface layer, but during the night cycle the ground may become a bit more damp. If doing a 12/12 onoff cycle this may turn into a ground that is wet, then dry, then wet, then dry over the course of several days. If you keep a short night cycle this should help reduce any variances on the soil when shooting.
5) Give the plants some time off. Filming can be pretty stressful to the plants. Once you are done with an extended filming session, give the plants a break. If possible move them outside for some real sunlight and some proper day night cycles. The plants will really appreciate this, and after all, they are the stars of the show, they deserve some rest and relaxation after an extended shooting session.
6) Understand your plants. Take some time to read up on the plants, it helps to understand and know them to properly care for them. You dont want to overwater, underwater, etc. A good example would be a Venus Fly Trap. Tap water and regular potting soil are a death sentence to this plant. Instead it requires distilled water and very low nutrient medium
7) Leave it alone! I know, this is a TOUGH one. It is so exciting to see a new timelapse sequence, and sometimes when you are filming you may realize that it is really catching something awesome! It is incredibly hard to resist flipping through the images on the camera between shots to see how things are progressing. But remember, touching the camera or anything in the set can be a recipe for disaster, the last thing you want is a perfect clip being ruined by a slight bump in the footage. I have found that Eye-Fi cards are PERFECT to help resist this temptation. All my files go directly to my PC each time an image is taken, this allows me to check the progress without even having to enter the set.
8) Give yourself room! Make sure you have easy access to top off the water levels without risking bumping into anything. I keep my set in the middle of the studio so I have access from all sides. This is critical to avoid disrupting the set.
9) Study your plants growth rate. This is such a time consuming hobby, sometimes you may only have a single opportunity to accomplish a certain shot within a season. Make sure you know how long it will take for you to film your clip goal. Especially when using motion control equipment. It is imperative to be able to predict how long a certain event will take to make sure you time it with your motion properly.
10) Understand that failure is OK as long as you learn from the mistake. This is NOT an easy thing to do. For the first year I ran into technical problem after technical problem. I have dealt with bugs, soil movement, flicker, worms, dying plants, timing issues, power issues, you name it. This has been the most difficult form of time-lapse I have ever done. It is also the most rewarding. I can go to vimeo or youtube and find all sorts of wonderful examples of day to night time-lapse transitions which are known as “The Holy Grail” of time-lapse. This Biolapse project has been far more difficult, and makes “The Holy Grail” of time-lapse look downright simple. If you are going to try this and end up getting less than perfect results, don’t worry, I have a dozen bad timelapse clips for every acceptable one.