Time-lapse photography is the fusion between filmmaking and photography. That means you will have to be the director, producer, and photographer if you want to test yourself in this area. Undoubtedly, it won't be an easy task to do. The following tips should help you achieve good results even if you don’t have any previous experience.
A time-lapse video can be breathtaking
1. Scouting a Location
The process always begins with scouting locations. You must be familiar with the location where you plan to make the time-lapse. You need to get to know the weather conditions, as well as be aware of other details that might be working to your advantage or disadvantage (things like wanted or unwanted traffic, for example). You can make use of your smart devices for some of these purposes. It is also useful to take a few test sequences just so you can get the feeling for the angle, atmosphere, and light conditions. On another note, if you are shooting from a private property, make sure you have permission to do so.
2. The Gear Depends on What You Want to Capture
After you have scouted the location, you probably already know exactly what you want to capture. Now it is time to decide which pieces of gear you’ll take with you. It is not wise to bring only one lens because you might see something new that you want to capture, so make sure you have covered all the bases. You will need power, so bring more than one battery with you (having a battery grip is preferable). It is also nice to bring a laptop with you in order to tether the pictures directly in there, so you can see them on a larger screen and make any necessary corrections.
3. Be Prepared With a Good Workflow
Having a good and optimized workflow is a key when creating time-lapses. Lighting and weather conditions could and probably will change rapidly, and you should be prepared for that. If it catches you off guard there goes the whole time invested in that sequence.
One word. Epic.
Since the workflow is the most important part about making time-lapses I will focus the attention to that. I am assuming that you are more than just familiar with DSLR cameras, lenses and framing, thus I won’t waste too much time on that.
4. Manual Mode is the Way to Go
The most important thing. You need to set everything manually on the camera. Not a single thing can be left to work automatically. This is due to the fact that light will change during the time-lapse, and if you leave something to be controlled by the camera it will change from picture to picture and thus create flicker. So set your white balance to custom or one of the preset values, but not to auto. Same goes for the shutter speed, aperture, ISO and focus. Manual focus is a must, as well, because you can’t have your camera refocusing after each shot.
5. Choosing the Right Shutter Speed
The same as video, the shutter is best set at 1/50th of a second or slower, so the end result has good flow and it doesn’t appear stuttery and flickery.
6. Shoot RAW
Really important, as well. You can’t hit everything perfectly. Light will change, conditions will change, and you’ll need all the information in the files to be able to compensate afterwards. Shooting raw will give you the best flexibility needed for post processing and the best picture quality.
Yosemite HD II from Project Yosemite on Vimeo
7. Use an Intervalometer
This should go without saying but I will mention it anyway. Get a decent one, check the batteries on it and fix it well to the tripod because it can induce motion if it catches wind. You can also use your smartphone as an intervalometer with a suitable app.
8. Use a Tripod, Head, and Slider
You will need a good, sturdy tripod with a sturdy head with every control possible. This is important due to the fact that some tripods can’t hold the weight of the camera for longer periods of time. As a result, the framing can change and often ruin everything. Sliders, on the other hand, are quite useful since they allow for changing the viewpoint and making the time-lapse more interesting.
9. Avoiding Camera Shake: Solid Ground and Wind
I know right? It had happened to me few times: the ground on which the tripod was standing was not solid enough, thus slowly moving and tilting the tripod. So, choose firm and hard ground (jump on it few times, see if it cracks or dissipates), then set your tripod and weigh it down if possible. If the ground is solid but there is some wind, the wind can tilt and move the tripod around as well, flip it even. Nobody likes the risk of damaged gear or ruined shots, right?
When it comes to the software, I would go with Lightroom and AfterEffects – both Adobe programs. Lightroom gives you the best file organization, management and RAW processing. On the other hand, After Effects allows you to import multiple raw files as one sequence and then let you alter the RAW settings if necessary. If you are shooting tethered, you will also need to know about software for that purpose.