A Matter Of Time Lapse in Bethlehem

Shooting Long Time Lapses - By Mick Ryan

Time Lapse in Bethlehem

After agreeing to a request from The Christmas Decorators to document their trip to Palestine to decorate the iconic Christmas tree in Manger Square in Bethlehem, I came up with an idea! A time lapse in Bethlehem...

Wouldn’t it be good to do a time-lapse video of the tree being decorated from start to finish? Estimated time for complete job was 24 hours. Nick, managing director of The Christmas Decorators, a Liverpool-based firm, thought it was a great idea. This is because it was something they hadn’t done previously and it could perhaps help them gain more publicity.

And so to the next stage - figuring out how this could be done. I was aware of the time-lapse capabilities of my Canon 5D Mk II (with a few additions). However, I needed my DSLR with me for the reportage shots I also needed to take. Plus, I didn’t want to take two bodies with me. Also, I didn’t know the layout of the place or how secure my equipment would be left somewhere for 20-plus hours.

After reading Nick Stubbs’ review of the Go Pro 3 Black Edition on the All Things Photography website and finding out that time-lapse capabilities were included, I decided to order it from Amazon.

GoPro No-Show

At this point, I must admit, I hadn’t checked stock availability. Two days before my flight to Tel Aviv and GoPro was a no-show! After some searching I found the number for their office in Holland. I rang them and was told, as stated on website, they had no stock till Monday 17 December. My flight was scheduled for Wednesday 12 December!

Plan B! I went back online and searched for time-lapse cameras (the "GoPro3 Hero is good..." Yeah, I know!). Then KGB cameras of Wellingborough came out the blue with an advert for the Brinno TLC 200 Time Lapse Camera. I did some research, knowing that I was going to buy it anyway. It didn’t get great reviews, but I phoned up and explained my needs. I asked if they could get it delivered the following morning to my parents’ house, because I also had to sort out my passport. They could and they did.

I opened the box to find a camera that looked like a pepper pot. I played around with it for a bit, filming myself packing my suitcase and camera bag. It was ok. It’ll do the job, so into my bag it went.

Time for action

We flew to Tel Aviv and then made the journey by road to Bethlehem in a blacked-out minibus. We arrived at our hotel Inter Continental, Bethlehem, which was very nice I must say. Bags safely deposited in our rooms and by now it was 11pm. Thankfully we were not too far away from Manger Square. After a Twenty Five-minute walk and with the time fast approaching midnight, finally, we arrived. I couldn’t really see anywhere to site my time-lapse camera that would be secure, apart from the roof of one of the surrounding buildings.

We were introduced to the Mayor Of Bethlehem, who thanked us for travelling to his city. He asked if we needed anything and said we should just ask. Immediately, I asked! The following morning at 6am I met a security guard who was to accompany me up to the top of the Peace Centre to place my ‘pepper pot’ camera. What a view, and ideal for the time-lapse of the tree as the decorators went about their work. Once in place, it was time for me to wander off to take some quality images of Bethlehem. No worries. Or so I thought.

It was 8.30 am. Two hours in and after wandering about taking photographs of everything and anything (and being thrown out of the site of the nativity by a Greek Orthodox high priest for possessing a tripod at the ungodly hour of 6.30am), I returned to the square to be greeted with the tree decorators saying: "Mick, there are some guys on the roof up there and one of them picked your camera up."

Up on the roof

After tracking down the mayor and pleading with him to be let back up onto the roof, I found myself on the roof using sign language. All the while addressing three Palestinian guys working on electrics not to move my camera again. They nodded in agreement and I re-positioned the pepper pot. I also took a few rooftop pics with my Canon.

At 3am the following morning, the decorators had been very busy and the tree was nearing completion. It was time to go and retrieve my camera. The building was locked up, so I went to find one of the security guards to open up for me. However, he said he would have to get permission from the army. They said, no chance! So I had a camera on top of a roof in Bethlehem and no way of getting it back. What to do? Go for a drink!

I ordered a bottle of local beer and sat down to lick my wounds. As luck would have it one of the mayor’s assistants who had done most of the sorting out was having a coffee while sorting some business. I explained my predicament and he said: "leave it with me".

An hour later and I was on my third bottle of beer. I was staring out into the darkness and my "pepper-pot" camera was placed on the table in front of me. Nothing was said, just a wink.

Yes, Prime Minister

The following day it became apparent why I wasn’t allowed back up on the roof. The Prime Minister of Palestine, Salam Fayyad, was arriving to switch on the Christmas lights in Manger Square. There were army snipers on the roof of the Peace Centre!

After the turn on we were invited to the Convention Palace for dinner with the Prime Minister and all the heads of the armed forces and politicians. What an experience it had been.

My time-lapse has been played on mainstream television in the UK on news programmes and morning chat shows. As well as news channels across the globe.

My GoPro was there when I got back and I found out that it would not have lasted any where near the length of time needed to capture the footage required. What a blessing in disguise? And thanks to my little pepper pot camera, I achieved what I set out to achieve. Eventually.

January 2013 - Mick Ryan

Digital photography has made shooting time lapses available to everyone. Grab your Smartphone or camera and get out and have some fun trying it yourself.

Time Lapse in Bethlehem

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