Time-Lapse Photography Equipment Guide to Getting Started

Time-Lapse Photography Equipment Guide to Getting Started

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Never forget that all the great photographs in history were made with more primitive camera equipment than you currently own.” – Brooks Jensen

No doubt that first time you said “Hey, wouldn’t it be fun to dabble in DSLR photography? You know, just as a hobby.” Your financial counsellors, or your spouse for that matter, broke out in budget busting hives.

There probably isn’t a more gear focused group of enthusiasts out there, but don’t worry, taking that step into time-lapse photography doesn’t require much gear to begin – and the extra gear that can really take your time-lapse to the next level is more affordable and easier to use than ever before.

Whether you are a brand new time-lapse photographer or an experienced shooter looking to unleash full creativity with time-lapse motion control, this article will provide a launch pad for your next steps into one of the most emotionally connecting, and at the same time freeing, creative photographic endeavours.

Steven Michael Photography 600

Your minimum gear checklist for time-lapse photography

Chances are good if you’re already a DSLR shooter you almost have everything you need to get started. These four things are essential.

  1. A tripod
  2. An intervalometer
  3. A Camera
  4. An ND filter

timelapse-gear.png

A closer look at a good time-lapse support system

Rock solid stability (or precise controlled movement) is just about the most important and most essential component for good time-lapse photography. Keep in mind a good tripod that meets your needs will outlast several cameras so consider budgeting a little more time and possibly cash to this category.

  • Consider the materials used – weight and strength
  • Check the load weight – avoid sagging and flexing
  • Height – eye level without using the centre column
  • The right tripod head for your work – ball heads versus pan and tilt

timelapse-tripods.png

Unleashing your creativity with advanced time-lapse equipment

Time-lapse photography is benefiting from a dramatic flow of new ideas. The level of innovation, especially over the last few years, is incredible. Not only are we quickly fixing problems that have plagued photographers for years, but advanced camera controls and processing tools that used to be cost prohibitive, are now becoming affordable for the most basic hobbyist.

Advanced camera exposure control

The Timelapse+ can operate as a universal intervalometer for nearly any camera that supports a remote shutter release, and IR remote, or USB tethering. Bulb-ramping is its claim to fame. The Timelapse+ can perform keyframe-based, guided, or fully automatic bulb ramping – and for cameras supported by USB control, the Timelapse+ can also seamlessly integrate ISO control to smoothly ramp across a wide exposure range, making the “holy-grail” transition from day-to-night or night-to-day easier to achieve. Extended and long-exposure HDR sequences are also made easy with the Timelapse+.

Simple and powerful advanced time-lapse sequence rendering with LRTimelapse:

In a nutshell LRTimelapse takes changes and corrections you make in Lightroom and then smoothly applies them throughout the entire time-lapse sequence. By altering either the first and last image, or several images throughout the sequence, LRTimelapse can quickly fade the changes we need to only the parts we want. Deflickering can also easily be accomplished in the exact same way by flattening out big exposure jumps.

Here’s a simple workflow for editing timelapse images and rendering a movie using Adobe Lightroom and LRTimelapse.

Lrtimelapseworkflow

Advanced motion control

The last few years have shown incredible advances in the field of manual and controlled camera movement, so much so that the
average photographer can now afford motion control devices that were once only available to big budget productions. We’re talking precise, rugged and lightweight panning (left and right), tilting (up and down), and dolly movements with simple controls, such as a smartphone app, that make setup easy and intuitive. Control over motion and time combined with an interesting subject can produce what I believe to be an awesome trifecta of emotion eliciting imagery – some of the most engaging and lasting photography you’ve seen.

Yosemite HD II, an incredible example of time-lapse and motion:

Dolly motion shots can add multiple points of interest by highlighting components of a scene’s unchanging foreground and the larger time-altered background. The movement shots in the wave video move the camera along the jagged rocks, while the waves are slowed in the background. Some of the most popular time-lapse clips feature this kind of extreme moving contrast in many shots too. By moving the camera slowly from left to right on a horizontal track, or flipping the track system almost vertically to instead change the elevation of the camera, we can highlight stationary foreground objects in incredible ways.

The next two axes of movement can be accomplished by camera rotation – aptly named a motorized panning and tilting head. Then combining panning and tilting on a camera slider to achieve 2, or 3 axis of movement simultaneously can dramatically elevate the interest level in a shot.

zion 3axis motion control

Pan or Tilt Head with Dynamic Perception Stage R

Do you think advanced time-lapse work should be left to the pros?

Eric Warren of Matadornetwork.com posed a related question:

“Pros are the guys you call when you want to put a time-lapse in your car commercial. And while we tend to put pros up on a pedestal, they are often bogged down by their clients’ needs. Most commercial advertising doesn’t push the envelope of an art form.

