Something fun every photographer should try at least once is shooting and creating a time lapse video. It’s wonderful to see things happening at faster than life speed. Time lapses also help bring perspective to time and movement.
Here’s a short time lapse Lauren and I did for a silent auction for a local charity this past weekend.
It’s super easy for photographers to create time lapses as art, business promotion, or for clients. While I was planning on doing a bit of a tutorial, I found a great tutorial that quickly goes over most of what you need to know. You can check out the video at the following link.
The author of that video didn’t have much in terms of text instructions so here’s the skinny along with a few tips.
1. You’ll need an intervalometer, which plugs into the shutter release port on your SLR. An intervalometer allows you to set how frequently a photo is taken (i.e. once every 5 seconds). Some cameras have them built in, but if not you’ll need to pick one up. Canon makes a pretty pricey one which you can pick up at B&H or you can save yourself a ton and pick up a generic brand model here (thats what I use). Make sure you get one that’s compatible with your camera!
2. Set your interval. Keep in mind that you’ll be playing back these photos a lot faster than you’ll be taking them. It helps to do a little math here. For example if you’re doing a time lapse of an event that is 3 hours long, and you want to create a time lapse that is 2 minutes long played back at 15 fps, then you’ll need to take a shot every 6 seconds in order to produce the correct length video. You can obviously experiment here.
3. Drag your shutter. As the tutorial points out, dragging your shutter helps create the illusion of people actually moving really fast but smoothly, instead of “blips” where people move more erratically. A shutter speed of 1-2 seconds is great, but again, experiment. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to make out faces, or stop the video at different points to get a perfect picture of who is where.
4. Set your camera to record jpeg. No need to shoot RAW here (though again you can experiment!). If you were shooting something for super high quality output then you might want to consider RAW (and the processing that goes with it) but jpeg will usually suffice. The smaller files sizes will mean you can fit longer time lapses onto a single card, without needing to change cards. (here’s why you normally should shoot in RAW though)
5. Shoot in manual. Get your exposure settings down for the shot and then leave them there. If you’re shooting in aperture priority the changing metering values of your camera are going to look funny in your time lapse (probably manifesting as flickering).
6. Switch to manual focus. Use autofocus to lock focus and then switch it to manual. If you don’t your camera will search for focus with each shot, which may not work out that well.
7. Shoot in manual white balance. You don’t want to white balance 3000 images for this time lapse so it’s best to get things right in camera. Not too tricky to do, just adjust the white balance to the proper shooting condition!
8. Once you’ve got all the above settings, set up your shot and leave the camera be. It’s also kind of fun to experiment with a variety of angles and shots. It creates a more interesting time lapse.
9. After you’ve finished shooting upload all the images to single folder. Then open Quicktime Pro and select File/Image Sequence and select the first image in the folder you just uploaded. A dialog box will then pop up asking you what frame rate you would like to display the time lapse at. I usually stick with 15, but you can experiment with anything between 15-30 fps. (Note: If you’re using Snow Leopard you’ll need to put the Snow Leopard disk in and install Quicktime pro from said disk. For some reason they’ve removed the image sequence feature from the latest version of Quicktime 10)
10. Export from Quicktime. Because you’re shooting still images you’re actually able to capture resolutions much much higher than high definition (think 4000p – though it’s not called that at all, I just made it up – I think it’s called 4K). Anyways the point is that you probably don’t need to save it at that resolution. Instead you might want to export to a more accessible size like 720p. I export as 720p and I preserve the aspect ratio using letterbox. I’m not sure these are the best export settings, I just couldn’t clearly find what anyone else does so I thought I would mention what I do here.
11. Once exported you’ll want to bring the time lapse into something like iMovie or Movie Maker (if on a PC) so that you can add some music to the video.
12. Export with music, and then upload to Vimeo to share your time lapse creation!
How you could experiment with this:
- Change the interval
- Change your shutter speed
- Batch processing your images in Photoshop or Lightroom to give them a different look (check out our Lightroom vs Photoshop breakdown)
- Try exporting at different sizes (you can technically create videos of incredibly high quality since each frame is composed from a still SLR image)
- Try multiple camera angles. A fantastic technique I’m seeing a lot more of is cameras on dolly’s; moving the camera a small amount with each shot to create a panning effect in the final time lapse.
- Play back at different frame rates
When you might use this:
- Moving into or out of a space!
- Recording an event (wedding, trade show, etc.)
- Artistic purposes (lights in cities, clouds in landscapes)
- Any time you’re building or setting something up
- Also check out the following Photojojo article for a lengthier look at creating time lapses: http://content.photojojo.com/tutorials/ultimate-guide-to-time-lapse-photography/