My first timelapse test [video]

If you’re not familiar with timelapse photography, it traditionally involves either speeding up film footage or taking lots of photos…in this case, 2353 photos to be exact. That’s two thousand three hundred and fifty three photos to give me roughly 1min 25 seconds of footage. For those of you that are familiar with timelapse, you’ll not doubt know how great the shots are that you can get from it…showing clouds stream across the sky and people and traffic speed along the road. It really can give you a fascinating insight in to the world around us and show off the beauty of every day surroundings that you otherwise would never see at life’s normal pace.

View in higher resolution
Simply click the full screen icon, lower right of the video to view in full screen. Also, you can also view in higher resolution both on my Vimeo channel and also, if you prefer here on YouTube.

There is also a short ‘behind the scenes’ video at the bottom of this article.

The Music
The soundtrack to the timelapse, as you will see at the end of the video is called Music Box and is by the incredibly talented Sydney Poma.

Time to experiment
This first timelapse (time-lapse, time lapse?!) video was strictly an experiment to see what settings would work etc as I wasn’t too sure what to expect but I’m pleased with the outcome. So with that, I duly set up my camera at a couple of locations in Miami…of course the weather didn’t play ball for the most part so I only managed to get a couple of shots, but any practice is good practice and you have to start somewhere, just as it is with traditional photography. The video was made on my Macbook Pro with no real tweaking done to the images, so not sure how it will come out on normal screens as I find editing on a laptop difficult due to always changing the screen brightness and apparent contrast with the angle of the screen, depending on your current location. Fingers crossed it looks ok on most screens out there!!

Equipment
All the shots were taken with the following:
Nikon D3 (I got over 3000 RAW shots in total, from a single charge…fantastic!)
28-70 AFS f2.8
Gitzo GT5541LS tripod
RRS BH55 ball head
I just used the D3′s built in interval shooting mode and I also used a 10 stop ND filter for one of the daytime shots, more on that in a minute…
Depending on your camera model/make, you may need to use an intervalometer.

Settings
I shot in RAW with various settings ranging from 5 second exposures every 8 seconds to 1/60 second exposures every 2 seconds. The fastest shot took only 20 minutes to capture with the longest shot, downtown Miami at night taking just under 2 hours. I’d like to do some longer shots to capture maybe 4 or 5 hours of activity within the scene but time did not allow for this first experiment, so I kept things brief for these experimental shots.

Why a 10 stop filter?
Going back to the use of the 10 stop ND filter…I used this because after doing several day time shots without one I decided I wasn’t very keen on the effect this had on certain moving objects within the timelapse video. For example in the sunrise video there are a few birds and planes that fly through the shot as well as some cars on the street and they appear as blips in the frame. Using the 10 stop filter, in the shot of the street where the camera pulls out, allowed me to get exposures of a couple of seconds in the middle of the day. The result of that are nice streaks to moving elements within the scene. Played back it makes everything look like it is moving really fast and smooth which for me, is a much more pleasing look than the ‘blips’ of the faster shutter speed scenes.

Putting the shots together
Another steep learning curve is trying to figure out the best way to record these images in to the computer to render them out but maintain a fairly good quality to the end result. I settled on using After Effects to import the initial RAW files, then render them out using the Photo JPEG codec, which gives you a nice crisp file but at a small size. I then opened those movies in to Premiere Pro to edit together and export using the h.264 codec. The resulting final movie is small enough to upload but still retains a really nice clean look to it compared to some of the other codecs and methods I tried…which included using AE to directly export a MPEG4 or h.264 quicktime movie and also trying iMovie to edit and export. Both gave far less impressive results than the AE to Photo JPEG – Prem Pro to h.264 method. The pans and zooms were all done in post as I’m not quite ready to step in to the world of motorised camera rigs just yet.

