What is a Time-lapse?
The beauty of a time-lapse video is that you can show certain movements that you would normally not be able to see. For example, when we look at the clouds in the sky we don’t really notice them constantly moving and changing shape, but with a time-lapse you can see the subtle movements in just a few seconds.
Because of the time taken between individual images in the sequence, it can take many hours to shoot the hundreds of images required to create a successful time-lapse. Yet once these images are played back at 24 or 25 frames per second, the resulting video may be only a few seconds long.
What to shoot
Choosing the right location or subject for a time-lapse video is very important. There needs to be enough happening over the period of time to make the video dynamic and interesting to the viewer. Recently, I’ve been working on a time-lapse video in Amsterdam, which is where I live.
There are many interesting movements in cities that you can observe more closely with a time-lapse - the way people and cars move in a motion and rhythm; the way lights of a city switch on as the day gets darker. We don’t notice these things in real time, but sped up it can be fascinating to see.
How to Shoot a Time-lapse
For this project I mainly used the Sony Alpha 7 III. The 24-million-pixel resolution is more than enough for me as the higher the resolution, the more storage and power and time is needed to create and process the time-lapse.
Like most Sony cameras, the Sony Alpha 7 III has a built-in Interval Timer feature, which is what I use to shoot most of the time-lapse sequences. You simply set up the interval between shots and the number of shots you want to take and then the camera will take care of the rest. Obviously, you need to keep the camera on a tripod and keep it as still as possible; if the camera moves you will have a jump in your final time-lapse.
If you are shooting a short time-lapse, and you know that the lighting conditions will not change, then it is best to use fully manual exposure for the entire duration of the time-lapse.
The great thing about shooting a time-lapse with the Sony cameras is their dynamic range. Because I shoot everything in RAW, I can edit them later and as a result I have not had to use a graduated filter in any of the time-lapses. I will usually underexpose quite a lot to keep detail in the sky, knowing that I can recover a great deal of detail in the shadows. This way I can always achieve the perfect image.
If I am shooting a transition, say from day to night, then there is a clever feature within the Interval Timer feature called Auto Exposure Tracking sensitivity. This feature will gradually adjust the exposure to account for changes in light. I will set my camera to aperture Priority and then set the Auto Exposure Tracking Sensitivity to Low. This means the camera will adjust the exposure very gradually, rather than having a sudden jump, which would cause flicker in the final time-lapse.
You also need to make sure that the interval time is enough. For example, your first exposures may be 1/30th sec with a 2sec interval between shots, but if the day is getting darker your exposure time may need to be 3 secs, which is longer than the interval.
To make sure that I have enough flexibility to keep the exposure shorter than then interval I shoot with a large aperture (which also can help avoid any sensor dust showing), and also set to the sensitivity up to ISO 200 or 400.
Adding Another Dimension
I like to get really creative with my time-lapse compositions, so I will often use a motorised slider and head. Using a motorised slider and head allows me to create movements, for example panning around something in the foreground. It gives the final time-lapse a much more three-dimensional effect. This is why I like shooting in the city as there are so many objects that you can use to create such effects; the city is really a playground for time-lapse photography.
Creating The Time-lapse
Once you have taken hundreds of images, you can compile them in to a time-lapse. I use a combination of Adobe Lightroom and LR Time-lapse to edit my images and smooth out any flickering. Then I export the images as a JPEG sequence into Adobe After Effects where I can reframe any parts where someone may have bumped into the camera and moved it, and add transitions and zoom effects, just as if I was editing a normal video sequence.
"I am obsessed with getting the perfect shot"