This post is a short tutorial in time lapse that will help you get more from your videos.
The technique of time lapse is where a subject is filmed at a much lower frame rate than normal.
We do this, so that when the film is played back at a normal speed (usually 25 frames per second), things that happen almost too slowly to be perceived become much faster. We’ve used this technique to great effect on many things, from the movement of stars across the night sky filmed over an hour or so, to the growth of plants filmed over many days.
You can try the technique for yourself, there are several apps available for both Android and iPhone that allow you to do this. ‘Laps It’ on Android is very good and allows you to try a limited, but still very usable, free version. There is the option to unlock a more fully featured version if you want to try something more advanced.
The next level
The next step up from this is to use an action cam, like a GoPro. The GoPro 4 Hero Black edition is very easy to set up and produces highly reliable results, especially in good lighting conditions.
If you want to get the best results, use a DSLR camera with an interval timer. Some, like the GH4, have one built in. Other cameras, like the Canon 5D Mk3, will need you to buy an external one. I personally prefer the external one, as it allows you to take test shots or change settings without having to touch the camera and disturb it’s position. Not so much of a worry if you’re filming landscapes on a wide angle lens, but crucial if you are filming using a macro lens where even a millimetre of movement can throw off the focus. With DSLR there are two further options, mirror-less and mirrored. There are good arguments for using both in terms of quality of image. With time laps, the mirror-less cameras can hold an advantage as they don’t have any mechanical movement to take each shot. Very small variations in shot position can creep in when using mirrored DSLR. These are fairly simple to correct in post.
Some tips for successful time lapse filming.
- Make sure your camera is rigidly secured. If possible mount on a camera stand and solidly set up on a secure surface. If it’s set up on a soft surface, like sand or wet soil, then go the extra mile to ensure stability. You might not visually see any movement but if you’re shooting over several hours, you don’t want the camera mount to be slowly settling into a different position.
- Be aware of the light levels over the course of the shoot. It may be your camera is set up perfectly for right now, but what is the light going to be doing by the end of your shot run? If you’re filming a sunset, or something with dramatic light change, will your camera settings allow for sufficient dynamic range to cope? You should consider white balance. On a day with patchy cloud the white balance will change significantly, GoPro and mobile phone cameras might struggle to even it out.
- Be patient. By it’s nature it takes a lot of time to film. Try and film more than you think you’ll need. There’s little more frustrating than realising you stopped the camera just when something cool was happening.
- Share your results. Time lapse film can give people a really different view of their world. People will want to see what you’ve done, so share away.