365 Days, 55.000 Photos, 825 hours shooting photos, 8400 kms, 650 hours of editing. We interviewed Panagiotis Filippou, a talented and dedicated professional photographer from Greece, about his journey as a photographer, his life threatening illness and his beautiful new time lapse film Greek Skies in the list of the Greek financial crisis - http://www.
"Congratulations Panos on the completed time lapse film, it looks fantastic. We know that it took a great deal of time and effort to complete and we are very glad we could support you by providing our Digislider motion control time lapse sliders. We just wanted to ask you a few questions about the project."
I was born in Greece in 1978 just after mum and dad had came back to it being work immigrants for years. I was raised in a small village, Agria, near Volos city.
I started taking photos at the age of 7 with an old Kodak that my dear dad bought me at that time. I was a person (as I was told) that I was really obsessed freezing time and memories in so many ways. While growing up that faded away for a few years as the sports (skiing) and other activities took over.
Fast forward, I found myself studying under scholarship in UK Newcastle Business school as a BSIT student when I had an amazing experience taking photos with my first used SLR Nikon that I could afford as a student, and which I still have.
That was the first time I took photography seriously, and advanced from point & shoot to aperture and manual mode.
Then I moved back to Greece to complete my compulsory military duties, where again I had to stop shooting and focus on the everyday things.
Ever since I was trying to shoot as frequently as possible everything around me, to feed the little voice inside me asking for more photos.
In 2010 I was diagnosed with last stage cancer which had started from the stomach and then metastasized to the bone marrow and during chemotherapies did a metastasis in my head. The fact that I was given initially very few chances of surviving that was the point when it hits me.
You get a cold as ice slap in your face and you think about all the things you didn’t do, you would like to do, you wish you wouldn’t have done or would have done, said or not have said and so on.
Photography was one of the things in my list! I never managed to understand it completely and study it in depth, or get to a level I wish I had!
My situation was perfect! I couldn’t give up life, I had to fight and also I couldn’t be among people in order not to get a virus and have another metastasis. So I bought my new DSLR D7000 as, lets say, a last gift (replacing my old D90) and spent all day in hospitals and my house on my laptop watching YouTube tutorials all day and night. In my very few (3-4) good days, while in chemo, I had every month, I was going out to test what I had learnt! That’s when I can really got to comprehend, at the level I always wanted, photography.
When the miracle happened and I was given my life back in one day, then I realized how happy I was that I didn’t give up. I started doing photography while working full time and then I moved abroad to another job where very little time was free for my photography. My life taught me a very harsh lesson; not to give up on anything from that moment on, no matter what it is.
Life is too short to not follow your passion or your dream.
The film was shot in multiple locations, Pelion, Volos, Kalambaka, Meteora, Thessaly, Antiparos island, Kalavrita, Patras and many more unaccounted.
It took me over a year to shoot, around 825 hours of actual shooting timelapse mainly during night, 55.000 photos in total, and 650 hours of editing. I had to stop many times and change the plan but NEVER the goal.
First of all I have to officially thank Digislider as you were one of the first companies who accepted to sponsor the project and that really was a huge help and problem solver for my motion scenes.
The Motion Control is something that every serious photographer should have when it comes to videography but more important in photography of such a project.
Let me please start from day one.
The Timelapse Kits I received were really well packed and that gave me the first impression that it has to be great. The rail is really sturdy and solid and could cope the weight of a big combination of 2 heavy ball heads by Manfrotto, a D810 with battery grip, lenses (14-24mm, 16-35mm, even 70-200) and a star tracker by Vixen, Polarie.
Here comes the most amazing, that with all honesty I didn’t expect. The rail in some shots, as you can see in my behind the scenes video & shots with my GoPro, was set up almost vertically! With such a weight, it was still sturdy and working endless hours 8-10 hours shooting with no problem at all. The battery packs were holding up in low temps and never run out even after 2-3 continuous shootings on top of Meteora Monasteries 4 and 5 o clock in the morning.
Regardless what equipment you load it with, I believe is an amazing workhorse to have and rely on for serious work.
What were the most enjoyable moments of the project?
The whole project was a bit bitter and sweet. Of course bitter because it was something I had promised my dad before he left this world, to make it happen, but sweet also because of the moments you have that makes it enjoyable, leaving aside the first part.
I'm just a guy who loves to go out there in the nature and take photos that the nature creates for us and just be patient and be there in order to take it. If you keep waiting for the moment it might come or might not... but in the end of the day waiting is what is really taking me out there. The excitement of the elements of the nature that paint the picture for you. You just have to be there .... basic skills and you got it. You capture the moment that the elements of the nature have composed for you. So when you get back home the editing is minimal to nothing!
After finishing, your phone has about 10-20 messages from friends inviting you for coffee in the city center, sending you photos on Viber or Whatsapp of whats happening and you are just happy you are not there in their Castles of Glass and instead you are experiencing the most amazing thing that few people experience in their lives.
