Interview with Emeric Le Bars, Timelapse Photography Specialist

It’s a pleasure to interview Emeric Le Bars, a timelapse specialist based in Los Angeles. Emeric has been working in time-lapse photography for the past 8 years and will be sharing his knowledge, experience and insight with us. So, let’s get started!

This interview was originally published in full at Stockstudio.io’s blog.

1.Hi Emeric, really love your work and it is inspiring to watch your beautiful timelapses. Tell us about yourself?

Hey Alex, thanks for this opportunity! As mentioned in the intro, my name is Emeric Le Bars, I’m a French video editor and timelapse photographer currently living in Los Angeles.

Back in 2011, my parents gifted me a small Panasonic camcorder with a basic timelapse feature. For fun, I created a few timelapses of my hometown of Angers in France, and posted the videos on Youtube. Almost no need to say the video looks really crappy, but because of the feedback I received, this video alone gave me so much motivation and energy to keep creating this kind of content! Still today, sharing my work with my community is such an important part of my workflow. I could not create content if I wasn’t able to share it!

A year later, in 2012, I purchased my first real DSLR camera, a Canon t3i (600D in Europe) and started shooting “more” professional timelapses. I say “more” because I was still shooting JPEG and wasn’t even sure how my settings affected my photos, but at least I was shooting image sequences. I learned photography over the years just by shooting and watching some Youtube tutorials once in a while! The following year in 2013, I moved to the United States and this is where it all begins.

1A. Tell us more about your move to the United States and how you developed as a timelapse specialist

I moved from France 8 years ago now, to pursue the American Dream I would say! I have always been attracted to the US as a teenager, so right after college, I started looking for an internship somewhere in New York or Los Angeles.

I was very happy when a company gave me the opportunity to come to Los Angeles to work as a video editor and camera operator. Things didn’t go so well towards the end of 2015, so I decided to leave this company when I got my new visa, which allowed me to work for different employers and be a little freer.

I was already shooting timelapse videos for fun at the time, but nothing crazy. My work for that first company made me discover Videohive and Pond5 and other marketplace websites where artists can sell their own work! I realized that I could upload the few timelapses I created in the past, hopefully to make some money. I was happy that I started making some decent money in less than a year. So, I kept on shooting, creating new content, travelling to new cities like San Diego, San Francisco, New York or Las Vegas for example, to expand my portfolio.

A few years later, I realized that I loved that lifestyle and that I wanted to keep on creating timelapse videos.

In 2015, I started shooting some Youtube videos in French just for fun, some tutorials to teach the craft. To my surprise, the channel started to get some decent following and it was super exciting. Timelapse photography wasn’t so popular back in 2015 and 2016 and only a few people were doing this really well, such as Matjoez, he has been a big inspiration and why I kept creating timelapse videos at the time.

Times weren’t so easy for me for a few years and timelapse photography was also a way for me to get out, create something unique art, discover the country, travel, meet people and also make some money. What else could I be asking for?

You can see my whole evolution of how I’ve improved as a timelapse artist during this time in this YouTube video I’ve put together

1B. What are you up to in 2021?

This year I have been working as a Timelapse Creator professionally for almost 5 years, shooting Youtube tutorials in English with French Subtitles (since I still have a big French community), but also paid online classes, again in both English and French. But I also take a lot of time to capture unique timelapses in the cities, this is still a big part of my job. I then license the timelapse videos to whoever wants to!

1C. Other than YouTube do you have a course available?  

I have been working on a huge Timelapse Master Class 2021 for over a year now. It will be the most advanced Timelapse Master Class out there, mixing timelapse photography, motion control timelapses, hyperlapses, astro-timelapses and more. The COVID delayed everything, but I am working on it almost every day!

2. What was the most challenging skill for you to learn to become a pro timelapse photographer?

I would say that creating flawless day-to-night timelapses, also known as “Holy Grail”, was challenging at first. I remember watching timelapse videos on Youtube with a perfect Holy Grail transition and I had no idea how to achieve it. I felt like it was impossible at the time (probably around 2013 or 2014) without crazy expensive gear and software!

I watched a few YouTube tutorials that explained how to shoot day to night transitions, but I was still not feeling so comfortable with the technique. At first, I decided to shoot a golden hour timelapse, stop the camera and shoot a night timelapse, and blend the 2 with an editing program. If you don’t know, it looks very real, but as a perfectionist, I wasn’t satisfied.

