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Weekend Project: Create a Time Lapse

14 Feb Posted by Matt in Guides, Stuff We Like |
Weekend Project: Create a Time Lapse

Once you’ve got your head around still photography, and maybe dabbled in a bit of Digital SLR video, doing a time-lapse is a great project to try out.

A time-lapse is just a movie made up from a series of still photos and then played back at a rate much faster than it was captured. This technique is often used to show events or movement that occurs very slowly in a much shorter timeframe – for example a sunrise or sunsetplants or flowers growing, buildings being constructed or seasonal changes of a landscape.

You’ll need a bit of patience and a bit of practice (not to mention a strong subject) to pull off a good time-lapse, but the results can be stunning.  You’ll also need some basic software to take your stills and combine them into a video.

Need some inspiration? This video from Josh Owens shows just how great time-lapse videos can be.

What do I need?

We’ll have a full guide to shooting and editing time lapse movies soon, but if you want to get started straight away here’s what you’ll need:

  • Digital SLR or Compact System camera
  • Tripod to keep your camera perfectly still
  • An Intervalometer to trigger your camera to take a photo at a set interval

Most compact cameras will not have either a remote shutter release or a built-in intervalometer, making time lapse photography quite difficult.  You’ll also need some software to stitch your still photos together into a movie.

An intervalometer is a device that plugs into your camera’s remote shutter release connection and tells the camera to take a photo at a set interval, say every 10 seconds.  Some cameras, including the Nikon D3, D200, D300, D700, D5000, and D7000, can do this automatically.

Canon Digital SLRs (and most others) will need an external intervalometer, which can be picked up reasonably cheaply, unless you’re able to keep a laptop nearby in which case you could hook your camera up by USB and use the Canon EOS Utility to fire off your shots.

The Method

Here’s our quick guide to getting good results from your time lapse movies

1- Compose your Shot

Taking a time lapse be very time consuming, so take some time over your composition. You don’t want to change your mind half way through!

2 – Take a Test Shot

Use either Manual, Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority mode to take a test shot.

You should use a manual White Balance setting to avoid this changing over time when left in Auto mode.

3 – Go Manual

Once you have an apertureshutter speed and ISO combination that you’re happy with, turn the mode dial to Manual and manually input these settings.  We don’t want these settings changing over time as this will cause glitches in your movie, so make sure they’re good for the long haul!

After using autofocus to correctly focus your scene, turn your lens to Manual Focus. This will stop the camera autofocusing before each shot, which is both undesirable from the point of view of avoiding glitches as well as not draining your battery.

4 – Set your Intervalometer

This will vary wildly depending on what you are shooting; a building project shot over a period of a year will require a bigger gap between shots than a time lapse of clouds moving across a sky or of a sunset.  Think about your subject and set your camera appropriately – needless to say if in doubt then too many frames is better than not enough.

For a smooth video you should be looking to capture 24fps, so 24 photos for every second of video.  You may get away with a lower rate, but you will suffer jerky playback if you go too low.

If you don’t have an intervalometer, then you can use a remote shutter release and fire off shots manually… just make sure you know what you’re letting yourself in for!

5 – Choose a File Format

RAW files can be a bit unwieldy when you have this many of them, so JPEG may be your friend.  Choose a high resolution if you can though, as this gives you much more flexibility later.

That’s it!

Once you’ve set it all up with a little bit of care, you’re ready to start your time lapse.

You’ll need to combine the images together in order to make a movie – we’ll cover this in detail in Part 2 of this guide.


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