A DETAILED GUIDE TO TIME LAPSE PHOTOGRAPHY

A DETAILED GUIDE TO TIME LAPSE PHOTOGRAPHY

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k9EyPfc0FXc

HOW TO CREATE A TIME-LAPSE VIDEO?

1. CHOOSE THE SUBJECT TO SHOOT

The first things you need to ask yourself are:

  • What do I want to photograph?
  • What do I want to represent, and how?

The time-lapse technique is used to artificially speed up the time out of proportion, so choose a subject – and the resulting framing – that can be considered interesting and especially that tells a story that would hardly be noticeable by the naked eye in natural conditions.

For example: photographing moving clouds is very academic, and that’s great for your first attempt at time-lapse. But this could be rather boring to watch if you do not compose a shot with items that stand out against the background.

Choose to follow the normal rules of photographic composition, because they apply even in the creation of a good time-lapse scene.

Welcome to the most comprehensive step-by-step workflow to the production of a time-lapse video available online. Learn how to make a time-lapse video, and how to avoid the most common mistakes made by beginners!

HOW TO CREATE A TIME-LAPSE VIDEO?

Let’s start!

1. CHOOSE THE SUBJECT TO SHOOT

The first things you need to ask yourself are:

  • What do I want to photograph?
  • What do I want to represent, and how?

The time-lapse technique is used to artificially speed up the time out of proportion, so choose a subject – and the resulting framing – that can be considered interesting and especially that tells a story that would hardly be noticeable by the naked eye in natural conditions.

For example: photographing moving clouds is very academic, and that’s great for your first attempt at time-lapse. But this could be rather boring to watch if you do not compose a shot with items that stand out against the background.

Choose to follow the normal rules of photographic composition, because they apply even in the creation of a good time-lapse scene.

2. PLACE THE CAMERA ON A TRIPOD, AND LEVEL IT

Have you checked that you have charged the batteries? Good, then you are ready to start.

Now that you’ve chosen your subject and the framing of the scene, you can set up the tripod. If you own a quite recent and not-so-entry level DSLR (such as a Nikon D810 or Canon 5D Mark II), exploit the fact that you have available a levelling system by pressing the INFO button repeatedly. You can then proceed to adjusting the tripod legs in order to realise a straight and beautiful shot.

Canon 7D Messa Bolla LCD

You can do this in post-production, but why do so if you can just spend a couple of minutes more before shooting and get it right first time?

3. GET READY FOR THE SHOOTING SESSION

The first thing to do is to format the memory card: taking so many pictures quickly fills the Memory Card, so don’t leave room for such problems.

3.1 CHOOSE THE RIGHT FORMAT OF SHOOTING: RAW, JPG, OR BOTH?!

If you shoot in RAW your camera produces high-quality images, which takes up a lot of space on the memory card.

The JPG format instead will save more than 60% of the occupied space, so in practice you can take many more pictures on the same card, compared to the amount you’d be able to save in RAW.

If this is your first attempt at time-lapse, the quality of RAW may not be as worthwhile as you think.

On a Canon 7D, for example, shooting in RAW means to produce a file of 5184 × 3456 pixels per frame. Even if we make a time-lapse video for a Full HD TV (i.e. with a resolution of 1920 × 1080), it would take only a little more than 2 megapixels per frame.

Shooting RAW would then mean

  • carrying out post production work on every shot (optional)
  • the waste of computing time converting images from RAW to JPG resizing the JPG format to be suitable for Full HD TV

Considering that a video is composed of about 24 frames per second, when it comes to convert 1500 photographs, it’s just not worth it; at least not if you have created the time-lapse of your life!

If your intent is to carry out serious post-production after shooting – perhaps to emulate the use of a motorised rail (dolly) – then shooting in RAW may be a definitive choice for you.

3.1.1 ALWAYS PREFER THE RAW: TAKE A LOOK AT WHAT YOU CAN DO!

Below you can see 3 significant images of before and after the post-production of a time-lapse built by Giovanni Antico, the instructor of the Time-lapse workshop in which TLI took part in 2011.

Giovanni has then made a comparison between the JPG snapped out of the car and the final frame after the post-production from RAW files, until the last step after Lightroom, LRTimelapse and After Effects.

Night shooting is a good example of how RAW can help you retrieve, and save a time-lapse made during the most critical conditions.

Workshop timelapse 2011 - Backstage

Workshop timelapse 2011 - Backstage

Workshop timelapse 2011 - Backstage

Now that you have all of the information, you can decide if you want to opt for a fair compromise.

3.2 THE BEST COMPROMISE? SRAW + SJPG

Once you have acquired familiarity with the technique and you approach time lapsing in a more serious way in order to produce a good result, then you’ll want to go for the best possible compromise, if your DSLR allows, which is to: sRAW + sJPG.

