Behind the lens: Capturing time lapse sequence at Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Over Veterans Day weekend I spotted a story shot and edited by my old friend Ali Ghanbari, a photojournalist at WJW-TV Cleveland. The piece is loaded with crisp sound and video sequences that you would expect from a pro. But there was one thing in the piece I could not figure out. How did he capture that closing shot?

Look at the video and watch the closing sequence as the guard walks in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as night falls.

Darkness arrives, but the soldier keeps walking -- 21 steps right to left. How did Ali make the time change while the solider smoothly walks? I asked and he explained:

  • The solider walked right to left, 21 steps, every 10 minutes.
  • Ali wanted to capture from full light to full darkness, so he was there two hours, 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m..
  • To capture the passage of time, he recorded the full walk right to left, but he only used three steps from each  walk.
  • Since there are 21 steps in the entire walk, he would need seven captures of the right to left march. (21 / 3 = 7)
  • Because the guards make precise movements, every trip is the same as the last, all day and all night. So it is not difficult to match them. He used seven dissolves to get the full 21 steps, and the day became night.

By the way, Ali said, there are actually two different guards in the video sequence because the guards change shifts every two hours.

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    Al Tompkins

    Al Tompkins is The Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcasting and online. He has taught thousands of journalists, journalism students and educators in newsrooms around the world.


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