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The Extensive Raw Time-lapse Tutorial
Welcome to The Extensive Raw Time-lapse Tutorial Series
This series was developed as a resource for film-makers. When referring to the word “extensive”, all content’s derivatives are from my personal experiences AND my ideologies as a shooter. Canon’s (not the camera) do not exist as the formula/technology is always evolving. This website’s contents are primarily here as a resource to answer ANY questions you may have when shooting.
The Extensive Raw Timelapse Tutorial is a set of videos that are being produced in hopes of aiding film-makers who are interested in learning how to shoot timelapses. If you have any comments or concerns about the series, please do not hesitate to contact us!
Time-lapse photography. We’ve all seen it and I am sure that many people have grown tired of it but for those people, they are going to have to deal with it for a whole lot longer. First and foremost, there is a time and a purpose for everything and I think everyone’s disdain for the art of time-lapse exists because of the way in which it has been exploited. As technology continues to evolve, so do the opportunities to capture things that used to be impossible – and do so in an almost immediate fashion. But really, is this a bad thing? The ability to quickly view and share your work has allowed many people to do what they love and make a good living doing it.
On this page, you will find out HOW TO SHOOT A TIME-LAPSE from start to finish. The content will be broken down as follows:
- Camera Settings/Modes: Understanding the Basic Functions of a DSLR
- How to Shoot a Static Time-lapse
- How to Shoot Motion-Controlled Time-lapses
- How to Shoot Day to Night Time-lapses
- How to Shoot Astro Time-lapses
- How to Shoot HDR Time-lapses
- How to Shoot Walking Time-lapses / Hyperlapses
- How to Assemble
- Blending / Compositing
Why do we do it? The simple answer that’s not so simple.
Finding a passion in the work you do is an essential part of living a satisfied life. Being able to take your passion and turn it into a job is what many people strive for. Now many people may be wondering, what does it take? The answer is simple. Determination, dedication, hard work, and a desire to continually push to learn and evolve.
The Journey. Half the pleasure of going out to shoot is the journey that is required to get to the location. The better location, the harder it is to access.
The Result. The first time you look at the shot and see the result, it is extremely exciting. Being able to then share this work with others is what drives many people to explore.
Now we must ask ourselves, Why is this important? Why is it that some desire an ethereal existence? Again, the answer is simple – A desire to break free from the 9 to 5 – a desire to break free from basing decisions off of our working existence.
Right. Back to the question. Why do we do it? It’s about the art, the experience, the desire to take a step back and breath, and most importantly, the desire to share.
Just step back and take a breath.
For me, what makes time-lapse photography so fascinating is that it requires patience. It is the one activity that requires you to take a step back and take in your surroundings – sometimes for only a few minutes and other times for hours.
To the facts.
It’s not the stoner outcasts. It’s not the tree hugging hippies. It’s the people who are passionate about sharing their experiences with the world, no matter the format.
Many people are drawn to the art through the process that interjects – one that allows one to analyze their environment and adapt. The slower paced shooting environment allows one to take a step back and relax – similar to the experience of shooting a still photograph before the advent of digital mediums.
Getting your feet wet.
The most important thing is to get out and shoot. Like anything, practice makes perfect. Because of the diversity of ways to approach shooting a time-lapse, this page will only focus on the basics with a few helpful tips to improve your skill set.
A New Way to Make A Living
Life isn’t JUST about making money — even though we all strive for it. It is about loving what you do and being happy doing it. It is extremely important that you are passionate about the work you do — and the way you live your life. Once you are able to determine what you are passionate about and the type of work you want to be doing, the money inherently follows because your customers can usually see this passion. Although fairly new to film-making, there are a few things I have learned on my short — but adventurous journey. In this series, I will share what I have learned along the way.
***All opinions & perspectives shared come from my experience as a shooter and may not be the best way of doing things. I am simply sharing MY WORKFLOW when both capturing and processing RAW timelapses similar to the ones seen in the INTRODUCTORY video below***.
The focus of the series is to educate. I want to give an extensive look into shooting a raw timelapse right from composition to post-production. If there is something specific that you would like to see covered, please contact us!
The target audience of this series will be the independent filmmaker who is open to learn. In the series, I hope to give a thorough breakdown of how to shoot Raw timelapses. There is no perfect formula to get incredible shots other than practice, practice & more practice. These shorts will simply give you a look at how I approach shooting timelapses. Comments and recommendations for future videos are encouraged.
This timelapse tutorial series was developed as a resource for film-makers. Because of the nature of the series and the idea of ‘Paying it forward’, I wanted to create a site where people could share their work, share what they learn, ask questions & connect with other film-makers / time-lapse photographers.
Quick Start Guide
Shooting a timelapse is not a science. However, there are a few things you can do to improve your chances. This section of the website will continuously be updated as new content is added to the site. Keep an eye on this section as it will be the go-to section for new workflow techniques.
Pre-production is by far the most important part of the process for not only time-lapse photography but filmmaking as a whole. By being prepared from the start, production and post-production will go way smoother. In this section, I will walk you through the essential gear you will need to capture your shot as well as how to prepare for your shoot before even stepping a foot out your front door. I will also walk you through how to break down your story, how to breakdown your shots/shot lists, how to schedule and finally how to scout before even seeing the location. To view episode 2 which covers story, scheduling & scouting, click here.