That job often falls to the independent artists, building their own equipment, and often not [caring] about whether their work is going to sell. Not that I want to be too demanding here, but I want to see something mind-blowing. Either something I’ve never seen before or something familiar, shown in a new way (one thing time-lapse excels at.) ….

Consider this a call to all you independent filmmakers out there ready to push the limits of one of the most striking visual art forms.”

Time-lapse has a way of slowing the world for the photographer while at the same time accelerating it for everyone else. Shooting time-lapse alters the way you think, it challenges your view of the world and teaches you things about our world you can bring back and share with everybody else.

Get out and start shooting. Render some footage and break some rules. Most importantly know that you are not alone. The time-lapse community is more connected today than ever before. You have friends all over the world ready to help you get the shots you imagine.

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Ryan Chylinski is the author of Time-lapse Photography: A Complete Introduction and founder of LearnTimelapse.com. His philosophy centers on teaching, sharing and a continual drive to never stop learning. Ryan is also involved in promoting the open source development of photography and time-lapse motion control devices with Dynamic Perception. Their new smartphone enabled 3-axis motion control project for time-lapse and film is unlocking creative freedom like never before. With add on kits starting at $350 motion control has never been easier or more affordable.

  • Mark H

    Another easy way to do this is use the sony NEX cameras and get the time-lapse app from the play memories store. Cuts out about half of the items needed in your list and makes it a breeze. Get a tripod the app and the camera – boom done!!!

  • RyanChylinski

    Hi Mark, Right on! The add-on apps feature of Sony NEX is awesome. Super easy way to add a built in intervalometer and I think it can actually render out the sequence of images too in camera. Trade off is that you don’t quite have as much control over the details in the process but quick and easy for sure. Thanks!

  • Jared Lawson

    Excellent tips! Thanks for sharing – time lapse is such a great trend to see with photography. http://www.jaredlawsonphotography.com

  • Shutternutter

    The Breaking Waves video looks like it was shot with a super fast frame rate video camera and then slowed way down, not time lapse. How is it possible to get so many frames with that kind of detail and play that slow using time lapse? What would the interval be set to?

  • RyanChylinski

    Hi shutternet, you are correct it’s a time-altered shot. It was filmed with a Sony Fs700 at a high frame rate on a Dynamic Perception Stage One Slider. It was then slowed down in post production resulting in the slow motion effect. Super cool video by Ben Canales and Steven Michael.

  • ccting

    will this kind of shot shorten camera’s life?

  • Gavin Hardcastle

    Sadly Mark that Timelapse app is beyond basic. I gave up trying to use it after two attempts.

  • RyanChylinski

    Hi ccting, Your camera’s shutter mechanism does have a lifespan (for example my 7D advertises ~150k actuations) and while some people easily exceed that mark and get a much longer life from their shutter you will wear things out faster by taking lots of time-lapse photos. Personally I think it’s more than worth it but it’s something you might want to factor into your decision making process. Also keep in mind that camera shutters can be replaced but there is a moderate cost and some downtime at a shop or through the manufacturer. I think of it as a “cost of capturing cool stuff”, a decision to use the camera to it’s fullest. All the best,

  • Ravindra Joisa

    Thanks. Here is the timelapse that I captured from our office building in Bangalore, India. Watch it with high resolution. Captured using my Nikon D600 and Nikon 14-24mm lens.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W3cjh8ApMi4

  • Mike

    Am I missing something here – very new at timelapse but normally one would use number of exposures over a period of time – this is crucial element but not even a mention of it here. How Many? How Long?

  • RyanChylinski

    Hi Mike, There are some good examples here: http://www.learntimelapse.com/time-lapse-photography-how-to-guide/how-to-select-a-time-lapse-interval/ Happy to help if you have any other questions.

  • Mike

    Many thanks Ryan, I should have read the title correctly, it does state “equipment required” and not an explanation on the whole procedure. Many thanks.

  • gui1991
  • RyanChylinski

    Timelapse of Volcano. Yes!, rock on man

  • valentina spinedi

    thank you for this article, it’s great! here a few more tools that could also be helpful http://blog.artly.me/60-free-online-photography-tools

  • Call of Road

    Best manufacturer is Canon, of course.
    Top 5 DSLRs:
    1 Canon EOS 5D Mark II
    2 Canon EOS 5D Mark III
    3 Canon EOS 6D
    4 Canon EOS 60D
    5 Canon EOS 7D
    The complete rating of timelapse cameras you can find here:
    http://collection.day-lapse.com/how-to-choose-a-digital-camera-for-time-lapse/

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