Layer-lapse: a photography revolution

It is a rather captivating use of alliteration, is it not – “layer-lapse”? And chances are this is the first time you have ever seen or heard of it.

Capturing time-lapse at a Horse Guards Parade event
Will we have simple nighttime shots for much longer? Or will layer-lapse take over?

That is because this little double-barrelled marvel is still well in its infancy. It is only five days old, in fact.

On Monday, Julian Tryba, an American photographer, uploaded a new video to Vimeo, called “Boston Layer-Lapse”. Within a matter of hours it had over 100,000 views and was chosen as a “Staff Pick”. It has currently been watched over half a million times and racked up almost 4,000 likes.

That is an awful lot of fuss for one video!

In previous blogs we have looked at the history of time-lapse – that mainly being the foundation laid down by Eadweard Muybridge and his photos of a horse running. And the introduction of layer-lapse arguably has the potential to be just as revolutionary to photography as those stills were back in the late 1870s.

Whilst it is still new, layer-lapse has one key feature – it blurs day and night. In its simplest form it takes elements from each and stitches them together into one image, before being organised like a usual time-lapse.

Realistically, however, it is a visual representation of Albert Einstein’s theory that all time exists simultaneously. He believed that past, present and future is only an illusion.

Einstein might have been looking at the bigger picture – one’s death is of no consequence as it has already happened and is also yet to happen – but this theory is more easily managed when applied to layer-lapse. If life as we know it is an illusion, this new form of photography, brought to the masses by Tryba, is almost a double negative; an illusion within an illusion, so to speak.

Just a couple of years ago other time-lapse sequences started to pave the way for Tryba. The first step towards layer-lapse has since been credited to Philip Stockton’s “New York: Night and Day”. And it does take a moment for your eyes to adjust to his piece of work and realise what is going on. Darkened buildings are littered between sunny streets and open spaces. It is in no way advanced like Boston Layer-Lapse, because it is solely contrasting images of night and day, but the idea of blending the two into a time-lapse video seems to have originated from this.

Geoff Tompkinson brought about a new idea six months later, with his video “Chicago”, set to Bach’s Toccata and Fugue. He was seemingly the first to fuse day and night elements a little further, by way of ‘animating’ them. Set to the famous organ piece, skyscrapers become equalisers, with lights turning on and off in time with the music. The editing of the buildings makes the lights appear to change in real time, whilst the streets below are moving at a more conventional ‘time-lapse speed’.

Even as early as February this year another of Tryba’s inspirations, Fong Qi Wei, put out his “Time in Motion” series. Again, it was another step towards layer-lapse, but as a GIF animation. In this case, the stark editing is deliberate.

That is where Boston Layer-Lapse is different. It blends day and night seamlessly, by giving neither dominance over the other. Streetlights guide cars at night whilst skyscrapers bask in sunlight. The city is transformed into a disco-like paradise, set perfectly to an upbeat dance track.

And it plays with your mind, as it looks completely natural. Differences in daytime and nighttime are revealed as being very subtle, unlike the harsh contrast usually seen between photos taken at those two times.

With Boston Layer-Lapse, Julian Tryba has taken a huge leap towards a new world of time-lapse photography. It is now a matter of who will utilise it and who will continue to innovate it. It has already sent shockwaves through the photography world – but who will be first to take the next step?

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