Back in 2015, while at the top of Griffith Park, in Los Angeles, I just said “screw it, I’m going to change the settings on my camera, even if I am messing it up!”. I ended up with a raw sequence with tons of flickering caused by the manual exposure ramping, and wasn’t sure how to actually remove it. At the time, I wasn’t even using LRTimelapse, which is an excellent software.

I kid you not, I did exactly what LRTimelapse could do, but manually in Lightroom. I was selecting a few keyframes, usually the one right after the exposure ramping, then color correcting them the way I wanted, and manually did the gradient for every single Lightroom setting I changed. This was a tedious and very long job but it worked out! I ended up with a clean day-to-night transition and I was super excited about it!

Shortly after, I discovered LRTimelapse and realized that the program could do all of this for you… This changed the way I work forever!  Today, I love shooting day-to-night transitions and LRTimelapse made it super easy to create flawless, flicker free holy grail timelapses. I often tell myself that I shoot too many of them now and maybe sometimes I should shoot something else… but it’s so much fun! I’ve recently reviewed the LRTimelapse Pro Timer 3, so check it out

3. Your gear of choice for shooting pro-timelapses? Your favourite go-to equipment/lenses you can’t live without. How many cameras do you take on a shoot?

I am a big Canon fanboy and I love everything Canon. I am currently working with Canon 5D Mark III and 5D Mark IV. I always bring those 2 cameras with me on location, unless I am hiking for a long time, then I just bring the Mark IV.

I own 3 lenses that I use all the time and could not imagine working without – the Canon 16-35 f2.8L III, Canon 24-105mm f4L II and my favorite of them all, the 100-400mm II. Those 3 lenses allow me to shoot from 16mm to 400mm on location which is exactly what I need!

I usually take those 2 timelapse cameras on a shoot, along with a video camera for my behind-the-scenes vlogs, the Panasonic Lumix G9. I sometimes bring my drone, Mavic 2 Pro as well. And finally, I also own the DJI Osmo Pocket for some small b-roll footage. I often bring 3 cameras, but sometimes up to 5 haha that’s a lot! 

4. You mentioned you sold your work to companies such as Google, Netflix, LG, Microsoft, Mastercard, Red Bull, Nike with Converse, and other pretty big industry names. How did you get to acquire them as your clients?

Funny enough, they pretty much all have a different story behind it. A production company working for Google reached out after watching one of my Youtube videos about the Supermoon in Los Angeles, and wanted to license the clip!

I worked with a famous Hollywood actor called Rob Schneider for his Netflix’s Original Series “Real Rob” and he wanted to use some of my timelapse videos for the opening. I got to work with him through a friend of a friend who was the editor of the show, all in the network. But that’s the magic of Hollywood I suppose!

LG licensed my work directly from South Korea after they watched one of my Las Vegas Youtube videos. They used the content for their TV, monitors and other products out there. Converse and Red Bull were pretty much the same story, they found me via my Youtube videos.

And some other brands purchased directly via some marketplaces. You can see who licensed your content on some of them! That’s why I spend so much time on keeping my Youtube channel alive, big companies are watching!  

5. To some degree, a lot of us are refugees from the corporate world trying to find more creativity in life. Any feedback on working with big clients? Was it worth it in the end?

I mostly sell them a license by email and don’t really work for them directly since they purchase the copyright I have already created. But if a big company contacts you to license your content or work with you, don’t be afraid of offering a price that seems fair to YOU. This is your creation and even if it is a big company, don’t let them exploit you. Tell them how much you charge for this job or for this license and if they don’t like it, ask them what their budget is, and go from there. If it’s too low for you, don’t accept the deal, don’t let them “bully” you just because they are big!

Just to give you an example, I sold a timelapse to a big company 3 times the price I would normally sell it because I knew this company was really powerful and probably had a lot of money. Don’t hesitate to try! If they reach out, it means they are interested in your work. It is all worth it at the end, having big companies using your work, but it has to be fair for you as well!

I think I found a way of creating content that I like. I shoot what I want when I want it! People then can purchase a license if they like it. I don’t like being told what to do, especially when this is my own art. I honestly don’t see myself going back to a 9-5 job if I don’t have 100% freedom of creating what I want without any limitation. Once you work for yourself and create what you want, this is hard to go back to a more boss-employee relationship. I am my own boss and employee and pretty satisfied with this relationship.

