Time-Lapse photography is one of the areas I have the most experience. I was making time-lapse videos back before Discovery’s Planet Earth made them cool and everyone and there grandma started making them.
I wish I could remember my first time-lapse video I made but it was so long ago I think it was a high 8 video camera. Over time I have lost all footage from that camera. The oldest ones I still have and can watch are of a sunset over the Sandia Mountains from Edgewood, NM at my old house where I grew up. I remember hooking my XL1 up to my PC with the new firewire port! I then pointed the camera out the window and let it film straight to my hard drive through Adobe Premier 6.5 and left it filming for a few hours. I would then take that huge video file drop it into adobe and speed it up to something ridicules like 10,000% or slower depending on what I wanted. I remember 10,000% because if I wanted to speed it up more then that I would have to export it at the 10,000% and then re apply 10,000% more faster. I am glad to say digital cameras and modern software make it so much more easy to do this process!
Let me break it down for those of you who have zero idea of how to do time-lapse photography. Basically the point of doing a time-lapse is to watch time go by in high speed right before your eyes. There are many ways to do this and sadly to many ways to blog about in one post. So I will just share how I currently go about making a time-lapse video. I will take my pentax K7 “because they are cheap and I have gone through 3 of them so far with shutter counts” and set it up on a sturdy tripod. I use a manfrotto 755. The reason it has to be sturdy is because it is usually windy and you can tie/hang some weight to it “like a sandbag” to keep the camera from shaking. I also have a intervalometer I bought from ebay. It was some crazy cheap one that was like 50 bucks. Works great and have not had a problem yet. I will then set my exposures to unlimited and set up the time between pictures. Usually around 3 sec. However I have done 1 hour between pictures before. The intervalometer is great for long time-lapse photography because the camera auto shuts off after 30sec and then the intervalometer will turn it on and take a picture. So a camera with a battery pack can last weeks. As for lenses I strongly suggest manual focus lenses. The reason is because you can wear out the shutter blades in the lens if you are not carful. for each picture they close down and re-open. So after thousands of exposures they can start to rub and wear down then you will get a flackery video as an end result. So manual glass is nice because the shutter blades just stay put. Also put the camera in manual exposure, and focus. Once I get the camera set up and taking pictures I start my iPhone timer and start doing some easy math like I want a 5 sec long time-lapse I will need 150 pictures. So with my timer going and 3 sec between pictures it will take about 7 and a half min. So you will need to know if you will want it to play back at 23.98, 30, or whatever. Usually I just do 30fps for the math side because it is better to be safe and overshoot then sorry and not have enough footage. Then run them through any photo software and adjust them all the same. I then use final cut Pro to link them into a video. Sometimes I even keep it at its native 14MP 4.3 format that the camera takes them at.. The end video is so big it won’t play back on my computer and is usually gigs for just seconds of footage. But hard drive space is cheap and I am paranoid like that and keep everything in it’s original form.
I get asked a lot what I use on my time-lapse photography. My advice usually is if you are asking chances are you own something and you should just use that. Over the years I have used Hi-8, 35mm Spotomatic, handy cams, digital cameras, DSLRs and even the iPhone 2G before there was an app for that! Usually if you have to ask what to use I start to think you need to just play around with it and find out what you like. Defiantly do not go buy new gear because what happens if you end up not liking time-lapse photography. Or who wants to kill a 3,000 dollar DSLR and intervalometer because you are learning how to do time-lapse. DSLRs are rated for only so many shutter counts. Using as a picture camera you never have to worry about passing those shutter counts, however for me when doing time-lapse photography I pass those counts a lot and wear out the camera before the warranty runs out but it does not matter because the shutter count is over. Whereas, they are costly to use towards time-lapse videos they get great results and it lets you do neat things like raw pictures.
Get a Feel for it
Just like learning a new lick on the guitar, time-lapse photography also need practice. So develop a technique and start to get a feel for how many intervals “frames” you want to play back x amount of time. In other words, when I go and shoot a time-lapse of clouds I take 2-4 intervals just to see how fast the clouds are moving. I usually have in my mind what I am going for and set my interval timer up to take a picture every so many seconds. The only reason I know how to do that is because of years and years of practice.
Do Not Chase Sunsets!
The best advice is really the most simple rule, also can be very hard at times and I’ve even broke it a few times just to find my self wasting 1,000 shutters. I have to tell clients this all the time here in NM where every sunset looks amazing. What this means is if you are out living life and look up and see the most beautiful sunset ever and decide to hurry and set up a camera to get it. 9 out of 10 times this ends badly. If you see a sunset that looks great chances are by the time you start filming it, it starts to look bad. This isn’t only for sunsets, it also apples to rain storms, cloud formations, or anything really. People like to see the whole thing play out not just pop into the middle towards the end and fade out.
Be a Weather Person
If you can’t chase sunsets how will we know when to set up a camera? What this means is just make a note when you do see that awesome sunset or cloud formation and observe what the weather is like. Make a mental note and when you have that perfect location picked out “I have several around my city that I can run out to and film in different directions” go to it and set up the camera next time you start to see that same thing start to happen.
The Right Reasons
Make sure you love to make time lapse videos just for time lapse sake. I work in the film industry for a living and can count every penny I’ve made from time-lapse photography because it is not much at all. There really isn’t much money in time lapse photography. Not very many people want to pay a day rate to send someone out to film a 5 sec clip that took all day. So if you are getting into time-lapse as another way to generate revenue look somewhere else. Even stock footage sites don’t sell much time-lapse photography clips. Here are mine on Pond5. My next blog about selling your work on the Internet.