What does it mean? On the Canon 7D or Canon 5D Mark II you have the ability to enable a reduced RAW (4.5 megapixel instead of 18Mpx for example), this offers these benefits:

  • retains RAW information, so you have a lot of freedom in post-production and higher quality of the stored image
  • uses less than a third of the space than required for the full RAW
  • is faster to deal with in post-production

sRAW + sJPG means that the machine will store in parallel two files: one sRAW precisely, but also a JPG low resolution you will use to get a quick video preview of the final sequence, without having to move from the post production in Lightroom, for example. All of this at a cost in terms of disk space occupied which is considerably lower than Full RAW.

3.3 USE LIVE VIEW – IF POSSIBLE – THE FOCUS OF THE SUBJECT

If you have a good recent DSLR, then you also have the option of using live view (i.e. the view of the scene on the outside screen of your camera): you should consider using this because it is very useful.

Sharpen the exact spot you are interested in – using the two small buttons on the top right of the zoom on the Canon 7D for example, to select precisely the area and then keep the subject in focus. Once you find the perfect focus, unplug the AF focus of your lens and leave it to MF.

In this way you’ll avoid wasting battery unnecessarily to focus at every shot, and you’ll avoid your camera automatically deciding what to focus on shot by shot – a practice to be avoided!

Make a little test shooting, and keep in mind the values (Aperture and Shutter speed) that the automatic system may suggest.

Canon LCD viewfinder active

3.4. SET THE CORRECT SHOOTING MODE

Let us now fix the basic settings to be used to properly prepare the camera for the shooting session, and avoid hassles later:

  • Select the manual mode completely, or at least prefer aperture priority mode (Av)
  • Set the ISO value you think is the best to use at that time: avoid like the plague the Auto ISO
  • Set both the aperture value and the shutter speed
  • Choose the best white balance, but do not set the automatic white balance (AWB)
  • On the lens, set the focus totally manual (MF). This will allow you to minimize the phenomenon of “flickering”.

Let’s see in detail how to deal with the choice of aperture and shutter speed.

3.5 WHAT IS THE VALUE OF APERTURE AND THE RESULTING SHUTTER SPEED TO SET?

It all depends on how much depth of field you want to achieve, and the shutter speed you want to set.

Setting the correct shutter speed is very important when you make a time-lapse. The higher the shutter speed (1/125 or higher), the lower the effect of fluidity in movement that will affect your subject in the final video.

A good rule is to set an exposure value a little below the value of half of the interval value between two clicks.

For example, if you shoot at an interval of 4” between each frame, you should adopt an exposure time of about 1.6”/2”.  Do note that this rule is clearly not applicable should you wish to shoot one frame every 60 seconds in broad daylight.

If people or moving objects appear in your scene, it is essential to make sure that the subjects in each frame are “fuzzy” (this does not mean out of focus).  i.e. they should have a trail behind them.
Subjects too well defined would give it the look of that annoying “blink.”

If you are shooting in broad daylight, and you cannot lengthen the time of exposure to acceptable levels – despite having lowered the value of ISO 100 and having set F16 as aperture value – then the only solution will be to use ND Filters.

4. SET THE INTERVAL: HOW MANY PICTURES TO TAKE, AND HOW OFTEN?

Depending upon the subject that you want to shoot, you will need to use different times and intervals. There is no golden rule to apply, but only suggestions dictated by common sense and experience that you may have carried out in the field.

We assume that videos on TV are transmitted on an average of about 25 frames per second. This value is double for movies shown on TVs which are Full HD 1080p, but let us work on the first option, which means that every second of video requires 25 frames.

In time-lapse, one frame is equivalent to a photograph. For a video of just 10 seconds, you will need 250 photographs. One minute of time-lapse takes approximately 1,500 shots.

That said, it is also easy to calculate how long it takes to achieve the desired sequence. Assuming you take 1 frame every 4 seconds, it will take 250 x 4 = 1000 seconds = 16.6 minutes to process our 10 seconds time-lapse video.

online-timelapse-calculator-avoid-headache

Use an online free time-lapse calculator instead, and get rid of doing any math!

4.1 TIME LAPSE CALCULATOR, THE PILL THAT PREVENTS THE HEADACHE

If you do not want to have a headache every time you’re ready to begin a new time-lapse then you should consider downloading an application called the Time-lapse Calculator – or use this free online time-lapse calculator by PhotoPills.

This simple tool allows you to enter the parameters of the project you already know (i.e. the total duration of the event and the length of time of the final output, considering the number of frames per second), then, based upon the data entered, the software calculates the time interval to set and much more.

4.2 WHAT INTERVAL TO SET BETWEEN ON SHOT AND THE OTHER?

There is no precise answer, because it depends on the ISO set, on the aperture and the shutter speed. We will try to give you a rough idea of the settings to use, depending on the subject you want to photograph.