6. Great tips, Emeric..what was your first big break as a professional time-lapse shooter?

The first timelapse video that made me a little bit famous was the wildfire near Los Angeles and Burbank back in September 2016. I shot a few timelapse videos of the fire right by the city and the footage were pretty impressive and scary. BBC News, Time, AP and other major News networks reached out to me to license and share the content on their platform. This was very exciting!

Two years later, in October 2018, my SpaceX Falcon 9 timelapse changed everything! It went viral but in a different way. No major news networks contacted me, but the video went viral on social media like Instagram and Facebook. TONS of accounts with hundreds of thousands and sometimes millions of followers were sharing the video and tagging me! I earned 35,000 followers in three days just on Instagram, which was insane! 

The video reached 6 million views on Facebook and 2 million on Youtube. This changed everything and opened up new possibilities on those platforms, like “swipe up” links on Instagram Stories and a decent following for brands to recognize that my work is worth it. Today I have over 48,000 followers and even though I post regularly, it’s challenging to grow organically. I always lose as many followers than I gain, so it’s pretty steady for the past year.

But my reputation wasn’t made from those 2 “breakthroughs” per say, it took a long time. I think my hard work over the years to always create quality content finally paid off. People often tell me how clean my timelapse videos look like and how much they would like to create such content. I am a big perfectionist, and it’s sometimes very (very) annoying and frustrating, but I see the results in the long term, and that’s definitely worth it!

7. Those are awesome clips and surely beyond the reach of most people starting out. How easy/difficult is it in your opinion to start with time-lapse photography?

I think it’s actually pretty simple. It’s super easy to create a timelapse nowadays, just use your smartphone, for instance. Purchase a tripod with a phone holder and bam you can shoot some cool timelapses. You are obviously a little limited, but that’s the easy way to start. These days most new generation smartphones shoot in 4K. 

Later on, if you want to expand your skills, it’s really easy to find an inexpensive DSLR camera, a lens, a SD card, the right intervalometer and a tripod. That’s all you need to create a good timelapse. What makes the difference is the way the person behind the camera uses it. Take some time to find a good timelapse subject, the right interval for it and you are ready to shoot. The post-production is also easy as LRTimelapse has a free version and Lightroom is really affordable.

8. Let’s continue on this topic as many beginners are reading this. Any advice for novices in this field? For those who start producing timelapses only now, do you think there is still a chance to make some money?

I already started giving some advice in the previous answer and would continue that focusing on creating quality over quantity is what makes the difference in this industry in 2021. Take some time for each clip you are working on, don’t rush and make sure it’s perfect before you share it or start selling it. Be proud of your own work!

I would say it’s still possible to make money, but you need to distinguish yourself from others as the craft is becoming more and more popular. Don’t shoot a timelapse because you can, do it because you should (like you found the perfect subject at the perfect time of the day for example). Find a reason to shoot a timelapse and if you share a message along the way, this makes it even more powerful.

Don’t fall into the trap of doing it for the money though, do it for yourself and your own creative mind. Money will usually follow if you persevere!

9. What is the most challenging aspect of producing time-lapses?

Originality for sure. Timelapse photography is becoming more and more popular and I honestly think this is a great thing, but it also means it’s hard to find original content to create, so much has already been done.

I am not always focusing on creating original content though, I create what I want to create, but once in a while, it’s great to challenge yourself a bit. Creating stuff outside your comfort zone is the best way to grow, learn and get better! For instance, shooting a one-week timelapse!

I think the hardest part of producing a timelapse is being proud of it! I can spend hours to clean it and make it as good as I can, there is always a little something that I won’t like about it, and sometimes nothing I can really do to fix it, that’s just how it is!

I am always looking for perfection in my timelapse work and it’s sometimes challenging to overcome it and let some things go…

10. How long does it take to produce a quality time-lapse? Please describe the process and post-editing workflow you use to bring your work to fruition.

It takes a lot of time to create a high quality timelapse once you come back from your shoot. I use 4 different programs to create the final video – LRTimelapse 5, Lightroom Classic, After Effects and Media Encoder.

I first use LRTimelapse to preview my timelapse videos, create the keyframes and set up the Holy Grail assistant if needed. Then I send all the photos to Lightroom where I do the color correction to make the raw images look nicer!

The next step is returning to LRTimelapse to create the visual previews and use the deflicker if needed. I always use it though even if I don’t see any flicker with my own eyes, as the luminance curve is rarely completely smooth the first time. Adding a little bit of visual deflicker will make the timelapse even smoother!

