07 Sep How to Make a Time Lapse Video
I’m one of the lucky photographers (and perhaps rare these days) who learned how to shoot and develop 35mm film in a darkroom. This was part of my college education among a slew of other art courses as I journeyed towards a BA degree in Studio Art. It was here that I fell in love with the process of photography. Creating a mental plan for how to produce an image that’s in your mind. To go from the spark of an idea, to a moment in time, to the darkroom, to a final piece. It’s part of what I love about the artistic process in general, whether it’s painting, lithography, web or graphic design, motion graphics or photography. It’s all a beautiful process.
So after shooting landscapes and sunsets for years I discovered and fell in love with time lapse photography at the end of 2018. The idea of capturing an entire sunset instead of just a few frames was fascinating to me and I was really surprised I didn’t discover it sooner. Of course I had seen it, but of some reason I never got into creating time lapses until recently. As is typical for me when I find something new that I like, I get excited about it and begin to consume everything I can find on the topic. I began following time lapse photographers like Emeric Le Bars and even took one of his online courses which I highly recommend to anyone. His work is amazing and he has a really great teaching approach – really thorough and well explained.
Upon initial research, I quickly realized that I would need to purchase a program called LRTimelapse, by Gunther Wegner. Gunther is an amazing time lapse photographer himself and also offers courses in both time lapse photography and how to use LRTimelapse – which is convenient because the program is very robust and requires some preparation in order to use it to it’s fullest potential. LRTimelapse allows the photographer to process a day-to-night time lapse and blend exposure changes from frame to frame. A day-to-night time lapse is when a photo capture sequence is started before sunset and photos are captured at a specified interval (time between each shot) all the way to complete darkness. This is difficult to capture properly as the lighting changes dramatically as the sun sets and day turns into night (hence the name). This is also referred to as the “Holy Grail” of time lapse photography because of it’s complex nature. Shooting a regular time lapse in lighting conditions that largely don’t change is relatively straightforward – but trying to capture the ever changing scene of a day-to-night time lapse is truly a challenge.
The process that Gunther and Emeric advocate and teach for capturing day-to-night time lapses is called “three-way bulb ramping”. This process involves adjusting one of the three camera elements that affect an image capture – shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. The adjustment is made during the interval in between each photo capture while shooting a time lapse. In Gunther’s e-book he suggests that if you are going to ramp all three parameters for sunset that you start by making the exposure longer (decrease shutter speed), then open the aperture (lower the f-stop number), then increase ISO waiting until a few frames have been captured before making each change. Each adjustment should be 1/3rd stop (the smallest possible) so that LRTimelapse can work its magic in post editing and smooth out the transitions between each adjustment.
After watching countless YouTube videos, reading two e-books and finishing Emeric’s time lapse course, I finally felt confident in my abilities to capture Holy Grail time lapses. I even captured a few Holy Grail time lapses myself using the three-way bulb ramping technique. However, the three-way bulb ramping process requires the photographer to monitor the time lapse from beginning to end – which can last for hours – making small adjustments to shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. While I enjoyed the feeling of learning the foundation of how to create day-to-night time lapses, I was still eager to learn more.
Then one day I received an email for Drew Geraci’s Time-lapse Photography offered by Pro Edu. Pro Edu is an amazing online photography tutorial repository offering courses from industry greats at affordable prices. Drew Geraci is an award winning photographer who specializes in motion time lapse photography and has produced work like the iconic opening sequence to Netflix’s House of Cards. I was immediately intrigued, purchased the tutorial that day and watched the whole thing in one sitting that night.
I’ll admit, at first I was pissed. One of Drew’s first instructions was to shoot in Aperture Priority mode. As you may know, one of the golden rules in time lapse photography is to always shoot in Manual (M) mode – never in Aperture Priority (Av) mode. This is because Av mode will introduce flicker into the shot as the camera adjusts the shutter speed from one shot to the next based on the changes in lighting conditions. Most cameras internal light meter will fluctuate and over or under expose one frame to the next which causes dreaded flicker. That’s the point of using three-way bulb ramping in Manual mode – you can control the shutter speed and make small adjustments at the necessary times instead of leaving it up to the camera. How could an award winning time lapse photographer go against everything I’ve spent months learning about time lapse photography? How could Pro Edu allow him to create a tutorial that flies in the face of conventional time lapse wisdom? I continued to watch in frustrated skepticism as Drew explained.
Drew’s method utilizes a feature in the Sony A7RII and A7RIII (and I believe the A6300) called ISO AUTO Min. SS. This feature allows you to set the maximum shutter speed for any capture in Av or Program mode. The screenshot below is from the Sony A7RIII menu:
So for example, setting this to 4′ seconds (shown below) would mean that the shutter speed would increase throughout the time lapse as the sun goes down and it begins to get darker, but it would stop at 4′ seconds once conditions required a 4′ second exposure. The camera would then continue to shoot 4′ second exposures adjusting the ISO until it reached the maximum ISO setting.
By also setting the minimum and maximum ISO (ISO > AUTO > Right Arrow > Set Min > Set Max) you can control what ISO setting your time lapse will start out at and how high your ISO will go at any point in the shoot.
Adjusting these settings and effectively setting parameters for the time lapse means that you can start shooting and then be hands off for the duration of the shoot – allowing the camera to essentially perform two-way bulb ramping for you.
This technique absolutely blew my mind. While Drew shoots with a Sony A7RIII during the tutorial, I was using an A7RII at the time I watched it. Once I finished the course, I went out and shot a day-to-night lapse in Laguna Beach the next chance I got using his technique. And here is the result:
All in all, a pretty smooth transition and I was really happy with the result. However, using the Sony A7RII I noticed a few frames had jumped way up in exposure in the middle of the shoot for seeming no reason. I easily removed these in LRTimelapse, but this made me a bit skeptical of this approach. After I posted this video and tagged Drew he confirmed that he’s seen similar jumps in exposure with the Sony A7RIII model. So I did some online hunting, found an A7RIII model, upgraded and I couldn’t be happier.
This experience has reminded me that even though you feel confident in the process you’ve learned and come to rely on, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t different and, in this case, better ways to achieve the same result. I’m so glad that I purchased this tutorial and gave Drew’s technique a chance. I use the technique I learned from Drew’s tutorial every time I shoot a day-to-night time lapse and I’ve gotten some great results which can be seen on my YouTube channel. I really enjoy the fact that I can setup the camera, start the time lapse and not have to touch the camera again. I can enjoy hanging out with my wife to watch the sunset without having to worry about adjusting camera settings.
If you love photography like I do, I highly recommend that you check out Drew Geraci’s Time-lapse Photography course offered by Pro Edu. And if time lapse photography isn’t your thing, I recommend you check out one of the many high quality photography courses offered by Pro Edu. I can personally recommend courses I have taken such as Advanced Texture Cleanup, by Earth Oliver or Commercial Retouching Workflow with Sef McCullough.
I hope you found this useful. Feel free to leave comments if you have any questions, I love talking about photography and would be happy to answer anything I can.