You’ve probably seen it, those videos in most documentaries where the lady beetle gives birth to the baby beetle then the baby beetle becomes a teenage beetle, then a grown up beetle and the rest of the video shows pretty much the whole life of this particular beetle that last no longer then 20-ish seconds. Yes, you’ve seen it and probably thought that it’s a video that’s been sped up. No, it’s a photography, actually a series of photographs, and yes you can also create those images of suns rising and setting in matter of few seconds, it’s called time-lapse photography.
Let’s first define it in order to comprehend it, what is time lapse photography? Wikipedia says: “Time-lapse photography is a technique whereby the actual frequency at which film frames are captured is very much lower than that used to view the sequence.” Do you understand it? Me neither. So let me put it this way, time-lapse photography is when you shoot frames in much smaller intervals like one frame per second meaning is a sequence of still images which when you play them back at let’s say 24 or 30 frames per second speed up the real world and allow you to see things you’re limited to see with your human eye. To do it you take a series of pictures with a set gap in between and take one picture every 5 seconds. You can photograph anything that has movement even though it’s the smallest movement possible, like perhaps clouds moving.
It does ring a bell now, right? We’ve all seen the posh looking Instagram photos showing he stunning trajectory that the sun makes every single day, from dusk till dawn and all that in a matter of few seconds it’s right here under our thumbs. You too can make that kind of magic.
How? Find what you want to record, get your camera and start shooting frames in much slower intervals, let’s say one frame per second and play them back at about 30 frames per second. Simple as owning a few essentials gears and of course having an eye for photography, but let’s leave that part to the subjective valuation of the eye of the beholder.
Time-lapse is awesome because you can make beautiful shots using only three vital pieces of equipment and those are: a simple DSLR camera, a tripod and something called intervalometer. The tripod is pretty much the most essential thing because is used to stabilize and elevate the camera and for shooting a time-lapse and the last thing you want is your camera to move during the time-lapse sequence. A big, heavy tripod is the tool for the job.
The next most essential thing following the DSLR camera and the tripod, is the intervalometer which is simply a fancy word for the little machine that presses the camera shutter for you because you don’t want to sit there for the next couple of hours pressing the shutter button every five seconds. You might have an intervalometer built into your camera so you can check the menu to see if it’s there and if you do not have it’s not big of a deal since you can buy one for a rather cheap price.
And finally you need a very large memory card because you are going to be shooting a lot of stills, so you need a lot of space.
Till now probably some are wondering why don’t you just shoot videos and then speed it up in postproduction. While that it’s definitely an option and it is also very simple since all you got to do is set the camera, press record, let it roll and go along your day no worrying around intervals, but the downside is that this way you can not do long time-lapses which is one of the beauties of the still image time-lapse that you can do it over hours, days, weeks, months or just as long as you need to record till you see if the beetle is going to marry it’s high school sweetheart. Another downside is that while the video resolution is fine, with still captures you can get a really high definition and that means when you use a time-lapse you can zoom in without any loss of quality. After all you do want to find out if that beetle got wrinkles or it was all photoshoped.
If you are looking to get started with time lapse photography, check out Pro-Lapse. It’s a great resource.