landscape time lapse photography

Time lapse is one of my favorites photography techniques, especially when I find myself standing in front of an amazing landscape scene. You’ve probably seen a time lapse once or twice before, even if you didn’t notice it. A time lapse is basically a video that accelerates time or an occurrence like a blooming flower, sunrise or sunset, cloud movement, people moving in a busy intersection, star movement in the sky and even season changing.
Here’s an example –

Time lapse during the night at Mount Zin and the Bulbus field in Israel.

So what exactly is time lapse? how to do it? What is the necessary equipment? All the answers and more up next.

Time lapse is a photography technique aimed to create a video that accelerates time or an occurrence you wouldn’t be able to see in normal time because it happens too slow. That way you can see in several seconds how a flower blooms, sun rise, stars moving in the sky and even glacier melting. The time lapse video is made from dozens of stills photos, taken one after another (with or without an interval between the photos) which are later on edited and produced by a video software to create a video by displaying them one after another in high speed (usually 24/25/30 frames per second or higher).

Time lapse of various landscapes at the Dolomites in Italy


RECOMMENDED GEAR:

1. Stills camera with option for manual exposure.
2. Remote control intervalometer or in camera intervalometer.
3. Tripod (or slider/doly to add camera movement).

technique

To shoot our time lapse we will place our camera on a steady tripod (to avoid shakes) or on a slider/doly to add camera movement during the shooting (a more advanced technique). After doing so we will choose the best composition, set the exposure settings just like in regular stills photography and activate the intervalometer to start shooting. There are several considerations we need to think about before we start shooting that will determine and affect the final video such as: the right exposure, how much time we have to shoot, the length of the interval between the photos and more.

1. exposure:

the exposure settings when shooting a time lapse are quite similar to stills but with a considerations you have to take in mind:

Manual exposure: my personal favorite method is using Manual exposure mode and selecting constant ISO, aperture and shutter speed for the whole sequence. This way you will get a video with smooth light transitions, quality and depth of field. Using manual exposure can create challenges when shooting scenes with changing light like sunrise or sunset. The simplest solution for that is to start shooting with an exposure that will be right for the “peak” of the sequence. Let’s say I’m shooting a sunrise and I want to shoot a bit before the sunrise and a bit after. If I start shooting with balanced exposure, by the time the sun will be on the horizon the photo will already be overexposed. So what I do is start shooting in underexposure – that way the beginning of the video will be a little dark, well balanced when the sun comes out and gradually over exposed after it keeps rising (it also makes the light transition natural). If I were to shoot a sunset I would do exactly the opposite – start shooting with a bit of overexposure so when the sun sets I’ll get balanced exposure that will gradually underexpose as the sun keeps setting.

Semi automatic exposure: the second method is shooting in semi automatic exposure mode like Aperture priority. In this method the camera will automatically balance the exposure (by changing the shutter speed). The problem in this method is that the final video might have un natural “light flickering” due to the changes in exposure during the shooting. You can fix this using advanced editing software like LR timelapse, Adobe Premiere etc.

2. Interval:

The interval between the frames is probably the most important consideration of a time lapse because it determines how fast changes will occur in the video. For example, if you’re shooting clouds moving between mountains and their movement is pretty fast you need to set a quite short interval like 2 or 3 seconds. If you set a long interval like 15 seconds the movement of the clouds in the video will be too fast and jumpy. On the other side, if the clouds are moving quite slow, setting a short interval will result in a video with very slow and boring cloud movement. If we were to shoot a very slow occurrence like season changing (that takes a whole year) we would probably shoot one photo a day (the interval would be 24 hours).

For time lapse during the night (astrophotography, milky way, northern lights) there is usually no need to set an interval between frames, because each frame is shot with a long exposure of about 20-40 seconds which already creates the right movement speed in the final video.

Time lapse sequence of Aletsch glacier in Switzerland. The interval I chose here was 3 seconds in order to achieve smooth movement of the clouds.

Milky way time lapse over Ramon crater in Israel. There was no interval between the frames in this sequence because each frame was shot in a shutter speed of 30 seconds.

3. how much time you have to shoot:

always remember that the time you have to shoot can limit your options. If you want to shoot the milky way moving in the sky you might need several hours of shooting (mostly because each shot is a night shot and can take at least 15 seconds or more). Plan before you go out shooting to see you have enough time.

4. video time:

it is important to understand the length of the video you will get from the shooting sequence. For example, if you shot 240 frames you will get a 10 seconds video (assuming the video is 24 fps). You usually need sequences of at least a few seconds so you can later on combine them with other sequences into a final video.

To understand that all together, here’s a table that might help you understand:

Lets say I’m standing on a balcony with a view mountain ranges and clouds moving in between. If the clouds are moving pretty fast I will choose a short 2 seconds interval. If I want to get a decent video sequence of 10 seconds I will have to shoot at least 240 frames. If I shoot every 2 seconds it means I get 30 frames per minute, so to get 240 frames I will have to shoot for 8 minutes. These calculations can start from different considerations according to your preferences and limitations. An easier way to do all these calculations is simply to find an app for your smartphone!

IMPORTANT POINTERS:

Focus before you start shooting and then set your lens to manual focus mode to avoid focus changes during the shooting. You can also turn off your image stabilizer.

It is recommended to shoot in RAW so you can later on edit and get best results.

If you’re shooting a time lapse without intervals (like in night photography when you don’t need it) make sure your camera is set to continuous shooting.

Make sure the tripod or slider/doly is perfectly stable before you start shooting to avoid shaking.

New cameras may have internal interval shooting programs you can use instead using a remote (intervalomemetr). Just make sure you know how to operate it well to avoid mistakes.

Some Nikon cameras have a safety feature that disables continuous shooting after 100 consecutive frames. Check your camera to disable it so you can shoot as many frames as you like.

composition:

Choosing composition for time lapse is quite similar to stills, but now you have to understand and take in consideration the moving elements in your frame. For example, if you’re shooting the milky moving in the night sky check in what directions it is moving so it won’t move out of the frame right in the beginning. Same goes for clouds, people or anything else.

editing:

There are many software in which you can create your time lapse, some are free and some cost money. Recommended software you can check are Lightroom + LR time lapse, Time lapse creator (available in windows store) Panolapse, Adobe premiere, DaVinci resolve and Power Director.

conclusions

Go out and start practicing! Time lapse is a pretty advanced photography technique that requires experience and practice to get good results. The more you practice the faster you’ll know how to do it and get better results. Good luck!

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