How To Create Time-Lapse Video And Prepare It For Microstock Agencies

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Have you ever wondered how to create time-lapse video that can amaze? Or, have you ever seen videos that inspire you to take your camera, go outside and have a great time? Creating time-lapse video can be really fascinating.

But what is time-lapse video?

It is all about speeding up real life things that generally take a long period of time to move or change: clouds, plants growing, sunset or street life.

Regular video consists of multiple photos changing so quickly, that human eye don't catch the transition. Usually it is 30 frames per second. So, to speed it up we need to create less frames in one second period and play it back at 30 frames per second. For example if you will take one frame each second, your video will be 30 times faster than real life.

But how much to speed it up?

Well, you decide. The only limitation is how many photos your camera can take in one second. If it is 3 , then a smaller speed up ratio for you is 10 times. And there is no limit for the fastest ratio. In theory you can leave your camera to shoot forever shooting more than one frame per year. There are 31 536 000 seconds in one year so multiplying it to 30 we are getting more than 946 080 000 times speed boost.

Here is one example of time-lapse footage compilation. Music added is Ludovico Einaudi - Life.

So, it is that simple, take your camera, place it on tripod and shoot less than 30 photos in one second.

But you are not going to stand by your camera with a stopwatch, right?

Time-Lapse Intervalometer

Some cameras have time-lapse intervalometer built in, so you can setup the interval and start your time-lapse. But those are rare cameras. One of the cheapest ways to get started is to buy a used point and shoot camera that supports CHDK software. CHDK stands for Canon Hack Development Kit and can add an intervalometer and lot of other features to point and shoot cameras (check out "Supported Cameras"). Image quality of these cameras can be really good and taking in the account their size and weight, there are some benefits placing them near the subjects.

Point and shoot can't reach DSLR quality level and in my experience there were problems with sleep modes and manual focus. However, I could achieve good results like:

 

 

Next level is to buy a DSLR or high-end mirrorless camera with Time-Lapse Shutter Release. This cheap small tool will allow you to set the interval for time-lapse. It also is useful in situations when you need continuous shooting as it allows you to lock the shutter release button. Just make sure it fits your camera model.

There is an option to add intervalometer via Magic Lantern (for Canon users), but this can affect your warranty so use it on your own risk.

Camera Settings Shooting At Night

During the daytime any settings that you are using for photos will work. I recommend to shoot RAW as you will have a lot more possibilities in post processing later. There are some specific conditions like day-to-night transition or time-lapse of stars at night where you need to know some important tips.

If you are thinking that camera automation and exposure meter will handle transition of day-to-night then I'm going to disappoint you.

They will not!

Going from day to night, your exposure will darken to almost a completely black frame.

First solution for me (in AV mode) was manual exposure compensation increasing when the frame started to get darker. This works but with some drawbacks.

For any type of night time-lapse you will need a fast wide angle lens and a camera that handles high ISO very well. My preference here is Canon 6D + 14mm Walimex F2.8 lens.

One more thing to consider shooting day-to-night time-lapse: lets say you are changing the aperture to compensate light falling, you would think that this would lead to every next frame being exposed equally. Again - it will not!

Changing aperture causes different exposure areas within the frame.

When I tried to change exposure settings manually shooting day-to-night transition I changed ISO, shutter speed and aperture. Later, in post processing, I noticed that 2 frames with different aperture settings differed a little bit even if exposure was compensated to be about the same. And the difference was not on the entire frame but looked like a round circle in the middle of the frame.

 

Now I think that changing the aperture in 1/3 stops (like I did) is not a good idea. If you have some automatic mechanics and manual aperture lens, then the change must not be visible.

To freeze up stars at night you need to have an appropriate focal length and shutter speed combination. The rule is to divide 500 with the focal length. In my case it is 500/14 = 36. So I can use a maximum of 36 second shutter speed and get sharp stars in my image. The longer shutter speed you can use the lower ISO you need to set to achieve same exposure level.

With my 14mm on my full frame 6D, a 30 second shutter speed and an ISO 2000 gives me "frozen" stars and a pretty clear picture.

For night time-lapses you must catch clear weather with a very low humidity and small amount of clouds. Usually cold weather works better for that. Make sure you are far from the city, otherwise light pollution will wash out the contrast of the sky. Some 50 - 150km away should work.

Ideally there should be no moon, otherwise it will also wash out the stars. photoephemeris.com can help you find the right time. At the very least, try to at least keep the moon outside the frame.

Depending on weather conditions, the lens can condensate. So, it is better to check it every 10-20 minutes and clean with absorbent lint free cloth if it happens.

Focusing also is a challenge at night. Just focus on clouds at daytime and check your focus position on the lens. This is the position that you will use shooting stars. Take some test shoots and fine tune the focus.

It is good idea to mark your infinity focus or even tape it.

Want to know how much it is possible to earn publishing time-lapse? Here is my income report of 2009-2016

Flickering

Flickering is a problem if you are not using your max aperture, so it won't be a problem for any night work.

Why there is a problem?

Your camera meters exposure before each frame. For that it sets maximum aperture each time. And if you are using aperture f8 (for example) lens blades are not returning at the same position (f8) each time. At the end each image will have slightly different brightness. And watching the time-lapse there is exposure flickering.

