Secret life of coral: See the jaw-dropping time-lapse for which a Canon 7D and laptop gave their lives


posted Friday, March 28, 2014 at 12:30 PM EDT


As video subjects go, there can be few which are harder to film than coral. The marine invertebrate colonies that make up a coral reef are undeniably photogenic, but shooting on a fragile reef out in the real world brings a million challenges. But even just shooting coral in an aquarium is tough. Not only do you have to master the subtleties of temperature, salinity and light and more to keep your coral healthy and happy in the first place, but you're also faced with a subject whose living organisms are both tiny, and operate on a time scale completely unlike our own.

But master the capture of living coral is just what videographer Daniel Stoupin has done, with a truly jaw-dropping movie posted recently on video-sharing site Vimeo. Stoupin captures not just the color, but also the vitality of the coral, bringing it to life in razor-sharp detail. (And we do mean razor-sharp: The video was created at 4K resolution from 22-megapixel raw files, although Vimeo limits viewers to Full HD resolution.)

To get a sense for the mammoth task in creating the video, note that Stoupin shot a whopping 150,000 exposures for just three and a half minutes of video. In the process, he found his gear surrendering to the demands of all that heavy lifting. An already well-loved Canon EOS 7D digital SLR was the first to bite the bullet near the beginning of the project. Once Stoupin had captured all the requisite stills to create his time-lapse series, a laptop likewise put its life on the line after three weeks of continual raw-file processing proved too much to bear.

"Slow Life" by Daniel Stoupin coaxes the magical beauty out of living coral

But why so many images? The answer is simple: Each video frame consists of anywhere from three to 12 stills, each with slightly variant focus to allow an expanded depth of field after focus stacking. And creating those stacked frames from raw files could take as long as ten minutes per frame. Small wonder, then, that Stoupin spent some nine months creating the video -- around three months per minute of the final footage.

As well as the Canon 7D which died early during the shoot, the video was created using a Canon EOS 5D Mark III digital SLR and MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro Photo lens, a variety of motorized stages including a Cognisys StackShot for focus stacking, three different adjustable custom-spectrum lamps for lighting, and a raft of computers running Adobe Photoshop CS6, Zerene Stacker, Helicon Focus and Sony Vegas to process it all.

The results speak for themselves: All that gear and effort clearly paid off!