Using time-lapse to explore the natural world

Nature (noun) – The phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the Earth, as opposed to humans or human creations.”

Installing a time-lapse camera system in a tree.
Getting a better view by using the environment.

From subatomic to the cosmic, we, as humans, have very little control of the world around us. We can observe, record and interact, but on a planet with a diameter of almost 8,000 miles, there is little we can actually impact upon.

This leaves us, as a species, curious. In a modern world of technology and science, some things are still simply incomprehensible. And it is the unnerving feeling of not being able to understand that drives individuals to seek out explanations and truths.

Still photographs allow us to observe, record and get close to interaction. But, they are but a snapshot of one point in time. They do not show seasons changing or people growing, flowers blooming or animals living.

Amazingly, scientists do not yet appear to have cottoned onto the benefits of time-lapsing animal behaviour. Fortunately, budding amateurs and professionals alike have realised the potential to develop a further understanding of our natural world through this tried-and-tested technique.

Pull a bottle of honey off of a supermarket shelf and you would not think twice about where it came from. Other than the government calling for an urgent review on bee decline last year, it is very rare that anything really gets said about a species so vital to our survival. After all, food prices rocket due to agricultural yields falling when there are not enough bees to pollinate plants. So instead of listening or reading about it, this video of honeycombs being built is a closer look at the intricate workings of a hive – something not possible to the human eye in real-time, nor in a still image.

And wildlife photographer Will Burrad-Lucas took things one step further when filming wildebeest – he went to them (between the Serengeti in Tanzania and the Masai Mara in Kenya). Nothing quite like it had ever been produced before and the footage became a scientific discovery in itself. Capturing wildebeest migration (or the behaviour of any animal, for that matter) is such an inventive use of still images, one that no doubt benefits science as well simply creating a stunning piece of video.

Speaking of science, what about the stuff above us? Those strange, meteorological happenings that create our quintessentially British weather we all love so much. There is no way to change it, granted, but there is a way to monitor it. This video of weather over the course of a year takes a mammoth amount of footage and data, and squeezes it down into a manageable and comprehensible piece of information. Forget written records, because, whilst vital, they do not tell the whole story. Photography is the important, visual representation that has been lacking previously. And time-lapse sequences in particular, as they can highlight the rapid changes in weather across a long period of time. Or even across short periods of time, which can help to make weather we loathe look pretty good. Case in point these clouds over picturesque Colwyn Bay.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are the depths of the sea. Coral and sponges move at not only greatly different speeds to us, but also one another. Marine biology Ph.D. student Daniel Stoupin does the magnification and processing for us, allowing underwater life to express itself in its full glory.

One thing is for sure – time-lapse photography is giving us a fascinating and enjoyable way to view the natural world like never before.

And after all, would not want to see a marmot lick a GoPro camera in Glacier National Park?

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