Time-Lapse Photography – Beyond the Basics

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Time-lapse photography is a different way to show the world around you. They are videos which are made up of a serious of still images and combined to look like a movie. The frame-by-frame gives a sped-up view of the world. People find them interesting to look at and if done well they are fascinating.

Time-Lapse Photography – Beyond the Basics - sunset and lighthouse

One of the hundreds of photos taken at Point Lonsdale while trying to get a time-lapse there.

There are a few ways of making time-lapse videos The obvious way is to do a video and speed it up, however, most are made from lots of individual still images. Using special programs, you can put them together and set the time for the video to run.

In this article, I’ll share my experiences with you testing out some time-lapse gear and settings so you can learn along with me.

Basic Time-lapse

Doing time-lapse photography is relatively simple. All you really need to do is set your camera up on a tripod and get it to take a photo every few seconds. Put the images on your computer, batch process them if you like, then run some software that will allow you to make them into a time-lapse. Here is an example.

That is a very simplified way of looking at it. Of course, there are many other factors, like what is moving in the scene, how quickly it is moving, etc.

As you experiment more you will learn how to work out what time is best and how many images you need. On average, you will need 30 images for every second of video you want. So if you want a one minute video you will need 30 x 60 = 1800 images.

Adding panning to your time-lapse

Over the years I’ve played around with doing time-lapses, such as I just described. It didn’t seem hard and I thought that adding some new equipment would be fine, That it would just work. I was wrong.

Recently I was loaned quite a few products from Syrp here in Australia to try out. It seemed like the ideal time to step up what I was doing with these. Perhaps get more serious about doing time-lapse photography.

I was loaned enough gear to do panning, tilting, and sliding. In the kit were two Syrp Genie Minis, the tilt bracket, the Genie and the magic carpet rails.

Time-Lapse Photography – Beyond the Basics

Photo by Syrp showing a kit with the magic carpet rails, Genie, and tilt bracket.

Initially I decided to try just the Genie mini. Start with the easy one.

Time-Lapse Photography – Beyond the Basics

One of the stills from the first attempted time-lapse.

Syrp Genie Mini – first attempt

My first attempt was at the Tesselaar Kabloom Flower Festival. There were fields of flowers and lots of clouds, the conditions were perfect time-lapse photography. For a successful time-lapse it is best if there is something moving in the image.

I moved around a bit to various places, but the very first series I shot had to be deleted. The exposure was okay, but none of the images were in focus. It was my first big lesson with doing them this way. I learned that you have to focus the image and then turn off autofocus, otherwise, the camera will attempt to refocus for each image.

The Genie and Genie Minis are all controlled by an app on your phone. It is fairly simple to use, but the arcs for shooting can be confusing.

Next, I worked out how panning worked and wide it should be. Several different arcs were attempted and when I got home and loaded the photos, the problems were clear to see.

The first one was okay, but that was probably more luck than skill. I didn’t really know what I was doing and just let it go for ages, with the camera taking a photo every two seconds. There were around 450 images total.

For the next few, I told the Genie Mini to run for 6 minutes, and for the camera to shoot an image every two seconds. This time it took 360 images. The area it was panning over was increased. When converted to the time-lapse it was jerky and the panning was too fast.

Solutions, if you are going to do a wide pan, you need to take a lot more photos than you think you will need.

flower garden - time-lapse photography

Another one of the stills from the flower center.

Next attempt

I went down to a local area to try it out again, this time giving it more time. Unfortunately, I made a similar mistake.

As I was setting up, I had it in my head to do an image every 5 seconds and to set the pan to last for 20 minutes. This only gave me around 240 images for the video. It wasn’t enough, and the same problem occurred. Next time if I only want to do 20 minutes I should take a photo every two seconds. That will yield 600 images, which should make it a better time-lapse. That is what will be attempted next time.

A couple of other problems happened as well. While panning, the camera was not level for the whole scene. So, I need to work out how to make that happen. Practice will make it easier.

All the tutorials I’ve been watching say to use manual mode for exposure. However, this really only works for constant light. If you are shooting a scene where it is variable, then you may need to use aperture priority.

Working it out

There did come a point when I realized the smaller the arc the better. Not covering such a wide area was better. Making sure there was something interesting in the image as well, something moving.

