Five Unmissable City Time-Lapse Films

By: Maxine Sheppard

April 4, 2010

There is something about the art of time-lapse photography that lends itself particularly well to an urban landscape. The technique, which plays back individual film frames at a much faster rate than they were captured at, can be used to photograph events that occur almost imperceptibly over time, like the sun rising over a skyline. When sped up this has the remarkable effect of giving the scene a real sense of drama, even though nothing much is really happening.

These films work so well with cities as their subject because when you juxtapose those scenes against similarly sped-up shots of rush-hour traffic or a busy pedestrian intersection, you really start to get a sense of both the calm and the chaos that exists in every metropolis. It’s an effective and truly atmospheric way of distilling the real essence of a place into a very short space of time.

We’ve scoured the web to find some simply stunning examples of city-based time-lapse films and hope you enjoy our selection.

The first film, of New York, is by professional photographer and moviemaker Max Moos who shot it over a three week period. The lights coming on in the Chrysler building are just beautiful and if this doesn’t make you want to hop on a flight to the Big Apple right this very second, then nothing will.

New York city portrait, HD time lapse, April 2006, music by Moby from Max Moos on Vimeo.

The next film, of London in rush hour was shot by Chris Searson, a graduate of Lincoln University now specialising in documentary films. We love how he contrasts the classic symbols of London like St. Paul’s Cathedral with the rather more unglamorous location of Clapham Junction station and crowds of feet on escalators. It’s an affectionate nod to the real London, not a clichéd representation of it.

Rush Hour London from Chris Searson on Vimeo.

The third video, a short and frenetic explosion of Los Angeles colour and commotion was made by filmmaker Michael Marantz who runs a production company making similarly inspiring films.

Los Angeles: in motion from Michael Marantz on Vimeo.

Next up is an incredibly mesmerising time-lapse of Dubai by filmmaker and director Philip Bloom, shot in part from the top of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. If you’re interested in the technical side of how these films are created, Philip wrote a great post on his own blog about how this movie came to be.

Sky from Philip Bloom on Vimeo.

The final video is one of Tokyo by French photographer Cédric Riveau. Tokyo appears to be one of the most popular destinations of all for time-lapse films, but this was the one I felt really captured the overwhelming sense of frenzy and excitement that accompanies a visit to this most captivating of cities.

Rumblings from Color Lounge – Cedric Riveau on Vimeo.


Maxine Sheppard

Maxine is the co-editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.