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Time-lapse photography is a technique you can use to give a series of digital photos of the same scene or subject matter the illusion of motion. Movies are shot at 24 frames a second, with each frame as a single, captured moment. In a sense, motion pictures slow the progression of a real event. When viewed at 24 frames a second, the human mind perceives a movie as seamless movement.
Time-lapse is the opposite, in that it increases the speed of an event. Each frame is a moment in time, but there are short intervals, or lapses, between the frames that are not recorded. You decide what that interval will be and set it on your digital camera. The resulting photos or frames are then edited together into a “video” that, when viewed, shows a scene or subject matter in motion, but advancing faster than real time. It still looks seamless, but not as smooth as a theatrical movie.
Time-lapse used in this manner creates a unique effect: the clouds and their shadows on the ground move across it quickly; the light changes rapidly; you can watch a flower bud open in seconds that usually takes hours. The time-lapse technique can make many otherwise common scenes come alive and provide an entirely new and exciting viewing experience.
Try the tips in Part 1 and Part 2 of this PhotographyTalk.com article to learn more about this technique, which you’ll need to practice before you can become proficient at it.
Use Manual Mode to Match Exposures
Each frame of your time-lapse sequence must be shot with the same ISO, shutter speed, aperture and white balance settings as the previous frame. Otherwise, you’ll cause a strobe effect that will make it very difficult to view your “movie.” You can’t rely on your camera’s auto mode to do this job; you must, in manual mode. Creating the time-lapse effect is another good reason to learn how to set your camera manually. Gain that knowledge by reading the five-part PhotographyTalk.com article, starting with Digital Photography—Taming the Three-Headed Exposure Monster, Part 1.
An alternative is to use aperture priority mode or shutter priority mode. For example, in aperture priority mode, select an aperture setting, and then notice the shutter speed that your camera has automatically set. Then, switch to manual mode and use those settings.
Shutter priority mode may be better if your goal is to capture the motion of a car, moving water, etc. Also, be prepared to adjust your manual exposure settings if a sunrise or sunset is included in your time-lapse sequence.
Another insider’s tip is to use a lower quality JPEG setting, if your camera has a high megapixel specification. You don’t need the highest JPEG setting, and you’ll be much happier creating your time-lapse “movie” on your computer with smaller files.
Use Manual Focus Too
Yes, even focus must be done manually, since auto-focus will try to make an adjustment for every frame, drain your batteries unnecessarily and create rough transitions.
Reduce the Resolution
Maximum resolution is not required to shoot an interesting time-lapse sequence. Plus, you may find yourself in some remote location or situation, and with only limited memory. Shoot in low resolution, so the memory card has all the space it needs for your little “movie.”
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