Using a still camera and timer
Living this far out in the sticks, we've got some great mountains and a big, open sky. The character of both change quite a bit depending on the weather.
I've been meaning for some time now to do some moving cloud time-lapse photography, so here's a little bit about how I took these sequences.
First off, all time-lapse photography really is, is a sequence of images that are shot one after the other, with a given space of time between each shot. There are a number of movie cameras that have a setting for this, and I think some still cameras do too to some extent. The problem is that I have a pretty low-end video camera, and my still camera doesn't have any settings for long sequences.
The camera I use is a Canon 20D, and there is a great gadget made for it (or any other EOS-3 that's got the quick-lock remote control socket) called the TC-80N3. It's a timer remote controller that allows you to do all sorts of creative timed shots.
Once you've got a camera that has some type of controller like this either built in or with an external remote like the one I mention above, the rest is fairly straightforward.
- Use a tripod.
- Turn off auto-exposure, and set exposure manually.
- Turn off auto-focus, and focus on infinity.
Set the timer to shoot every X seconds, (depending on what you're shooting) and let it fire away.
You'll end up with a sequence of images that can be compiled into a video using one of several software programs. (For example, Adobe Premiere or After Effects, and there are probably shareware or even freeware programs available online that will do this.) I use Digital Fusion, only because it's a program I'm familiar with.
The movies below were saved as Flash movies, so you'll need the Flash plugin to view them if you don't already have it.
A Day in the Life
This was one of the first sequences I shot, starting at 7:20 am and finishing at 7:47 pm, a little over 12 hours for a total of 747 images with one shot every minute. The sun passes overhead showing the light as it changes on the mountains. In addition, the snow in the foreground hanging on the sagebrush melts away over the course of the day.
Also, every once in a while you can see some snow slide off the roof in front of the camera. The black spot on the right side towards the end is a Red-Winged Blackbird heading for a nearby feeder.
Looking up at an angle with a wide-angle lens, this was a series of 582 images taken at 3 second intervals. Over the course of the half-hour it took to shoot these, you can see the contrails left behind as 4 different jets pass high overhead.
Sunrise shot with heavy clouds breaking. A secondary layer of clouds in the distance looks almost like waves on a white ocean. 333 images shot at 3 second intervals. Shot with a telephoto lens to focus in on one area.
This one starts out with heavy clouds over the mountains, then the clouds become increasingly ominous as a Winter storm approaches. By the end, it's a white out with snow flurries.
Across a Blue Sky
Lots of clouds moving towards camera across the sky. This was also a sequence shot at 1 frame every 3 sconds. That seemed to be a good time interval for clouds that are moving at a pretty good rate. If you've got no breeze and clouds that are barely moving, you'd want to try longer intervals.
This shows some nice color in the clouds as sunset approaches. You can see some rain falling from some of the distant clouds. This was shot at intervals of 4 seconds, as these clouds were moving more slowly.
The timer I use simply tells the camera to fire a shot at the interval you want. I usually set it to wait about five seconds before it starts firing to let it settle a bit. Instead of specifying a lenth of time to shoot, I set it on unlimited. This means it will just keep shooting until it either fills up the card or the batteries run down, so don't forget it's out there working!
Well, that's it for now, I hope these samples give you some inspiration for things you might want to try if you're interested in time-lapse sequences. Email me if you have any questions about the process.