If you’re a keen amateur photographer or even a pro and want to have a go at time-lapse photography and time lapse film making, I’ve listed some top tips to help you get started. It takes time to learn how to make the amazing time lapse videos some professionals have put online, however, for simpler applications, and just to get you started, I’m going to give you ten top tips. Here goes…
1. If you have a camera with a built in intervalometer (timer) that’s great. If not, you’ll need to go shopping to buy an intervalometer. They are more commonly called ‘remote control triggers’ nowadays. But just make sure they have an ‘intervalometer’ function; that is a function that allows you to set up to take images at pre-set intervals. There’s no use me recommending any intervalometers or remote devises here – as it really depends on what camera you have. But a bit of web research should give you some ideas of which one may be best for you. Before you get started properly, get to know the intervalometer and what it can do.
2. Timing is all-important. Like a good comedian, a good time lapse photographer must get his/her timing right! The most common error for all time-lapse newbie’s is setting unrealistic intervals between exposures. If the intervals are too long, you wont have sufficient frames to do an edit. It is better in some ways if you have too many (as you can always ‘lose’ some). But just be aware that too many may mean your camera having problems with processing. Plus, you don’t necessarily want to work the shutter on your camera too much! Setting the interval time between exposures is something that will come with practice and experience. You end up getting an instinct for it. But, a few things to bear in mind to help you are to A) think how long you want the time lapse sequence to last, and B) hold in mind that your edit will be sequenced at around 25fps (frames per second). Think! You’ll have to get 25 exposures / frames for 1 second of sequence. Someone once asked us to take 4 frames over 24 hours for a week and edit a time-lapse sequence for them…….until we pointed out that the ‘sequence’ would only run for a fraction over 1 second!
3. Camera settings are important, and these all depend on the type of time-lapse you do and the various factors involved. It can get quite complex. But, to get started, just set the camera on AV (aperture value), set your f-stop modestly to around 4 and just a few hundred on your ISO (we don’t want noisy images). This should give you a nice balance between controlling your camera and letting your camera decide some things for itself.
4. Get a tripod. It may sound obvious. But we’ve seen people trying to do time lapse by perching a camera precariously somewhere where it can easily be knocked. Remember, time-lapse photography and film-making only works by getting images that are captured from exactly the same fixed position. If you see a sequence edited together from frames that are different – because of camera movement – you’ll see the whole sequence shaking and wobbling! No good! A tripod, locked into position will give your camera a nice stable platform.
5. Get a decent size memory card. It may sound obvious again, but it’s another common error. As the proverb says, ‘You have to cut your cloth according to your coat’. Take a test image. What is the file size that the image is coming in at? Now multiply this by the number of images you’ll be taking. Is your card big enough? No? Then you’ll need to do either the following OR a combination of the following: a) get a bigger card b) reduce the file size (quality) of your captures c) do a card-swap at necessary intervals (taking care not to knock your camera). The real experts may output to an external storage device…. They may insist on bringing their images in HD (high definition) and creating HD time lapse movies…. but I’m trying to keep things simple for you here!
6. Be aware of power issues. Again, if you are time-lapsing using a camera with a single battery, you’ll need to be aware that it will run out relatively quickly. You’ll know how quickly if you know your camera. To solve, you can use a battery grip to extend the time you have, or even better, get an ac adaptor and plug your camera into the mains!
7. Do indoor projects first. You can control your environment and the lighting this way. Outdoors, you potentially face greater challenges; the weather, changes in light, away from power sources and so on. We know people who have wrecked very expensive DSLRs by leaving them unprotected out and not noticing its been raining!
8. Stick to things that wont take too long to capture at first. What about an ice cube melting, for a really short time lapse? Then, as you become more ambitious and experienced, you could always progress to cress seeds growing or an indoor potted flower opening. A simple favorite is to deprive an indoor plant of water for a while, then water it and time-lapse its recovery! Another great one is to place a white flower in water, add food colouring to the water and time lapse the nice effect of the colour climbing up the flower as it drinks….
9. You have all your images. It’s time for the edit. What? You can’t edit? Well that’s fine. Although again, the experts put their images through a number of processes in post production – we are keeping things simple. And what surprises most people is that there is a simple way to edit. It wont be anywhere near as good as what the experts do – in fact the experts wouldn’t really call it editing strictly. However, it works for our purposes. The secret is throwing your images into one of the applications that just auto-sequence them together. I can’t mention any of them here…but do your research.
10. I said there were ten tips….. so here is the tenth. Get your work out there, share it. Look at what others have done, join a forum, swap tips, practice, and above all…have fun getting started with time lapse photography.
About the Author
Time Lapse Systems provide Time Lapse Photography solutions for the leisure, construction and security industries. We have experience in shooting both short and long term time lapse footage and editing for use on either DVD or the Web.