Things to look out for
My biggest problem was probably dust! There are a couple of scenes with dust bunnies that I just simply did not see until I had shot the sequences, so I’ll have to keep an eye on that in the future and/or figure out a batch process that can remove dust! See if you can spot them…

Of course you also have all the usual issue of trying to get a good exposure, but where a normal photo requires the exposure be correct for that single shot…doing a TL requires that your exposure has to average out across the whole sequence. So, if you are shooting in varying light or at sunset etc then you need to think very carefully about your settings. The reason being? You have to set the camera to fully manual. You have to set the shutter, aperture, ISO, white balance, focus all before you set your camera off. The simple reason for this is if you leave anything in auto, you will get flicker in your final scene where the individual photos have slight variations in exposure levels. There is software to try and fix this and of course you could manually edit the images by hand but if you have 300+ to get through it’s not really ideal. So, manual all the way. If you want the ‘holy grail’ of timelapse, which is flicker free and perfectly exposed day in to night shots and vice versa…well, you better be prepared to really invest time, effort and equipment in to the art of timelapse. A good place to start is Timescapes.org – some of the footage on there is simply mind blowing!

I can definitely see the appeal of doing timelapse, I really enjoyed this first effort and can certainly see the rewards will be high if you plan the shot out more, rather than just go for the quick ‘plonk the camera down and see what happens’ method I went for here. In future I’ll try and give some thought to the shot I want, thinking about the light might change during the sequence (remember, you want to set the camera taking pictures BEFORE the light gets good so you can capture that transition as it happens) or where an object may move to and from within the frame.

So that’s it, hope you enjoyed my first experiment in to the world of TL photography. More to come in the future. Oh, and just for fun, I made this really quick ‘behind the scenes’ of one of the shots. I was planning on a fully fledged behind the scenes for the whole thing but didn’t get round to shooting it!

And don’t forget
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Comments

  1. Hi,

    I found you site via the Overclockers forum. I must admit, I’m really impressed with your timelapse. When I made mine, I did it the cheats way, and used a video camera and just sped it up! Ah well, we’ve all got to start somewhere right? Anyway, would be a bit difficult on a D40 (Yes, I’m a noob)

    Anyway, I’ve bookmarked this site, and I’ll try my upmost to keep popping back on here!

    All the Best

    Michael (UK)

    1. Hi Michael. I believe the D40 also has the Interval Timer mode in the Shooting Menu. If so you can have a play around with timelapse very easily. Simply put the camera on the tripod and use the Interval Timer mode to set the number of shots you want to take from 1 to 999 and the frequency in which you want the camera to take the shot (e.g. every 5 seconds) and off you go.

      You can then turn the photos in to a sequence using Quicktime 7 Pro ($30 upgrade to Pro). You can do this by opening QT and selecting ‘Import Image Sequence’ and then selecting the folder on your computer that the photos are in to create the timelapse.

      Hope that is of some help :)

      1. Nope. The Nikon D40 (sadly) does NOT have the intervalometer function, I’m afraid….

        1. Thanks for confirming. I had read on another forum someone mentioning it had the feature so just assumed that was correct. I also found out recently the D80 does not have it either so it must be a fairly recent thing…?!

  2. craig jones says:

    Brilliant!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Well done

  3. Very well done with this Richard. I started on my first time lapse sequences a few months ago and have been hooked since. I haven’t tried editing more than one scene together though as iMovie has enough trouble on my MacBook Pro!

    On TP, you mentioned buying an Intervoltmeter from eBay to allow more than 999 exposures on your D3. I’m shooting with a D700 and have the same limitation. Do you have any links to the third party intervalomenter you bought?

    1. Hi Will, thanks for the message. I’m surprised your MacBook Pro is having trouble with iMovie, is it an older spec machine? I’ve done all my After Effects and Premier Pro editing on my MBP and even done some on my old Mac Mini with iMovie before the MBP arrived. What is your workflow for creating your timelapse?

      I just ordered a cheap copy for the bargain price of £20 delivered from Hong Kong, this eBay search will show you a good selection of copies – much better than the £100+ cost of the official one. Although if the copy is no good I’ll go for the official product…but for now £20 is worth the risk! I got mine from a seller called ROXSEN. Once I’ve got it and played with it I’ll do a write up of the pros and cons.

      As you are a Mac and Nikon user you can also use Sofortbild, which is a free tethering software to control the camera via the Mac. This allows you to do timelapse control also. Again I’ll be adding a write up of that at some point in the near future.

      Hope that’s of help :)

      1. My MBP is a unibody model from last year; 2.4GHz C2D with 4GB RAM, running Leopard 10.5.8. Perhaps the slow performance I see with iMovie is because I’m working with video files generated from almost full resolution JPGs?