The number of images and how far apart they are shot is another aspect that can be hard to work out. Taking a photo every 2 or 5 seconds is good for some scenes, but not others. However, it is a good place to start and as you do more time-lapse photography you will begin to understand what settings you need.

Most time-lapse series will result in a video of around 5-10 seconds. When you are compiling it, you need to think about how many images you will need.

As a general rule most are done with 30 frames per second, or 30 images per second. In theory then, for a 5-second time-lapse you will need 150 images. However, if you are adding panning to that, then it will depend on how far you pan. If you are covering a really wide area you might need a lot more images.

time-lapse scene at sunset

You have to make sure there is something interesting in the scene, and that there is movement.

Adding Tilting

Once you think you have worked out how to pan you can try tilting the image up and down as well as panning. I only tried this a couple of times, as the biggest problem I had was my camera is very heavy and the tilt bracket struggled with it. You could see that it was too much weight for the system.

I found that using the Genie Mini with it was a bit tricky and it would tilt the wrong way. The lens would hit the bracket if it went the wrong way. It was the most frustrating aspect.

Again, you have to be careful what you use this for. There needs to be a reason to tilt up or down. Waterfalls are a good choice for tilting. Maybe looking up at a building. Think about why you would do this beforehand.

Gliding along the Magic Carpet with the Genie

The magic carpet rails with the Genie on top will glide the camera along in a straight line. It can add a small amount of movement to your video to make it appear like the camera is moving.

The Genie was very complicated to use and after doing so once, I really didn’t want to use it again. It wasn’t as easy and intuitive to use as the Genie mini. I had been shown how to use it, but when I went to do it myself, I had trouble working it out. In the end, I only used it once.

It does add a nice effect to the final time-lapse, but I’m not sure it is worth the aggravation. Perhaps, if you really wanted to get into doing time-lapse photography seriously it would be worth spending the time learning how to get the best results.

However, Syrp have now upgraded it to the Genie II. It is supposed to be easier to use and can do a lot more. Though at $1599 USD, the price will put it out of the range of many photographers, myself included.

Syrp gear

For most of the time that I had the gear on loan, I used the Genie Mini the most. It was small enough that I could carry it around in my bag most of the time and it was easier to use. Using the phone to control it was never a problem.

It is something that will take a lot of getting used to, but for anyone starting out doing time-lapse photography it would be enough. The Genie Mini is what I would recommend. It isn’t cheap, for what it is, but not that expensive that if you really wanted to do time-lapse. The Syrp Genie Mini sells for USD$249.

In the end, by the time I had to give the gear back, I knew I wanted to do more time-lapse photography. So I have since purchased the Genie Mini. I like what I can do with it, it’s simpler to use and the price-point is doable for most people.

Storage and processing the time-lapse

Everyone recommends you take raw images for your time-lapse series, that way you can process them in Lightroom. The biggest problem is the size of the raw files. My D850 has raw files that are approximately 50MB each, so when you are taking a few hundred images, that requires a lot of space.

Thankfully, the D850 has the ability to change the size of the raw files, so I can use smaller ones for time-lapse. If your camera has this feature, then I suggest you do so. Once the images are processed and the time-lapse is done, you can delete the raw files as you will be unlikely to use them again.

time-lapse still Princes Pier

Princes Pier is a popular place for photos, so it seemed like a good idea to try a time-lapse. This is one of the still images from the series.

Using Lightroom to process the images is good as you can edit one image, then sync the rest of them. This will help give all your images the same look. You can then export them to make the time-lapse.

I used Photoshop to build the time-lapse. However, there are many different programs available to try. Some will give you more control, however, Photoshop is quite basic. It’s a good place to start.

If you have trouble getting Photoshop to work it could be the sequence of images you are using. They have to be consistent, or Photoshop won’t load the images properly.

Getting into time-lapse photography

If this is something you want to try, then start with your camera on a tripod. Take photos every few seconds.

However, if you want to get some camera movement, then I would try the Syrp Genie Mini. Learn how to use it completely to get the best videos. If you decide to add more then you can look at doing tilting and gliding. Don’t confuse yourself by trying to learn it all at once.

Read more on time-lapse photography here:

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Leanne Cole graduated from the VCA with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Melbourne, Australia. She has since been working as a practicing artist and teaching people how to be Fine Art Photographers. She also teaches long exposure photography and runs workshops around Melbourne. Click here to download her 10 tips for Long Exposure Photography in the City. You can find her on her website.

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