Zion Night Traffic

Making Time Lapse

I first started doing time lapse shooting with my old digital camera. The one that I actually remember the model of the camera is the Nikon Coolpix which got a internal interval mode that can use to take time lapse sequence on it’s own. Thinking back I think I got it for around $600. That can actually be use to purchase a nice decent DSLR camera now. Also been using the GoPro HD camera, the very first generation of HD GoPro.

But not until I got my first DSLR camera, I then started to love it more and more. Start putting them into little shorts and put them online. You can watch them under the Time Lapse Video section.

Here’s my very first time lapse video shot in Hong Kong and Shanghai back in 2012.

If you don’t know much about production and / or post-production, you might ask: “So you don’t have to do anything and just set your camera and have the interval taking the photos for you?” Well….. I’ve been asked about this before. And my response was freeze for a few seconds and saying “Yes”…. and “No”…. Of course during the camera is busy taking the image sequence, you really should NOT touch the camera. Or even not to step close to your tripod if you are setting on grass. Some soft ground surface, or anything that might move. You get the idea.

But I also saying “No” because it really shouldn’t be that simple, right? So why “NO”?

To me, the most challenging part of taking your time lapse photos is to predict what’s coming. When you get to a location. First, you find a framing and should know exactly what is moving in the frame. What motion you are trying to capture. Let’s spent some times to look into this for a moment. When you know what motion you want. Say street traffic of cars movements. If you shoot night traffic, you might need a very long exposure to capture a single frame. Say 8 seconds per frame. Plus the time you should add for allowing the camera buffer to get ready to take the next frame. Roughly between 2-4 seconds depending on which model of camera you use. In this case, the light trails of the cars are  very long with a 8 seconds exposure. And every frame is a 12 seconds time different (8sec exposure + 4secs buffer time) to the next image. And car can move in a very long distance within 12 seconds. Most likely, cars that in the current frame will not be in the next frame. That means none of the motion is actually connected since each frame are showing you a whole new sets of different cars in it. Well… unless you are at a higher place capturing a long road and can see in a far distances. Otherwise, the solution is to bring up the ISO or open up the aperture allowing more lights in. And keep the interval around 5-6 seconds or even lower. Just keep in mine that all you want to archive is to have some cars to show in the next frame. If this really confused you, don’t worry=! Read this part again after you got your first night traffic time lapse. Maybe? And for the opposite. A day traffic time lapse with a fast shutter speed, let’s say 1/1000. And you keep the interval at 4 seconds. All the cars in the frame does have the connection between frames. But the render video just look wrong. That because your eyes are not as fast as the camera. So our eyes see motion blur when a fast motion occurs. Which is why the video just looks wrong even the movements of the cars are connected frame after frame. To fix that, simply add a filter that allows your camera to take a long exposure during the day. Ideally a ND, or myself like using Circular Polarizer.

Next you need to have a rough idea of how long you are going to shoot for. for examples: Time to sunrise, sunset, moonrise, moonset, city lights up ,etc. Since this will determine, or sometimes you can just predict  the lights changes over the shoot period. After you gather all these information in your head. You will now need to make a decision of what method and mode you should be using. This is the part I think is challenging because you are likely trying to get ready for capturing some actions. And actions usually don’t wait. Otherwise, I should call acting! Right? Under a pressure of the action is happening soon, then you have to decide what interval time to use. Not to mention the basic camera settings, focus, battery life. And also have to guess all these settings will be still good after an hour, 2, or even more. An extreme long overnight? That might need a battery pack to double the time. After you start taking the sequence, you can’t really check if they are good until the end. Or even not until you render the video out! So that challenging moment of making decision might screw up everything you got……

I think these are some interesting points I experienced myself and wanted to share with you! But I will not be giving you the full lesson on making time lapse video since it really involve a lot of talks and time to create them. Also I’m still learning it every time I go out to shoot. I think it will be better for someone hired by Canon. It’s a complete 4 parts tutorials from camera settings to post-process in Lightroom.

The Basics of Time Lapse Photography with Vincent Laforet: Episode 1
The Basics of Time Lapse Photography with Vincent Laforet: Episode 2
The Basics of Time Lapse Photography with Vincent Laforet: Episode 3
The Basics of Time Lapse Photography with Vincent Laforet: Episode 4

I personally not a Lightroom user and do all my sequence in Adobe After Effects.
Below is another useful video about a advanced topic on “Holy Grail” time lapse.

How to Shoot Day to Night Time-lapses by Preston Kanak

These links are already under the Tutorials page

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