I’ve been experimenting with lots of different timelapses since I got my Pixel Intervalometer and, although the process will differ significantly depending on what you’re shooting, here are some tips that I found very useful:
- Decide how long your finished video will be. Decide how long the sequence will be in it’s finished state.
- Decide how long you’re willing / able to spend shooting the footage. If you’re shooting from your apartment balcony, your back garden or from beside your parked car, you’ll probably be able to shoot for much longer than if you’re standing on a windy promenade or in the middle of a field on a freezing cold night. Decide on a minimum shooting time and stick to it. Anything you do above this is a bonus.
- Work out your intervals. First of all, decide on whether you’ll want a very fluid movement look (like when shooting clouds moving across the sky) or a blockier look (a flower opening or a rotting fruit). Work out what your intervals will be by using the following formula. Note that the standard frame-rate in Europe using PAL is 25 fps, but in the US using NTSC it’s 30 fps. Use whichever applies to you.
Length of completed video (in seconds) x 25 fps = Number of photos needed
Length of shooting time (in seconds) / Number of photos needed = Intervals between photos (in seconds)
A 30 second video x 25 fps = 750 photos needed
1 hour of shooting (3,600 seconds) / 750 photos = 5 second intervals
- Choose your frame well. Think ahead. I’ve done a few timelapses now, only to have someone walk right in front of the lens half-way through. Plan your shot so that nobody can disrupt it. Also factor in any other problems. If you’re shooting a daytime sky, will the sun cause trouble when it moves into the shot. When shooting a nighttime shot, will the bright moon ruin your starry sky timelapse? I find that when shooting a timelapse of the sky (day or night), it’s necessary to have something in the foreground. It seems easier to process when watching back if the sky is moving around something static.
- Set up your camera. Once again, think ahead. I’ve found leaving the camera on Aperture Priority is desirable. It maintains the aperture as the light changes and adjusts the shutter to compensate that. Your F-stop will depend on what you’re shooting, but I’ve found setting the highest F-stop works well and set focus to infinity. Adjust your ISO to what works best for the shot that you’re taking, but remember to think ahead. Will it still look ok as the light changes? Your camera settings will vary depending on the situation, so the next step is very important.
- Take some test shots!! Take 2 or 3 test photos before starting your time-lapse. Imagine committing to a 4 hour time-lapse, only to see in post-production that every photo looks terrible! Keep monitoring your photos as the time-lapse goes on (from time-to-time, not all the time!), as occasionally (though not ideally) you may need to bump up or down the ISO a fraction during the lapse.
- Get comfortable and read a book. Make sure that smartphone is full of battery and work on your high-score in Angry Birds.
Now that all the hard work is done, you can sit down at your computer with a hot cup of coffee and finish your masterpiece. I’ve tried out numerous compiling software that automatically turn your images into a movie, but I’ve found good ol’ Adobe Photoshop to be the best.
- Organise your photos. Put all photos of each individual timelapse in their own folders.
- Resize your photos. My photos are all taken at the highest resolution, but unfortunately editing programs like Adobe Premiere Pro will only accept photos that are under 16 mega-pixels. Don’t worry, you won’t have to resize each of your hundreds of photos individually. You can automate the process. Open up one of the photos in Photoshop and set up a new Action. Call it “Timelapse” (this can be reused again). Make sure you’ve started recording in the Action Window and go ahead and resize the image until it is below 16 mega-pixels. Save your photo.
- If you want to add any other effects to your photos, now’s the time to do it. Make sure that the record button is still active in your Action window and add blurring effects to turn your timelapse into a tilt-shift video or any colour-correction you might need etc.
- Click “File>Automate>Batch” and choose the directory of your timelapse photos. Make sure there aren’t any other photos in here with it. Sit back and let Photoshop do all the work for you!
- When it’s all done, open up Adobe Premiere Pro and choose “File>Import”. Choose the first photo and tick the box labelled “Numbered Stills”. Now you’ve imported your timelapse as a movie sequence in Premiere Pro!
- Drag to your timeline along with any others and finish the editing process. You may wish to add a fake panning effect that looks like you used an automated crane during your timelapse. Simply make your video larger than your output (don’t exceed the resolution of your resized photos or you may lose quality). Set up motion keyframes to move the photo around the output screen. Use very slow and slight pans and movement as they can sometimes take away from the final output.
- Show them to your friends on Vimeo, YouTube or your own big screen at home.