Timelapse Tutorial Part 2: How to shoot a Timelapse


Cover photo by Tanya Musgrave.

Now that we've established what timelapse photography is, it's probably time to give it a bash. It's a lot of fun, and not as complicated as you might think. You just need to be well-prepared and summon up a smidgen of patience!

What to record

First, you need to decide on what you want to record. Any scene that's changing is fair game. For your first foray into timelapse photography, you'd be best sticking with something fairly short and relatively simple. We can explore how to film day-to-night videos using bulb ramping in another tutorial and we don't want to get exasperated editing hours of footage first time around!

For my example, I filmed myself constructing a bit-of-fun flowchart.

What you'll need

With your scene in mind, let's move on to kit. There's not much of a shopping list, thankfully.

  • A camera - a dSLR or high-end compact is your best bet (I used my Canon 6D)
  • A tripod - your camera has to sit somewhere
  • A triggering device - we think Triggertrap Mobile is the best, obviously
  • A memory card with sufficient capacity - you're going to be taking a lot of photos and you need to be able to record them

Setting an interval

Now you have to make some creative decisions about your timelapse and how you want your final video to look.

When you've decided on your scene, and how long you'll need to record for so that you can capture it, you need to settle on your interval, or what period of time you want to elapse in between shots. As a general rule, the faster your scene changes, the faster you'll need to shoot to keep your video fluid.

To record cars passing or maybe a DistanceLapse, you'll need a one-second interval. Crowds of people, drifting clouds, and sunsets and sunrises need intervals of between one and three seconds. You could probably get away with one photo per minute to capture the sun moving across the sky (ideally with no clouds), whilst buildings under construction, plants growing, or fruit rotting can handle far longer intervals, for example one shot every ten minutes or so. To record a pregnant woman's burgeoning tummy, you need only shoot one shot a day for the duration of the pregnancy.

Then you need to settle on an exposure time. As well as your shooting interval helping to create a sense of fluidity, the length of your exposure can do that, too. Dragging your shutter (or using a longer exposure time) creates something a little softer, and sometimes more blurred. The important thing to remember is that your exposure time can't exceed your interval!

For my timelapse, I estimated that I would need 15 minutes to record it and I wanted to capture change every two seconds. This meant I had a total of 457 photos at the end of my shoot. I dialled these settings into the timelapse function on the Triggertrap Mobile app.

The technical side

Creative elements decided, you have to complete the technical details. First, set your camera to record images in JPEG format. Raw files give you supreme flexibility, but they're huge and when you're writing hundreds, maybe thousands of images to a memory card, it's just not practical.

On some cameras, it's possible to choose the aspect ratio of your images. Seeing as a timelapse is watched as a video and videos are traditionally filmed in 16:9 aspect ratio, why not switch it to that if you fancy?

With your camera mounted on your tripod for the optimal shot of your scene, you need to set the focus, the exposure, and the white balance. The key is to get everything right before you start filming your timelapse sequence and to ensure that nothing can change during shooting. If your focus suddenly shifts during the video, or the white balance alters, it will look very strange indeed.

Take your time.

Put your camera into manual mode to set the exposure. If you're in Shutter Priority mode your aperture might increase or decrease, or your shutter speed lengthen or shorten if you shoot in Aperture Priority mode, depending on changes in the light. Not good. Remember: the longer your shutter speed, the greater the feel of 'flow' your final video will have. And you can't have an exposure time that's longer than the interval between your shots!

For this, my camera was set to ƒ/10.0; 0"3 second; and ISO 100

Take the camera off of auto white balance and set the white balance yourself.

Now adjust the focus. You'll need to be in manual focusing mode for the duration of the timelapse; it wouldn't do to have the point of focus shifting every shot! However, if you don't trust your own eyes to nail your focus, let auto-focus do the work in your set-up and then flick it to manual!

Finally, attach your Triggertrap to your camera, give everything one final check, and hit the button! You can leave Triggertrap Mobile and your camera to take care of capturing the images.

In my case, I was part of the show, but if you're recording the clouds floating by, there's not very much that you can do for the duration. You can always keep half an eye on your set-up and one and half on a book!

Once you've shot all of your images, it's time to assemble your video, but I think we'll save that for another tutorial. You've done quite enough for the moment!

More Timelapse Tutorials!

This tutorial is part of a 4-part series. Check out the rest:

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