Time-lapse is a video that is often referred to as “fast motion”. You’ve definitely seen these on the web: blooming flowers, clouds rushing over the city, stars swirling across the sky. Such content always attracts attention — firstly, because it is simply unusual, and secondly, because it can be used to show things that are invisible in everyday life. To learn how to make a beautiful time-lapse, read this material.
To create time-lapses, time-lapse photography is used, and then a video is collected from the resulting photos.
Time lapse equipment
How to shoot a timelapse
Assembling a time-lapse from ready-made photos
Building a timelapse right in the camera
Building a Timelapse with Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Premiere
How to make your timelapse more interesting
Timelapse from video
Shooting a simple time-lapse is quite democratic in terms of equipment. A modern camera with a high resolution will allow you to get a time-lapse with a resolution of up to 8K, but an old DSLR with a resolution of 10–12 MP will do. Also, many smartphones have a mode for shooting time-lapses.
Since we need the camera to stand still in one place for a long time, we need a stable tripod.
If your camera does not have settings for interval shooting, you will need a special remote control. Well, so that the camera does not turn off at the most inopportune moment due to a dead battery (this is especially true for filming in cold weather), you should add a battery pack with an additional battery to it. If the camera supports external USB power during operation, you can use a power bank. Well, if it doesn’t support it, the power bank can be connected to the battery slot through a special fake battery. In order not to freeze yourself, do not forget to dress warmly, grab gloves and hot tea or coffee in a thermos.
In order for everything to work out during assembly, before shooting, you need to figure out how many frames you need to shoot and at what interval. Both the quantity and frequency depend on what we are shooting and how long we want to get the video.
Suppose we want to shoot sunrise and get a one-minute video as output. For example, in the latitudes of St. Petersburg at the end of July, it will take about 3 hours to catch the last stars and the first sun in the timelapse. You can calculate the exact time using a solar calculator.
The standard frame rate required for smooth video is 25 frames per second. This means that for one second of the finished video you will need 25 photos, and for a minute — 60 times more, 1500 frames. Shooting will take three hours — that’s 180 minutes, or 10800 seconds. Dividing 10800 seconds by 1500 frames, we get an interval between frames of about 7 seconds.
When the number of frames is selected, you can start shooting.
To begin with, we put the camera on a tripod, choose a beautiful angle and tightly tighten all the tripod latches so that nothing moves during the shooting. Important points in setting up the camera before starting time-lapse shooting:
- focus on the desired object, and then turn off autofocus. If this is not done, during the shooting process the camera may refocus on another object or take blurry frames — for example, if it gets dark and autofocus fails to work in the dark;
- if you are shooting a one-dimensional landscape, the aperture can be closed to values of 11–16 so that everything is in sharpness. If your picture has several plans, select the aperture value based on the plot. If, for example, a flowering tree is in the foreground, and a city panorama is in the background, it is worth covering the aperture to at least 8;
- the ISO value is chosen to be minimal in order to get the highest quality picture with a minimum of noise. The exception is night time-lapses: if you are shooting the Milky Way or the Northern Lights, you will have to open the aperture and raise the ISO to 1600–3200;
- it is important to set the shutter speed correctly. We calculate it according to the classic cinematic formula: the shutter speed should be twice as fast as the frame rate.
That is, if the interval between frames is 1 second, then the shutter speed should be ½ second, and with an interval of 10 minutes, it is advisable to set the shutter speed to 5 minutes. This is necessary so that moving objects (people, cars, clouds) in the frame move smoothly and continuously. With short shutter speeds relative to the interval, moving objects in the finished video will move with a twitch, or even simply “teleport” from place to place. If overexposure starts at slow shutter speeds, a neutral density filter will help.
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Manual mode: camera settings for a beginner
All of these settings are good for shooting in relatively constant conditions: if, for example, you are recording clouds moving over a city in the middle of the day, or the movement of stars at night. If you’re shooting sunrise or sunset, it’s best to use one of the camera’s semi-automatic modes. S is the best choice, in which you can choose the appropriate shutter speed for smooth video.
The fact is that in the conditions of dawn and dusk, the light level will constantly change, which means that the settings in manual mode should also change. More experienced time lapsers always shoot in manual mode and use special programs to equalize the exposure of finished frames, but this is a topic for a separate article. At first, it is better to trust the automation.
If no strong changes in light are expected, then set the mode to M and do not forget to turn off auto ISO. If this is not done, exposure errors are possible, in which the sun peeking into the frame will make it darker, not lighter.
And one more important point: if your camera has an electronic shutter (and most modern mirrorless cameras and some SLRs have it), then turn it on. So you save the resource of the mechanical shutter.
After the camera is set up, we find the interval shooting mode in the menu (in cameras of different systems it can be in different places in the menu), set the selected interval, start shooting and be patient.
Building a timelapse right in the camera
Some cameras are able to assemble the finished video on their own. For example, this feature is available in Nikon Z6, Canon 850D, Olympus OM‑D E‑M5 III. Sony and Fujifilm don’t have that capability.
