National Geographic News

Tanya Basu

National Geographic

Published December 23, 2013

It's hard to believe photographer Michael Shainblum when he says he thought he was a failure growing up, especially after viewing his gorgeous time-lapse film "Into the Atmosphere."

The film, which showcases the grandeur of California's underexplored wonders, is garnering rave reviews for capturing nature beautifully without relying on cliche California landmarks and settings.

Shainblum answered some of our questions about overcoming learning disabilities and his love for offbeat spots in California.

How did art and photography help you overcome your dyslexia?

As a kid, a lot of people would succeed in certain ways that I couldn't. It took me a really long time to learn how to read and write. As a kid, school takes up a good portion of your life. And I wasn't very good at most academics or sports or athletics. So I was stuck trying to find something that I could be good at or be proud of.

That's where art came in. I was always interested in art. That's always been something that's been with me, and it's grown over time. It was the thing that allowed me to escape, to stop thinking that I'm bad at everything and realize that as a human, I had something to offer.

I get a lot of other emails from other dyslexic artists who say they had the same [experience]. A few of [the letter writers] are parents, too: "Our son was the same way, but we see the potential and talent." It is really heartwarming to see those emails.

Why did you decide to create this time-lapse?

It's been something that I wanted to do for a long time. It's my fourth time-lapse film.

The main goal was to showcase these natural areas, but not the shots that everyone has seen before, like Yosemite. I wanted to showcase all of California. I just wanted to travel and hit every spot that I thought people might enjoy, all sorts of places that aren't that far from a normal city.

I wanted to showcase [these places] and encourage people to get out and see this stuff. Going to a national park is not as hard as you think; it’s not a ten-hour drive. If you're in L.A., you can travel only an hour and get to some interesting places.

How did you scout locations and plan your shoots?

There was definitely some research, but there were also some spontaneous events. You can never really plan out a time-lapse; you go and do the best assessment you can, but it really takes shooting a lot more than you really need. There was a lot of trial and error, and only a tenth of my images made it into my film. I got some local help, too—some photographer friends would give me suggestions.

I'd stay up all night, sleep outside. Sometimes I wouldn't even camp—I'd just sit outside on a chair and lay out on the ground and hang out with the camera.

What are your future goals?

California is where I'm based, where I was born and raised. That said, I want to go to other places now. [Note: All four of Shainblum's previous time-lapse films were set in California.]

I want to take time-lapse in a new direction. The market for time-lapse in the past year or two has been completely oversaturated. I want to try and reshape it.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Follow Tanya Basu on Twitter.

25 comments
Nicholas Holt
Nicholas Holt

Stunning.  Especially those sequences where the camera location moves as well and the background.  Beautifully done!

D Simone
D Simone

Thank you! It is spectacular!

Moon Trask
Moon Trask

This is why I love California, outstanding imagery! You should join an astronomy club. Your contributions would be well received. Not only for their beauty, more importantly for our understanding of the cosmos. Sincerely, Moon T.

M. Oliveira
M. Oliveira

if you like nature you have got to watch this video it is BEAUTIFUL!!!!!!   and thats a under statement to me. youll see check it out . its only 3:45  :-) u wont be disappointed. 

Susan Infelt
Susan Infelt

The photography was something that can't be described. 

Lou Page Graham
Lou Page Graham

This was beautiful to watch.  Time lapse photography is very calming, I could watch it much longer.  Maybe this could help those with ADHD or other disorders. 

Alan Webb
Alan Webb

Amazing, beautyful, great, ..... I run out of adjectives.

jin xj
jin xj

What a Wonderful World

Orlando Valenzuela
Orlando Valenzuela

Gracias por seguirnos inspirando. Gracias por tan generosa página. Sigan haciendolo.

Duc Bui
Duc Bui

The beauty of God's creation is stunning. 

Prahlad Rajhans
Prahlad Rajhans

how on earth does one do space photography(what settings)

and the time lase??


awesome work!!

vance mordecai
vance mordecai

Thank you, Michael.  I shall share this with two youngsters in my family.

I don't believe they've ever seen the Milky Way.

laura casini
laura casini

fantastic! good choice of the music as well...sounds following the air mouvement...

M. Oliveira
M. Oliveira

@Lou Page Graham  hi, it may work. im a very hyper person. i get easliy distracted. my mind goes from one thing to another. it was so beautiful to me i was able to watch the whole thing. thats a plus. i lose interest very easy. :)  have a good day

Share

Feed the World

  • How to Feed Our Growing Planet

    How to Feed Our Growing Planet

    National Geographic explores how we can feed the growing population without overwhelming the planet in our food series.

See blogs, stories, photos, and news »

Latest Photo Galleries

See more photos »

Shop Our Space Collection

  • Be the First to Own <i>Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey</i>

    Be the First to Own Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

    The updated companion book to Carl Sagan's Cosmos, featuring a new forward by Neil deGrasse Tyson is now available. Proceeds support our mission programs, which protect species, habitats, and cultures.

Shop Now »