How to Do Stop Motion Photography: An Introduction

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Tiffany Mueller is a professional music and fine art photographer. She has been published in multiple publications including magazines, art journals, and various photography books. She blogs at Life Is Unabridged.

In a perfect world the weather outside would always cooperate, if not invite us to get outdoors and take photographs. Unfortunately, that’s always going to be more of a pipe dream than a reality. Since I’ve been shooting the majority of my work outdoors lately, one of the main questions people ask me is what I shoot when I can’t work outside. Of course, there are plenty of things to photograph indoors, but lately I’ve been toying with the idea of stop motion photography. It’s a great exercise in creativity and also a fun activity to get your children or grandchildren involved in photography, especially if cabin fever is affecting them, too.

What Is Stop Motion Photography?

Stop motion photography is often confused with time lapse, a technique that has swept through the photography community like wildfire. While they do share some similarities, there is a difference between the two. Stop motion is an animation technique recently popularized by claymation in which the subject is manipulated in between photographs to give the appearance of movement once the frames are spliced together.

Time lapse, on the other hand, is considered to be a cinematography technique–not animation–which simply uses still photographs taken at timed intervals to show the subjects natural actions at a much quicker speed making it appear as though time has lapsed.

What Can I Make With Stop Motion?

Stop motion has been used for a number of things including cooking how-tos, music videos, and even playing a game of human tetris. Good stop motion footage could also be a fun replacement for slideshows of family reunions, weddings, and other similar events. You could create a “movie” of birthday gifts unwrapping themselves, origami that folds itself, a castle that builds itself out of Legos, or an animated battle between toy soldiers. The possibilities are endless, any action that you perform throughout the day could easily be turned into an animation using stop motion.

Stop motion artist, Adam Pesapane, has made many stop motion films that have gone viral on the internet, including “Fresh Guacamole” which has been nominated for an Academy Award this year!

Making Your Own Stop Motion Photography Clip

Making a stop motion can require a lot of stills. As a general rule of thumb, expect to use 10-15 photographs per 1 second of video–that’s about 300 photos for a 30 second clip. So when brainstorming ideas, you may initially want to settle on one that can be made short and sweet. Here are few tips for collecting your photos:

  • More likely than not, your first stop motion isn’t going to be made for the silver screen so go ahead and set your camera to capture in JPEG. It will save space on your memory card (compared to shooting in RAW) and eliminate any potential buffer problems when catching images at fast pace.
  • Remember, the frames are going to be made into a video clip so shoot all the frames in landscape orientation. It will look nicer once played back on a screen.
  • Make sure you don’t move your subject too much between frames. The more subtle each move, the smoother the final clip will play. The more frames you use, the more true the action will appear. Don’t worry about using to many frames, if it causes the clip to play out too slowly, just adjust the frame rate so they play back quicker.
  • Import all your photos into Lightroom to do any needed adjustments or to apply your favorite presets to them. Lightroom makes batch editing a breeze.
  • Once done in Lightroom, export your frames into your favorite video editing software. I use Adobe Premier, which came bundled in my Adobe Master Suite. Quicktime Pro is a more affordable alternative and iMovie or Windows Movie Maker are both free tools that will easily let you combine your images into a movie clip and even add special effects and an audio track. Consult your programs help file for exact steps on how to do this. With most editors, it’s a simple and quick process.
  • Experiment with different frame rates. Start with 10 fps (frames per second) and work your way up until you find the best rate for your clip.

Stop motion photography is another technique that is rather simple, but can be very time consuming depending on how long of a clip your making and how much effort you feel comfortable putting into it. Try incorporating different techniques such as light painting, different light styles, and motion blur to see what kind of cool effects you create in camera. If you don’t feel like going through the trouble of setting up your DSLR, there quite a few apps available on both Android and iPhone that will allow you create stop motion and timelapse clips using just your phone. It can’t get any easier than that! So dig out those Legos and start building your own animation!

5 thoughts on “How to Do Stop Motion Photography: An Introduction

  1. Ben

    Tiffany,

    I am interested in shooting a stop-motion video similar to this one;
    http://vimeo.com/63202420

    I won’t be doing any of the moving animations, but I plan on attempting the zoom in and out frames.

    Do you have any tips for me that would
    help me succeed at this project?

    Ben

  2. Pamela

    There is a song I would like to use as the background and use both stop motion and quite a bit of photoshop (both of which I am unfamiliar with). The season is perfect right now and I want to get it done while it is not too cold so my daughter does not freeze to death in her costume. I have an ok camera, but I lost the book to it. It has somewhere on it where I can set it to do the right frames I think. Help?

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