Timelapse videos have become somewhat clichéd these days with an increasing number of photographers doing it. Timelapse sequences that have taken more than two years in their making are not rare to hear. These videos have raised the bar in terms of sheer commitment and of course the results that they have achieved. Timelapse is essentially all about capturing motion by joining a series of still images shot over a period of time and making a video out of it. It is the same thing as when we shoot a video but in this case the images are shot with a gap between them so that when they are joined together as one uniform video everything tends to move quicker.
One question that beginner timelapse photographers ask is which lens is ideally suitable for the purpose of shooting time lapses. This is more of a personal choice than anything else. A lot of photographers who shoot timelapses tend to use their landscape lenses (wide angle lenses). Urban photographers or for that matter those who shoot mostly with zoom lenses tend to make do with what they have and often get fantastic results with those lenses too. Start with whatever you have; you don’t want to get into the trap of having to invest heavily at the start. If I were to recommend a lens then the 16-35mm is a good one to begin with. Canon makes an excellent 16-35mm L lens.
The camera that you choose can be anything that has a good noise correction feature (especially if you plan on shooting timelapse in lowlight condition) and allows you to set exposure manually. Most modern SLRs fit the profile as do the Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens cameras.
Another small piece of gear that you need is an intervalometer. These connects to your camera and automates the process of taking images after the lapse of the time interval. A number of modern DSLRs come with a built-in intervalometer. Check whether your DSLR has this feature too.
Tripods are, beyond doubt an important requirement for shooting timelapses. Setting your camera up on a wall, a bean bag or even a ledge may work in terms of stabilization but it would narrow your options in terms of the shooting angle.
While wide-angle lenses do tend to give you a greater much more sweeping coverage of the vista, they are also prone to distortion towards the edges. When composing your images you have to take care of this factor. When composing you also need to make a decision as to how much of the scene you are going to actually, incorporate in the frame. There will be elements in the frame that are potentially distracting. Compose tight so as to eliminate those elements out of the shot. A zoom lens may be a better bet in such situations compared to a prime and especially when you cannot zoom with your feet.
If you are shooting in an urban environment you can use a prime lens as there are much more options to zoom with your feet than when you are shooting standing on a ledge somewhere in the middle of nowhere. We will try and cover some more interesting things on zooming and time-lapsing when we discuss hyper-lapse in a later article.
Still on the topic of composition and framing, the angle that you decide to shoot from is an important factor that decides the outcome of your effort. Like everything else in photography there is no one rule that works in every situation. You may want to shoot pointing your camera up, or down or level with your subject depending on what’s going through your mind at the given moment. You will need to assess and then decide which angle to shoot from on the spot. But feel free to experiment and think out of the box.
One of the most important aspect of shooting timelapses are the exposure settings that you are going to use. One of the key exposure settings is the shutter speed that you use. Shutter speed can be slow or fast depending on what you intend to shoot. But know this, at a faster shutter speed, you are likely to get a lot of jitter than when you shoot at slower shutter speed. Depending on what you are shooting and whether or not there is a lot of motion, start at 1/30 and then slowly work your way to a faster or slower shutter speed as per requirement. During the nights slower shutter speeds can be achieved easily as there is not enough ambient light to risk over-exposing the images. However, during days you will need to use a neutral density filter in order to achieve this.
The other settings that you need to incorporate into your camera are switching off the review option on your camera. This consumes a lot of battery and you don’t want to run out of power in the middle of a shoot. When you have locked focus, switch to manual focusing so that the camera does not hunt for focus in between shots. You will also need to switch off image stabilization because the camera will needlessly try to stabilize for a non-existent jitter otherwise.
You need to also note another thing. Depending on how long the final time-lapse sequence you want to be you will need to determine how many images you require. A good place to start is calculating the number of frames. A basic smooth video requires 24 frames per second (fps). If you want the video to last 10 seconds, you need 240 frames. If the gap between each shot is to be 2 seconds, you will have to shoot over a period of just about 8 minutes.
There is an interesting debate between RAW and JPEG and whether or not either format is better than the other. In either way you will have to convert your images to JPEG for transforming them to a video file. If you shoot in RAW you have a lot more in terms of leeway when shooting as you can correct your images for white balance, exposure and salvage a lot more detail in general later on in post-processing than you could with JPEG images.
During post-processing and assuming that you have shot in RAW, there are two main things to do. First, you will need to do some color and exposure correction and then convert everything into a video file so that you can play it on a computer or tablet etc.
You don’t always need to have the most advanced software to do color correction and exposure correction. Both Canon and Nikon provides a CD with their DSLR cameras that comes pre-loaded with an image editing software. That’s good enough for most types of color corrections, exposure adjustments and conversion of RAW files into JPEGs. Most will allow you to just make the adjustments to the first image of the time-lapse series and then replicate the effects to the remaining images using a copy to all command.
Once the images are converted to jpeg you need convert them to a video file. There are a number of free software available on the internet to allow you to do that. You could alternately opt to buy a paid software as well for additional features. If the post-processing work becomes too daunting or comes between you and your creativity you could outsource the work to one of our professional image editors on Phowd.