There is no flickering using manual aperture lenses.

For canon shooters one trick is to slightly detach the lens so it is not communicating with the body and holds the aperture untouched. Just set your desired aperture and press Depth of Field preview button before detaching.

For Nikon users live view mode can help

Here is a really good explanation on day-to-night timelapse and flickering.

There are some options to fix flickering in post-processing that I will show you later.

DslrDashboard Smartphone / Tablet App

DslrDashboard application is incredible helper for shooting day-to-night transition and vice versa time lapse. There is a cost but it is not expensive and worth every penny.

Remember how I said that the camera exposure meter can not handle this transition?

This app can!

You just need to have WiFi on your camera and a smartphone or tablet to use it.

First of all set your camera on RAW + JPEG mode. But smallest JPEG possible. Because this JPEG will be transferred to your camera. Smaller file size leads to a faster download.

Then you will have to install this app, enable WiFi and connect.

After setting your camera settings, choose what settings can be changed to compensate for exposure. It can be ISO or shutter speed.

Start shooting and DslrDashboard will change your camera settings automatically based on the JPEG image it downloads every time. And you can sit 20 meters from your camera (in the car) and watch every frame to check all is good.

 

Using flashlight

You can use an impulse light or flash light to light up your time-lapse scene. It is useful for time-lapse of growing plants, for example. Yongnuo radio triggers are one way you can synchronize speedlight with your camera, and the only limit in frame count is speedlight batteries and triggers batteries (camera battery usually can hold 1-2k of frames). If speedlights are set on 1/8, 1/16 power they are capable of shooting more than a thousand frames. If the interval is too long (5min-2h) then speedlight sleep mode is desired.

Luckily,  Yongnuo triggers can wake up the speedlight before the shot. The only drawback is if triggers are using AAA batteries then, for long intervals, they do not provide enough power to shoot more than some 300 frames. Triggers just loose power while waiting for long interval time.

Another sync option is to use pc sync cord. But it can not wake up the speedlight - so this is a good option for studio strobes.

Finally TTL cord can be used - it can wake up the speedlight.

Just take into account that the flash also has some flickering. I found that canon speedlight, like 430ex, has almost an unnoticeable level of flickering, while the old Nikon SB-28 has a little bit more. But a studio strobe like the GODOX DE400 has much more noticeable flickering. And don't forget that lens flickering can be a problem here also.

Post Processing

I mostly use Lightroom to process RAW files. It is a powerful tool for image batch processing and can be used for time-lapse as well. Here are the main reasons to use RAW as well as "RAW Post Processing Worksheet" that shows a simple example using Lightroom.

LRTimelapse software is great tool for day-to-night time-lapse or for fixing flickering. It works together with Lightroom. The main advantage is that you can set any Lightroom settings for any frame and LRTimelapse will calculate the smooth transition for lightroom between all frames. In addition, LRTimelapse can calculate exposure compensation to fix flickering.

It is free for non commercial use and maximum 400 frames.

Rendering

There are about a million ways to render your prepared frames into a time-lapse video, including exporting straight from the Lightroom or LRTimelapse app. And you must to follow some rules if you want to upload the footage to microstock sites. I found these options that satisfy all agencies I work with. Duration must be between 5 and 30 seconds, aspect ratio must be 16:9 (1.78), QuickTime format and Photo - JPEG codec with quality: 70.

I started to use Adobe After Effects that still satisfy me, so here are the steps:

  1. Open new project
  2. File -> Import -> File...
  3. Select all needed frames (ensure that files are numbered in continuous sequence)
  4. Check "JPEG Sequence" and click "Open"
  5. Move imported sequence over the "New Composition" icon 
    New Composition
  6. Composition -> Composition Settings
    1. for Full HD choos preset: HDTV 1080 29.97
    2. for 4K choos preset: HDTV 1080 29.97, change width to 3840 and save as new preset
  7. Hold ALT and scroll down to zoom out (until you see where is the frame )
    Reframe
  8. Re-frame the composition (click on the small box and hold SHIFT) to include all needed parts.
  9. Composition -> Add to Render Queue
  10. Choose "Custom" for Output Module
  11. Format: QuickTime
  12. Press "Format Options..."
  13. Video Codec: Photo - JPEG, Quality: 70
  14. "OK" for QuickTime Options and "OK" for Output Module Settings
    QuickTime Format
  15. Choose "Make Template" for Output Module (to be able to reuse these settings)
  16. Give it a name (for ex: FOR_STOCK) and press "OK"
  17. Click on "Output To:" link and choose file name and the folder where to save your footage
  18. Click "Render" and when the process is done you have your footage ready to be key-worded and uploaded.

Sometimes I use GBDeflicker plugin to eliminate flickering and Twixtor plugin to slow down the motion.

   

About the Author

Alexander JemeljanovSiebel Consultant / System Analyst with more than 8 years experience. Main hobbies include - photography, videography, and microstocking with more than 6 years experience. I also enjoy sports activities, blogging, and trying new things.View all posts by Alexander Jemeljanov →

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