Moving Time-lapse Photography Tutorial

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Time-lapse photography has always been a magic process where time is condensed and the familiar process of time experience is dramatically changed. Processes such as plants growing, a building being constructed, or an entire city changing through the cycle of a day and night, have become the subject of creative, expressive videos or films. Once you master time-lapses where the camera is stationary, you might wonder how professionals create sequences where the camera moves through a scene. These tutorial videos offer some helpful clues:

Many motion dollies are hitting the market now as time-lapses grow in popularity and these videos show how to use one such dolly called the Stage Zero and MX2 DollyEngine from Dynamic Perception, a portable system designed to assist photographers and videographers to create time lapse photos and videos that are smooth and glitch free. The video goes through the steps of using the rail system for movement.

At the start of the video, the machine is already partially assembled with components attached to the six foot rail. There is a different assembly video on the Dynamic Perception website that shows how to assemble the motor, cart and belt. These items are ready to go in the hands-on video, as it shows the photographer attaching the rail to the matched pair of tripods for support, using quick release plates commonly found on video heads.

Once the system was assembled, the video showed the steady, smooth motion provided by the engine and precise control via the digital controls. The photographer states the noise of the engine could be a factor in creating video. In every case it is best to set up your camera in manual mode or semi-manual mode so that the camera does not keep trying to focus or adjust the exposure during the time-lapse. Changes in focus and exposure can cause some unwanted effects and interrupt the smooth flow of the finished images.

In continuous motion mode, the motor moves the camera smoothly along the rail without stopping. The video outlines a method for calculating correct setting for the speed of the motor to get the effect you want. The resulting settings were achieved with the digital control system. The second video covers “shoot move shoot” mode (SMS). In the SMS mode the motor will move the camera, activate the shutter, then move the camera again; the length of the pause time can be set with the control.

This second hands-on video shows how to create Shoot Move Shoot (also known as Interleave) time-lapses using the same equipment. The demonstrator explained, “Shoot, move shoot is better for long exposures and long intervals while continuous mode will give better results with short exposures and short intervals.” He used the example of astronomical photography for SMS mode and 24 fps video in continuous mode.

Next, the video showed how to change the mode to SMS. There are two SMS (interleaved) modes available, fixed and calculated. Fixed is recommended for beginning users and the video walked though the steps required to set it up. Once in SMS mode the display main screen will not show speed, but reads distance in inches per shot. After a reminder about manual mode settings on the camera, the video gives detailed instructions on how to calculate the different settings required. This includes a useful technical explanation of setting exposure time to give your camera sufficient time to process and save each image on to the memory card, so shots are not missed during the time lapse.

Exposure Time + Exposure Delay + Motor Move = Movement Interval

How to avoid moving the camera during an exposure is the next topic: The formula of Exposure Time + Exposure Delay + Motor Move = Movement Interval is given and explained. The MX2 programming instructions to enter these first three values are very complete and the engine has been pre-programmed to set the minimum movement interval. The minimum movement interval calculates the input, then will only go to the minimum setting that will give a good result, but the photographer is free to set the interval to a longer time amount.

As time-lapse videos continue to capture the amazement of viewers, production efforts are growing. Adding motion has been a key element in the success of many popular artists such as Terje Sorgjerd who is currently traveling the world producing a nature series of landscape time-lapses.

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5 Comments

  1. I have always enjoyed doing time lapses, because they make me think about the entire sequences instead of still frames

  2. mudpaws says:

    oh this is so cool i have always wanted to learn how to do the time laps ; thx for this vid on it :)

  3. bycostello says:

    great tutorial, gonna try..well as soon as it stops raining!

  4. Brian says:

    Were can I get the Stage zero dolly and the MX2 engine?

  5. Mark says:

    One of the best tutorials for this I have seen want to buy but will have to build tills have the funds but will defo be saving up now

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