San Francisco to New York City in 8 Minutes
A few weeks ago, I wrote that I was moving across the country to take an internship with IA Venture Partners. Last week, I arrived in NYC by car five days after leaving San Francisco. (Note: what took Lewis & Clark years took me a few days…how cool is that?). Along the way, I took a picture of the road ahead every 30 seconds and stitched together the results into the time-lapse video above. It was an undertaking, but completely worth it.
If you ever have the opportunity to drive across America, take it. Our land is vast and beautiful and diverse beyond belief. For those interested, you can find my route here. Basically, I took I-80 past Salt Lake City, then cut north to pick up I-90 around Mt. Rushmore, then took I-90 to Chicago (detouring to take the scenic route through the Badlands—HIGHLY recommended), hopped back on I-80 and took that all the way into NYC.
Special thanks to The Hold Steady for making incredible open road music. Check out their new record, Heaven is Whenever, dropping tomorrow (May 4th).
How I Did It
To get unlimited time-lapse, I used CHDK (http://chdk.wikia.com), a free, incredibly powerful open source firmware alternative for Canon cameras developed and maintained by an amazing community of hacker photographers. For time-lapse, CHDK’s killer feature is scripting support. There are a variety of intervalometer scripts available, but I chose user Joatca’s LUA script for its stability and focus on power-saving.
Using CardTricks, a handy tool developed to automate the loading of CHDK onto an SD card, I loaded CHDK and the script onto a basic 4GB SD card (note, I chose 4GB because anything larger seemed to cause issues with formatting and disk management). At 2MP per image (plenty of resolution, in my opinion), you can get about 6000 images onto a 4GB card.
For my camera, I used a Canon Powershot SD780 IS. I also picked up a spare third-party battery and a power inverter to ensure available power. I attached camera to windshield with a window suction cup camera mount like you see in police cars (http://amzn.to/9EYcVt).
It took me a day to figure out what power consumption would be like (make sure you turn off the display and all autofocus lamps, etc.). Since I was driving alone, I wanted to shoot for each charge to last until the next refueling stop. While day 1 began with 40 second intervals, I settled on 30 second intervals for the rest of the trip (although in a few places, I played with shorter intervals to change up the tempo of the video).
To compile the images, I used the “open image sequence” feature on Quicktime Pro. This feature is generally for creating movie slideshows, but is great for compiling time-lapse sets. Yes, you have to pay $30. Yes, there are free alternatives. But this was far and away the easiest solution. I then used iMovie to add in the titles, overlays and music.
How to Make a Great Cross-Country Time-lapse Video
- Bring a friend. Taking care of the camera was a serious job. Having a passenger who could dedicate themselves to the task would’ve been far more efficient
- Use a computer. Due to cost and time constraints, I didn’t set up a computer-attached camera, but I think it would’ve made my life easier. No worrying about filling up memory cards and on-the-fly adjustment of shooting intervals would’ve been great.
- Get a power cable. I didn’t have time to order (or the desire to pay for) Canon’s AC adapter set for the camera, but juice was my number one sticking point on this journey. Next time around, I’ll go for a continuous power flow.
- 10 second intervals, 45 frames per second. I played with a few different frame rates to find the smoothest playback, and ended up settling on 15 fps. After looking at the second half of my Badlands run (shot at 10 second intervals), I would’ve preferred the whole video be at that interval, with the frame rate sped up accordingly. I think it would’ve made for a smoother, more immersive experience.
And that’s it! Hope you enjoy the movie.
And FYI, the soundtrack is “The Weekenders” by The Hold Steady and “Stand Up” by The Prodigy.