Hyperlapsing Burning Man in the Social Media Era

Every year, thousands of self-described “burners” make the pilgrimage to Nevada’s Black Rock Desert for the annual Burning Man event, myself included. As the event gets bigger (up to 70,000 people) what was once something of a Bay Area secret has become a media hot topic, with annual stories on the biggest art pieces, most outlandish costumes and an ongoing debate over the influence of wealthy visitors and so called “plug and play camps”.

Many long-term attendees take issues with the preponderance of cellphones at an event that puts a premium on immediacy, and one that was previously cut off from the world at large due to its remote location. But increased connectivity makes it hard for many to resist posting social media selfies of themselves standing next to incredible art installations. Having brought video equipment to Burning Man since the days before YouTube made content sharing simple, I’m firmly in the “capture the moment” camp.

This year, I played around with different kinds of equipment, including a Ricoh Theta S 360 camera (with results that aren’t quite as sharp as I’d like, but point towards the immersive possibilities of VR), and various apps on my iPhone, including Instagram’s Hyperlapse, which delivers sped-up and stabilized video clips that would have required so much more equipment and effort not so long ago.

One reason people share content on social media is to express things that they’re excited about. “You can’t explain Burning Man, you just have to be there” is something of a truism. But once I saw how the sped-up freneticism of the Hyperlapse app captured a little of the energetic rush of being at Burning Man, I could see the possibilities for stringing a series together as a video.

Does it perfectly encapsulate the feeling of being on the open playa, surrounded by fire, sound and art? Probably not. But it says enough about being there that it quickly racked up over a million views and a thousand shares when posted on Facebook (thanks in part to Facebook’s algorithms prioritizing Facebook-hosted video) , with impressive views for a YouTube posting too.

As a videographer in the Burning Man community, I’m always happy when someone tells me “I can’t really explain what this was like to my friends… but your videos, I can show them.” The fact that that’s possible with something that fits in my pocket makes it more exciting still.

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