Time Lapse Photography is the process in which you take a series of photographs over an extended period of time centered around a dynamic subject and then combine the photographs together into one video that shows this transformation. That is a very technical way of saying it is a video made up of a series of pictures that shows things like flowers blooming, or the sun setting, or even building a structure. Each of those examples take hours, days, sometimes months to complete the process. It is not realistic to think that video would be the optimal way to capture this evolution. Instead, the idea is that taking a series of pictures with the camera unmoving and locked down on tripod can do a much better job capturing your subject and saving the creator ample hours of video scrubbing and space on their hard drive.
Here is both my example along with a couple other photographic time lapses to help inspire you and get your brain juices flowing on what you might aim to capture after going through this quick tutorial:
Now I am going to show you how you can create your very own photo time lapse in 3 simple steps:
- Capturing the Photos
- Importing the Photos and Exporting the Video
- Additional Tips to Use as Needed
Capturing the Photos
Before going out, before finding your subject, and before you even snap a single picture, you need to make sure you have the right equipment to get the job done. In most cases the best means to capture your time lapse is first and foremost with a DSLR camera. DSLRs will allow you the most control over your image settings and maintain the highest quality possible. My recommendation is to go with a Canon or Nikon (I am using a Canon Rebel T2i for this tutorial).
Secondly, your camera needs to be locked down at all times during the photographing process to a tripod. By investing in a good solid tripod you are ensuring the overall outcome of the photographs reducing the possibilities of shake, movement, and blur. Moving the camera even a few millimeters can ruin your entire composition. A good time lapse has a consistent object that does not move (ground, buildings, vase) contrasted by one that does (people, sun, flower).
Finally, touching your own camera to take each shot runs the risk of moving the camera, and so to eliminate this threat the best piece of equipment to invest in is a intervalometer. An intervalometer is a time set shutter remote that plugs into the side of your camera. All you have to do is set the remote to whatever time interval you want the photos captured and how many you want and it handles the rest from there.
Once you have all the equipment you need go and find the subject you want to capture. Again the best outcome will be with a contrast between dynamic and static objects that evolve over a period of time. Mount your DSLR to your tripod, lock it into position, and set the camera to manual. Take a test shot first to make sure the exposure and framing is where you would like it to be and then plug in and program your intervalometer. Let your camera run through its process collecting the photos and once it is finished you are ready for the next step.
Importing the Photos and Exporting the Video
Take the memory card form your DSLR and plug it into your computer. You are going to want to create a new folder on the desktop to store these photos. Drag the photos from your memory card into your new folder.
Now there are multiple programs out there to combine these photos into your time lapse sequence, however, I find the best to be Adobe After Effects CC. The reason for this is because of how simple yet flexible the program is in regards to your files, file type, and output. To create your time lapse all you need to do is click and drag the folder containing your pictures and drop it in the projects panel in After Effects. After Effects will then interpret and combine the information into a single file from which you can click and drag into a new composition.
I shot in camera raw and so the size of the composition is much larger than it needs to be. To fix this I can go to COMPOSITION >> COMPOSITION SETTINGS >> PRESET (drop down menu) >> (choose appropriate format). For me I’m going with the 720 HD format.
When I hit okay I notice that now my sequence is too large for the composition. To fix it I can just scale down the sequence.
To export your sequence go to COMPOSITION >> ADD TO RENDER QUEUE. To keep your file size manageable click on LOSSLESS next to the OUTPUT MODULE, go to the FORMAT OPTIONS>>VIDEO CODEC>> and choose H.264 then hit OK. Last thing is to go to your OUTPUT TO and designate what the file name will be and where it will render to. Once finished click OK and hit RENDER. Review your video time lapse video and make further changes as needed.
Additional Tips to Use as Needed
Here are some extra tips and tricks to keep in mind as you go through this process:
- If you cannot afford all the equipment but have a smartphone there are apps out there that will create photographic time lapses.
- If you are using a DSLR, keep your camera in Manual mode and take multiple test shots to adjust the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO where they need to be before plugging in your intervalometer.
- If you are using a DSLR, keep in mind which file type the pictures are being taken in- whether it is JPEG or Camera Raw will have a huge impact on your post production of this time lapse (camera raw = best quality but huge file size. JPEG = low to medium quality but with a much smaller file size).
- Photoshop CC has a great Automate feature to crop, resize, and retouch multiple photos at once if you want to make adjustments to your composition after the pictures have been taken.
- In After Effects CC, you can add an adjustment layer above your sequence if you would like to add color correction or effects changes.
- In After Effects CC, after rendering out your sequence into a movie file you can re-import the video back into After Effects and make adjustments to the speed or even have it play in reverse.