simon christen
Photo Credit: Amy Miller

In addition to the QUEST TV segments we call, “Your Photos on QUEST,” we’ve recently launched a new segment called, “Your Videos on QUEST” where we feature the work of Bay Area filmmakers who make videos about Bay Area science and nature.

So, when I discovered Swiss-born animator and photographer Simon Christen’s amazing time-lapse videos of fog creeping over the tops of a forest in the Berkeley Hills, the moon rising over the Marin Headlands and the sun setting over San Francisco Bay, I wasn’t sure if we were doing a YPOQ or YVOQ story with him.

When I first spoke with Christen on the phone, he quickly cleared up my confusion. When asked if he considers his lyrical landscapes to be photography or filmmaking, he responds unequivocally that they are photographs.

Photo credit: Simon Christen

More specifically, time-lapse photography is when you use a still camera to capture multiple photographs in a row within a time interval and then stitch them together to create the illusion of a moving image. Indeed, this is the “magic” behind all motion pictures or film and really goes back to its invention in the late 1800’s.

Christen didn’t set out to be a time-lapse photographer. In fact, his experimentation with photography began with shooting still images of lush landscapes, in part as a contrast to his day-to-day work as an animator at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, CA. “I think I became interested in photography because it’s in a way the exact opposite to animation,” says Christen. “You’re focusing on split second in, in time, just make sure that that one frame is really interesting to look at and kind of tells a story within one frame. And in animation, you know, we’re telling the story with over many frames.”

In light of this approach, I found it interesting that it wasn’t long after Christen began teaching himself the art of still photography that he began to introduce the element of motion to those still images. Now, he feels that time-lapse is the “perfect combination” of the two art forms of animation and still photography.

From the film, “The Unseen Sea” by Simon Christen

But for Christen, it seems that one of the main draws to this kind of photography is the fact that it gets him away from his computer and out into nature. Time-lapse photography takes patience. And it takes time–lots of it. Christen regularly hikes to the tops of hills and mountains in the Bay Area to get the best vantage points on the rising moon or the incoming fog. And of course, these events happen in the wee hours of the morning or late evening into night. Once he sets up his camera and intervalometer, he’ll frequently be at that site for 3 or 4 hours capturing a single image sequence.

When asked if time-lapse photography requires a lot of patience he says, “It’s really peaceful and there’s always something going on. It’s like you’re seeing the light change and you’re seeing life in general evolve in front of you,” he explains. “I don’t have a TV at home. It’s kind of shocking to me of how much TV people watch these days. And like how much nonsense is on. And, and I think it’s just so much more interesting going out there and seeing real life in front of you.”

Your Photos on QUEST: Simon Christen 9 March,2016Amy Miller


Amy Miller


Amy Miller is a documentary filmmaker and the Supervising Producer and Partner at Spine Films, a boutique production company specializing in science, natural history and art content.  Prior to joining the Spine team, she worked at KQED as the Series Producer of “QUEST”, a multimedia science and environment series. She was also a staff producer for two other KQED series, “SPARK” and “Independent View.” For her work in television, she’s earned multiple honors including ten Emmy awards and two AAAS Kavli Science Journalism awards.  Feature Producer/ Director credits include “Saving Otter 501” for PBS NATURE and “Let All the Stories Be Told” which aired as part of KQED’s “Truly California” series.

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