BT Tower Timelapse Panorama: The Making Of

View from BT Tower, November 2015 (Image: David McClelland)
View from BT Tower, November 2015 (Image: David McClelland)

Recently I found myself at a function on floor 34 of the BT Tower in London. The iconic ‘Telecom Tower’ has topped the capital’s skyline for over 50 years yet remained an official secret invisible to Ordinance Survey maps until 1993.

As if the stunning panoramic view wasn’t enough, the viewing gallery atop the tower revolves. It’s not a fast revolve, taking 22 minutes to take in the full 360 degrees.

I was keen to capture this somehow on my smartphone (iPhone 6 plus) but given the nature of the event I was attending I couldn’t really make a big fuss about it.

In the end I simply had to lean the phone against the window and let it sit there for half an hour (while I stood nearby keeping a close eye on it). That was followed by some furious tinkering before I finally hit push to Twitter.

Overall, I was pretty satisfied with the result. Some reflections from the ambient lighting do creep into the final footage: I could have killed these with a coat and some gaffer tape perhaps but the need for discretion and guerrilla shooting didn’t afford me such luxuries.

Here’s the workflow I used:

  • Hyperlapse to capture – video output (one 360-degree revolution of the tower) was two minutes. Perhaps I could have sped up the lapse even more, but I wanted to have more control over the final length of the output than Hyperlapse would give me.
  • iMovie on iOS to speed up the movie – I couldn’t figure out a way to get iMovie to speed-up an already sped-up clip so I exported, re-imported the sped-up version and then sped that up once again. Rinse, repeat until the clip length is a Twitter-friendly 30 seconds.
  • VideoGrade to grade – the overall exposure was a little too dark for my liking, losing too much of the streetlights and cascading traffic, so I brought out the highlights as best as I could without introducing too much noise; this proved quite challenging as there wasn’t much latitude in the footage.
  • Topped and tailed in iMovie (dip-in and out) and posted the final result to Twitter.

To develop this further I might have introduced a very slow push-in to the scene; Cute CUT is a useful iOS video editor for this I’ve used previously, although I recall having questions over its render quality in the past and found its UI can be fiddly.