The Project That Never Sleeps

The Project That Never Sleeps

Perched on the window in the top left corner of his living room sits a mounted DSLR camera that peers across the Hudson River, to a perfect view of New York City. The camera capturing the iconic skyline is part of a time-lapse project, created by filmmaker and photographer Joseph DiGiovanna, called NYC TimeScape. What started with one photo of the sun rising over the city, has grown into a multimillion photo collection of a sprawling cityscape.

DiGiovanna has given himself a 30-year deadline for his time-lapse project — it’s fitting since the camera takes a photo every 30 seconds — showing the daily transformations of the infamous empire city. Each picture captured is sent to his computer, where it’s processed and saved to a Western Digital external hard drive before he compiles and shares the time-lapse with the world.

Already five years underway, DiGiovanna has built a rich visual calendar of the NYC skyline where visitors can scroll and find sunrises and sunsets for personal milestones like birthdays, pet adoptions, or anniversaries.

“I’m always excited and often surprised by how people connect with this project”

NYC TimeScape has inspired a world-wide movement of individuals coming together digitally to enjoy sunrises and sunsets from every corner of the planet — aptly dubbing themselves, The Sunset Club. The first time he did a live broadcast on Instagram, DiGiovanna didn’t know what to expect, or if anyone would tune in. But each time NYC TimeScape goes live, he’s overjoyed that people from around the globe get to share these beautiful moments together.

A Passion For Pictures

DiGiovanna has been a photo enthusiast since he was a kid. It’s something that’s always been part of his life. His first introduction to photography came when his dad sent him to camp with an old camera and two rolls of film to document his time. As a teenager, he helped his uncle make a time-lapse video for his aunt and fell in love with the format. 

His love of imagery eventually led to a career as a photographer and filmmaker, shooting fashion and theater performances for world-renowned luxury brands, ground-breaking Broadway musicals, and A-list celebrities. 

DiGiovanna is a theater lover at heart. He saw his first Broadway show in third grade, and later studied to be a scene designer and stage manager. The New York City theater world has always been special and a major influence in his work.

Image of blurred dancer
Photo of Philip Strom by Joseph DiGiovanna for Director Sonya Tayeh 

“It’s no coincidence that every Broadway theater is contained within the time-lapse shot. That’s definitely part of the magic for me.”

He sets the bar high for himself with every project he undertakes. And with an extensive career behind the camera, DiGiovanna knew the view from his apartment window was something special. He wanted a way to capture every moment of the wonder and beauty that is the NYC skyline. So, for a high-quantity project like NYC TimeScape, he depends on the highest quality gear to do it right.

The Right Tools Every Time 

DiGiovanna is practical about his equipment. It has to perform, be reliable, and stand the test of time. His work as a cinematographer gave him experience using interchangeable hard drives to handle massive amounts of image data. And he’s always relied on Western Digital — going all the way back to the first hard drive he bought in high school. So products like WD Elements are his go-to storage solution for NYC TimeScape.

“As a photographer, hard disk drives are an integral part of the workflow. It’s built off trust, Western Digital drives just work.”

The time-lapse project captures 2,879 pictures per day, with each image file averaging 12MB. That equals 38GB a day, 257 GB a week, or 16TB a year. Currently the total is around 5.6 million images. 

Joseph DiGiovanna setup including a camera, Arduino intervalometer, OPS battery backup power, USB tether cable, a dedicated laptop, 6TB hard drive and 6TB hard drive backup

The image data for the time lapse project are spread out over 18 hard disk drives and each one has a backup, totaling 36 drives overall. They’re kept in DiGiovanna’s apartment in Weehawken, N.J., and tend to fill up about every six months. When he swaps them out, he always sends the backup drive to his mom who lives out-of-state, just in case something drastic ever happens to his apartment building. 

As The World Turns

DiGiovanna’s goal for NYC TimeScape is simple — capture and share gorgeous sunrises and sunsets over one of the world’s most photogenic skylines. And along the way, he’s discovered that his images are recording more than just pretty pictures of the sky, they’re remembering monumental moments for NYC and the world.  

In the city that never sleeps, the power grid can be finicky, and small outages happen. But when a massive blackout darkened Manhattan in the summer of 2019, DiGiovanna’s time-lapse camera captured it moment-by-moment. Everyone was checking in, wanting to see the footage he captured. It’s rare to witness a series of events that affects so many people all at once. The time-lapse of the blackout even caught the attention of prominent morning talk shows and helped introduce his work to a wider audience. 

New York Skyline

NYC TimeScape also witnessed the arrival of the massive medical ship the USNS Comfort as the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the city. The coming of the USNS Comfort was arresting and showed real New York City strength happening in real-time. 

“It was such a moment of desperation, the city was dying — and you see this ship and these Coast Guard helicopters, a literal armada, coming to save the day. It was pretty surreal.”

Through the peril of the pandemic, DiGiovanna’s time-lapse project has become a true community where real friendships form. And even with shelter-in-place orders, people from all over the world can come together to experience the beauty of daybreak, twilight and every moment in-between.

Beyond The Big Apple

NYC TimeScape is a communal window into an iconic city that can be experienced across the globe. And for DiGiovanna, the idea has always been to expand the project and add cameras in cities all over the world.

“Anywhere someone identifies with, I’d love to have a camera there.”

With expansion in mind, DiGiovanna hopes to outfit cities like Tokyo, London, Paris, and Rio with cameras that capture the splendor of a sunrise and majesty of a sunset. And with how quickly technology is advancing, this dream might be closer than he thinks. 

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