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Creating a Timelapse Sequence with Lightroom

Time-lapse photography is the closest thing to how you shoot as a still photographer.  It’s essentially clicking a shutter and making a single image, over and over again…potentially thousands of times sequentially. One of the things I love about time-lapse video is how compelling the end product is. It’s just magical how you can see the passage of time. In order to do this, there’s lots of things to put together. Essentially, hundreds, if not thousands of stills that get assembled into a finished movie. The good news is, is that time lapse is easier than ever before, thanks to advances in software and camera technology.

TL1

  • By capturing images in a sequence, you can choose to record a scene at a much slower frame rate than with video.
  • You can also capture using other features of your camera like larger image size and even use raw images.
  • You’ll have to assemble the clips together and further process them to make a final movie.
  • But the end product can be both beautiful and elegant–as it condenses time.
  • Often used to see objects that are often too slow to see at real speed.

Shooting Strategies

When it comes to time-lapse, the primary objective is to get a great exposure in the camera. Revisit the Exposure Triangle, so you balance out the aperture, the ISO, and the shutter speed. This’ll give you a proper exposure in camera. More importantly though, you need that exposure to not change over time. So you’re going to need to learn to shoot manual. So that the camera doesn’t adapt. If you’ve got a camera in automatic mode, the exposure’s going to vary as the camera tries to compensate for changes in the light. You in fact want to see those changes in the light, so you need to shoot manual, and make sure that it’s properly exposed as close as possible in the camera.

TL3

Besides that, you also need to get a shot that’s absolutely stable. You need to make sure that the camera provides a constant point of reference with minimal movement and no unnecessary vibrations or adjustments. A question a lot of folks ask when they first come to Time-lapse video, or your clients may be wondering is, if you’re making video, why aren’t you using a video camera? Well, the thing is, is that when it comes to Time-lapse, you want to take advantage of the benefits of shooting stills.

TL4

Remember, a video file really is just a bunch of sequential images, strung together. And because of a concept called persistence of vision, when your brain sees those images playing back, it detects motion. Now, that motion looks really cool when it’s Time-lapse, and you could do that with a video camera. The challenge is, is that video cameras are very low resolution, and they have things like fixed shutter speeds.This makes it difficult to often get a proper exposure or to do artistic things, like streaking clouds or elongated light trails on the back of a car. Time-lapse, let’s you take all the advantages of still camera shooting and apply them to the creation of a video file. So, you can use all the advance features, the ability to shoot and incredible high resolution video file. We’re not talking 4K, we’re talking 20k. You can do incredible resolutions allowing you to zooms and pans across the image.

TL5

You can do incredible re-sizes and punch in on the action for the best part. Essentially, cropping video after the fact. And you could also do something that’s really, really cool. That is shooting RAW. Now, of course, there is RAW video format out there these days. It’s often fairly expensive, and not as accessible as people would like. Shooting Time-lapse in RAW gives you all the benefits. The ability to recover the skies, and do all sorts of great things. To do this though, you’re going to need a lot of frames.

Frame Rate Options:

  • 60 fps (59.94 fps) Not a common format used for delivery.
  • 30 fps (really 29.97 fps) The most common frame rate for broadcast in the U.S. and Japan (those following the NTSC standard).
  • 25 fps The common frame rate of video used in Europe and around the world that use the PAL standard.
  • 24 fps (23.98 fps)  A rate that closely matches that of film

Choosing the Right Record Format

Your camera offers two or even three ways to make a timelapse movie.  The method you choose will influence both the quality of the final output and the amount of post processing time.

TL15

Shooting JPEG

You’ll choose JPEG if you’re going to be likely recording for very long durations. Because of their smaller file size, you can shoot longer on the same card. JPEGs offer more sizes to choose from in camera, so you can choose an image size that more closely matches the requirements that you need for video.

However,JPEG files can show compression artifacts.  They also offer much less control when it comes to color correction. When you’re shooting JPEG, you don’t really get the benefits of all the highlights recovery.

