Let’s face it, even though we are photographers video is cool and can tell a story. I was inspired early in my photography journey by a local photographer/videographer on the concept of time-lapse photography. The coolest effect was how it could compress the perception of time. The ability to squeeze hours of real time into a few seconds of video was amazing to me, not to mention it looks cool.

Milky Way time-lapse with lightning storm

So what is time-lapse photography? A time-lapse is a sequence of images blended into a video. Simple! Not really. The challenge of shooting a time-lapse video is one of the factors that drew me into this style of photography. 

It’s a bit tougher than you think not to bump a tripod that has been sitting there for a couple of hours, and all it takes is a small nudge to introduced some unwanted movement to your frame.  All of the factors you consider during regular photography apply over the long period of a time lapse.

Why You Should Shoot Time-lapses

As a Milky Way photographer, there are many benefits of shooting time-lapse. It keeps your camera working by continuously taking shots. Taking more than one photo is excellent for stacking as you can find the perfect set of images to stack and dramatically increases the chance of catching some meteors or something cool. It is the best way to shoot a meteor shower and the auroras. You could also convert an entire sequence into a star trails photo. My philosophy is to get as much data or as many shots as you can.

Sunset on Spruce Knob West Virginia

What Gear Do You Need?

There is usually a minimal investment to be able to shot time-lapse as well. Most photographers have everything you need already.

All you need extra is an intervalometer and tripod if you don’t have one already. Some cameras have built-in time-lapse functions, but I prefer to use intervalometers. If you ever shoot for more than 30 secs, you will need it to use bulb mode anyway. I’ve never had an intervalometer fail to function, outside of user error.

I will be making an article on how to use the Neewer brand. It will be short because they are easy to use and only cost around 20 bucks.

Shoot Lots of Frames

The amount of data that you accumulate as a time-lapse photographer can be overwhelming, but storage is cheap. The extra steps to process a sequence may deter prospective time-lapse shooters as well. But time-lapse focused software facilitates this as well.

The one drawback to shooting TL is that once you start shooting a sequence, you can’t just pick up and move to a new spot or composition. Once you start you are committed, and the more time you have in a time-lapse, the more you won’t want to move depending on your objective of the shoot.

Intervals?

My favorite subjects to shoot time-lapses are the Milky Way, sunsets and sunrises. Anything with some motion can be a great subject.
The interval is the time between shots. If you have a fast-moving subject like people or cars, you want a short interval. Slower moving subjects, like the Milky Way, can use a longer interval.

When I shoot the Milky Way, I use as fast of an interval I can in case I want to make a star trails photo; it makes for smoother video. On my Canon 6d, a 30-sec exposure requires a minimum of 4 seconds for the camera to write to the card before the next shot. Be careful with really short intervals because your camera may not be ready when the intervalometer triggers again. 

When I shoot a time-lapse, I only want the intervalometer to trigger the shutter. I let the camera control the exposure time unless I’m shooting in bulb mode for longer than 30 seconds. I’ve only found this necessary when shooting very long exposures on a tracking mount or tracker.

Northern Lights from the Steese Highway near Fairbanks

My Time-Lapse Photography Workflow

Here is a brief description of how I do a time-lapse of the Milky Way.  If it’s a new location, I find out where the Milky Way core is going to be at the beginning and the end of the shoot.  I’ve only talked about static time-lapse’s to keep it simple for this discussion. A one hour sequence of the Milky Way is enough for a decent timelapse.

Depending on what focal length I’m using, I’ll place the core to the left of the frame giving it room to move to the right as time goes on. Let’s assume that it’s already dark so the exposure won’t change throughout the entire sequence. I’ll find my composition and set up the tripod and camera with a lens warmer to prevent lens fogging.

I’ll shoot a few test shots to make sure exposure and the Milky Way are where they need to be. My favorite focal length is 20mm on my Tamron 15-30. I usually use 15 seconds at ISO 8000, wide open at f2.8. When everything looks good, I’ll set the intervalometer to trigger the camera every 19 seconds giving me a 4-sec interval between shots.

The Golden Rule

The golden rule for time-lapses is to let the sequence run for a few shots then stop it and recheck everything. This prevents many mistakes that are overlooked, and it gives you a chance for a final check before committing hours into what would have been a failed time-lapse.  

What do I mean by “checking everything?” Zoom in and check the perimeter of your frame for focus and composition, i.e., an unwanted branch poking through the bottom of your frame. Confirm the focus on the stars and your exposure.

By letting the sequence run for a few shots, you’ll confirm that the intervalometer is correct. What a bummer it would be to shoot a time-lapse that turned out to be a single overexposed white frame!  No names mentioned. After the quick double check, let the sequence “rock on”!

BTS Milky Way Shoot Fort Fisher NC

Processing with LRTimelapse

After the shoot, I copy the images to my computer. I always make a copy of the raw files I’m going to use for the timelapse because LRtimelapse will create or overwrite any existing XML data, making it a somewhat “destructive” process. This way I can go back and make stacks of images or star trails with the original raw files.

LRTimelapse is the only software that I’ve used to process time-lapses. It can be done using Photoshop and Premiere from what I’ve heard. The glory of LRTimelapse is the de-flickering and smoothing that it can do. LRTimelapse does require Lightroom, and it works by passing XML data back and forth from Lightroom to do its magic. LRTimelapse is what I use to render the time-lapse video.

I will be writing an article on how I use LRTimelapse also.

Be aware that the standard video aspect ratio is 16:9, and this will cause a bit of a crop to the vertical framing of a typical 3:2 sensor. You can force rendering at 3:2, but that is not a standard video aspect ratio and may cause issues. If I want to get fancy, I’ll throw the video into Premiere to add music and titles.

More Time-Lapse Photography To Come!

Hopefully, this is enough information to get you started or inspired to create your own Milky Way TLs. Keep an eye out for more articles on TL and thanks for reading.

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Have you tried time-lapse photography? If so, post them below and let us know how they went. If you have any techniques for time-lapse photography you want us to cover, let us know that too!

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