Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Photographic Foray - How to shoot time lapse photography

It is finals week an my brain is undoubtedly fried at this point (so please excuse the plentiful typos and generally lackluster writing). I have one final left and in order to put my mind at ease without out taking up too much of my time I decided to start a small photography project. I chose to shoot some time lapse photographs out my window. Time lapse is my kind of project, you just set it up and walk away for 12+ hours. I'll link in the video and below it I'll show you how I did it and how you can.

What you will need:

1) A camera: A DSLR is definately prefered here as they offer the necessary user controls to setup your time lapse and delivery quality photographs.
I used a Nikon D70.

2) An intervalometer: This device is what is going to tell your camera how often to take a picture. They can be built into your camera (if your camera is badass), attached to your camera if it has an accessory port (these are usually 3rd party devices), or they can simply be software running on a computer.
I used Camera Control Pro 2 on my MacBook Pro and connected it to my camera via USB. If you are using a Nikon like me you can pick up a free
trial of this software for a month and avoid spending the $150 dollars on the retail version for a little longer.

3) A tripod: Get one, you won't regret it. In photography a steady shot is paramount. This holds not only for time lapse, but for photography in general. Akin to this is #4.
I used one.

4) A steady location to shoot: Sure, time lapse of your whale watching experience might be great in theory but unless you have an interest in making your audience feel as sick as you did on location then this will be important. Unless done intentionally, excess movement of the frame will make your time lapse look sloppy.
I used a window sill.

5) Lots of power: Time lapse photography can easily take over 12 hours so you are going to need enough juice to go the distance. Get lots of batteries or a plug-in adapter if you are shooting near civilization.
I used the AC adapter because the outside world is scary.

6) Lots of memory: As I said above, you are going to be shooting for a LONG time and taking a LOT of shots. These shots need a home so go buy a big ass memory card. If you are using a software intervalometer you may not need one.
I used Camera Control Pro 2 which saves all of my images directly to my computer's hard drive.

7) Something interesting to shoot: OK, so what I shot wasn't particularly interesting, but I shot what was on hand. Remember, setup your camera in front of something that moves, otherwise you are going to end up with 2000+ pictures of the same thing.
I used a highway.

Okay, if you have all of these things you are good to go, almost. First you have to do your homework and I'll show you how.

Homework: "How frequently should I set my camera to take shots?"

This depends on your subject and how often it moves / how fast you want it to look like it moves.

If you are shooting clouds moving on a calm day maybe set your camera to take a shot every 30 seconds. If you are shooting cars zooming by maybe a shot every 2 seconds. Traffic Jam? Maybe a shot every 20 seconds. If you want the clouds to move faster in your video take pictures less frequently. Assuming you have the space, it is always better to take more photographs than you need so you can pick and choose later when you are editing. If you want tight control over the length and speed of your end product it is going to require a little math. You are almost ready!

Head out to the location of your subject.
Setup your tripod and aim the camera at your subject.
Choose your shooting mode: If you are new at this and it is daytime, auto is fine. Just be sure to turn off auto focus once everthing is in focus.
Play with manual if you want to get more gutsy and artistic.
Select how often your camera will take pictures on the intervalometer.
Have the intervalometer start taking pictures.
Sit back and drink beer for 12 hours.

Okay, now that you have your photographs you will need to splice them together to make a film. I used Adobe Premier Elements for this because I am a video noob. Each video editing software suite is different so I am not going to be able to be of too much assistance as far as that is concerned, but I can help to familiarize you with what you should try to do. The more shots (frames - because we are taking video now) you put in one second of your clip, the smoother the video you end up with will be. The fewer frames you put per second the more like a slideshow your video will be. Artistically this decision is up to you. This option coupled with how many photographs you took per second have a huge imact on the final video, so play with them. Here are some guidelines and have fun with it!

More frames per second = smoother video, but shorter video
Less frames per second = choppier video (like a slide show), but longer video

More photographs = longer video and slower passage of time
Less photographs = shorter video and faster passage of tim

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