An interview with CleverDarkElve

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Linda van Rosmalen, also known as CleverDarkElve, is a former soldier and PhD chemical physicist turned timelapse cinematographer. Born and raised in the Netherlands but now based in the United States, Linda has made a name for herself in the timelapse world over the last few years.

She's provided me with some great answers to my questions, and some stunning behind the scenes photos to boot. But let's begin by showing you some of her stunning timelapse work!

Make sure to subscribe to Linda's YouTube channel for more great videos.

Hello Linda! Please introduce yourself to the people who have never seen your work! How do you describe your profession to others, where are you from, what keeps you busy in the week and on the weekends, etc?

Hello Matt and everyone reading this! My full name is Linda van Rosmalen and I'm a former soldier and PhD chemical physicist turned timelapse cinematographer. I'm based in the United States of America (USA) but was born and raised in the Netherlands.

These days both weekdays and weekends are filled with filmmaking and all that comes with it. There is always a never-ending batch of new work to edit and grade from which to make films! Since I primarily focus on nature there is always something incredible happening begging me to get out there and shoot.

Sometimes I feel my unedited timelapses quietly judging me from my backup drives, wondering why I have left them just sitting there in the dark! Outside of shooting and work, I spend a lot of time trying to learn more about filming, specifically editing and color grading. I'm currently fascinated as much by color work as I am shooting.

Then, of course, there is the generally not-so-fun side of “the biz” including accounting, website stuff, social media, trying to find client work, gear maintenance/replacement, insurance policies, data management, etc. At some point, I'm even expected to maintain my own health and real-life relationships! It all definitely keeps me very busy! 

How did you discover timelapse photography and how has your relationship changed with it since?

TLDR: I'm not sure when I first discovered timelapse, but I shot my first proper timelapses whilst I was working towards my PhD. My relationship with the medium changed when I knew what I wanted to focus on making, and again as I made it my profession.

For those of you that want to know more about how I got where I am now, I will share a bit more about the road I traveled creatively speaking. Since I was old enough to hold a pencil, drawing has been a love of mine. Voted “most likely to become an artist” by my high school graduation class, I even went as far as to formally study fine arts toward a BFA, which I did not complete.

One day towards the end of my undergraduate studies a friend handed me a Sony camcorder. At the time I had quite an aversion to digital arts and was still in my snobby fine artist stage. I felt photography, Photoshop and anything like it was a form of cheating and pretending it was “real” art. The camcorder sat for a while until one day I used it for shooting low-resolution stills for a drawing reference. Something shifted in me around that time and I started shooting more and more with it until, after a conversation about photography and art, another friend challenged me to shoot a roll of film. I borrowed their camera and went to the nearest nature preserve, doing my best to capture interesting compositions. When the roll of film came back and I saw the developed photos I was quite shocked. Somehow I felt I had maybe created something which resembled art.

Two weeks later I bought my first DSLR and proclaimed I was going to be shooting wildlife. Finding no success with my kit lens, I saved up for a 300mm F4 telephoto lens. Boy, I sure spent a lot of time trying to hide from animals. I had some success, but my frustration of just sitting around and waiting much of the time eventually led me to start shooting the landscapes in their absence. For a few years, I enjoyed trying to capture both landscapes and wildlife until the next evolution on my creative path happened whilst I was working towards my PhD.

My chemistry department held a contest with a $50 price where the object was to create something which uniquely showed off our campus. After not being able to come up with something involving my usual photography, I thought to show the passing of time across our campus buildings with a short timelapse film. So off I went with my first proper timelapse project! Prior to this contest, I had only shot a handful of timelapses so I was pretty much a total beginner. The project won the $50 price and the beginnings of a timelapser were born.

After leaving my science career behind a few years later I properly dedicated myself to timelapse photography and started capturing the monsoon seasons of the North American Southwest. Seeing the storms and clouds moving totally fascinated me and I have made every effort to create timelapses ever since! Since the early days of just having fun and shooting whatever I felt like I've grown to be much more picky, thinking of shots I'd like to get for subject-specific, semi-storyboarded projects or clients. I also generate an absolutely massive amount of data which certainly gives me pause if I'm thinking of just shooting everything around me.

