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Time-lapse videos: Those wonderful cutaways in everything from nature programs to detective shows, showing off the passage of time in a few moments. If you remember that video is just a lot of still images playing at a fast rate, it’s easy to imagine they could be done on any digital camera.
That’s actually the truth. You can make a time-lapse video using your camera, possibly with little to no accessories even, using just Lightroom to built it. For this article, we’re just dealing with making the clips, and while you can potentially make much longer sequences in Lightroom, it’s probably better to create shorter sequences and join them together in iMovie or Windows Video Maker.
Most modern cameras with a remote shutter port can do time-lapse photography. The only feature you need is the ability to shoot a series of frames at a regular interval. Cameras like the Fujifilm X-T2, Nikon D750 and Canon 5DIV have this function built-in. If your camera doesn’t, you can buy a special type of remote shutter called an intervalometer. You could even use basic GoPro-style action cameras. These have this function built into their photo modes.
For cameras that need them, you can grab either official camera branded ones like the Canon TC-80, or grab one off eBay, or places link LinkDelight and Amazon. Make sure it has the same port as your camera and lists your camera as compatible.
As you’re running a series of images, your initial run will be static. There are ways to do motion with time-lapse; but initially, let’s just get something that works! Any tripod will do. However, it’s a good idea to have something that won’t be blown over or rocked by the wind. Even a slight movement of the camera will affect the final video quality.
Any lens that can capture the scene! If you’re doing landscape, a wide lens can set the scene, while a telephoto could let you zoom into the scene to show more cloud movement for example. If you’re doing night scenes, a fast prime would help you a lot.
A book, an app, and a seat. Time-lapse is about compressing time. That means you’ve got to be there for the time the shoot takes. We’ll talk about frame rates and frame numbers, but basically, if you shot every 5 seconds for 20 minutes, you’ll have about 10 seconds of video. Yep, that’s all you’ll get for your wait. You may as well have something else to do while you’re shooting!
Video is measured in terms of frame rate, that is, how many frames are played each second the video runs. There are loads of different rates; 23.97 frames per second (fps), 24 fps, 25 fps, 29.97 fps, 30 fps. There are plenty of choices. Lightroom’s video export is at 29.97 fps, so it’s best to think close to this. This means that you need 30 shots for each second of footage or 300 images for 10 seconds. In the video world, a 10-second clip is fairly long, so with that as a reference, at a 5-second interval between shots, you’ll be shooting for 300 x 5 = 1500 seconds = 25 minutes.
Why 5-second intervals? Well, there are two reasons. The first is that 10-seconds would give you a 50-minute shoot instead of 25, and the second is that during the daytime, 5-seconds generally looks good for most wide scenes. If you’re shooting city scenes, with moving traffic, one or two seconds will be fine and look great. For astronomy scenes, the exposures run from 15-30 secs, so you may find a continuous shooting mode gives a smoother final result.
Setting your camera or the intervalometer depends on the device. Here’s how it looks on a Fuji X-T2 and with a TC-80 remote. You’ll find other devices will have similar menus.
Fuji settings (or example):
Press OK to start.
Press Mode until you see a set of bars, indicating an interval. Next, press the dial on the side to edit the time and change between seconds, minutes, etc. Turn the dial to change the time. Press the Start button to begin.
Choose a location where there’s some kind of movement. It could be people, clouds, or even the sea. As long as something is happening over the duration of your capture time.
Set your tripod up and compose the scene. Do a test shot to check your exposure. When you’re happy with the image, take a shot of your hand with one finger pointing into the frame to let you know that the time-lapse is going to start at the next image.
Set your intervalometer (internal or external) and let the camera fire away until you have enough shots for your sequence. If you plan on doing a lot of editing to the images, shoot in Raw. If your exposure is perfect, you’ll get away with JPEG. As a compromise, you could use mRaw or sRaw modes if you want smaller files, but with the advantage of better editing control.
Why make this choice? Well you’re shooting a lot of photos, and if your final video is HD, it’s only 1920 x 1080 px in size, so huge files aren’t needed. For 4K, you obviously need larger files (these are 3840px wide).
When the sequence is done, take a shot of your hand again with two fingers, to let you know the previous image was the last in the sequence. You’ll find doing this helps, because the changes between images are subtle, and you don’t want a sudden jump in the look of the video from a longer gap between shooting the test shot and beginning the sequence.
First of all, load your files into Lightroom. Next, edit one photo, then use CTRL/CMD+Shift+C, to copy all the settings. Select all the photos, and use CTRL/CMD+Shift+V, to paste the settings to all of the images. You could use Auto Sync for this, but it can cause slowdowns with large quantities of photos, due to the amount of processing taking place.
Make a collection of the images between your two hand shots. If you want to reduce the footprint of the images in your original folder, you can use stacking to reduce the set down to one visible image. This image will have a badge with the number of images in the stack showing on the thumbnail. Select the images to stack and use the shortcut CTRL/CMD + G to group the images into a stack.
Next, select your time-lapse collection, and go to the Slideshow Module in Lightroom. You’ll need a special time-lapse template for Slideshow, which can get for free from here. Follow the instructions to install the template. Please note that it’s not a Develop Preset, so it won’t install in the Develop Module, it has to be in Slideshow. Restart Lightroom.
For ease of location, I create a folder for the Template by clicking on the + in the Template Browser panel header. From there, I selected New Folder from the drop-down menu and named it “Timelapse”. Next, I then canceled out of the dialog as I wasn’t creating a new template, just the folder. Finally, I dragged the time-lapse template into the folder in the panel.
Once everything is set up, you’ll need to select the new template from the Template Browser. To create a video, click Export Video at the bottom of the Left Panel. Choose what resolution you want (e.g. 720, 1080, etc.) in Video Preset dialog. Enter your preferred filename and path, then click Export.
WARNING: Don’t attempt to playback your time-lapse video from within the Slideshow Module as Lightroom will probably fall over. This is because Lightroom wasn’t really designed for creating a time-lapse, though it does work fine as a video export.
It’ll take a while to export your video, because Lightroom has to process each file to be added to the new video. By way of caveat, sometimes Lightroom doesn’t include the last few frames. It’s an issue with the rendering engine and not related to the template itself. It’s been reported as an issue, but for now there’s no way around it.
Most video editors such as Premiere Pro and After Effects allow you to import images onto the timeline. First of all, export your photos from Lightroom and import them into the software you want to use. For Premiere, use File > Import…. Then select the first image in the sequence. Tick the Image Sequence checkbox and hit Return. Premiere will create the movie sequence automatically from the photos.
The process is different in each software, so you’ll need to check how in the manual. Generally, you should set each image to display as one frame, ensuring you’ll get a perfect time-lapse. If you have the older Quicktime 7 Pro software, you can use File > Open Image Sequence to select the files. You’ll need to enter a frame rate (e.g. 24 frames per second) and then Quicktime will build your time-lapse video.
Now that we’ve covered the basics of what you need, and how to process a time-lapse, you’ve no excuse not to go out and make your own. Have fun and share your videos with us in the comments below.