Life in the fast lane

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Life in the fast lane: A time lapse of Hoi An Ancient town

Amy Morison with all photos by Rob Whitworth

Rob Whitworth – an Asian-based British photographer – could not have picked a better country to explore his passion for creating time lapse videos than Vietnam. His first time lapse project went viral on the net, gaining an audience of over 1.6 million viewers. It was a film that captured the world famous chaos of HCMC’s street traffic, entitled ‘Traffic in Frenetic HCMC’. His latest work, however, focuses on the charming and colourful frenzy of commercial activity in our local township of Hoi An, aptly called: ‘Life in the Fast Lane: Hoi An Ancient Town’. Check it out at:

As Rob describes: “Each day in Hoi An the morning calm disappears in a frenzy of activity as everyday life starts over.  Whether it’s conical-hatted ladies conducting million-dong-deals or school girls in their perfect white Ao Dai uniforms commuting four-to-a-bicycle, Hoi An is a hive of activity... that is, until about 9pm each day when  the bustling streets empty and calm returns. Hoi An has effectively been preserved in time from its days as one of South East Asia's busiest trading ports. I was privileged to call Hoi An my home for just over a year. As a visitor I will only ever understand a fraction of the activity that keeps the streets and waterways alive. I wanted to capture and share some of the sights that inspired me during my time in this historic town. 

Time lapse videos are increasing in popularity with the growth of sharing sites like Vimeo. Images taken over a number of minutes or hours can be played back multiple times faster enabling time to be compressed, revealing  hidden patterns and events. As Rob says, “It can be very technically demanding but, at its simplest all you need is a method  of fixing a camera in one location, a good view  and a good book.”


Q&A with Rob

What inspired you to start creating time lapse videos? 

One of my first high school black and white photography projects was to document the passing of time using still life sets, photographing flowers and fruit in their prime and revisiting them a few weeks later. I was intrigued at how there are many things constantly going on all around us which pass by largely unnoticed. Time lapse provides a great way to use a camera to show the world as we cannot see it. It's quite addictive when you get into it.

Why Vietnam and why Hoi An? 

I was given the perfect opportunity to travel to Hoi An with my girlfriend Sue who took over the responsibilities of In-Country manager at Lifestart Foundation, an Australian charity helping disadvantaged kids in Central Vietnam. It was an amazing year, both personally and as a photographer. 

How long did it take to complete all the photography and editing for the Hoi An video? 

Far too long… the hardest part was getting good sunsets. I found that much of the year the sun disappeared into a murky band of haze at around 4:30pm. Living in Hoi An was crucial to allowing to capture Hoi An in the best light and respond to the conditions. The shooting was carried out between January 2011 and 2012. 

Did locals often ask / inquire about what you were doing during shoots? Do you have any interesting stories or anecdotes from your shoots regarding your interaction with the local Vietnamese? 

A highlight of shooting the video was meeting people. Much of the shots are captured from people’s balconies and looking out from windows. It's something I love about photography generally is how it creates opportunities and enables you to experience things you'd otherwise miss.

I would ask people if I could take some photos from their balconies. My Vietnamese is very limited so I Google translated some text from English and wrote it down. Sadly Google translate missed off all of the accents in its translation so I'm pretty sure the text ended up meaning something completely different. It often got a laugh and drew a crowd anyway.

An event that springs to mind was finding out how sticky rice was made. Myself and a friend got up at 3am and headed out into the countryside near Hoi An. We met Mia who was already hard at work preparing the day’s food. We were fascinated to see the process and work that went into the finished food we were familiar with seeing for sale by the side of the road.

Would you say Hoi An is a particularly photogenic location? If yes, could you explain why? 

It's a very pretty town although the hook for me was complete curiosity. With so much life all around, it felt like Narnia when I first arrived and I wanted to make sense of it and capture it. An advantage of shooting time lapse is it provides time to sit and watch enabling you to see small details that could easily be missed.

You mention that time lapse photography and video making has become easier with sharing sites such as Vimeo. What about applications that people can use to create a time lapse? Do you have any recommendations (perhaps for those with a more professional aptitude, and for those who might want to capture something from their mobile phone camera / app)?

I'm a big fan of Nikon products, their newer cameras have inbuilt intervelometers which simplify the process of judging how many shots you need to make so much footage etc etc. Professionally, it hinges on the Adobe Creative Suite products and manual camera settings. At an enthusiast level there are plenty of iPhone and Android apps that provide pretty good results. What I love about time lapse is it's often the element you didn't even consider that becomes the dominant factor, like shadows or clouds coming alive.

About the music was it composed exclusively for the video / do you know the composers? Why this particular song?

Sadly not, I had a track lined up and finished for the first version of the video. Just prior to releasing it I double checked and the music label had had a change of heart, so I had to basically rebuild the video and find a different song. I hunted around and found the 'Blithe Accent' track that had an upbeat tempo and feel. I contacted the artists and this time it all went well from there.

Any plans for a new time lapse? 

Kuala Lumpur; I got to spend some time there earlier in the year and have had a few trips there since, getting some great access and locations in the process. I'm just about to start assembling the first draft, hoping to have it finished by mid-October….. I've also been working on a Vietnamese pop video due for release shortly set in HCMC. It's in production the moment and still a secret [as to the subject matter] at the moment. However I'm pretty excited to see how it is received.



All photos are © to Rob Whitworth 










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Comments (2)
Love photos
2Tuesday, 03 June 2014 09:12
Love photos
I like those photos!
1Wednesday, 31 October 2012 11:50
I like those photos!


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