how i got the shot: panama canal timelapse

MV Explorer transits the Panama Canal from the Pacific to the Caribbean side, May 2008. John David Becker (copyright 2008 all rights reserved)

In 2008, My wife and I sailed around the world for the second time with the Semester at Sea program. I could write for days about the life-changing impact of a journey like this, but I'll save that for another day. Both times I was hired to shoot PR and advertising imagery for the program as well as teach photography to a select group of students on board. 

This is one of the huge benefits to working as a freelancer. At the time we lived in NYC and told our clients we'd be away for 5 months. Luckily for us we've always been able to pick up our clients and workload whenever we return from long trips. 

Our journey started in Nassau, Bahamas and headed southeast to Puerto Rico, Brasil and continued on to South Africa and Asia. To complete our journey we passed through the Panama Canal en route to Miami to drop the students off (we continued through to the Bahamas and then two weeks around the Caribbean). I thought about creating a timelapse of the Canal but had no experience and was ill-equipped for the task.

Alas, I stubbornly move forward. I asked the Master Captain, Roman Krstanovic if he would permit me to access the roof area of the pilothouse for the project so I could get shots over the bow. Transit through the canal takes about 8 hours. I only had one appropriate camera and one tripod and no intervalometer. I decided to only capture 1 frame per minute since the lack of intervalometer meant I was doing this manually, all on my own...

This wasn't a huge mistake but it was a long day sailing in the jungle heat of Panama. I shot from the bow and stern for interest. I know the footage would have been a lot smoother at 5fps or something simple that a GoPro could do now, but that wasn't on offer in 2008. Either way it was fun to do and it's all part of the journey, not the destination.