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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Time Collapse

How time-lapse photography led to turning stacks of frames into a single image

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Human Tornado. This "timestack" is made from 340 photos of myself drumming, merged into one image. The interval between shots was 1 second. It was a low-light situation, so I cranked up the ISO to get a quicker shutter speed (1/5 of a second). I had previously tried a longer shutter speed and the drumsticks almost disappeared, so I wanted to see how the faster speed would look. You can clearly see the drumsticks in this one, as I had hoped.


Six Moons Setting. For this one, I selected six photos out of the hundreds I had shot that night. I had first tried it with all the photos, and the moon looked like a curved line across the photo—a little too much—so I decided less is more this time.
During my studies for my Graphic Design diploma, Photography 101 was a required course, and that was the start of my passion for photography. After years of experimenting and just plain having fun, I've found time-lapse to be my favorite form of photography.

It wasn't too long ago that I discovered "star trail" photos. They're most commonly made from multiple photos of stars shot from a fixed position and later merged into one image. After trying this technique a few times, I wondered what it would look like with time-lapse sequences I had shot during the day.

My first few tries produced some interesting results, but looked a little too "busy" or "abstract." A little experimenting with choosing the right sequences and number of shots resulted in exciting images.

Living on the shore of Lake Ontario, just east of Toronto, facing the west, has resulted in quite a library of sunset time-lapses. These were the first subjects of my experimentation with this technique.

I call the images made with this technique "timestacks." To make them, I use a time-lapse sequence as my source. Timestacks are really a distillation of a video into a single picture. The movements of clouds often look like brushstrokes and give the image a painterly feel. It gives you a different perspective of time and a unique sense of motion.


Smeared Sky. Made from 500 photos, this is the first sunset time-lapse I tried the stacking method with. I was surprised with the outcome, but even more so with the feedback. It wasn't long before it went viral. I was getting lots of emails, some asking questions about the technique and others hoping to share it on their website or blog. Milky Way Scientists shared it on their Facebook page, and it got 12,000 likes and 4,000 shares on the first day it was up. I was blown away!
I usually set up time-lapse shoots with the intention of producing a video as the end result. Timestacks are a nice opportunity resulting from the time-lapse sources with the right subject and settings.

My time-lapse sequences are usually multiple photos taken from a fixed position. You can use an external intervalometer to control the camera, or your camera may have that capability built in. If you have a Canon EOS DSLR, you can load software to perform the function. More about that later.

The interval between shots can change the look of the final image quite a bit. The shorter the interval between shots, the smoother the movements will look. I usually shoot in the range of 3 to 6 seconds during the day. I load my photos onto the computer and open the first one in Photoshop, making adjustments for color and contrast while recording my actions so I can apply them to all the photos. I highly recommend using an automated process for this, as it will save you time, but mainly a lot of tedious work.

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