Timelapse photography – Starting out

Meribel Time-lapses 2019. Notice all the shots are on the ground except the last one? Read on to find out why…

I love time-lapse photography. It’s something I’ve loved watching, the passage of time as life seemingly speeds up to an incredibly fast speed, whilst the camera remains firmly locked in place, or moving seemingly slowly across a set path on a slider. Particularly with a focus on Astrophotography, seeing the stars spin through the night sky, reminding all of us on the ground that we’re just one speck of dust orbiting a singular star, in a seemingly endless universe of other stars.

For over a year now I’ve particularly been trying my hand at shooting day to night, or night to day transitions, since shooting/filming that time of day requires seemingly impossible tuning of settings to match the ever-changing light level and colour during that period. Starting at around ISO 100, f/11 and 6100K, and eventually ending up around ISO 800, f/2.8 and 3200K (With a major spike at dusk of around 8000K!), it’s a hell of a lot of calculations to do yourself.

After researching this, and finding an incredibly beautiful location to try this out (Namely, the Hotel Ukraine in Central Moscow) I looked into a piece of software called LRTimelapse, which simplifies the process once you’ve shot your material, to correct all of the photos in a batch, and ramp the changes between them. The creator named this process the “Holy Grail” of timelapse photography. I bought a license immediately once I saw what it could do.

Internally in the camera, I ran Magic Lantern firmware on my 5D Mark II kit, using its software intervalometer I set the camera to take one photo every ten seconds, to a max of five seconds of exposure; along with the “Auto ETTR” (Exposure to the right) software, to automatically adjust the camera settings as the conditions changed. I set all this up and left it running until the card was filled, or the batteries ran out later that evening.

Instantly, I was hooked. My first attempt had blown me away just looking back at the photos in the camera. Before I even brought them into LRTimelapse, I knew this would be something I’d enjoy doing. I followed the instructions in the software and exported my first adjusted Time-lapse.

The result was this:

My first “successful” time-lapse. The ghosting around the edges of the building was actually caused by the double glazed window I was shooting through for this, sadly.

Instantly, I was hooked I knew this was something I’d enjoy doing. So whilst I was deployed in Moscow for work, I set up more time-lapses looking over other areas around Kutuzovsky. It was mid-winter in Moscow, and staying in the Hotel Ukraine, and I was literally leaving my window open to the elements every night, with my camera firmly strapped to the windowsill, hoping to capture more sunsets and sunrises. (I bet the hotel staff thought I was crazy, but I’ve always loved the cold anyway…)

Many nights, were un-successful. I’d wake up to the sound of silence, meaning the shutter wasn’t being released by the software. Turns out the Magic Lantern intervalometer was amazing, but sadly proved itself to be unreliable for these events. I think I spent three nights trying this again but it never worked as well as the first time. (Maybe it was the cold affecting the camera?)

Either way, I then looked into a mobile phone solution and found QDslrDashboard. A program that runs on your phone, or laptop, and sends the signals to your camera via USB to act as both the intervalometer and the ETTR controller. This was more reliable, but, I did have another two nights where I was woken up to a loud “CUCKOO” sound coming from the phone. Turns out when it loses connection to the camera, it lets you know very loudly. Great if you need to be alerted to this fact, but not great at 2am. So, then the connecting USB cable was the problem. Replaced that, and tried again.

The result this time, was this:

At this point, I knew I was onto something cool. It took many attempts but I feel like I finally got something amazing. Another cool thing about using LRTimelapse, and shooting in RAW as per their advice, is that each frame is actually larger in size than 4K video resolution, so when you export your final clips, you can actually output your final master in 4K. So, on a technicality, you can shoot 4K on a 5D Mark II. Technically, that is…

So then, the video at the top of the page was in Meribel in France in 2019. On the first night I was excited to setup my camera on my nice new Manfrotto BeFree, which I had gotten a few months earlier, and had only seen use on the Orkney Isles in Scotland. The last shot in the video is the first night, and the only one taken using the tripod.

Why was this? Well, frankly, in my adventurous mindset without the skillset of actually being a good skier, it turns out that items strapped to your backpack won’t necessarily be there after you fall over repeatedly. After a number of tumbles down some of the blue and green slopes in Meribel, it disappeared. We did several runs again, retracing our steps but found nothing. It was gone forever. As a result, every single other shot in the Meribel video was either the camera lying on the nearest object or embedded in the snow. Hence the slight imperfections in some of the frames.

A reminder to actually learn to ski before trying to get great photos whilst doing it. So if anyone finds a good quality tripod nearby the “Rhodos” piste after the season finishes at Meribel this year, please give me a call. It’s carbon fibre so should still be in good condition.

TL;DR – Invest in a good intervalometer, use the right processing software, follow the instructions and don’t strap expensive tripods to your backpack whilst skiing.

2 comments on “Timelapse photography – Starting out

  • Why The Need For a Carbon Fiber Tripod ? Certain photographic situations absolutely require a tripod , and having one on hand can be beneficial for many other situations.

    Reply
    • It seems to be the material of choice for ENG style tripods. Even googling “ENG Tripods” now, it still shows up as one of the most common materials used, alongside Aluminium. As news crews, we do 90% of our work from a tripod, and when you’re putting an item worth about £20-30000 pounds on top of it, you don’t want something cheap.

      Also I remember using wooden tripods back in my first news posting back in Australia. It was just awful. More than happy to have the relatively lightweight carbon fibre ones today.

      Whoops, I was completely replying to the wrong article comment.

      For time-lapses, tripods are absolutely essential. Granted, yes, having a carbon fibre tripod wasn’t the most economical, however, from feeling the weight of my suitcase and how small I could fold it down, made it worth it… For the two trips that I got to use it!

      It wasn’t strong enough to deal with the winds on the island of Orkney though, that’s for sure. But it did fine with the French alps until I lost it!

      As punishment, I’m going to revert back to my older aluminium Inca tripod. Heavier, and bulkier. But it’ll be harder to lose.

      Reply

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