How to Photograph a Timelapse Sequence

Equipment, speed, duration: there are plenty of things you have to keep in mind when working with timelapse photography. While there are a variety of tips and tricks for this innovative form of photography, by following a few simple steps you can bring your timelapse videos to a whole new dimension. Whether you’re trying to learn the basics or just looking for a few pointers, B&H provides several important considerations for shooting a timelapse in this helpful tutorial:

1. Have the Necessary Equipment

As with any photography project, before you can begin you have to sort out what gear you will require. First and foremost, you will need a camera (surprise, surprise), but it’s up to you the type of camera used. For instance, many video cameras now offer a timelapse mode. However, many photographers tend to use a DSLR camera. Other important equipment to you will need includes:

  • an intervalometer: a device used to automatically trigger the camera’s shutter at a specific interval of time. It is used for precision timing for the duration of the timelapse. (Many cameras now have intervalometers built-in, so check your equipment before going out to purchase a new one.)
  • a stable base: A stable base is essential to a great timelapse. You can use a tripod or monopod. For those feeling adventurous, try adding a more dynamic movement by utilizing motorized sliders and heads for precisely timed movements.
  • variable neutral density filter: This allows you to shoot at a slower shutter speed to provide a more pleasing level of motion blur.
  • high capacity memory card

2. Pick an Interval

Timelapse revolves around shooting intervals, and it can be very tricky to master. In order to create the perfect timelapse video, you need to think about two things: duration and speed.

chase, kubasiak, proper, interval, equations

Chase recommends using these helpful equations to determine the right interval for your timelapse.

Duration is the length of time you want the end product to last; and speed corresponds to how fast you want the playback on your video. For example, the tutorial video is playing back at 24 frames per seconds. Therefore, if you chose an interval of one frame per second, you would be compressing 24 seconds of realtime into one second of playback, while a longer interval (say one frame every five seconds) would change two minutes of time into one second of playback. In other words, the longer you space out your shots, the faster your timelapse will appear during playback, and the faster it will play through a given action.

motion, blur, chase, kubasiak, timelapse

Motion Blur Shutter Speed Comparison

3. Motion Blur

Shutter speed is a vital component in timelapse photography. The longer your shutter speed, the more motion blur you will have within the frame. While standard speeds and frame rates can create a more natural looking motion blur; it isn’t always enough. In fact, after you space out your frames and compress them for the timelapse, standard shutter speeds can often create a choppy stop motion style appearance. To avoid this, you need will need to increase your shutter speeds.

A good rule of thumb to follow is to drag the shutter. To use this technique, you choose a shutter speed half the duration of your frame rate. For instance, if you’re capturing one frame every four seconds, you want a shutter speed of two seconds. While dragging the shutter may not create the exact look you’re trying to achieve, it generally offers a great starting off point.

4. The Holy Grail Technique

Any timelapse that goes from either day-to-night or night-to-day is often called The Holy Grail, due to the beauty and difficulty of this technique. While there are several options you can use to try to capture this amazing timelapse style, Chase recommends using Aperture Priority Mode or the preferred Manual Mode method.

Aperture Priority Mode

With Aperture Priority Mode, you set the lens’s aperture and allow your camera to create a constant by automatically adjusting its own shutter speed. Typically, the wider the aperture used, the better; closed apertures require a very long exposure time to get adequate lighting for your frame.

While Aperture Priority Mode does provide more ease for the photographer, it also comes with plenty of drawbacks. Most importantly, the camera’s inability to perfectly adjust itself. For example, any new changes made in the frame lighting can cause the camera to drastically alter the exposure levels between frames. Depending upon the shutter speed used, it could end up creating a choppy looking playback with little (to no) motion blur.

Manual Mode

Manual mode is typically more effective than Aperture Priority Mode. This method requires you to manually change the exposure during setup and use editing software for post production to smoothly adjust the exposure and remove any flicker. The downfall to this option is  that it’s riskier (due to physically interacting with the camera) and requires more attention to achieve.

What other things should a beginning timelapse photographer consider?

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