Time-lapse fun

Some time ago I started looking into the wonderful world of ‘Time-lapse‘. I really found it intriguing and I wanted to do something like that myself. So I started experimenting around, and soon people asked me how I actually do this, so here goes…

Let me start with a disclaimer: I’m still experimenting to find the perfect workflow, and figure out a lot of stuff. If you got any suggestions to make: Don’t hold back ๐Ÿ™‚

Equipment

Recording a time-lapse is pretty easy, but you do need a few (pretty damn important) items in order to do so.

Digital camera

I am using a DSLR (Sony Alfa 200). This allows me to take pretty cool pictures (sometimes impossible to capture with a video camera). If you would like to use a photo camera as well, you’ll have to make sure it comes with an intervalometer.
Some cameras (like the Sony Alfa 200) don’t come with such a feature. I had to buy a shutter remote that allows this kind of functionality. 45$ is not too expensive in my opinion.

If you’d like to use a video camera to shoot your footage, make sure you’ve got enough storage capacity. Depending on the time and quality of your recording 8GB might only be enough for 60 to 90 minutes. Seen as a time-lapse video only becomes intresting when a long timespan is shown in a few seconds/minutes, using a video camera might be a bad decision.

Tripod

A tripod or a steady surface where you can leave your camera for a few hours. You don’t want your camera to move randomly. This creates a pretty annoying shaking effect (which in most cases is unwanted)

Getting ready

Recording a time-lapse takes time. A lot of time. At least a few hours. Nonetheless setting up your stuff is 90% of the job.

Subject

Basically time-lapse is about evolution. Making changes visible which normally are overlooked. That is what makes time-lapse videos interesting.
Whatever your subject will be, you’ll want your viewer to watch it during a few seconds or even minutes. Showing a steady, almost unchanged scene during half a minute isn’t really entertaining. Choose an interesting subject that evolves during the period of recording. Choose something like a flower standing in front of window, and shoot it from midnigh to midday. You’ll see a beautiful evolution (because the flower is moving towards the sunlight). Record night-to-day shots: watch the night explode into light and day, and see how the city wakes up. Really amazing stuff.

Settings

Depending on the shot you’re going to make, you’ll have to set up your camera differently.

Shutter speed

Especially at night, setting up the shutter speed correctly results in amazing stuff. I usually set mine to 15-20 seconds. That allows a lot of light to come in; something which is nearly impossible to imitate with a video camera. Not to mention the trailing lights of moving cars.

Aperture

I actually don’t really mess around with the aperture a lot. When doing day-to-night/night-to-day shots I set this to AUTO in order to autmatically adjust to the lighting (which is constantly changing). Don’t set this to auto if you’re not expecting any big changes of lighting.

Auto-focus

Absolutely disable this. Set it to manual focus and adjust it for your shot. Otherwise you’ll end up with a constantly changing focus in the resulting video.

Anti-shake / SteadyShot

Disable this. Since you are using a tripod or a steady surface, your camera isn’t moving. Therefor no correction is needed. If you enable this during the recording, your camera might think some pictures need correction which will result in unwanted changes in some pictures.

Other settings

Anything that can be set to auto: set it to manual. Everything.ย  You don’t want your camera to change its mind on something all the time. White balance, dynamic range, ISO-speed, set them all to a fixed setting that fits you best right from the beginning. It’s a bit more work to get everything right, but once set every other shot will be taken exactly like it. And that is very important because the eye of the viewer is unforgiving. Even at 25 frames per second, the eye notices any unnatural changes that shouldn’t be there.

Location

Make sure the view of the camera stays clear of people walking right in front of it.
If you are shooting from behind a window at night, make sure the room stays darkened. You don’t want your shot to be messed up by the reflection of your room in the window ๐Ÿ˜‰

Shooting the time-lapse

Alright, you’re set! Let’s go… No, wait. No quite yet…
Before starting you should think about the following:

  1. How much time will you be recording (the time between the first picture and the last one) (Example: 6 hours = 6 * 3600 seconds = 21600 seconds)
  2. How long do you want your resulting video to be? (Example: 45 seconds)
  3. What framerate will you be using to play the video? (Example: 25fps)

These facts determine the length of the interval between each picture. In this case, we will be shooting 6 hours of footage and display it within 45 seconds at a framerate of 25fps. That means we need 1125 frames (25 x 45). Eventually we will be using an interval of 19.2 seconds (21600 seconds / 1125 frames).

Alright, set your intervalometer to the desired interval and push the start button. Now you can leave your camera alone during the time of the recording. This baby needs time… And you know what they say: Good things will happen to those who wait… So we wait ๐Ÿ˜‰

Processing the images

The 6 hours are over. The pictures are shot (or your camera’s battery was exhausted). Let’s put this in a movie!
I normally use Premiere to generate the movie. It allows you to import all of the images you just shot, and automatically generates a movie sequence. (For those who don’t know: Right click the library, click ‘import’, select the first image, and check the ‘numbered stills’ checkbox at the bottom of the dialog.)

Render it and share it with the world!
So now you know: Go ahead, play with it and feel free to share anything you created.

If you have any tips, tricks or suggestions of any kind: Please do share them. I’d love to learn more about this awesome technique!

Last but not least

A few examples of what I’ve created so far. (I’ll be adding more on my Vimeo account. Feel free to add me to your contacts ๐Ÿ™‚ )

Ronny

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Ronny is a freelance frontend developer with a wild passion for creativity and a relentless hate against flat design. Ronny spent years as a Flash developer before moving to HTML5 and rediscovering fun and happiness.

7 Comments Join the Conversation →


  1. Angelo

    Dang, a complete new vision of my hometown \o/

    Great stuff, Ronny.

    Reply
  2. Daisy

    Very cool stuff, and thanks for adding yet another WANT! to my wishlist… Need a good camera too!

    Reply
  3. Dieter

    Cool video’s, nicely explained.

    Might try this timelaps stuff myself one day.

    Reply
  4. Karim

    cool stuff kerl :p
    da wou ik altijd ook al es doen ma nooit mee begonnen
    kga da es doen bij hier aan zee
    ga cool zin ๐Ÿ˜€

    Reply
  5. Ronny

    Doen! Keep me posted

    Reply
  6. Mattijs

    I really need a tripod after seeing this… Zou leuk geweest zijn om de afbraakwerken/begin van de bouwwerken van “K in Kortrijk” op die manier in beeld te brengen…

    Weet niet hoever ze nu zitten en of er nog zo extreem veel verandert op een dag…

    Reply
  7. Linus

    This is very nice! Thanks for the nice share ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Peace

    Reply

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