White House moments: A time lapse view
What does a typical day at the White House look like?
I set out to capture a sense of everyday life at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, armed with basic knowledge from a course in video editing at the Kalish workshop. Starting with a couple of early experiments of the Marine Guards at the West Wing and a daily press briefing, I was hooked on time-lapse sequences that came to life when they were played at high speed.
I began taking along extra cameras, tripods, clamps and pocket wizard radio remote triggers. This involved slightly more work as I had to start thinking of the best place for a time lapse sequence that may not make a good still image itself, but rather as part of a larger project.
From the East Room, where most official functions are held, to the Rose Garden, the South Lawn and the West Wing, I set the cameras up to fire one picture every 5 to 10 seconds before, during and after the events. Thousands of pictures were shot over the course of those weeks, and I slowly began to put together a narrative that follows what we typically photograph on any given day at the White House.
Shooting “a day in the life” would have been nice, but it was impossible to have cameras in all the locations on one particular day.
All of what you see in this project was made with just two cameras on the time lapse and one hand-held camera — it’s a very basic set up. Shooting handheld, I had to shoot major burst sequences with long lenses, all the while ensuring that I didn’t move the camera around too much. Even slight movements can render an entire sequence unusable. Tripods are too cumbersome to use at the White House and you have to stay mobile to make pictures, so I would innovate by propping myself against a ladder and holding my breath or putting the handheld cameras on the ground — whatever it takes to shoot a short burst without moving the camera at all.
This worked well for the walkout of the Oval Office in the segment where President Obama walks towards us. That’s a 70-200mm lens on the ground, prefocussed and composed with live view switched on, as I hold the camera perfectly still as he walks in and out of the frame.
Making it all come together in one coherent package is done in the edit. The most challenging aspects: Being a newcomer to video editing, seeing a project in terms of a narrative, not just in single moments, and getting my head around the 8,000 images that sat in a folder called “Multimedia” as the weeks wore on. I tried to edit for the project as I went along, so that when it came to putting together the sequence, there would be chunks of loosely finished product ready to drop into the appropriate part of the story.