Once you’ve sorted through digital SLR kits and found the right rig for you, you might start eyeing camera tripods and thinking about long exposures, or even more exotic, the majesty of time-lapse photography. Follow these beginner tips to try your hand at capturing the passage of time
The first thing you need is a camera that supports time-lapse photography and a sturdy tripod. Fortunately, several nicer point and shoot cameras offer the functionality, as well as a range of DSLR cameras that are just one step better than an entry-level digital SLR kit model. Depending on the type of time lapse you want to do, you may also need a remote shutter button so you don’t shake the camera.
The most important things to understand for good time-lapse photography are basic techniques for good composition, creating good exposures at longer shutter speed times, and the right ratios of exposure time, time lapse, and frame rate.
Good composition is something you strive for with normal photos, but when photographers start working with moving pictures, sometimes they throw all their fundamentals out the window. Explore the scene; plan for how it will change over time, and build your shot based on that.
For example, if you are shooting a night sky, research where the moon and stars will move so you don’t lose them during the shoot. If there is going to be other movement such as running water, compose the shot to give the movement appropriate lead room. Your camera is going to be there for a while and you can’t move it once you started so this planning for a good shot is important.
Good composition also includes deliberate, exacting focus. Manual focus (and in fact, all your settings should be manual so the camera doesn’t try to adjust things during the time lapse) lets you set the perfect focus and not worry about anything.
Many of the most powerful time-lapse photo series take place in low light conditions, where the photo reveals not just the unknown image but unknown activity. Exercise all your basic knowledge of adjusting aperture, ISO, and shutter speed for a well-balanced exposure that you can work with later. Remember how you want to handle movement when you select your settings. A short exposure will freeze moving objects, a medium exposure will blur them, and a long exposure will make them disappear. If you are doing a longer exposure, also be careful to set up your tripod so it is very sturdy and won’t shake from wind, or you’ll get a shaken take and have to start over.
Timing and Time Lapse
When you shoot time lapse, the number of frames per second and the length of production you want multiplied by the length per exposure dictate how long you’ll be shooting. If you know you only have a certain amount of time, such as to capture a sunset, and you know how fast the sun moves, you can calculate how many shots you’ll need.
The time between shots determines perceived speed of the final video. The longer the interval, the bigger the “jump” and thus the faster viewers will perceive the speed of your video, albeit with a stuttered type of motion. The faster the subjects are moving, the shorter your exposures should be to eliminate blur. Changing the exposure length and time between exposures dramatically alters the nature of your time-lapse video.
Time-lapse photography lets you simultaneously capture the passage of time and freeze time. And all you need is some passion, a digital SLR kit, and a few extra pieces of gear.