A couple of weeks ago I decided to create a new time lapse video.
I chose to shoot in Wooton Park in nearby Tavares, Florida. Wooton Park is home to the City of Tavares Seaplane Base and Marina, a hot bed for seaplanes in Central Florida located on the shores of picturesque Lake Dora in Lake County.
My purpose here is not to present a tutorial on how to shoot or edit a time lapse video (there are plenty of good ones on the web), but I do want to describe and explain some of the creative decisions that go into planning a shoot like this, and of course to show some of the early work footage of the finished time lapse itself.
Let me start by presenting the first version of the video. This is a basic, rough edit that shows the scene unfolding at a relatively slow frame rate with no camera movement or video styles added. I'll explain more about that in a bit.
The first video rendering of the time lapse. It includes 1000 frames, one half of the total amount of images shot.
©2015 Photo Asylum Moving Pictures.
I'm sure most everyone has seen time lapse photography before, in a film, on television, or on the internet, whether the term itself is familiar or not.
Time lapse is a photographic technique where individual still images of a scene are shot at a specific rate (interval) in the camera, then edited and combined in sequence to become video frames. The result is a sped-up animation that gives the illusion of events happening much faster than they do in real life. You can easily identify a time lapse by super fast cloud movement across the sky, or blurred people scurrying about in a scene much more quickly than normal.
Yes, we truly do get to mess with the space/time continuum, and the results can be pretty cool...
While this post is not meant to be instructional, I do want to mention a few technical and creative details that should help explain some of the process.
This particular time lapse had no special "look" I was aiming for. And although I'll probably end up using it as part of a commercial video at some point, there is no client here that hired me to shoot something specific. So, I consider it stock video, meaning there are no rules: whatever the lighting is that day, it is, whatever the other conditions are that day, they are. I find what looks like an interesting scene, set the camera on a tripod, and shoot.
Without getting into a laundry list of artistic considerations, often the enemy of an outdoor time lapse (especially one with no people in it) is a clear blue, cloudless, windless sky. At its core, a time lapse is interesting because there are visual elements that stay completely still throughout the entire footage, juxtaposed with elements that move quickly throughout the entire footage.
Few things look cooler and more surreal in a time lapse than big white clouds moving quickly across the screen. On this day there were some clouds and a bit of wind, so I was good...
Lighting is another factor, especially with exposure considerations over thousands of photos, and if I can't get completely consistent illumination in my time lapse, at least I want light that changes predictably. That's why transitonal times of the day are popular subjects for time lapses. Dawn and dusk, where it either gets predictably lighter or darker over the course of the shoot.
Although it looks pretty bright at the beginning of this video, I actually began shooting this time lapse at around 7 pm in the evening. August in Florida. Knowing I would shoot for an hour or more, I choose this start time, the idea being to capture the setting sun, or more specifically, the darkening sky to the east as the sun went down in the west.
The change in light adds a beautiful effect to the footage as the colors in the scene gradually deepen, mixed of course, with the reflected sun light on the clouds in the distance and the seaplane in the foreground.
Composing the shot
Below is the framing of the scene as I shot it in the camera. It's a full-resolution RAW setting (approx. 18 megapixel), and will need to be cropped and eventually reduced to a video output size. My final videos are almost always either Full HD (1080p - 1920x1080) or HD (720p - 1280x720), both of which have an aspect ratio of 16:9.
So, why not shoot the image in the camera at a size that is already the same as the final video? A fair question, and it's certainly an option. Actually doing that makes things easier in a couple of ways. One, the smaller-than-full file sizes mean faster processing by the camera (allowing shorter intervals and the ability to shoot photos more quickly). Also, smaller files allow more photos to fit on a given storage card. Either or both of these may be a factor when you shoot.
Thing is, if you want some sort of camera movement in the final video (for example a pan left or right, a tilt up or down, or a zoom in or out), you can either buy pricey technical gizmos like motorized trackers that physically change the position of the camera as the time lapse progresses, or shoot a wider frame and create the movement in post-production using software.
For the time being, I choose the cheaper alternative...
Editing your captured images to create a straight-forward time lapse is, well...fairly straight-forward. If shot correctly, you should end up with anywhere from a few hundred to many thousands of individual photos. It all depends on your shutter interval, and the total amount of time you spend shooting.
For this seaplane time lapse, I had my camera fire once every two seconds, and I shot for a lttle more than one hour. I ended up with about two thousand photos.
The main concern is processing the images out of the camera like you would from any shoot. This means labeling your storage card (especially if you use more than one), copying the files to a named folder on a portable storage device or computer, renaming your files so they make sense in the context of the project (I convert my Canon RAW files to Adobe DNG, so that might be an extra step), keeping the file number sequence intact so they line up correctly as frames in the final video, and of course, backing up everything.
Again without going into technical details, the software features needed to create your basic time lapse are available to anyone who already has and uses conventional photo and video editing programs. Adobe Photoshop® Lightroom® After Effects® and Premiere Pro® all have the capability to edit and render time lapse videos, the latter two allowing you to add a greater variety of effects.
I usually start the editing process in Photoshop® or Lightroom®, then import basic footage into one of the other programs where I fine tune the editing, then export as a rendered video. Third-party plugins are available to help deal with issues that come up regarding things like exposure, image stabilization, and color balance. Again, plenty of good information about this on the web.
Oh, and I almost forgot. Added music and audio can become a crucial element to the final video. But that's a subject for another day.
So, how will I use this time lapse? What it's ultimate purpose? Like a lot of creative photography or video footage, most time lapses have both artistic and commercial merit. We can apprecaite watching it simply because it is visually facinating. Or, it can serve a vaulable purpose as a small part of a larger commercial film or video.
Usually, an artistic time lapse is fairly long. Several minutes at least, going up to five, ten, even twenty minutes or more in length. They take an enormous amount of time and effort to shoot and edit, and even when done brilliantly and use exotic locations, often exceed the attention span of the average viewer.
I prefer to create short time lapses, subjects and motion that captures a viewer's attention for a very brief amount of time, and use it for what's called a transition in a longer, more conventional video. This is now very common on television or in films. A cutaway to a commecial break during a sports event, an opening or establishing shot on a drama, comedy, or reality show. A transition from one scene to the next. Many commercial productions use time lapses now for these and other purposes.
Be sure to look for them next time you watch...
That's it for now. Obviously, this is only a first step in the creative process for me. Sure, I feel my time lapses stand on their own as fun videos, and I hope you enjoy them, but I plan and create them with a slightly different purpose in mind. And to experience that, we'll all need to be patient and wait a bit until some of my other video projects are completed. You can be sure I'll share and update everyone here as new footage emerges and new work is completed.
As always, your comments and suggestions are more than welcome!