Depth of Field: O Christmas Tree

I'm going to make this simple, folks. When someone tells you they're constructing a 34-foot Christmas tree over three to five days, you shoot a time lapse of it. If you don't, the University Photographers Association of America, the National Press Photographers Association, the Associated Press, the Newspaper Guild, the AFL-CIO, the teamsters, and Santa Claus himself come to your studio and forcibly remove your cameras (and, if you're lucky, nothing else).

Which is why, at 6:45 a.m. on Nov. 26, staff photographer Mark Brown and I found ourselves positioning several cameras around the Anderson Student Center. Physical Plant employees were just beginning to haul 118 boxes of branches and two metal crates filled with framing sections into a blocked-off atrium.

What followed was four days of thrice-daily trips to the student center to change camera positions and come up with ever-crazier places to stash cameras. We climbed inside the tree to put a camera on the floor looking up. We mounted small video cameras to the lift used to work on the top section of the tree. We even had the lift operator suction cup a small camera to the top of the windows, looking back at the tree.

Some of these cameras shot video (which we've sped up in the finished piece above), but most were programmed to take a picture anywhere from once a second, up to every 30 seconds. At least one camera ran every day from 7 a.m. until the workers knocked off for the day around 3 or 3:30.

We walked away with 15,582 still images (and a smattering of video clips) totaling almost 80 gigabytes. That data had to be processed for color, tone and crop. The stills were than merged together to form the video clips above.

After that, it was all about finding the right music and cutting the clips together to tell the story of the tree.

Quite frankly, this was the most fun I've had since ... okay, a helicopter ride. I'm not sure I can say the same for the Physical Plant workers who had to assemble this thing under the increasingly curious eye of the St. Thomas community (not to mention a pair of photographers mounting cameras to their lifts). As you've seen in the video, they did a fantastic job and we wouldn't have been able to achieve some of the angles we did without their help.

Merry Christmas, St. Thomas.

(Oh, and if you want to see the entire construction process from beginning to end with just the lunch breaks and non-working hours edited out, the video below is for you.)