Slowly, barely visible, the clouds move in the sky and the sun sinks for the final touchdown until darkness slowly sets in. Beautiful sunsets happen in one way or another. Images of these capture the moment, but fail to capture the full spectacle. A video documenting the sunset would show it in all its glory, but probably no one watches a two-hour video of a sunset.
So how can you document what is happening in such a way that the entire spectacle can be played back within a few seconds. The answer is of course obvious: with a time lapse. They shorten the time that a process requires to a minimum by deliberately omitting many individual frames of a spectacle and/or playing them at high speed, and that's exactly what it's about now.
General information about time lapse
First, of course, you need to know how a time-lapse works. A time-lapse is essentially nothing more than a fast-playing slide show of a scene that changes over time.
Procedure for time-lapse
To create a time-lapse, there are two different principles. The first option is the simplest: You film a process and later simply play the resulting video at a significantly higher speed. This becomes problematic when you let a time-lapse run over an enormously long period of time. The video data would be so large that problems with storage space could arise.
The second and much better variant is the creation of individual images at a certain interval, which are then combined into a video. Many cameras and smartphones can now do this. They take pictures at certain time intervals and then automatically combine them into a time-lapse video. This makes it easy to create a time lapse without much effort. However, if you want to remain in control of each individual image and work according to your own ideas when merging the individual images, this is also possible and, in case of doubt, the better choice. Then there is some work to be done, but the result will be impressive.
Optimal intervals for time-lapse photography
First you should make sure that the camera takes the individual pictures. Many cameras have one intervalometer integrated. If this is not the case, they can often be retrofitted in the form of cable releases with an interval function. With this intervalometer you can set how many seconds there are between the individual pictures that my camera takes.
As is so often the case, there is no optimal interval. But to give a rough guide, you should choose an interval of three to five seconds at sunset. The camera shoots a picture every three to five seconds. The interval must of course always be constant. Fast-moving clouds should be photographed with an interval of two to three seconds. A bit of trying out is of course inevitable.
Shutter speeds for timelapses
The shutter speed should also be selected to match the interval. But first I would like to describe a negative example for clarification:
The clouds are moving very quickly in the sky and if you have decided on an interval of three seconds, everything is perfect so far. Now come to the Adjusting the camera. The sun is shining and it's very bright, so go for one Shutter speed of 1/500 seconds decide. This shutter speed is so fast that it freezes the clouds in their movement. However, there are still almost three seconds left until the next picture, in which the clouds move on. The second picture is taken. Again, the clouds are frozen in their movement and again it's just under three seconds until the next picture. In short, you always have a space of just under three seconds in which the clouds have suddenly moved on. This will appear too edgy in the final time-lapse, as the movement from frame to frame has gaps, making it look very abrupt.
For the same example, try the shutter speed to 1.5 seconds to increase things by stopping down, changing the ISO settings or using a ND filter can happen, then you have the cloud movement in the 1.5 seconds in your photo and the jump to the next picture is only 1.5 seconds away, which then has the effect of keeping the gaps between the pictures smaller and the result looks more fluid.
You should therefore make sure that at least approximately half of the interval is set as the camera's shutter speed. With very short intervals it is very important to note that the camera needs some time to save the images. Many saves are too long for a very short interval to even be possible. If you take all this into account, then you have created the optimal basic conditions for a great time-lapse.
Choice of playback speed
Once the photos are in the can, the individual images should later be assembled using software such as Lightroom, LRTimelapse or Adobe Premiere Pro to create the finished film. One should keep in mind that a video is nothing more than quickly composed individual images that are played back at a certain playback speed.
common video playback rates or frame rates, as they are called, are 24 fps (photos per second/frames per second), 30 fps, 60 fps and various levels in between. The photos created should then also be played back at such a speed in order to create a film. It is important to know that the human eye perceives a film as smooth from a repetition rate of 20 frames per second. So if you play the generated images at 10 frames per second, the video becomes very jerky and unattractive.
Camera wear and frame rate
Those who have been paying attention will have noticed that the production of time-lapses with individual images takes a lot out of the shutter of a single-lens reflex camera, since the number of images taken for a film is enormous. It is therefore advisable to use a camera that mirrorless is.