The first thing I want to look at is the story. It is extremely important that you de-construct your story and determine how you are going to use time-lapses to help tell this story. If you are a new filmmaker, this is most important.
In this section, I will be looking at a few things you will need to consider when attempting to tell a visual story.
For the short I am going to produce with this tutorial, I want to tell the story of home and how, no matter how old you are, you are able connect to the idea of home.
There are many ways you can use a time-lapse to help tell your story. In order to understand how you can use it, it is important to first understand how to tell a story from a single image. When analyzing works of art, there are a few categories to consider – form, content & context. This includes all it’s encompassing elements.
FORM can be broken down into three sections:
- The Primary Features (Colour, line, shape, size, — which are basically the elements that are used to construct the image).
- The Secondary Features (Balance, composition, contrast, dominance, movement, rhythm, unity, — basically how the primary features were used).
- The Tertiary Concerns, (How form interacts with the content and context).
As for CONTENT, this is essentially the message you are trying to rely. Ask yourself, what are the denotations and connotations which are essentially the literal, figurative, and metaphorical meanings. The content applies to the subject matter — and what the subjects represent.
The last of the three is CONTEXT. Context encompasses a few elements and is probably the hardest of the three to decipher. The primary context is the artist’s intentions and the secondary context is the functions the work of art plays in currency at the time — including the religious, philosophical convictions, socio-political, economic structures and even climate and geography.
Now what does this all mean? In relation to the single image, what elements are you going to use to tell your story? What single image expresses the message you desire? What elements as a cinematographer are you using the construct your image? Are you going to use a cluttered frame? How are you going to use negative space? If you are shooting a landscape, it is key to think of why and how you are going to do it. Is it a visual exploration of space and time or more? The more part is what you should aim for.
In relation to the idea of home, there are many options. The literal image could be an actual image of this space. You could also choose to have a shot of something that symbolizes home — such as a turkey coming out of the oven, a smile, or anything you are able to connect to personally — however ambiguous it is. For the short, I am going to use the shot of the turkey coming out of the oven as one of the shots at the end to reinforce the concept.
Once you have understood how a single image can tell a story, you then need to think how to juxtapose images to help tell a story as well. — similar to how collections of artwork together. Each piece of art tells a unique story of it’s own but when combined in a collection of work, tells a totally new story.
When producing a film of any kind, it is important to think of how a film is constructed. I am not going to go in depth about this now as I will be covering this more extensively when I launch a new education series I am doing on filmmaking. However, there are a few things you need to be aware of.
Films are constructed in three acts. The first is exposition which is used to establish the main characters, their relationships and the world they live in. The first act establishes the inciting incident, or the catalyst. The second act is the rising action which typically depicts the protagonist’s attempt to resolve the problem initiated by the first turning point. The second turning point is in most cases the climax. Lastly, The third act features the resolution of the story.
For the short film on ‘home’, the exposition / rising action is the decision to finally go back home since the sale of the childhood home that the lead character grew up in. The lead character has not seen his parent’s new home since they moved. The rising action is the struggle to deal with the end of this chapter in his life. The climax is when the character finally accepts the new chapter in both his parents life as well as his own.
The last section I want to talk about in regards to the story is the importance of writing about what you know. One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a new filmmaker is taking a concept you cannot relate to and write about it. The emotion that you hope to convey in the piece will not be genuine. Does this mean you shouldn’t write about subjects you are not familiar with? Definitely not. Research is imperative in these situations.
For me, my parents still live in my childhood home but my grandmother has moved out of her house. I have yet to visit her since she has moved and I know the experience will be different. I also interviewed the entire family before she moved and hope to cut some of this content into the final film — as well as some interviews from family members that have already experienced the transition.
When I approach a film, I first think of words and phrases that relate to the message. I try filter out the main concepts and think of ways to express these ideas on screen. These images can be developed from literal, figurative or metaphorical ideas.
For this film, what differentiates the place you happen to live and a place you think of as home? Is it a history? Is it the people? What is the relationship between home and family? Is home defined by an internal feeling or by external conditions?
I highly recommend considering the information above before you start shooting.
Once you a clear idea of the story you want to tell, the next thing you need to do is breakdown your shots. From a traditional short film/feature film standpoint, the Producer and Production Manager would break down the budget, the 1st AD would break down the schedule, and the Director & Director of Photography create a shot list. Whether it is one person or many people, the more specific you are, the smoother the production will go.
For the case of the short on home, I will be the only person breaking down the script. The principal photography will take place across the US & Canada — using the broad concept of place as the backbone of the story. I will be showcasing many literal forms of home through montage as well as use time-lapse to help tell a visual story using travel as a way to express the journey the lead character experiences in order to accept this change.
There are a few tools you can use to help with location scouting. If possible, I usually try and scout the location before even heading out to shoot. Not only does it help eliminate certain variables that may come up, it also helps with efficiency on the day of shooting. There are three different tools that I use to help with scouting:
- Google Maps
- Local Film Agency
- Location Managers
The first is Google Maps. When you launch google maps, you will notice a photos feature built in. By selecting this, you will see first hand shots of what certain locations will look like. This is a great way to mark specific locations that may have the conditions you desire. Although a great option, it is only as powerful as what other people have explored.
