Get a free year on Tuts+ this month when you purchase a Siteground hosting plan from $3.95/mo
Time-Lapsed photography is gaining increasing popularity to the extent that this relatively novel technique is regularly appearing in various video production. It basically involves taking a series of photographs, maintaining the same interval between the shots, and compiling them into a movie clip. This technique is ideal to demonstrate events that take substantial time to develop in seconds. Today's tutorial will introduce you to a simple and effective workflow concerning time-lapse photography.
Take a series of photographs with your DSLR maintaining the same interval between the shots. Mount your camera on a tripod and use the manual setting in order to achieve the same exposure in every picture. If your camera doesn’t have a built-in intervalometer, you will have to use an external one in order to set the interval between the shots. Use a longer shutter speed (2-4s) in order to capture moving sources of light that produce interesting patterns and light trails. Once the camera starts taking the pictures, resist any temptation to adjust or touch it as it can spoil everything. In order to create a 20 second long clip, you will have to take approximately 500 pictures.
Copy your pictures into a separate folder on your desktop and then import them into Lightroom 3. This software offers powerful editing possibilities and you can always improve the quality of your images by adjusting the exposure, brightness, contrast, sharpness etc. Once all of the pictures appear in your Lightroom Library, click on ‘Develop’ in the upper right corner of the screen.
Select the first picture and adjust the sliders on the right of the screen. Once you are satisfied with the result, create a preset that can be applied to the remaining images. Simply, click on the ‘+’ icon in the Presets tab on the left of the screen.
Assign a name to your preset and click on ‘Create’. Then your preset will appear in the Presets tab on the left of the screen.
Apply this preset to the remaining images. Select all the images displayed at the bottom of the screen (⌘A) and make sure that all of them are highlighted. Then right click on the pictures, go to ‘develop settings’ and then scroll down to the the ‘user presets’ which will be displayed at the bottom of the menu.
Export your images. Go to ‘file/export’, select a location for your files (choose the same location as the original images) and also put your exported images into a subfolder to keep the files organised. Finally, select the quality and format of your exported images and click on ‘export’.
Once you have your images ready, compile them into a time-lapse clip. The software of my choice is Quicktime Pro as it converts a series of images into a time-lapse movies in few easy steps. Open Quicktime Pro and click on ‘open image sequence’.
Quicktime will ask you to indicate the first image from the whole sequence. Most digital cameras nowadays name the files in a sequential manner so you don’t have to do it manually. Just select the first image and then click on ‘open’. Quicktime will analyse the images and put them into the right order.
Next, select the frame rate, which is the speed at which your images will be displayed. The unspoken standard for time-lapse photography is 24fps (frames per second).
Quicktime will now display your clip in the player. However, the size of the images taken with your DSLR is quite big so Quicktime will display the original size. Just go to ‘View, and select ‘Fit to Screen’(⌘3).
Next, export your clip. Go to ‘File/Export’.
Name you clip, select ‘QucikTime Movie’ as export type and go to ‘Options’ to access advanced settings.
Under ‘Settings’, set the compression type to H.264 codec, and adjust the compression quality.
Under ‘Size’, select the size of your clip and adjust the aspect ratio.
Once you have all your clips ready, you can put them together into a time-laps movie in After Effects. You can also add the camera zooming and panning effects to make your project more interesting and simulate effects achieved by an expensive dolly. You could apply the same zooming and panning effects to all the clips in one composition, but you will have to create longer transitions between the sequences in order to give the camera enough time to reposition. This can be quite tricky, therefore, it’s best to work on and export every clip individually. This step will demonstrate how to add the camera zooming effect to your sequence. Import your clip into After Effects and create a new composition.
Next, add a null object to your clip. Go to ‘Layer/New/Null Object’.
Then, a red adjustable square will appear in your composition preview screen. This will be the anchor point of your camera and you will use this square to adjust its position and zoom level. Place this square right in the middle of the preview screen.’
Add a camera to your composition. Go to ‘Layer/New/Camera’ and use the default settings.
In order to use and control the camera, you will need to convert your composition and null object into 3D layers. In the timeline tab, select the ‘cube’ icon in your composition and null object settings.
