This week I thought I’d try a bit of timelapse, which I guess isn’t, strictly speaking, photography, but hey, I used a stills camera, I processed the images in Lightroom, and I shot (nearly) everything at f22, so it’s almost there, isn’t it? I suppose I’m stretching the remit of the project a little this week, but I’ve only got so much time on my hands, and the idea to do this came directly from the image I shot last week, so I’m not too worried.
Timelapse is fun and frustrating in equal measure. Actually, no, it’s a lot more fun than frustrating, but that’s not to say that it isn’t very annoying when 3 hours of work ends up un-usable because of some silly mistake or oversight.
The technique is deceptively simple in concept – all you need is a camera, a good sturdy tripod, an intervalometer (a programable device to trigger the exposures on a set routine – I use the Canon TC 80n3), and lots of time. You point the camera at your scene, set your intervalometer to record an image every couple of seconds, sit back for 15 minutes or so and then gather the images together in a video editor.
In practice, however, things are inevitably not so simple, and things go wrong all the time. I don’t think I had a clean run where at least something wasn’t problematic.
Here’s what I learned about timelapse this weekend …
- Don’t. Touch. The Tripod. I know this is glaringly obvious but every shot that I attempted this weekend was jittery because I kept milling about near to my tripod, moving the floorboards it was sitting on, and knocking it accidentally from time to time. The smallest disturbances register on the final render as minor but jarring blips in what should be a smooth playback.
- Shooting RAW rather than JPEG – gives you a lot more flexibility in post, but (especially with the 21 mega pixel 5D mkii) means you need high capacity cards (32GB), and increases the amount of time you spend in post significantly, as you need to convert all the RAW files to JPEGs, which takes a good amount of time. Converting 32GB of RAW images into JPEGs once you’ve made some adjustments in something like Adobe Lightroom is going to take a couple of hours.
- You can get an unpleasant flickering that can be fixed by using a plugin called Long Exposure from CHV-Plugins. It’s very good, but some experimentation is required with the settings to get the right look. The default settings tend to merge one frame into the next a little too much, so that all the detail from your rolling clouds is lost as everything is smoothed out too much. Pulling back a little on the Timespan slider, and changing the mix to about 75% seems to get rid of the flicker without losing too much detail.
- Weather is really important. It’s been proper glum in London for the last few weeks, and grim overcast skies don’t make for a very interesting timelapse. I was waiting in vain all weekend for some fluffy clouds but they never really emerged.
- High failure rate. I shot about 10 timelapses over the weekend, but I think there’s only 2 decent shots in the edited video above (shot 3 and the shot of the cross-roads with the cars). The other shots are just there as filler really, and everything else ended up useless because of some problem or other.
I’ve had way more failures than successes with timelapse so far, but it’s really fun, and very satisfying when it works. I’ll definitely be back for more. Perhaps when the weather’s improved a bit though!
Also, it would be remiss of me not to say that loads of incredible advice and guidance about how to do practically anything video related with a Canon 5D MKii is available on Philip Bloom’s website, and I got much of the info about how to shoot and treat timelapse from his site. Have a look at his most recent timlapse video ‘Sky’, along with detailed production notes, here.