Another source are the Local Scouting Libraries / Agencies. Most countries / states / provinces have local scouting guides that you can reference. Although a little tougher to get, it is a great way to find hard-to-access locations.
The last resource you can use are Location Managers — people who deal with locations for a living. Not only do they have an extensive knowledge of locations, they will also usually know if a location has been burned.
Although all are extremely effective, there are a few elements to keep in mind. The first is that the actual location may be a little skewed so you will want to assume a margin for error – and the second is that you don’t want to replicate a shot that has already been accomplished. You simply want to use it as a point of reference for the location that exists.
Before heading out to any location, you will want to gain access to paper copies of maps for each area you hope to explore. There are a few apps that exist that allow you to access your markers offline but the best way to ensure you are prepared is to use paper copies. Mark out regions that you think may be film worthy and note the times in which you want to explore the areas. In all cases, mark out two maps — one you will keep and one you will give to a friend or family member — with checkup points mark at various points on the map. If you are going deep into the wilderness, it is key you have a back-up plan.
There are a few other things you will need to consider about your location such as it’s accessibility, whether you will have access to power or if there is cell reception. These are just a few of the things you will want to consider. There is no such thing as being over-prepared.
HOW TO GET PERMISSION TO SHOOT IN LOCATIONS
I have had a few questions in regards to gaining access to locations and there are a few different ways you can approach this. The best method is being open and transparent with anyone you are working with — from location owners to collaborators. Have a few clips prepared to show — similar to the ones you will be shooting. Let them know what you need and what you can offer in return. Like any negotiation, the better you are at dealing with people, they more chance you will be able to get access to these locations.
Note: Once you have gained access to the location, treat it as if it was your house. You are not only representing yourself but also other filmmakers to follow. I don’t know how many times I have been turned away because of a burnt location.
When scheduling for a traditional narrative short or feature, you need to first break down your script. One question you may be asking is if you need to break the script down when shooting a time-lapse film and the answer is yes. No matter how ambiguous your story is, it is key to determine the message you are trying to create. For example, Baraka or Samsara are both extremely visual films but both also have very evident messages. By breaking down your script, not only does it result in a stronger final film, it also helps avoid missing things that you might have overlooked.
Scheduling a film is the art of determining what scenes will be shot when and in what order. There are many factors to consider that will affect your budget. Getting good at scheduling takes some time, and although the process may be frustrating, it is also rewarding when everything comes together.
There are a few factors to consider when you are scheduling:
• Access to locations
• Access to Equipment
• Crew / Cast
Weather is by far the most limiting factor when shooting. It is the one thing that could keep you from getting your shot time and time again because it is unpredictable. Ensure you have a block of days you can select between and hope at least one of those days have ideal shooting conditions.
For most time-lapse setups (unless hiking long distances with lots of gear or shots requiring talent), you will not have to worry about the Cast/Crew element. However, if you do, you will want to determine which shots require cast or crew and schedule all the shots into blocks of shooting days.
In regards to Equipment, one of my biggest words of advice is building up strong relationships with other filmmakers and support them with their creative endeavours. Not only will this help you become a better filmmaker, it will also be another resource for equipment for your projects. Relationship building is an extremely important part of filmmaking.
Budget is also a limiting factor. This will not only dictate the amount of days you can put into a project, it also limits the types of shots you can accomplish in some situations. Be creative and resourceful to find ways to accomplish shots you desire.
The last thing I want to touch on is gear prepping. Once you have broken down your script and shooting schedule, you will have a good idea of what gear you will need for what shoot. Before I go out for any shoot, I will configure the rig I will be using in studio to ensure I have all the pieces I need with me. Once I have determined what gear I will be using, I will then determine how to pack it based on how I am getting to the location. Lastly, I will make sure both my lenses and cameras are in perfect working condition.
It is extremely important that you are prepared before you go out to shoot. Make sure you know the types of shots you want to accomplish before heading out to shoot. Double check that you have all the gear you need and that you have replacement items in case any gear is lost or broken. There are a few essential elements you will want to have in your kit:
- Camera Body & Lens
- Cards & Batteries
- Camera Cleaning Tools
- Polarizer filters, Vari-ND filters & Grad filters
Before you head out to shoot, make sure everything is in working order and that both your camera sensor and lenses are clean.
For me, the production phase is the easiest part of the process. Once the time-lapse is setup, you are able to sit back and take in your surroundings. In this section, I will go over how to control your camera as well as how to add motion to your shot using a variety of methods.
One of the challenges you need to overcome when shooting is determining the ideal setting for your camera. In this post, I will walk you through the different settings you need to keep in mind when shooting a timelapse. Because there is many different ways to approach this, I will be using case studies to help illustrate each setting. Further to this, if you are looking at a more comprehensive breakdown, I am currently producing an extensive timelapse series. I will be covering the following:
- Shooting Modes
- Shutter Speed
- RAW vs JPEG
- Focus & Zoom
- Internal Processing
- Picture Profiles
- White Balance & ISO
* Note: Some cameras have intervalometers built in but I will not be talking about intervalometers in this post.
