Monday, 10 September 2012

Time-Lapse Photography - Part 1

(See below for details on location, camera, conditions etc.)

Time-lapse photography is one of the coolest things you can do!! However, not all cameras can do this. My little Cannon Powershot D10 can't, and neither can my other point-and-shoots. I do know that some pretty high end DSLRs can do this but i never have one, nor have the $$$ to get one of those, hence as always i used what i had on hand.

I only discovered time-lapse photography when i bought my GoPro. Now this is one odd little camera. It's essentially a box, the size of a match box, with a fish-eye lens. It does not generically come with an LCD screen at the back (purchased separately), nor it have a viewfinder. It does however rate all the way down to a depth of 60m (well and truly more than an open-water diver should go to), and takes HD videos at a rate of 60 frames per second (handy if you're into making super slow-motion shots...i'll talk about that in later posts).

(For more information click on "The Equipment" tab at the top of this blog)

Anyhow, the GoPro DOES have a time-lapse function, it have its limitations but as a whole if works a great!!

So as a brief indroduction, time-lapse photography is essentially a series of photographs taken at regular intervals and played back in sequence. This series of of photos (as like any other ordinary digital photo), can be taken at any resolution/size you want. The total number of photos you take would be determined by how long you want to capture the scene for and the time duration between each photograph.


Tip #1. The smaller the time interval the smoother the time-lapse

As an example I keep my resolution on 11 megapixels, and a time interval of .5 seconds (i.e. it will take a photo two times every second). With a 16 gigabyte SD card this will last about 1 hour 25 minutes (give or take 10 mins). Also it is important that you get an SD card that is Class 10. This means that information/data is able to be written to this card quicker, and you need this because you'll be take an 11 megapixel photo every half second!!!! If you by an SD card that is a lower class, then this will slow down each shot and you will not be taking a photo every .5 seconds.

In the 1 hour 20 mins that this 16 gig SD card lasts, the GoPro will take about 8600 photos (give or take 200 shots).

The really cool thing about time-laps shots is that when you stand there and watch things happens, you basically see NOTHING because things move so slow...but when you play it back it is TOTALLY AWESOME!


Tip #2. Secure your tripod / camera!!!


This, trough first-hand experience, is REALLY hard to do when you, your tripod and camera are standing exposed on the side of a hill/mountain and the wind is blowing so strong that trees are bending and leaves/gravel are flying around!! So what i suggest is, if you can and if it is your budget, get a good, sturdy tripod. Even better get a tripod that enables you to hook your backpac onto its fulcrum (area where all three tripod legs join). What this will do is use the weight of your backpack (mine was quite heavy), to help keep your tripod down and not move around with wind. Of course you'll have to get all your necessary equipment / food out first, you can't touch your backpack once its hooked onto your tripod and your camera shooting.

If you dont have a backpack or a hook to hook your backpack on, then adapt! Make sure there is no loose gravel under the feet of your tripod. Make sure that the feet of your tripod are flat. Once this is done perhaps consider putting a few large rocks on-top of the tripod feet/legs to make sure that it will not be blown over. Move any loose branches or rocks AWAY from your tripod legs. With the wind, branches can move, causing sticks and rocks to roll down hills and bump your tripod / camera.


Tip #3. Do not touch your camera once you have started!!!

The trick with time lapse shots is that it is vitally imperative that the camera does not move (not even a millimeter, not even micrometer!!!!). The reason for this is that if you're taking a very large scene, say a canyon, mountains or just open scenery, any movement (even the slightest touch), will be persevered as "camera shake" when its played back in sequence. This is very hard to get rid of and will frustrate you even more if the scene you are taking is a very beautiful one, distracting attention to the shake rather than keeping it on the actual scenery.

My suggestion to you would be once the camera is securely on the tripod and the tripod secured to the ground, step away from it!!! The temptation will be to hang around close to your camera but inevitably you will move around and each time you move there is a chance you will bump your camera, or you will bump something which will roll down to your camera. Either way something will touch your camera causing a slight change in camera angle.

Timelapse shots can take up to several hours and you would not want to have all those hours wasted with your beautiful time-lapse shots RUINED just because of a slight accidental "bump". This tip becomes very pertinent when you are shooting in an area with lots of people/tourists. If you MUST go to a very "touristy" spot which is in a high traffic area you MUST PROTECT YOUR SPACE!!!

 In some cultures it is very normal to stand right next to someone rubbing shoulders with them while they take a photograph/shot. For what you're doing DO NOT LET THIS HAPPEN WITH YOU AND YOUR TIME LAPSE CAMERA!!! Yes they may be unaware that what you are doing is very sensitive and they may accidentally push/bump you or your camera.... but in doing so, all those hours you spent capturing your time-lapse shots will be wasted and you might as well pack-up and go somewhere else.

This warning extends not just to being bumped but to having someone/mass-toursts shake or alter the ground/foundations that you/your camera is on (e.g. loose floor boards, railings, platforms etc). So be aware when setting up. Don't position yourself in the middle of a footpath or walk-way, make sure there is always room for someone to go around.


The Fun Part!!!!!

Below is an example of a time-lapse taken in Glacier National Park, Montana - USA. Specifically it was on the eastern side of the "Going to the Sun" road (see map below, red dot marks the spot, click to enlarge). The whole National Park is littered with totally amazing areas to photograph or set up a timelapse. But i found this one spot to be the best....If you're in the area check it out! When you see the sunlight rise over the mountain peaks during dawn and sunrise, you will find that it's a sight that is beyond words!

(Click to enlarge)


Location:                                  Going to the Sun road, Glacier National Park (east), Montana USA (Big Sky Country)
Camera:                                    GoPro HDHERO2
Settings:                                   11 mp on .5 sec interval
Time of Arrival:                         5:00am
Duration of Time Lapse:          1 hour 22 minutes
Number of shots in sequence:  8813
Total size used:                         16 Gigabytes
Wind condition:                         Strong
Temperature:                             0 - 5 degrees Celsius (32  - 41 degrees Fahrenheit)
Lessons learned:                       Due to strong wind conditions, my tripod shifted a few times. Tremendous difficulty and frustration was encountered later while trying to fix/ reposition the photo on the computer !!!! Hence, secure your tripod with something heavy (rocks on tripod legs or bag on tripod fulcrum). Also due to the low temperatures and high wind conditions, ensure you have warm clothing or at least some sort of shelter.

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