My First Time Lapse Tutorial
I’m sure you’ve seen many Time Lapse sequences on TV, whether you’re a nature shows maniac like myself and watch Nat Geo, Discovery, Eden – including all the repeats they show every single day, or just in almost any other program, film and music clip out there. You will always find a bit of Time Lapse sequence on TV. It is the most interesting and best way of showing something that happens over a longer period of time in just a few seconds.
Even as a little boy I would rather sit and watch BBC documentary films and programes than do anything else. I was just mesmerised by footage of plants growing, blooming, amazing landscapes with the sun and clouds travelling across the sky, shadows moving and the world changing right in front of my eyes. It was really like magic. And still is. Have you seen the film produced by BBC about life of plants and the time lapse sequence of a forest scene growing? It took two years to record and edit. Magic.
As an experienced photographer, it was easier for me to start shooting time lapse videos than it would be for someone not knowing anything about cameras and photography. I had all the equipment I needed to record the first basic sequences and I knew how to do it… in theory 🙂
1. A DSLR camera, still using my good old Nikon D200 for that. It has survived a lot, over 100k images shot on it and it’s still going.
2. Plenty of memory cards to record even in RAW format, even though you can start experimenting with just JPGs to make it easier and less time consuming.
3. Good, steady tripod. A must for time lapse photography. If the camera moves or shakes during the recording then the final video might be completely ruined.
4. Batteries, and plenty of them please for outdoor shoots. For indoor you can get yourself a power adapter and plug your camera (not all have that option) to the mains.
5. A nice sunny day if you are shooting outdoors, but for the first video I recorded in my spare room and used a small setup of two large(ish) LED lights I had for product photography – 5400 Kelvin so they produce nice constant light and don’t use too much electricity.
6. Object to photograph that will slowly change in time.
For my first test I selected a rose, as it was my fiance’s birthday coming up and I wanted to surprise her with a unique bday card. Only had time to record it for about 8 hours when my fiance was at work and unfortunately I later found out that roses are not very good for learning how to time lapse as they take absolute ages to open up. So the flower only moved a tiny bit and the video did look like I imagined. So it didn’t really work. But I quickly got some nice, Yellow Daffodils, still all closed, switched the lights on, set the camera on manual as I had constant light so I knew it wouldn’t change and the exposures could remain the same throughout.
Used F5,6, which I later found a bit too shallow, and I also did not set the exposure right because when flowers open and reveal those bright yellow petals the whole image became a bit over-exposed and details blown out. I think for this purpose you should use F8 to get sharp picture even if the flower moves a little bit over time – and trust me they do dance and keep it under-exposed, record in RAW if you want to make corrections later in post-processing. For a simple test to learn you can do it in JPG so it takes less time to process all those pictures. You should always use an ND filter as it allows for longer exposure times at wider apertures – I did not have one at that time. You must always clean your lens, filters and even check the sensor for any dust or dirt as it will always come out later in the finished video and look nasty. You can get rid off it in post-processing but who wants to go through few thousand images one by one? If you use auto correction through software like Photoshop or Lightroom then you will only get rid off some dirty marks but you can also create nasty ghosts and smudges as no auto software will do a better job than your own eye and brain.
I’ve set the intervals every 5 minutes (should have gone for 2min as the video is a tiny bit jerky), closed the window blinds to eliminate any changing light, left only my studio LEDs on, plugged the camera into the mains, used a 32GB card and calculated how long it would take to fill it up with pictures. Then I locked the room so no one would enter – to avoid any floor or table shaking and left it recording for 2 days. I only went in every, can’t remember exactly, 10 hours or so to change the card and copy already taken images onto my laptop.
In between changing memory cards I had plenty of time to ‘play’ with my pictures in Lightroom. Shame I did not use RAW for that shoot as I couldn’t fix the over-exposed images with flowers fully open as much as I would like. But it was in the end just a test and of course you learn best by trying and making mistakes. So I’ve corrected the exposures as much as I could, change the aspect ration of all images to 1920×1080 and exported them to jpgs of the same size. Yes it did take A LOT of time for my old macbook to work on over a thousand pictures but you can always go and do something else whilst your computer is crunching numbers.
Then I stitched all pictures in a little free application I have on my Mac called Time-Lapse Assembler. Great piece of software and really easy to use. Just select your images, quality of video you want to produce and save your clip. Job done. After a few minutes I had my first time lapse video and could watch flowers blooming, moving… almost dancing in front of my eyes and I recorded all that in my spare bedroom. Great sense of achievement 🙂
You can later slow down or speed up your video, edit it even more in many video applications that are out there. Adding music to it is always a great idea. Again you can use video editing software to do that or add it when uploading to YouTube – they give you a nice selection of different tracks to use.
Now you can share it with the whole world. If you make a good enough video you can even place it on shutterstock or other stock footage sites and make a few pence.