Time lapse video is often seen as something that is easy to capture, but difficult to get right. When you’re trying to predict the future, there are many things that can go wrong.
Most people will tell you that practice is key, but with the following short 15 tips, I’ll help you to dramatically reduce that learning curve.
These are all easy to use tips, that you can implement today.
Create buttery smooth sequences with a 0.3” shutter
You might think that you should just select an appropriate shutter speed for the light levels.. but you’d be wrong. Different shutter speeds can have a HUGE impact on how your final time lapse looks.
If you have
I created a short video to demonstrate this:
Each situation is unique, but after capturing millions of images I have found a good ‘go-to’ setting.
It works great for fast and slow-moving objects in your
Avoid jerky time lapse videos by using ND filters
You can’t always control the light levels or nail that 0.3” exposure without some help. That’s where neutral density filters come in to save the day.
Neutral density (ND) filters block out some of the light hitting the camera sensor, without changing the colour or tones of the image. With them you can use longer exposures without over-exposing your images.
My recommendations? At first buy a variable filter, then add a 6-stop and a 10-stop filter. That will cover you for 99% of all lighting situations out there where you may need an ND filter.
Make sure to buy high-quality filters, as cheap ones can destroy image quality and add colour casts to your images which are hard to remove.
My go-to brand is Formatt-Hitech, as I have found that they produce minimal colour cast, and don’t affect the image sharpness.
Creating captivating sequences by focussing on motion or change
Time lapse sequences can often end up looking quite plain and boring. The composition might be great, but nothing really happens in the sequence… By focussing on motion or change, you can make every sequence a keeper.
It’s quite simple to make a time lapse interesting. You just capture something interesting happening.
‘Motion’ refers to the movement of just about anything. Cars, clouds, people, shadows, stars, rivers, parades.. you get the idea.
‘Change’ refers to things changing. The weather, seasons, things being built, a driveway being powerwashed, etc.
If you’re thinking of starting a time lapse, ask yourself “will anything move, or change?” The more movement and change you can capture in a sequence, generally the more interesting it will become.
Time lapse works best when you are capturing something that is normally invisible to the naked eye. If you start to think outside the box, then the possibilities are limitless.
Prevent aperture flicker with the lens twist
The biggest enemy of time lapse video is flicker. This is where the exposure changes between shots, making it look like your shot was captured in a disco. By preventing it in-camera, you make post-production effortless.
Each time the aperture opens and closes, it changes by a very tiny amount. What you think might be f5.6 could actually be f5.634 or f5.594
In normal photography you would barely notice the difference. But in time lapse we are stacking hundreds of frames side by side, and any inconsistencies become obvious.
If you have a lens with a manual aperture dial, great! This will solve the problem instantly.
If not, there is another soution. You can try a method called the ‘lens twist’. I’ll explain it to you, step by step. This method works great on Canon
- Select your aperture of choice
- Hold down the DOF preview button
- Press the lens release button, and twist the lens off slightly (15 degrees or so), so that the lens no longer communicates with your camera
Voila! The lens should be locked at whatever aperture you set it at before.
Be careful when moving your camera around as the lens will now be slightly loose on the camera and could fall off.
Note: If you are using longer exposures for your time lapses (such as 0.3” or longer), the lens twist method isn’t really necessary.
Use a crystal ball to predict the future
With time lapse video taking anything from a few minutes to a few years to capture, it’s important that you are able to predict the future. There are many factors that could ruin a shot, costing you time and energy to re-shoot it.
We can’t all have a crystal ball to help, but with a few simple steps we can maximise our chances of success.
- Check multiple weather forecasts – a single forecast is often not accurate enough. Check multiple and take
a bestguess from the results
- Study the environment – pay attention to your surroundings. Are there any bus stops. Might people all be leaving work at a certain time? Are there particular events happening (such as people leaving a theatre).
- Check google traffic – if you want to estimate how much traffic will be on a road at any time, use google maps and plot a route along the road. You can then change the time of day and it will estimate how busy the road will be.
- Use apps to know the exact sunset/sunrise time, and also where it will hit the horizon (more on that in the next tip).
Use technology to do the legwork for you
As I mentioned in the last tip, time lapse is all about predicting the future. Luckily, you can use certain apps to help maximise your chances of success.
Here is a short selection of apps that I use to aid time lapse photography:
The Photographers Ephemeris
TPE allows you quickly and easily calculate the sun position, and moon phases. It gives you details such as sunset/sunrise, moon phases, position of the sun/moon in the sky at any particular time, and so on. You can also view a map of light pollution, to get an idea of where is best to see the night sky nearby. Some of the functions work offline too – perfect if you’re out in the wilderness!
