Time Lapse – "The Holy Grail"

Nov 5

OK so i’ve got a DSLR and I use it to shoot video but hang on a second this camera is designed to take amazing pictures so why not combine the both and make some time lapse videos. So this week I set myself the task of learning about time lapse photography and to make it even harder on myself I wanted to shoot a sunrise so from night to day also known as “The Holy Grail”.

So my first stop was timescapes website by Tom Lowe. First off there is some great timelapse videos on his site but there is also a forum with loads of helpful info like the FAQ post. So I read as much my brain could handle then I decided to give it a go. I was going to set off for the beach early the next morning but thought that might be a bit ambitious and turned out to be a good idea as it took a couple of test shoots to get anything decent.

The first problem I encountered was that I couldn’t manually set my ISO setting when in AV mode so it was cranking up to like 6000 – Not good. I soon realized that for what ever reason when your in Live view mode you cant set the ISO manually. So turned off live view mode,  problem solved. Next problem I had was that my camera wouldn’t take any pictures not even when I put it in full manual mode. This really baffled me so I abandoned the shoot and gave it some more thought. I had the lens on auto focus! DUH! Well I was trying to shoot at 6am so I was still half asleep.

Ok so now problems were sorted I decided it was time to go for the real thing so at 6am this morning I set off to the beach to capture the sunrise. I will just give a quick break down of the stuff I learned that I put into practice this morning. Remember im a “video guy” so im new to photography but if I had read a post like this earlier I may have saved some time so I hope this helps someone.

What mode?

For the best results you should shoot time lapse in full manual mode for less flicker. Flicker is caused by the different shutter and aperture values the camera applies in each shot when in auto modes. But if your going from light to dark then its not really possible. Well not for beginners.  So I used AV mode. AV mode is Aperture priority mode so this means I have full control over everything except for the shutter. The camera adjusts the speed of the shutter to get the correct exposure for each picture. The longer the shutter is open the more light can enter the sensor. Also the longer the shutter is open the more motion blur you will get in the picture. You will notice if your shutter speed is 30” (30 seconds) and an object passes through your shot and it takes the camera 30 seconds to take the photo the object will be one big blur from the place they started at, to the place they were by the end of the 30 seconds.

What interval?

The way to determine the interval time was to take a picture and see how long it took the camera to expose for that shot. It gives you a reading on the camera of the shutter speed. It took 2o seconds so I had to set my interval time at no less than this otherwise the camera would only expose every other shot. So I set it to take a picture every 25 seconds just to be safe. That meant every 25 seconds I had 1 frame of footage therefore every 10 minutes I had a minute of footage! LONG. Time lapse takes a lot of patience!

What ISO setting?

Well of course the lower the ISO the cleaner the picture – Less noise. I set mine to ISO 320 but you can go higher and still achieve good results.

What F stop?

The smaller the F stop number the wider open the iris is therefore the more light can enter in. So on my canon 24 – 70 mm lens the widest open it can go is 2.8 . I read that its best to have this around f/8. So that is what I did. I actually decided to change this to f/10 halfway through the timelapse due to the speed of the shutter being too quick and I wanted a bit more motion blur so I didn’t look too blocky when I put it together.

Which Format:

I shot all the pictures in RAW format to give me the most flexibility in post (for grading, zooms and pans) but you can also do it in jpeg. I will explain my workflow below. White balance was set manually and Auto Focus OFF! When you watch the video below you will see as the sunrises out of the clouds the video appears to slow down, the reason being , at one frame every 25 seconds and 1 second of footage every 10 minutes it was taking a long time and I had to leave in 10 minutes so I thought I would ramp it up to a picture every 1 second for a bit of extra footage on my time lapse. Of course I couldn’t set it to this earlier when it was darker as the camera took 30 seconds to expose each picture.

So i got home and had some breaky whilst I waited for my images to import on to my mac.  I opened them up as an image sequence in After Effects. You do this by going to ‘import’ – ‘file’ and as you see from the picture below when you select an image it will give you the option to tick camera raw sequence or if you are using jpegs – jpeg sequence. You can also use quicktime pro to open an image sequence. Just go to ‘File’ – ‘open image sequence’ and select the first image of your time lapse (important – make sure they are all in sequential order) Quicktime wont accept RAW pictures so you will have to convert or if you shot jpeg your sorted.

Once I had my image sequence opened in After effects I re-scaled it down to 1920 x 1080 (HD) as it was above 4k. I applied curves and did some basic grading. Then I added my free trial version of GBDeflicker plugin to reduce the flickering of the footage caused my changes in shutter speed. Then I rendered out the movie and that was it. I was actually surprised and I didn’t think it would come out as good as it did as this was my first real attempt. I know it’s not perfect but its not too shabby either! Im going to give it a few more attempts next week so stay tuned folks! Thanks for checking out my blog and if you have any questions please ask.