Science is largely about studying a process of expected change, making time-lapse photography an ideal monitoring tool for capturing changes that take occur over a longer period of time.
There are two main areas in which time-lapse photography intersects with science. Firstly, ‘beauty time-lapse’ can be used in science education, most commonly in the natural sciences. Secondly, time-lapse methods can be used to regularly monitor change over long periods of time; remote time-lapse with 3G connectivity allows you to do this from afar.
Beauty time-lapse in science
The most common intersection between science and time-lapse is in the field of astronomy. The night sky with a clear view of the stars makes for fantastic time-lapse. This fantastic video captures both the stars and the equipment observing them.
Widely considered one of the best night sky time-lapse videos on-line, it’s also well-worth taking the time to watch The Mountain.
BBC nature documentaries are famous for their time-lapses of plant growth. This one captures fungi growing and is used in school science classes. This macro time-lapse video of mould growing is too beautiful to not include here.
Glacial activity is another common subject observed by time-lapse photography. According to founder James Balog, the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS) “is an innovative, long-term photography project that merges art and science to give a “visual voice” to the planet’s changing ecosystems.” EIS was the subject of the multi-award winning documentary Chasing Ice which documents the challenges and payoff of setting up long term time-lapse rigs in the Arctic.
Over the last twelve months, any time-lapse video from the International Space Station (ISS) has almost instantly gone viral. This amazing video has clocked up over 10 million views on Vimeo!
Last in this category, time-lapse can of course be used to show off science and help to generate publicity. Scientist Cassandra Brooks was working on the US National Science Foundation’s ice-breaker and took the time to make this time-lapse video of the two months of the ship’s activity.
Time-lapse as scientific monitoring
My personal favourite use of time-lapse in science was featured in NOVA episode titled Descent into the Ice where scientists used a bike wheel, cantilever and time-lapse set up to measure glacier movement. Simple but ingenius.
In the ‘Slime Watch‘ report and documentary, researchers used time-lapse to track the nocturnal activity of 450 garden snails splattered with UV paint (the best time-lapse section is at 3:05).
Saratoga Weather uses a time-lapse camera to track and learn about weather patterns over Mount Timpanogos, Utah. They have a whole Youtube channel of the videos.
NASA’s Landsat satellites have been snapping photos for 28 years so far and aren’t stopping anytime soon. Scientists are hoping to use the resulting time-lapses to monitor large scale ecological changes, most notably climate change. Google and TIME magazine have already created a number of videos from the photos, documenting changes like the shrinking of the Colombia Glacier in Alaska and the destruction of the Amazon.
photoSentinels used in science
We’ve put countless hours into our own scientific research and development to produce (and continue to improve) our state-of-the-art low-powered, long term time-lapse equipment. It’s great when the process comes full circle and see photoSentinel being used to conduct more scientific research. Here are the sorts of scientific projects where photoSentinel equipment is being utilised:
- the effects of different technologies on long-term crop growth and health
- the impact of human activity on coastal erosion
- environmental monitoring
- snail activity
The photoSentinel’s 3G network connectivity and online gallery allow scientists to monitor remote sites without having to make a field trip. The photoSentinel Lite is perfect for watching a location to determine when to make a field visit. Because the photoSentinel Pro uses high resolution DSLR cameras, the system can be used for projects where photos need to capture a high amount of detail.
Are there any scientific uses of time-lapse you know of that I haven’t covered here?