An introduction to time-lapse photography and how to use a slider to get that perfect video
Firstly, let me just say this now – time-lapse photography is a lot easier to do than you think!
I remember watching time-lapse videos a couple of years ago thinking “wow, I wish I could do that but there’s just no way I’m good enough.”
I found time-lapse photography really daunting – it was something I couldn’t get my head around and I assumed that I’d never be able to do it myself. That was until I gave it go, and I was surprised at how simple the whole process was.
Time-lapse is one of those photographic techniques that looks amazing, it really elevates the content you’re creating to the next level (especially with a slider and a Syrp Genie, but more on that later!), and after reading this article hopefully you’ll have a clearer idea of how to do it for yourself.
What is time-lapse photography?
Time-lapse photography is capturing movement and change over a long period of time.
The concept is pretty simple – instead of leaving a video running for 30 minutes (which would take up about 18gb of space!) to capture the change of time, you can take a long series of photos and stitch them together into a video. Not only does this save on space, but having less frames per second gives that really nice time-lapse look that we’re aiming for.
As an example, if I took one photo every four seconds, then I’d take 15 photos per minute (60/4 = 15).
If I left that running for 400 photos, then it’d equate to 27 minutes of time elapsed (400 shots / 15 shots per minute = 27 minutes), and a lot of action can happen in 27 minutes.
If I’m shooting in 24 frames per second, then this means that my 400 shots stitched together will equate to about 16 seconds of footage (400/24=16.333).
I know this seems like complicated math to get your head around, but once you try it you’ll quickly understand all the different frame rates.
Alternatively, you can follow this handy guide!
The beauty of time-lapse photography is we’re not talking just in minutes here but in hours, days, weeks and even months. The span of time is only limited by your imagination and the possibilities of what you can shoot and over what period are endless.
If you still don’t know what a time-lapse is, check out this incredible video. Apparently this took 364 hours to create which is just crazy. Hopefully you’ll be able to shoot a time-lapse just like this one day!
How to shoot time-lapse photography?
There are two ways of doing this.
One is with an intervalometer. This is a device that plugs into your camera and you can set how many photos to take over what period of time (one photo every 10 seconds, one photo every five seconds, one photo every two seconds, etc, for X number of minutes).
An intervalometer is great but it is an extra piece of kit you need to buy (they range from $10 to $100) and carry around with you.
The second way is to download Magic Lantern, a piece of software you install onto your SD card.
Once installed, you can access Magic Lantern directly from your camera, and within this there’s a built-in intervalometer setting where you can set the number of photos taken over what period of time.
Personally, I much prefer using Magic Lantern as it is much more accessible and as I don’t need to worry about bringing an extra piece of kit, but that’s me!
Get yourself a good tripod:
Obviously one thing you need to shoot a time-lapse is a very good tripod to keep your camera steady in one position while taking photo after photo.
I have a couple of tripods – the Manfrotto 190 and the Manfrotto BeFree – but for time-lapses I much prefer the Manfrotto 190. Ideally, you want your tripod to be as heavy as possible so your camera doesn’t move around in high winds and other environmental conditions. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a strong and stable tripod!
Shoot in manual mode:
When shooting a time-lapse, you want everything to be in manual mode. Set your aperture (usually f/4-16), manual ISO, and set the white balance too.
If you want a really nice blurred effect for people and cars, use a ND filter and set the shutter speed to around 1/3 of a second. This will give you a really smooth video in post-production as opposed to one that’s jumpy (called staccato).
RAW or JPEG?
Obviously if you’re shooting hundreds of photos in RAW you’ll quickly fill up your memory card. However, the benefit of shooting in RAW is the greater ability you’ll be able to edit the sequence in post-production.
To be honest with you, I used to shoot JPEG when I first started doing time-lapses because I wanted to save on space, but I quickly realised I was quite limited by what I could do to the photo post-production, and this translated to the video I was trying to create. These days, I’m all about the RAW.
Using a slider and a Syrp Genie for time-lapse photography
As production levels have advanced it’s now no longer enough to just shoot a static time-lapse. Our eyes follow movement, and even by introducing a little movement into a time-lapse it will do wonders for what you’re trying to achieve.
One way of doing this is with a slider (check out all of Manfrotto’s sliders here).
A slider is a rail that you place your camera on and can move from side to side. For video production, a slider is great as you can get really nice tracking shots by pushing your camera from one side to the other.
For a moving time-lapse though, this is different – you need a motorised device that slowly moves your camera along your slider while taking photos.
One of the best motorised devices on the market (and one I adore) is the Syrp Genie.
I use this device all the time with my Manfrotto slider and it’s super easy to use. All you need to do is set the time and the interval per photo and the Genie will slide along taking the photos and giving you that gorgeous movement you’re looking for.
One of the best things about the Syrp Genie is the length of movement is only limited by your slider, so the longer the slider or rails you have, the more movement you’ll be able to achieve.
The Syrp Genie also has a panning-motion head which can swivel a full 360o, so you can get another really nice video effect with this.
My step from shooting static time-lapses to using a slider and the Syrp Genie was a huge jump up in my production, and it really took my photography to the next level.
As I’ve already said, at first I found time-lapse photography incredibly daunting, but after trying it out and after practicing different techniques a few times I was happy with the results I was achieving.
Hopefully after reading this article you’ll have the confidence to go out and shoot a few time-lapses yourself! Just let me know how you get on and if you any help with it!