As the name suggests, time lapse photography lets us view a short movie of the passing of time. “But why wouldn’t we just shoot a video?” I hear you ask. Well, allow me to explain…
When we shoot a video, we’re capturing everything that’s happening in real-time, at around 24 frames per second. For instance, a sun would set at the same rate in a video as we would see it occurring through our eyes. A time lapse film, however, reduces this rate to 1 frame per second, per minute or even per day. This exaggerates the changes in a scene and makes them appear as though they were happening really quickly.
When to use it Time lapse photography is best used on subjects that are changing slowly or wouldn’t normally be seen moving within a short time frame.
A photograph of shoots emerging
A timelapse of shoots growing
A seed germinating, for example, could take days’ worth of watching and waiting, and any changes wouldn’t be especially noticeable to the human eye.
Equipment needed Above everything else, you’re going to need a sturdy, immovable camera setup. Either invest in a good quality tripod or ensure that your camera is in a controllable environment, free from strong winds and unlikely to be knocked over by anyone.
It would be beneficial to use either a sync cable or wireless remote trigger, as this would limit the amount of times you need to touch the camera. You may choose to use an intervalometer (a device that can be set to automatically snap pictures at precise intervals), but unless you are planning to do this often, it would be an unnecessarily expensive investment.
Your kit should also include extra charged batteries and cards, but that one almost goes without saying.
You’re also going to need some software to process your photos with, but we’ll cover that later on in this tutorial.
Setting up your shot
Scope out your scene and make sure that you’ve got the best viewing angle and the best composition you can possibly get. Remember, once you’ve started your time lapse, you won’t be able to move your camera.
It’s important that your exposure is consistent throughout the lapse. You may wish to set your aperture manually and keep your shutter speed and/or ISO on auto (remember, once the camera is on the tripod, it won’t matter if your shutter speed becomes very slow).
Next you will want to decide how often to take a picture. This will vary depending on the length of the lapse. For an hour long sunset, for example, you may wish to take a picture every minute. The opening of a flower, however, would be better shot every 10 minutes or more.
Finding an interesting subject
Often awe inspiring and readily available, the weather is a good place to start when it comes to capturing a time lapse. Sunrise, sunset, stars, clouds and oncoming storms are just a few great examples to get practicing with. Alternatively you may wish to think outside the box: snow melting, eggs hatching, plants growing, bread baking or shadows moving.
Processing your photos into a moving film I’ve found that one of the easiest ways to process the photos, while also giving them a professional finish, is by using Photoshop.
Begin by loading the photos into Lightroom. From here you can easily scan through the images, making any minor adjustments necessary. Just remember that any major adjustments that you make, such as to the exposure, colour or tone curves, should be copied to the entire set of images.
Do this by right clicking on an image and selecting Develop Settings > Copy Settings. Apply it to the rest of the photos by selecting Develop Settings > Paste Settings. Alternatively you may select all of your images (Cntrl A) and go to Develop Settings > Sync Settings.
Depending on your file size, you will probably find it beneficial to export these images from Lightroom as jpegs, and adjust the image size or resolution, before importing them into Photoshop.
Do this by selecting all images, right clicking and selecting Export > Export from the menu. A resolution of 72dpi will be good enough for uploading to the internet (see figure 1).
Don’t sharpen your images at this stage.
Save them to a folder on your hard drive.
Figure 1 - Exporting files as jpegs in Lightroom
Open Photoshop and select File > Scripts > Load Files into Stack (see figure 2).
Figure 2 - Load files into Photoshop
Click browse to find your images. Select all of them. Press ok.
Figure 3 - Load layers
All of your images will be opened into separate layers. Go to Window > Timeline. From the drop down arrow in the middle of the timeline select Create Frame Animation.
From the menu on the upper right corner of the timeline screen select Make Frames from Layers (see figure 4).
Figure 4 - Make frames from layers
Press the play button to preview your film. Select Forever from the menu to the left (see figure 5) to make your film loop.
Figure 5 - Set the loop time to Forever
If your film plays too quickly you can adjust the time each frame plays for by selecting all images and right clicking on the time under one of the photos. Adjust the time from no delay to 0.1 seconds or slower.
To save your animation as a GIF go to File > Save for Web.
Select GIF 128 Dithered from the Preset menu.
Select 256 from the Colours menu.
You have the option of making your GIF smaller again by changing the Width and Height. This is particularly important if you plan to upload your GIF to the internet.
Select Forever from the Looping Options menu.
Click Save and select a location to store your animation.