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 . . or How I Spent an Afternoon in the Big Apple . .

On my recent trip to New York I took the opportunity to play around a little with some time lapse photography. Given my time restraints, I limited myself to recording the movements of the crowds and traffic over a very short time frame. You can, of course, take time lapse images over hours, days, weeks or even months and years, but I reckon you'd need a lot of patience for the final few of those time scales.

So, how do you go about creating your time lapse masterpiece, or in my case first stab for a bit of fun?

What you will need to capture the sequence of frames
1. A camera that either has an intervalometer built into it, or a camera that can be controlled by an external intervalometer (these are easy to find as after market products; the one for my Fuji HS20 EXR came from an eBay seller for around £20). Check your camera's manual to find out if either of these apply. If not, you can still do longer interval time lapse projects, but you will need dedication to the cause, a decent alarm clock or stop watch, and a cable or other remote release.

A JJC remote release and intervalometer with Fuji HS20EXR:

The interval shooting menu on my Pentax K5:

2. A tripod or other stable platform for the camera. For my project I used a cheap Lidl flexible leg tripod in the style of a small gorillapod and my Fuji HS20EXR which is light enough to use with it. The light weight of this set up enabled me to move to various locations over the course of an afternoon and shoot several sequences.
After this it is simply a question of finding a subject and location that is appealing and setting to work, making sure that the batteries in both the camera (and intervalometer if required) are fully charged or you have a mains supply handy.

Camera Settings
1. Set your camera to manual focus, and pre-focus before you start the recording sequence. While the lighting might very well change, especially over a long time frame, a shifting focus and possible interruption of the sequence if the camera cannot obtain a focus lock on moving objects will not look good at all.
2. For shortish sequences I suggest that you manually set your exposure too (and white balance if you like), so that the appearance of the finished sequence does not appear to darken and lighten in a strobe like manner. Consider your depth of field. For longer projects where the light is likely to change you will have to take a view as to whether it will be better to remain with a fixed exposure or to allow the camera to meter for each new image; if the latter then it would seem sensible to have the camera set to aperture priority mode to avoid apparent changes in focus.
3. Take lots of images. Remember that PAL video runs at 25 frames per second (fps), and although your time lapse project may run at a somewhat lower frame rate (5 frames per second in the case of the ones I have done), 50 images is not going to buy a lot of video time - as the links to the examples I have placed at the end of this article will amply and embarrassingly demonstrate.
4. Think about the aspect ratio and size of the finished sequence. I shot mine in 16:9 and so they would look OK on a standard TV or widescreen monitor. But I overdid the image size; 2mp (1920x1080) would have been adequate for TV playback - on a 16gb card that's more than 14,000 images. I made the mistake of taking bigger images. Also if you plan to view the final product on a tablet, for example, consider matching the aspect ratio to the chosen display device. Alternatively you can batch crop the images latter. Like most things though, it is better to get the basics right at the outset rather than to try to fix things in post production.
5. Make sure your memory card is big enough to record all the images you plan to capture.
6. Don't make the interval between shots too short - the camera has to write the files to the memory card. With a high end DSLR this is unlikely to be an issue, but with the bridge camera I used for my efforts it was a consideration.

OK, I've got the sequence on my camera, now what?
1. First things first - get the files onto your PC/Mac.
2. If your images need any global adjustments you can do them now, or later in the video editor. Some video editors have good effects and adjustments available, but things like white balance, brightness and contrast, curves etc are likely to be better if done in a photographic editor. I did mine in the video editor as Serif MoviePlus X6 (don't forget to enter the Camera Craniums' competition to win a copy!) allows for an infinite number of video tracks and I could easily separate out the sequences requiring various different adjustments. And I forgot to do them first . . .
3. Chose your video editor. For my examples I used Serif MoviePlus X6, but Windows Live Movie Maker will also do the job as indeed will almost all non linear video editors.
4. Load all of your time lapse sequence jpgs into the video editor, making sure that they are in the correct sequence - you should be OK if you have left the default file numbers unaltered.
5. Now comes the value judgement part - choosing the frame rate for your sequence. I went for 5 frames a second for mine. In MoviePlus this is in properties/general/playback/duration.  Note that the editor may use hours/minutes/seconds/number of frames . You will need to set the frame rate globally, or if you are feeling adventurous vary it throughout the sequence. I bet that could look weird. Try different speeds to see which one suits the sequence you are working with.
6. You can now add an audio track if you want - beware of copyright infringement, although Youtube seem to have an arrangement that attaches an advert to any copyrighted soundtrack you may happen to use in lieu of payment.
7. All you have to do then is render and save the result. I uploaded mine directly to Youtube using MoviePlus.

You can find my first two wonky stabs at time lapse video here:
New York Library
New York Streets

I think I have learned a few things, and will have to have another go sometime soon to see if I can radically improve the results.
I hope that this little article encourages you to have a go at time lapse video. Please post links to your videos, let me know about anything you think I have got wrong here, and, of course, suggestions for improvements.

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