Soaring — June 2015
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Time Bandits
Phyllis Murray

The third, and last, article on the making of CloudStreet discusses the particular needs of the time-lapse photography sequences sprinkled throughout the movie. The amount of time required to generate a time compressed movie of flower blooming will try anyone’s patience. ± Editor

Early on in the discussions about filming CloudStreet, it was decided that Dave Bixler and I would provide the time-lapse photography. We are professional still photographers, having shot weddings and wildlife for the past 15 years. Time-lapse photography was new to us so a brief, intensive study time was required.

Our general directive was to find weather and photograph it. The tools included our Nikon D300 cameras, Nikon lenses, several sturdy tripods, neutral density filters, intervalometer, rail system, sunscreen, hats, and phones with weather apps loaded. Next came the education about the types of developing weather that would support the Cloud- Street story. Then, the maps, the guidance on what to watch for with developing weather, and where to be at certain times during the summer.

We became known as the Time Bandits to the rest of the crew, and by the first of May, 2013, we were ready to go. We loaded food, clothing, computers, and camera gear into our travel trailer and pickup and set out on a grand adventure.

2013 was a very unusual weather year in the southwest. The clouds developed quickly and were usually accompanied by wind, dancing dirt devils, rain, lightning, and occasionally, hail. On many days, we would set one camera to shoot in one direction and one to shoot in the opposite direction. Most of the time-lapses were shot at one frame every three seconds. Thus, a 999 shot session resulted in a 40 second time-lapse (approximately) when played back at 23.943 frames per second. We shot 135 time-lapses, 40 of which are in the movie.

Now comes the rest of the story for becoming full-fledged Time Bandits. One of the first lessons about weather-related time-lapse photography was learning patience. We would set up our cameras, start the shutter clicking, and then we would wait. The shortest wait times were for sunrises and sunsets as they happen fairly quickly. But to get good cloud development it wasn’t unusual for us to shoot for several hours. Unfortunately, there were times when it would appear that we were going to get great footage and then the clouds would sigh, dissipate, and drift away.

We found some hedgehog cacti in northern New Mexico that were ready to bloom. Day one, early morning and there were cacti blooming near our trailer. Day two, we found a cactus that looked like it was going to bloom soon. It didn’t. Day three we set up the camera on a prospective cactus and waited. No joy. Day four, we studied the cactus until we knew that pre-bloom look. Day five dawned bright and breezy. This was the day. We set up the camera, put our folding chairs around it to block the wind, and started shooting.

For three months, the Time Bandits traveled back and forth thru New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana. And, we had lots of fun and learned some valuable lessons:

1. Never forget to charge your camera batteries.
2. Patience is a virtue.
3. Don’t open all of your pickup doors at the same time when a storm is coming.
4. Always trust Mother Nature to do as she pleases.

About the Author: Phyllis Murray is a professional wildlife and nature photographer. Phyllis and Dave Bixler are a married photography team and their work can be seen at