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Solutions: Time-Lapse Quicktips

How to make a movie that will show the world differently
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This Article Features Photo Zoom

Time-lapse videos on Vimeo and YouTube are incredibly popular. This one, Arctic Light, is one of our favorites. Posting your finished time-lapse videos to these sites for the world to see is simple, and it’s gratifying to see the number of people who watch and comment once the video is posted.

Time-lapse photography and videos have exploded in popularity. During the recent Sony Art of Expression contest hosted by OP, several of the finalists in the video category were time-lapse videos. It’s easy to see why time-lapse is so hot—the effect is positively mesmerizing. Whether you’re shooting clouds moving over a mountaintop or a busy street crossing, time-lapse gives you a unique look at the world. It even makes watching the grass grow interesting.

Manfrotto 050 Photo-Movie head

If you’ve never done it before, making your first time-lapse can seem like a daunting task, but it’s actually quite easy. As you get more experience, you can start adding more complex elements, but in this Solutions article, we focus on tips for novice time-lapse shooters.

Fundamentally, a time-lapse video is a series of still images seen in fast sequence. Video typically gets played at 24 frames per second. If each of those frames is captured at around 1⁄30 sec., one capture immediately following the last, they play back looking like the normal passage of time. The capture-to-playback rate is about 1:1. This, more or less, is how movie cameras work. If, on the other hand, each of those exposures is made a minute apart and played back at 24 frames per second, the capture-to-playback rate is 1440:1. Every 24 minutes you create one second of playback. When you play the video, you’re seeing the world sped up dramatically. That’s all a time-lapse is.

To do it, you need a few essential tools. A sturdy tripod with a good head is critical. Once you start shooting, you need the camera to stay perfectly still (we’ll cover how to make a moving time-lapse in a future issue of OP). Some DSLRs have built-in intervalometers, which let you program the camera directly. If your camera doesn’t have the intervalometer built in, you’ll need an accessory intervalometer. Most Nikons have intervalometers while Canon models require an accessory unit. Either way, they’re easy to set and use. A capable image-processing program and software to compile the still frames are also requirements.

Manfrotto 057 tripod

Step By Step
1 Set up your camera and tripod and find a suitable subject. Moving clouds always make for interesting time-lapse. Shooting the night sky is another good choice, but it’s a bit more complicated, so we’ll focus on daytime shooting here.

2 Once you’re set up, you need to program the intervalometer. First, decide how long you want your movie to be. Multiply 24 frames per second by the number of seconds to get the overall number of frames you need. For example, a 15-second time-lapse requires 360 frames (24 x 15 = 360). Most experienced time-lapse shooters suggest that you “drag the shutter,” meaning set a shutter speed that’s on the slow side so elements moving through the frame will streak instead of blip in and out of existence; 1⁄15 sec. usually works well.

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Hähnel Giga T Pro Wireless Timer Remote

3 Set the exposure manually; in fact, be sure everything is set to manual, including focus, so your DSLR doesn’t accidentally shift in the middle of the series. When you set the exposure, think about how the light might change during the series of shots. For example, if you’re going to shoot a sunset, you might want the initial setting to be a bit overexposed so you’ll get more out of the fading light as the sun drops.

4 Have a large memory card ready for all of the images. Make sure your battery is fully charged, so the camera doesn’t die at an inopportune moment.

5 Once you have all of the images, place them in a folder in your computer. Your camera should have given each image a name in sequence automatically. We suggest you make a copy of all of the images so you have masters in case there’s a problem down the road. To keep the project manageable, do a batch resize on all of the images. Make them all 1920×1080 pixels. This resolution is full HD, so the resulting video will look great on any HDTV or computer screen. We suggest that you shoot higher resolution and downsize because you’ll be future-proofing your time-lapse against advances like 2K and 4K TVs and projectors. We like to use Apple QuickTime Pro for assembling the final movie because it makes the process dead easy. Other programs do a fine job, but they tend to be a little more difficult to use.

That’s all there is to it. Once you get the feel for it, you can get into more complicated techniques like night sky and camera motion. Give it a try, post to Vimeo and YouTube, and watch your video go viral.