Clouds and sun
On a windy day, where the movement of the clouds is really quite fast (and therefore also perceived by the eye without effort), you’ll need to shoot with a variable interval between 5 and 20 seconds between one frame and the next, depending on whether there is more or less wind.

People, traffic, urban
If your subject is people in a well-populated street of a city, or cars and traffic, a good idea is to use an interval between shots of 1” and 4”, also taking into account the blur effect to be given to pedestrians. If you’re in full sun, make use of ND filters.

Stars, moon and night shots in general
These are amongst the most difficult to capture and “to make good” on the screen, unfortunately. Here you will enter into astrophotography (in this regard we recommend the excellent tutorials, written by our amateur friends of TLN).

In general you have to keep in mind that you need very bright and expensive lenses, quality and sensors that have a good ability to avoid the digital noise to get good pictures.

Not only that: it is essential to have exposures not longer than about 20”/25” each because you wouldn’t get stars any more, but trails of stars (the so-called star-trails). In this case, a Canon 5D Mark III is the ideal choice – for its price – as it can generate the least amount of digital noise between DSLR cameras under 2500 €. If you have one, shoot at ISO 3200 with exposures of 15”/30” each. A good setting for the aperture in these cases is between f/2.8 and f/4.

4.3 PRECAUTIONS

Always keep in mind that the machine must be allowed to have a minimum time after shooting to store the images before moving on to the next step.

Not only that, if you shoot with aperture priority (Av) a scene at sunrise or sunset – or, more generally, with changing light conditions, there is another risk to be taken into account. If you give a rather narrow time to the intervalometer, the risk you run into is that the camera will “jump a frame” because it does not react to the input coming from there intervalometer if in the meantime the shutter is still open for the shot before.

This is especially true in the evening/night sessions of shooting: be careful, and keep an eye on the camera, especially in those moments. Then, make the necessary adjustments taking extreme care not to touch or move the camera or the tripod!

5. PRESS START, RELAX.. BUT KEEP AN EYE ON THE SITUATION

Take a couple of test shots to see if you’ve fixed everything and the framing is as perfect as you wanted. Use the Time-lapse Calculator to figure out how long you’ll be there to relax :-), press START and enjoy the atmosphere and the tranquillity around you!

Making a time-lapse is in fact something relaxing, which allows you to express your creativity while you enjoy a moment of relaxation, perhaps alone in the mountains, accompanied by the sound of the shutter that snaps.

A few more considerations: if you are shooting during sunrise or sunset, you need to keep an eye on the shots. This is to avoid any unpleasant under/over exposure and consequently shots thrown away at the end of the session.

Occasionally, therefore, look at the preview of the shot on the screen, and if you don’t like it, you can always – very gently  – change the value on the go. Obviously, don’t give a huge change in the settings, but every 5/10 minutes fix the shutter speed by one step, making it a little more “smooth” so that you’ll notice this less in post-production.

6. GO BACK AT HOME, AND CREATE YOUR OWN VIDEOS

Once back at home with your hundreds of photos in sequence, you will want to create the video and see your time-lapse video come to life.

In this basic tutorial, we illustrate how to quickly create the video from the sequence (a sort of quick preview) with QuickTime Pro, the easiest to use in this case.

  1. Make sure you have in your folder the sequence of images that will make your video, and that they are in sequential order.
  2. Click on File > Open Image Sequence
  3. The system will ask you to choose the first image. Click on it, then push Open
  4. Set the frame rate value between 10 and 30
  5. Click on File > Save as.. QuickTime MOV to magically get a time-lapse movie through and through

MILKY WAY TIME-LAPSE: WHAT DO YOU NEED?

First of all, let’s take a look at the sort of equipment needed in order to proceed.  You will require:

  1. a stable tripod
  2. intervallometer
  3. digital camera that can shoot in BULB mode
  4. short focal length lens (from 14mm to 30mm)
  5. long lasting battery for the camera
  6. a good clear sky

Let’s focus now on the main differences with respect to the equipment used to make a “normal” day time-lapse and a night-time video.

The ability to shoot in BULB mode means that the camera can remain open without any time limit, which is very important to gather as much light as possible, hence highlighting very low-lit subjects (such as the Milky Way).

Last generation DSLRs, especially high-end ones, do not have problems with short poses, as long as you raise the ISO sensitivity. However, the BULB mode is always the best choice.

It’s important that you have enough power to snap a few hundred photos using long exposures. Long exposure consumes much more electricity compared to daytime shots, so before leaving for a night excursion it is best to do a test at home with a lens cap on, simulating the duration of the entire shooting session.  If you can, think about having an external power supply for the camera with you too.

The lens to be used should allow you to frame a large area of the sky, preferably with some details of the terrestrial landscape. Do not forget that the sky is huge, and travels FAST. If the framing is too tight you will lose much of the charm of the shooting.