There are four modes you will want to understand when shooting; Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Bulb & Manual.
- Av – Aperture Priority – Aperture priority mode allows you to set the aperture of the lens and the camera will select the correct shutter speed. This is good if you want more control over the depth of field of your images. Remember F2.8 will have a shallow depth of field and F16 will have most of your image in focus. The only time I would recommend using Av Mode is if you are shooting day to night timelapses (keeping in mind that you will need to deflicker in post).
- Tv – Shutter Priority – Shutter priority is the opposite of aperture priority mode whereas you set the shutter speed, and the camera will select the correct aperture. This is great for sports or wildlife photography where you need control of the shutter speeds. 15th or 30th/sec is slow and 500th/sec is fast. Most digital SLR cameras have a range from 30 second exposure to about 8000th of a second. I highly recommend against ever using Shutter priority mode when shooting timelapses.
- B – Bulb – Bulb mode is used when you want control of all aspects of your camera and want to control your shutter speed from either an external source or if you want to extend beyond a 30 second exposure. My rule of thumb is that anytime I am exposing for a length of time greater than 2 seconds, I will shoot in Bulb mode.
- M – Manual – You are in full control here. The cameras metering system will guide you but you need to set the shutter speed and aperture manually. I would recommend shooting in Manual for almost every situation. However, my rule of thumb is that any exposure over 2 seconds will be shot using bulb mode.
Usually, my first recommendation for anyone starting out shooting a timelapse is to turn everything to manual and to learn the settings through trial and error. Although it may seem frustrating, it is well worth it in the long run.
Shutter speed is huge determining factor for the type of shot you want to accomplish. Shorter shutter speeds create a staccato effect whereas a long exposure will blur/blend the motion. Another advantage of dragging your exposure is that you will make the lighting more even and have a better chance at minimizing flicker (although there are other factors to consider as well which will be covered in a later post). Typically, 100th/second or faster shutter speeds introduce flicker.
The Aperture controls the depth of field of your image. If you want to have a shallow depth of field, you will want to have your lens more open. If you want to have more in focus, you will want to close down your aperture.
How it works:
When your aperture is open (large aperture), more of your sensor is being exposed to light which in turns increases your depth of field. However, when your aperture is closed (small aperture), your range of light hitting the sensor is reduced which in turns reduces the depth of field that you can achieve.
RAW vs JPEG
There are huge differences between shooting RAW and JPEG. The second I started shooting raw timelapses is the second that I realized why it was so important to do this. First off, when you shoot JPEG, you are shooting a baked in image and are unable to pull out the dynamic range that you have access to when shooting raw. Although shooting a raw timelapse takes up more room on your card, your final result will be superior. When I shoot a timelapse, I shoot both raw and sJPEG. Shooting a raw timelapse requires more post production work so by shooting a sJPEG alongside the raw, I can process this sJPEG as a low res preview before even having to process the final raw timelapse.
Focus & Zoom
Framing and focal planes are two other elements you need to consider when shooting a timelapse. When shooting subjects on multiple focal planes, you need to determine what element of the image is most important. However, there are three ways around this if you are unsure which is more important. The first is to acquire a system that is able to pull focus, the second solution is to manually pull focus and the last solution is to use hyper focus but choosing a focal point between the two subjects and then stopping down your lens. It is key that if you are choosing a hyper focus that you do not choose a subject that is extremely close to your camera and one that is in the background as almost everything will be out of focus if you chose a point between the two.
In regards to your zoom / focal length of your lens, you can control how you want to capture the space. By using a wider lens (wider focal length), you are capturing a wider perspective whereas if you use a longer lens, you are compressing space. Typically, our eye sees a FOV of about 50mm.
If you lens either has IS or autofocus, make sure to disable both of them.
Processors inside of most DSLR’s aren’t very good. When I get a camera to shoot with, I usually turn off all internal processing before shooting with that given camera and clean up the image using computer software. If shooting with a Canon DSLR, there are a few settings you will want to turn off including:
- Highlight Tone Priority
- Peripheral Illumination Correction
These options may differ depending on your camera so it is key to go through your camera and do a little bit of research before going out to shoot to find out how to maximize the potential of your camera.
Picture profiles play a few different roles depending on whether or not you are shooting JPEG or RAW. If you are shooting JPEG, the picture profile is the look you are baking into your image whereas if you are shooting raw, it is the temporary look you are applying in camera.
My first recommendation is to shoot raw. However, if you need to shoot JPEG, I recommend shooting with a flater profile with sharpness honed in as desired.
Now you ask, why is a flat profile important? Well, when you bake-in the color/contrast settings into an image (pre-set PP’s), you are unable to retrieve information that would be available if you had shot flat. Say your sky is blown out, but you wish you could see some of the clouds that were there on the day. With a baked-in image style, you are not able to recover it. With a flat image, you have a much better chance of recovering the clouds — OR if you under or over-expose something, you have a better chance to recover information that would otherwise be lost.
White Balance & ISO
The last two settings you need to consider are your white balance and ISO. White balance controls the colour temperature and ISO controls the sensitivity to light. Typically, daylight is around 5600K and Tungsten is 3200K. I highly recommend becoming familiar with this and that you start shooting on manual settings so you can dial in the temperature that you desire.
