Timelapse used to be the realm of high tech studios and a few dedicated photographers & filmmakers. Now, anybody can do it. We even have apps on our phones that will let us shoot timelapse – although most of us still tend to use a “real camera”. But with so many people shooting timelapse today, how can you make yours stand out?
Well, here’s Matti Haapoja from TravelFeels with 5 of the best tips, tricks and settings to get the most out of your timelapse. With each tip, Matti shows practical demonstrations to illustrate his point. How each one changes how your timelapse looks. So, sit back, and enjoy.
None of these methods are secrets. They’re just good practise that the more popular timelapsers have been using for years. But, it’s not always spelled out in a way that makes it for new timelapse shooters to understand. Matti presents them here, though, in an easy to absorb manner with some practical examples.
Everything needs to be manual
ISO, aperture, shutter speed and focus all need to be manual for a good timelapse. While a single one-off shot won’t really indicate what automatic modes your camera may be using, a video sequence will. When the camera’s taking guesses at anything, it’s going to guess slightly different from shot to shot. So, you’ll get focus hunting and inconsistencies in exposure.
Even with everything completely manual, you still may get exposure inconsistencies. This comes down to something known as “aperture flicker”. You can use apps like LRTimelapse to help eliminate this issue in post. Or, you can use lenses where the aperture doesn’t change from shot to shot.
For example, Nikon’s D type lenses possess aperture rings that let you stop down the aperture manually. If you’re using a non-Nikon camera, adapters will let you stop down the aperture and keep it static while shooting your entire sequence. If you are shooting Nikon, you can always try M42 lenses. Timelapse is the reason I have so many M42 lenses. When the aperture never moves from shot to shot, there’s no flicker.
Slow shutter speed
One of my biggest peeves with timelapse is lack of motion blur. Exposures are too short. Way too short. So, from one frame to the next, you see people, cars or other objects suddenly appear and disappear in random spots. There’s no sense of movement or motion. A slow shutter speed blurs the motion, so that when it’s played back at 24 frames per second, you really feel that sense of movement.
If you can’t get your shutter slow enough, invest in a neutral density filter. A powerful one. on a bright sunny day where you want to shoot f/2 outdoors, even putting 10 stops over your lens might not get you slow enough.
Think about it. At ISO100, the Sunny 16 rule says you should shoot 1/100th of a second at f/16 to get a good exposure. If you want to open up to f/2, you’re gaining 6 stops of light. So, you throw a 10 stop filter on your lens. 6 negate opening up the aperture, and the other 4 only bring your shutter down to 1/6th of a second. You’d still need to add a further 3 stops of ND to bring that shutter speed over a second. Or, just stick with the 10 stop, and bring your lens back down to f/5.6.
However you do it, you want to get your shutter speed slow to bring back that sense of motion and movement in your subjects.
Shoot stills not video
I’m guilty of this one a lot. Sure you can shoot timelapse with video, but it’s not ideal, and certainly not perfect. Video’s just a simple and lazy option, because all you have to do his hit record, and then in the edit you play it back faster. But, as Matti demonstrates, you often get the same results that you do with shooting stills using too fast a shutter speed.
Premiere Pro, After Effects, and other applications do offer some assistance, though, with frame blending. This merges multiple frames together, presenting the appearance of motion blur. But, it doesn’t look exactly the same as real motion blur. You often see stepped edges in subjects that move across your scene, due to the gaps in the exposure. For a few seconds clip in a larger production, it can often go by unnoticed. But if your entire film is timelapse sequences, don’t use video.
Choose the interval wisely
The interval you choose is going to be based on a couple of different factors. The main one being how fast your subject or subjects are moving. The faster they move, the shorter you want your interval to be. This is why timelapse containing clouds is often so hard to suggest an interval for. Depending on the speed of the wind and the clouds travelling through the sky, it might be a one second interval, or it might be ten.
Basically, though, the shorter your interval, the slower the footage plays back. The longer your interval, the faster it plays back. So, if you’ve got something moving really slowly, you might be shooting 8 or 9 second exposures with a 10 second interval between the beginning of each shot. For faster moving subjects, like cars driving down the street, or people walking, you might be shooting 1 second exposures with a 2 second interval.
Which lens you use will also play a factor. Subjects will move more quickly across the field of view of a long lens than they will over a wide angle lens. Your subject might travel past a 50mm lens in a second, whereas it may take 20 or 30 seconds for them to cover the frame of a 15mm lens.
Move the camera
Moving the camera is vital to take your timelapse up a notch or two. Whether it’s a slider, panhead or something else, you just need to get the camera moving. You can fake some movement with panning in post. But, as with the forced motion blur sped up video vs long exposure stills, it’s not going to look the same.
When you simply pan across a flat 2D image in post, there’s no shift in perspective. When you physically move the camera across a slider, you’re looking at the scene from a slightly different angle on each frame. While many viewers may not be able to pick out specifically what is wrong with panned footage, they can still often tell that something just doesn’t feel right.
This is also another factor which will determine your interval. The faster you move the camera during the sequence, the shorter you want your interval to be, generally speaking. This is to help ensure smooth movement of the camera when the frames are played back at 24fps. Otherwise, your camera’s viewpoint just appears jerky and juddery from one frame to the next. The movement doesn’t feel smooth and fluid.
Beyond these five main points, there isn’t really much else to shooting timelapse beyond basic photography or video technique. Look for good light, good compositions, and looks for scenes that actually do change over time. Timelapse doesn’t really work if nothing in your scene is moving.