When making time lapses, often dedication and technique go hand and hand. After putting hours of your time and patience into shooting a time lapse, the last thing you want to do is find out something went wrong before you even began. Here are my Top Ten Time Lapse Tips for Photographers. Do your best to consider these and you will have many time lapses that would have otherwise been ruined, that is assuming you charged your batteries, brought enough memory and didn’t forget your intervalometer!
Top 10 Time Lapse Tips
#10. Stock up on Supplies
You’ve done plenty work to make sure your camera and camera supplies are ready to last for hours on end when its time to shoot, but what about you!? Think ahead. It may be a beautiful day when you arrive to your shooting location, but as the hours pass and night falls you may find yourself in desperate need of some warmer clothes, a place to sit, something to eat! A jacket, a snack, and a chair should be the least you bring. I find good company passes the time best, though sometimes it’s nice to be alone with the elements. You will obviously have more obligations and less freedom while waiting for your time lapse to finish if you were filming in a public park rather than an isolated mountain top.. So what you bring and what you want to do until your time lapse finishes is up to you and your location. Just don’t forget about your needs as well as your cameras!
#9. Turn Image Stabilizer 'off'
Turn off your image stabilizer if you have one. If your doing your time lapse properly to begin with, your camera and base will be as solid as a rock and there will be no need for an image stabilizer. Some image stabilizing lenses use gyroscopic sensors that can often cause erratic results on a tripod possibly ruining some of your shots. Additionally the image stabilizer will takes extra battery power from the camera to operate. All in all the image stabilizer is a bad idea for time lapses..
#8. Keep Lens & Filter Clean
With all the changes foregoing your images during a time lapse, theres no way a consistent smudge, scratch, or hair on your lens or filter will go unnoticed in the final video. In fact if your camera is relatively safe I would suggest taking a filter off all together.
#7. Monitor Frame
If your location and subject permits, I would suggest monitoring whats going on in your cameras field of view. Before you start, take a look at where the edges of your frame are and make a visual reference. Do your best to stay out of that frame, and don’t set your camera up somewhere prone to interruptions. If your doing a time lapse at Disneyland then obviously people walking in and around your frame is probably the point and there would be no need for protecting the field of view. But when you’re filming early in the morning down a nearly empty pier, and a jogger decides to rest himself right in your frame for a lengthy foot massage it might be time to kindly speak up and save your shot.
#6. Plan Ahead
Many time lapse shots will require that you do a bit a of planning ahead of time. Not accounting for drastic changes in light or movement is a sure way to ruin your shot over time. Changes in light is a whole other issue so I will just mention changes in movement for now. If your are doing a sunset time lapse you probably should guess/ calculate the path and distance that the sun will travel over the period of your time lapse. With this bit of planning you can frame your shot accordingly as to not ruin it with bad composition due to a lack of planning. So do your best to calculate where your subject will be not only at the beginning of your time lapse, but at the end as well.
#5. Don't Preview your Photos
It’s very temping as time rolls on to pause your camera during a time lapse and take a peek at what’s going on behind the lens. Taking a even a quick pause to view a photo will end up skipping at least one scheduled photo in your sequence. Unfortunately from the fast moving ocean, to the moderately paced clouds, to the crawling stars in the sky, I have found that missing just ONE photo at any interval, will cause a skip in your final product. In the end, watching a beautiful time lapse with a small skip/jump in time is never worth the slight satisfaction you will get from previewing a time lapse in the making.
#4. Use Sturdy Tripod on Stable Ground
Whether you shoot with your tripod on dirt, snow, sand, or cement, make sure it is well grounded. Push it down a give it a little wiggle to make sure its safe and solid. If the ground you’re shooting on is at an angle, turn your tripod so that the lowest point has a leg on it, rather than a gap. This will make it less prone to tipping. Once your camera is pointed in the right direction, lock all your tripod knobs tightly to keep the camera from drifting sideways or down from wind or gravity.
#3. Protect Your Camera
Unless you are safe far away in the wilderness, never leave your camera unattended!!! One bump or nudge from an animal or a person will surely ruin your whole time lapse. Watch out for children! They never seem to watch where they’re going and will be the most likely to ruin your shot.
#2. Avoid All Automatic Settings
Stay away from ANY and ALL automatic settings during your time lapse. The goal of a time lapse is to show in a short period of time, the changes in a scene/location over a long period of time. Changes that often include varying values of light. The goal of a camera with automatic settings is to correctly expose an image whenever possible, despite changes in light. So a time lapse that is meant to display changes in a scene over a period of time would be completely countered by a camera with automatic settings meant to minimize changes from shot to shot. If you do shoot automatic it will typically translate as a “flicker” effect. One reason for this is when the camera makes an increase or decrease in aperture attempting to expose the image. Any automatic camera settings during your time lapse will most likely either ruin it completely or take a lot of post production by third party software to try to correct the problems.
#1. Understand Your Settings
Number one for the Top Ten Time Lapse Tips for Photographers is - make sure you have correct camera settings. Unfortunately there’s not much to suggest here as there is no one correct combination of settings due to the unique variables involved in each shoot. All I can say is practice, practice, practice. Remember your mistakes when you make them and you probably won’t make them again. If you’re relatively new to making time lapses I would suggest NOT starting off with sunsets and sunrises as they can be tricky and take lots of practice. Try something with a consistent amount of light throughout your shooting.
Don’t Forget to Calculate Your Intervals:
Of course you will need just the right interval of time in between each picture taken to achieve the exact feel you want. Though I did not include this in the list it too is a common mistake. There is no reason to make this mistake anymore as anyone can have access to the simple time lapse equation I have made HERE. I hope my top ten time lapse tips for photographers will enable you avoid common errors and spend more time refining your personal time lapse technique.