I’ve long been interested in capturing stop-motion, through timelapses on my camera. With my recent move to mirrorless, I thought there was no better time to try out some new techniques. Last week, I went to the Grand Haven Coast Guard Festival, to see if I could capture a time-lapse of some of the carnival rides at night.

Getting Started with Timelapses

You don’t need much to get started with a time-lapse, especially if your camera has a time-lapse mode or interval shooting mode. If your camera doesn’t have this, you will need an intervalometer. This is a device that plugs into your camera in order to control how many shots are taken and the duration in-between shots.

Photo by Jeff Wilkinson

One thing you will want is a sturdy tripod. For this instance, I trusted my Vanguard Veo 2 tripod to take to the carnival. In terms of lenses, I like to go with one that will show a lot of the scene. For me, this meant my Panasonic 7-14mm f/4 wide-angle.

Time-lapse Settings

I played around with a bunch of different time-lapse settings, but there are a few requirements that I stuck to with every instance.

Manual Mode and Settings

While you can certainly produce a time-lapse in any shooting mode, doing so in manual mode gives you ultimate control. Because I wanted to capture the moving lights, I wanted a slightly longer shutter speed, and I wanted that to be consistent at one second. I wanted to reduce the amount of light coming into my lens, so I went with an aperture of f/7.1. An ISO of 200 made it so that the amusement ride lights weren’t super overpowering. Had I not wanted the effects of the moving lights as much, I would have increased my shutter speed to be faster, and therefore needed a higher ISO and lower aperture. I also choose to go with manual focus mode. This ensures that, even if you stop your time-lapse and go back to it, the focus point will remain the same.

Permanent White Balance Mode

By using an auto white balance, you risk the chance of the color in your photos changing. This is especially important with timelapses, as you want to retain the same color conditions over the period of time you’re shooting. For me, I wanted a bit of warmth in my shots, so I went with the cloudy preset. Note that if you’re photographing carnivals, your color conditions will change no matter what you do. That’s just the nature of the neon-lit rides! Regardless of what you choose as your white balance mode, keeping with a specific mode will ensure that any edits you make in Lightroom can be easily applied to the rest of your photos.

How Many Shots, How Long In-Between?

For a successful time-lapse, it’s a good idea to take a TON of shots. For my 23.97fps time-lapse, I took 450 photos, which equated to just over an 18-second video file. This can be set in either your time-lapse or interval shooting mode settings, or by configuring your intervalometer.

My photos were taken four seconds apart. I tried for longer times, but the stop-motion wasn’t as smooth as I had desired. It’s a safe bet to shoot between four and eight seconds if you want the end result to be at least 15 seconds long.

Prepping Your Photos in Lightroom

When I brought my photos into Lightroom, I started off by selecting all the photos that I wanted to be included in my time-lapse. I worked only on the first photo, adjusting the contrast, highlights, and shadows, just like I would any other photo. Then I straightened out the photo a bit vertically. I synced those settings across all the photos I had selected for the time-lapse, and they were ready to go.

Working with Lightroom’s Slideshow Module

Out of the box, Lightroom doesn’t allow you to create slideshows that have photos displaying for less than one second. So, I did some research and stumbled upon these time-lapse templates from Lightroom-Blog.com (download here). You’ll see two folders when you download this file — a Slideshow Templates folder and a Video Presets folder. You just have to worry about Slideshow Templates, as long as your Lightroom version is relatively recent.

If you right-click in the Template Browser, you’ll see an option to Import templates. Browse to the Slideshow Templates folder, then open User Templates, and import all the template files into Lightroom.

The templates allow you to create video files with 30fps, 29.97fps, 25fps (popular in Europe), 24fps and 23.97fps. I chose 23.97fps, a standard frame rate and one that I knew would give me a slightly longer time-lapse. Note that if you choose 30fps, you might get an odd flickering effect to your end video file. I also experienced some issues with only half of my photos being loaded as their edited versions. Using 29.97fps (which is what you’d see on TV broadcasts) seemed to fix these issues, but it was just a little too fast for my liking.

Once you have your photos selected and template chosen, you can click “Export Video” in the lower right corner. This gives you a few different options — I went for the highest quality possible.

By going down to 23.97fps, I found the output to be exactly what I wanted. It created a video that was just over 18 seconds in length, and the transitions were flawless.

The End Result

In the time-lapse, you can see the flashing lights, the twirling rides, and people walking by. The same principles can be applied to landscape photography or even event photography. It’s a great way to produce something unique and lifelike. For fun, I added a little music to this video as well.

In part two of this tutorial, I’ll show you how to take your time-lapse one step further by working with some nonstandard speeds.
Music courtesy of Audionautix