Creating a simple timelapse
Making a simple timelapse video with your still camera is incredibly easy. We all know that video footage is nothing more than a sequence of still photographs taken in quick succession, then replayed rapidly, given the impression of subject movement.
To keep this simple, I will omit most of the variables. And there are loads of them. This article is applying the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) method.
Timelapse sequences have constants and variables as do almost all other photographic endeavours. The most critical constant in this exercise is our replay frame rate. For simplicity sake, I’m going to assume our replay rate will be 25 frames per second. Not always right, but close enough.
The next constant we need to address in our camera position. Your camera needs to be locked down so that it doesn’t move. Or if you want it to move, it needs to move at a constant rate between exposures. Generally, you will also need something within your image area that will remain stationary. This stationary element will be a point of reference for your audience.
Now comes the fun bit—the decision where to point our camera. Clouds over a landscape are a great place to start. Because there are lots of stationary objects in a scene and clouds are always moving across the sky.
The process:- Fined a landscape that you like. Check the direction of the cloud movement, clouds moving towards the camera or across the field of view usually look more pleasing. Moving away can be useful if, for instance, you are trying to portray a storm moving away. But this is an exercise, not a film production.
Now we come to the bit where you need to give the old grey-matter a workout. I need you to decide how long you would like your first simple timelapse to last on screen. If anything, at this stage I would suggest overestimating your needs. It is easier to slow down a sequence when editing than it is to speed it up. The old if you don’t have it you can’t use it law of photography.
Assuming you are going to replay at 25 fps and you need the timelapse to run for 10 seconds 25×10= 250. So far, so good. But how fast are the clouds moving? If they are just dawdling by then, you will need to turbocharge them. For that, we need to increase the time between each picture. For example, high slow-moving clouds, I would suggest thirty seconds between each shot. So 30×250=7500seconds total camera time, divided by 60 gives you 125 minutes or 2 hours and five minutes of shooting time. Did you bring a good book?
If your clouds are scurrying across the vista, you need to shorten up the time elapsing between each shot. The storm cloud sequence used here shot at seven seconds intervals. How I wish I’d used a shorter time between images. Remember, more material is better because if we’ve got it, we can use it.
If you have gotten to this point, I’m sure you want to know how to set up your camera—a point where I refer you to your camera manual. Seriously, there are so many variations from brand to brand and model to model I can’t hope to cover all bases.
If you are a Nikon user, time-lapse can be dialled straight in via the menu as can some other brands. Some manufacturers require a purchase of a phone app to manage timelapse sequences. Others need an external intervalometer to run the sequence.
Some cameras output a finished timelapse. Others will need an external software program to put your photos into a sequence. I prefer shooting high resolution, still images and assembling my video later. Mainly because if something unusual happens, I have a full resolution file which I can use to make prints. Also, recording high-res allows me a degree of cropping during editing. BUT, that also chews up a lot of hard drive space.
In summary, you need your camera rock steady. The slower the action, the longer the gap between photos. Pre-planning is everything. Oh and one last thing. Every forty seconds of timelapse has taken 1000 frames off the life of your camera. There are also a couple of tips in this video shot on the run:)