Screencast: A beginner’s guide to timelapsing

As the title of this post indicates, this is tutorial on how to do timelapses. For beginners. Like myself.

If you don’t know me very well and this is your first time on my blog, I’ll do a quick intro. I do wedding and lifestyle photography, but also have a passion for stormchasing amongst other things. I live in Arizona, so during the summer I chase the monsoon thunderstorms around the state, capturing them in whatever way I can.

This year I decided to learn the art of timelapsing. I wanted to see these epic storms in fast-motion. There is nothing cooler than watching thunderstorms explode in the quick pace of a timelapse.

So I did just that. And I think I finally got to a decent point where I’m around a beginning-to-intermediate level. There are a lot of tools and software out there to do this much, much better, but I’m happy with where I’m at for what I’m using it for. Which is just to document my stormchasing into a single video at the end of each season.

I’ve received a ton of questions this summer on just HOW I’m doing my timelapses. The tutorial + video screencast will show you my entire workflow from start to finish. Below the video will be links to the products and presets that I use to help accomplish what I’m doing.

So let’s get started.

Finished Product

We’re going to work backwards just a bit. Below is my latest timelapse…a recent dust storm that rolled through downtown Phoenix. Figured I would start with a teaser and then show you the actual work involved.

 The Capturing Process

I don’t want to get too deeply involved in the HOW to capture department other than basic stuff. As I said above, there are more ways and more tools to capture your timelapse images. You can use your laptop to control your camera. You can buy another device like the Little Bramber to control your exposures over time. I wont talk about tethering to your laptop here.

But these are the basic needs:

  • Tripod
  • A good Intervalometer
  • A camera with fully charged batteries.

Settings for your camera:

  1. Everything on manual. EVERYTHING. Shutter Speed, Aperture, ISO, White Balance and Focus.
  2. Depending on the size of your card, how many images you plan on capturing and what your camera can do, play around with using RAW, RAW2, RAW3 or JPG Max. My 5d Mark II has three different RAW sizes, which can allow me to record 1000 images at RAW3 but only 270 or so at the max RAW on an 8gb card.  If you think you can switch cards quickly and without moving the camera, you can always do that too. I probably need a giant 32gb for timelapsing. Someday.

Capturing the images:

  1. Determine how long you want to shoot.
  2. The shorter the timeframe, the quicker the intervals between captures. For example…20 minutes. If you shoot every 3 seconds, that’s 20 images per minute + 20 which is 400 total images. That’s about half of what I like to get on a timelapse…my goal is usually to be above 800. Drop it down to every 2 seconds, suddenly you have 600 images. You can figure the rest out.
  3. And vice versa. If you plan on shooting for three hours, you might want to extend the captures out to 30 seconds or more. Just depends on what you are trying to accomplish.
  4. The above two steps just take practice to learn what you like. Took me shooting about 20 of these all summer to figure a lot of this out.
  5. Set your Intervalometer accorrding to what you want to do.
  6. Get a good exposure for your current scene. Whatever method you like to use…trial and error, light metering, whatever. Shoot some practice shots by adjusting your shutter speed to get a great exposure with a full histogram. I usually like to erase my card at this point once I have a good exposure so I max my memory card usage.
  7. If you can, set your back LCD display to show the histogram after every image capture. This allows you to watch and observe what your exposures are looking like during the capturing process. This comes in handy as you lose light later in the day or gain it early in the day. For example, later in the day, if you see the histogram starting to lose its even exposure and drop to the left, then you know it’s time to change your shutter speed. IF you want of course.
  8. Mike’s Basic Method 1: Get a good exposure and then just let it ride the entire timelapse. If you lose light, you lose light and your timelapse will end up fading to black. With all the settings at manual and a non-changing shutter speed, you wont have a ton of post-work to do.
  9. Mike’s Basic Method 2: Change the shutter speed as the light drops or increases. As the histogram drops to the left/or over exposes to the right, lower/increase your shutter speed to keep a nice, even exposure. Do this for as long as you feel necessary. Be careful though…if your interval is only 2 seconds, and you keep dropping your exposure down to .5 sec, 1 sec…etc…you will start to match your interval and screw up the timelapse. Been there, done that. PLEASE NOTE this method requires you to spread out your shutter speed adjustments. If you do them too quickly, your exposures change drastically and will make things more difficult later during deflickering. Pay attention to how quickly you are losing or gaining light, and space our your shutter speed adjustments accordingly.
  10. Oh, don’t move the tripod unless you got a panning, awesome tripod 🙂

Post-Processing

My post-processing workflow is below. Hope it’s informative enough and doesn’t leave you with more questions. But if you do have them, please ask in the comments or drop me an email.

Best way to watch would be full screen, HD of course!

Links

Go here to get the Deflickering program…you can do a trial for a bit I believe, but I ended up purchasing it – GB Deflicker

The instructions for installing the below presets I found on this site here: Lightroom News. That article just links to the basic 720p TL and Slideshow preset. My video export below has the entire collection all the way up to 1620p, which I was told you really shouldn’t use anyways. But it’s there!

Video Export Presets – lr-video-preset.zip

Slideshow Preset – lr-slideshow-preset.zip

For final touches – Vegas Pro 10

That should be everything. To find a Intervalometer, just Google it or go to Amazon.com. I would link to one, but who knows what camera you have and you’ll need specific kinds with specific connectors. I would suggest to not necessarily go cheap on them. My first one was garbage for $15. My second and current one cost around $35 and for some reason I have to hold the thing with the wire bent at a certain angle for it to work. So I already need a third one. I’m pretty hard on my gear though when out stormchasing, so that’s probably part of the problem!

Good luck!

  • http://www.uprootedphotographer.com Zach Frailey

    Man, absolutely awesome. I’ve been wanting to try this out for quite some time now. Never had much of an idea of how/where to start. Now I do. Thanks!

  • http://davewares.wordpress.com Dave

    Nice little tutorial, you have got some great results doing it your way. Here is a link to how I did mine which involves a slightly more accurate interval method but as for exposures you’re spot on. 🙂
    http://davewares.wordpress.com/2011/08/07/having-a-go-at-time-lapse/

  • http://scottwyden.com Scott Wyden Kivowitz

    Fantastic tutorial and screencast buddy!

  • http://www.topherpettit.com Topher Pettit

    Another point as I read this (and ran across this problem a couple times when first doing timelapse) for afternoon to sunset to night, imagine what your shutter speeds you need at night time, so set your intervals at the beginning to covered the later shutter speeds. Example, first timelapse I did had an 8 sec interval and start at 5pm with shutter speed at 1/200sec… but by 8pm (or at night) came along I was 25 sec shutter speed which is longer than the 8 sec interval. Rest is very helpful and refreshing to know that I’m working with a similar workflow.

  • http://www.mikeolbinski.com Mike

    Thanks Dave, I think I’ll update my post with a link to your more “mathematical” methods 🙂

    Topher…yup, you gotta imagine what it might be…or just let it die when it gets close to dark. Good points!

  • jina

    Now I can be awesome too. Thanks.

  • christopher

    thanks for the post. Quick question. If you shoot (lets say) every two seconds, is there a danger of missing a lightning strike in those seconds in-between/?

  • http://www.mikeolbinski.com Mike Olbinski

    Hey Christopher! Yeah of course there would be a danger there, but when I time-lapse I’m just hoping to get lucky really 🙂