How to make time lapse video

September 10, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Introduction : 
I always enjoy watching the time lapse of clouds and Sun moving in videos showed on TV during the weather news. My initial thinking was that it is probably a normal video fast forwarded 100 times to show several hours of dynamically changing scenery in just a few seconds.  It became even more  interesting to me once I learned how to do it with still images crated by a camera.  I thought of scribbling what I learned in the past two years while making time lapse of beautiful scenes. I have created time lapse videos showing fast moving clouds, dancing Aurora ( also known as Northern Lights ) and Milkyway.

Planning :    
We need to have a scene where there is moving objects in the frame. An intersection with busy traffic is a good example. Moving clouds make good subject too for time lapse. A busy railway station with trains and people, fireworks, Milkyway, starry sky etc. are all good examples for making time lapse. Make sure to have more than 50% of the area dynamically changing in the frame. If only a small portion of the frame is changing, then that may not make a good time lapse. 

Equipment : 
You can shoot a sequence of images to make time lapse video using any camera. You can even shoot the images with a phone, you will need an app to do this though - the conventional camera apps that come with the camera may not support this feature.  What you need to do is to shoot a sequence of images at frequent intervals. You need a tripod to setup the camera. If there is any stable surface like a wall or car hood, then that is good enough too. Make sure the camera does not move while the images are photographed. Setup the tripod and camera in such a way that no objects ( like people or car ) move immediately in front of the camera and block shooting in the middle. If you are on a trail or a road, make sure to setup the camera a few feet away from the path so that it is not touched or obstructed by people. You will need a intervalometer to setup the camera to shoot images at frequent interval. Many digital cameras come with built in intervalometer. If  your camera does not support this feature, you will need a cable release or wireless remote that support  the intervalometer. Make sure the battery has enough charge left and also the memory card has enough space to store a few hundred images. 

Shooting : 
Setup the camera exposure in manual mode. Aperture priority is another way of setting it up if the light changes dynamically in the scene. Take test shots and make sure you get what you expect in the image, setup the exposure in manual or aperture priority mode. It is good to set the lens in manual focus mode. If there is large moving objects in the frame, the camera may struggle in auto focus mode, and you may lose some frames. The easy thing to do is to take a test shot in auto focus mode, and then change the lens/camera to manual focus mode. Or, you can lock the focus in many cameras. In either case, don’t let the lens do auto focus during the shoot.  If you are shooting in a busy intersection, an interval of  1 to 5 seconds will give a good video at the end. If you are shooting clouds, 5 - 10 seconds interval is good, consider the speed of the wind. If the wind is heavy, chose short interval  like 2-5 seconds. The interval between shots must be larger than your shutter speed. This is relevant if you are shooting in the night. For example, if the shutter speed is  5 seconds, the interval should be 5 seconds or larger. You can lower the ISO and  use a wide aperture to get faster shutter speeds in the night. We will need 30 frames per second to make the video, means every 30 images will make one second long video.  If you are shooting at 2 seconds interval, then you will get 30 images per minute. If you shoot for 30 minutes, then you will get 30 x 30 = 900 images in 30 minutes, which means the time lapse will have 900/30 = 30 seconds of video. If you are planning to setup the camera in your balcony and plan to shot the whole afternoon or evening to show the change in weather, then use larger intervals like 1 minute. 

Post processing :  
We will use Lightroom for processing the mages and Photoshop to create the video. Import all the images into Lightroom and do basic editing for the first image. I don't spend much time processing the images.  Add some Vibrance and Saturation, adjust whites & blacks, lower the highlights and brighten up the shadows, and add some contrast, apply some dehaze +/-. This should give a reasonably good effect in the video. After editing the first image to your taste, sync all the images with this change. Select all images and export to JPG format. A resolution of 1920 on the longer side is good enough for 1080p video.  Make sure to select 'Custom Name - Sequence'  in the Lightroom export dialog.

We will  now use Photoshop to create the video. In Photoshop, go to File menu and select Open. When the open dialog comes up, browse to the folder where the exported JPG files reside, then select the very first image. Check the 'Image Sequence' option at the bottom right corner of the open dialog.   Click 'Open'.

Photoshop will now show another dialog box asking frame rate. Chose 30 as the frame rate. You can also choose 24 for slower video, it is up to you. I chose the standard 30 frames per second usually.

Click OK and Photoshop now will open the files and show a video group for editing, this will take only a couple of seconds.  The layers panel will show a video group that you can now edit.

Go to Window menu in Photoshop and select 'Timeline', this will open the video time line at the bottom of the edit window.

Select the 'Audio track' option at the bottom of the Timeline to add an audio file so that you can add music to the video.

Voila, you are done with a basic editing of your time lapse video.  Export and enjoy.  Go to file menu, and select Export and then "Render Video. . . ' to export the video.

Use your video editing skills to make the video more pretty by adding effects.

Here is some Time lapse videos. 
Milkyway and Mount rainier Milkyway and Mount rainier

Milkyway at Palouse falls state parkMilkyway at Palouse falls state park

Dancing of Aurora Borealis, aka Northern LightsThis time lapse video was shot at Gold Creek Pond, near Snoqualmie pass.

Clouds at gold creek pondThis was shot while waiting for Aurora to show up.


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