As for ISO, the smaller the number, the less sensitive your camera is to light. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive it is. You will want to do some tests with the camera you are using to determine how far you can push it when shooting astro time-lapses. For the 5DMarkII I don’t recommend going over 3200 and for the 5DMarkIII I recommend staying under 6400.
*Although your WB & picture profile settings are less important when you shoot RAW, I like to dial in the look similar to how I want the final image to look.
Shooting with moving objects in the foreground
When objects are moving in the foreground, you will more than likely want to drag your exposure (longer exposure) to try hide this movement. The feeling of the shot with faster shutters is very erratic. However, if you drag the exposure, you will be able to hide some of this movement producing a more soothing image.
When shooting a cityscape, there are two different ways you can approach this. You can either try and blend the motion through longer exposures or have fast exposures to freeze time and create a staccato effect. This is great when you want to create the ’tilt-shift’ effect.
Shooting when the sky is partly cloudy comes with both positive and negative characteristics. On the positive note, your landscapes/cityscapes will be much more dynamic, however, you will more than likely deal with flicker/change of light issues. To hide these changes in light, you can drag your exposure to hide some of these shifts in light.
The Ideal Settings
One of the questions I am asked most often is what interval I choose. Typically, this interval is as fast as I can make it – taking into account buffer time (which is usually between 1-3 seconds depending on the camera you are using, how long your exposure is, your ISO and whether you are shooting JPEG or RAW) . Obviously, this will require larger cards and isn’t the case for every timelapse but allows for the most flexibility in post. It is much easier to speed up a timelapse than it is to slow it down.
Another thing to consider about interval is that if the spacing between shots are too long, an object that is on one side of the frame in one shot could be totally gone in the next creating a ‘jumping’ effect. In most cases, you will want to avoid this. I will talk more in depth about intervals on a case by case basis when I talk about different shooting scenarios in a later post.
As for the other camera settings, there are NO perfect settings for every scenario which makes timelapse photography so challenging. As much as I would like to provide settings for every scenario, this just isn’t possible. However, there are a few questions you will want to ask yourself:
- What are you wanting to shoot?
- What time of day are you shooting your timelapse?
- How long are you shooting your timelapse for?
- What sort of effect are you wanting to achieve with your shot?
- What focal length are you wanting for your shot?
- What do you want in focus?
- How fast do you want the action to move?
These are just a few questions you will want to ask yourself before determining what settings you will want for your camera. In future videos, I will be talking about baselines for settings in a variety of shooting environments.
When starting to shoot a time-lapse I highly recommend starting with static time-lapses. Like anything, it is key to start with a solid foundation. There are a few key aspects of shooting a time-lapse that you will want to understand. First off, it is key that you have the right equipment. You will need:
- Camera Body & Lens
- Cards & Batteries
- Camera Cleaning Tools
- Polarizer filters, Vari-ND filters & Grad filters
Stabilizing Your Image
When shooting static time-lapses, it all starts with the foundation. You will want to make sure you have a solid tripod and shooting surface. If using a lighter tripod, you may want to lash the tripod down or attach a weight to the centre column. If it gets windy, this will ensure that your final shot is stable.
Don’t rely on post-production tools
Once you have secured your camera, you will want to make sure your camera lens and sensor is clean. When shooting high-resolution photos, any dust of dirt on either will show up in your final image and could render the shot useless. This is especially important when you close down your aperture as this material will become more present in your final image.
15 Minutes of Fame
Subject matter is without question at the forefront of these endeavours. When shooting a static time-lapse, determine what your subject matter is and how you want to capture it. Typically, when I first get to a location, I will take ten minutes to investigate my surroundings and find out the best way to accurately capture the space. Make sure to take into account all aspects of the image. Also, make sure to consult section on Story, Scheduling & Scouting for more information.
Focus Your Attention
The next thing you will need to do is set your focus to manual and turn off the image stabilizer if you are on a tripod. Ensure that live view is activated. To focus, use +/- button on subject matter. If you are shooting at night, use exposure simulation and shine a flashlight on your subject.
Real World Settings
Once you have focused your image, you will then want to determine your shooting mode. As discussed in the, Camera Settings/Modes: Understanding the Basic Functions of a DSLR section, you will select the mode based on your specific needs. Ensure the white balance is set to manual. Your shooting location / time of day will determine your white balance. Although it is not 100% important to nail your WB setting now, it is good to get in the habit of setting your white balance.
Format Your Life
The next thing you will want to set is capture format and I recommend shooting both Raw and sJPEG. By shooting the low resolution JPEG’s you are quickly able to prepare a render in the edit suite. Another thing I highly recommend is making sure your camera is set to auto reset file number so when you format your card it resets the file numbers back to 1. By doing this, staying organized will be much easier.
How Much is Important
Once you have set all the internal settings on the camera, you will then need to determine what you want your aperture to be. As a rule, on a 2.8 lens, set your aperture to F4 for best results. If you want to achieve the ‘star’ effect when shooting into the sun, you will want to stop down your lens. Keep in mind that you will introduce flicker if you do this. If shooting astro time-lapses, you will want to shoot wide open.
