Photography Friday: A Time-Lapse Tutorial

Ever see one of those videos where everything seems to be moving in super-fast motion? With time-lapse photography, you can take a very long period of time and visually condense it down into just a few seconds. With the additional time and control over the images that we have in photography that we wouldn’t have with video (or at least without the added expense) we can create some amazing looking videos really quickly.

Follow this quick time-lapse photography tutorial and then try it for yourself!

1. Necessary items

You will need a camera that has full manual control, a sturdy tripod, an intervalometer, software that will arrange still photos into a video, and ideally some photo editing software. I use an old DSLR because I like having RAW files to use but don’t need a high pixel count or large files. HD video is only 1920 pixels wide, so any camera over 3 megapixels is overkill.

You want the camera on manual so that the exposure doesn’t change with each shot. This will cause problems with the continuity from one frame to the next. The tripod just needs to big and sturdy enough to stay put wherever you choose to work. An intervalometer is a device that you plug into the camera to trigger the shutter in predetermined intervals. The intervals can be every second, every half a second, every 30 seconds, or every 2 minutes — whatever you choose.

The software I use is Lightroom and Photoshop and Quicktime 7 Pro, but I would bet there are other options out there.

2. Do the math

Video time is measured in frame rates. Most movies or TV shows end up at either 24 fps (frames per second) or 30 fps. Any faster than that and you won’t notice too much of a difference. Any slower and your video may look choppy, which for time-lapse videos, can still look pretty cool.

If you are planning to shoot an hour-long sunset but want your clip to run for a total of 30 seconds, that will determine how to set the intervals. If you shoot 1 photo every 5 seconds, you get 12 photos per minute or 720 photos per hour. 720 photos at a frame rate of 24 fps gives you 30 seconds of video.

Use this formula to determine your intervals:

(Length of video in seconds) x (frame rate) = number of shots

(Length of shoot in seconds) / (number of shots) = interval in seconds

3. Editing and resizing

Once you have your images you can do some editing. The easiest way is to take the RAW images into Lightroom, apply your edits to one image, and then sync them all to have the same edits across the lot. You can also do this in Photoshop by creating an action for the edits you make on one photo and then applying the action through the Batch Process command to all of the images.

It’s also possible to crop and resize the images to fit the end product right in Lightroom or Photoshop. Many of my film projects are at a 16:9 aspect ratio while the camera is shooting 2:3. So cropping is necessary to avoid letterboxes on part of my film. The resizing can also be done in Quicktime, which, in my experience, takes about the same amount of time.

4. Sequencing

In Quicktime 7 Pro there is a command called “Open Image Sequence.” As long as your files are named sequentially, you can choose the entire folder of images and Quicktime will put them into a film at whatever frame rate you tell it to. Once the images are loaded into a film, choose “Export” and save it to whatever size you want. I recommend HD settings — 1920 x 1080 pixels.

OK, now go give this a try! And let us see what you create by sharing your videos in the comments!

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