Creating spinning circular timelapse with Nikon DSLR camera

Creating spinning circular timelapse with Nikon DSLR camera
Creating spinning circular timelapse with Nikon DSLR camera 2

Artist and Nikon Ambassador for Lebanon, Alexy Joffre Frangieh (who painted his Nikon gear with military grade “Desert Mirage Lizard” paint) shared with us an interesting and challenging setup. His aim was to create a spinning circular image from within a leafless apple tree: creating a time lapse for use in a video artwork that will afterwards be displayed on a huge video wall (extract from the videoart can be found at the bottom of this post). You can follow Alexy on his website, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.

Creating spinning circular timelapse with Nikon DSLR camera 3
It was almost impossible to mount the Syrp rotary motion controller inside the tree, so the Syrp needed to be mounted on an extension arm reaching the inside of the trunk. The second challenge was to spin the camera on the very center of the 8mm circular fisheye. One of the solutions was the use of a panoramic head screwed directly on the Syrp. The system was progressively becoming very heavy and unstable, counter weights became crucial for balancing the whole combination. Everything was weighted individually in order to apply the needed counter weights within the handling capacity of the tripod.

Creating spinning circular timelapse with Nikon DSLR camera 6
The soil was getting wet and the tripod legs began sinking in an irregular fashion every time a new element was being added to the system, and the solution was to add significant weight to the bottom of the tripod's center column, forcing it to settle in the wet soil.

Creating spinning circular timelapse with Nikon DSLR camera 4
And here comes the most challenging part: leveling... Each part needed to be leveled individually and each time a new component was added, it needed to be leveled with the whole, in a way to keep the consequent camera framing possible.

Creating spinning circular timelapse with Nikon DSLR camera 7
Using the selected geared head (see the list of gear used at the bottom of this post) was a must, since it can handle a heavy load and has the possibility of fine movements, which was impossible using other types of heads. The multi camera arm was mounted directly on the head. All movements can now be done precisely using the cranks of the geared head. Another leveling base was mounted on the arm, on which the motion controller and camera were to be fixed.

Creating spinning circular timelapse with Nikon DSLR camera 1
The camera had a vertical viewfinder, which turned impractical to use, because the higher the camera goes the more prone to shake it becomes. And the camera couldn't be lowered a lot, it became very hard to check the camera screen. Later on, a wireless transmitter was used to frame the first shot on a laptop screen. After the whole system was ready and the 8mm pointing up, a smart phone with a "talking bubble" app was laid flat on the closed lens, and then the final leveling with the geared head cranks was performed, in very small precise movements.

Creating spinning circular timelapse with Nikon DSLR camera 5
The camera was triggered externally while the motion controller ran continuously. That process created slight radial blur, which averaged the unavoidable shake caused by the camera mirror mechanism. The setup took around 90 minutes in intermittent rain, which was caught, in the final outcome. When asked why not to spin on software since it was a full circle, Alexy said " it is those little imperfections that make things alive". Here is an extract from the videoart:

List of gear used:

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  • saywhatuwill

    The results are pretty interesting. I could see that going into a museum of modern art.

    • mikeswitz

      I could see the contraption that shot it going into the Museum of Modern Art.

  • Paul

    that is super weird. i would love to see that technique in some well-known intersection or somewhere with famous architecture.

  • GOHF

    I’m a fan of complexity for the sake of complexity, having used dozens of heads over the years, including many 360 and motorized heads.

    That last paragraph however, his answer – I don’t entirely buy it. Sounds like a classic case of every problem looking like a nail when you happen to have a hammer. I can completely envision working so hard to solve the problem (counterweights, perfect balancing, iphone leveling, etc) only to hear someone later ask that question and having it be like a pin drop. If someone had suggested software rotation before the setup instead of after the fact it would have been lauded as a way to get rid of those little imperfections, instead of a way to embrace them.

    All that aside, it was a very interesting setup, a great article, and some fun footage.

    • Qw

      At least he didn’t feel the need to paint this entire set up in military grade paint for the shoot.

    • hussey

      Huh? What about the clouds, the rain, the light changes? I’m not sure he should’ve worded them as “imperfections,” that’s real life versus frozen life.

      • Alexy Frangieh

        the imperfections are the shake, the little parallax changes cause it is impossible to spin 100% centered, the winds shaking the whole head…after all the fun is in the act of creation and the outcome comes as Bonus

  • antifoo

    Using a video tripod would give problems getting access to that tree. There are plenty of photo tripods that would sit there just fine. Then just mount the Syrup to the top of the tripod/ball head.
    There are plenty of other rotating solutions, many are stronger than the Syrup. Stage-R from dynamic perception; or the Cinedrive Turntable from Kessler.