TL16

Shooting RAW

Those photographers who’ve switched to raw have come to appreciate the great flexibility that raw files offer in post. There is a big visual difference between the JPEG and a RAW file. Particularly, in the flexibility you have for post-production.

In the field though, there’s also a big difference, which is the file size. Unfortunately, raw files are enormous (often 10X or more than a JPEG). This means less recording time to the card and longer delays as the raw files write to the card. If you are shooting on a Canon, you might find yourself for a few different file sizes to choose from, and that’s a nice benefit. You’re still shooting RAW, you just can shoot a smaller RAW file. You might not need all those 27 megapixels for your Time-lapse file when in fact, you’re only using maybe three or four.

If you want the maximum flexibility during the post production stage, you will shoot RAW. The ability to recover highlights and shadows, to add clarity is just absolutely awesome.

How to Expose the Shot

Generally you’re going to avoid shooting in an Automated mode like Program, Shutter Priority, or Aperture Priority.  You need to shoot manual to really control the camera. Let’s briefly revisit the Exposure triangle:

TL18

  • Aperture. Remember the aperture is the size of the opening in your lens. And generally speaking, you’re going to adjust this based upon the environment. If shooting mountain ranges or fields, I’m going to go down to a very small aperture, maybe F16. So there’s a greater depth of field. Aperture is a stylistic decisions, but you will also use it as a control method, to control how much light hits the sensor. And, if you can’t get it with aperture, remember you can always add a Neutral Density Filter.
  • Shutter Speed.  The shutter is the second component of the exposure triangle. Now, with shutter speed, you have to decide if you’re using it for technical or artistic purposes. A short shutter (1/125 or faster) will depict motion that is sharp and staccato in its movement.  A longer shutter (1/30 or less) will progressively elongate and stretch movement. You might use it to freeze the action. Maybe you want a very staccato type look, or to streak things out. For most of my time-lapse shooting, I use a slower shutter speed to get a lot of drama in the shot. So, by using that, that’s going to let more light into the camera. So, balancing that out, you’re going to have to make some adjustment.
  • ISO. The ISO setting is the general sensitivity of your sensor. You can increase this, so it’s more susceptible to light. However, as you bring it up, you’re going to add noise to the shot. I use ISO as the third adjustment to make, so I can refine my exposure. If the ISO is too high, I’m going to get noise. Now I could clean that up in post-processing, but it leads to extra work. I recommend you keep your ISOs relatively low. If you can’t pull that off, the good news is, is that you can use things like Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom to clean it up, but don’t go too aggressive.

Organizing Media

Once down shooting, you need to get your selects made.  I generally employ a base level of organization at the Operating System level to avoid importing everything.  Then I tend to favor Bridge as a way to avoid overstuffing my Lightroom catalog.  If you’re only a Lightroom user, feel fee to import, but I recommend using smaller catalogs for timelapse projects.

TL19

The essentials steps are:

  • Transferring. Get the images onto a fast drive.
  • Ranking. Make your selects of which scenes are good candidates to process.
  • Sorting. Remove images you don’t want to get just the best left.  Consider grouping images into subfolders.
  • Previewing. Do a rough assembly of your files to judge quality.
  • Renaming Files. Make sure there is no gap in numbering.  Also consider renaming with a descriptive name to avoid potential duplication in your catalog.
  • Develop Files. Process the files.  Even if using JPEG, consider the Camera Raw engine so things can be synced.
  • Export an Image Sequence. Export the files to a target directory.  For best results use 16-bit TIFF
  • Assemble. Build the timelapse movie with an editing tool, Photoshop, or After Effects.  Alternatively, check out LRTimelapse to stay inside of Lightroom, but still be able to create video files.

Videos for Workflow

The steps for post-processing are numerous.  Here are some free videos I produced to help you out.  These can be streamed from YouTube.  If you have any trouble finding them, just visit www.AdoramaTV.com.

Time-Lapse: Developing

Time-Lapse Using Photoshop

Time-Lapse in After Effects

Time-Lapse: Final Cut Pro X

Time-lapse Gear

 

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