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Time Travels: Marsh Plaza

A familiar façade transforms, one frame at a time


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The time-lapse above shows Marsh Plaza from the ground on a beautiful summer day. Shooting began at 11 a.m., with a shot interval of one second. The focus was set to manual and fixed on the sculpture to avoid automatically focusing on passersby. The video was encoded at 30 frames per second.  

These days, any average Joe can shoot a video and upload it faster than you can say “one-hour film processing.” Video production has gone global, like still photography before it.

So the challenge for visual and creative enthusiasts becomes greater. It’s no longer about capturing an event as it happens, but capturing it in a way that a throng of camera phone–wielding YouTube account holders do not.

Enter time-lapse photography, a technique that’s been around for years, but never gets old. Peter Moriarty, a mechanical engineering student, believes time-lapse is a different form of media altogether.  

“Most people view the world in snapshots, blinking and focusing on different objects two seconds at a time,” says Moriarty (ENG’11). “Time-lapse compresses time such that viewers may observe movement — or a peculiar lack of movement — that they might not see otherwise. It’s a way of manifesting the subtle beauty of the world in plain sight.”

While a standard video is recorded at 30 images per second, time-lapse photography allows the shooter to control how many pictures are taken and at what intervals. If you want to capture the sun going down over a two-hour period, for instance, you don’t need 30 images a second because there is little noticeable movement in one second of a sunset. An image every three seconds would do it far more dramatically. By jockeying time, the images jostle us out of complacency, affect the way we relate to our immediate environment — accomplishing what most artists aspire to.

For today’s video, the first in a series that will run weekly, Moriarty set out with a $200, eight-megapixel Canon PowerShot A720 IS, a tripod, some AA batteries, several memory cards, and a whole lot of gaffer’s tape. The software, known as a Canon Hack Development Kit, runs off a memory card and allows the user to write scripts instructing the camera what to do. With the time-lapse script, you can choose how often you want the camera to take a picture.

The “hacking” of Moriarty’s camera was done by Trevor Shannon, a third-year mechanical engineering student across the river at MIT. The mutual connection is Ed Moriarty, Peter’s father, an instructor at the MIT Edgerton Center, who develops engineering curricula and methods for local high schools.

“I am trying to bring more focus on art into the science, technology, engineering, and math offerings for high school students,” he says. “I want them to see the world with fresh eyes and an open heart, to instill a curiosity about a world that we all too frequently fail to notice.”

Peter, who became interested in photography while in Fairbanks, Alaska, four years ago, hopes to research applications of sound waves and vibrations. “I want to strengthen the conduit between world cultures through sound, specifically music,” he says.

In the meantime, he’s strengthening the conduit between our movement through daily life, and our understanding of time.

Got an idea for a time-lapse on or around campus? Share it with us. Think large or small, indoors or out. If we follow through in our weekly series, you’ll get credit, but even better, we’ll all get a great new set of images and a deeper appreciation of where we stand, and live.

Edward A. Brown can be reached at ebrown@bu.edu.


One Comment on Time Travels: Marsh Plaza

  • Kirsten on 09.08.2009 at 3:35 pm

    So very cool! I love time lapse videos, they’re so fascinating. Out of curiosity, what day was this shot on?

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