When I am ready to export, I import the raw sequence in After Effects, resize it to 4K+ (4096×2304) and export with Media Encoder. I use Media Encoder to export the maximum quality possible when it comes to bit depth and bitrate. I always export ProRes 4444 now, or 422HQ for some of them. Although these resolutions create large files, they are so sharp and beautiful!

When the video is exported, I re-import them into After Effects for the final step of the workflow, the cleaning.

Cleaning a timelapse means stabilizing it if needed, removing most of the birds and planes that could be distracting during the day (or other unwanted elements such as a tourist walking right in front of your camera…), removing the dust spots in a cloudy sky, removing some contrast flicker with the Flicker Free plugin, removing noise and adding some sharpness with Neat Video plugin and finally re-exporting it with Media Encoder and the same codec to keep the same high quality video at the end.

The cleaning part is so important! It raises the value of your work tremendously from the competition and makes the final timelapse video visually nicer to watch. Quality before quantity!

I export with Media Encoder to get more control on export settings and do batch exports at night. Media Encoder also uses less CPU and RAM than After Effects when exporting, so I can easily do other things on my computer with no issues whatsoever, even editing 4K videos on Premiere Pro!

11. Do you sell your work on Microstock sites? How is it going lately?

I do, this is how I started making money creating timelapse videos back in 2013.I used to upload to upload to multiple microstock sites, but these days I zeroed in on main ones.

When I am done creating a timelapse, I usually upload it to Pond5 and Adobe Stock first, then Videohive later for some of them. You may see my Pond5 portfolio (1137 clips) by clicking on this link

In other words, I’m not an avid, stocksubmitter, I use only those agencies that make sense for me financially and provide fair compensation for what I want to license. No prizes for guessing which major agency I’m leaving out. 

I use templates to go a little faster on Pond5 when it comes to titles and keywords. I have a bunch of keywords saved in the template but I usually add or remove a few of them for each specific timelapse. When I choose keywords for my work, I usually think about what I see on the timelapse along with where I am shooting from. This helps me create accurate keywords for every single clip. I upload on Pond5 first since I can easily copy and paste all the information to another website in a few seconds only. This makes the process much faster!

I have never used a stockuploader or any online submitter, but I might consider one day. 

I have been licensing on those websites since 2013, but I am not going to lie, it’s not going very well today. I haven’t been really uploading new content lately even though I have been creating a lot of new timelapse videos!

12. Many contributors are reporting fewer sales and for less royalties, why do you think sales are slowing down?

There are many factors slowing down the sales so much lately, in my opinion, such as:

1 – Since it’s an easy way to make money, more and more random people consider becoming a microstock contributor and want to upload their content on those websites, flooding them with shitty content (pardon my French), but it’s true. The amount of low-quality stock footage (probably shot on newer iPhones) on those sites are ridiculous and makes it harder for people creating good quality content to be seen.

2 – Pricing: Since most people don’t care about their work and how much they make, they drive the market prices down, so people like me and other artists with higher prices, making a living out of it, usually don’t sell as much. I understand (many) clients want the cheapest content available out there, but that’s why big companies usually don’t use those sites and reach out directly by email. They don’t want to browse through tons of low-quality content, when they are looking for high quality stuff.

3- The COVID-19 crisis probably slowed down the sales tremendously the past year or so and I can see it, as well as read on microstock blogs. I am glad I had my website and my online classes to save me through this hard time!

4- Greedy companies like Shutterstock want to take a bigger and bigger cut all the time. We sell more, but make less, that makes no sense! That’s why I decided to leave Shutterstock early 2020, it was just not worth it.

13. What’s your opinion on the new Shutterstock earnings schedule?

When I learned about the new Shutterstock policy, I immediately closed my account and removed all my content. This company has been horrible since day one, rejecting good quality content for no reason, not having any customer service whatsoever and selling our content at a very low price. I remember making less than $1 per sale sometimes, and I am not selling pictures, only 4K timelapses… what???

The new policy with the different levels of income was just too much…so I just left. Even though I was making between $300 and $500 a month on average, I did not want this greedy company to use me and my work. Sometimes it’s not just about the money, it’s about the image you send to people, and this company is using the contributors on so many levels and I am not sure why people are still selling on there. They just don’t value their work… or just need money really bad with the crisis I believe, which I would understand.