Then, connect the camera to the null object. This way, you will be able to control the camera by adjusting the null object in the composition preview screen. Click on the ‘snail’ icon in your camera settings, hold the mouse button and drag the cursor over to the null object.
You will notice that the red square in the composition preview window changed. It now has a red x, green y and blue z axes. The x axis controls the horizontal and the y axis vertical movement of your camera. The z axis controls the zoom level. Simply click on any of the axes and holding the mouse button move the mouse to adjust the field of view.
In this step we will add a camera zoom effect. The clip will start with the camera zoomed in and then it will gradually zoom out as the sequence progresses. First, set the desired zoom level of your camera. Click on the blue z axis and, holding the button, move the mouse to zoom in.
Go back to the timeline and place the time indicator at the beginning of the clip. Next, highlight the null object and press ‘p’ on your keyboard. This will activate the ‘Position’ setting. Then, click on the stopwatch icon which will add a yellow marker at the beginning of the clip.
Next, move the time indicator to the end of the sequence. Then zoom out by dragging the blue z axis in the composition preview window. This will add another yellow marker at the end of your clip. Finally, render the sequence to see the result.
Finally, export the sequence. Go to ‘Composition’ and select ‘Add to Render Queue’.
In the Render Queue tab, define the quality settings and file destination.
Under ‘Output Module’ define the format of your clip. You can also access more advanced settings under ‘Format Options’.
Under ‘Format Options’ select the video codec and the quality of your clip.
Finally, render and export your clip.
In this step, we will combine the zooming effect with camera panning. The camera will start panning from the left, then it will move to the centre of the screen and start zooming out. Open your sequence in After Effects and repeat steps 15-21. Next, zoom in by dragging the blue z axis and then, dragging the red x axis, move the null object to the left edge of the screen. Make sure you don’t go over the edge of the screen. .
Next, place the time indicator at the beginning of the sequence, highlight the null object and press ‘p’ on your keyboard. This will activate the 'Position' settings. Then, click on the stopwatch icon which will add a yellow marker at the beginning of the sequence. Then, move the time indicator to the middle of your sequence and move the null object to the centre of the preview screen by dragging the red x axis. Again, this will add another yellow marker to the timeline.
Then, place the time indicator at the end of your sequence and, by dragging the blue z axis in the preview window, zoom the null object out to the original size of the sequence. Again, make sure you don’t go over the edge of the screen. Moving from the first yellow indicator on the timeline to the second, the camera should pan to the centre of the image and then, moving from the second indicator to the third, it should zoom out to the original size. Obviously, you can zoom in first and then pan the camera, or pan the camera from right to left, up and down and across the screen. Always follow the same procedure by placing the yellow indicators on the timeline. Finally, render the sequence by repeating steps 25-29..
Once you have all the sequences ready, you can compile them into a whole time-lapse movie. Import all the sequences into After Effects and make sure you name them sequentially.
Make sure that the duration of your composition is as long as all the sequences combined together. Go to ‘Composition’ and select ‘Composition Settings’ to change the duration of your composition.
Adjust the duration of your composition and make sure that its size is the same as the size of your sequences. Otherwise, your sequences will be cropped.
Drag all the sequences onto the timeline and arrange them so that the first sequence is on top and the last on the bottom.
Now you will have to add transitions between the sequences. After Effects has several available transition effects but I managed to work out a simpler and faster way by adjusting the opacity of the clips. Decide on the duration of your transition and make the clips overlap by the same amount of time. Here, I want my transitions to last 2 seconds so the sequences overlap by 2 seconds.
Select the first sequence and press ‘t’ on your keyboard. This will activate the Opacity control. Place the time indicator at the beginning of the overlap (that’s where the transition will begin) and press the stopwatch icon. This should put a yellow marker on the timeline.
Next, move the time indicator to the end of your overlap (that’s where the transition will end) and change the opacity to 0%. Again, this should put another yellow marker on the timeline.
Apply the same step to the remaining sequences. If your composition is longer than the sequences, you can change its duration repeating step 34 or crop it manually. Finally, render the whole movie repeating steps 25-29. I'd love to see any example when you try this for yourself! Leave a link in the comments below!