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Let's Make a Time-Lapse Video!

Let's Make a Time-Lapse Video!

If you spend much time on Twitter or the blogosphere, you've probably noticed the extreme number of time-lapse videos that are going viral around the web. What's the deal with their sudden popularity? I chalk it up to a number of factors. The first is that modern digital cameras can shoot time-lapse photos without a need for an external control device. Second is the recent popularity of compact camera sliders. Third is the fact that HDR (high dynamic range) photography is easier than ever to accomplish. Finally, the nature of the internet dictates that once a number of these videos goes viral, more and more people will jump on board.

Time-lapse photography is nothing new. Everyone remembers those old science videos from school where we watch a plant emerge from the ground, bloom, then die, all in a matter of minutes (or seconds). With the advent of digital photography, and computerized assembly of image sequences (that is, a series of still images displayed one-by-one to create video), the creation of time-lapse video is within reach of the hobbyist photographer. It used to be that in order to shoot time-lapse, you needed an external control device to open the shutter on your camera in predetermined intervals. Today many cameras have that functionality built in. Simply point your camera at your subject, set focus and exposure and let 'er rip. When you're done, simply import your images as an image sequence into your post-production software of choice and you have yourself a time lapse video. However, we're videographers. We want to take this project a step further.

If you're want to get serious about time-lapse, it's time to look into using a motion control slider, such as a Kessler Crane slider and control. What does that mean exactly? To achieve the type of camera moves in the video above, you need to be able to move the camera at an extremely slow and consistent pace over the course of hours. To do that your slider needs a motor that will send the head up and down the track. These motion control sliders tend to be pretty expensive when you compare them to more traditional sliders. You can expect to spend a couple grand for a basic one, and even more if you want it to be able to pan and tilt as well. Of course, if price is an issue, you could always try to build one yourself. With a bit of editing and some appropriate music, you should be able to create a really compelling time-lapse video. But wait! There's more! Take a look at the video below.

Notice how perfectly the shots are exposed? Anyone who's ever shot low-light video will tell you that getting shots to look like that is nigh impossible without some serious help. Enter HDR photography. Since each frame is a still image, you can set your camera to bracket every shot. Bracketing is the process of having your camera take several shots with every press of the shutter button, each at a different exposure. Combining them into one image creates a HDR photo, and suddenly you can see details that would normally be crushed (too dark) or blown out (too bright). If you do it just right, you'll get some amazing looking video.

There you have it. If you've got the gear, but don't want to have to write a screenplay, or hire actors, try making a time-lapse video and put it out there for the world to see!

April 30th, 2012