I’m a huge fan of Time Lapse and Hyper Lapse filmmaking. Having these skills under my belt have enabled me to land some of the best filmmaking gigs in the world with my dream clients (it was definitely a deal-maker for Animal Planet). Not only that, adding these skills to my repetoire have helped me increase the overall quality of my work and the value I can bring to my clients.
However, until recently, I wouldn’t have called myself a Time Lapse or Hyper Lapse expert by any means – so a few months ago I went on a mission to start improving my skills and fill in the gaps. This is when I came across professional Time Lapse and Hyper Lapse filmmaker Scott Herder.
Scott produces outstanding work for a whole range of clients, from the likes of Kiehl’s (products) to the tourism boards of Hungary and Czech Republic (travel).
What was most exciting for me though is that he runs an online course teaching the art of Time Lapse and Hyper Lapse filmmaking. After a few weeks of getting stuck-in to the content, I’ve been blown away by the amount of work and level of detail that has gone into making the course. It’s methodical, well organised, and covers everything you need to know, whether you’re a beginner, or intermediate Time Lapse / Hyper Lapse filmmaker like myself.
As a huge fan of Scott’s work, I asked him if he would be willing to share some of his wisdom with the Five Day Film community and here we are. Today’s post (and video) is from Scott himself and covers 13 Tips for Better Time Lapses. He has also kindly offered a 25% discount for Five Day Film School readers that can be claimed via this link here. If you’re interested in learning Time Lapse or Hyper Lapse, I highly recommend checking it out.
For full disclosure, I get a small kick back on anyone using this link to help support the Five Day Film School.
So, without further ado, here’s Scott Herder with 13 Tips to Shooting Better Time-Lapses.
My name is Scott Herder and I specialize in time-lapse and hyper-lapse and am based out of Brooklyn, New York and have worked for tourism boards such as Visit Czech, Visit Budapest and large brands like Kiehl’s as well as had my work featured in film festivals and been nominated for best timelapse of the year. I say that to give you confidence that I know a bit about time-lapse.
By the end of this post you will understand how to shoot time-lapses like a pro as well as make sure you don’t ever get flicker again.
Tip #1 Shoot in Raw
If you already knew this, stick with me a bit and I promise you won’t regret it. I just feel this is important to get out of the way for people who are very new to time-lapsing. The reason is, a RAW image means the photo is lossless and is completely editable. This will give you the most flexibility and should something go wrong in your shoot, you still have FULL CONTROL. That is priceless and why I recommend everyone shoot time-lapses in RAW.
While camera’s have improved significantly over the years. I still recommend shooting in full manual. The main reason for this is our camera’s still can’t make 100% PERFECT repeating actions in the semi auto modes like aperture or shutter priority.
The major culprit is the aperture blade since it can’t open and close at 100% identical amounts and causes flicker. But things such as auto white balance, or a change in the shutter speed can also have a jarring effect if they are switching from image to image.
Tip #3 Turn Off All Camera Functions
Turn off your camera’s Noise reduction, Image Playback, Image Stabilization, as well as any other AUTO function like white balance that you can.
Noise reduction can be done in lightroom, but honestly when shooting a time-lapse you typically shoot on as low an ISO as possible. So there isn’t any noise to get in the first place.
Image playback is optional as this is really recommended for long shoots or on mirrorless systems with low battery life.
Turn off image stabilization because this is really meant for hand-held shooting or panning shots. On a tripod, the image stabilization will actually hunt for movement and can ironically introduce it into the shot.
Another reason is read and write time. If you have a 6 second interval and a 3 second shutter speed. It might take 3 more seconds for your noise reduction to work which will make you miss some shots.
Finally, these settings can also drain your battery faster, which can be an issue for longer sequences on mirrorless camera’s like the Sony or Fuji systems
Shooting wide open means opening up the aperture to it’s widest setting on the lens. The reason is the smaller your aperture of your lens is, the more room for error every-time you take an image. In the video I have a demo of how much the aperture actually deviates from image to image. It’s those small variances that cause flicker.
The only time I would say you can ignore this rule (because I admit, I am constantly shooting around f/8 or f/11 is because I use a software called LRTimelapse to deflicker my sequences and I follow the 180 rule which is the perfect segue into tip #5.
Tip #5 Drag the Shutter / 180 Rule
For photographers, dragging the shutter means to take a longer exposure. The 180 rule in videography says your shutter speed should be half of your frame rate, which is why you see them shooting at 1/48th of a second when filming at 24fps.
We can apply that to our timelapses by making our shutter speed half of our interval. So if I have an interval of 6 seconds, in a perfect world I would take a photo with a 3 second exposure. This is great for time-lapses because now the variance of the aperture blade gets greatly minimized by the shutter being open for 3 seconds. The longer the shutter stays open, the more the aperture blades inconstincies get blended to a smoother looking time-lapse.
Please don’t get too hung up on your shutter speed being a PERFECT HALF of your shutter speed all the time, but it’s a guideline to help you get better results. The thing to remember about that rule is to get motion blur. I provide quite a few examples of the video.
Now you may be asking yourself: Scott if were to shoot wide open and at 2.8 in the middle of the day, how are we going to shoot a long exposure? Which brings us to…
Tip #6 Get Yourself ND Filters
Neutral Density filters might be one of the most important aspects of timelapses. ND filters act like sunglasses and allow you to shoot long exposures in the middle of the day. This really separates beginner timelapses from professional looking work.