I know you've lived in a few different places (just like myself) how did that come about and how has that affected your photography?

I was born and raised in the Netherlands, but also briefly lived in Menorca, Spain where my parents built a house. As a teenager, my family immigrated to the USA after my father was offered work on a long-term project. Then, after a few years of college, I lived all over the USA for both my military time and my subsequent university studies. I think in total I've moved over 30 times in my life! I'm not sure exactly how it affected my photography, but I know I have seen many environments and have come to appreciate all the differences across our natural world! 

What are some of the main challenges you've encountered as a timelapse photographer? 

My main challenge as a timelapse photographer focused on nature work is the weather. Will it cooperate? Can I predict the conditions ahead of time.. reliably? The short answer is sometimes. The forecast says it will be sunny with cute little fluffy clouds? Nope, how about overcast?! Weather says skies are going to be clear for astro-timelapse next week? Nope, not the nights you planned on shooting Ma’am! Storm Prediction Center forecasts a high probability for a supercell tomorrow? No.. just heavy rain which you can not shoot in, but thanks for driving between 5-20 hours to come and see!

These sorts of fun little weather games are all part of the dance I do in an attempt to get the shots I'm after! Being in the right place at the right time and trying to plan that all nicely ahead of time can be pretty shaky. A lot of projects require extensive travel and planning and I can't just teleport to a spot when the conditions are right. Even then I've got to be there a little early to find and set up shots with a decent composition.

Let me add that the inability to control the weather is especially frustrating when it comes to storm chasing, which over the last 7 years, have at times left me frustrated, angry, or ugly crying on the side of the road! Storm chasing plus motion control??? You must enjoy mental anguish, gear disasters, and throwing money out of the window!

Can you briefly walk us through how you approach setting up a motion control timelapse shot?

Sure! Assuming I've never been to the location before I set my stuff down and spend some time looking around for a composition within about 50 meters or so of where I think the overall feel of the shot would be nice. I use my cellphone's camera to see if a move I have in mind with a nice composition will work. I take into account not just the overall composition, but also how the scene will unfold over time. Where the sun/moon/stars will be, which direction the clouds will move and so on all go into trying to plan a motion-controlled timelapse shot. Once I'm happy with a planned move I set up the slider with my motion control head. I will add that having shot storms for the last 7 years I have become pretty fast at picking out compositions and moves on the fly, just through sheer necessity! Storms wait for no man, not even if that man is a timelapsing woman-machine! 

I'm a sucker for stats, can you share some insights into how much data you generate for an average project? Maybe use the most recent one as a reference.

Oh boy, I'm going to be totally honest here and tell you I do still overshoot projects somewhat. I usually have a loose shot list in mind for a project, but as I shared earlier the weather often likes to make a fool of me, and because of that I end up shooting other shots which could fill the hole in my project should I not be able to nail the conditions for the shots I'm after. My most recent project, a showcase of fall scenes shot in the Italian Dolomites, clocks in at just about 7TB total. This includes the RAW files, final clip renders, and their 4k proxies. Currently, I have 2 other unreleased projects I've shot for and those are each sitting around 4-5TB of unedited RAW files.

What is your current camera gear setup? Are you making any changes to it anytime soon?

Currently I am shooting with two Nikon Z7 bodies and one Z6 backup body. Though I have a fair amount of glass, most of my work is shot on 3 lenses; the Nikon Z 24-70mm f2.8, Nikon Z 70-200mm f2.8, and the Sigma 14-24mm f2.8 ART. Like any good camera nerd worth their salt I too suffer from G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) however, unless my cameras stop working or hold me back from being able to achieve a desired end result I typically stay with the gear I have.

A few months ago Nikon added a firmware update I was waiting on for the Z lenses I own. This update allows the focus ring to be used in a linear fashion, giving me the ability to potentially use a focus motor on them. Frustratingly the update hasn't yet extended to their first-generation Z bodies, and as a result, I can not change focus consistently while shooting on those lenses. If the update never arrives I may at some point upgrade one of my camera bodies so that I can shoot 4 axis motion control shots with them.

