experimenting with time-lapse photography
As a photographer I've always been fascinated with how the camera can help to expand our vision and freeze a moment in time. But today's cameras can do far more than that. They can capture a long sequence of 'moments' that would be difficult for the human eye to really notice.
Time lapse photography has a long cinematic history. As a child I was always enthralled by the time lapse sequences that I would see produced by Walt Disney (Sunday evenings at 6 - anyone else remember those?!). Now, with your camera, some patience and a computer, anyone can capture a sequence taken over minutes, hours, days or weeks and speed up time.
One of the easiest time-lapse sequences to capture is the movement of clouds. They move slowly enough that the casual observer doesn't really notice them moving at all, but fast enough that a 20 - 30 minute sequence can lead to impressive results. The composite above illustrates that well.
For the Waves of Colour time lapse I set the camera to shoot at 6-second intervals and processed the series to play back at 16 frames per second. Let's look at how the process works.
Shooting the Time-Lapse Sequence
Let's start with a qualifier. Although several camera manufacturers have built-in time lapse capabilities or have the capacity to attach an intervalometer, my steps and menu shots are specific to Olympus-brand cameras. Let's also assume that you have your subject all picked out and you are ready to start the time-lapse sequence.
The screen shots below are taken from the Olympus OMD E-M1, Firmware Version 4.0 and illustrate each setting within the time lapse menu.
If you choose to create the time-lapse movie in camera then this next section might be moot. For myself however, I rarely have the camera create the actual time lapse movie since I usually like to do a bit of post-processing work in Adobe Lightroom. Unless I am looking for a particular effect, I typically make minor adjustments that might include the following;
Once you have adjusted one image, select them all (Ctrl-A for Windows, or Cmd-A for Mac) and apply those adjustments to all of your images by selecting Sync.
Lightroom is non-destructive which means that it records the adjustments you've made to your images, but doesn't permanently change the photos. As such, to use the photos with the changes you've made, you will have to export them. With all of your photos still selected, right-click on one of them and select 'Export'. Typically I only make two changes within the Export dialogue box - Export Location and File Naming.
Creating the Time Lapse Movie
Several software packages exist that allow the user to compile all of the time lapse images into a single movie file. I use Olympus Viewer 3. It's very easy to use and I've been happy with the results.
Traditionally, movies were played at a rate of 24 frames per second. This presents a natural, smooth flow to the scene. On occasion I will use that rate, but for most of my time lapse sequences I choose a rate of between 16-20 fps.
As mentioned, several time lapse movie packages are available online. Most allow various special effects to be added to your movies. A quick search will yield lots of results.
Using a Movie Editor
To create a more polished look to my time lapse movies I will often use a movie editor as my final step. I use iMovie. It's simple to use and powerful enough for the type of editing that I do. Once the time lapse sequences are built in Olympus Viewer 3, I import them into iMovie where I can add titles, transitions, tweak final exposure, add sound and other effects.
Now that we have the 'how-to' section done, let's look at some other examples and their settings.
Clouds over Killarney
This sequence was shot in Killarney Provincial Park in northern Ontario. A rainstorm had just passed and the clouds held some promise for a nice sunset.
Sure, the sun comes up every morning. And that makes it the perfect subject to try and capture in a time lapse. The sun rises quite quickly so make sure to set a fairly short interval between shots. In the video below I used a 3-second interval.
This hundred-year old swing bridge is the only permanent connection between Manitoulin Island and the mainland. During the summer it swings once per hour to let sailboat traffic through.
Once you become comfortable with shooting time lapse sequences over short periods of time (less than 30 minutes), it's time to capture movement over much longer stretches of time. Each situation will come with it's own challenges. Let's look at a few.
It's not just the sun and clouds that move above us. The stars move remarkably quickly through the night sky. The sequence below was photographed over 4.5 hours using two cameras. I took a number of test shots prior to starting the time lapse in order to ensure good exposure and composition. Many astrophotographers will recommend turning off your camera's noise reduction in order to prevent gaps in between shots. For this time lapse I left the NR on and you will see that it plays back quite smoothly. For more information on the basics of astrophotography check out my previous post, http://www.creativeislandphoto.com/blog/astrophotography-101
My earliest memories of time lapse photography were those Walt Disney nature sequences of plants growing and flowers blooming. I find these to be the most challenging, but also the most rewarding sequences to try and capture. The movie below was shot over a two-week period. A duration of this length definitely comes with a number of challenges.
After the amaryllis time lapse, I decided to plant some sunflower seeds and see if I could capture their germination and the first few days of growth. The only new challenge for this sequence was timing their eruption from the soil. I knew it would be several days before the seeds germinated so I waited until I saw the soil bulging slightly and then I started the time lapse.
Fly Poop - A Time Lapse Fail
Time lapse photography is not without its frustrations. Even the best laid plans can be ruined by mother nature.
If it moves, you can create a time lapse sequence of it. There are many ideas floating around in my head that I would like to try (and hopefully will, eventually). Here are a few...
Here are three more thoughts on time lapse photography.
Shoot video instead.
If you are only capturing a relatively short event (less than an hour), you might want to shoot video and use your editing software to speed it up. There are advantages and disadvantages to this;
Advantages: You get very smooth playback since you are capturing every moment of the event. As well, it is easy to adjust playback speed to condense a 30-minute video, down to 30 seconds.
Disadvantages: Video can be a memory hog, and you won't be capturing individual shots that you might want to use on their own.
For the "Sunset on Lake Manitou" video, I set the camera up on the ice and captured the final moments of the sun setting, 28 minutes in total. I then used iMovie to speed the process up 4000%. This reduced the video to a length of 26 seconds.
Use the time lapse feature to be in two places at the same time.
When I am out photographing landscapes I will often shoot with two or three cameras. The first I will set up in one location, engage the time lapse settings and leave it there. Then I'm off to another spot to do some regular shooting. Once finished, I can decide whether to use the entire sequence of shots to build a time lapse or just one or two individual shots from the series. Most of the time, I am shooting in locations where I am not worried about someone finding the camera that I've left behind and taking it. However, on one occasion I returned to my camera and ran headlong into a bear! But, that's another story.
Time Lapse Selfies
Sometimes when I'm out shooting, I think, "wouldn't it be great if there was a person in this photo?" Then I realize that I'm the only person around. That's when I decide to take some time lapse selfies.
I hate wasting good light, so I will often shoot with multiple cameras and use the time lapse feature even if I have no intention of creating a time lapse movie.
Peter Baumgarten is a professional photographer and educator. He is also an Olympus Visionary and NiSi Official Photographer.