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Fire & Ice In 4K

Shooting with a Sony α7R II and 16-35mm f/4 among other lenses, photographer and filmmaker Nick Kontostavlakis brought Iceland’s dynamic forces to life in a stunningly-beautiful timelapse film called Whispering Iceland.

He writes, “Iceland is said to be the Mekas landscape for photographers. It is considered as the country of fascinating contrasts. Broadly known as "The Land of Fire and Ice", it is home to both a portion of the biggest ice sheets in Europe, and probably the most active volcanoes on the planet.

“Iceland is the place where there is light and dimness, where long summer days with almost 24-hours of daylight are counterbalanced by short winter days.

“Icelandic scenery still remains for all intents and purposes untouched by human progress.”

When we saw the film we wanted to learn more about it. We reached out to him for this interview.

Alpha Universe: What’s your background as a photographer and filmmaker?

Nick Kontostavlakis: I started shooting as a hobby when I was young and I immediately realized how much I enjoyed taking photos. I decided to attend seminars and workshops at a school for photography in 2005 and I guess that was the turning point when I knew that landscape photography was my focus. I started traveling, experimenting with landscape photography, gathering experience and meeting people with the same focus. 

Alpha Universe: How long did it take to make Whispering Iceland?

Nick Kontostavlakis: In October 2015, my team and I spent 15 days traveling in a caravan across the country. We had the opportunity to capture rare scenery!

The editing took several months as it was very difficult to handle the thousands of photos we shot. The whole project took us around 1 year to publish it!  

Alpha Universe: Was all of the footage shot on a single trip or did you go back to Iceland and shoot on different occasions?

Nick Kontostavlakis: It was shot on a single trip. I had already been there 2 other times, so we knew most of the places.

Alpha Universe: What attracted you to Iceland?

Nick Kontostavlakis: The Icelandic landscape is unique, the atmosphere very special, it’s one of the few countries that remain untouched by human progress.

Alpha Universe: How long have you been creating timelapse?

Nick Kontostavlakis: Not too long. This is my second one. I did one many years ago for my birthplace, Zakynthos, Greece.

Alpha Universe: What attracts you to timelapse?

Nick Kontostavlakis: It brings out the magnificence of nature, creating strong emotions to the viewer, especially if it is accompanied by a proper music theme. I want to stress that the result of this film would not be the same without the soundtrack from “Zero-Project”.

Alpha Universe: Let’s talk about the gear. What cameras and lenses did you use?

Nick Kontostavlakis: Most of the video was shot with the Sony α7R II. It was a newcomer back then when I was shooting for the film. The Sony Zeiss FE 16-35 was my favorite lens.

I love my α7-series cameras when traveling. They are versatile, lightweight, they have incredible image quality and a variety of really good lenses. They are also a step ahead regarding video quality.

Alpha Universe: Can you walk us through your 4K timelapse workflow?

Nick Kontostavlakis: All the photos were shot in RAW. Keep in mind that we came back with no less than 40 000 photos.

We used heaters on the lens to keep them dry and we used sturdy tripods as winds were extremely strong. I recommended to everyone to be cautious and take good care of their equipment.

All photo editing and grading was done in Lightroom. The LRTimelapse plugin was very useful for deflickering and smoothing the timelapse.

All the images were exported in maximum resolution, so handling video clips at 8k was quite stressful for our computers. A variety of corrections were made with After Effects.

For the final export we used Final Cut Pro X.

Alpha Universe: You have some very elaborate moves in Whispering Iceland. How did you accomplish them? How much is in-camera versus virtual moves created in post?

Nick Kontostavlakis: It’s a combination of a 2-meter slider, 3-axis pan & tilt head and digital zoom. The large camera resolution on [the Sony a7R II] cameras lets me keep the image quality at very good levels even when zooming.

Alpha Universe: What's your next project?

Nick Kontostavlakis: I have many things in my mind... I am currently working on a project named ‘’a Greek Portfolio’’ which started 3 years ago. Hopefully it will be completed during 2017.

I’ll spend most of my time in the winter traveling and shooting. Maybe something nice could happen soon...