Using time-lapse photography, you can produce videos that are able to show the world in a way in which the human eye doesn’t ordinarily see. Plants can grow in mere seconds, a sun can rise above a city in moments, and you can see a complete day unfold in less than a minute.
Because of one of the more extraordinary advancements in camera technology—the ever increasing speed of image burst rates—creating a time-lapse video can be as simple as holding down the shutter and editing the images into a short video. Making a skilled time-lapse project that’s able to engage an audience and stand out above the crowd, however, can take some patience, some planning and a bit of know-how. But there has never been a better time to learn, especially since so many of the best time-lapse videos are ending up as popular viral videos that have been seen by thousands of viewers.
I’m always looking for compositions that are full of action, color and visual drama. With experience, it becomes intuitive. If something moves me enough to pull out my phone and capture it, then I’ll probably return to that spot for a time-lapse.
Sometimes I want to shoot places that are out of my reach. I may be at an event or restaurant that has a view that can be accessed only with the owner’s permission. I’ve been known to chat up a waitress—not for her number, but to get a boss’ name to look up. Or, I’ll find a business card or brochure and email the company. In the email, I include links to examples of time-lapse photography and offer to provide HD copies of what I shoot at their site. I was ignored a lot in the beginning, but over time, I got more and more green lights. Pretty soon, I had enough time-lapses to create a promo that I now use as a skeleton key. It has opened many doors.
When preparing for a time-lapse, I format my memory cards, set my camera to manual, turn off the autofocus on the lens and set the image size to medium JPEG. There have been times when I’ve forgotten to do this and used up a sizable chunk of space because I shot the time-lapse in RAW. I shoot in medium JPEG because the image size is big enough to export a 1080p HD file without losing quality. If I were shooting for film or a high-end production, I’d choose RAW for a higher-quality video. Otherwise, RAW takes up too much space.
IN THE FIELD
Once the equipment is prepared, I head out to each location in order of proximity with an idea of what I want to capture. For my New York time-lapse video, for instance, I created a shot list and carried it around with me. Tip: I found it helpful to have a printed hard copy that I could make notes on. I also created a digital PDF version for my mobile device in case I lost or forgot the hard copy.
I have learned to always have a Plan B. I may get to my destination, and the shot I need might not be there—maybe it’s too cloudy or not cloudy enough, for example. If the clouds don’t cooperate, then I set out to capture crowds, for instance.
Keep your shot stable and use a tripod. The first major challenge of time-lapse photography is people, myself included. If someone even brushes up against my tripod, I’m going to have to start over. If I’m capturing people, I stand with my feet apart to guard from someone accidentally kicking it. If it’s windy, I hang my gear bag from the hook under the center of my tripod for stability.
|Amon Focus’ Toolbox|
Canon EOS 5D Mark II
Canon EF 24-70mm ƒ/2.8L USM
Canon TC-80N3 Timer Remote Control
Vanguard Alta+ 224CP Carbon Fiber Travel Tripod with PH-22 Head
The second big challenge is weather: the wind, sun and clouds. With the wind, you never really know how hard it’s blowing until your camera shakes. Because I shoot in manual, I have to be very aware of what the sun is doing or I’ll find myself with an over- or underexposed shot. Also, the exposure changes drastically depending on whether or not the clouds are covering the sun, and the sun and clouds never stop moving.
You can save hours of postproduction by simply setting a custom white balance. Since I shoot JPEG files in manual mode, it’s important to get the shots correct directly on the camera instead of trying to color-correct later.
All other photography rules apply with time-lapse, too; you’re just adding the element of time. For crowd shots, I shoot at one- or two-second intervals. (An interval is the amount of time between shots.) For slow-moving clouds, I’ll shoot at three- to seven-second intervals, depending on their speed. Fast-moving clouds generally require a one-second interval.
The interval length affects how long I’ll spend capturing a scene. Examples: One-second intervals for 10 minutes (600 shots) will give me 25 seconds of video at 24 frames per second. Two-second intervals for 10 minutes (300 shots) will give me 12.5 seconds of video at 24 frames per second. If I want blur in what I’m capturing, I’ll use a slower shutter speed. This is something that I experiment with until I get it to my liking.
My editing process is pretty basic, but organization is crucial. The first thing that I do when I get home from a shoot is dump the images from the cards into the current project’s folder. Next, I sort the photos into separate folders labeled by location. Within the project folder, I’ll create a single folder called "Exports." This is where I send all the files I create in QuickTime Pro.
To sequence my photos into a time-lapse, I open QuickTime Pro and go to File > Open Image Sequence. From there, I’ll find the first image in the specific location folder. Once the image is selected, QuickTime Pro gives the option to choose a frame rate. I always choose 24 frames per second for the cinematic look it provides.
Once the time-lapse is created, you still have to export an editable video file for a nonlinear edit on more complicated programs (i.e., Avid, Final Cut Pro, Premiere, etc.). My export settings are Apple ProRes 422 (HQ), 1920×1080.
I do all my color corrections or colo
r grading in either Final Cut Pro or Adobe After Effects. For basic grading such as levels or curves, I use Final Cut Pro; for major corrections, I use Adobe After Effects.
I don’t choose a song for the audio until I have a decent archive of usable time-lapses. If I have only one minute’s worth of usable clips, then I’ll edit the audio to match. I’m very particular when it comes to choosing clips and I spend a lot of time deliberating and analyzing aesthetics. The key for me is brutal self-honesty—to know when I’ve created something that’s just okay versus something genuinely compelling. It’s challenging, but I improve with every completed clip.
Camera remotes with interval-timer capabilities like the Hahnel Giga T Pro II are ideal for creating time-lapse videos, allowing you to set a program that determines the delay between shots, number of shots and total duration. The Giga T Pro II is available for Nikon, Sony, Canon and Olympus cameras, with a Panasonic variant coming soon. Estimated Street Price: $99. Contact: Hahnel, www.hahnel.ie.
Amon Focus’ Time Lapse Videos