Time-Lapse Mania

Inspired by a master.

An example of one of my old Webcam time-lapse movies.

Let me start by saying that I have always been fascinated by time-lapse photography. There’s something about watching scenes in jittery fast motion that really makes me sit up and take notice.

I’ve played around with time-lapse photography on and off for years. When I had a Webcam, it was easy. The software I used — Evocam, most recently — could handle the creation of the movies automatically. It could also archive them. I’d review a few of the more interesting ones and put them in a blog entry. The best ones were always during Arizona’s summer monsoon, when clouds grew quickly and flew across the sky. You can see other examples here, here, and here.

An Ikea garage shelf assembly project.

I also did a slightly more interesting time-lapse movie of a garage shelf assembly project. In that case, I just put my laptop in the garage, pointed the built-in camera in the area where we were working, and let Evocam do the rest. I was rather pleased with the results.

A week or two ago, one of my Twitter friends — I believe it was SeeTTL — tweeted a link to a video called Eclectic 3.0. I watched it in fascination. Not only was this incredible time-lapse photography set to music, but many of the scenes appeared to use tilt-shift lenses (or tilt-shift faking techniques). Have you seen it yet? Check it out now. I’ll wait.

When I realized that 3.0 meant it was photographer Ross Ching’s third effort, I wasted no time tracking down the original Eclectic and Eclectic 2.0. I then downloaded the highest quality available for each video and watched them again, in order. It was interesting to me to see how Ross’s style and technique changed. Eclectic was pretty basic and mostly local. Eclectic 2.0 added panning and more exotic locations. Eclectic 3.0 added tilt-shift to many scenes, most of which were places I go to several times a year (Monument Valley, Lake Powell, Sedona, etc.).

Ross’s work is a far cry from my primitive explorations of time-lapse photography. It’s art, photography, and real cinematography, all rolled into one. Ross’s work is probably the best examples of entertaining time-lapse photography out there. It’s a true pleasure to watch — even if you’re not a time-lapse lover like me.

And I think Ross’s work does a great job of making me understand what it is that I like about time-lapse photography. Watch any scene where the world changes around the camera. Sure, you could sit in the same spot for hours and see the same thing. But would you? Tiny minute-to-minute changes, like the shadow of a tree or canyon wall are accelerated, made more visible by the sheer speed of the action in time-lapse. All this is going on as the camera sits tirelessly, recording periodic images. But it’s only by assembling these images into a movie that we can see what the camera saw and appreciate how the little changes make big changes.

Anyway, Ross was kind enough to provide a movie called The Making of Eclectic 2.0. I downloaded and watched that, too. Twice. It gave me enough information to upgrade my pitiful time-lapse setup — junky Webcams that required a computer to trigger the snapshots — to something that could generate better quality movies.


A Pclix.

The key ingredient (for me) was a Pclix combination intervalometer and shutter triggering device. Although a bit pricey — with a Nikon D80-compatible cable and shipping, it cost me $190 — this device makes it easy to set up my camera to automatically take shots at intervals I specify. The basic programming is easy, with two dials to set the interval time. More complex programming is also possible — including setting the amount of time the camera should wait before starting or the total number of shots it should take — but a bit more complex. (I agree with what some forum commenters said about programming difficulty.) But it’s small, lightweight, and effective.

I didn’t waste any time trying it out. For this first experiment, I set the camera up on a tripod on my upstairs back patio, looking west. I wanted to capture the movement of the stars and any airplanes, as well as my neighbor’s lights going out as the night wore on. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?), the camera battery ran out. (It was low when I started; should have charged it first.) But I don’t think it’s bad for a first effort.

The second effort focused on one of my backyard trees. I filled the feeder with food and turned on the sprinkler for a while. Then we went out. I had the Pclix set for one shot every 40 seconds and let it run for about 7 hours. This is part of the movie. I really can’t see subjecting anyone to more of the same. To say it’s boring is an understatement. It could cure insomnia. Check this tidbit for yourself and let me know if you agree.

I did another time-lapse experiment this afternoon. I put my 10.5mm fisheye lens on the camera and set it up on a tripod on a countertop in the corner of my kitchen. I set the f-stop to 22 to maximize depth of field and get most of the scene in focus. The resulting shutter speed was slow, which is great because it blurred some of the motion, giving it a more dynamic feel. I set up the Pclix for one shot every 20 seconds, then went about tidying up. You can see me, Jack the Dog (inside and out), and Alex the Bird (in his cage). I cleared most of the junk off my kitchen table and organized my camera equipment (except for the camera, which was busy) for my trip to Washington state later this month.

Tomorrow morning, I’m going to try for clouds. This morning had some excellent light clouds at dawn; if I get the same effect tomorrow, it’ll make a nice, short time-lapse.

What’s cool about all this is that every frame of these movies is a high-quality image. Yes, I do shoot at a lower resolution than normal — 2.5 megapixels (1936 x 1296) rather than 10 megapixels (3872 x 2592) — but each image is a photograph, not a frame in a video movie. So I can back out of a movie and grab a single high-quality image.

Anyway, I hope to do some better work in the future. I’ve been inspired by a master.

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