I recently got in touch with the incredibly talented Rob Whitworth. Rob is a prominent urban filmmaker, responsible for creating awe-inspiring videos that reveal location in a powerful and compelling manner. His works instantly identifiable style has gained widespread critical acclaim, and received over 3 million online views.
Rob’s work was what sparked my interest in timelapse photography, so getting the chance to talk to him about his work was greatly appreciated. I remember over a year ago now seeing his video ‘This is Shanghai’, and being fascinated by it.
In 1980 Shanghai had no skyscrapers. It now has at least 4,000 – more than twice as many as New York. ‘This is Shanghai’ explore the diversities and eccentricities of the metropolis that is Shanghai going beyond the famous skyline.
Whilst on a family visit to the UK, Rob was kind enough to spend some time talking timelapse with me; here is what he had to say.
Rob, Thanks so much for taking the time out to chat, can you tell me, what first sparked your interest in hyperlapse & timelapse photography? What is it that you love about this field?
Timelapse gives the viewer the chance to see the unseen world, its magic of the camera to be able to present the world, as we can’t see it, that’s always fascinated me. It wasn’t as possible, back in the day using film cameras but now, with digital SLR’s and the affordability of them it’s amazing. From a very early age, working with black and white film, I shot some still life sets and did just a before and after, they were organic things, I just documented the decay, this decay theme went through to some later work which was just filming bits of fruit over a month and watching them shrivel up, watching this unseen process take place in a matter of seconds.
How did you get to where you are today, what obstacles did you face and how were they overcome?
A key moment in my career was a job when I was assisting back where I am from in Norwich in the UK. I was assisting couple of photographers; I was getting to the point where I needed to break free and set up my own business. Basically in the UK, all roads lead to London, you have to go to London to advance your career and I didn’t fancy doing that. Instead I found myself in central Vietnam. I spent a year in Hội An, a small village near Da Nang, in the middle, in the jungle, just sort of practicing and being free from the pressure and constraints of client work, living off some savings, and from there my first work came out which was ‘Traffic in Frenetic Ho Chi Minh City’ in December 2011, that got over 700,000 plays in a few day and off it went from there.
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is an amazing up and coming city. This time lapse is a culmination of 10,000 RAW image and multiple shoots capturing some of the cities relentless energy and pace of change. Everyone who has visited Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam knows part of the magic (love it or hate it) is in the traffic.
You are a fantastically talented time-lapse photographer yourself, that said are there any other time-lapse photographers that inspire you?
Timelapse is at an amazing stage, it’s now moved into all sorts of specialities and there seems to be constant innovations within different areas. There was another person who completed a video on the project named Pau Garcia, he did a video of his local place Gerona, watch that, it’s a beautiful video, tilt shift timelapse that tells a story and its really lovely. The actual catalyst for me actually devoting and specializing in timelapse was Keith Loutit , I think its called ‘Bathtub IV’, in about 2008 set in Melbourne, it was sort of the first tilt shift video I’d seen, but not only that it had a story in it and it just made me want to specialize. There’s constantly good videos coming out, it’s great to see it always innovating.
What kit do you use on a regular basis, what’s in the bag?
I think my camera bags relatively unremarkable really, I’m a Nikon user, I have about 4 DSLR’s that I take to shoots with me. Because of the nature of some of the places I shoot from, there’s so much to shoot you want to have a camera facing all angles and one to play with so that you don’t mess up any that are filming. I’ve got a bunch of Nikon lenses, Nikon glass, some manfrotto bits and piece. Probably the best thing that I like are re-usable cable ties, these are just brilliant for securing cameras to anything, using the camera strap and a cable tie, particluary working at altitude with roof tops and things, they are very useful, and duck tape, you can’t go wrong with duck tape.
Do you use any motion control equipment & are there any techniques or tips that you would be happy to share with other hyperlapse and timelapse photographers?
My kit is relatively simple, in that area, there are a bunch of guys that do amazing stuff with sliders and really complicated rigs and its not really an area I’ve pursued, I actually quite like being able to travel as light as possible, at least as light as you can travel with 4 DSLR’s, because often you are working in a restricted space and its just not possible to work with larger equipment, but maybe one day. And with regard to hyperlapse, I mean its just starting simple, when I first did my hyperlapse I dived right in there, I was in KL and I got a fish eye lens and I hyperlapsed at nightfall looking at the Petronas Twin Towers and it was just jumping in at the deep end. If you start relatively simply, don’t use to wider lens, get the camera level, make it as simple as possible and then once you understand it you can take it from there, then just be creative. It’s a pretty liberating thing to be able to move the camera in a smooth motion.
How much does evolving technology affect the creative process of time-lapse and hyper lapse work?
Technology is at the heart of everything really, creativity’s a given, that comes from us, but where it gets really exciting for me is what technology makes possible. We are living in an age where you can spend about $500, maybe a little bit more and get a camera that can deliver absolutely astonishing results. The camera I use, the D800, there’s 36 megapixels, there’s so much quality in that. Then there’s all the post side as well, where we are left with the creative possibilities of marrying the two. I’m a big believer in evolving technology, it’s a matter of staying on top of it and just being innovative and using it, its certainly what I will try to continue to do.
Out of the incredible work that you have already completed, which final piece would you say is your favourite and why is that, which are you proudest to call your own?
Yikes, that’s a difficult one to call I think. Each city video is a big bunch of work, and they are unique to the different cities, so I guess it sort of relates to your experiences in them. Vietnam was my first taste of Asia, and it was the first video of Ho Chi Minh, and Ho Chi Minh is a city that I dearly love for its chaos and also just the beauty, I could watch traffic there for hours, so I guess if I had to call it I’d probably say that would be my favourite video, but there are others that I think are technically better and I am more proud of, on the whole. I think the Shanghai video was another one that I’m really quite proud of, and I think that actually didn’t get enough attention, and I’m really quite proud of a few sequences in there and I still think they stand up as still being quite fresh over a year on now.
Rob, its been a pleasure talking to you. Thanks you so much for your time and best of luck in the future, I very much hope to speak with you again.
Winner of Best Experimental Film at Tiburon International Film Festival 2014 USA
Winner of Jury’s Choice Award at the 5th Kuala Lumpur Eco Film Festival 2012 Malaysia
Winner of Best Experimental Film at Tiburon International Film Festival 2012 USA
Winner of Wojciech Jerzy Special Award, Snap Film Festival 2012 Poland
Check out more of Rob’s work: