Photographer and filmmaker Keith Loutit has painstakingly spent the last three years filming and creating a mesmerising timelapse of Singapore.
The Australian photographer has been based in Singapore for 12 years. “Timelapses are an incredible tool to transform, show people the world in a way which intrigues them,” he said. The aim of the video was to showcase the ‘Lion City’ in a new light, particularly to the people that live there.
Loutit undertook the three year project independently, purely as a love letter to his adopted home.We spoke to him to get the lowdown on how to approach a project of this ambition and scale.
As timelapse photography can be so strenuous on a camera, Loutit purchased gear that would hold up to such an intense workload. His primary cameras are two Nikon D4’s, specifically because of the strength of the carbon fibre shutter. He explained he often breaks shutters on cameras so to keep costs down, he needed gear that would last.
He shoots with Nikon AIS or AI prime glass, older manual lenses. He explained that he chose to eschew newer lenses because older glass is cheaper, but also because he modifies each lens. “It makes sense to use older primes because if I drop a lens I can get a new one and quickly modify it and be back shooting within a week.”
His modifications include removing the aperture pins on the lens. By doing this, the electronic and physical connection with the camera body is severed, effectively turning it into a lens from the 1900s. Removing the pin prevents the image from flickering as it stops the minute variations caused by the lens opening and closing.
Timelapse photography is notoriously taxing on storage. Image sequences can contain thousands of high-res photographs, which aren’t easy to store over a three year period. Loutit shot more than 70 locations and photographed more than 100 sequences in total, resulting in terabytes of data.
Because hard drives are known to fail, rather than purchasing 40 terabytes of RAID hard disk space, the 10 terabytes of footage was stored on a local drive and mirrored to Google Drive as a backup. “I’ve only just got to the stage this film is possible within a reasonable budget,” he noted.
Loutit also pointed out that uploading such massive amounts of data was only possible due to the phenomenal internet speed in Singapore, which has the highest average peak connection speed of anywhere in the world (135Mb/s), according to a 2015 study.
To pick his locations Loutit said he scouted all of Singapore before beginning the project. “It’s a very small country,” he pointed out. Loutit was granted access and permits where required for the film and said that access to high rise public housing is much more straightforward in Singapore compared to other parts of the world.
For his spectacular building construction shots, rather than leaving a static camera in place, Loutit would visit each site multiple times and take over 200 photos on each visit, stitching the final results into one huge timelapse that took place over months.
Due to its location on the equator, Singapore is a challenging place to shoot long term timelapses, as the sun spends half the time in the northern hemisphere and the other half in the southern hemisphere. The light angles, therefore, are always changing. To counter this, Loutit explains that he had to calculate the sun’s path and change the times he took photos to ensure everything could be edited together to look consistent. All of this required careful planning in advance of starting the shoot to ensure that the light would match over the course of years as photos were taken.
The editing and music
Building the footage and editing the project took place throughout the years, rather than a traditional production followed by post-production workflow. “You can’t spend three years on a project and then realise it didn’t work,” Loutit explained. Piecing the footage together ensured that the techniques and story were working and saved time at the end of the project. “Had I waited till the end of the project it would have added a year just to finish it,” joked Loutit.
The music was created by Michael Adler Miltersen from Sepia Productions. Miltersen worked closely with Loutit throughout the shoot. He created 20 sketches, tracks that experimented with different beats and sounds, before settling on one which became the base of the track used in the final production. Loutit explained that, like the edit, the music was developed as the project was being shot. The track development of the music impacted Loutit would plan to shoot, and the music was similarly influenced by the visuals. This allowed the project to grow organically as it moved forward. “The collaboration was really deep,” Loutit noted.
Originally, the film was supposed to run between two to three minutes long, not the four and a half minutes it ended up being. This caused some headaches and meant the music had to be altered throughout the process as the runtime became longer. Due to the popularity of the video, Miltersen has released the music for personal download via soundcloud.
“I overshot,” Loutit laughed, when asked about the amount of footage he captured, revealing that he only used 25% of the footage that he recorded. He’s still recording new timelapses and will be for a while. There are plans to use the remainder of the footage as part of a public space installation. He hopes the piece will include a video wall with 25 panels playing different sections of the footage in loops. “It’ll be in what appears to be a random fashion so you can see the whole country changing in one place,” he explained.
For those interested in getting into timelapse photography, Loutit recommends using other’s work as reference but not inspiration for what they shoot. “People need to start with a story not the technique,” he said.