One of the most common questions I hear among newcomers to shooting time-lapse is, "What do I shoot?" There are a great number of answers to that question, but there are some subjects that work well for beginners because you're more likely to end up with a really interesting video. Not only that, they're subjects you can find anywhere.
Let's take a look at a few of these ideal subjects:
Here's one you can find in any town. Let's clear up one point right away: There are several kinds of traffic and you can shoot most any of them to create a time-lapse sequence. For the novice, though, good-old street and highway traffic is a good place to start, because they tend to present fewer setup challenges.
(Success Tip: The trick to mastering Time Lapse is all about the right gear. See what you need here. )
Your main concern with road traffic will be finding a vantage point that's safe for you and your equipment, while giving you a good view of the action. In cities, a hotel balcony can provide a good platform for an overhead view. An overhead catwalk can be a good place to shoot freeway traffic, but you'll probably want to keep your total times short, because you're not going to want to leave your rig unattended.
Intervals of 1 second should give you good results with traffic, so you can build sequences in a fairly short time.
One of the easiest ways to create a time-lapse is to simply set up your rig as a “dash cam” and drive. They're pretty prevalent on the web, so if you're trying to avoid cliches, this may not be for you. On the other hand, if you're going to go somewhere anyway, why not take advantage of the trip and get in on the fun?
The greatest challenge in creating a “drivelapse” is probably a stable setup for your camera. If you're using a GoPro, there are dash mounts readily available and compact cameras shouldn't present too much of a problem. There are plenty of windshield and dash mounts available for DSLR cameras, too, but weight will be a factor, so test your setup well before heading out.
1-second intervals are a pretty good place to start for road trips, too, and of course, the speed and length of the drive will make a difference.
Sunrises and Sunsets
Yes, these are definitely cliché. They're also easy to set up for, don't take too long and can give you some incredibly beautiful videos to show off. Besides, you and your favorite partner can sit and watch it together while the camera is working.
You don't need much to shoot a sunset or sunrise; just the camera and intervalometer. Challenges include the environmental ones (dust, sand, salt spray, etc.) and people or animals getting in your way.
You'll want to experiment with interval times with these subjects, but somewhere in the range of 1 to 3 seconds should give you usable results.
This is one of my favorite subjects, because there are so many types, shapes and colors, not to mention amazing motion, especially when you speed it up. Besides, they're going to be everywhere you go and you can shoot them from just about any angle.
You'll need to think about your interval a little more when shooting clouds, because of the wide range of speeds at which they move. They're a little more challenging in this respect, but well worth the effort, in my opinion.
If you feel like tackling something that calls for longer intervals, find yourself something that throws shadows throughout the day. You can get some really interesting effects with the right subject, as well as some interesting surprises when the light changes.
For something like this, you can set intervals of 15 to 30 seconds and let the camera shoot from sunup to sundown. Obviously, this means making sure your rig is going to be secure, so finding a location can be challenging.
One of the other perks with shadows is that they're a good subject for adding camera movement, which can create a whole new sense of dynamics. This is where a camera dolly or slider will come in handy and I recommend checking out the rigs that Revolve Camera has to offer, for both innovation and affordability.
So, there you have it – five good places to start in learning to shoot time-lapse videos. These subjects should help you get a good feel for the setups, equipment, timing and other aspects of this photo/film genre and you're likely to surprise yourself with some awesome results.
Don't forget to have fun!