Canon and Olympus do this quite simply: in the menu section dedicated to interval shooting, find the “Video from pictures” / Time lapse movie item, turn it on and select the resolution of the finished video — 3840x2160 or 1920x1080.
Nikon is not so simple. For him, taking photos and creating a video are in different menu items.
If you only need photos, and you will collect the video on a computer, select the “Interval shooting” item, and you can get photos in RAW format of the maximum resolution for the camera (for example, for Nikon Z7 II it is 45 megapixels, which means that if you want you will be able to assemble time-lapse images in 8K resolution).
If you need a ready-made video, look for the “Time-lapse video” item. It allows you to create a ready-made time lapse right in the camera, but it does not save RAW — the card will have a video file and original photos in JPEG format, reduced to either 3840x2160, or even up to 1920x1080, if you have chosen a video of this resolution.
The advantages of in-camera assembly is that you will receive the finished video very quickly, in a couple of minutes after the end of shooting. At the same time, you will not need to occupy the disk with hundreds of photos, process pictures and mess with video editors — you just filmed, copied the finished time-lapse from the card, posted it on social networks and collect likes and comments.
Building a Timelapse with Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Premiere
If your camera does not know how to collect video from interval shots, or you want to get the highest possible quality, you should manually develop RAW files with the desired settings, and then assemble them into video.
For development, you can use any convenient and familiar RAW converter that can batch process images. For example, the popular Adobe Lightroom. In it, you can adjust the white balance, extract details from the shadows, make the sky richer and more contrast.
The main thing is not to forget that corrections should be applied to all frames of the time-lapse. To do this, select a photo with the desired settings, select all the pictures using CTRL + A, and press the Sync Settings button.
An important point: to correct the sky, it is better to use a simple gradient mask, it is easily synchronized between frames. If you use the “smart” sky selection that appeared in the latest versions of Adobe Lightroom, then you will need to re-update the selection for each frame — and this is not so easy to do when there are several hundred of these frames.
After exporting the finished photos, drag them into Adobe Premiere and set their duration to 1 frame.
Creating a new sequence File-New-Sequence / File-New-Sequence.
After that, it remains only to select all the photos and drag them to the timeline. Everything, you can choose a team File-Export media / File-Export-Media content.
If your camera rotates or moves smoothly while shooting a time-lapse, the final video will look more interesting and dynamic. Manually it is difficult to accurately shift the camera by half a millimeter or rotate it by fractions of a degree, all the more impossible to repeat it exactly over and over again. Therefore, during the shooting, special devices are used.
Using the slider when shooting a time lapse
A slider is a rail along which a platform with a camera attached to it moves. There are both manual options (they are designed for video shooting, but not suitable for time-lapse), and sliders, in which the platform is driven by a precise stepper motor.
The slider is well suited for shooting wide-angle time-lapses in which there is something interesting in the foreground: a rocky shore, a dry tree, or a rock fragment. If you are shooting distant mountains on a telephoto, the effect of the slider will be almost invisible, then you need another device, which will be discussed in the next section.
Using a motorized head and electronic stabilizer when shooting time-lapse
The motorized head allows you to rotate the camera to show even more of the surrounding area in the time-lapse.
If you want a more versatile device, you can look at electronic stabilizers. Some of them, such as Zhiyun Tech Weebill‑S, can do the same if you select the time-lapse mode in the application.
It may seem to a not very experienced person that everything described above is very complicated and you can do it much easier: shoot a video and then speed it up in any editing program by 10–20 times.
Indeed, this method is used to create time-lapses, but it is suitable only in a number of special cases. For example, if you need to show the hustle and bustle of a modern city, you can shoot 10–15 minutes of video on a busy street, and then compress it to 10 seconds. Or assembling and decorating a Christmas tree.
But if we want to show the events of several hours or even days in a short video, then the video option will not suit us. Shooting long hours of video is inconvenient for several reasons:
- need a lot of space. For example, 1 minute of 4K video with a bitrate of 100 Mbps will take about 750 MB on a memory card, an hour — already 45 GB, but for 5 hours you will need more than 200 GB. The video editor will also not be happy when all these gigabytes fall on the timeline;
- need a lot of batteries. The camera uses much less energy to take photos. Especially if most of the time she is in standby mode and wakes up once a minute to take a picture. Well, when shooting a video, it constantly wastes energy, and the battery life is usually an hour and a half;
- The video is worse for processing. If you made a mistake with the exposure and allowed overexposure, the details will not be returned in the video. If you make a time lapse from RAW photos, you have a margin for a couple of exposure steps and the ability to work flexibly with highlights, shadows and WB;
- to shoot video, you need a relatively new camera that supports high-quality video recording. At the same time, when shooting a time-lapse from photos, you can use an old camera lying around idle. Special rate of fire and the ability to work with high ISO are not required for this, and a resolution of 10–12 megapixels is quite enough to assemble a time-lapse in 4K resolution.