Creative vacatons

Creative vacatons

Friday, 22 February 2013

On Time Lapse Photography

I have a little hobby: time lapses.

I have to call it a hobby because it's not something I make money out of and the quality is not on the professional level, yet. I still consider myself an amateur with anything that has to do with video. But, remember: That's not a bad thing. An amateur is someone who does it for the love of it. A professional does it for the money. I do time lapses because I love them, and because I love the Aurora Borealis and the landscape around Tromsø.

Normally when I make a time lapse to make things that move slow appear to move faster. It can be the tide, the moon, a slow day at the office what ever. The one below was the first I made.

When I make a time lapse of the northern lights it's not because I want it to move faster, but because I cannot make a video. In video there is typically 25 frames per seconds. When I take still photos of the Aurora I typically have shutter speeds between 10 and 30 seconds. It's just impossible to take 25 ten seconds exposures and put them into one second. It's a math thing, and I have a bachelor in fine arts and I'm not too good with math. So I do time lapses.

The challenge is to make the Aurora not to move too fast.  So I want to take as many photos I can, as fast as possible. That means I have to try to make the shutter speed of each shot as short as possible. The way to achieve short shutter speeds is to crank up the ISO as much as I dear, and to have a big aperture (low number). Dance with me was made with a 14mm f/2.8 lens with 10 seconds exposures, ISO 4000 or 5000. I had to make the exposures a bit long both because I used the 14mm that has a max aperture of 2.8, and because there were no moon and very dark.

The above time lapse was shot during full moon, with a 28mm f/1.8. I got away with exposure times of one to two seconds. The moon makes an enormous difference in the exposures at night.

How much the Aurora moves varies a lot. I mean a lot! Sometimes she sits still on the sky for hours. Sometimes she dances like there is no tomorrow. The night that I made Dance with me she was moving so much that I would have needed a shutter speed of 1/60 seconds to freeze the movement.

To trigger the camera I just use a normal cable release. I set the camera to take series of photos and lock the cable release.  That way the camera is shooting all the time. For other types of time lapses I use a intervalometer that I can set up to trigger the camera every ten or fifteen seconds.

Even the lowest JPG setting on my camera has a higher resolution than HD video. I used to shoot in a low jpg, but have now changed to RAW. Canon has three different RAW settings and I use the lowest one. RAW gives me such great possibilities to do post process work that I much prefer that. At the end I make all the photos into jpg and crop them to 1920px X 1080px. Then I number them from 0001 to whatever.

To cut it all together and put music on I use Adobe Premier Pro. Not because it's best, but because it's what I know. I use Premier Pro for all my other video stuff. In the last video I made Dance with me, I set the frame rate of the footage to 12.5 fps. That way I managed to slow down the movement a little. I realize that I should have done that on the other Aurora time lapses as well.

To make a time lapse is a commitment. You set the camera to take pictures in a direction. After that you cannot move it.  Remember that you need 25 or 12,5 images to make one second. So if there suddenly is Northern Lights somewhere else in the sky you just have to hope it comes back to where you are shooting. Or risk ruining the footage that you have started.

It's nice to have some music together with the images. In the best cases the music will lift the images, in the worst it will put them down. Finding the right music is not easy. If you are Vincent Laforet you can call Moby to ask him if you can use one of his songs for your video. I have a friend who is a musician and a video maker who just improvises on the piano when he needs some music. The rest of us has to be careful. I don't like it when someone uses my images without my permission. I expect to get payed if someone uses my images. I can not steal someone's music. There are many websites that offer royalty free music. I use AKM. I find that they have a broad selection of music to fair prices.

I still have a lot to learn about time lapses and about video editing. I hope you enjoy these time lapses.


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