Advanced Time-Lapse Techniques

Advanced Time-Lapse Techniques

If you are here I’m guessing you’ve done a time lapse or two, maybe read our introductory article or Stan Moniz’s night-specific piece, and want to see how you can make your time lapses even better. I’ll admit it, time lapses are tough. There is a ton of information you need to know about photo and video to make the best possible time lapse, and if you dare tackle advanced shoots such as day to night or hyperlapse, you need to be at your best. Here are some more tips to help improved your time-lapse photography.

Mastering your Exposure for Day-to-Night Shifts

Creating a great time lapse will rely on the quality of your photographs. This means you should be shooting in raw and nailing your exposure. Make sure you have some big hard drives and some serious power if you want to make some epic videos. Some of the most incredible time-lapse videos to see are day-to-night or night-to-day videos. They are impressive because they are difficult to capture. Multiple obstacles must be overcome to create a smooth transition from daylight to nighttime.

Waterfall Time-Lapse
Captured as the sun was setting as part of a longer time-lapse for last year's Adventure Week.

The easiest method is simply to leave your camera on an automatic or semi-automatic mode, such as aperture priority, and let it ramp its exposure as the light changes. This will result in flickering 99.9% of the time, so be sure to account for that with your post-production software of choice. It also means you lack control over at least some portion of the final piece, be it the depth of field, motion, or even noise levels. It works, but the extra energy in post and the potential for a complete failure if the camera’s automatic metering messes up are big downsides.

Your best bet is to control the camera in a mostly manual way—you could even use a wireless controller, such as the Tether Tools Case Air System, if you wanted. If you are very diligent and prepared, you could even do the ramping yourself throughout the time lapse, ensuring that you have complete control over the look of your images. The other, less intensive way to do this is to do multiple sets of photos at different exposures as the day to night progresses. You can do as few as two (one at night and one during the day) and then blend the middle portion in post. This should result in the smoothest transition and excellent captures during both times of day. It’ll be a little work in the edit, but it is well worth it. One thing to keep in mind here is that you are likely going to be setting the camera to shoot for a long time. You don't want to lose power part of the way through, so picking up a large power source (our pick would be the Tether Tools Case Relay System) is advised.

Add More Movement to Make a Hyperlapse

Motion in time lapses isn’t new. Sliders and other advanced devices can easily add a bit of movement to your time lapses. What is new is the hyperlapse. By combining stabilization techniques with large movements, you can create incredible, almost unbelievable effects. This includes shots where you circle around a monument over the course of a day and capture it from all angles, all compiled into a single epic video.

To make this happen requires a lot of planning and preparation. Start with the right gear: a camera with decent resolution (a solid pick would be the Panasonic S1R and its 47MP resolution), tripod and/or gimbal, and a sharp low-distortion lens. This equipment is important to think about because hyperlapses will generally demand decent modification to imagery in post. Using a higher resolution gives you more room to work with in stabilization and framing, a tripod or gimbal will help with consistency between shots, and a low-distortion lens will minimize weird looks that may result from less-than-ideal positioning or framing.

Critical to a hyperlapse is your path. After calculating how many shots and how long you plan to be shooting so you can get your interval, you have to make sure you can move smoothly along the path and position your camera accurately at your subject. The best plan of action is to focus on a single point, which you can consistently frame up, though you can experiment and do whatever you want for your hyperlapse.

Once you have all your images, you have a good bit of work to do. Bringing the image sequence into your NLE or software of choice, you will have to apply some serious stabilization. Warp Stabilizer in Premiere comes to mind. If you did a good job with your shooting and were consistent, it should all come together here. With a bit of tweaking, you should have an exciting finished shot. Maybe next time try adding a zoom to your hyperlapse.

Aerial Time Lapses Are Possible with Drones

Tripods, sliders, and other common support systems are best on solid ground. This doesn’t mean your time lapses should be limited to land. Modern drones can now shoot time lapses in the air! Impressive gimbal stabilizers and GPS navigation give them a unique skill set that makes all of this possible.

DJI Mavic 2 Pro Hyperlapse

It’s a bit of a different game when preparing for an aerial time lapse, because there are more limitations and more possibilities. What this means is that you are limited by things such as battery life and weather/wind much more than with your DSLR or mirrorless cameras, but you can capture images from practically any position you can imagine—within legal limits, of course. Ideally, you should choose a drone that has this type of feature built in, because I would not recommend trying to do this manually. I would also say to save the original still images, if possible, with your device, because that is how you will maximize quality, which is what we did when we brought the DJI Mavic 2 to Iceland.

Make sure you check out the path along which you intend your drone to fly before starting your time lapse and, if possible, you should lock down your exposure settings to avoid flickering. Keep battery life in mind, so always start with a fresh battery, if possible. Unfortunately, this is going to be the real limit for what you can do with your time lapse, since flight times can be as short as 10-20 minutes in certain conditions with select models. Some drones can be set up to repeat the movement later, however. So, if you need to pause and restart, it should use GPS positioning to get into the same spots. This can even help create an aerial day-to-night time lapse if you are adventurous. One other thing to note is traffic. Air traffic is one, but if you are close to land or water you may have to account for people, automobiles, and boats to ensure you stay safe and within legal guidelines. 

Once you have your files you will, again, need to apply some stabilization. Gusts of wind, slight movements, and other unaccounted for obstacles will need to be corrected here, though a good gimbal stabilizer should minimize the amount of work needed. And there you go—a nice aerial time lapse.

Are you looking for more in-depth tutorials or information about these techniques? Be sure to leave any questions or suggestions in the Comments, below!

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