A Clear Image
Do not exceed 3200 ISO on a 5DMarkII and 6400ISO on a 5DMarkIII.
Smooth Like Silk
One of the last settings you will need to worry about on your camera is your shutter speed. Set your desired shutter speed for the effect you want (motion blur or not). Usually I wouldn’t recommend a faster shutter than 1/100 of a second as you will start to see more flicker (less chance of being able to blend changes in light). The longer the exposure, the smoother the motion of the action in your scene. By dragging your exposure, you are also able to hide exposure changes and as a result, remove some of the flicker that would have otherwise been present. Keep in mind the shutter speed has to be faster than the interval unless in bulb mode which will dictate how long the shutter is open. You may want to use a ND or polarizer filter to be able to drag your exposure.
Time is Everything
To trigger your camera, you will more than likely need to use an intervalometer. Zero out the intervalometer in all modes and then set the delay mode to desired time. If you are in bulb mode, you will want to set the ‘long’ option to the desired exposure time. Typically I try take as many photos as possible and then speed up in post if necessary (unless doing a full day time-lapse). It is easier to speed up that to interpolate frames if not enough photos were taken. A good starting point is one frame every three seconds.
Practice makes Perfect
Before committing to shooting the time-lapse, you will want to shoot some test frames. Format your card after making sure all assets on the card are backed up. You will then want to start a test shot for about 10 frames and review to see if everything is as you desire. Scan all areas of the frame to ensure there is no element in the frame that does not belong. Then scroll through the images to view a quick preview of your time-lapse.
You will also want to double check exposure. I usually underexpose one or two steps when using a Canon camera and overexposure one or two stops if shooting Nikon but I recommend testing for yourself to see what works best for you.
The last thing you will want to do is re-format your card again and then make sure your batteries are fully charged. Once you have done that, you should be able to start recording your time-lapse.
Similar to static time-lapses, make sure you have chosen your camera settings based on your specific needs. You will want to make sure to consult the How to Shoot a Static Time-lapse section before proceeding. The biggest different between static and motion controlled time-lapses is that you are using movement to help tell your story.
For motion controlled time-lapses, you will need to consider the path you want to take with your camera. Always take test images along the path your camera is traveling to ensure you are happy with the image at all times. Think of a motorized time-lapse as a series of photos. Any image in the clip should tell a story so it should be your goal to find the best path for your camera to take in order to best tell your story.
Shoot Move Shoot vs Continuous
When shooting motion controlled time-lapses, the most common question I get is whether or not it is important to shoot using shoot-move-shoot or continuous mode. Shoot-move-shoot indicates that your camera will only fire when not moving. More specifically, the camera will fire, then move and stop, fire and repeat – in a shoot move shoot fashion. As for continuous, the camera will fire when it is moving.
Many people believe that it is imperative for the camera to not be moving when it fires or there will be motion blur. However, unless shooting with an analog system and using more than one axis, you do not need to worry about using shoot-move-shoot mode. In these cases, the major factor for motion blur is NOT the mode, rather is due to longer shutter speeds. The longer your shutter speed, the more motion blur you are adding to your final image. This motion blur will only be present in objects in your foreground.
To best understand this, you will need to understand the distance vs shutter speed ratio. If you are shooting an astro time-lapse over 5ft with 30 second exposure over 3 hrs, your motion blur will more than likely look normal. However, if you are traveling the same 5ft over 30 minutes using 30 second exposures, the distance the camera moves between photos will be larger which in turn will increase the amount of motion blur you will experience. If you want to avoid motion blur, it is key to keep the distance the camera travels between photos to be minimal.
**If shooting a time-lapse using more than one axis, please refer to the specific sections for more information on modes and intervals. Please note that you will get some motion blur when using continuous but it is subtle on one axis moves, even when shooting an astro time-lapse with a shutter of 30 seconds unless moving a long distance over a short period of time. If you are shooting multi-axis moves, you may want to use shoot-move-shoot to avoid blur if moving a large distance in the pan/tilt axis.
Advances in Technology
With the introduction of systems such as the Kessler CineDrive, we are no longer limited on the type of motion that can be accomplished. We are now able to capture shots with multiple axis including focus, iris and zoom control.
For more information on How to Shoot a Motion Controlled Time-lapse, click here.
A great way to find out exactly how long you need to shoot for and to help determine interval is to use an external app. My go-to app is the Kessler app which has a time-lapse calculator built in. I highly recommend using a time-lapse calculator to ensure your settings are correct for your given scenario.
There are three different ways to approach day to night time-lapses. You can shoot in APERTURE PRIORITY and de-flicker in post, shoot a shot during the day and one at night and then BLEND IN POST or you can RAMP YOUR EXPOSURE / ISO.
The simplest method of the lot is capturing the time-lapse using aperture priority mode. Although the simplest, it also comes with risks. First off, by shooting in aperture priority, you are relying on the camera’s internal processing / metering to determine the change of exposure between daytime and night. Often I have found that if I set the exposure perfect for the start of the time-lapse that it often is either under or overexposed depending if it was a day to night or night to day.
Another disadvantage with aperture priority is that you will more than likely experience a lot of flicker and will be forced to remove in post. I primarily shoot time-lapses using the Canon 5D Mark II and have recently upgraded to the 5D Mark III’s. I’ve found that the Mark III’s are MUCH better at their metering and that the amount of flicker is greatly reduced in the Mark III.
