Time-lapse photography is a method of filming, whereby a series of frames are captured at a low frequency, and then compiled together in a sequence to be viewed at a much higher frequency than the rate at which they were initially shot in. When the compiled product is replayed in normal speed, time seems to be moving much faster, thus highly speeding up the motion of the subjects and surroundings captured within the frame. Extremely slow processes which are almost negligible to the human sight become distinct, thus creating an effect where time appears to be highly sped up. When captured using the time-lapse technique, motions such as the movement of the sun, clouds, stars, the hour hand of a clock etc. appear to be very pronounced. The time-lapse technique is said to be the extreme form of the cinematography technique of fast-motion or undercranking. It can also be considered to be the exact opposite of the method of slow motion filming, or high speed photography.
As I mentioned earlier, while shooting a time-lapse video, the film-frames are initially captured at a very low rate. The frames are then placed in a series and then played back at a much faster frequency. For example, if the image of a particular scene is captured once every minute for a period of 4 hours, and then played back at 24 frames per second, the entire four hours will be compressed down to 10 seconds of film. Even the most subtle motions would appear much faster.
The steadiness of the camera is essential for a successful time lapse video. Tripods are traditionally used to ensure the camera remains steady for the long periods of shooting time. The steadiness of the camera enables a smooth transition from one frame to another when replayed in high speed. Other gadgets such as sliders can be attached to tripods for steadily moving the camera, in order to produce a time lapse with a moving frame. Failure to ensure the steadiness of the frames will greatly diminish the quality of the time lapse.
It is possible to produce a time-lapse video by manually capturing each frame. However devices such as ‘interval timers’ are more commonly used. An interval timer attached to a camera can be set to take photos automatically at constant intervals of time. Such timers can be found build internally in various cameras such as the Nikon D7000. However, if the camera doesn’t come with a built in interval timer, they are also sold externally and can be attached to certain cameras. It makes the process of producing a time lapse video much easier, and the product turns out to be of much higher quality. Certain cameras such as the Brinno TLC100 are also designed specifically to automatically produce time-lapse videos.
The background audio or music is an essential element of a time lapse video. Because such videos are produced using a large number of still images, no sound is recorded. Thus, to create an audio visual effect, the background music plays a large role in characterizing a time-lapse video.
Another classic characteristic of time-lapse imagery is the “stylized jerkiness”, where short-term changes in the scene appear as small and annoying jitters in the video, often clouding out the basic progressive events of interest. Thus, the time-lapse technique isn’t used to capture short term events, but rather long intervals as the small details of short term events are obscured.
Time lapse videos are usually made as individual works of art. Sometimes they are also used as transitional scenes in larger film projects. Some traditional subjects of timeless photography include cloudscapes and celestial motion, plants growing and flowers opening, fruit rotting, evolution of a construction project and people and cars in the city.
Examples of some interesting time lapse videos:
Terminal City- A Vancouver Time Lapse ( My own work)