Cities and natural landscapes, stars and miniature plants — there is one particular type of contemporary art that enjoys working with all these dissimilar objects. Timelapse is a hybrid of photography and video. When you shoot it, it seems that you are doing photography, and when you edit it, it seems that you are doing video.
Time lapse will become a good hobby for many photographers who want to try something new. In addition, you can start shooting time-lapses using your current photography equipment without buying anything else.
I think if you decide to read this article, then you already have some basic idea of how time-lapses are shot in general. If not, then everything is simple: first, a series of photographs is taken with a certain time interval between each frame, and then they are glued into one video clip using editing software. As a result, slow movements and processes seem much faster — in a time-lapse, a long period of time is compressed into one short clip.
Many cameras even have built-in modes for taking photos at a certain interval or for creating ready-made time-lapse videos. However, keep in mind — like any automatic mode, they make mistakes when shooting. They can be avoided by shooting in manual mode, or removed during processing.
Here are some basic tips for creating timelapses:
• use tripods, sliders and other systems to support and stabilize the camera;
• shoot in manual mode;
• competent planning is a necessary element for a good time-lapse.
It’s all good to count
Yes, you have to count. You need to understand how many frames you need to take to get a video of the desired length.
The most important part of this calculation is the frame rate. This refers to the final frame rate of your finished clip. Frame rate is the number of frames per second at which the video should be played, commonly referred to as 24p, 30p, and 60p. You can use almost any frame rate these days, but the unwritten rule is to use 24p for cinematic style and 30p for TV style.
If you’re shooting a social media-only timepass, you’re not limited in this setting, however 24p is the safest option to keep your video looking smooth. At a lower frame rate, the picture will twitch.
So let’s start the calculation. 24p means 24 frames per second, which means you need 24 photos for every second of your video. Think about how long your video is, and then multiply its total seconds by 24 to get the number of photos you need. Let’s say if you want a 10 second video, you need to take 240 photos.
Now you need to correlate the number of frames with the subject. Do you shoot plants that grow for a whole week? So you need long intervals between photos. Or are you just going to shoot the sunset? Then you need to fit 240 frames in about half an hour.
It’s better to shoot photos in the highest quality to get maximum details and good color reproduction. However, to shoot a 24p time-lapse, you need a lot of free space.
When you figure out how long it will take to shoot, you need to divide it by the number of shots. This will give you the required spacing between photos. However, you can’t help but know when you’re done shooting, but it’s always good to have a general idea of how long your camera will take and how long you’ll have to “walk” before returning to the camera.
In general, adding a little time to the end of the shoot or starting to shoot a little earlier is a good idea.
- decide on the frame rate. 24p is generally a win-win;
- multiply the number of frames by the duration of the clip in seconds to find out how many photos you need to take in total;
- Divide the time you plan to spend shooting by the total number of photos to determine the interval between shots.
Decide on endurance
Videographers and filmmakers have a favorite shutter speed rule that helps them get that cinematic effect with just the right degree of motion blur.
To get the perfect shutter speed for your video, you need to double your frame rate. Then your shutter speed will be 1/(frame rate times two) seconds. That is, if you want to shoot a clip in 24p, then you need to set the shutter speed to 1/48 second or as close as possible to this value. For 30p, the shutter speed should be 1/60 second.
For timelapses, we use the same logic, but apply it differently.
To get a “cinematic” time lapse, the shutter speed should be half the time of the interval. For example, if the interval between photographs y is 1 minute, the shutter speed should be set to 30 seconds.
Sometimes this rule can be problematic. Imagine landscape photography during the day — shutter speeds up to 1/100 second or faster are suitable for such shots. But according to our rule, the shutter speed should be much longer, which means you can get an overexposed frame. It’s a good idea to use an ND filter (neutral density filter) to reduce the amount of light entering the lens.
Why bother with the video rule at all if we’re taking photos? If you add a little motion blur (motion blur) with slower shutter speeds, the time lapse will be smoother and more natural. This effect is especially noticeable when shooting moving subjects, such as grass or trees, which will look very twitchy when the wind blows. High-quality blur is especially important if you insert a time-lapse as an element in a regular video.
But if for video the calculation of exposure is almost an iron rule, then for time-lapses there are many exceptions. For example, in astrophotography, long exposures create star tracks — whether they are needed in your timelapse is up to you. This rule is a good starting point, but you can deviate from it.
Get rid of “flicker”
The rules above will determine the necessary exposure settings. The next thing you need to think about is how to avoid “flicker” in the frame.
“Flicker” is a sudden change in brightness in a time-lapse, when individual frames have an exposure that is very different from neighboring frames.
This is a very noticeable and unpleasant effect that should be avoided. The main reason for the appearance of “flickering” is the automatic modes that work during shooting. Therefore, in order to get smooth transitions when lighting changes, you need to set all exposure settings to manual mode and not change them during shooting.
While modern built-in time-lapse modes are smart enough not to make sudden changes in exposure, they can still react inappropriately to changes in light, such as when shooting at sunset.
Manual exposure is not suitable for some situations — for example, if you want to capture both day and night in one time lapse. In such a case, you need to schedule changes in manual exposure as the sun sets or rises. Remote shutter releases will help with this.
Without a remote control or well-planned changes in exposure during shooting, the only way is to work in automatic mode. If you still trust auto to shoot, you need to activate all the available exposure smoothing functions and be prepared to remove “flicker” in post-processing. On the one hand, there is no catastrophe in “flickering”, any graphics editor can handle it. On the other hand, this way you add extra work to yourself.
Add camera movement
Motion lapse is a more advanced level in time lapse photography. This is a time lapse where not only the object moves, but the camera.
For motion lapse, you will need either a motorized slider, or the maximum precision of movements when working with a mechanical slider or a tripod. The first option is easier, the second is cheaper.
Using a motorized slider makes things a lot easier — most of them are pretty easy to use. You just need to set the parameters, and then the slider will do everything by itself. This is the most suitable way to get smooth and clear movement in timelapse.
It is much more difficult to work manually. If it’s a non-motorized mechanical slider, make sure you have a measuring tool to account for each movement and check that they are all the same.
Working only with a tripod is difficult — you have to carefully monitor the timing and trajectory of movement. If you do decide to give it a try, use landmarks such as tiles or planks on the floor. Move the tripod the same distance before each frame.
When working with motion, make sure you have extra space at the beginning and at the end. You may need to trim your video due to camera shake during start and stop.
So, for shooting time-lapses, we recommend:
- do some math: figure out the frame rate, clip duration, and shooting time to calculate the number of photos, the desired interval, and shutter speed;
- shoot in manual mode so that there is no “flicker” that you have to get rid of in post-processing;
- use motorized sliders for motion lapses.
This starter set of rules and tips will help you get started making smooth, cinematic timelapses. And, as always, the main thing is practice, so take a camera with a tripod or a slider and run faster to the location. Oh yes, before that, do not forget to calculate everything well!
In preparing the article, materials from the site bhphotovideo.com (Shawn C. Steiner) were used.