How to: Basic Timelapse

GH2 in video mode

GH2 in video mode

There are two fundamental ways to make a timelapse, one is by shooting video and the other is by taking a series of photos.  I think the easiest way is the video method.  To do this you’ll need a few pieces of gear and software, but before going any further this is the end product from the tutorial.

For this tutorial I’ll record with a Panasonic GH2 and mount the camera to a window sill with a magic arm.
If possible set the camera’s exposure to manual so your video doesn’t get really dark or bright from when clouds cover the sun or reveal the sun.  If you are in auto exposure mode the image would probably become very dark when the camera sees the sun since the camera is trying to compensate for this really bright light source and ends up underexposing what is actually important in the image.
That’s pretty much it for the part of capturing the image, just make sure the camera is well supported and then ensure that nothing will bother it.
The amount of time you’ll record will vary depending on what your subject is.  In the example I set the camera up as soon as I got home from work and just let it go until it got dark which was about 3 hours and 34 minutes.

Once you’ve stopped recording, the process of turning regular video into a timelapse starts,  This part is really easy but may tie up your computer for a while.  Open your editing program of choice for this one I used Adobe Premiere(there are also free video editing programs online) put your video on the timeline right click the clip go to speed duration and you can either increase the speed by a percentage or set the duration of the entire clip to a what you think feels right.  In this clip I set it to about 40 seconds.  With this speed you can still see the storm progress but no be so long that hopefully viewers won’t immediately click on to another video.  Nothing really exciting happens and if the clip lasted 2 or 3 minutes I doubt anyone, myself included would stick around for it.  Alright so when a speed for for the clip has been entered select a small portion of the timeline and render it out to see if the movement is too fast or slow and change your speed as necessary.  Once happy with the desired effect export the video to your codec of choice.  For this since the GH2 records to an h.264 type codec I rendered out an h.264 type file since I didn’t see any point in exporting a less compressed format that would use way more hard drive space.

Conclusion

There are some disadvantages and advantages to shooting video for a timelapse instead of taking a bunch of still photos.  On the plus side if something really interesting does happen you can play back the footage in real time.  Before the storm happened tornadoes were predicted to accompany it.  I shot at 60 frames per second so in case a tornado did form and I was lucky/unlucky enough to catch it I could slow it down and have some tornado footage if the camera wasn’t sucked up with it.  Another advantage to this is that you don’t need any specialized gear like an intervalometer to take photos at specific intervals and this is probably the most forgiving type of timelapse for anyone starting out.  It’s forgiving because you don’t have to guess what is a good interval to shoot at and potential have a timelapse where things look like they are moving way to fast such as can happen when shooting photos with too much time between shots.  With video if you speed it up too much just choose a slower speed and keep tweaking it till it looks the way you envision.

Generally I think the advantages of the recording video method don’t make up for the disadvantages.  The first disadvantage is that you are limited in resolution for what you are capturing.  I shot this with a resolution of 1280 x 720 which comes out to be 0.92 megapixels.  If I had shot this as a series of photos I could have had a finished piece that had a resolution of 13.9 megapixels.  I do admit that there are some cinema or high end video cameras like the RED Epic that can record at these resolutions but they are expensive and also use a lot of storage space.  Another disadvantage is that on most consumer cameras you don’t have the ability to shoot raw, so while you can do a little bit of color correcting to the image you will always be significantly limited in how much you can tweak the colors and brightness or the final video.  The third disadvantage is that this usually uses more hard drive space than if you would use still photos.

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