Words and photos by Scott Herder
Time-Lapse photography is a technique that allows us to see a scene changing over time. This is done by taking hundreds of pictures over a large interval of time. Those photos are then played like a movie. Allowing the viewer to see how a setting changes over hours, in just a few seconds.
I love how it allows me to relive a scene and tell my story. My goal is to use time-lapse photography to take you through a journey and not just show a pretty place.
How I got started:
I got started with this by happenchance. I began photography because I wanted one “keeper” photo from Korea as a personal keepsake. After a coworker introduced me to the work of Sungjin Kim (sjkphotos.com) and John Steele (www.johnsteelephoto.com). I studied their work and I noticed John Steele had this one photo of Tower 63 that just spoke to me. I wanted to try and emulate it for my own personal keepsake for when I went home.
Through the group I started following Pete DeMarco (http://www.thenomadwithin.com/), another incredible photographer here in Korea. One day he shared this video by Rob Whitworth called “Enter Pyongyang.” (video url- https://vimeo.com/102051605) and I was hooked. I watched Rob’s videos hundreds if not thousands of times just in complete awe. I was in love with this. To me it was such a fun and unique way to relive and share my year in Korea. For myself, my friends and even my future grandkids.
I had three months left before I left Korea and every Wednesday I would go out and shoot. Teaching myself time-lapse and hyper-lapse photography along the way. I’m not quite where I would like to be with the skill but I have learned quite a bit along the way. I believe two things have been very helpful in developing my skills.
First is having a real deadline. It’s amazing how much you can learn when your back is against the wall. The second is the strong community of photographers in Korea. You can ask guys like Sungjin Kim, John Steele and Pete DeMarco questions and they are happy to help you. They share details on how it was shot; John helps me out the most with his blog by sharing where things are and even the best time of the year to shoot them.
What Makes a Good Time-Lapse?
In my personal opinion there are three major things that make a good Time-Lapse or Hyper-Lapse:
First is composition. Just like photography, composition is an important tool when shooting a time-lapse. Try to find an interesting angle, have a strong foreground and background element, and understand where things like shadows, the sun, or where things will be over time. At the very least remember the rule of thirds. For Hyper-Lapses I typically have to rely on keeping the subject in the center of the frame and compose based on balance.
Another important factor is movement in the frame. Time-lapses shine when they are showing movement. If there is no movement, a still photo will do just fine.
The final aspect that plays a major role in your time-lapse is the interval of your photos. The interval that you choose determines how fast or slow the motion of the video is. Too fast and the viewer is confused or doesn’t get to appreciate the change over time. Too slow and the viewer gets bored. Finding the balance takes time. When in doubt shoot more photos because you can always speed the video up or remove photos. Unfortunately you can’t really add photos after the shoot.
Here are some helpful intervals I use for when I am out and about shooting:
Fast moving clouds 3-6 seconds
Slow moving clouds – 6-10 seconds
The sun setting or rising – 6-10 seconds
Traffic/people walking (during day) 1-2 seconds
Tracking People – 1 second
Stars – 30 seconds
How to shoot a Time-Lapse
I believe there are three basic requirements for shooting a time-lapse. They are a camera, a tripod, and an intervalometer. The tripod keeps the camera steady, and the intervalometer takes the photos at specific intervals set by you.
The trickiest thing about shooting time-lapses is avoiding flicker and getting sharp images. Flicker is distracting jumps in brightness in the video. To reduce flicker we shoot with the smallest aperture our camera allows. Unfortunately that makes our depth of field really shallow. To compensate for the shallow depth of field we can either focus at infinity or focus at the bottom third of our frame this way we can maximize what is in focus.
The most difficult type of time-lapse is referred to as the Holy Grail time-lapse. Where you change from day to night or night to day. This is made difficult because of all the changes in light. The light can change by up to 20 stops, each time you need to adjust your camera settings during these changes and this is where you can really get a lot of flicker.
Here are some things I have found that help me get the best results when shooting a time-lapse:
- Shoot in full manual.
- Change your white-balance to cloudy. Never shoot in auto-white balance. Ever.
- Once you have focus dialed down, turn your auto-focus off.
- Bring a notebook and write down what you want to the video to do and record all of your settings and the results you got. This way you keep progressing.
Also when possible you want to try to drag the shutter. This is an expression meaning shoot with a slower shutter speed than possible with hand-held. It allows you to get motion blur, which makes for smoother looking time-lapses. Not always possible during hyper-lapses.
Processing a Time-Lapse
The processing of a Time-Lapse is the final touch. I have found LRTimelapse to be the best. It’s like magic. I highly recommend it to anyone looking to do time-lapse or hyper-lapse photography.
Another tool I like to use lately is actually from Robert Evans (https://www.instagram.com/robertmichaelevans/). He shared that he liked VSCO plugins to help him speed up his process. I tried it out and found that it helps me get more contrast and pop out of my hyper-lapse videos with minimal effort.
When stabilizing a hyper-lapse I use both the motion stabilization feature and warp stabilizer tools in after effects. In that order. I have this to be the most efficient and effective way to stabilize even the shakiest hand-held footage every time.
For more of Scott’s time-lapses follow him on vimeo