Rocking the Time Lapse
Shooting time lapse video has been made a piece of cake thanks to the DSLR. Here is a quick how-to on how to shoot time lapse video with your DSLR.
Setting up for the timelapse is a surprisingly complicated affair. No – it’s not difficult in the intellectual sense, but it ceratinly is in the “I better remember to do all of these silly things…” sense.
Anything that can impact exposure through the course of the image (as controlled by the camera of course) needs to be considered. My shortlist when setting the camera up (after placing it on a sturdy tripod that is protected from tripping or a breeze:
- Manually Focus Scene as desired, and switch OFF Autofocus.
- Select the White balace for the scene. Do NOT use ‘auto’ as changes to the scene will cause your colour to shift through the timelapse! Select the option that makes the most sense. Daylight, cloud, indoor etc.
- Ensure that if you have an “Auto power off” function that it is set to longer than your frame interval – or off altogether.
- If you CAN, set your “Display” off so that you aren’t paying battery power to display information when you aren’t watching for the next two hours…
- Last but not least, set your image size and quality to just exceed the maximum for HD quality video. 1080p video is 1920 x 1080 pixels, so for most DSLR’s over 10 megapixels, you can use the lowest JPG quality (as long as it’s bigger), in fine or superfine mode. This should allow over 1250 images minimum on a 2gb card.
2. Exposure Control
Now that you’ve got the camera set up – you’ll need to work over your exposure. Over the course of time, your exposure will be subject to change. Clouds, sunlight, shadow, angle – whatever may move in your scene can impact exposure. You’ve got two choices. Let the camera deal with it – which will provide exposure changes from frame to frame, or go manual.
If you are looking for consistency and ‘natural’ appearance, You are best to expose the scene manually, using the metering as a guide. Shoot a frame, and decide if you want to over or underexpose now, for better exposure later. Check the aperture and shutter settings from your favourite shot, and hop into manual mode, setting the exposure to match.
Take another frame, confirming your choice of white balance. You are going to be babysitting this rig for the next few hours without touching – so make sure you’re happy now.
As a side note – if you are looking at shooting a scene with people, animals, or other moving objects, and you’re shooting 6 or 10 frames a minute (or more) consider using a slow shutter speed to blur the motion in the frames just a tad. It will reduce the jerkiness of frame changes (visually anyway) by adding a ‘blurred’ component.
3. Timing exposures
Video for the desktop is produced in one of two formats:
Digital Video at 30 frames per second, or Cinema at just shy of 24 frames per second.
Knowing what style you want to use for your output video, you now need to determine the intervals of your frames. The more frequent the frames are shot, the less time will elapse over the course of your final movie. If you have an idea of what you want to shoot, and how long you want the resulting video to be follow the math to determine what intervals to follow. (Assume we’re outputting digital video at 30 frames / second.
I’d like to shoot 1.5 hours of sunset and have it last 15 seconds on screen.
15 sec of video = 15 x 30 = 900 frames
1.5 hours = 60x60x1.5 = 5400 seconds
5400 / 900 = 6 seconds
In this case, your sunset will require 6 second intervals between shots, for a total of 900 frames, which at 30 frames a second is 15 seconds of video.
Yes. 900 frames.
Shall we say this again? 900 frames.
Why am I beating this point to death? How many exposures do YOUR batteries last? Have some spares handy.
4. Shooting (Timer / Intervalometer Manual
Now the hard or easy or expensive part. How do you trigger the exposures? At a minimum, you’ll be sitting with a watch, clicking a cable release on your intervals. Some SLR’s have the ‘interval’ feature, though they are few and far between. Most manufacturers of serious DSLR’s (Canon, Nikon, Pentax) offer a higher end cable release (like the Canon TC80-N3) which run for around $200-300. Please note – cheaper asian versions exist. Your mileage with these may vary. Wires on mine broke on the first cold night I used it.
For Canon Powershot and 400D users, the latest firmware hacks add this functionality to the camera along with some other cool features. Again – your mileage may vary, but personally I’m thrilled with the hack on my XTi.
5. Creating video from the stills
For Mac and Windows OS’s there are a number of packages that do this job. For Mac, Quicktime Pro will create a full quality MOV file from raw frames of JPG, at one frame per second. Similarly you can use “iMovie HD” by importing photos with a length of 0:01 (0 Minutes, 1 frame) to a project, and exporting it as DV to your movie editor of choice (if that isn’t iMovie HD).
Windows Movie maker also supports the import of stills at 1 frame per image. You’ll need to be comfortable with your video package, but my quess is – you are or you wouldn’t be looking at this How-To.
Import – edit – do your worst – then, share it!
6. Sharing your output.
Only a short bit here – share your work! The more you share and get comments on, the better you’ll get at this technique. Practice it – use it – and most of all, add it to you bag of tricks for when you’ve just gotta have something cool in your video.
You can share on a number of sources. YouTube.com, Vimeo.com, Facebook, Flickr – there are dozens of options.
Just do it!
Like Charlie Sheen says: “Nike’s slogan isn’t ‘Just Try It’….”
If you use this tutorial, and want to share your sucesses (or failures) just drop me a comment!