Time Lapse

There's an adage that shooting time lapse is easy but shooting good time lapse is terribly difficult.  On its face, putting a time lapse piece together is pretty simple: Take a sequence of pictures, string them together and play them back as video...the longer between pictures, the "faster" time goes. Nonetheless, time lapse can be terribly complicated and riddled with difficulties. Even if the light remains consistent, challenges such as avoiding Staccato (the distracting "flickering" that rears its ugly head so often in these pieces) are always there.  If you plan on shooting a sequence in which the light changes, such as a sunrise or sunset, the camera settings need to be continually monitored and manually changed to compensate for the addition or subtraction of ambient light, then "key-framed" during processing to make smooth transitions. Finally, if you want camera movement in your sequence, a programmable, timed, motorized panning device or slider is required that will move your camera in tiny increments between each shot. The challenges seemed endless when I began doing this a few years ago and the process was incredibly frustrating. Imagine shooting a six hour time lapse sequence of the Milky Way for example. You spend half the night awake then drive home with 500 or so images to process only to learn that 30 minutes into the shoot, condensation fogged your lens and the entire sequence is ruined...or you forgot to detach your lens (a little trick to avoid flicker)...or you just calculated something wrong during a sunset. The list goes on and if there was a mistake to be made doing time lapse work, I have made it. The frustration was compounded by the fact that time lapse takes...well...time. Screwing up a still image may cost you an hour. Blowing a time lapse sequence could cost you the better part of a night. The thing is, once you do finally create your first clean sequence, you absolutely cannot wait to shoot another. Watching two hours compressed into 20 seconds or so can be quite amazing: Clouds build and disappear, stars move across the sky, the sun falls or rises and changes colors right before your eyes, cities dim then come to life with light...You'll have to put some time in but in the end it's well worth it.

I wanted a time lapse that showed the illumination of the Wisconsin State Capitol Building in Madison. The sequence is made up of over 600 individual images and because the light changed with the dropping sun, I needed to monitor my exposure and periodically change it to compensate. Each one of these exposure changes was "key-framed" during processing so the change in light was gradual rather than a series of jumps.