If you still use an SLR camera, then you should think about the result in advance. Mostly about what frame rate you want to play the video at. It makes sense to have one low frame rate of 24 fps, for example, since the video is then perceived as fluid and only 24 individual images are required for a finished time lapse for one second. If you want to play it at 60 fps, you have to take 60 photos for a second finished time-lapse.
Equipment for engaging time-lapse photography
You don't need much for a simple time-lapse. It is sufficient if you have a camera with a lens, a separate intervalometer if this is not built into the camera and a stable tripod. If you have this equipment at hand, you can already produce very high quality time lapses.n.
In addition, for a special look, you can motorized camera slider use, which provide an additional movement or camera work during the time lapse. These sliders can also be used with 360 panoramic headsn, which are also motorized, combine, which can lead to very impressive results.
It also makes sense if the camera can be connected to a mobile phone in order to get the best possible transition between day and night in day-to-night time lapses. An app like for example QDSLR Dashboard regularly interprets the histogram and regulates the shutter speed of the camera as soon as darkness falls below a certain reference value. The finished result will be very impressive as long as everything goes well.
In the beginning, however, you should probably stick with the basic equipment. Because too many cooks might spoil the broth in the early stages as you have too many parameters and variables to look out for at the same time. You should therefore concentrate first and foremost on being able to make time lapses properly, as this will demand a lot from you. In my personal experience, it's also a useful one checklist to make, which ensures that nothing is left at home. With the basic equipment, this may seem a bit silly, but at the latest when sliders and the like are used, this is an enormous help.
Location and composition
The most important thing about a time lapse is the choice of location and the correct image composition. Because you can no longer change this once you have started the time-lapse. Therefore, I recommend spending more time looking for the location and the right image section than getting annoyed about the unfavorably selected image section afterwards. You should also avoid taking photos in portrait mode at all costs, as it is cumbersome afterwards to tilt the TV on its side to see the video in its full glory.
When choosing the image section, you should make sure that something in the image changes if possible, otherwise the time-lapse could become very boring. Drifting clouds, a sunrise or sunset, one busy intersection or flowing water are just a few examples of changing or moving subjects that are ideal for a time lapse.
When you take still photos and end up making a video out of them, it's good to keep in mind that the most common video format is 16:9, while most cameras shoot photos in 4:3 format. As a result, something is missing, at least in the height of the pictures. The video mode can help here if the format cannot be changed in the camera: You set the video mode and then the live view of the camera shows a 16:9 section with which you can then choose your image composition. You fix the camera based on this with the help of the tripod head and it is best not to change anything anymore. All you have to do now is switch back from video mode to photo mode and then start recording.
Time Lapse Settings
The camera should set manually in order to avoid that the parameters in the camera change as soon as the lighting conditions change. An exception is day-to-night time-lapse, where the camera has to be constantly readjusted, as briefly described above.
Adjust the focus optimally to the scenery and then switch off the autofocus, so that it does not try to focus during the photos. That would usually look very ugly and could ruin the entire footage. Also turn off any stabilizers.
The exposure choose, as already mentioned, so that they ideally half as long as the interval is. Here is the use of ND filters sometimes very helpful. However, you should note that you viewfinder cover keep closed at slower shutter speeds to avoid unsightly purple discoloration in the center of the image.
In the case of large contrasts, you should not shy away from using gradient filters. In principle one can say that the rest of the settings and variables are the same as for landscape photography, ie a closed aperture and a low ISO. For optimal post-processing, you should always work in RAW format, as this gives you the best opportunity to make changes to the highs and lows of the images.
post-processing of the photos
If you work with individual images, you cannot avoid assembling the photos on the PC. With the help of a suitable software the images are arranged chronologically and uniformly processed beforehand so that the result has the look that you want to bring into the video.
The finished time-lapse is then saved as a video so that you can view your work in liquid form for the first time. There are various options for merging the time lapse. It is up to you whether you want to use freeware or paid programs. I have had very good experiences with the combination ofon LRTimelapse and Lightroom made, which is why I can recommend them to everyone without hesitation.
