Iceland Time-Lapse Video Wins X Prize Foundation Exploration Contest
A few months ago, the X Prize Foundation sponsored a video contest that asked a deceptively simple question: Why do you explore?
Exploration is a distinctively human trait and something that the Foundation has incentivized through large monetary rewards, but it is also a deeply personal endeavor that affects and inspires everyone differently. Nonetheless, many entrants echoed similar refrains: to engage with other cultures, to learn something new, to experience beautiful parts of our planet.
The submissions ranged in production value, and the judges selected four finalists: dude explorer Ryan Van Duzer, whose narration begins, “I explore because it makes me feel ALIVE!” (emphasis his) and continues to describe his journeys to Honduras and the Himalaya; underdog Samantha Gary, who produced a delightful stop-motion animation; Brit Alastair Humphreys, whose four-man row across the Atlantic Ocean captures the plodding monotony and accents of excitement that characterize many endurance pursuits; and Joe Capra, a time-lapse photography guru.
In the end, public votes crowned Capra the winner for his four-minute video compilation of time-lapse scenes he shot during a 17-day trip around Iceland. The images capture Iceland’s raw power — thundering waterfalls, ice-capped peaks — in a colorful mash-up that may as well have been funded by Iceland’s tourism office.
The Los Angeles-based Capra first became enamored with Iceland after seeing the work of another photographer online. “I had to go,” he recalls, “so I saved up all of my vacation days and bought a ticket.” He went during the summer, when the days never really end and the island is constantly bathed in a flattering light. Photographers often speak reverently of the “golden hour” — the first and last hours of light during the day — as the ideal time to shoot, the time when the light is softer and shadows are longer. But during the Icelandic summer, the golden hour becomes five, six, or seven hours of every day, a photographer’s dream.
For Capra, however, it was a sleepless dream, as the midnight sun allowed him to shoot most of his 38,000 images between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. A typical scene took about a half hour, and the resulting 300 to 900 images would be edited and compressed into a few-seconds clip. Some shots use a stationary vantage point, but Capra prefers “motion control,” which pans or tracks across a landscape in a more natural, engaging way.
“Before this equipment was commercially available,” Capra recalls, “I had to custom make my own tracking device” that moves the camera smoothly and slowly along a track. When the images are compressed and the half hour becomes three seconds, the tracking turns into a naturally paced movement.
Before setting out for Iceland, Capra had done urban time-lapse pieces. “Working in cities is tough,” he says, “because people come up to you, interrupt, knock over your stuff.” But Iceland was an entirely different sort of adventure. “It was almost as if I got picked up and dropped on another planet, all by myself, and I had the opportunity to explore it however I wanted.” Capra would scale volcanoes and drop down into mossy valleys, experimenting with new photographic techniques along the way. He may not have been trekking across continents in the traditional mold of a headstrong explorer, “but hopefully I’ve allowed people to see these places in a new way. And that’s what exploration is all about to me.”