Then and Now: Time Lapse at the Garden

Time lapse photography is a wonderful visual tool allowing you to experience the passage of time at a much faster pace. The technique has been around for more than a century, with a unique link to the Missouri Botanical Garden.

How it Works

Time lapse photography works by capturing a series of images at a much slower frame rate than traditional video. Video is typically recorded at a rate of 30 or 24 frames per second, whereas time lapse may only record one frame per second, one frame every minute, or at even wider intervals. When strung together in a sequence and played back at a normal frame rate, the passage of time appears sped up. This can make certain subtle movements, such as the blooming of a flower, appear to happen more rapidly.

The Garden Hosts a Time Lapse Pioneer

Arthur C. Pillsbury was an early pioneer in time lapse nature photography, making a name for himself by creating hundreds of time lapse films at Yosemite National Park. In the 1920’s Mr. Pillsbury would bring his cutting-edge cameras to the Missouri Botanical Garden, where they were used for botanical research. Below is an excerpt from the September 1927 Missouri Botanical Garden Bulletin announcing this partnership. Or you can read the entire article here: Motion Pictures of Plant Life.

  “By means of a clock-work mechanism and other ingenious devices of his own invention, Mr. Pillsbury is not only able to secure records of the movement of parts of the flowers, leaves, etc., which have never before been visualized, but his success in obtaining pictures of what goes on in the cell of the plant as seen under the microscope has never been equaled.

Through the success that Mr. Pillsbury and others have had with films of this kind, it should not be long until every biological laboratory will come to regard a moving picture outfit as essential as the microscope. So far as is known the Missouri Botanical Garden is the first botanical garden to undertake this sort of an investigation.

The wealth of growing material at the Garden will make it possible to obtain moving pictures of many plants not hitherto followed through their development, the budding and blooming orchids of various species affording an unusual opportunity in this direction.

A special studio, including developing and printing rooms, has been fitted up for Mr. Pillsbury, and four movie cameras are now installed, two for microscopic and two for macroscopic work. Because of the great value of such films in teaching, it is expected that later certain subjects showing the hidden activities of plants will be made available for classes in botany in schools and colleges.”

-Missouri Botanical Garden Bulletin, September 1927

AC Pillsbury 2
Arthur Pillsbury conducts time lapse photography research at the Missouri Botanical Garden. (1927)
AC Pillsbury 1
Time lapse photography set up. Arthur Pillsbury at the Missouri Botanical Garden. (1927)

Time lapse photography today

Today, the power of time lapse photography is literally in the palm of your hand. Chances are the camera app on your phone includes a time lapse option, and there are several other apps that make shooting this type of video as easy as the push of a button. Several cameras also have built-in time lapse settings. In the Garden communication department, we use both GoPro and Polaroid Cube to achieve time lapse video. While not often used for research anymore, we do use time lapse throughout the Garden to show both blooming plants, and the work of our horticulture staff and volunteers. You can watch some examples of our recent time lapse videos below:

Cassidy Moody
Digital Media Specialist

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