Time-lapse it!

Of all the new photographic methods and tools that I am infatuated with, time-lapses take the cake. The good news is that time-lapse photography can be very simple. It’s also a great way to talk your spouse into letting you get one of those new mirrorless systems, as they make the best tools for time-lapses. Don't forget you can also rent a camera body and lens from our good friends at Borrowlenses (and get a 10% discount by using code "muenchworkshop")! Whether you have the perfect equipment or not, this intro guide and video will help you achieve a great time-lapse.

Photography can be a complex science and even more mystifying as an art.  No matter where you are in your journey, a specific type of time-lapse can challenge you.  If you are a beginner and have never tried a time-lapse, make your first attempt in the daylight. This will keep the light similar enough to allow you to use the same exposure for all the images in the sequence. If you are more advanced, you may want to try a sunrise or sunset.

The following technical setups for the specific types of scenes will help.

Day time sequences:

  • Manual Mode for exposure. Remember this is as simple as Sunny 16!  This refers to how to calculate the accurate exposure anywhere in the world while the sun is shining: at f/16 your shutter speed matches your ISO. f/16, 200 ISO, 1/200th second exposure will be properly exposed.
  • Manual focus
  • Manual white balance. For daylight, use a white balance of 5000k to 5500k.

Sunrise/sunset sequences:

  • Aperture priority for exposures. You may need to manually alter the ISO and aperture during the course of the drastic light change. If you’re shooting sunrise and start in the night, begin with 1600 ISO at f/2.8 and alter your aperture one stop at a time throughout the dawn until just before the sun crests, at which point make sure you are at least f/11 for the sun star. The ISO should be changed in one stop increments as well until you have reached 200 ISO at sunrise. 
  • Manual focus
  • Auto white balance

Stars/night time sequences:

  • Manual mode for exposure. 3200 ISO, 15 seconds, F2.8 or the maximum aperture of your lens.
  • Manual focus. The best way to focus at night is in live view with enlargement zoomed into 10x.
  • Manual white balance. I find a white balance of 4400 quite pleasing for night.

If you have setup your camera as suggested above, there is one more setting that you need to determine, how many images and what will the interval be.

If you are beginning and shooting a daytime sequence, start with 900 images, 3 sec interval. This will take about 45 minutes to shoot and if you output to the standard of 30 frames per second then you will end up with a 30 second video clip. Keep in mind that the faster the subject moves the shorter the interval should be. For example if you are capturing clouds in the middle of the day that are moving very slow, make your interval longer such as 5 sec. If you are capturing people walking in a city your interval should be closer to 1 sec. 

Equipment:

  • Fully charged battery. If you want to do night sequences, buy a battery grip which holds additional batteries.
  • Intervalometer. This is the device that takes the pictures for you at the chosen interval. Many new cameras such as the Lumix GH3 and Olympus M1 and many Nikon DSLRs have one built in. You can buy specific ones from third parties or even use your smartphone with an app such as “Gorillacam”.
  • Large, empty media card. I recommend 32 to 64 gig cards. Speed is not needed just space.
  • Tripod. Make sure it is not in the way of something during the entire duration. You can see in the video that we love the Benro Travel Tripod for this purpose!

File format:

I shoot in RAW so that I can process the files using Adobe Lightroom. However, if you are beginning, or don’t own Lightroom, simply shoot in JPG and set the resolution to medium. On most cameras, this will be sufficient resolution for HD or 1920x1080 output.

Still to video:

Now that you have all the basic settings for taking the images for your time-lapse here are some tips for processing your images and turning them into a great video clip.

  • Import all the images from one sequence into a separate folder on your hard drive.
  • Open Quicktime Pro 7 for Win/Mac
  • Go to File > open image sequence. Follow the onscreen instructions to output or share your video. I recommend using 30fps.


For those of you who want more control, try one of these two programs/apps:

  • Sequence. I use this most of the time and at $35 it’s a bargain.
  • LRTimelapse is a direct plugin to Adobe Lightroom and costs about $130.

If you are planning on processing your images before creating a video you, need to own Adobe Lightroom. I recommend that you import the folder of images and consider a couple things prior to processing and syncing.

  • Do you want the same white balance for the entire sequence?
  • Do the adjustments you make in the Develop module work on all the images in the entire sequence?

You may have to be very careful with your adjustments, occasionally during a sunrise/sunset sequence the light changes so dramatically that the edits made to one file will not work on the entire sequence.

Advanced Time-Lapse:

If you are become as addicted to creating time-lapses as I am you will want a rail. The rail system I recommend after making my own and owning several others is the one made by Dynamic Perception called “Stage One”. If you want to add more fun, try a pan and tilt head! 

I love doing these so much that I actually own several Lumix Micro 4/3s cameras and tripods just for this purpose. I often set these up for time-lapses and then go off and shoot stills with my Nikon D800. Yes, it takes some time, practice, and equipment but oh, what fun!

Life is short take pictures, and time-lapses!

- Marc