I accept I’m a little late to the party! It seems not a documentary or travel show goes by without at least one time-lapse. I wonder if the advent of 4K video has helped give timelapse photography a reboot just as HD seemed to a few years back.
Time-lapse photography takes, unsurprisingly, time to set up, shoot and process and I guess is why I never quite got around to trying it. Always good to take time out though to explore new techniques and satisfy a creative urge for which commissioned work has yet to indulge us.
Time-lapses can be an effective alternative to an otherwise relatively static landscape clip, emphasise the passage of time or compress some long industrial process into a few seconds and ultimately provide context and shape to everyday phenomena, whether natural or manmade.
So I’ve been playing with timelapses, my first excursion, and this montage was the result. I could have studied one location or kept it historically themed but a musical montage was never my original goal. I was mostly experimenting, while being mindful that a few sequences might be suitable for a future project or find their way onto a footage library.
What is especially appealing with shooting timelpases is the post production options, first the raw image processing capabilities on importing into Lightroom and then the post video potential of working with such high resolution still frames.
Because most modern DSLR cameras provide a much higher resolution when shooting a still image compared to a video frame, a timelapse shot using still images produces ‘frames’ which outsize normal HD or 4K video.
One of the other cool things about shooting time-lapse sequences is you can potentially produce a 4K video clip from a non-4K camera. Of course you don’t need a video-capable camera at all. I shot two sequences on a 5DI just for comparison.
You will need an intervalometer and, ideally, video editing software to render out an image sequence.
I should clarify, this is not a how-to post. There are plenty of time-lapse tutorials out there, demonstrating far more capable levels of competence so I really don’t have anything to add but I am happy to share a little about my approach.
Locations, weather & subjects
I chose Yarmouth harbour for the industrial sequence, Winterton for its relatively high viewpoints of surrounding dunes and village and St Benets Abbey on the Norfolk Broads for a historic and slightly mystical ‘past times’ sequence.
I chose locations within a short drive since this wasn’t going to be a one-trip exercise. It was mid-winter and the light drops off quickly in the afternoon and earlier in the day thickening cloud cover can sometimes cut a sequence short.
Changeable light was one reason I also limited shoot times to around 20-25 minute chunks. Weather was key of course for other reasons. Too much wind and the sequence might jump about – since even very slight movements of the camera can translate to some frames being misaligned. Post-stabilization was used for one or two clips due to this problem and wasn’t 100% successful.
A clear blue sky day was little use too if I wanted to show moving clouds! Shooting Great Yarmouth dockside activity where the interest was centered on ships being off-loaded a clear blue sky provided a cleaner composition. Helped by a polarising filter, the winter sunshine brought out the colours of the ships and cranes which were the only interest here.
I didn’t mind a few clouds passing in front of the sun in other sequences, producing dramatic shadowing on the landscape. Keeping everything set to manual, I judged exposure before releasing the shutter allowing for the odd few exposures to darken naturally.
I mostly shot with an interval time of 3 or 5 seconds between each exposure. Shooting 300 images would take approximately 20 minutes and provide a clip lasting 12 seconds. With the exception of two sequences, all images were shot using a 5DMKII.
The 4K format I am referring to here is also called UHD 2160p and provides a resolution of 3840 x 2160 pixels or twice the resolution of full HD 1920 x 1080 pixels. Not quite the 4000 pixels as the 4K term implies but this is the 4K widely available on TVs and computer screens. DCI 4K, as used by the film industry, provides a longer and narrower display at 4096 x 2160 pixels.
Still frame from St Benets Abbey time-lapse sequence
Original photo import into HD sequence before pulling back
These images provide a photo image / HD / 4K frame comparison. Shot on just a 5DI ( a 12.8 megapixel camera), you can see how an imported photo sequence initially displays in HD then 4K video.
The typical resolution of a still photographic image shot on a modern full frame DSLR camera will be over 5000 pixels long.
HD video clearly offers more options than 4K for post-cropping and panning effects.
Original photo import into 4K sequence before pulling back
The music, downloaded from Purple Planet, was a compilation of three tracks.
Despite a few post-production issues, the results were not bad although annoyingly the You Tube video displays some slight juddering in places not evident prior to upload.
I doubt I would ever use multiple timelapse clips in a commercial video or documentary but one or two appropriately placed could certainly add impact to cutaway sequences in future videos.