Step-by-step how to shoot time lapse photography
1 Prepare the scene
You should expect to have to leave your setup in place for a few days, so make sure the camera and tripod are somewhere they won’t be disturbed. We’ve attached a piece of grey card to a wall, then placed the flowers about a foot in front. We’ve left a gap so we can add a bit of backlighting using a second lamp – this will add extra texture and interest to the scene.
2 Position the flowers
As the flowers open, the change in weight distribution can make them slip. To counter this, pad out the top of the vase with paper towels. Rotate the stalks so one unopened bud is facing the camera and the other is tilted to the left. This will stop the flowers competing for space as they open, and will create both foreground and background interest in the sequence.
3 Frame it tightly
Place the camera on the tripod and compose your shot. To pick up even the smallest movement, position the camera so the buds fill the frame. You want the open flowers to have almost 100 per cent frame coverage, so use a macro lens to get close. However, if you don’t have a macro lens, you can simply crop the images later.
4 Light your scene
If you have two constant-light studio heads, use these to create even illumination (learn more about simple studio lighting set-ups). Otherwise, use high-powered desktop lamps. We’re using daylight bulbs, as they’re easy to position. Try to anticipate the direction in which the flowers will open – we’ve put one light in front of the flowers, left of the camera. Put the other behind the vase.
5 Tweak the camera settings
Set the camera to Aperture Priority with a value of f/16. To ensure that the colour temperature of the images remains constant throughout the time-lapse sequence, you’ll need to set a custom white balance by taking a shot of a white piece of paper or reference card, then saving this setting.
6 Shoot JPEGs
We’re going to be taking a long sequence of shots, running into the hundreds. Therefore, it’s best to shoot JPEGs rather than Raw files. Check your framing and focus on the foreground bud using autofocus (learn more about how to choose the right AF mode). Zoom the preview to check sharpness, then switch the lens to manual focus to prevent any shifts in focus while you’re shooting.
7 Check your exposure
Take a couple of shots of the flower and check the preview. Cycle through the display options to read the histogram, and check that there are no signs of overexposure (the right-hand side of the graph shouldn’t be clipped). If things are too bright, dial in some exposure compensation and take another test shot.
8 Set the intervalometer
In your camera’s shooting menu if you have the option, or on your remote release or intervalometer, set the interval to one shot every five minutes, and set the capacity to its maximum, then select Start/OK and the intervalometer will start taking shots. Make sure your battery is fully charged, or connect the camera to the mains.
9 Prepare your images
Open the sequence of images in your editor (we’re using View NX here), and if need be adjust the white balance, exposure, contrast and sharpening; the most important things to ensure are that the white balance and brightness are consistent across the series of shots. Next save the corrected images to a separate folder.
10 Open QuickTime Pro
QuickTime 7 Pro is available from the Apple Store for £20. Once it’s installed, click File > Open Image Sequence. Select the first shot of your sequence and click OK. After a few moments you’ll see the opening image appear in the QuickTime window. Click Play to preview the movie, then select File > Save As to save the final film.
11 Using View NX
You can create short sequences in some editing programs; here we’re using View NX, but note that you’re limited to 30 frames. In View NX, select Movie Edit. Click Edit > Options and set ‘Still image duration’ to 0.1 and ‘Transition duration’ to 0.1. Set ‘Preview window size’ to 4:3 to match the ratio of the images. Now click OK. Select File > ‘Add movies and images’ and select your photo sequence.
12 View NX time-lapse
Look through the files that you’ve imported and select the 30 frames that show the most movement from the flowers. Drag and drop them onto the timeline at the bottom of the screen and click Play to preview. When you’re happy with the selection, click Edit > ‘Create movie’. Choose 15fps and leave the other options. Click Create to save the final movie file.
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