Capturing a stunning photograph on your camera is always a rewarding experience. If you haven't tried out time lapse photography, though, you really should -- it's a completely different skill set, and it'll broaden your knowledge of your digital SLR or mirrorless camera. The results you can get out of a simple setup with a little bit of extra time and effort are amazing -- and are great to share with friends.
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The Best Settings For Shooting Time Lapse At Night And In Day
Slow shutter speeds. Manual control is king when you're shooting time lapse photography, and the first step in getting things right should be picking an appropriate shutter speed for the conditions that you're shooting in. With the caveat that you'll need to compromise to suit your lighting conditions, a general rule to follow is that you should choose a faster shutter speed to freeze in-frame movement and create a stop-motion-esque effect, while longer shutter speeds blur movement, blend better and look more serene.
Small apertures. The larger your digital camera's aperture is, the more light will come in through the lens. That's usually a good thing, but it has the unwanted side effect of reducing the depth of field of objects in critical focus -- without blur and rendered in sharp detail. So, when you're shooting time lapse, you'll almost always want a small aperture to capture as much of your image in as much crisp detail as possible. That means less light, which means higher ISO and slower shutter speeds -- a necessary evil.
ISO as low as you can go. Once you've dealt with f-stops and shutter speeds, you should use your camera's ISO setting as a final volume control for setting exposure correctly. ISO is like digital gain, ramping up or down the sensitivity of your digital camera's sensor to suit the amount of light hitting it. With this in mind, lower is always better, because it means less unwanted luminance or chrominance noise in your images, which manifest as both monochrome speckling and colour interpolation and disruption.
Control light through your lens. Whether that's using a third-party accessory like a neutral density filter to block out light, or by adjusting your len's focal length to cut a sunflare out of the corner of shot, or by adjusting aperture and shutter speed, controlling the amount of light coming through your lens is crucial for capturing an impressive time lapse photography burst. When you're shooting so many frames, getting them consistent and dealing with changing light conditions is your one job.
Some Time Lapse Accessories You Might Want To Try Out
A sturdy tripod. This is the one thing you can't go time lapse photographing without. There are some general rules to follow, each with their own exceptions -- the heavier your tripod is, the better it will damp vibrations. The larger it is, the more versatile angles it will provide you. The more expensive and exotic the material that your tripod is made out of -- whether that's titanium or carbon fibre or something even more rare -- the more versatile it should be for whatever purpose you require of it.
A wireless shutter release. Touching your camera while it's in the process of taking time lapse or long exposure photographs is a big no no. Try to avoid touching it for at least a couple of seconds beforehand; that means changing any settings that you need to, leaving the tripod to balance itself yet again, then using a wireless shutter release to trigger a time lapse burst. This may be a release made for your camera, or a general purpose Wi-Fi or infrared one that can be programmed with specific time lapse instructions.
A neutral density filter. Controlling the light through your camera's lens is important whether you're shooting time lapse at day or at night, and a neutral density filter will let you do that incredibly directly. It's a screw-on filter for the front of your lens that equally cuts down on every spectrum of light passing through it -- keeping the same colour cast and white balance for your photos, but allowing you to lengthen shutter speeds or reduce aperture size. Adjustable density filters are even more granular and versatile.
Extra batteries and lenses. Time lapse photography sucks up a lot of power -- it's almost like capturing normal video with your digital SLR, since the camera's sensor is almost always powered on and receiving and processing data. That means if you're intending on capturing what will turn out to be more than a couple of minutes of time-lapse photography (at 25 individual photos per single second of video!), get an extra battery and charger, or two. Different lenses, too, will help you capture more interesting photos from the same angles.
Our Tips For Capturing A Time Lapse Photo Burst
Plan ahead! There's no point getting to the spot you had organised to capture time lapse photography from, only to find that the lighting isn't right, that the sun's in the wrong place, or that you forgot your neutral density filter. Check the times of sunrise and sunset in the area, work out which way you're going to be shooting, and see whether the sun -- or any other light source -- will disrupt the images your camera is capturing over the course of its burst, whether that's a few drawn-out frames or lots of shorter ones.
Use a wide-angle lens. While time lapse photography looks pretty impressive no matter the lens you're using, the time lapse videos that we all know and love are almost exclusively shot with wide angle lenses; it's more interesting seeing a lot going on in frame at once! Once you're proficient at shooting wide angle time lapses, tack a bit of extra zoom on and use close-up and telephoto time lapse as a bit of extra colour and variety within your videos. Start simple, and then specialise once you're more comfortable with what you're doing.
Get down low, or up high. While we all love straight lines and squared-off architecture, it can look a little bland when you're staring at the same frame for a 30-second video scene. Try experimenting with every object within any time lapse scene that you're framing up, introducing objects to the edge and centre-thirds of your frame. An easy way to make an otherwise staid and standard scene look fascinating is to change your perspective. Get on top of a building, or close down to the ground, and see the effect that has on your images.
Stabilise your tripod. You should always be using a tripod when you're capturing time lapse photography, to ensure consistency between frames and to reduce any chance of blur from moving the camera around while it's snapping away. What's also worth remembering, though, is that even the strongest tripod is still susceptible to vibrations and bumps. Stay well away from your tripod while it's capturing frames, keep your hands off your camera unless you're changing settings, and consider using a sandbag to weigh the tripod down further.
Questions, comments, tips? You can find me on Twitter at @csimps0n.