More on Shooting Time-lapse in DC (Plus an Obscure Law That Gets in the Way)

On Monday, I posted a video entitled “District Nights” by Drew Geraci (link here).

video here –

This video impressed me for its use of both time-lapse and HDR toning.  I got a chance to catch up with its creator, to dig in a little deeper on how the video was put together.

The Gear

The video was built using the following production gear

  • Canon 5D Mark II
  • Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 II
  • Canon 50mm f/1.4
  • Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 II
  • A Dynamic Perception Stage Zero motorized slider
The slider really adds to this piece as you can see a lot of great movement.  The piece captures the energy of the city but both capturing and adding movement.
“The most essential gear for producing this time-lapse series is my Dynamic Perception Stage Zero Dolly. It’s how I create the majority of the perspective moves in my shots,” said Geraci.  “The only downside with traveling with the slider is that it’s a bit cumbersome to handle. It’s quite a unique challenge trying to juggle it with 45 pounds of gear on your back and 3 tripods under your arm.”
In situations where the slider became too cumbersome, Geraci added moves during post production.  This is a topic we’ve covered a lot here on the site as well. (Tutorial 1 | Tutorial 2).
“When I was unable to use the dolly system, because of either location, permits, or nagging park police, I resort to digitally manipulating scenes inside of Adobe After Effects CS5.5. I try my best to use in camera techniques and when that’s not possible After Effects is the next best answer. “

The Shooting Process

One of the things that impressed us most about the video was how compelling the shots were of US monuments.  The National Park Service which polices monuments are notorious for placing restrictions on photographers. On top of the park service you also have the Washington, DC police force which is extremely cautious these days of any “suspicious activity” (like carrying around large pieces of metal and stands).
“During the making of this time-lapse, I was hassled/stopped 27 times by DC police and received 5 parking tickets. That’s pretty much how it goes in DC,” said Geraci. “The number one thing I learned while producing this piece is that I stick out like a sore thumb. Carrying around a 6ft long blue rail system really attracts a lot of attention… sometimes good and sometimes bad. I feel that the parks police can spot me a mile away which can make it difficult to shoot pretty much anywhere there’s a monument or grass in DC.”

The Challenge of Shooting in Washington, DC

Geraci warns that if you want to shoot in DC, you need to be prepared for disappointment. There is a lot of resistance to photography around the landmarks and government buildings.
“For me (and any other dolly user out there) the biggest obstacle while shooting monuments is the National Parks Service Police,” said Geraci. “Most of the time you can get away with shooting for about 10-15 minutes before one of them swoops in to question and stop you. If you play your cards right, you might just get to stay an extra 10 minutes to wrap up your shot but most of the time they shut you down, right then and there. They’re persistent and really enjoy enforcing the ‘no tripod’ law in DC. “
Another challenge the Geraci points out is the “5 minute rule” on the DC books.  It technically prevents photographer from staying put for 5 minutes. The official text states:

523.3      While engaged in taking photographs, no person licensed under §521 or §522 of this chapter shall impede traffic as defined in the District of Columbia Traffic Acts; nor shall any photographer remain longer than five (5) minutes at any one (1) location on the streets, sidewalks, or other public spaces.

Source –

This law is actually targeted at professional photographer who have license to take pictures of tourists on the street.The Washington Post spoke to the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.

”Our policy has been that the street photographer license would apply to persons who are stationed on public space to take photos of passersby,” said agency spokesman Helder Gil in an e-mail. Amateurs aren’t covered, he said, nor are “journalists, professional photographers who take pictures of buildings/scenery, or wedding photographers taking pics of happy couples on D.C. streets and sidewalks.”

Of course this is policy…  as opposed to what the law actually says. As a fellow resident of Washington, DC I can assure you that I’ve heard all sorts of reasons why I was a public nuisance to a threat to national security for taking pictures.
Geraci laments “…Soon it may be impossible for me to shoot anything in DC, especially in time-lapse form. I’m trying to capture as much as I can before that could possibly go into effect. With any luck though, NPPA (National Press Photographers Association) and other professional photographers out there will stop this (law) from ever taking action.”
The National Press Photographers Association has made some noise on this and is pushing for a repeal of the law.  Be sure to read more here.
Thanks Drew for sharing and to help shine light on an obscure law that’s getting in the way of photography in Washington, DC.


About Richard Harrington

Richard Harrington is the founder of RHED Pixel, a visual communications company based in Washington, D.C. He is the Publisher of Photofocus as well as an author on Rich has authored several books including From Still to Motion, Understanding Photoshop, Professional Web Video, and Creating DSLR Video.

Posted on November 25, 2011, in Time-lapse. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on More on Shooting Time-lapse in DC (Plus an Obscure Law That Gets in the Way).

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