I would like to add that I am by no means married to any one camera brand, I shoot Nikon simply because I had amassed quite a bit of glass and the thought of selling it all to switch to another system was outside of my comfort zone. 

What about post-production? Can you walk us through the hardware you use to generate your 8K films?

Post-production can be a lot of fun! This is the time you finally get to see your hard-earned footage come to life! Rendering 8K footage is very hardware intensive (in the year 2022) and potentially very time-consuming. I know you want to hear about the specific hardware I use, and I'll get there in just a bit, but I would be remiss if I didn't first tell you that you can render your 8K project with lower-end hardware at the cost of longer render times and some software limitations. In my experience, and in my workflow, software like Premiere Pro (PP) or Media Encoder (ME) don't utilize hardware optimally, which only gets more pronounced the higher end it is.

For most of my 8K post-processing done in Lightroom, LRTimelapse, and After Effects, the CPU and its cores are optimally used, so better hardware does improve rendering times. Therefore, to me, it pays off to have a bit higher-end hardware since very long render times tie up my system and prevent me from keeping a good forward momentum. Additionally with very long render times comes the likely fun experience of crashes. Booooo! No one likes that, certainly not me!

Because both PP and ME are terrible at utilizing hardware I have stepped away from using them in favor of using DaVinci Resolve. My 8K projects in Resolve will render lightning fast in comparison to those rendered in PP or ME because DaVinci actually utilizes all my hardware. However, if you have a finished project containing many clips with colorwork, and even effects it simply will not render out on low-end hardware using DaVinci Resolve, you'd have to stick to PP, ME, or be a clever little monkey and employ some trickery.

Ok, Ok… hardware Linda… HARDWARE! Tell us about the hardware already!! Ok, ok, here we go! I flip back and forth between two PC systems. One system has an Intel 6900k i7 8-core CPU, 64GB of DDR4 ECC RAM, and an 8GB Nvidia 1080GTX. The other system has an AMD Ryzen 3900x 12 core CPU, 64GB of DDR4 RAM, and the Nvidia 3090. If I have any hopes of rendering my finished 8K project file out of DaVinci Resolve I must use the system with the Nvidia 3090. Everything else will run out of GPU memory if tried.

It may be possible to render 8k out of Davinci if you have no grading or effects on your clips, but that too is a strong maybe. When it comes to RAM, After Effects loves to munch on whatever you have. You can have 512 GB of RAM and it will happily eat the whole thing up for no good reason, even if you tell it not to. More RAM is better but 64GB is enough, 128GB would be better for some of my processing, but money.

The last thing I'll quickly go over are hard drives. What you edit from matters. Spinning drives are slower than SATA SSDs and SATA SSDs are slower than M.2 SSDs for example. Do not, I repeat, do not edit from external spinning drives (HDDs) as it will substantially increase render times and decrease your mood regardless of hardware. If you are hoping to scrub through any amount of your timeline in AE or DaVinci you will want to edit from fast drives.

So there you have it, the hardware. Now, I didn't delve into the entire workflow I go through or what types of codecs, bitrates, bit depth, and all that jazz the various renders have. This should put a giant asterisk next to the hardware you may think you need. Really without a thorough explanation of my entire workflow, the hardware I have may not make much sense to you. So take what I say as what works for me, currently, based on my workflow.

What's your relationship with social media like? How do you see that changing over the years?

Social media. What can I say? It seems it has become a thorn in most of the world's side. Before I get too carried away, I'll say that my personal relationship with it leaves me feeling mostly empty. How do I see that changing? Personally, I'm quite pessimistic about it. I just see it getting worse. Social media, in my opinion, essentially amounts to endless yelling into the dark void that is the internet. The whole thing has become a gross capitalization of our mental health for money.

My current personal strategy is to try to treat it like a bulletin board and not take things like a perceived lack of views, comments or engagement personally. You know what I mean.. Oh my video only got x number of views and so and so's crappy thing got 20x views… Easier said than done, no? Certainly, and I too struggle with that.

