How to make a time lapse video

By August 2, 2014Uncategorized

Hey everyone,

After diving in to the aerial photography & video industry with drones, I’ve found a handful of unique requests and opportunities on behalf of my clients outside of the aerial and drone realm; specifically time lapse. After some trial and error, I like to think I’ve got a pretty good handle on how to shoot time lapse. It’s a fairly simple process once you understand the basics, so here are some bullet points to get you in the right direction.

First, make sure to purchase an intervalometer (remote control timed shutter release), I got mine on amazon for a little under $40.00, it’s 100% necessary for time lapse, you can find them here: quality intervalometer for less than $40.00 – If you don’t know exactly how these work, here is the wiki. Or just search on YouTube for further intel.

Next, make sure to have a couple of back-up batteries, standard Canon batteries tend to last for about 1.5 – 2.5 hours of continuous shooting, depending on your settings and whether or not you keep the display on. Make sure to have 1-3 back batteries, depending on how long you want to shoot for.

Once you actually begin your time lapse, here are some quick points:

  • Make sure your tri-pod is super steady, and do your best to not touch/alter the camera or tri-pod in any way. One subtle movement can put a few photo’s off course from the rest and create a hiccup in the time lapse.
  • Put your settings in to play via manual mode and leave them be for the duration of the time lapse. If you absolutely must change your settings due to movement in the scenery or drastic change in lighting, then be prepared to cut/alter the footage in post production, try to make a note of where you made this change. For basic settings, I put my camera in the following manual mode settings: ISO = 200, Aperture = 8-9 (for open landscape time lapses), Shutter Speed = 1/30. Of course settings vary and if you’re at the point of shooting time lapse in manual mode, you should have a general understanding of how exposure settings work.
  • A note on Shutter Speed: since you’re shooting for time lapse, shutter speed does more for exposure lighting than it actually does for movement in this circumstance. Unless you’re shooting time lapses with a lot of fast movement, your shutter speed should be set based on how the lighting looks in your display; essentially you want the display to reflect how your finished time lapse product lighting will look, based on your personal preference. A special note on this, make sure that your intervalometer speed does not shoot faster than your shutter speed. For example, if you’re taking a picture every 2 seconds, but you set the shutter speed for 3 seconds, then your shutter will be staying open for 3 seconds (crazy exposure and doubtful to be in use, but just as an example) while your camera is trying to take a picture every 2 seconds. In other words, each picture is taking 3 seconds to capture, but your camera wants to capture a picture every 2 seconds, so it just doesn’t work. This might be confusing, so read it a few times. The jist of this note, just make sure your intervalometer speed is slower than your shutter speed.
  • Your settings are set, your batteries are on stand by, your tri-pod is stable, begin shooting!
  • Keep a chair & umbrella nearby. The umbrella comes in handy if you experience heavy winds, rain, mist, etc. I tried to cover my camera with a jacket once and the subtle movement of delicately placing my jacket over the outside of the camera caused major disturbance in the finished time lapse footage. You’ll be hanging out for awhile, so bring a chair & book.
  • Make sure that you have a memory card that can support around 2000-4000 photographs, I use a 32 gig memory card and it has plenty of space, they aren’t too expensive either.
  • Once your photographing is complete, you’ll need to upload the photos. I recommend using Adobe Lightroom (it’s an offshoot of Photoshop). Here is a terrific link on how to manage the workflow and export the photos from a basic catalog of photos to an actual time lapse video: workflow link – you’ll have to download a couple of simple templates but the instructions are in the video descriptions along with the links, I completed this process in like 30 seconds and it’s super seamless and helpful. If you’re completely unfamiliar with Adobe products or Lightroom, I highly recommend taking the time to learn the Adobe products as they’re the best on the market for post production. You can subscribe to the Adobe Creative Cloud for about $30 a month and receive access to all of their awesome programs.
  • I found a major flaw in my time lapses after editing my photos, syncing them to all look the same, and exporting as a slide show (time lapse video) in adobe Lightroom. I would get a lot of jumps in picture, fuzzy portions in the video, and bad lighting. It turns out, there is a strange flaw with caching preview files in Lightroom and often times these previews will replace the actual photos in the slideshow even after it’s exported. Here is how you fix this issue: Select all of the photos are plan on using for your time lapse and go to your menu bar in Lightroom at the top of the screen, select Library -> Previews -> Discard 1:1 Previews, click OK and allow the previews to be discarded, then go back to Library -> Previews -> Build 1:1 Previews and click OK on the box. This process can take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour to rebuild all of the previews, but it will clear the old cache and make every preview the same. It’s sort of like a deep dive of syncing all of your photos to look exactly the same, after you have edited and sync’d them already. Once you’ve cleaned up your previews, export the slideshow again and it should look flawless (assuming you’ve shot everything correctly originally).
  • A final note on settings and how many photos you’ll need. I tend to shoot time lapses with an interval of 2 seconds set to my intervalometer, so my camera is taking a photo every 2 seconds. Then I like to export my photos in to a slideshow that shows the photos at 30 frames per second. For every 1 minute of actually taking photos, I achieve 30 photographs. These 30 photographs are shown in the final time lapse video in a matter of 1 second (30 frames per second). So, 1 minute of shooting time lapse photos = 1 second of footage. One hour of shooting time lapse photos = 1 minute of time lapse footage. You get the picture.

Stay tuned to see some of my finished work that I’ll be posting in the next week or so!

Cheers and happy filming!