I have quite a few ND filters from 10 stops to 4 stops. if you plan on doing timelapses during the day definitely get a 10 stop filter. Avoid cheap ND filters as these tend to have a color cast making your shots look a tinge green or purple or yellow that you have to correct in post. I recommend HOYA ND filters, and more recently the PolarPro Variable ND filters which have become the best ND filters I’ve ever used.
I do not recommend buying TIFFEN. I’ve never had a tiffen filter that didn’t give me NASTY vignetting and make my shots unusable.
In my opinion LRTimelapse is the DE FACTO software for color correcting and deflickering a time-lapse.
Best of all, it’s easy to use. You simply press buttons from LEFT TO RIGHT, and edit a couple of photos in Lightroom, save and it automatically, and it does it for you. It’s free if you shoot under 400 photos and it’s a magical little tool that can fix just about any mistake you make (even if you forgot all my tips above.)
Trust me, this is how you want to be editing your time-lapses, and I have a free tutorial explaining how to use the program. It’s like riding a bike, once you do it a couple times, you’ve got it forever.
Tip #8 Use an Electronic Shutter
A lot of newer camera’s have an electronic shutter, or the ability to shoot in silent mode. If yours is one of those, USE IT. There are 2 reasons:
- 1) A camera’s shutter life lasts about 200,000 shutters, but if you use an electronic shutter you’re saving your cameras life span.
- 2) You can now use higher F-stops, without worrying so much about flicker, because NOW you don’t have to worry about your camera’s aperture opening and closing at different intervals!
The added bonus here is this is also great if you just wanna be quiet and not bring too much attention to yourself when shooting (like in a church.)
An interval refers to the amount of time that should “lapse” between each photo. There are numerous examples of intervals and recommendations in the video. As well as a cheat sheet for you to download. The interval you choose has a huge impact on the final video.
Too short of an interval and not enough movement happens. Too long of an interval and the motion is too fast.
Here are some great rule of thumbs I use when shooting certain subjects:
- People and traffic – 1-2 second interval. This means my shutterspeed, using the 180 rule would be half a second to one secon.
- Clouds – between 6-10 seconds, which would make my ideal shutter speed 3-5 seconds (but I won’t sweat if my shutter speed is only 1/15th of a second.)
- Stars – 20-40 seconds. I break the rules here because I want as many star photos as I can get and do an interval of 15 seconds, while taking a photo every 20 seconds. I can only do this because I turn off noise reduction and image stabilization.
- Sunrise/Sunset – 10 seconds and at least one hour before and one hour after the sun rises or sets.
- Shadows 1 minute interval for 3 hours.
These intervals are to help guide you when making your decision and you may want to deviate from them depending on your needs. When in doubt, always shoot more photos because you can always speed up the sequence, or delete frames. But, it’s nearly impossible to add frames without having a weird jittering effect.
Tip #10 Use Good Composition
Composition is just as important in time-lapse as it is in traditional photography and video. The rule of thirds is your friend, don’t forget to use it. But use it with a purpose. If the sky is the focal point, make sure it takes up 2/3rds of the frame. If it’s not, only let it take up 1/3rd of the frame. You can channel your inner Wes Anderson and use symmetry, find frames and shadows to create depth, and use leading lines to have strong composition in your timelapses. If you can add them together it makes for an even more powerful effect.
Movement is a great tool to bring to a timelapse to make it more dynamic, and create interest. You can do this with a hyperlapse, or grab a slider and get some really awesome camera movements. But even if you don’t have a slider or feel like doing a hyperlapse, you can still animate a digital zoom or a digital pan to give it some extra dimension. You can even bring a vertical timelapse into After Effects and animate a 3d camera to create some really fun camera moves. The video has a demo of me showing a vertical timelapse edited in After Effects to have a 3d camera tilt.
Tip #12 Use Ambient Noises
It’s one thing to make beautiful time-lapse videos and everything but audio is 50% of the video experience. USE IT TO YOUR ADVANTAGE!
You don’t need to be a master sound designer to be able to add some ambient noises that bring depth to your videos. If you’re out shooting, grab your phone and record some ambient noise for 30 seconds. It’s great for little ambient sfx that you can pop in the final video.
Also please note, not every timelapse needs to have the most epic Nordic god of thunder soundtrack or dubstep. I know I’ve definitely been guilty of this mistake!
The hyperfocal distance is a technique employed by landscape photographers who want to get as much in focus as possible. This is also what time-lapse photographers want.
The hyperfocal distance is essentially the distance we should focus at to maximize our focus. It’s basically a distance where everything 1/3rd in front of our camera and our hyperfocal distance is acceptably sharp and in focus, as well as everything beyond it also being acceptably sharp and in focus.
There is an awesome free app called focus finder that allows you to plug in your camera body and lens and it will tell you the hyperfocal distance of your lens. That’s awesome. No more blurry time-lapses.
Tip #14 Shoot At Least 10 Seconds of Timelapse
10 seconds of timelapse is:
- 240 photos if you edit at 24 fps,
- 250 photos if you edit at 25fps,
- 300 photos if you edit 30fps.
It’s just way better to have more footage than you need and to speed it up, than it is to try and slow down the footage. Also if you ever plan on trying to sell stock footage, 10 seconds seems to be the minimum sweetspot. These get used as cutaways or establishing scenes in tv shows, commercials, ads, TV displays at Best Buy, whatever. So they typically use only 3 – 10 seconds of a clip at a time.
Those are all the tips I got… Oh and use a tripod!
I hope that gave you quite a bit of insight into shooting time-lapses and please let me know if you have any questions or comments.
You can see more of my tips on YouTube and even get one on one mentorship with me and learn how to make these hyperflow videos at HyperflowMasterclass.com.