Make a Start in Time-lapse photography

Rebecca Greig

You will have likely seen many examples of time-lapse in nature documentaries, Hollywood films or online videos that depict events and movement that would normally take minutes, hours or even days to occur in just a few seconds

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You will have likely seen many examples of time-lapse in nature documentaries, Hollywood films or online videos that depict events and movement that would normally take minutes, hours or even days to occur in just a few seconds. If you are fascinated by nature and the slow changes that occur over a period of time, time-lapse is perfect for you. It lets you combine lots of still images and play them back at quick speed so that the passage of time appears to move quicker, quite literally by manipulating time.
Getting started in time-lapse photography is remarkably easy these days. Many people are wrongly put-off because they think it is either very technical or involves lots of expensive kit. However, if you’re shooting with a DSLR or mirrorless camera then you probably already have almost everything you need. Time-lapse is also a great way of blending technical skills with creative talent. The limiting factor is only your imagination, so if you’re keen to express your artistic vision, time-lapse photography could be perfect for you.

What you’ll need

DSLR or mirrorless camera
External intervalometer  (some cameras have a built-in function)
Cards with plenty of storage (16-64GB)

Shooting steps

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1  Choose your scene With time-lapse photography you need both interesting composition as well as movement within the scene. You will need to anticipate how a particular scene will change over time. For example, how quickly are clouds moving across the sky?

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2  Set capture interval Use a one-second interval for traffic and fast-moving clouds; up three seconds for sunsets and sunrise, crowds and slower clouds; and 15 to 30 seconds for moving shadows. Longer intervals can be used for fast-growing plants (90 to 120 seconds) and building construction (5 to 15 mins).

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3  Calculate shoot length For a clip of ten seconds you will need to shoot 240 frames – 24fps (standard for film) x 10. By multiplying the total number of frames by the interval, you get your total shooting time. For example, an interval of five seconds for a final clip of ten seconds long is 5 x 240 = 1,200 seconds.

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4  Set your exposure When shooting time-lapse you want to put your camera into full manual mode, take a few test images to dial in your exposure and focus, then turn off autofocus. If you want to blur motion, for example crowds of people or traffic, you’ll want a longer shutter speed (about one to two seconds).

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5   Prepare equipment Ensure your camera is correctly placed and secure. Once you start a time-lapse capture you can’t change anything, so making sure everything is right before you hit go is crucial. Use tape to secure your intervalometer and remove your camera strap to stop it blowing in the wind.

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6  Start your capture If you’ve followed these steps correctly, all there is left to do now is to start the capture and sit back and watch as the scene unfolds in front of you. Keep an eye on your intervalometer and once the capture has finished, pack up all your kit and head home for processing.

Common concerns

Time-lapse photography can have its pitfalls, so here’s what you should strive to avoid

• Camera shake
• Dust spots on sensor
• Motion too quick or too slow
(wrong interval)
• Equipment interference (general public and animals)
• Sudden changes in weather

In addition to the above, a popular question concerning time-lapse is whether to shoot in RAW or JPEG. As with stills photography, shooting RAW will allow for a fully non-destructive workflow in post. You are also capturing at the highest resolution your camera allows. This gives you further options in post, enabling you to crop and add movement to your scene by panning and scanning around your image.

Editing steps

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1  Import the images Use your camera utility or an image organiser such as Lightroom or Adobe Bridge to import your photos into sequences. It is important to be organised if you’re doing a lot of time-lapse shooting.

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2  Make your edits You’ll need to use a batch editor such as Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom to apply your adjustments. Choose a master image to work with and, once you have made your edits to it, apply them to all the images in your sequence.

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3  Combine your images Programs such as Adobe After Effects or LRTimelapse enable you to set your frame rate (24fps) and will combine your sequence of images to give you a movie. It’s now that you will see your hard work come to life.

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4  Get creative You can increase the level of interest of your shot by adding dynamic camera moves in post, like zooming or panning across the image. This is the benefit of shooting very high- resolution images and using them to create HD video.

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5  Create a time-lapse movie     You will need to repeat the previous steps for each different scene, so you end up with multiple sequences. You can then combine them along with titles, transitions and music to make your very own time-lapse film.

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6  Export and upload Once your film is complete, you’ll want to export and share it. Using common export settings for web video will work well, such as H.264 file format (MP4) in HD (1920 x 1080) and a bit rate of around 20mbps.

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