Luke Shepard, Le Flaneur + Big Hands

Last spring Luke Shepard’s Le Flaneur video spread around the web like wildfire as he captured Paris in 2,000 images. What started as a personal project as a student at the American University of Paris got Luke noticed. Even Nikon France saw his amazing talent and hired him to create Big Hands, documenting the installation of two big hands at Place Beaubourg between the 17th and 23rd of September for their latest campaign. Last spring I had the chance to pick Luke’s brain and run a behind the scenes interview for National Geographic’s Intelligent Travel blog, however, in migrating their website, the post disappeared, so I thought sharing Luke’s new video would be the perfect excuse to re-run it below. Both videos are a must-see!
{re-posted from the 3 March 2011 post originally on Intelligent Travel}

Paris in 2,000 Images: Behind the Scenes of Luke Shepard’s Le Flâneur

Paris is a place that will forever be in the public spotlight and captured by those who visit it. There are the monuments that make it famous, and the clichés the city holds. And then there is Luke Shepard’s Le Flâneur, which captures Paris in a new light. What started as a project for his studies at The American University of Paris became an impressive undertaking, reflecting a side of Paris free of tourists, and one that locals often miss as well. After watching the video endlessly on repeat, I thought it would be good to chat with Luke get the full scoop on how it all came together. Composed of just over 2,000 images, clearly a lot more went into the making of this visually stunning project.

Anne Ditmeyer: First of all, congratulations on an incredibly impressive project, Luke! You definitely make it look easy and seamless. But really, how long did it take for you to put together?
Luke Shepard: I started the project in March 2010 and finished shooting in May. Post-production was finished by the end of June. It is hard to say the amount of hours that went into it, but I’d say at least 100 hours.
AD: You call this project a personal project. What inspired you to put it together?
Well, a very rough version of the video was made for a video production class I took at my school, The American University of Paris, but after that I became attached to the idea and continued to work and improve it for a long time afterwards. As to where the inspiration came, I love walking around Paris late at night. I have walked home from opposite ends of Paris very early in the morning after long nights out with friends and it is always amazing. In most areas, Paris dies in the middle of the night. There is no one to be seen, the lights are turned off on all the monuments, and very few cars pass by. It evokes a feeling much like the one that I believe the video does. I feel as though this video shows this other side of Paris that I love. I feel that not everyone sees it, especially not tourists who might spend most of their time exploring the city during the day. As a night owl, this is the part of Paris I often see.
AD: I love the mood the video evokes. Why did you choose to shoot at night? Was it intentional?  
LS: Paris in the middle of the night is beautiful, and not something that is often witnessed. One of my favorite things to do in Paris is go on bike rides around the city late at night because there are very few cars and people. It gives me a feeling as though the city is mine to myself. Also, shooting at night, while the lights were off on all the monuments, allows for long exposure photos. Stringing hundreds of long exposure photos together provides a really interesting visual aspect. It helps show Paris from the different perspective for which I was aiming.
AD: What aspect of the project took the longest?
LS: Shooting on location definitely took the longest. There were many nights last spring that I got very little sleep. I would often head out to shoot at around midnight and get back home around 6 in the morning. The image sequences took hours to capture: The one at the Louvre took around 2 hours. The fountain took a bit over 3 hours, and the last sequence over the bridge took over 5 hours. Sometimes I got what I wanted on the first shoot, sometimes I had to reshoot it, sometimes the conditions were not right, and sometimes it would just start raining halfway though a shoot and it had to be reshot another time. I was extremely lucky to have my friend Henry Farrow Miller with me most of the time. Without him, I’m not sure I could have ever made it through this project. He was patiently at my side in the freezing weather; to help in any way possible, to help with measurements between shots, to keep time, to bounce ideas off.
AD: Were there any hiccups or roadblocks along the way?
LS: Plenty. Firstly, about halfway though shooting the project, all of the pictures were lost, and needed to be reshot. I learned a very valuable lesson in my ignorance: always back everything up, always. In the end, this whole project was a learning experience, I had never done anything like it, so I was only able to make the sequences better the next time around. If I were to shoot this whole project again, it would even be better. As a perfectionist, I still look back on the project and point out all these things I should have done differently. In losing the photos, I have never been able to recapture the shot around Place de la Bastille. That was the first one I ever shot with this technique, and I was just lucky and the conditions were perfect. Since then, I have gone to Bastille to reshoot it many times with no success. It must be after 1 in the morning so that the lights on the monument are off, and there can’t be any moon or clouds in the sky, which is hard to come by. I didn’t realize how rare these conditions were in Paris. I eventually had to get over it and use an already exported version of the Place de la Bastille sequence that was not stabilized and in a lower resolution than the final product. Another shot that was quite a struggle was the one at Le Louvre. I originally wanted to go all the way around the pyramid as I did at Place de la Bastille. They close that area off to the public after 1 in the morning, so I went to talk to a guard to explain my project and what I wanted to accomplish. He was very nice and said that I could shoot it. I started shooting and it was looking great. Then about a quarter of the way though, maybe an hour in, the guards switched shifts and the next guard kicked Henry and I out. I argued with him for a while explaining the situation, but he was not very understanding. Then I decided to just go across the front of the pyramid, behind the fence, which ended up fitting better in the project. Another time, while shooting at the Louvre, it began to rain half way though, but I didn’t want to stop. For every picture I wiped off the lens and thought I was beating the weathers torments. When I saw the pictures after, I realized that every time I was wiping the lens off, I was also pushing it inwards, causing it to zoom outwards, messing the whole shot up.
AD: How did you get into this field?
LS: I am an American born in Belgium from Newburyport, Massachusetts, a small city just north of Boston. I now am a sophomore studying film at the American University of Paris. I enjoy traveling, skiing, rock climbing, water sports, the ocean, music, dancing (strangely), photography, and film. The videos I like to produce normally lean more towards the experimental genre. I got into video when I was really young; I remember making videos with this 8mm camera my family had. I made a documentary chasing birds around when I was maybe 12, also some action videos with some friends and action figures. When I got older, my friends and I liked to film ourselves messing around with the public, we did some really strange stuff trying to provoke any crazy reaction from people who were unknowingly being filmed by a couple of teenagers. Anyways, as time passed, I became more serious about video and photography, traveled a bit, and now I have landed here, studying film in Paris. I feel very fortunate.
AD: What kind of equipment do you use?  
LS: I used a Nikon D90 DSLR Camera for the photographs and I used Adobe After Effects and Adobe Premiere Pro for post-production.

