Watch almost any natural history program these days and you’re likely to see a time-lapse photography sequence. Whether it’s showing a cloud rolling quickly over a mountain range or flowers coming into bloom, the technique has become widespread.
Time-lapse photography is simply a series of shots taken over a period of time and then combined to create an animated sequence. Movie sequences are usually 24 or 25 frames per second (fps), or higher for HD.
So when you put together a time lapse photography sequence with one image taken every minute in real time and play it back, you’ll see 25 minutes pass in just one second.
The effect is an animated sequence rather than a set of stills seen one after the other. This is an optical illusion known as ‘persistence of vision’ – your mind is tricked into seeing the images as a smoothly moving sequence.
To shoot time-lapse photography you need a specialist piece of kit called an intervalometer. Some DSLRs have these built in, but if yours doesn’t you can buy a remote shutter release that includes a time-lapse photography function.
In this time lapse photography tutorial, we’ll tell the camera to take a sequence of shots over a set time span. We’ll look at the setup you’ll need to use, and show you how to adjust the lighting so the exposure remains constant.
When you’ve captured the sequence, you can then combine the images using software.
What you need for time lapse photography
Although flowers don’t open quickly, they can slip as they move, ruining the sequence. Once you’ve arranged the unopened flower, put tissue paper around the neck of the vase to help keep the stalks in place for the duration of the shoot.
An intervalometer function on your camera or remote release enables you to set the camera to take shots at specified intervals. It could take a day or two for the flower to open, so set the intervalometer accordingly. The final movie will play at 24fps, so take a shot every five minutes and you’ll see six hours pass in just three seconds!
A sheet of card acts as a quick, cheap background, although the flat colour can look quite dull if it isn’t lit properly. To add interest and lift the subject from the backdrop, we’ve added some backlighting, which helps develop tone.
To make sure the subjects are well lit, we’ve used two lamps. The first is placed between the backdrop and the vase to create some background light. The second is the primary light source, and is positioned to bathe the subject in direct light while avoiding shadows. Set up the flower in a windowless room, or ensure curtains are thick enough that the natural lighting doesn’t change.
Making sure the camera is steady for the duration of the shoot is important – the only movement you want to see in the finished sequence is that of the flower opening. Once you’ve positioned the camera and tripod, check that all the bolts, legs and heads are tight and secure.
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