My advice is to not use lenses with a closer focal length than 30mm, on APS-C sensor cameras, which are the most common. The sample movie above was made with a 24mm fixed focus lens.

If you want to create stunningly gorgeous sequences, you can use 10mm fish-eye lenses, which would allow you to frame the whole starry sky, at the cost of some distortion of the image.

Moreover, it is important to take pictures only during clear nights, with no haze. Passing clouds (if not too many) can add richness to the sequence instead, although I prefer a nice clean sky, possibly without the moon.

CHOOSING THE SUBJECT

First of all you need a good clear sky, obviously!  But do not think that you can just point and shoot upwards. To get something decent, you need to know where north is located, so that you can choose what to frame.

Polaris is found in the north, the star around which the entire sky appears to rotate, so if we frame this area will get a movie in which there will be a “fixed” star, with all the others “circling around it”.

If we turn to the south, on the opposite side to the north, we can obtain a sequence where the sky seems to flow from left to right and if the frame is large enough we will see some stars rising and setting from the horizon.

Summer is also the best time to view the Milky Way: pointing in this direction we have available to us the richest sky of stars and our galaxy in the foreground.

Do not underestimate the terrestrial landscape: it must always be a part of the picture in order to provide a fixed point;  you could use perhaps a profile of a tree, a mountain, or even a building, etc.

A final consideration with regards to the framing: you should avoid the moon, especially when full.
The brightness  is so intense that it will prevent the sensor from capturing the soft glow of the stars.

ASTROPHOTOGRAPHY: HOW TO SHOOT STARS

The creation of an astronomical time-lapse is carried out using the manual settings of the camera, so you must disable any automatic mechanism which could be active (autofocus , AutoISO , exposure time, aperture etc.)  You need to have complete control over your camera, so set the ISO sensitivity to 800, 1600 or higher ISO speeds, choose JPEG format, set the shutter speed to BULB and get to the maximum lens aperture.

Now let’s see how to deal with focusing, which is a delicate operation to perform. We cannot use the autofocus during night shots as is not sensitive enough and accurate, so we have to proceed with some tentative guesses at what will work well.

Usually I set the focus to infinity, then go “a little” back. Then, let’s take a photo of the sky for about 30” and see the result on the screen, zooming the picture to the max.

Do not worry if stars are stretched, it is normal and the trails will not be noticeable during the execution of the movie.

Let’s now do some tests, moving the focus point until you are happy with the size of the stars: the smaller they are, the better.

Be careful not to consider the little star trail as a symptom of bad focus! It is important that a tiny trail appears, as long as it is tiny. If your camera is equipped with live view, this can help you with that.

Once you have a good focused picture, do not touch the lens anymore. The stars will be all in focus in the same way, no matter where they are in each frame.

After this step we can choose the exposure time, which is perhaps the most important parameter to be set for a good result.

The sky begins to darken immediately after sun set, however, it reaches the minimum brightness approximately a couple of hours later, so if we want to have a real dark night time-lapse, then we have to wait for a short time.

Finding the best exposure time can take a few tries at different times: let’s start with a 15 second exposure, then try 20, 30, 45 and 60.  Depending on the “quality” of the sky, light pollution and the ISO sensitivity of the camera you will get a different result:  there is no exact rule to follow, unfortunately.

When you are satisfied, and you have found a good compromise between the brightness of the sky background (not too excessive) and the amount of detail and noise, you can begin to shoot: exposure times must be controlled by the intervalometer, using a 5 second interval between one shot and another, no more, and taking as many pictures as you can (for at least a couple of hours, possibly more).

If we were to start shooting just after sunset, we should have already performed some tests during a dark night, so as to precisely know what exposure times to use. Our result would be overexposed, or even burned at the beginning of the movie, and then get darker as the hours pass.

HOW TO POST PROCESS YOUR NIGHT SHOTS?

The most complicated part of the tutorial is now completed, including the effort to stay awake all night.
Now you can proceed with the creation of the movie, which I am not going to deal with here as there are already plenty of excellent tutorials on the Time Lapse Network and the procedure is the same no matter your subject.

I personally use Avidemux, choosing a 15 fps rendering. The frame rate must be calibrated according to the exposure time of the individual shots, so that a smooth and slow sequence is created.
The longer the exposure time, the lower frame rate should be used: I usually create 3 or 4 sequences between 10 and 25 fps, then I choose the ones that  I prefer.

Below are the details required in order to create the sample movie:

  • Camera: Canon 350D
  • Lenses: Nikon 24mm f/2.8 D Nikkor
  • 274 shots, 25” exposure time at 800 ISO, 5” interval between shots
  • 15 fps sequence rendered using Avidemux

 

via : timelapsenetwork

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