My photography depends 100% on nature, you can get only what nature gives you, so the fact that everything has to come together and turn into magic, the light is great, the clouds, the moment that you feel it is happening, this is what is the most enjoyable moment waiting for. That’s what I call the most enjoyable moments of any photo I take.
What were the frustrations of the whole project?
The most frustrating moment of the project was when the capital controls of the famous crisis in Greece occurred. Imagine packed on the road, shooting from place to place, and next day all banks closed, no petrol if you had no cash, and generally a big huge STOP on everything. That was a game changer! I had to inform my sponsors that the project was put to a stop because of this! That was crazy. I had to abandon the initial plan which was to shoot entirely in Mount Athos where we had managed to get permission with cameras in this holly place and do greek skies over the most dark places, without light pollution, in whole Greece, not to mention whole Mediterranean, and some shots on the top of Mount Athos where the International Space Station would be obvious with the naked eye! That was our initial plan. No light pollution, amazing scenery of monasteries and wild places, nature with rock formations, no one has ever seen before!
For a moment I thought I would give up and try next year. But thanks to my mum’s call, who reminded me “if something goes wrong change the plan not the goal”, we decided to do this in Meteora another holly place with monasteries on the giant rocks. We were permitted to sleep over (that’s very rare for Meteora) and that was amazing! Sleeping on top of those rocks in a cell 3x3m, with the main necessities, just napping for a few minutes, and spending most of the time on the top of every rock overlooking the whole Thessaly valley, was something priceless! You feel like the oxygen is too much for your lungs. I was standing on the edge of these rocks and below me hundreds of free-fall emptiness, and you could sit there gazing. No one knew where you are at that very moment and that was the most amazing thing! Shooting for 8 hours till mornin. Simply amazing it cant be described. Priceless spiritual feelings and closeness to nature!
What have you learned from the process?
I have never done such a big project or that long in my life and to be honest it was a bit scary. Not to let down many people and myself. If I think of myself when I started it, alone, I could easily have a panic attack right now. Then on the way everything falls into place, people to help, and things that you wouldn’t expect to happen, did happen. For a reason? Maybe.
I have learned many valuable things during this project, from technical to theoretical to practical, but if I had to answer the most valuable one, I would say it is “faith”.
Any tips for budding time lapse enthusiasts?
You should never give up your goal. Yes you can give up the plan but never the goal. If you give up, no one will do it for you, or come help you. You have to get up, go out there, do what it takes, yes you will make mistakes and you will feel sad or bad or disappointed but in the end, everything has a start and an end, and as time passes, the sooner the end of everything bad or obstacle comes and you will be there to continue your way to your goal. You need to have faith, any kind of faith to any God you believe in.
What are your plans for future time lapse projects?
Mount Athos is something I didn’t touch, maybe was a sign or wasn’t I supposed to at this time. But as mentioned above I never give up. So my next project should be either Mount Athos or a very special project in USA & South America.
If I manage to get the trip sponsored, I can certainly say up front that this will be something very different from whatever I have researched online. The challenge is big and the cost high. But I hope I can do that as the next timelapse wont be like this one only. I have derived a new technique I am working on during this project that came up while doing something very wrong and desperate to get a shot. Lets hope everything falls in place.
Who else would you like to thank? (other companies & people)
I would like to thank officially my two friends for all the support and contribution in this difficult trip.
Konstantinos Themelis (Konstantinos Themelis Photography) who was there for me when I needed to visit places that no one should alone.
Christopher Anagnostopoulos (Christophe Anagnostopoulos Photography) who also recently lost his mum and we spent endless hours on the phone shooting at the same time miles apart, he on an island, me on Meteora to take advantage of the limited time we had due to the delays mentioned above.
The companies that sponsored me:
My Mega Sponsor digislider.co.uk
If you want to save the battery life of your cameras, there is super intelligent gear & software by triggertrap.com
Kensuke Kazama and Michael Schlunder for the only and MUST HAVE star tracker Polarie by Vixen, if you are traveling light and gets you amazing results! vixen-astronomie.de/produkte/polarie-star-tracker/
Gunther Wegner, the face behind LRtimelapse.com who not only sponsored me but also supported me with his enormous knowledge in editing ! Everytime he was there available!
The ONLY software you will ever need for timelapse! LRtimelapse.com
The supporting companies:
AlbaPv Alexandrou (www.albapv.gr) for lending us the 5 extra tripods to be able to support multiple locations shooting simultaneously.
Planetarium of Thessaloniki (www.planitario.gr) for lending us a backup star tracker in case something went wrong.
Last but not least the person behind the very good edit of the film, Marco GLerin, a young Spanish filmmaker and good friend, passionate about nature, adventure, surfing and sustainability based in Madrid (http://www.allthegoodthings.co) who put this all together. Thank you Marco.
It has WON the BEST of the FEST of Hollywood International Independent Documentary Awards (HIIDA www.diida.com ) (its gold) and will be opening the premiere of LAIFFA. Also it has won the International festival of Romania in the category of experimental.
"Thanks for the interview Panos and all the best for the future. We look forward to more great work from you. "