Making it Faster: A Time Lapse Guide

If you want to freeze a moment in time you resort to taking a photo. But what if you want to capture a series of events? Thanks to a bloke named Louis Le Prince who invented the film camera, that’s now possible. Even though you can capture a lot of moments using either of the two mediums, both are not sufficient to showcase something larger and grander. Maybe an event that takes place over hours, days, weeks or maybe even months! Time lapses exist to serve this very purpose. Super long events can be shown very conveniently over a few seconds. Yay!

The underlying idea behind a time lapse is fairly simple. You might have heard ofterms like 24 fps, 30 fps or maybe 60 fps in the context of a video. What it basically means is that one second of film usually has 24 or 30 images (or frames) per second of video. So a video in reality is actually a series of images changing very fast. Fast enough to fool the human eye at least. Now imagine you want to capture a sunrise. This would typically take about 30–45 mins. You don’t want to show someone a video of sunrise for that long. It would be like staring at a clock. You can resort to taking a time lapse. So a 30 min event can be condensed into a 10–30 second. that would make it way more dramatic and more of a spectacle to watch. Remember shooting a time lapse takes quite a bit of effort but modern phones have a come a long way and have made it fairly easy for one to shoot a time lapse with just a tap on the screen and without bogging down the user with too many options. But still there’s no substitute for patience. You have to wait for long durations to finish a time lapse. Good luck finding out a way around that problem.

Watch this AMAZING time lapse of Singapore made by Keith Loutit

Recently I was in Guwahati, India (my home town ❤) for a couple of days. The weather over there was just amazing! By the evening the cloud cover over the city just looked heavenly. I thought it would be a good idea to finally shoot a time lapse during the golden hours (dusk or dawn). I have tried shooting a time lapse multiple times in the past but never got down to actually processing one mostly because I was lazy or maybe didn’t really capture a lot of motion in them. I have just way to many folders on my PC with photos that I shot for a time lapse just lying there.

Pretty skies in Guwahati

One fine evening I took out my trusty old Nikon D200 and got down to shoot a time lapse. I was determined this time. Off to the terrace. First step is to calculate the duration and number of shots that you need. I have very little patience (I’m working on it) and decided that I can’t sit for too long alone staring at the setting sun. So I set a time frame of about fifteen minutes. So that’s around 900 seconds. This had to be made into a 6–7 seconds shot. This means I have to shoot 30*7=210 shots over 900 seconds. This comes to around a difference of 4 seconds between each shot. Easy. I set up my camera to shoot in RAW at f/9 and ISO 100. I kept the camera in Aperture priority so that it can continuously meter and adjust the exposure automatically. This method causes a lot of flickering but then we can fix it post. I used a fairly small aperture so that the exposures are kinda long and adds a bit of motion to the shot. You don’t want it to look jittery. To shoot a time lapse using your camera you need an external intervalometer or a built in one in your camera. Most new cameras have it built in. I have a built in one and so I set it up to shoot 200 shots (around 6 seconds) at a four second interval.

LRTimelapse 3. The yellow line shows the variations in exposure. On the right you can also see all the loaded images.

I was done with the shooting and waited for about 2 weeks before I finally gathered the vigour to get on with the time lapse making process. I used a software called LRTimelapse 3. It’s a brilliant software that makes it super easy to batch edit your photos before you convert them to video. I learnt how to get a smooth transition between the images using a very handy tutorial I found on YouTube. In a nutshell it reuqires you to setup a few key frames which would be taken as the reference for the exposure transistion from image to image. Once you have done this, the images are exported to Lightroom where you can edit these key frames for the right look. Then you switchback to LRTimlapse and let the software calculate the exposures for each image and sync the metadata to the images. Back to Lightroom. Now all you have to do now is reload the metadata and export the images. Sit back and relax. This takes a while.

(Left) You can see the three photos that were set as the key frames have been selected in Lightroom. (Right) I made the picture a bit more contrasty and made it slightly warmer.

Time to take out the big guns. Adobe After Effects. Once all the photos have been exported as JPEGs with the adjusted exposure and settings we can start making the video. In After Effects, I chose the standard 1080p resolution at 30 fps and started off with my composition. I loaded all the adjusted photo and made a composition. There are these two options called Motion Blur and Frame Blending. I used these to smoothen the transistion between two frames. Time to export. After exporting the video, I used HandBrake, a nifty software for video conversion. I had to convert the original file from AVI (size was over 1 GB) to a MP4 format. This also resuced the size to about 2 MB making it easier for me to upload the file on YouTube. The final result is quite pleasing.

Final Result