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Time-Lapse Photography

Understanding Time-Lapse Photography

In simple terms, time lapse photography consists of a series of photographs taken over a period of time, assembled into a movie sequence.

How does this work? Well, when you watch a movie, what you are eally seeing is a series of still pictures shown one after the other, at the rate of 30 frames (pictures) per second.

A normal video camera takes 30 pictures per second. So when you play back the recording, it gives the impression of smooth motion. But if you were to use a regular camera to take a picture of a scene once every second, and if you would

then put these pictures into a movie sequence, it would appear to you that things moved 30 times faster than they did in real life. This is called TIME-LAPSE PHOTOGRAPHY.

What you are doing in Time-Lapse Photography is leaving gaps in time - by taking only one picture per second instead of taking thirty pictures per second. In other words, you are taking some time out of the film sequence, so that one can see something that normally takes a long time occur in a matter of seconds or minutes.

The amount of time you allow to pass between shots depends mainly on what you have chosen as your subject and what effect you are trying to create.

For example, you might want to make a time lapse movie of a seed growing into a flower. This would take at least several days, depending on which flower you pick as your subject. It would therefore not make sense to take a picture every second. But you could set the camera up to take a picture every ten minutes. After 300 minutes (five hours) you would have created one second of your “movie”. After 24 hours you would have roughly five seconds of your movie. If it took three days for your seed to flower, you would now have fifteen-second movie showing a seed growing into a flower.

Equipment Needed for Time-Lapse Photography:

A few short years ago, the costs involved made it virtually impossible for the average person to afford the creation of time lapse movies. But with inexpensive computers and digital cameras now available, most anyone can afford Time-Lapse Photography. All you need is the following:

1. A computer
2. A digital camera
3. Movie editing software

Digital cameras are now often sold with software that allows you to operate the camera through a computer, after you hook it up with a USB cable. Some cameras even come with time-lapse software, though it is not always labelled as such. (Sometimes it is referred to as "remote operation.")

Remote operation programs frequently allow you to tell your computer exactly how many pictures to take, and how much time should pass between the shots. And when you use the remote operation function with the camera connected to a computer, it even saves the pictures straight to your hard drive, in the folder that you specify. This makes it easy to drop the pictures into your movie editing program afterwards in order to create your time-lapse sequence.

There is one drawback - if you are using a desktop computer to control your camera, you are limited to photographing in the vicinity of your computer. But with a laptop, you would be able to move to more remote locations.

You will, however, still be limited to a certain degree by the battery lives of your computer and camera, unless you have a stable power supply. The more remote the location, the smarter you have to get. You might be able to connect to a car battery or even portable solar panels (as a car battery might be a little heavy to carry around).

How to Make a Time-Lapse Movie:

Set up a camera and focus it on a particular object or scene - such as a flower, a busy street, a highway, the sky on a partially-cloudy day... or if you are the adventurous type, set it up on a mountain top and photograph the clouds rolling in over the valley.

Next, set your camera up to take a picture once every 1-5 seconds, depending on what photographing and the effect you are trying to create.

Once you have a series of photos, arrange them into sequence in a movie editing program. Make sure that the sequence of pictures is run of at the speed of one frame per second (some movie editing programs automatically assign longer time intervals to still pictures that are imported).

If you've taken pictures of a partly cloudy sky, you would now see the clouds racing dramatically along the skies and evaporating into thin air along as the sun crosses the sky. If you are a patient person and you have planeted a seed and photographed it over a period of one week, you would now seethe flower bloom into life in a the matter of a few minutes. Whichever subject you chose, you will have a short movie of a rapidly changing scene.

As a final tip, adding the appropriate music to your time-lapse sequence can considerably improve the overall impression you create. You will be amazed what a difference it makes.

About the Author: For an example of a Time-Lapse Photography Video, you may visit Anna Stone's website at:

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