Basically how Shutterstock works is through different levels (tiers) where you make 15% on January 1st (yes they take 85%!!!!!) and the more you sell, the more you can make. But as a stock footage contributor, it would be very hard to reach level 5 where you make I think up to 35 or 40% I believe, since you would need to sell thousands of clips. And the worst in that story is that every January 1st, you come back to level 1 and 15%… this is just outrageous… you do not value your work if you keep selling on this website in my opinion.

14. Your favourite destinations for time-lapse photography?

I just LOVE Chicago and New York City as a timelapse destination. Those 2 skylines are so photogenic and they offer SO many different spots all around the city.

When it comes to nature or landscapes, I love the American Southwest like Joshua Tree National Park, Monument Valley, Grand Canyon and all the other National Parks. This is so magical!

Obviously, I love shooting timelapses in Los Angeles as well. This city created Emeric’s Timelapse and will always have a special place in my heart!

15. Do you still travel and work during the COVID time? How does the pandemic affect your business?

I was still living in Atlanta, Georgia when Covid hit and didn’t actually travel for over 4 months. In June and July 2020, I managed to drive to Chicago and Miami though, to shoot my classes and meet up with some old friends! In fact, I love driving in the US and have made many videos!

I moved back to Los Angeles at the end of 2020 and didn’t do much for a little while. Now I go out mostly in Los Angeles to shoot some timelapse of the skyline. But I don’t want to travel too much at the moment, I am waiting for things to get a little better, hopefully very soon. I have a lot of things to do out there!

My business wasn’t too badly affected by the pandemic, fortunately. Beside the sales being slower on the marketplaces, I have been selling my online classes on my website all 2020 and it really helped me survive the crisis without too many issues!

16. I noticed you have e-learning courses out for students at your website. Could you please go into some detail on what the course entails and how potential students can benefit from the advice?

Since 2017, I have created over 24.5 hours of online classes gathered into 113 videos. They all come with assets such as RAW sequences, timelapse videos and other documents to help people learn faster even if they don’t have the resources available right away.

Like I said earlier, my online classes focus a lot on creating quality before the quantity. I guide my students to creating something they will be proud of. I have a class where I talk only about camera settings and interval selection, another one on colour correction, another one on LRTimelapse, and also one on how to fully clean your timelapse videos with After Effects! I take the time to explain everything in detail, in a way that is easy to understand and makes sense to beginners, even to people who aren’t English native speakers.

I also have a Timelapse Master Class 2019 where people can learn more information on how to sell their content on the marketplace websites like Pond5 and such. I also offer a class about hyperlapse videos and Holy Grail Timelapses!

My students can learn every aspect of the craft in detail as I take the time to explain everything in a simple, easy-to-understand way! All my classes are also available in French! I shoot all my classes twice, so the French community following me can also have access to that knowledge!

It’s such a pleasure seeing photographers evolving and getting better throughout the years after watching my classes, there is nothing more satisfying and this is the reason why I will keep teaching as long as I can!

I am currently working on a brand new Timelapse Master Class 2021 with 44 videos so far. It will be a mix between timelapse photography, traveling, motion control timelapses and astro-timelapses! 

17. You have your own website for selling your work, how does it work for you as a business tool?

My website saved my life during the COVID pandemic. It’s my main source of income now, and since it’s all online, no need to close down!

A website is an important part of any business nowadays, it shows what you do, who you are and is a great way to generate passive income. But the website is actually nothing without social media. I use the different social media to drive people over to my website where they can learn more about the person behind Emeric’s Timelapse and about timelapse photography, with free and paid resources.

I have my best work available for licensing, but I don’t sell many of them on there, but I keep them up as I do license one from time to time. It shows people some of my best work right there and if they want to create such content, they can just head over to the courses page and download my online classes! 

Thank you, Emeric! I Hope you will keep creating beautiful content to share with the world. Here’s a few more questions and answers!

About Alex

I’m an eccentric guy, currently based in Madrid, Spain, on a quest to visit all corners of the world and capture stock images & footage, when things go back to normal (mid-2021??). I’ve devoted eight years to making it as a travel photographer / videographer and freelance writer (however, had recently go back into full-time office work to make ends meet). I hope to inspire others by showing an unique insight into a fascinating business model.

I’m proud to have written a book about my adventures which includes tips on making it as a stock travel photographer – Brutally Honest Guide to Microstock Photography

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