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Section three: Compressing time
TOPIC SECTION:
Compressing time
A patch of bare earth bursts into life as thousands of small seeds germinate, thrusting their wavin
Image: Transparency of a flower taken in 1940
Transparency of a flower taken in 1940
Credit: National Museum of Photography, Film & Television/Science & Society Picture Library
g stalks towards the light. A dead mouse becomes a seething mass of maggots that swiftly reduces it to a skeleton. Both images are examples of how processes that occur over a relatively long period are compressed to a matter of seconds by time-lapse photography.

The widespread use of web cams has now made it easy to record sequences of images from a fixed viewpoint over time, making it possible to see the changes that occur in a landscape, both built and natural, and the development of weather systems

Compared with the considerable technical demands of high-speed ph
Should a picture be taken every minute, hour or day?
otography, the technology of time-lapse is relatively straightforward. The camera operator can rarely be beside the camera throughout the length of the shoot, so the process is generally automated. The camera is usually controlled by an in tervalometer programmed to open the shutter at a pre-determined interval, which is adjustable from seconds to hours. Sophisticated controllers can also re
F Percy Smith, a pioneer of scientific filmmaking, filming a pond 1910
Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library
spond to changes in light levels by varying exposure times, turning photographic lights on and off, firing flash units and even operating blinds in greenhouses when filming plant growth.

Time-lapse filming requires detailed understanding of what is likely to happen and for how long. How high will a plant grow, how fast? Should a picture be taken every minute, hour or day? Will foliage growth in foreground plants obscure the camera lens? Will the sun or street lights flare into the camera lens at particular times of the day or night? The work of days – in some cases, months – can be ruined by miscalculation or oversight.

Possibly the most frequent application of sequentially-shot pictures is animation. Here, however, the time interval between each recorded image is irrelevant. What matters is the change in movement recorded in each picture and the time interval between each picture when it is shown. When the images are shown at a constant speed of 24 or 25 frames a second, our eyes and brain interpret them as a moving image. Provided the animator correctly judges the changes in action between each image, the resulting movement appears realistic: successful animators have a clear understanding of the relationship of movement and time.

 
 
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Topic section: Tracing time
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From the beginnings of photography, almost without realising it, photographers recorded moments in time, as well as images of people and places. Before long, photographers made conscious attempts to trace the passage of time.  > more

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Section two: Expanding time
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Recent developments in high-speed cinematography give film-makers opportunities to expand the moment. Films like The Matrix have created new effects to represent time and tension  > more
 
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