Great Fun, Very Worthwhile But A Lot Of Work!
Time lapse photography is when you take a series of photographs at intervals of more or less the same exposure and frame rate, and then stitch them together to make a short video.
For example, you have probably seen footage of flowers opening super quickly, clouds flying across the sky or ice melting really fast?
This can be great fun and quite challenging so why not give it a go!
You will need a tripod to keep the camera in exactly the same position throughout, unless you are really creative, and it needs to be very stable. You will need enough memory on your card to hold a large number of images and you also need to work out the timings for your shoot.
How long do you want the finished time lapse photography footage to be…5 seconds, 30 seconds, a minute? Anything too long will not look right or could bore the viewer. Time lapse is meant to be short and sweet and show a world we generally never get to see other than in super slow, real time.
Let’s say a flower takes a full day to open and you want to show this in around 30 seconds of footage. If you took one frame/photo per second, that would give you:
60 frames per minute (1 frame x 60 seconds)
3600 frames per hour (60 frames x 60 minutes)
86400 frames per 24 hour day (3600 frames x 24 hours)
At 30 frames per second playback, that would give you 48 minutes of footage (86400 frames divided by 30fps (frames per second) = 2880 seconds = 48 minutes)…way too long unless you then speeded it up in post processing plus you would have 86400 images to place in a timeline.
You could playback at 60 frames per second giving you 24 minutes…but that is still too long.
For a time lapse photography sequence of a flower opening over a 24 hour period, 1 shot per second is far too much…how much movement do you see with the naked eye in just a second? Not a lot!
Try one frame per minute, that will give you:
60 frames per hour (1 x 60)
1440 frames per 24 hour day (60 x 24)
Much more respectable and this, when played back at 30 frames per second, would give you 48 seconds of footage…play it back at 60 frames per second and you have 24 seconds of footage which would show the flower opening in its entirety. 1440 images in a timeline is much more manageable too!
Time Lapse Photography – Lighting
Unless you live in the far northern hemisphere and the lighting is constant, you will have problems as darkness falls when shooting outside. You may want to show night into day and vice versa but a much more practical and pleasing way to do this is under man-made lighting conditions.
Set the flower up in a spare room and use some form of continuous lighting (turn off all other lights and black out the windows). For one this will give a constant and correct exposure and the warmth from the light may even speed up the opening.
Once the flower and lights are set up, set your camera to its desired settings with aperture and shutter speed (and make sure the batteries are fully charged). Do you want deep or shallow depth of field? Try and keep the ISO as low as possible for quality and don’t worry about long exposures of a second or so if that is all you can get. There will be virtually no movement in the room during that second.
Now, you will need to take a photo every minute for the next 24 hours which can be a chore, and we all need sleep! A quick and easy way to do this is to use a timer release for your camera.
I use the Canon TC80N3 Timer Remote Control on both my 5D and 1D Mark III and love it although it is limited to just 99 frames meaning you will have to come back and press “start” again every 99 frames (or every one hour and 39 minutes if shooting one frame per minute…a bit of a pain for longer time lapse sequences)!
Alternatively, Optika make these for all makes and models of Digital SLR (Pentax, Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Sony) for a very reasonable price and they can shoot up to 399 shots.
You can set these to take images at any interval you wish and for as many frames as you wish (depending on the limits of each model)…once set up and running you can go about your business knowing that your camera is doing all that work for you as the timer takes the shots!
I need to get out and do more of this myself as it can be great fun and the possibilities are endless.
You can even sell the footage as stock too.
For illustration and “quickness”, I used my video camera to make the following short movies. It has the same functionality as a DSLR so all of these are possible using your own DSLR regardless of the make, model or type (as long as it can be fired using a cable release).
This sequence was shot at one frame per second and then speeded up in Sony Vegas Pro 8 (video editing software).
Press play and then pause immediately until the video has loaded and then press play again)
(1 minute 3 seconds)
TIME LAPSE PHOTOGRAPHY – VID 1
It was great to watch. I worked in demolition during one summer when I was at college and in those days it was just a case of smashing it down and clearing it up. Now in these “green times” these guys very neatly picked away at the house and placed it in three piles ready for collection. Glass, wood and stone…amazing.
Lessons learned were not to leave autofocus on as at some point the focus shifted to a spec on the window, luckily the depth of field was pretty good. Secondly, it was hard to know whether to use auto exposure or manual. I used manual but in hindsight, auto would have been better in this instance. As the sun got stronger, the exposure fell off and I had to keep adjusting it manually (and I knocked the tripod at one point).
Also, this was shot using a HD EXCAM video camera. The Sony PMW EX1 is said to be the closest Handycam you can get to a DSLR as it has the old style aperture ring and all the features and more, of a high end professional DSLR. For example, you have almost unlimited options with automated time lapse photography.
The process is exactly the same if you want to use a DSLR but just easier with video as you just plonk one file onto the timeline of your editing suite and away you go. With a DSLR you would end up with 12,816 frames which is how many frames this sequence has.
This one was a little more tricky. As well as taking one shot per second, I also put the Go Pro on a revolving timer so that I would get a pan effect in the final output.
Think of some ideas for your own time lapse photography and write them down. Also write down how you intend to shoot whatever it is you want to shoot…make a detailed plan and just do it. Time lapse photography is great fun it is great practice!