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Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Making Time-Lapse

Somewhere between still photography and full-motion video, time-lapse is moviemaking that any still shooter can do

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Rising Milky Way and setting sun, Joshua Tree National Park, California.

A movie is just a series of stills. It’s really that simple. While time-lapse is simple in concept, the range of gear and workflow options is vast. You can make it simple or more complex, depending upon the end use and your own expertise. In this article, I’ll outline the basics, including a soup-to-nuts time-lapse workflow from production through post, giving you the step-by-step to create your own time-lapse video. In future articles, I’ll dig deeper into the proliferation of new gadgets and the ever-expanding possibilities, including HDR, 3D, motion control, specialty lenses, apps, intervalometers and more, as well as venturing deeper into postproduction workflow and color correction.

Above, are screen grabs for RAW workflow.Top left: Drag image sequences onto the Comp button and adjust settings to make a new comp in Adobe After Effects. Top right: You’ll get a pop-up window where you name the comp. Above: For best results, select 32-bit for your bit-depth.
Fishing For Subjects
The essential tools for making a good time-lapse are likely already in your kit: camera, memory cards, tripod, computer and some basic video-editing software. Just add intervalometer, and stir. A plethora of other cool toys abound once you progress to the next step.

I grew up fishing in the Pacific Northwest and find time-lapse shooting to be pleasantly similar. I make my best guess after studying the environment and then I cast my line. Only postprocessing will reveal “the catch,” whether mundane or spectacular. Looking into that other dimension, time, can be awe-inspiring. We get to stretch our minds while sharing beautiful images. That’s not a bad way to explore nature.

Step-By-Step Time-Lapse Capture
1 Observe your environment in real time, noting the quality of light and shadow, then put on your time-traveler hat and soak up the same environment, but in future time. Imagine the interaction of the wind and clouds, observe how the light will unfold and spread, and how the shadows will be cast. Try to predict the plant cycles and other subtle movement.

2 Choose a scene that’s captivating in the present time frame and that will have transformative potential in the future. I find a good loupe is a critical piece of gear because it lets you examine the details in the whole frame as you compose.

3 A solid tripod to keep your camera stable is a necessity. I use a Manfrotto carbon-fiber tripod and a Manfrotto photo-movie head. This versatile combo works for my still and motion work, and it’s great for time-lapse. The head is particularly important because you don’t want to have the camera slipping during a long series of exposures.

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