Sun seeker is another app for plotting the position of the sun at any time of the day. It offers benefits over TPE, such as an augmented reality view showing the sun position.
Time lapse calculator
There are a few simple calculations you need to use before starting a
Increase chances of success by overshooting
If you’re capturing an amazing time lapse and your camera stops clicking just as the action starts to get really exciting, then you’ve shot yourself in the foot. Luckily this is easy to prevent by capturing as much data as possible.
If you know that you only need a 5 second sequence for the edit, consider shooting twice as long.
There have been many occasions where I have captured something magnificent, purely because I left the camera running longer than I thought I needed to.
I know some of you might not want to ‘wear out your camera’. But remember, cameras are tools for creating art. With most camera shutters lasting to well over 150,000 shots, you don’t need to worry very much. And worst-case scenario, the cost of a new shutter is often only a few hundred pounds.
Lock down your camera to reduce post-production
Unintentional camera movement is another huge enemy for time lapsers. It can cause major work to fix in post-production – or worse, destroy the sequence completely. With the right gear you can prevent the problem from rearing its ugly head.
The simple idea is to get a strong and sturdy tripod. Buy the best you can possibly afford, as it will have a huge impact on how stable your camera is.
A rough rule of thumb is to spend 15% of your cameras worth on the tripod. £2000 camera? Buy a £300 tripod.
If a few of your images are blurry, there is no way to save them.. no matter how good your post-production skills are.
Match a high-end video camera by capturing photos
There’s a bit of a con that has been going on for years in the world of time lapse video. Capturing photographs to make videos.
Video cameras are designed to capture many moments in time, one after the other. Video can often be filmed at 24 frames per second, which means there are 24 individual images for every one second of realtime.
That means that hardware becomes a big limiting factor. Large processing power is required to keep up with the sheer data load.
But, if a stills camera is capturing one frame every few seconds? Most modern cameras are capable of that. So rather than capture time lapse as video, try using stills instead.
Maximise your cameras potential with RAW
Modern cameras are able to capture imagery that not even the naked eye can see. Yet tons of people don’t harness the full potential of their cameras. And all it takes is changing one simple setting.
Change your camera from capturing in JPEG, to RAW. How to do this will vary across camera manufactures, but often it is a simple case of going to the main menu, looking for ‘file format’ (or similar), and selecting ‘RAW’.
RAW photos capture the maximum possible amount of information for your camera, and allow a whole host of options in post-production. Set the wrong white balance? No problem! Want to change your exposure a little? Easy!
Create perfect sequences by setting your camera to manual (turn off IS and AF)
Remember how I mentioned that flicker can cause tons of problems for your time lapses? If you allow your camera to automatically decide any settings, you are introducing potential causes of flicker. This can be very time-consuming to fix, yet it only takes a few seconds to prevent.
The simple solution is to set your camera to full manual mode, and turn off anything that is automated. Turn off image stabilisation, auto focus, auto iso, auto white balance, auto aperture, auto exposure..
Any time that the camera is allowed to think for itself, it could choose an incorrect setting and ruin your sequence.
Cameras will often have a setting called manual mode. When you select this, it will allow you to manually set each of the camera’s exposure settings. The ISO, aperture, and exposure. Adjust these to your scene as necessary. Also manually set the white balance to a fixed value.
Next, turn off image stabilisation, auto focus and noise reduction.
With these settings all changed, your camera should now be under your full control.
Easily organise your images with in-camera folders
Each time lapse sequence has to be individually edited and treated, which is hard to do if all the photos are dumped into one folder. Maybe you enjoy manually sorting images out… but for the rest of us who don’t, there is a very simple fix.
Each time you start a new timel apse sequence, create a new in-camera folder for that set of images.
On a canon DSLR this is achieved by going to: ‘menu’ -> ‘select folder’ -> ‘create new folder’ -> ‘ok’
On a sony got to: ‘menu’ -> ‘new folder’ -> ‘ok’ Then ‘select rec folder’ -> folder you just created
I personally delete any test frames as I am shooting, so that each folder contains only the time lapse sequence.
This saves time in post-production, and makes organising and sorting your images a LOT easier.
Note: not every camera has this feature, but those that do are worth their weight in gold.
Remove creative blocks by having an end-goal in mind
When people start capturing time lapse photography for the first time, they will often point the camera up at the sky and shoot the clouds moving past. This can be great for learning the mechanics of shooting time lapse, but it can be boring to watch back.
You then create a new problem, what should you shoot? The trick is to start with an end-goal in mind and work
Rather than thinking about how to create a single interesting sequence, think about creating a few sequences that tie together into a narrative.
For example, you could tell the story of baking bread through time lapse. Then straight away you know that you might want a shot of mixing ingredients, one of neading,
Or you may decide to showcase your local area through the medium. Instantly you can start planning which locations nearby might look interesting, what times of day would be best to visit them, and so forth.
