Time lapse

One of my goals this year was to shoot more time lapses. I started the year off right by shooting one using the built-in timelapse feature on my Android phone:

On a recent trip, I upgraded to using my DSLR for a few shoots. Here are two of them:

They’re in 4K (which YouTube supports – woo-hoo!), so if your system is up for it, enjoy the videos in greater than HD resolution.

The workflow that I used was:

  1. Shoot in interval timer mode (I used an interval of 10 seconds so the memory cards could keep up, but next time I’ll take it down to 8) with a D800E, recording in “overflow” mode so that the camera fills up the primary memory card first, and then moves on to the secondary slot. Save images as RAW.
  2. Import photos into Lightroom, and make adjustments to color temperature, etc.
  3. Export photos as TIFF if you’re like me and don’t like to compress stuff until the end.
  4. Import TIFF files into Final Cut Pro, and drag into the timeline.
  5. Set the project to 4K/3840×2160/30p.
  6. In the Inspector, choose Fill under Spatial Conform to crop the stills so they fill the 16:9 video frame.
  7. With all of the clips selected, right-click on one and select “duration” (or type ^D) and then type the number “1” and then hit the “Enter” key for a duration of one frame per clip.
  8. Export a master file. I’m weird and encode using ProRes since I like to provide YouTube or wherever with the highest-quality file I can, but MPEG-4 is probably fine and uploads faster. If you want to go really crazy, YouTube will even take uncompressed video, but be prepared for a really long upload time.

I want to make some changes to that workflow, though. I originally tried shooting while tethered to my Mac. There are a few reasons why:

  • Recording to memory cards means I’m limited by their memory capacity.
  • To maximize memory, I shoot in overflow mode instead of backup mode. As luck would have it, during one shoot my CompactFlash card got corrupted and I had to recover it using Disk Drill.
  • The interval timer feature on the D800 is limited to 999 shots. At 30 frames per second, that’s only 33 seconds of footage.

Unfortunately, the D800’s interval timer feature is not compatible with the tethered capture mode in Lightroom, and Lightroom doesn’t offer any interval timer feature on its own. I tried a free piece of software called Sofortbild, which seemed to have exactly the features that I wanted. However, in my tests it would shoot for about five minutes, and then stop transferring the image from the camera to the computer. I did buy a Trigger Happy remote on Kickstarter, but I didn’t bring it with me on the trip, so I’m not sure if that works while the camera is tethered. I would have tested that functionality before publishing this, but while attempting to test it I found that my 10-pin remote socket is now misaligned and I cannot connect any accessories until it’s repaired by Nikon. I hope they don’t charge me anything since it’s under warranty and apparently a somewhat common issue.

I have also while writing this discovered that Final Cut Pro can actually handle RAW files (wow!), so I might skip Lightroom completely in the future, assuming I don’t need its editing functions. This is really cool to know and will save me some space if I don’t have to do a TIFF export.

Something I’d like to do next is to stretch time in each frame. I can use long exposures to help smooth out the motion by blurring anything that moves, as if the motion is happening in real time. For example, in the second video, longer exposures would have made the person on the deck less jumpy, and the same goes for the trees in the foreground of the third video. I have some “black glass” which allows for daytime long exposures, so I hope to shoot a timelapse using that.

In addition to these technical changes, I want to improve the content of my timelapses. In this case, I simply pointed the camera at some good-looking mountains, but didn’t really take a ton of time to compose the shots. I’m also aware that shooting a timelapse of clouds is like shooting a macro of dew drops on a flower. It’s been done. Maybe that’s okay, but I’ll try to find other things to shoot.

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