Time Lapse Photography
Time lapse photography can be a fun way of seeing things that is different from how we normally see them. We can watch events unfold in seconds or minutes that might have taken hours, days or even longer to happen. Time lapse video enables us to view something sped up. There are essentially 2 ways of doing time lapse photography: using still images or from “normal” video which has been sped up. We will look at examples of both.
Time lapse photography from stills
One way of creating a time lapse or hyperlapse is from still images. You will need quite a long series of photos as you will need a few frames for each second of video. The smoother you want your video to be, the more frames you will need. Normally, when shooting video on a DSLR, there are between 30-60 frames per second. However, you don’t need that many frames to make this type of video work. You can often get away with about 5 frames per second. The number of images you shoot will be influenced by the number of frames per second you want your final sequence to have. Also, it will depend on the subject and the length of time needed to cover the event. Some things happen over the course of a few minutes, others take hours. You also need to bear in mind how fast changes are likely to happen. Just remember that if, for example, you want 5 frames per second and are recording 1 frame every 2 minutes you need to shoot for 100 minutes to get 50 frames for 10 seconds of video.
Set up your shot as if you were just taking one single frame. You need to get the exposure balanced and have the appropriate depth of field for your subject. To ensure that there is no unwanted movement in the frame it is vital to use a tripod or other stable surface. If you are shooting over a long period then I would suggest that you use Auto-ISO or Aperture Priority Mode. This allows for changes in the ambient light. I tend to prefer Auto-ISO as this keeps the exposure length the same each time so you don’t get blurred movement in your images. Once you have set up the focus it is a good idea to switch to manual focus. This ensures that your camera won’t change the focus at all between shots. Depending on your camera, you may find you have a couple of different options for shooting your sequence of frames. One option that many DSLRs have is an Interval Timer. This allows you to set up how far apart each frame is taken and how many frames are shot. You can then simply leave the camera to do its thing once you have set it up. Another option on some cameras is to let the camera create the time lapse video for you. In this instance you can specify how it will put them together in a video for you. With this method you do not have all the separate image files at the end – only the video created by the camera. You can even shoot a time lapse using your mobile phone. For example, see this article on time lapse photography using your iPhone. If you cannot find an automatic function on your camera then you will need to take the shots yourself. Do not forget to use a timer to keep a good rhythm to the shots.
Here are 2 videos showing flowers opening. Each was shot over about a 1 hour period. The cactus flower time lapse was shot at 1 image every 2 minutes. The fuchsia was shot at one image every minute.
One very common subject for time lapse photography is clouds. They can look quite dramatic, especially if they are already moving at a reasonable pace when you photograph them. They can be one of the easiest subjects to start with as well. All you need to do is set up your camera on a tripod and aim it out the window!
Once you have your series of images you can then create your video. One way to do this is by dropping all the images into Adobe Premiere Elements. It will then sequence them as a video for you. If you want to change the speed then you can use the time stretch function. Other software such as Star Trails can also create a video for you from the images.
Time lapse photography from video
Another method is to shoot video as normal and then speed it up. This can be more memory intensive for your camera as you may need to record long sequences. It is not really practical for sequences that take hours or days to film. But, it can work well for just a few minutes.
This next video is a time lapse of part of a studio shoot with model Amy Beven. This was shot as a normal video and then sped up in Adobe Premiere Elements using the Time Stretch tool.
For a time lapse sequence to be effective, it is generally best for it to show life in a way that is quite different from how you normally perceive it. In other words, only speeding things up slightly may not be an interesting enough effect. Extreme time lapse photography or “hyperlapse” photography can often work best. That way you are seeing something at a completely different speed to how it would normally appear. It does, of course, mean that you need to shoot for longer. Many of the best time lapse videos take many hours to record. The best method for these long sequences is using stills. The amount of video you would need would otherwise be vast.
© Joe Lenton, June 2015