Filmmaker Louie Schwartzberg has specialized in time-lapse photography for 40 years - for his documentary "Fantastic Fungi" he produced numerous spectacular macro time-lapse shots of mushrooms. In this behind-the-scenes clip from Wired, he explains how he did it and shares his tricks that can also be applied to timelapse shots of plants. Here&s the trailer for the film:
All of his timelapse shots were done in the studio to maintain full control over the shooting situation - outside, wind, different lighting conditions or other environmental factors would severely disrupt the shots and make them look jumpy. Schwartzberg recorded the growth of mushrooms with only one frame every 15 minutes - during the day, 96 images were recorded, which is 4 seconds of video at a frame rate of 24 fps.
To make the mushrooms look good, they were carefully illuminated by several lights and thanks to special lights day and night were simulated to stimulate their natural growth. Photographic backgrounds or by a later keyed bluescreen give the audience the impression that the shots were taken outside in nature.
In order to make the shots appear as lively and interesting as possible, many were made using motion control, i.e. the camera movements via dolly were pre-programmed along with the pans. The shots were taken with a Canon EOS 5D DSLR with 100mm f/2.8 and 180mm f/3.5 Canon macro lens and a 35mm micro lens.
Motion Control Setting
The mushrooms, however, proved to be difficult actors - they need the right amount of light and nutrients and must not have any diseases to produce usable images. And even the perfect mushroom isn&t always camera-ready - it&s not always clear at which point it will emerge from the ground, and what the optimal lighting and pre-programmed camera movement will then look like. So out of 6 shots, each taking a week of work, only one was usable at best,
Another special challenge in taking pictures of growing mushrooms was their essential part, the mycelium lying under the ground, the so-called "Wood Wide Web", the internet of the forest, which connects the mushrooms with each other and with plants under the ground (visible mushrooms are only the fruiting bodies of the mycelium).
The solution to film the extremely small fungal structures underground was provided by a scanning electron microscope. Its images of growing mycelium were then used as the basis for computer animations of the growing fungal network in the soil.
Schwartzberg&s film "Fantastic Fungi" (aka Fantastic Fungi) is unfortunately currently only available in the U.S. on Netflix, but can be viewed in this country via video-on-demand at Apple TV, Google Play and Amazon Prime.