A still from the timelapse of Chemical Beach, Seaham.

Time lapse Photography Tutorial

How to shoot a time lapse video

Everyone has seen a great time lapse video at least once in their life, but how did the photographer achieve it? Read on for a guide to capture a first basic time lapse.


What is a time lapse?

A video clip is usually made up from twenty-five single photos per second, which, when placed back-to-back, fool our mind into seeing a moving image. But what would happen if we only took one photo every thirty seconds or every minute, and then played them back at the twenty-five frames per second? The result is a magnificent hyper-realistic compression of time into a single video, allowing the photographer to capture entire sunrises or sunsets for example in a matter of minutes.


The basic kit required

Adobe Lightroom & Photoshop

For the purposes of the guide I will be using Adobe Lightroom & Photoshop CC 2015.

A sturdy tripod

Keeping the camera locked in the same position and not moving around is essential to time lapse photography.

An intervalometer

This is the brain which controls the automatic capture of the photos at a programmable time interval. Some cameras have this function built-in, if yours doesn’t don’t worry, you can buy them very cheaply from online retailers such as Amazon.

A camera (of course!)

I will be using my Canon 600D for time lapse shots going forward but any DSLR or mirrorless is ideal.

Needless to say, given that you will be capturing twenty-five images to make every second of video you will be capturing many photos. This takes a toll on both storage and batteries, therefore, ensuring you have a decent fast-write storage card with plenty of free space and a fully charged battery is highly recommended.

For more prolonged time lapse photographs it may be worth investing in a battery grip for your camera model for example for the Canon 600D:

Attempting to change the battery mid-shoot will lead to issues in production later.


Composition

Creating a time lapse starts out just the same as an ordinary picture, take time to find an interesting scene, think about rule-of-thirds and consider how the scene will change over time. What event do you want to show to your viewer? It could be busy streets full of activity and people, or, the sun rising or setting. Other ideas are flowers turning to face the sun or the tide coming in. Time lapses are all about the story of change. Bear in mind too that video is 16:9 ratio rather than the usual 3:2, you can set the camera into movie mode to Live view the composition in 16:9 ratio.


Guideline Time Intervals

One second intervals:
Moving traffic
Fast moving clouds
Drivelapses

One – three second intervals:
Sunsets
Sunrises
Slower moving clouds
Crowds
Moon and sun near horizon (or telephoto)
Things photographed with a telephoto

Fifteen – thirty second intervals:
Moving shadows
Sun across sky (no clouds) (wide)
Stars (15 – 60 seconds)

Longer Intervals:
Fast growing plants (90 – 120 seconds)
Construction projects (5min – 15min)


Filters

For the scene I used a 0.9ND hard grad set against the horizon and a 105mm Landscape Polariser to cut down glare on the water surface to make the water glass-like.

Creating Motion – ‘Dragging the Shutter’

An ND filter may also be used to smooth the image and give the appearance of motion, this is referred to as ‘dragging the shutter’. This can produce a great creative effect.


Taking the shots

Once you have picked your composition, decided on the interval for the shot and worked out for how long you need to capture the scene prepare the camera for the capture.

If the light is going to be fairly consistent throughout the scene shoot in manual mode.

If the light is going to change during the scene such as sunrise/sunset then shoot in aperture priority (AV) mode.

I recommend shooting in Raw format as it allows for creative adjustment to the images prior to merging them in to the video file.

Focus the image and then switch to manual focus. Take a shot then review it on the back of the camera, zoom in using live view, is it in focus as expected, confirm that all the required scene is covered remembering that the image will be cropped to 16:9 ratio. If necessary set the camera in to video mode again to confirm.

Confirm that your memory card and battery will cover the required number of shots. There are tools such as Photopills which provide a calculator to work out the number of images and the resulting video clip length for given parameters:

Photopills Time lapse Calculator

It is very important that the camera is not moved once the time lapse starts otherwise the clip will appear jumpy, ensure the tripod is firmly seated on the floor and everything is sufficiently tightened and weight it down with your bag if necessary.

Program the intervalometer with the required interval and set the time lapse recording. This process will be slightly different on each intervalometer.

Once all of the images have captured and the scene has changed as required stop the intervalometer.


Processing the time lapse

By now you should have a stack of many hundreds of images saved on your memory card.

Step 1. Import the Raw image files in to LightRoom.

Step 2. Select the first image in the sequence and apply your usual choice of enhancements.

Step 3. Crop the image to 16:9 format using the Crop tool (Press R). Select the 16:9 ratio from the Aspect dropdown, position the image as desired and then press DONE.

Step 4. Return to the Library (Press G).

Step 5. Select all images in the time lapse sequence by clicking on the first image, scrolling down to the last, while holding the shift key click on the last image.

Step 6. With your images selected, press the Sync Settings button found in the bottom-right of the screen.

Step 7. Ensure that all relevant settings are enabled to be sync’d including Crop which is not ticked by default. Click Synchronize.

Step 8. Export the images to Jpeg by right-clicking and choosing Export–>Export. (Ensure you still have all images selected).

Step 9. Set the Export Location

Step 10. Ensure Rename To is ticked and set to ‘Custom Name – Sequence’ and Start number is set to ‘1’. Enter a name for the time lapse image in ‘Custom Text’.

Step 11. Ensure ‘Resize to Fit’ is enabled and enter 3840 x 2160 for 4K resolution.

Step 12. Hit Export and wait for the process to complete, this may be lengthy due to the number of images. A progress bar is shown at the top-left of Light Room.

Step 13. Once the export is complete open Photoshop.

Step 14. Go to File –> Open. (Control-O)

Step 15. Browse for the first file in the image sequence, select only the first image and tick the box ‘Image Sequence’ then press Open.

Step 16. Specify Frame Rate 25.

Step 17. Export the file. File –> Export –> Render Video.

Step 18. Give the video a filename and select a location to save the file, specify Format H.264 and High quality. Confirm the output size is 4K 3840 x 2160 and 25 FPS.

Step 19. Press Render for your finished time lapse file!


The Result

So here we have my very first time lapse, I wanted something simple for a first go, fairly even lighting levels. Given that this was a test and exploration of the process I didn’t want to hang around capturing a sequence for too long in case I had missed some critical part of the process. Some proper thought will be put into the next attempt and I will capture an entire sequence of an event such as a sunrise or sunset or turn of a tide.

 

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