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Stock photography's new frontier: hyperlapses and octocopters

Thought stock photography was boring? New visual tools, like hyperlapses and octocopters, are invigorating photographic content.

The stock photo and video industry continues to evolve in response to new visual trends.

Getty has been at the forefront of using new technologies for stock photography and editorial purposes. For the 2012 Olympics in London, robotic cameras and 3D-imaging systems were rolled out to capture sporting events with fresh eyes. At the Australian Open, photographers supplied candid images of the event taken on smartphones to complement their regular coverage.

Andrew Delaney. (Credit: Getty Images)

In 2013, the emphasis is on creating visual content from a fresh perspective. "We're seeing totally new viewpoints," said Andrew Delaney, global director of creative content at Getty Images. "Also, really exciting new transitions that we couldn't do before."

One such tool that is helping photographers explore new ground is the octocopter. It is an eight-bladed rotorcraft that can lift a camera into the air, as if it was mounted on to a mini helicopter.

The camera sits atop a gimbal, which gives it stability, while a specially-trained controller flies the octocopter across terrain that may not normally be accessible by traditional means. For example, a regular helicopter shoot is costly and the size prohibitive, while a steadicam or crane can't give the height required.

(Screenshot by CBSi)

Footage from an octocopter camera gives the viewer the experience of flight, albeit at a lower altitude than your regular plane journey. The octocopter is a specialist tool that can only be used by qualified controllers, so it is out of reach for the everyday photographer just at the moment.

"We have a staff member in London who is currently taking his training and exams that you need to take to be able to fly these things," said Delaney. "Once he's passed it, he's one step away from being able to fly the kind of drones that the US is deploying."

Flying an octocopter is surrounded by rules and regulations depending on the region. "What that means is you have to be really aware of airspace. You've got to understand where the no-fly zones are, where the ceilings are, so where you can fly this thing in terms of height restrictions."

The new timelapse

Another photographic technique that has become popular over the past year is the hyperlapse, based closely on the timelapse. However, unlike the timelapse — a video made up of individual images edited together to simulate the passing of time — a hyperlapse adds movement. The photographer moves the camera between each exposure, which gives the viewer the experience of travelling through a location.

Hyperlapse is a technique that has really taken off in the past year, thanks to some amazing videos shot in locations like New York. Delaney was quick to point out that it's not necessarily just a fad, though. "Whatever happens with these trends, they develop and go on to do something else, and they morph into another way of us being able to look at the world around us," he said.

"Back in the day you would see a technique come along that would be based around chemical technology, so I remember a few years ago Agfa released a new film called 1000RS ... it was a highly-saturated transparency product with grain the size of golf balls, and it was a fad for a hot five minutes. Then it died a death and went down another route."

"I think where we are today, where there is so much control over what can be done with an image, we see these trends get morphed, utilised and blended, so they become like a growing sine wave. Where we see something like octocopters, for example ... they are being used at the moment for landscapes and exploring locations, but there's no reason to say that's not going to be applied to lifestyle or business shoots."

Delaney also pointed out that technology trends over the years have not only influenced actual gadgets but human behaviour and representation, as well.

"Years ago, if you wanted to depict somebody who was taking a photograph of somebody else, their hands would be very close to their face because their eye would be using the viewfinder."

"Today, almost all of us, when we're taking a photo, are either using a smartphone or using a camera with an LCD screen on the back. It means the new visual language to show somebody taking a photograph is with an arm outstretched and looking at the back of the camera."

Many photographers use the GoPro as an example of the democratisation of video content. Not only does its size allow it to go where regular cameras have not been able to before, but it gives us a completely different perspective and an intimacy that adds yet another dimension to storytelling.

"What's amazing to me is the way that this miniaturisation of capture devices is changing our perspective and the way that imagery is being rendered," Delaney said. "The same take up of amateur photography is going to happen in the video space. It has to. I think that technology is handing to people the means to make better video than they've ever made before."