Monday, June 1, 2015

Time-Lapse with your DSLR : The Easy Way

What is the easiest way to put together a time-lapse video? It's best to focus on the instructions you need to give your camera first, and then when you know those in and out, start figuring out how to move your camera in the process. There are a few important pieces to making a time-lapse, and most are fairly inexpensive so you can start in no time.
Read on for more information.



What You Need
Creating time lapses can require a few specific pieces of equipment or functionality in your kit.
1) Tripod, pretty much 100% of the time. Although I've made some when I have forgotten my tripod too.
2) Intervalometer, external, or built into camera / magic lantern firmware update
3) DSLR camera or something with lockable focus and exposure
4) Software - Quicktime Pro 7

Why Do You Need Those
The tripod keeps your camera steady. Over the course of a time lapse, camera motion needs to be slowed down and moved incrementally with the timing of the exposures for smooth looking video.  After you get used to recording a static time-lapse, you could start moving your camera throughout the timeframe of the time-lapse.

The intervalometer keeps the video frame rate at a constant. With a random interval between photos, if you were trying by hand for instance, a time-lapse of clouds which would be moving at a constant speed, would appear to sporadically speed up and slow down.

DSLR Camera is important because they all come with a built in Manual exposure mode. You'll want to know a thing or two about manual exposures before starting a time-lapse.

Quick Time Pro is affordable ($29 USD) software that allows you to combine image sequences into video of a specified frame rate. It is the fastest and easiest way to make a video.  I used to use iPhoto and later Lightroom, and way way back I even tried once with iMovie adding frame by frame - none of those are a convenient way to do it like QTPro7 is.

The Process:

Set your camera on a tripod and pick a good subject.  Remember a movie frame is 16x9 orientation. Everything you see in your viewfinder will not show in your video without some stretching. So crop your scene accordingly and allow for some top or bottom of the frame to be removed.

Expose for your scene. Consider if the lighting will stay constant, or change during the time lapse duration.  Expose for the future if thats where the 'subject' of your time-lapse is going to happen. e.g. if you are going to time-lapse the sunrise, you may want to start off at -2EV or more so that you're closer to +/-0EV around the main part of the sunrise.  There are other ways, but are likely to involve 'flicker' into your time lapses, which will then involved deflickering.  Remember to lock whitebalance.  Nothing more frustrating when watching a time-lapse than seeing flicker of the white balance. This tends to happen when the camera and scene go from sunlight to shade, or daytime through sunset/rise. Shooting in RAW means more space but you can edit any WB you want.

Test your exposure, shoot a frame or two, see how it looks. Then set your intervalometer.  Which will depend on the total real time you wish to span with your clip, the speed of the objects you're time lapsing, and more.  One photo every ten seconds tends to look nice most wide to normal or short telephoto views.  As you go more telephoto, things can more quickly enter and leave your frame, so you'll want to allow faster frame rate, or slower exposures to keep things from jumping around all crazy like.

Bring your camera home, download your pictures. Edit them all.  I like Lightroom because it allows me to batch edit so easily.  Pick one frame that is the best still from the most important part of the video.  Edit that, then copy and paste your settings over to all the clips.  If you'd rather edit the video as a whole, you can skip this step. Export your edits if you made any, and then open up QTPro7.  Open the first image of the sequence as 'an image sequence'. It is an option in the file menu of the software.

Give it a couple minutes, usually less than 5, and let it make a video.  You can watch now, but make sure to save it.

That's it.

I made those two time lapses of downtown Oakville just a couple days ago.  They are both spanning about 20 minutes.  I would have liked an exposure in the 1"-2" second length so the bodies were more blurred, but it was too bright at this time of day.





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