You can take it one step further by even having the music in mind when out shooting. This will help you to focus on getting the right shots, and not just any shots.
Speed up your workflow with batch processing
Project management with time lapse can often cause HUGE headaches if done incorrectly. When you’re dealing with tens of thousands of raw photos, even the best of computers will take a long time to process them.
Simple jobs such as creating video files can then consume hours, which is time you could have used elsewhere. But if you work smarter, not harder, you can overcome this hurdle.
When you start with thousands of images, the first thing to do is process them into video files. These can then be used in your edit to create some magic.
A full post-workflow would be too much information for this post, but the basic idea is to process everything in chunks. Rather than edit each
Repeating the same task back to back will help too. For example, edit the raw files for all of your sequences, before importing them into after effects, then do all the cropping or other adjustments in one go.
Don’t use the highlights/shadow slider
It can be oh so tempting to use the highlights and shadows sliders when editing raw images from time lapse photography. But, these can have a negative effect on your images.
Like I mentioned earlier, flicker is a huge headache for time lapsers. By using the highlights and shadows sliders in camera raw, you can end up creating a strobe like effect on your sequences.
The easiest way to conquer this – use the tone curve instead. This will provide similar results, but won’t affect the end sequence negatively.
Remember, getting all of the little details right is important when capturing
You don’t need to try and implement all of the tips right away, just pick one or two and try it out. After all
If you have any questions about the tips, or have any killer time lapse tips of your own, let me know in the comments below.
I often get asked how much time lapse photography I can capture in a normal day. The simple answer – anything from 1 to 30. There are many different styles of time lapse from locked off tripod shots to vast sweeping moves.
Each of these disciplines requires different equipment and take varying lengths of time to capture. I will briefly describe each of the different time lapse styles and how many sequences you could expect in a typical day.
For the sake of simplicity, each example given will be based on capturing a busy city with minimal location changes between shots. When the locations are further apart the amount of shots possible in a day will decrease. All sequence lengths in this example will be given at a frame rate of 24 (this can be changed dependent upon your production needs).
Static Time lapse
The traditional way of capturing timelapse photography is with a static camera locked off on a tripod. Perfect for capturing hectic views with lots of movement, such as cityscapes, sunsets, tides changing, moonrises, plants growing, etc.
Capture time per sequence: 6 minutes*
Setup time: 5 minutes
Number of sequences in a day: 30
Sequence length (10-12 seconds)
*My most common subject is city scenes, and this would be for a typical street scene. Capturing a flower growing could take many weeks.
Sunset and sunrises Timelapses
Another common request is capturing the transition from day to night (or vice versa). Often these will be captured on a locked off tripod, but it is possible to use a motion control setup if required (more on this later).
Commonly I will utilise 2-3 cameras to provide a variety of angles. One camera can be setup to capture the entire sequence as one seamless shot, and the other two cameras can be used to capture detail shots – such as closeups of skyscraper windows or traffic whizzing past.
Capture time per sequence: 4-5 hours
Setup time: 10 minutes
Number of sequences in a day: 1 sunset/sunrise, plus a variety of other angles. 10-15 static sequences in total.
Sequence length (20-30 seconds)
Motion Contol Timelapse
If you’ve ever seen a timelapse video where the camera is slowly moving as the world moves by, that was quite likely captured with a motion control rig.
My setup consists of a 2m slider which sits upon 3 tripods. This has a pan/tilt head along with a sliding motion. Everything is motorised so the system can be set up and left to its own devices.
It can provide beautifully smooth and slow movements, which contrast perfectly to the fast-paced nature of timelapse photography.
Capture time per sequence: 20 minutes (but could be set up to run for weeks if required)
Setup time: 20 minutes
Number of sequences in a day: 8
Sequence length (10-12 seconds)
Whenever you see vast sweeping motions where the camera apparently flies along the street – those will be hyperlapse. They provide a sense of depth and dynamic movement that is hard to capture through other means, often giving a video some ‘wow’ factor.
Typically, the camera will rotate around a fixed point whilst the world whizzes by. These are quite intensive to capture, and take a long time for each sequence.
Capture time per sequence: 45 minutes
Setup time: 15 minutes
Number of sequences in a day: 6
Sequence length (4-6 seconds)
Any of these disciplines can be mixed to suit your own requirements, and the numbers should only be used as a rough guideline. If you have a timelapse photography project that you’d like to discuss, I can provide you with accurate estimates of what you can expect.
If you’d like to see more examples of these in action – then you can see my latest commercial showreel here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XHCZaDok34 Or if you have any questions please drop me a message, and I will be happy to help.