During the months of July and August, the Himalayas not only face the brunt of the South West monsoons, it stops them dead in their tracks. It is as if the elements are at war over these pristine meadows and lofty heights. The violence is immense. Wind changes sides as thunder rumbles sending a rasping claptrap. Fire occasionally shows its flashes, to be subdued quickly by the rains. What fun and a thrill to be amongst it with your camera at hand.
By the forces that paint the sky, Anurag Jetley stumbled upon the joys of photography while trekking in the Himalayas with a borrowed camera, six rolls of film and not enough clothes to keep warm. Unbeknownst, he became an aspiring photographer capturing the elusive element of time.
It was not until he was introduced to the DSLR that Anurag became interested in photography. “Digital happened. We were not exposing film, but capturing light. Suddenly creating top quality panoramas became democratic. What was once a very exclusive and expensive specialty, suddenly became accessible and affordable.”
Anurag describes his works not as images but a scene made of quite a few shots that tell individual stories. Adding the element of time, he says, visually changes the way one experiences a location, bringing novelty to the presentation, which if done well, can be quite engaging.
Multiple recces and a prolonged observation of the location with a compass is the key to time-lapse photography. Knowing your North in order to anticipate what the sun, the moon and the resulting shadows do at that location is key. Depending upon how these elements of time paint the landscape, Anurag tries to conceive a shot that captures at least some of its essence. Once that is done, it is just execution.
Lugging heavy loads sometimes as high as two thousand feet above sea level is what Anurag reaches to get the shot he desires. He stresses to get enough water and provisions to last the duration of the shot, which might take hours if weather conditions are poor. “At times it is so cold that serious provisioning has to be done before the shoot to keep your cameras, motion control equipment and limbs in a working condition.”
More often than not, time lapsing is a patient and a solitary exercise and there is no room to cut corners, he says. The learning curve can be shallow as even on a good day of shooting, you come back with at the most two to three shots. There are no shortcuts.
Anurag’s settings are all manually set as elements change during time. Intervals between shots depends on the element of time. For clouds for instance, he uses an interval of four seconds or less. If he is capturing the movement of shadows on a clear day, an interval of fifteen seconds and milky way shots at an interval of thirty-five seconds works best. For traditional time lapsing shots, Anurag’s goes to his reliable wide-angle lens, AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED. For a tilt-shift shoot, he’ll usually use a longer lens, like the AF-S DX NIKKOR 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, depending on how elevated he is from the ground.
While weather conditions can be rough, Anurag says the most majestic time to be in the mountain-esque region is during monsoon season. With a time-lapse shot, the importance of being prepared for the prevailing weather conditions cannot be stressed enough, says Anurag. When shooting in the scorching sun, with temperatures in excess of forty-six degrees Celsius, devising a shade for the camera system becomes mandatory. When shooting the night sky in the mountains in sub-zero temperatures, you have to have enough battery backup for the camera as well the motion control system as the batteries run out rather quickly when it's cold. Shooting during the monsoon season is a completely different ball game all together, says Anurag. Water proofing your camera system is essential on remote locations.
Adjusting the exposure manually on a camera is key as shifts throughout the day are frequent. Transitions from day-to-night or night-to-day or a “holy grail” situation, as referenced in time-lapse photography, may change exposure by up to fourteen stops.
The process of changing exposures is called "ramping". While this can be done automatically, Anurag prefers to do it manually as it gives him more control. In a Day-to-Night time-lapse, one would generally start by slowing down the shutter speed to compensate for the decrease in exposure. Then you'd open the aperture (smaller f number) to compensate for further reduction in exposure. Ultimately, you'll need to hike up the ISO to compensate when it starts turning really dark. So exposure ramping is done by changing all the three parameters that control the exposure. The shutter speed, the aperture and the ISO.
To shoot time lapsing, all one needs is a tripod, a camera that can shoot at regular intervals and an interval meter to trigger the camera in case the camera does not have an inbuilt one, explains Anurag. “As you get more comfortable with the technique, you get more ambitious. That’s when you add more equipment.”
Anurag prefers Nikon as most of them have an inbuilt interval meter. His dynamic shots are achieved with multiple equipment. On a typical time-lapse shoot, Anurag will use either his Nikon D800, D7100, or a D300. His stunning panoramas are captured with AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G, AF-S DX NIKKOR 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR, AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR and AF-S VR Micro-NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED. Tripods and a dynamic perception stage zero slider system with three axis motion control to pan, tilt and slide as the situation demands. If a location is in a remote area, he’ll usually bring eight camera batteries and extra battery packs. When traveling he stresses to have lots of memory cards and at least two HDD's (2TB each).
His key tips to remember:
• Have patience. Loads and loads of it.
• Observation and a detailed recce, sometimes multiple recces is a must.
• Shoot with your camera in a manual mode. You exercise more control over the entire process.
• Shoot RAW. Make full use of the image capturing capabilities of your camera. Also when shooting holy grail sequences, the white balance in the scene changes significantly as day changes to night or vice versa. If you shoot jpegs, that becomes a problem.
• Carry enough batteries and memory cards / hard drives as backup.
• Bad weather is good weather for time lapsing, the rapid changing in clouds can add dramatic effect. Make sure you have factored in the prevailing weather conditions in your shoot plan.
• Look for drama in the sky. That's where the magic is.
• Try to use moonrise and moonsets to give that magical touch to your shots.
As describe by himself - “I accumulate moments to represent the ceaseless continuity called time. yes, this is time- lapse photography and this is what I do” It was 4 years ago that Aunrag took the plunge into creating time lapses and ever since he has been relentlessly exploring it. Before that he was working on documentaries, creating shows in several different television formats, but whatever money he made there was thrown back into his photography passion. He hasn’t looked back since.