What is time-lapse?
Time-lapse is where a camera captures a series of images at a predetermined frame rate, most commonly used to show scenes that evolve slowly. For example, this method could be used to show the movement of clouds or sunsets at a faster rate than would ever be seen in a natural setting. Sequences are becoming increasingly common in television programmes such as news items, nature programmes and title sequences.
Time-lapse allows subtle processes which are usually impossible for the human eye to notice to be shown at significantly increased speeds, allowing the viewer to see an event that could potentially take place over days, weeks, months or even years in a matter of seconds or minutes.
For instance, one of the most commonly seen uses of time-lapse is in nature programmes, where flowers are seen opening and plants are shown emerging from the ground at an incredibly fast rate. Even the yearly changing of the seasons can be documented and reproduced in a matter of seconds.
How to Create time-lapse Footage
The process of recording footage is simple in theory. Essentially, you find a place to shoot your desired scene from, set a rate for the camera to record at i.e. a frame per second/minute/hour and let the camera run for as long as is needed. Getting the technique right can be hard but as with anything, practise makes perfect.
Aside from a camera, there are some other important tools required make this possible:
A tripod – so the camera remains stable.
An intervalometer – to control the frame rate of the camera. Usually, this equipment will not come with a camera, and must be purchased separately, although some modern digital cameras have a functionality built in.
Quality video editing software.
In addition to the tools listed above, there are some key things to consider:
Do test shoots – once you’ve found an ideal position to shoot from, do a test run to see if there are any unforeseen influences on the camera or viewing angle.
Shoot in a suitable format – depending on the software used to edit the video, different file types may be required. Look into this beforehand as you don’t want to waste a day shooting only to find that your computer can’t handle the images you’ve captured.
Batteries – time lapsing can require a much longer battery life span than regular camera work, due to the long periods of time the camera will be in use for. Check the life span of the camera out before any time-lapse work begins and pack all the juice you need.
Memory – some time-lapse work can be very memory intensive, and can fill up a memory card very quickly. Either bring a spare or make sure your current memory card is up to the task.
What Camera Should I Use?
Many types of camera are suitable for time-lapse photography, but modern, digital cameras are superb for the job. The ideal camera will be small, robust and will preferably have the ability to shoot in HD. Action sports cameras, such as the Drift HD and GoPro HD2, are perfect for the task. Designed for shooting in an action packed environment, these cameras are sturdy enough for almost any time-lapse project.
Time-lapse can be a very long, drawn out process, and often a days work will produce only a few seconds of footage. But when this technique is used to full effect, the results can be remarkable. It’s well worth the initial hard work of the trial and error phase, just so you can get to a place where you can produce great footage. As difficult as it is to get right, this style of photography can be an incredibly rewarding art form.
Don’t forget your tripod. There’s nothing worse that a beautiful exposure that’s blurry in all the wrong places. The trick to this method is to keep your camera still so everything but the water is blurry. Even though the blurred water will create the silken effect, you still want your trees and sky to be sharp into the distance.
Subjects that move are great elements for creating time lapse images. Water is just the beginning. Cars at night create streaky lights. Planes create the same effect. The secret is a long exposure, a still camera and ways to reduce the potential over exposure.