On a soggy May morning, Jamie Francis and I stuffed a Chevy Blazer to the breaking point and set off east, tracing the Columbia River until we found sun. Among the cameras, tripods and camping gear was also a shared dream of creating a beautiful and lasting film from the Northwest’s largest river.
Similar adventures followed this initial outing: all-night bivouacs nursing exposures and batteries; floating cameras off waterfalls or propelling them into the sky; riding and chasing a working tugboat; calculating the moon’s rise and fall; folding ourselves into the back of the Blazer or the bed of my truck for a few hours sleep.
Perhaps more than anything, the result — “Columbia River: Great River of The West” — is the product of a four-month search, a quest to discover the unseen.
We have paid attention this summer to the rhythm of the river, hoping to discover something new. We have learned that the Columbia unifies and divides, provides and provokes, but we also know it sustains and defines us. The river also keeps secrets.
The Columbia is so present in our lives that we often neglect it and this is one reason why time-lapse photography is vital in communicating something unique about it. The power of time-lapse is that it takes a long period of time and condenses it into a few seconds. It nudges us toward a discussion about the context of time. No human will ever span the life of the river, but time-lapse helps us understand that time and the river are partners.
Each individual time-lapse sequence in “Great River of The West” is made from about 300 individual still pictures. Sometimes these sequences were made in 15 minutes, the camera firing quickly. At other times, the sequence lasted all day or all night, the camera firing as rarely as once a minute. Every second of film required 24 still pictures.
For example, the 10 seconds in the film’s second scene — the moon passing over the Columbia at Hood River — was made from 10:38 p.m. until 4:21 a.m. on August 2. Over these 5 hours and 43 minutes, a 30-second exposure was made each minute. The resulting 340 pictures were built into 22.5 seconds of video and then edited to 10 seconds of the film.
We shot our first-time lapse May 3; our last September 3. We made 82,931 still pictures for the project and produced 142 time-lapse sequences. We collected more than 15 hours of video footage with 1,193 video clips.
Ultimately, we laid all these on our colleague Rob Finch, who edited the piece into what you see. Our hope is that you enjoy “Great River of The West” as much as we enjoyed making it. We look forward to your response and also to your questions and thoughts.
Thanks for watching.