Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Time Lapse Photography - a beginners tutorial

I don't remember exactly when I got interested in time lapse photography. I do however remember when I became obsessed with it. It was December 2011 just after the remote control interval timer for my DSLR camera arrived in the mail.

The basic technique of time lapse is that you take a sequence of photographs at an interval, put those photographs into a video processing program, and set them to play back at a much faster interval. I generally take one picture per second and then play them back at 14-60 frames per second. I used Windows Movie Maker and set up the duration for .07 - .03 seconds. .07 equals about 14 frames per second and .03 equals about 33 frames per second. If I want to make the movie faster I have to process it a second time and make the speed, for example 2x faster (i.e. on the first round of processing set the duration for .03 seconds to get 33 frames per second and on the second round of processing set it for 2x faster to get 66 frames per second). I am sure that there are programs that will make a time lapse video with fewer steps but for my needs right now it works great.

When I first learned about time lapse photography, I searched the internet and went to a couple of photography shops to see if I could find an interval timer for my Canon Rebel XT DSLR. I couldn't find any that would work with my "older" camera and the camera shop employees confirmed this to be true. I decided that I still wanted to learn the technique and thus turned to my point and shoot camera. My Canon PowerShot SD780 IS has a timer feature where with one press of the shutter button it will take 10 consecutive shots. On a Winter trip to Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park, I hunkered down next to my point and shoot mounted on my gorilla pod tripod and pressed the shutter button every 10 seconds to capture these images. The technique works well enough but it creates an inevitable slight shift of camera position every 10 frames. Despite the bouncyness of the videos I still really like them. If you want to get into doing time lapse photography and you have this feature I think that it is worth giving a try.

While looking at posts on Google+ around the time of Black Friday, one of the photographers I follow posted a deal from a photography web site I had never been to before. I couldn't afford the camera he had linked to but while I was there I did a quick search that lead me to an interval time that would work for my camera.

After it arrived, I took my camera , my new interval timer, and the instruction manual to the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge near Olympia, Washington. The first 20 seconds of this video are my first attempts at using it. You can see that the video is moving at different speeds. This is because I was taking some shots manually as well as trying out different intervals (i.e. a shot every second, every two seconds, etc.)

The next morning I got up early and searched for a spot to photograph the sun rising behind Mount Rainier. It was about 29 degrees outside so I set up the tripod, camera, and interval timer and jumped back into my car to watch the sunrise. With my remote, I have to press the button every 5 minutes rather than every 10 seconds. At some point I realized that I had my white balance set to tungsten. I left it alone for a while but finally decided to change it to a more natural white balance. I realized from this that when doing time lapse you have to make sure that your settings are exactly where you want them because time lapse really magnifies your mistakes.

The next morning I went back to the same spot and, although the sunrise was not as spectacular, I was more careful about making sure my white balance, shutter speed, and f-stop were where I wanted them before I started the interval timer.

Here is the latest time lapse I did at Deception Pass State Park. The majority of the water from the Puget Sound exits and enters the sound via the Straight de Juan de Fuca but 2% of it passes through this narrow channel. This creates wild and dangerous currents. The water below the bridge swirls and bubbles. You can get a minor sense of this from the video.

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