To shoot a day to night / night to day time-lapse in aperture priority mode all you need to do is set your initial exposure and let the camera do the rest for you.
To deflicker, please visit the section dedicated to deflickering.
Blend in Post
My go-to option out of the three is the blend option. With this method, you will not only be able to ensure your time-lapses stay flicker free but you are also able to track the progress of your shot. By breaking the shot into sections, you are able to shoot multiple shorter time-lapses with more flexibility in post.
To shoot using the blend method, you will want to focus on consistency and repeatability. You will need to shoot at least two time-lapses. It’s totally up to you how many you want to shoot but two is the minimum. I would recommend more as the transition is smother with more, however, processing does take longer and is a little more complex, especially when shooting motion controlled shots.
If you are shooting a static time-lapse you do not need to worry about variance in repeatability and can simply layer your shots, no matter what speed they were recorded at. However, if you are shooting a motion controlled shot, you will want to run the same shot out in it’s entirety and then match the final clip’s speed before lining up. I highly recommend using your devices internal camera control functionality to trigger your camera as you will be able to line up your shots easier but simply basing the variation in time from the difference in the amount of frames captured. These devices should tell you how many pictures were fired (or if your card was formatted you will be able to highlight all images in your browser to find out how many photos were fired).
Once you have lined up all your shots, all you need to do is blend between them using the opacity function (or using the ‘holy grail’ method if using LR Timelapse).
Please note that you may see some variation in the moves so I recommend using a difference matte in After Effects to make sure the tracks line up. I will go over this method in a future tutorial.
The most reliable of the three options is bulb-ramping. With this method, you are able to smoothly blend between exposures to create a smooth transition between day and night. The disadvantage of the method is that you need to manually ramp the exposure as the light changes using an external device (or Magic Lantern Software).
The key to successfully shooting the night sky is finding a dark sky, usually 60 to 90 miles from the closest city centre. Further to this, you will also need equipment that is capable of capturing the stars, which includes a DSLR with a fast (and preferably wide) lens.
The first thing you will want to do is ensure that Live view is enabled to help frame up your image. It is a great idea to take a flashlight with you to both help compose your image as well as to nail your focus (which in many cases would be infinity).
You will then want to set your lens to it’s widest aperture. I would recommend a lens that is either 2.8 or faster for best results. Once you have set your aperture you will then want to set your ISO for the shot and this will depend on your camera. Make sure to do some tests before heading out to shoot to see how far you are able to comfortably push your camera. For me, I don’t go over 3200ISO on the MarkII and do not go over 6400ISO on the MarkIII.
The next thing you will need to do is set your camera to bulb mode and take a test shot with an exposure time around 10 seconds as a starting point. I recommend using the long function on your intervalometer to trigger your camera. Repeat the process until you find the sweat spot for your given situation. With dark skies, you will need to expose for 30 seconds in order to clearly see the milky way when using the MarkII and around 15 seconds when using the MarkIII. You will want to repeat the process until you are happy.
Once you have found your sweat spot, you will then want to determine how long the image takes to buffer and this will be determined by the speed of the card, the camera and the exposure time. If using the MarkII of Mark III, it takes about two seconds to buffer so I would set the delay to three seconds for safety.
Lastly, you will want to make sure all lights are off, that your ‘tally light’ is masked off and that your foreground is lit as desired. Hit ‘go’ on your intervalometer and you are good to go!
You may be asking, what is an HDR time-lapse and is it for me? On the simplest level, HDR stands for High Dynamic Range. To shoot an HDR time-lapse, you need to take at least two photos – one exposing for the high range and one for the low range of exposure. In post production, you will then take the information from both to create one final image.
Now what’s the craze? Is there really an advantage to shooting bracketed time-lapses? The obvious answer is yes but is it really THAT much better? Personally, I think this decision comes down to the intent of the shot. If you are shooting a high contrast scene, you may need to shoot HDR. However, in my opinion, I don’t think it is necessary and that I am able to achieve what I want by simply shooting Raw.
To shoot an HDR time-lapse, the first thing you need to do is find a stable support system (be it a tripod or motion controlled configuration). Using your camera’s internal controls, you will want to navigate to the AEB (Auto Exposure Bracketing) menu and determine how many stops you want your range to cover. I usually max out my range (-2, 0, +2). Depending on your camera, you can capture as many as 7 exposures. However, using the MarkII or MarkIII you are limited to 3.
Once you have set your camera to AEB mode and have set it to continuous mode, you will then want to take a test fire to determine how long it takes to fire all the frames. Once you have found out how long it takes, you will want to set your LONG function to 2 seconds and your delay to the amount of time it takes to buffer the image (write the images to your card) plus the amount of time delay you want between frames. When shooting HDR time-lapses, I recommend shooting your images as quickly as possible as it is easier to speed up a shot verses slowing it down. Obviously this method takes up a lot more space and processing time.
Once you have shot your time-lapse, you will then need to combine your images and there are a few different programs for doing this. My go-to is SNS-HDR. I have used Photomatix but the program seems to introduce quite a bit of flicker depending on how you push the image.
