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Timelapse Guide with Advanced Techniques
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Author:  blueeden [ Sun Nov 03, 2013 7:40 pm ]
Post subject:  Timelapse Guide with Advanced Techniques

This article covers some basic and advanced time-lapse techniques, with various tips and tricks. These methods were used for the timelapses in the Blue Eden project. The article was originally written at Panolapse360.com.

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Overall Timelapse Workflow

1. Photograph images
Obtain an intervalometer.
In order to shoot at fixed time intervals, you'll need an intervalometer. You'll find this feature on some DSLRs, point-and-shoots, and GoPros. Some cameras have them built in. Nikon DSLRs usually have a built-in intervalometer. Canon DSLRs may need an extra accessory (TC-80N3), but there are cheap ones on eBay for about $20. The MagicLantern firmware also provides intervalometer functionality for Canon. Sony DSLRs may need an accessory as well.

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Tripod and lens.
You'll also want a tripod and a wide-angle lens. Ideally, lenses 24mm or wider on full-frame camera bodies are good for landscape, as well as for rotational panning with Panolapse. Since the final video is relatively low-resolution (1920x1080HD or 1280x720), you can usually crop a scene in later if you need to change framing.

As you become more advanced, you could consider replacing the tripod with a motion-controlled slider or motion-controlled head - these machines usually cost a minimum of $1000 and are pretty complicated to set up since you'll want move-stop-move capability, in which the system stops while photographing to ensure no movement blur. Getting the motion just right is a whole other issue, as well as transporting the sliding tracks, motors, batteries, etc.,

Panolapse is a software workaround that acts like a motorized head. Panolapse can be combined with motorized systems as well to allow more artistic direction. Ultimately, motion in timelapses is going to be restrictive, and the more movement options that you can add, the more creative flexibility you'll have.

Getting the exposure right for the "Holy Grail."
A timelapse shot during sunrise or sunset ("golden hour") with changing exposures is known as the "Holy Grail timelapse," since it can be difficult to do right. Some people might recommend shooting in Aperture priortity "auto mode," but the camera's auto-metering is unpredictable and you could lose the whole shot.

Another technique is "bulb ramping," in which an external remote accessory interpolates your camera's shutter speeds. Firmware upgrades like MagicLantern for Canon can do this as well. The issue with bulb ramping is that you need to time the start/end exposures exactly for it to work.

RAWBlend (with AutoExposure) automates "Holy Grail" shots. Shoot in Manual mode and adjust the exposure every 10 minutes or so as the light changes. Later, create a gradual blend by interpolating the exposure across the frames. AutoExposure analyzes file metadata for changes in camera settings, and can interpolate frames with near-perfect exposures for smooth blending.

Some cameras have a "light meter" on the LCD screens that indicate how under/over-exposed a scene is - that's a good one to check for when it's time to adjust exposure. RAW can usually save an image by up to 2 stops of light.

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Setting shutter speed.
The shutter speed time matters if you want motion that flows together. Generally, you'll want to target about half your interval time. The reason for this is that the traditional "film look" is shot at 24fps with a 1/50s shutter speed (which is about a 2x factor). At this ratio, moving objects will appear blurred and blend from one frame to the next. To maintain this look, if you're shooting at say 5 second intervals, you'll ideally want a 2.5 second exposure time. In such scenarios, a polarizer or ND filter could be useful to avoid over-exposing a scene. However, if your scene doesn't have much movement (such as rolling clouds), then this isn't much of an issue.

Consider your interval time between shots.
A 1 second interval betwen each shot played back at 24fps is like fast-forwarding real life action by 24x, so it's already quite quick. I usually go with about 5s interval for clouds and general scenes. I'd use about 2s for fast-moving fog, and 10s for stars. Be careful not to drop frames as well. For example, a 5s exposure with 5s interval between frames means continuous shooting - that may be too much data for your camera to handle and it will lose every other frame.

Keep your shutter time less than your interval time, or you'll drop frames.
Target about half the interval time.

Calculate your total shooting time.
One rule of thumb is that I'll double my interval time to get 5s worth of footage. If I'm shooting 6 second exposures, then I'll plan to shoot for a total of 12 minutes. This rule of thumb provides 5 seconds of footage at 24fps output framerate. The math works out like this so you can tune it for your own settings:

total shooting time = 5s * 24fps * shooting_interval / 60s = 2 * shooting_interval

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Keep your shutter time less than your interval time, or you'll drop frames.
Target about half the interval time.


Don't forget to set manual focus.
If you forget, your camera will refocus every frame and you could lose the whole sequence. Disable Auto-ISO if you're shooting Manual.


2. Process images
You can batch-process a set of RAW files (or JPGs) in Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop. Process the images for color and exposure. If applicable, correct for lens distortions and remove vignetting. For best quality, export JPGs at full resolution. Do not crop at this stage. You might consider disabling sharpening as well, as this is best done at the end after downscaling to the final video size (1080p or 720p).

Interpolating exposure.
If you changed exposure settings during the timelapse such as for a sunrise/sunset shot, you will need to interpolate the exposure over the frames to blend them. RAWBlend can do this quickly - process the start and end keyframes, and with auto-exposure enabled, you're done in one click. Alternatively, you can also manually go through the frames and tune the exposures. Almost always, you'll want to apply a deflicker filter (explained later) at the end to smoothen out the brightness of the scene.

3. Add motion with Panolapse
Motion can add dynamism and artistic direction to a still timelape. Import the JPG files into Panolapse to add natural rotational panning motion. Add zooming and deflicker if you like. Export at the maximum optimal resolution.