  • Fred Flintstone

    Looks like an eyeball to me

  • Spy Black

    “The soil was getting wet and the tripod legs began sinking in an
    irregular fashion…And here comes the most challenging part: leveling…”

    I would’ve just placed, say, 12-ich square 3/4 inch plywood boards, on the ground where the tripod legs were. No need to worry about it sinking into the ground, and makes leveling relatively straightforward.

    Maybe it’s just me, but the whole thing struck me as a Rube Goldberg device. There has to be a simpler way to reach the same goal.

    • Wd

      A pano head for virtual tours works great attached to a chainsaw motor that is painted in military grade paint (blue or yellow works best)

  • Twull

    I have one of those Manfrotto 028B tripods. It’s a beast. I personally would’ve used a ball head, but it’s definitely steady as a rock.

    • Twull

      I meant “bowl” head. It would’ve solved to leveling issues.

  • Maji

    Very creative to come up with the idea. Well done!

  • Jaap

    You can rotate circular images using software…?
    I don’t get it.

    • Mike

      That’s what makes it “art”…

    • the librarian

      He said that he didn’t want to use software to spin it: Alexy said ” it is those little imperfections that make things alive”

      • MyrddinWilt

        He wanted the rain drops to stay still and the tree to rotate…

  • Its like something you would see at a Pink Floyd Concert – I really like it.

  • spicynujac

    This method was FAR too complicated. My first thought was simply why one needed a DSLR (much less a D3x costing in the thousands!) to obtain an image that is about 2 to 3 inches across on my huge 27″ monitor? My monitor is above average size so it would only be smaller with less detail on most machines. Maybe this will be projected / shown as live art. Otherwise, get a cheap P&S and no one will be able to tell quality difference. Or like someone else said, rotate the image in software.

    But I guess it’s only “art” if you use overpriced equipment and a complex method.

    • captaindash

      It’s a DSLR cuz you can’t get a circular fisheye point ‘n shoot. Also, if you actually read the article, you’d see it says it “will afterwards be displayed on a huge video wall”. You getting angry at him using a top end body for this is like you getting mad at somebody going to the grocery store in a 7 series BMW.

      Believe it or not, it was not created just for you and your 27″ monitor. Besides, not to split hairs but your monitor size is irrelevant. It’s the resolution it’s set at that matters.

      • spicynujac

        There is no emotion involved in this criticism. But I do think it is excessive methodology, equipment, and technique, and doesn’t personally interest me (and several others agree). For the record I shot a 360 degree panorama fisheye on a Nikon Coolpix about 15 years ago, so I’m sure there are several other non-DSLR fisheye options available out there today. And certainly one doesn’t need the four figured Nikon D3 for this shot.

        • captaindash

          No, it does not require a multiple four figured body. I don’t recall anywhere it being mentioned that he had to use one. He chose to. If you have a weather sealed body (which in this case turned out to be a big bonus) and can take a top quality photo, why wouldn’t you? It would be really weird to use a lower end body/sensor if you have a better one that will do the job every bit as good or better, unless you were going for some special sort of effect (like using an Olloclip on an iPhone, with it’s really soft edges).

          • spicynujac

            See, there’s this perception out there that a D4 or D800 will take “better” pictures than a D300 or D7000. In many cases (this one fits) the output would be indistinguishable. I have shot with cameras worth a couple hundred dollars up to the D800 and while a more expensive camera can make it easier to obtain certain shots (with faster AF, frame rate, quick settings, etc.) I can usually reproduce the same photo with my 5 year old DSLR with indistinguishable results unless you are pixel peeping or it is a tough technical shot (high speed wildlife). The key is in technique, skill, and good lenses.

        • Alexy Frangieh

          i happen to already have this stuff, do i have to go and buy lower series?

  • Nikon Sissy

    So cool. He puts a D3x out in a hailstorm for a little shot. I wish I had that guys huevos. But that’s the difference between an artist and the rest of us.

  • Alexy Frangieh
  • Carl

    And what shall that bulls…t be good for? I hope the guy gets some professional care…

    • captaindash

      Let’s be honest, 99% of photos are for no other reason than to take the photo. This has more use than a photo of a thin woman in a sun dress in a minimalist room, yet you don’t complain about the thousands of those, do ya?

  • captaindash

    Why are people getting so suspicious about the rotating software part? If he’s truly doing this for art’s sake, then he probably wants it to be all in-camera. The more awkward and unnecessarily complicated his setup was, the more appreciated it will probably be by the art community. They’re weird that way.

  • RXG

    This seems like a ridiculous amount of work and hardware for a final product that looks extremely dull and low-quality. It looks like time-lapse shot with an iphone app.

    • Alexy Frangieh

      it does indeed

  • T.A.G.

    Excuse my ignorance in technicalities, I am illiterate there…I just want, (as an ordinary-ignorant-photography lover), to show my appreciation for the effort put to create this beautiful result. I love the outcome, and I love the effort, no matter what new techniques suggest as “better options”… It is the challenge, and the vision inside that spoke to me.

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