For a solid 33 years, Geoff Tompkinson has been photographing our world. In recent years he has turned his hand to hyperlapse photography and can now lay claim to being one of the world's top experts on the technique. He has been earning a full-time living from timelapse photography for over 10 years and has covered most of the world's major cities, some several times over. He is currently assembling his 'Around The World In Hyperlapses' series of videos, taking in such evocative locations as St Petersburg, Venice and Dubai. Geoff is "very probably the only person in the world who earns his living exclusively in this way" - probably because he produces around 500 new timelapses each year (marketed by Getty) that are regularly used by major advertising companies, Hollywood movies and television networks worldwide. We asked him about how and why he built his career in hyperlapse photography and if he might be able to slip us some sneaky expert tips on this dramatic technique.
So, what leads a man to travel the world, hyperlapsing the living daylights out of things? Plotting a career which started in photojournalism in the 80s working for major magazines around the world before moving full-time into stock photography, Geoff tells us that at his peak he was "selling an image every hour of every day somewhere in the world." His move to timelapse and hyperlapse came from a keen ability to stay ahead of the photographic game.
"Hyperlapse is a technique that is tried by many and perfected by very few. It is a great technique when done well and really lifts timelapse to a whole new level as well as enabling some things to be done which could never be done before and which cannot be achieved in any other way. One of the things I love about it is the way it enables me to move through extremely dense crowds of people with little or no disruption to their normal behaviour. I am moving so slowly that most people don't even realise what I am doing and those people in the way naturally move out of the way once I encroach on their personal space. I recently produced a day-to-night HDR timelapse moving through the dense crowds on Times Square in New York - something that at first glance seems impossible to achieve."
Geoff's hyperlapses are stupendously smooth, slipping through crowds or across the surface of water without even the slightest shudder in the wrong direction. The only true secret to achieving such quality, says Geoff, is to get out there with your own equipment and experiment. Every technique Tompkinson uses he has painstakingly developed himself, guarding the real secrets as to his equipment and how he sets it up. Every location has different needs and there is nothing like forward planning in this line of work - although he is willing to impart some of his hard-earned wisdom on the sort of thing a budding hyperlapse creator needs to consider:
"Hyperlapse is complex both in terms of the shooting stage and the post-production stage. I use a variety of rigs depending on the environment and the type of move being attempted. All rigs have to enable correction for errors in distance, direction, pitch, roll, pan and height and have to enable control of these parameters in a very short time."
Yet what will strike the uninitiated as even more time-consuming and fiddly are Tompkinson's post-production efforts. There really are no quick fixes if you're after that slick, cinematic end result.
"I do all the work in After Effects. I do not, however, use the warp stabiliser other than as a final polish, sometimes, to a project that has been manually stabilised using point stabilisation in several waves as well as mesh warp and corner pin to fix difficult errors. The warp stabiliser is very clever but often creates more problems than it fixes. It is not good at handling new objects suddenly entering the scene in the foreground and can often produce weird zoom-in-zoom-out effects on forward moves."
Geoff's body of work is proof that this kind of practice really does make perfect, and his wealth of experience goes some way to explaining his choice of favourite locations to shoot.
"I would have to divide that into natural locations and city locations. For cities I like the colour and intensity of Asia and would single out Tokyo and Shanghai in particular. For natural locations I would have to say the Grand Canyon. Everybody should see it before they die. I also love the Upper Austrian area I live in and which was the setting for my video 'The Lake'."
Shot partially from the water and during day-to-night transitions, 'The Lake' is both a celebration of a place and a test of skill, dramatically demonstrating technique unrivalled anywhere else.
Naturally, Geoff wants to share this world of hyperlapses with as many people as he can, with the intention to "produce a BluRay disc of my timelapse and hyperlapse work around the world, but in order for this to be viable I need to get as many people as possible to be aware of my work."
It seems the ball is already rolling - after all, his videos have found themselves pride of place on our very own Primelapse site. The next videos in the 'Around The World In Hyperlapses' series - Barcelona, Paris, New York and Washington - have already gone to post, emerging as soon as they can from the wealth of material sitting ready and waiting. The next release we'll see won't be hyperlapse-based, although it does sound just as fascinating:
"It will be called '56', and will feature 56 day-night timelapses from 56 locations shot over 56 months, in the 56th year since I was born (in 1956)", says Geoff, all mystical-like. That's just blown our tiny wee minds. We can't wait!
Don't forget to follow Geoff on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Vimeo for more hyperlapse inspiration and advice, as well as for updates on his 'Around The World In Hyperlapses' series, which looks set to be one of the most interesting documentaries of city life we've seen in a long time.