Portrait of Lotte was created over a period of eighteen years starting with the titular girl’s birth in November 1999. It was shot on a digital camera and stitched together using time lapse editing software. Hofmeester filmed his daughter once per week throughout the experiment. (He also produced a followup starring his son which you can view here.)
Hofmeester concisely explains the reasoning behind the project on his website:
Lotte was changing at a rapid pace, that I felt the need to document the way she looked to keep my memories intact. Other people might make a photo book, but I decided to film.
The personal movie has since become a worldwide phenomena winning various awards and amassing more millions of views on YouTube and Vimeo.
While it might seem like a painstaking and complicated process, the creation of time-lapse videos that span several years is surprisingly easy. Here are a few tips that should prove handy to anyone who is thinking about embarking on their own time-lapse project.
You don’t need to invest heavily in videography equipment to shoot your own ‘Portrait’ video. In fact, all you really need is a compact camera with HD video recording functionality and a tripod. The editing process is equally low-fi: you can easily create time-lapse videos using free software such as Windows Movie Maker or iMovie. (A note on time-lapse: unlike traditional time-lapse videos, Portrait of Lotte uses regular 25fps shots that have been sped up in post-production. The key is to keep each shot roughly the same length for a smoother flow.)
For optimum results, you’re better off using the same device for the duration of the project, although we acknowledge this might not be possible (especially in the event of breakage or theft). If you’re forced to use different cameras, try and keep the resolution and aspect ratio constant. This does mean that you’ll be using outmoded technology by the time you finish the project, but we wouldn’t sweat it too much — today’s HD video looks pretty fantastic and should remain adequate for years to come.
Choosing a background
In the above video, note how the background is constant. This is essential. If you don’t own your own house or intend to move in the years to come, avoid using distinctive walls or backgrounds that can’t be taken with you. Hofmeester elected to use a baby blanket: in addition to maintaining an unbroken white background, this also adds some great symbolism to the video. Whatever you use as your backdrop, keep it somewhere safe! Also, pick a colour that’s easy to replicate in the event that the item goes missing.
This is the easy part (well, if you discount the fact that you’ll be doing it for over a decade). Simply set the camera on a tripod, position your kid into the frame and let them do whatever comes natural. When they’re babies, hold their attention by making obligatory cooing noises. When they’re school-aged, get them to talk about their day. It doesn’t really matter what they do or say because you’re going to be speeding up each vignette anyway. Just film them in whatever they happen to be wearing that day and keep the process casual.
The important thing is to frame them in roughly the same position for each shot. (i.e. — every shot should cut them off below the waist and have the same amount of head room.) Each shot should last for around ten minutes: you can then trim the footage and speed it up during the editing process.
You also need to be mindful of lighting: try to shoot each shot at the same time of day and if you decide to use lights, don’t change the brightness or positioning in-between shots.
Sticking it out
Like many things in life, the key is to persevere. Filming week in, week out is a pretty big undertaking. Thankfully, there are plenty of tips on our website about sticking to long term goals. If you think a weekly commitment is unfeasible, you could achieve similar results on a monthly schedule — while you might not capture as many subtle changes in your child’s face, the overall transformation will remain equally powerful.
Staying motivated is only part of the struggle; you also have to keep your kids’ on board. Hofmeester offers the following tip for those times when your child isn’t feeling cooperative:
Sometimes they did not feel like it. Then I said ‘Just one minute. Tell me about your ballgame, did you win?” That way I stalled them so I could complete the shot.
If your kids are already all grown up, you could always try doing the same thing with scanned photos — flip through your albums and try to find shots that are similarly framed. (School portraits and Santa photos are usually a pretty good bet and also depict an even passage of time.) Again, this can be easily achieved with free editing software. Now go forth and embarrass your kids!
This story has been updated since its original publication.