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Time lapse photography and video techniques using DSLR’s

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As we’ve been brought on to shoot a lot of different construction and industrial projects that are large in scope, we’ve had the opportunity to really dive into shooting time lapse.

Timelapse photography is the use of cameras to take a series of “stills” that when played back at 24 frames or 30 frames a second, creates a “fast-forward” video effect.  Because they are only stills, not officially video, just about any camera can be used for timelapse.  And with the quality increase in cameras, the stills are usually a much higher quality than if it was shot at video.  It’s really a matter of math:  A high def video picture size might be 1920 by 1080 pixels or lines.  A still might be 5000 by 3000.  So you can shoot wide and zoom in potentially without any quality loss.

Our Time lapse Process

We shoot our time lapse scenes with DSLR’s like the Canon 5D mark 3 and the Canon 7D, T3i, etc.  We’ll use GoPro’s for time lapse and we’ve also used iPads and iPhones at times.  We pull the images into Premiere and frame it like we want, color and correct and then export.

Right now, we have several “long term” projects.  We have one camera that’s been shooting since early June (over 7 months).  Fortunately, this camera is inside an office building looking out the conference room window and is being controlled by a computer so that the pictures can be immediately uploaded to the cloud so we can grab them back at the studio.

Another camera is outside on a lamp pole, away from electricity and is being solar powered.  This one will be going for approximately 3 or 4 months.

Creating different time lapse effects

When shooting time lapse, you have to decide the interval between pictures.  A long interval will be a much faster timelapse effect. The camera doing 7 months is at one picture every 20 minutes.  Other cameras might be at one picture every 6 minutes.  When we’re on set doing a timelapse for 30 minutes, we might have the interval at one picture every 2 seconds or so.  The scene doesn’t move as quick.  But it’s great for seeing those clouds fly by the buildings.

Another relatively new trick is to move the camera while taking timelapse.  This relies on a motorized mount that slowly moves.  Everything has to be smooth.  While taking a series of pictures, if the camera is bumped or jostled, it can have a bad effect on the final sequence.

Other techniques involve speeding up or slowing down the interval to create cool effects or “bramping” which can help your exposure during sunrise and sunset.

Time Lapse comes in a variety of flavors.  It can be a lot of fun, but does require experience and knowledge to do it correctly.