AD: Can you describe the technique you used to create this film?
LS: The video is composed completely of photographs I took with my DSLR. I had the camera on a tripod in order to keep it stable and to keep a consistent height. I would aim at one specific spot for an entire sequence, for example, for Notre Dame, I aimed at the center of the big circular window in the front. That spot stays in the same place the whole time. Having that focus point for the image sequences allowed me to stabilize them in post-production. When capturing the images, I took them on specific pre-calculated intervals of time and distance.
AD: How is the technique you used different than standard timelapse photography?
LS: Standard time-lapse photography is a bit less involved then the technique I used. One capturing a time-lapse would normally have an intervalometer, which tell a camera to take photos over and over on a specific time interval, for example, it could take one picture every 10 seconds. So, the photographer would set up the framing, set the intervalometer, and wait. After, the pictures are strung together into an image sequence at a rate of 24 frames for second, or whatever. The pictures that were taken every 10 seconds are now being shown at 24 images per second, causing the time-lapse effect.
AD: Do you have any tips for someone trying out timelapse photography for the first time?
LS: An intervalometer helps. This tool will tell your camera to take a picture over and over on consistent intervals, specified by you, 10 seconds, 30 seconds, whatever. Depends on what you are shooting, a sunset may be every 10 seconds. I did not use an intervalometer because I had to move my camera and aim it for every picture, so I just did it manually. I would also recommend using complete manual settings to keep a consistent exposure between every picture. One mistake I made was not locking the ISO in my last shot, thus causing the video to flicker. AD: Have you dreamed up your next creative project yet?
LS: I have many ideas, but right now my focus is on Panam[e] TV, my university’s online video platform. This year I am the executive producer and I have a lot going on with it. I built a new website and I am creating new content for the site. I have prioritized Panam[e] and school right now, so any personal projects will have to wait.

{photos courtesy of Luke Shepard}