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How I Made a Time Lapse Movie with My DSLR

Picture 4-5DPS reader Ross Ching emailed me a month ago with a link to a movie called ‘Eclectic 2.0’ that he made with a Canon DSLR. When I followed the link to the movie I was amazed what Ross had created. Before reading on – check it out here.

After watching the movie I emailed Ross back to ask if he’d be willing to write a guest post here at DPS to give us more of the back story on how he put it together. He agreed and what follows is his post (also note – Ross has made put together a second video with more on how he made his movie – you can watch it here) .

What happens if you string together your shots?

When I first got into shooting still photography I would always go out and just shoot whatever caught my eye. I actually got some really neat photos, some of which are hanging on my wall at home. After a while though, I took a step back and asked myself, “What makes all my ‘great’ photos different from the millions of other photos on Flickr?” Well, the answer is this:

Anyone can take a picture. The question is, how are you going to use it?

What if I took my camera and strung all the individual shots together to make a time lapse shot? Well, why stop there? What if I took my still camera and attached it to an extremely slow-panning telescope tripod? That’s exactly what I did to create Eclectic 2.0.

Obtaining the Equipment

When I first set out to create this thing I had to think about what kind of equipment was out there and how I could create the desired effect within my budget (not much). I already had a Canon 20D to shoot pictures, but I needed a way to time the shots so that I didn’t have to touch the camera at all (touching the camera, even the shutter button makes the shot unusable). What I discovered (through the internet) was the Canon TC-80N3. It let me hook up the timer to my camera. This was all previous knowledge from Eclectic 1.

Now I had the challenge of trying to figure out how to make my camera pan extremely slow. Slow enough to go one revolution every three hours. These rigs are specifically made, but cost over 1000 dollars, so I was going to build it myself. I had a preliminary idea of attaching a string to an egg timer, but that did not work at all. After a while, I figured out that Meade makes telescope tripods (Model DS-2114ATS-TC) that do just that. Perfect! Now I just had to rig the camera to it. Once the rig was finished, I just experimented with the tripod; how fast it moved, all the menu settings, how long the batteries would last, etc. Once I understood my equipment it was time to go out and shoot.

Using the Equipment

Much of this information is explained in The Making of Eclectic 2.0 video that I put together.

I get a lot of questions about how long I expose shots. To be honest, it depends. Some shots take 30 second exposures at 31-second intervals for over 2 hours (as with night time shots). Other shots take 1/4000th of a second at 2, 5, 10, etc. second intervals. It all depends how fast your subject is moving (water, stars, traffic) and the lighting conditions. Above all, be sure that when you start taking photos, you don’t touch the camera. If you touch the camera or if the tripod moves in the wind, all the time you spent setting up a certain shot will be wasted.

For Eclectic 2.0, I basically took off in my car headed to various National Parks. I camped in my car and drove around the area looking for cool, scenic landscapes. At times it would get boring since there was nothing to do while the camera took pictures. Other times I would hike around nearby trails keeping in mind that nobody is near my camera to steal it or touch it.

The Music

It is said that sound is more than 50% of the movie. That could not be truer. I scoured the internet (mostly MySpace) to find someone who had the specific feel that I was going for. Luckily, I came across The Ghost Orchid. Since they were in the beginning stages and were unsigned, the gladly let me use their music.

The Post Production

After most shots, I would import the photos onto my laptop and check to see how the scene came out. To do this, I imported the photos like a normal digital camera. Then I needed to resize my photos to be 1080p. (They could have been ultra high definition, but I decided the largest they needed to be was 1080p.) To do this, I had to resize every picture that would have taken a very long time to do since I literally took thousands of photos. Instead, since I use a mac, I created a custom Automator action. (Learn more about Automator by Googling it.) This lets me simply click 1 button and the resizing is done. It will crop the top and bottom of your photos, so be sure to keep that in mind when you’re shooting. If you’re using a pc, well, you’re on your own.

Next what needs to be done is make a Quicktime movie out of the individual photos. Using Quicktime Pro, I chose file>Open Image Sequence… then select the first photo in the photo set. Quicktime then asks what frame rate you want it to be. I use 24 frames per second because that’s the Hollywood standard. Finally, you can preview your movie and save it. From there I simply took it into Final Cut Pro and edit the shots like a normal movie.

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Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse

is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals.

He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

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