You ever go on *insert social media platform here* and see a video/reel/image/short that someone posted which literally gives you eye cancer and then see it got a billion likes? Yes, yes you have. Then with that in mind, you turn around and look at your own work. Work which you were more than happy with 5 minutes earlier. Work which perhaps you pained over and poured your entire soul into for days/weeks/months only to see that it got 3 likes.. one from your aunt and two from porn bots? Nice feeling that is eh? The algorithms platforms use are just a complete mystery at this point, and often it shines it's brightest light on some of the dullest content. Oh and please know that some people and companies pay insane amounts of money to promote their posts so they are seen by more people!

The whole thing seems incredibly stacked against natural reach at this point. The platforms care only about keeping you on there longer so more ads can be served. So, keep in mind that quality content is not necessarily related to the algorithm's end goal. My advice, which I know you didn't ask for, is to treat social media like a real-life notice board. Pin your thing on it, check to see if the people in your neighborhood pinned something of interest, support them if they did, and then go spend 20 years in the woods. Having said all that, I have received many kind comments, had the opportunity to meet some excellent people, and was able to secure paid work through this same social media machine. 

Are there any stand-out projects you've worked on over the last few years that you're proud of?

In 2021 I had the opportunity to work for the incredible production company Wildspace Productions, shooting timelapse in Patagonia for the Netflix documentary series, Our Great National Parks. The episode I worked on, Chilean Patagonia, was even nominated for a cinematography Emmy award this year! The timelapse team, which consisted of myself and none other than timelapse legend Martin Heck from TimeStormFilms (EDITORS NOTE: here's the previous interview in this series with Martin Heck), shot AND edited all of the work in the field.

We dragged an editing PC, laptop and color grading monitor out there, editing work in a demanding ACES full Tiff out workflow in between shooting times. A fever dream like 5 weeks where we generated nearly 30TB of work, 60TB if you count the backup drives. This is really what I am proudest of at the moment. I know it may sound over the top but I must gush on about the other cinematographers that were out there with us, working from first light until dark tracking down Puma.

I had never had the opportunity to work with such incredible, passionate, and talented humans. And the production team which stood behind us? They alone are responsible for us even being there in the first place. The things they managed to pull off in Chile where, during Covid lockdowns, we couldn't even cross state lines without health paperwork, filming agreements, press passes, insurance, and police stops.. while also simultaneously supporting us during the shoot.. from Bristol, England?.. was just crazy! Lastly, there was also the incredible support team the production organized providing us with cooked meals, fuel for our camper, and beds in which to snooze when we'd get the chance! If that is not a standout project I don't know what is!

Do you have any advice for people that want to get into timelapse photography?

My advice is: Do it! But, do it with the lowest possible expectations of yourself. Don't daydream yourself into inaction over the gear you think you need etc. etc. etc., or get overwhelmed by what others may be doing. You're just starting, compare yourself only to yourself! Set up a tripod. Heck, balance your camera on a piece of wood (no lie I did this once during my Netflix job!) and just start shooting something you think would look interesting.

Clouds, a moving shadow, a flower closing.. pick a thing. Pick any interval, let's say 3-10 seconds between photos, and let it fire off a few hundred shots. A lot of modern cameras even have a built-in timelapse mode so you don't even have to edit the shots you've taken into a video yourself! Give it a try! You may find you really like shooting timelapse, or you may decide to go do something different instead. It's all ok! And should you have any questions as you progress? Matthew has a TON of FREE videos, tutorials, and even ebooks to help you on your initial journey. Alternatively, you could join groups on social media where you can ask questions or post your work for feedback. You can even try to message your favorite timelapse person and KINDLY ask them if they might be willing to point you in a direction.  


A big thanks to Linda aka CleverDarkElve for such in-depth and insightful answers! Make sure to check out her website, Instagram, and YouTube channel.

Do you have any timelapse photographers you'd like to see interviewed? Please let me know in the comments below.

Would you like to get started with timelapse? Check out my free e-book The Basics Of Timelapse here or fill out the form below.

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1 COMMENT

  1. Yay Nikon! I was getting a complex from all the Canon shooters out there. I think you guys know each other already but an interview with Emeric would be cool. I did a workshop in NYC with him last year. Sorry I didn’t get to speak with him more.

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