Please check out the dedicated section on removing flicker for more information. To assemble your time-lapse once you have exported these images, please check out the post-processing section below.
The latest craze that people are implementing in their arsenal is hyperlapses which is a form of time-lapse that features a long tracking shot. These shots are achieved using a variety of methods but virtually all require post-production stabilizing using either After Effects built in Warp Stabilizer or Mocha AE.
*Note: This section will be updated with more information so check back soon!
In this section I will walk through post-processing methods, compositing, and exporting based on your delivery needs.
The section is currently under development. I hope to have this content available by June 1st.
I highly recommend taking a look at LRTimelapse software to get you started.
Please note that this is an affiliate link and I will make 10% commision on your purchase. The product is the same price no matter if you buy direct or use this link so please follow the given link to help support this website.
The section is currently under development. I hope to have this content available by June 1st.
I highly recommend taking a look at LRTimelapse software to get you started.
Please note that this is an affiliate link and I will make 10% commision on your purchase. The product is the same price no matter if you buy direct or use this link so please follow the given link to help support this website.
NOTE: It is extremely important that you keep all of your RAW files even after you are done working with them and have exported your full resolution time-lapse. I also strongly recommend working with proxies and replacing the files when you are ready to export.
PRO RES CODEC
The PRO RES CODEC is an extremely efficient codec and I recommend working in Pro Res when working on a mac. There are a few different flavours of this codec as well; PRO RES 4444, PRO RES 422 HQ, PRO RES 422, PRO RES 422 LT, & PRO RES 422 PROXY.
The CINEFORM CODEC is also extremely efficient and I recommend using this codec when you are working on a PC. It is NOT a free codec (retails for around $300) but it will save you a lot of headaches in the long run. It is capable of producing 12-bit 4:4:4 files.
The DNxHD CODEC is a great solution if you are working with Avid. It is a video codec intended to be usable as both an intermediate format suitable for use while editing and as a presentation/finishing format. I am less familiar with this codec and have heard that it is not the most efficient codec and you may struggle if going this route.
LOSSLESS ANIMATION CODEC
The LOSSLESS ANIMATION CODEC is not suited for editing — however it does work. This codec produces large files and requires more hard drive space. I do not recommend using this codec as it is not efficient — however, the quality is great. Some people may use this as a delivery codec however, as it is sometimes used as a delivery codec when working with motion graphics.
NOTE: The most important thing is that the wrapper you use is 10-bit with 4:2:2/4:4:4 color sampling. Since photos are in raw formats (12, 16, or 32-bit), no codec will really ever reproduce the full dynamic range by the time it gets to the web or projection, but if you use a 10-bit intermediate codec your file sizes should be manageable and you should notice richer colours, less banding, no artifacting, and your footage should be editable in real time (depending on the system you are using). Also, for almost every situation, I recommend using proxies until you are ready to export.
NOTE: Success rates vary depending on the shot. It is best to try avoid instability when shooting.
WARP STABILIZER is a great solution if there is subtle shake in your image and you only need to track in 2D space. This option has key-framing capabilities with customization features. However, you are also able to drag and drop this feature.
The Warp Stabilizer effect provides the option of synthesizing edges, filling in the gaps around the edges with image information from previous or subsequent frames. Advanced parameters provide a high degree of control over how the edges are synthesized and the gaps filled in.
Another problem with conventional motion stabilization techniques that merely move and skew an entire layer is that they don’t deal with the problems of parallax—the changes in perspective as a camera shifts its position relative to the foreground subject and the background. The Warp Stabilizer analyzes multiple points in each frame and determines how to subtly distort (warp) the image to remove unnecessary motion and remove these artifacts of parallax.
MOCHA AE is the solution I recommend in most scenarios as it tracks in 3D space. Mocha AE is a stand alone Planar Tracking and rotoscoping utility optimized for After Effects, Final Cut and Motion users. The advanced mask creation tools, simple user interface and copy/paste exchange with AE helps take the complications out of motion tracking and reduces key-framing.
There are a few different files types that you will want to store. When I am archiving, I keep multiple formats of my timelapse. Data storage is cheap compared to the costs that are associated with capturing your shots and as such, it is important to ensure your files are safe.
When I am cataloging, I keep multiple formats:
- LOW RESOLUTION MOV
- FULL RESOLUTION MOV
- RAW FILES with METADATA
I will copy these contents to two hard drives and then on a third hard drive I will keep the LOW RESOLUTION file in order to have all my time-lapses centralized as these timelapses will span over multiple drives as your collection grows.
In order to quickly surf through your time-lapses, I use Lightroom to manage these clips. It allows you to view the clips as well as add metadata to the files.
When cataloging, I make note of where I store my files (original hard drive) as well as the date I shot the clips. Below is a sample of the naming convention I use:
- 3 Minute Shorts #34 | 2012/09/01 | TL_WS_Dolly_Mountains_Day
Inside of the TL_WS_Dolly_Mountains_Day folder, there will be the LOW & HIGH RESOLUTION MOV as well as a folder holding the ORIGINAL MOV’s & METADATA.
Note: If on a MAC, I use the PRO RES CODEC and when on a PC, I recommend using CINEFORM.