A good time-lapse video has a number of distinguishing characteristics: detailed photographs, imaginative angles, seamless editing, an appropriate score. A great time-lapse video — at least when the subject matter is a city — also gives viewers insight to the essence of a place: the frenzy of its traffic, perhaps, or the grace of its buildings or the jobs of its people. Those aren't easy objectives to conquer in a matter of minutes, and probably with zero compensation, but these ten videos managed to do so in 2011. Here are ten of the best city-related time-lapse videos completed this past year, presented in no particular order.
Metropolis - A New York City Timelapse, by Will Boisture
Manhattan would be a more accurate title for this video, which offers a glimpse at all the island's major sights. There's the majesty of Grand Central, the fury of Times Square, a patriotic view of the Empire State Building, and an incredible aerial shot of Central Park. Boisture also takes us through subway tunnels, atop the Highline, even onto the campus of Columbia University. His best scene catches a fluffy white cloud in the reflection of the partly-finished One World Trade Center; a great nighttime look at the Lincoln Center fountain is a close second. Boisture worked on the video for 2.5 years, from May 2009 to September 2011. " I can’t help but be in awe of the vibrancy and beauty of this place," he writes. "I wanted to create a work that captures and conveys my love for it."
TimeLapse Barcelona, by Loyam
The photographs that constitute this time-lapse of Barcelona were taken in May and June. Those familiar with the city will no doubt enjoy shots of key landmarks; we were more taken with the range of images. We look up at the sky from the bottoms of tall buildings, catch the energy of street vendors, take a ride on city transit, see silhouettes playing in front of a fountain. There's a wonderful shot of a traffic circle viewed from up high, and a fantastic look at the night sky against what looks like a famous church spire. The coolest scene, it must be acknowledged, has nothing to do with the city at all: a full sweep of the moon going (almost completely) from new to full.
Abu Dhabi 2011, by Beno Saradzic
Evidently this video of the capital of United Arab Emirates garnered a good deal of attention upon its release earlier this year. It was created from more than 21,000 photos shot over eight weeks. One glowing review, on Arabia MSN Business, called it a recognition of the "magnificent transformations the Emirate has instigated and witnessed in only a few decades." It's hard to disagree. Saradzic offers some incredible wide views of the city and some equally compelling aerial shots — all paired with a gentle electronic score. The loveliest scene, and one that evokes the recent rise of the city, captures a nighttime at several tower cranes that seem to be dancing like neon puppets. There's also a great shot of planes landing at night, made to look like stars sliding into Earth.
District 1.5, by Drew Geraci
Geraci shot this time-lapse of the nation's capital over a three-day period earlier this year with a single camera. He was stopped nine times by National Park Service police and three more by Metro police. "It does look suspicious though when a guy is toting around a giant blue time-lapse slider, 3 tripods and a battery," he writes. The hassle paid off. Geraci covered lots of ground in the District: the Washington Monument, the Mall, Union Station, the reflecting pool, the Supreme Court, Chinatown, and the top of one of D.C.'s seemingly endless Metro escalators.
Bangkok - Dusk to Dawn, by Florian Bohm
Bohm mixes a lot of great angles into his view of Thailand's capital city with a mellow score worthy of (but isn't) Massive Attack. The beat of the music kicks in after a little theatrical flair as Bohm sweeps into a view of the city at night. Some great shots include boats scurrying along the water and trains racing atop an elevated track, but the coolest scene must be a T-shirt vendor setting up shop. Despite some broad views at times Bohm does a great job getting up close with the people of the city — at one point capturing the craze of the street market from both near and far. He (somehow) gets a great shot from the front hood of a taxi looking in at the driver before, as promised, disappearing at dawn.
La Flaneur, by Luke Shepard
This video sneaks into the list despite being uploaded in mid-December of 2010. Shepard, who shot this as a student at the American University of Paris, offers a misleading title — the task of capturing France's leading city is not one for idlers. We begin with a wide view of the city then hit many of the major sites, beginning with the Louvre at night. Shepard blends the musical beat with the image breaks well and edits many scenes to seem as though his camera is rotating. There's a great transition from night to day at the end as seen through the shifting color of the Seine, which goes from black to deep blue to white. And if you didn't get quite enough Paris from Shepard's work, there's another good time-lapse from the past year that focuses entirely on the Eiffel Tower.
Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam)
Ho Chi Minh City, by Rob Whitworth
Whitworth's incredibly colorful time-lapse takes the angle of traffic in Ho Chi Minh City. We see scooters and cars magically avoid collision, boats weave across muddy waters, and a frenzy of auto lights swirld around a traffic circle. "Everyone who has visited Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam knows part of the magic (love it or hate it) is in the traffic," he writes. Whitworth created the video from 10,000 images he believed captured the city's "relentless energy and pace of change." He even captures an empty street at the end as a nice punctuation.
LA Light, by Colin Rich
Rich pairs his nighttime view of the City of Angels with a soft piano score. Over six months of shooting he captured a few great wide looks at Los Angeles as well as some closer shots of its buildings and, of course, its traffic. "Shooting time lapses is a labor of love and a study in patience," Rich writes. There's a nice sequence caught through the lens of a driver, but the coolest shot is probably the long neon look at a Ferris Wheel and amusement park that seems to us like the one from the movie Zombieland — and, considering the subject of the time-lapse, may well be.
Seoul Time Lapse 2011, by Oh Choong Young
Young begins with a dreary look at a mountain at gray dawn but catches a nice sunrise then captures the South Korean city in a pleasant shower of sunlight. Some great wide views of the city are paired with up-close looks at Oriental buildings. In one terrific scene, Young catches the image of both a massive building (in the background) and a young girl playing (in the foreground) through pictures of a puddle's reflection.
Our own Nate Berg spotted this time-lapse of the annual Burning Man festival earlier this year. The video looks at the construction and deconstruction of the temporary city of some 50,000 people. As Nate points out, Burning Man is not exactly a city in the sense that Paris or Seoul is a city, but it's kind of like a city, and it's not often we get to see a city "build up and disappear like this." He continues:
The build-up and break-down is really interesting to see in this compressed format, but maybe even more interesting is the flashes and movements of light at night, showing the concentrations of the event’s notorious proclivity for late-night fire-and-light displays.