        Basically, my workflow is to shoot in JPG, import into Lightroom to tweak, export out as full res JPG (each JPG is usually approx 2MB), import into Quicktime Pro as an image sequence, export out as H.264 video (my last one was at a resolution of 3404×2265 and 24fps), import into iMovie, add titles, add panning etc and finally export as a HD video.

        Thanks for the heads up on the intervalometer and tethering software. When I’ve hit the 999 limit shooting a sequence, I’ve just resorted to manually resetting the intervalometer. Bit of a pain because you have to be paying close attention, you have to be careful not to move the cam and if you’re shooting at a short interval you might end up with a noticeable jump in the final product.

        I look forward to your write-ups! :D

        1. Hmmm your MBP isn’t that far off the spec of mine, running a 2.8Ghz C2D with 4GB and Snow Leopard and I’m going straight from RAW files. The issue probably is sticking full res clips in to iMovie. What I do is render off my clips at the final res I want in After Effects, and also render out pan and zoom clips separately too. Then import all those smaller clips in to Premier Pro to edit them. You could try doing the same with iMovie, render all your clips out first at 1080 or 720p resolution in Quicktime (excluding clips you want to pan and zoom) then edit them together afterwards. Then do your pan and zoom clips separately in iMovie, again rendering to 1080 or 720 and then bring them all back in to iMovie to edit together and add titles. A bit long winded and you may lose out on some image quality with double rendering, but depending on just how much trouble iMovie is giving you with more than one clip it might be worth trying…?!

          I was thinking you could just start the interval shooter after 999 shots as long as you pay attention, but so far I’ve not done a shot over 600 anyway…that’ll change soon though ;)

          1. Thanks, Richard. I guess the answer is to try with lower resolution or cough up for a new Mac ;)

  4. Hi Richard

    Thanks for adding this to your blog,It really inspired me to spend most of the weekend giving the art of timelapse a go myself.(one effort now on Youtube)
    I tried processing the images in Corel Video Studio Pro X2,but I wondered if Quick time 7 would be better.
    One thing concerned me though…Taking this many shots in one go,on a regular basis is going to really reduce the lifespan of my D300!

    Thanks

    Patrick

    1. Hi Patrick, glad you enjoyed my first venture in to timelapse photography. Have you managed to have a go yet? High shutter counts are part and parcel of this unfortunately…but it doesn’t bother me as I buy my gear to use it. If the shutter goes I’ll just get it replaced and carry on :)

      1. True! C’est la vie (I guess :-)). But, also, I’m worried with the way the mirror flips up and slaps down… I think THAT might even go BEFORE the poor shutter.. Oh well!

  5. Truly well done! Beautiful!

    1. Many thanks :) with regards to the mirror, I wonder if you could use mirror lock up so that it only has to go up once at the start and down at the very end after the final shot. Either way, again it’s just something I guess you have to live with!

  6. doug says:

    hey, where did you shoot the first night time shot of the miami skyline? wondering where this was taken. thanks

    1. Hi Doug, the night time shot was taken from the MacArthur Causeway as you drive across from downtown towards South Beach. I parked up under the bridge then walked back up. You can get a nice view from under the bridge too but I wanted the extra height so you could see the cars going across in the distance. :)

      1. doug says:

        Thanks. Actually was crossing over to South beach when i saw your reply and was able to pull off in time to check the vantage point up. We are shooting a music video down there with the Canon 1D Mark IV and wanted some time lapse of the skyline as a safety shot. Should be interesting.

        1. Good timing then!! I wish I was back over there right now instead of sitting in a darkened tv studio in London! Would love to see your shot when you have done it!

  7. Hi Richard,

    It’s been a while since I last visited, but I was really impressed by your time lapse. I usually take the easy way out and rather then use my D700, I pull out the G9 for these kind of shots as it does all the processing for me. That said I don’t get the awesome results you have here. I hadn’t thought to zoom in and out during the actual time lapse and the idea of using the ND 10 is genuis!

    Thanks for sharing your work, ideas and process!

    Cheers,
    Craig

    1. Thanks Craig, glad you liked it. I have been meaning to start work on a second time lapse but haven’t had a chance to get round to it yet. But watch this space… :)