Day to night and moving time lapse
In addition to the simple time-lapse, there are also more complex methods to present the events in a more interesting way. Introducing additional movement into the time-lapse, for example, is an effect that is often used. Slow-motion tracking shots paired with fast-moving clouds, for example, bring a great contrast to the video that is simply fascinating.
What was almost impossible for a long time is creating a time-lapse from daylight to total darkness, hence the name Holy Grail, for the impossibility of these recordings.
The reason for this is quite simple: The itself strongly changing light. In order to be able to see something in the pictures from daylight to night, you are forced to adjust the camera settings regularly. The darker it gets, the longer the shutter speed has to be, a higher ISO has to be set or the aperture has to be opened wider. As a result, with every change in the camera values, the video gets a clearly visible change by suddenly becoming either brighter or darker. With the help of a program such as LRTimelapse, however, it is possible to do this leaps of light to smooth so that a smooth video results in the end.
During the transition from day to night, you are forced to constantly adjust the camera parameters in order to keep the brightness in the picture as constant as possible. As a result, you sit at the camera for quite a while and turn the dials, which can be very annoying.
You also run the risk of camera shake when changing the camera settings. But since pretty much everyone now has a smartphone or even a tablet, this work process can be automated. The QDSLR Dashboard app can take control of the camera. You have to connect your cell phone or tablet to the camera via WLAN or a cable, set the camera to JPG and RAW and you're ready to go.
The app is now able to interpret the histogram of the image, using reference values, with the help of the JPG preview that is shown on the mobile device after each trigger. During the day, the brightness in the image will change and the image will become darker, for example. The app ensures that the camera's values are adjusted again so that the histogram is balanced until the picture becomes too dark again and the app becomes active again.
Time lapse using the egg timer method
Some movements can be created with very simple household means. For example, if you place your camera on an egg timer and let the camera take pictures at intervals while the egg timer is rotating, the result is a moving time lapse created with simple means.
The quality of the camera rotation then depends on the regularity of the egg timer. However, the egg timer method has potential problems. For example, you can usually run a time lapse for a maximum of one hour (normal running time of an egg timer), which of course does not work for longer projects. Large cameras are usually too heavy to load the timer with them. In addition, the clock often turns continuously, which is suboptimal with slower shutter speeds, since the images are inherently blurred at such exposure times.
However, there is a solution to these problems: Motorized and programmable camera slider and 360 panoramic headse which can be additionally mounted on the slider, offer the possibility to circumvent all these problems and bring movement into the video as desired.
Slider for tracking shots as desired
The slider is a rail with a pre-assembled slide on which the camera can move back and forth. Ideally, this happens without jerking and often by means of a belt that is stretched between the beginning and end of the slider.
Above all, sliders should be motorized and programmable for a time-lapse. The motor ensures that the camera is transported evenly over the carriage during recording and not jerkily or continuously. The motor stops driving for each shot to guarantee that the shot is not blurred. After the picture has been taken, the camera is moved a little further to take the next photo. This one driving intervals are only a few mm to cm, it would be very inconvenient to do this manually.
sliders are available in different designs, materials and lengths, and of course in different price ranges. Personally, I always start with that carbon, because the weight saving is very important to me, because in addition to the slider there is a lot of material that has to be transported to the recording location.
360 panorama headf
If the slider is too boring for you in the long run and one axis is not enough for a tracking shot, you can either place an egg timer on the slider (with the problems already described) or use a motorized panorama head.
With a panorama head, a 360 rotation around the horizontal and/or around the vertical axis can be incorporated into the time lapse, which really rocks. The head should be programmable as well as the motor of the slider. When combined, the head and slider work as one, so you only have one controller to program the ride into. A 360 panorama head is particularly suitable for time lapses in which you want to follow the Milky Way or the sun with the camera.t.
Image composition for moving time lapses
With moving time-lapses, you should pay more attention to the composition of the image. Because to make the movement visible, you need a foreground that shifts against the background. The closer the foreground is to the camera, the better the ride becomes visible.
Conclusion on time-lapse recordings
With time-lapse recordings you can achieve spectacular results and offer completely new possibilities. There are no limits to your imagination. Play with different motifs and image designs. Practice creates masters!