What is timelapse photography?

Time-lapse photography is a fun way to get out, enjoy nature and spend some time enjoying just one place.  I consider it my moment of zen.  You do not rush the process, it takes as long as it takes.

This article will walk you through the techniques, planning and production of the project.

What it time-lapse photography?

Time-lapse photography is a hybrid of video and still photography.  It combines normal 25 frames/second video with still photography.

The video is comprised of a series of successive still images shot in a sequence of around 25 frames per second.  Some cameras especially high-speed cameras are capable of shooting more than 25/second while most cameras shoot less than that.  When playback is limited to 25/fps the effect of a series that is more than 25/fps in slow motion.  Similarly, when less than 25/fps are shot then played back the effect is a faster motion.

Where time lapse differs from the normal video is that you control interval of the shots.  Instead of a rapid succession of shots, the photographer can have a sequence of frames that cover a prolonged period of time.  In other words, the space between the shots can be as little as a portion of a second to as much as years.

The effect is a sped up video of an object or event.

What do you need to produce a time lapse video?

In order to create a time lapse video, there are a few must-have pieces of kit:

  • Sturdy tripod – Time lapse requires sequenced photographs.  Using a sturdy
    tripod
    tripod

    allows you to capture the same angle over the period of time.  There are sliders and pan-tilt heads that can be used to add to the effects, but these all depend on a tripod for stability and to ensure a steady flow.

    motorized pan head
    Motorized panning head
  • Digital camera.  It can be done with a film camera, but the technology to create a video from physical film requires expensive equipment.
  • Memory card with adequate space.  Since you are shooting a lot of photos you need a memory card capable of recording the sequence.  Not only do you need one with enough memory, but you need to consider the speed of the card too.  Cheap, slow-speed cards can only take in a certain amount of information, then pause to save it.  This may cause a jumpy video.
  • Timer/cable or intervalometer will make your life easier. One can be obtained for as little as €20 that will allow you to set a delay, interval and timing.
    intervalometer
    Interval Timer
  • Video production program will allow you to turn the series into the actual video.  There are a number of free or low-cost video editors that can do the job.

Planning a project

Now that you have the equipment, let’s plan out a project.

In order to create a time lapse video you must consider two primary things:

  • The length of the final video clip
  • The amount of time you want to cover

For example, if you want to shoot a sunset tonight beginning at the golden hour through to dark night sky I will need to establish a few things:

  • You need to establish the time range.
    • Golden hour starts at 6:13PM.
    • Sunset is at 6:57PM
    • Evening blue hour is from 7:17-7:44PM
    • Dark Night Starts at 8:53PM
    • The additional front and back end time to add to the video for fade in and out.
Start End Total
Primary Shoot time 06:13:00 08:53:00 02:40:00 hrs
Lead in 00:20 00:20 00:40 hrs
Total Shoot Time 03:20 hrs
  • Next you need to determine how long the video clip will be.  Remember, people have a short attention span.  I recommend not going over 12 seconds.

As discussed above a video frame is 25 frames per second.  That translates to:

Duration in seconds Frames
4 100
6 150
8 200
10 250
12 300
16 400
20 500

Let’s assume that you want a 12-second video so you will need to take 300 shots over a 3 hour 20 minute time period.  That means that you will need to shoot one shot every 480 seconds or 1 shot every 8 minutes.

3 hours 20 minutes = 200 minutes
200 minutes = 12,000 seconds
12,000 seconds/300 frames = 8 seconds between shots

On location

Camera on tripod
Camera on tripod

Once you have the equipment and have planned out the time you will need.  Remember few things:

  • It takes a few minutes to set up, so get out there plenty of time before you are to start.  This allows you to find your spot, set up the equipment and be ready to start.
  • All of the general rules of photography still apply.  Just like any photography concentrate on composition.  Since you are shooting something that is in motion, it may be better to include a stationary object like a building or rock outcropping.  This makes the video more appealing because the eye to see the difference.
  • You are going to be there for a while, and if you are like me and don’t want to lose an expensive camera, you will probably stay close to the camera.  Bring a chair, a beverage, a sandwich, a coat or a blanket.  Make sure you are comfortable.
  • Bring a flashlight.  It might be light when you start, but it might not be when you are done.

Creating the video

Each video editing software works differently, so I won’t go into specifics of how to work them.  I do recommend that you save the final version in a form that can be viewed on different types of players.

My advice is this:

  • When you create the video file keep a copy of it with the layers so that you can make changes.  In fact, make two.  I promise a time will come later when you will want to change or add something and you will curse yourself for only retaining a finish version not the original.
  • Be conscious of how you are going to use the time-lapse video.  Facebook, YouTube, and Vimeo are a few popular sites to post videos, but they can also be posted on blogs and personal web pages.  Be aware that many hosting companies have a limit on the size of media that can be uploaded.  Many people get around that by uploading it to Facebook, YouTube or Vimeo then linking the video.
  • Don’t get frustrated.  Like anything else, it takes a while to get the hang of it.  Just remember the same rules that apply to still photography apply here too.
    • Use the rule of thirds,
    • balance the elements by placing your main subject off centre,
    • use leading lines such as fences and roadways to draw the eye through the photo,
    • adjust your viewpoint higher or lower not just eye level,
    • create depth by including objects in the foreground, mid-ground and background overlapping if possible.

Photography is all about experimentation.  Time-lapse photography is a bit more demanding than ordinary landscape work, but when you pull it off it is so rewarding.  So spend a few bob and pick up the equipment you will need and go out and have some fun.

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