Our Top Tips For Timelapse
If you’re unfamiliar with timelapse as a technique, best to read this post first which should help straighten things out for you.
1. Shoot in RAW OR JPEG. You’ll find many articles telling you to always shoot RAW (if you don’t know what this is, many cameras have 2 different image formats, one being JPEG, and the other RAW. RAW is essentially a completely uncompressed image file and its typically a much larger file size than a JPEG). RAW certainly has massive benefits (greater manipulation potential in post), but there are a number of negatives that are certainly worth taking into consideration before you hit that shutter button. Namely: i) file size – RAW files are MUCH larger and this impacts heavily down the production and post production chain ii) burst rate – your camera may struggle to shoot a fast interval when you’re shooting RAW. This is due to the file size, as your camera might not be able to burn these huge files to your memory card fast enough – 1s interval timelapses are often not possible shhooting RAW unless you have a monster camera iii) Turn Around Time – if you shoot raw, you’ll need to grade the files which does give you ultimate control, but it can really slow down your post workflow. So if time is of the essence, shoot JPEG and make sure you nail it in camera. There is also considerable control with good quality JPEGS as well. RAW is wonderful, but there’s a time and a place for it – and that time and place isn’t every dam time or place. You don’t need a thousand RAW file timelapse of a construction project. Its not worth the extra storage and time.
2. Shoot in Manual (or Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority. Just not Auto please god.) – If you’re serious about your work, you want complete control over the look of your final piece. Learn your camera inside out so that you understand the relationship between ISO, F-Stop, Shutter Speed, Lens speeds and Lens Focal Sizes as a bare minimum. If you’re letting the camera control the settings, the camera’s controlling what things are going to look like. And let me tell you, that’s often not great a great plan.
3. Focus Manually – Very similar to the above, you want this in manual and not auto. This is absolutely crucial – no negotiation on this stuff. Auto focus is a liability to start focusing on something bizarre half-way through your timelapse, so don’t risk it, and dial in your focus like an eagle, and let the camera just focus on opening and closing that shutter.
4. Plan Your Shots – Ideally you go for a location scout before your shoot, but this isn’t always possible, or indeed always neccessary. Fortunately, there are armchair bound alternatives that work just as well. Use Google Maps and Street View to scope out the area and check the view. Nailing your composition from google maps isn’t going to happen, but it’ll give you a good idea- or at least something to work from. You can also use apps/programs like the Photographers Ephemeris to help predict the path of the sun. There’s nothing quite like a well planned shot of the glowing orb we call the sun at sunrise or sunset, and it’s well worth the extra planning to really understand the light you’ll be dealing with.
5. Battery power – Its an obvious one at number 5. Make sure you’ve got enough juice to power your camera for as long as the shot is due to take. This can mean using the camera’s internal battery, or even using a decoupler and external battery pack to power the camera for much longer periods of time. You can even use lipos should the need arise, or plug into the mains with a little tinkering.
6. Nail Your camera settings – Everyone’s done it… You arrive on location and you’re a little late, you get everything firing straight away so as not to waste anymore of that precious light, but you don’t quite nail something. You don’t get quite as much motion blur as you would have liked, or your focus is slightly off. Its SO important to just take a deep breath and double check everything before you let the camera do it’s thing. Take an extra second to make sure that focus is pin sharp and all your settings are dialed in correctly. No dodgy white balances, errant shutter speeds, or incorrect f stops/depth of field.
7. Post Production workflow – This will save you a lot of time and help create the best results possible. Read up and figure out the most efficient workflow at the start – not as you go. It’ll save you buckets of time. Personally, if shooting RAW, we use Lightroom to grade the images. We also use LRTimelapse which plugs straight into lightroom and helps to eliminate flickering caused by slight discrepancies in between exposures. Then we export to JPEGS, which we then import as a sequence straight into Premier, or into After Effects if some extra post work is necessary (often for hyperlapses and stabilization).
8. Be prepared – A cliche i know, but look after yourself first and foremost. Rug up warm if you’re out in winter (or summer depending on where you are you crazy cat) – there’s nothing worse then having to pace up and down for 2 hours to keep yourself warm whilst you wait for the sunset to finish. Equally, keep yourself well fed and hydrated. I never leave home now without a few protein bars and flask in my backpack to keep me going. And a book, a book is handy as well.
9. Tripod Tripod Tripod – Invest in good tripod once the funds are there. There’s nothing worse than a little bit of wind causing some slight shake in your images. They’re worth their weight in gold.
10. Memory Cards – This last one is a doozy. for god sake make sure you’ve got your cards as you leave. It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door – without your cards.