Add dynamism to a shot with motion

4. Composite the frames
Panolapse can export your JPG frames as a video. Timelapse videos are often compressed twice, as they are often clips used in longer videos, so use maximum quality. Intermediate codecs such as PhotoJpeg, Cineform, or Apple ProRes are ideal. Panolapse provides output with the PhotoJPEG and x264 codecs, both at high quality (considered visually lossless). Intermediate codecs are large in filesize, but preserve quality and allow quick decoding for editing.

Deflicker.
Timelapses can appear to flicker in brightness as well. This is often caused by the camera settings differing by just a little each time a photo is taken, even when shooting on manual mode. Panolapse has an export setting to deflicker using a moving-average of the scene brightness.


5. Final Video
When you have a few video sequences ready, you can combine them into a longer video for upload to Youtube/Vimeo to share. In the final render, use an output codec like mp4/h.264 that balances file size with quality.

Hope that helps!

Author:  blueeden [ Fri Jan 10, 2014 9:16 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Timelapse Guide with Advanced Techniques

Any other tips? Would love to hear your workflow.

Author:  MrThompo [ Mon Jan 13, 2014 12:47 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Timelapse Guide with Advanced Techniques

Really useful info for someone new like myself!

Could you explain H.264 a little for me? I shot my first timelapse recently and my first mistake was I shot it in portait! When I tried to compile the video using the H.264 codec it wouldn't allow me because my images where not the correct resolution. Do certain codecs only allow video export at certain resolutions?

Author:  jimre-temp [ Mon Jan 13, 2014 1:25 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Timelapse Guide with Advanced Techniques

MrThompo wrote:
Really useful info for someone new like myself!

Could you explain H.264 a little for me? I shot my first timelapse recently and my first mistake was I shot it in portait! When I tried to compile the video using the H.264 codec it wouldn't allow me because my images where not the correct resolution. Do certain codecs only allow video export at certain resolutions?

Not the codec, really - H.264 describes how the compression works. It would more likely be an application or plugin that has aspect ratio restrictions. Most video apps let you select a "target" output format - for example 1080p HDTV. The HDTV standard requires a 16:9 aspect ratio (not 9:16 or anything else). Some apps will not let you proceed if your source material doesn't match the shape of the target output format. Other apps might just go ahead anyway - and add black bars to the sides to force your image into 16:9 ratio. In some apps this might be a user preference. It all depends on the app.

What app were you using to compile a H.264 video?

Author:  amongstmyselves [ Mon Jan 13, 2014 4:37 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Timelapse Guide with Advanced Techniques

I know that with the Cineform codec, the width has to be a multiple of 16 so there might be a similar restriction with H264.

Steve R.

Author:  MrThompo [ Tue Jan 14, 2014 1:03 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Timelapse Guide with Advanced Techniques

I'm not sure what I was doing but I somehow missed the huge dropdown box that allowed me to choose "custom" format. As soon as clicked that my problem went away.

Author:  blueeden [ Fri Jan 24, 2014 6:51 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Timelapse Guide with Advanced Techniques

A program such as Panolapse can encode in H.264 for you, using the x264 compression scheme, which is perhaps the highest quality format for H.264. It yields high-quality, near-lossless video with lower file sizes. I find myself using this fairly often whenever I upload to social media sites like Youtube, where it helps to give them high-quality files. If you're looking to compile your finished video into h.264/x264, check out this guide that uses two additional programs (MeGUI and Debug Frameserver) to accomplish that http://www.bubblevision.com/underwater- ... -Vimeo.htm

You'll want to use something like the Cineform codec for intermediate files though, because Cineform is quick to read so you can "scrub around" the shot quickly in your video editor. The quality is also very good. An alternative would be to use something like .MOV as well, which can also be basically lossless.

Author:  blueeden [ Sun Jun 29, 2014 6:58 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Timelapse Guide with Advanced Techniques

I've assembled some nice examples of timelapses done with this technique here
http://panolapse360.com/gallery.php
So be sure to check it out to see what you can do too.
Cheers!

Author:  blueeden [ Sun Aug 24, 2014 8:42 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Timelapse Guide with Advanced Techniques

Also, make sure to dig the tripod into the ground to ensure a stable shot. In soft sand or dirt, you'll find the tripod sometimes moves slowly over time.

Author:  blueeden [ Tue Dec 23, 2014 11:22 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Timelapse Guide with Advanced Techniques

Here's a recent timelapse embodying various techniques. Please have a look!

Author:  sciencelookers [ Wed Dec 24, 2014 5:13 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Timelapse Guide with Advanced Techniques

Thanks for putting all this information in one easy to access place. I just downloaded Panolapse so I can try raw blend. That looks like a very useful feature. I might get back into seasons timelapse if it works as well as advertised. There is a wicked flicker because of the change of light from one day to another. I'm wondering what happens if I take one picture each day and have raw blend try to even out the flicker.

Author:  blueeden [ Thu Apr 23, 2015 4:10 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Timelapse Guide with Advanced Techniques

RAWBlend analyzes your photo's metadata for changes in aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to calculate the "brightness" of the scene. When you change any of those settings, it tracks that change and compensates for it by adjusting the image's exposure precisely. This can remove most flicker from your camera settings changing, although it wouldn't help if your scene is changing brightness. That could be remedied by using the deflicker feature.

Author:  blueeden [ Sat Nov 28, 2015 8:06 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Timelapse Guide with Advanced Techniques

A new technique for fisheye timelapse

Author:  blueeden [ Thu Jul 28, 2016 7:40 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Timelapse Guide with Advanced Techniques

You can also find plenty of information here:
http://www.panolapse360.com/guide.php
as well as here:
http://www.panolapse360.com/support.php

Cheers!

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