If you’re a keen amateur photographer or even a pro and want to have a go at timelapse photography and timelapse filmmaking, I’ve listed some top tips to help you get started. It takes time to learn how to make the amazing timelapse videos some professionals have put online, but, for simpler applications, and just to get you started, I’m going to give you ten top tips for beginners. Here goes…
1. If you have a camera with a built in intervalometer (timer) that’s great. If not, you’ll need to go shopping to buy an intervalometer. They are more commonly called ‘remote control triggers’ nowadays. But just make sure they have an ‘intervalometer’ function; that is a function that allows you to set up to take images at pre-set intervals. There’s no use recommending any particular intervalometers or remote devises here, as it really depends on what camera you have. But a bit of research should give you some ideas of which one may be best for you. Before you get started properly, get to know the intervalometer and what it can do.
2. Timing is all-important. Like a good comedian, a good timelapse photographer must get his/her timing right! The most common error for all timelapse newbies is setting unrealistic intervals between exposures. If the intervals are too long, you wont have sufficient frames to do an edit. It is better in some ways if you have too many (as you can always ‘lose’ some). Just be aware that too many may mean your camera will have problems with processing. Plus, you don’t necessarily want to work the shutter on your camera too much! Setting the interval time between exposures is something that will come with practice and experience. You end up getting an instinct for it. But, there are a couple things to bear in mind: a) think how long you want the timelapse sequence to last, and b) hold in mind that your edit will be sequenced at around 25 fps (frames per second). Think! You’ll have to get 25 exposures / frames for 1 second of sequence. Someone once asked us to take 4 frames over 24 hours for a week and edit a timelapse sequence for them—until we pointed out that the ‘sequence’ would only run for a fraction over 1 second!
3. Camera settings are important, and these all depend on the type of timelapse and the various factors involved. It can get quite complex. To get started, just set the camera on AV (aperture value), set your f-stop modestly to around f/4 and just a few hundred on your ISO (we don’t want noisy images). This should give you a nice balance between controlling your camera and letting your camera decide some things for itself.
4. Get a tripod. It may sound obvious. But we’ve seen people trying to do timelapse by perching a camera precariously somewhere where it can easily be knocked. Remember, timelapse photography and filmmaking only works by getting images that are captured from exactly the same fixed position. If you see a sequence edited together from frames that are different—because of camera movement—you’ll see the whole sequence shaking and wobbling! No good! A tripod locked into position will give your camera a nice stable platform.
5. Get a decent size memory card. It may sound obvious again, but it’s another common error. As the proverb says, “You have to cut your cloth according to your coat.” Take a test image. What is the file size? Now multiply this by the number of images you’ll be taking. Is your card big enough? No? Then you’ll need to either the following or a combination of the following: a) get a bigger card, b) reduce the file size (quality) of your captures, c) do a card-swap at necessary intervals (taking care not to knock your camera). The real experts may output to an external storage device. They may insist on bringing their images in HD (high definition) and creating HD timelapse movies, but I’m trying to keep things simple for you here!
6. Be aware of power issues. Again, if you are timelapsing using a camera with a single battery, you’ll need to be aware that it will run out relatively quickly. You’ll know how quickly if you know your camera. To solve, you can use a battery grip to extend the time you have, or even better, get an AC adapter and plug your camera into the mains!
7. Do indoor projects first. You can control your environment and the lighting this way. Outdoors, you potentially face greater challenges: the weather, changes in light, away from power sources, and so on. We know people who have wrecked very expensive DSLRs by leaving them unprotected and not noticing it’s been raining!
8. Stick to things that won’t take too long to capture at first. What about an ice cube melting, for a really short timelapse? Then, as you become more ambitious and experienced, you could always progress to cress seeds growing or an indoor potted flower opening. A simple favorite is to deprive an indoor plant of water for a while, then water it and timelapse its recovery! Another great one is to place a white flower in water, add food coloring to the water, and timelapse the nice effect of the color climbing up the flower as it drinks.
9. You have all your images. It’s time for the edit. What? You can’t edit? Well, that’s fine. Although again, the experts put their images through a number of processes in post production, we are keeping things simple. And what surprises most people is that there is a simple way to edit. It won’t be anywhere near as good as what the experts do—in fact, the experts wouldn’t really call it editing strictly. However, it works for our purposes. The secret is throwing your images into one of the applications that just auto-sequence them together. I can’t mention any of them here, but do your research.
10. I said there were ten tips, so here is the tenth. Get your work out there, share it. Look at what others have done, join a forum, swap tips, practice, and above all, have fun getting started with timelapse photography.
About the Author
Time Lapse Systems provide Time Lapse Photography solutions for the leisure, construction, and security industries. We have experience in shooting both short and long term time lapse footage and editing for use on either DVD or the Web.
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