View from a new roof

Andrew Booker 2010-10-12 12:25:21

For the past six months I have been living a rented exile in Buckurst Hill. This location can just about describe itself as a London suburb, though cartographically it just tucks into the county of Essex, where I come from. It has been a welcome change watching a different world go by, but after six months of two-stroke motorbikes ripping down Station Way, staffie after staffie straining at the leash, tugging their tracksuited teenage handlers, the ones who aren't revving around in their inexplicably financed latest-model 1.8 litre hatchbacks, I am very much looking forward to leaving it again. At the end of this month our building works will be complete and we're going back home to South Woodford. Fewer staffies, slightly quieter bikes, otherwise the same.

I always struggle to describe the property. It's not our old house. It's not our new house. It's not our main house, we have only one. It might be our real house, but this one is certainly not a fake. Oh who cares. Whatever it is, one of highlights of going over every few weeks to see it taking shape has been getting up onto our new flat roof. This will be access-over-protective-indoor-railings-only when the work is completed, but right now, while it's easy to get to the top of the building, I've been up taking the odd picture.

Those knobbly bits slightly to the right on the horizon are the Canary Wharf towers in the Docklands. Up close, I especially like the TV aerials. Off to the right, annoyingly, are some of the taller deciduous specimens in Epping Forest. For the purposes of wandering around of an autumn afternoon, trees are great. I especially like the tree that contains approximately one thousand large bramley apples in the back garden we will soon be leaving. We're having a cider-making afternoon next weekend and we will strip it. For time lapse, I don't like trees. Their movements are distracting flickers against the smooth passage of clouds and vapour trails. Really I just want sky and a bit of horizon, which, as you can see, I can now have.

Winter skies are usually great for time lapse video. The sun is low and casts good shadows in the clouds. I managed several a couple of years ago, when my aim was to get a dawn to dusk video, reducing the day to about 5 minutes. I had my hardy webcam more or less constantly clamped to a drainpipe outside the bathroom, bubblewrapped to protect it from the elements when I wasn't using it. I used to check the weather forecast the night before, then take my laptop down to the shed and schedule shooting for dawn the next day.

For my next round of time lapse studies, the first change will be to put the camera on the roof. We made no provision during our building works for any cable trunking to the outdoors, so I'll be looking at using a wireless camera, possibly solar powering it. Hopefully I'll be able to find a reassuringly expensive one with a proper lens. Then I'll need to solve the problem of frost on the lens. One approach might be to have a little light bulb come on half an hour before shooting to warm up the camera. Somehow I'll need to trigger this.

In fact this time round I want to automate everything. That begins with a weather forecast lookup, scheduling a shoot automatically whenever it predicts the right weather conditions. Those are dry with some cloud cover and intermittent sunshine. Rain is no good. Overcast is boring. Clear blue sky, while excellent for time lapse in the car, is also boring from a fixed position camera. Finally, depending on which way the camera faces, I want to start the shoot about 30-45 minutes before sunrise, and stop it about the same period after sunset. So if I automate the scheduling, I will need to look up the sunrise and sunset times in order to time the shoot. Each day up until 21 Dec gets shorter by about four minutes.

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