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How to Shoot Motion Controlled Time-lapses: A Few Tips...

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The Raw Time-lapse Tutorial: Gear Prep

June 12, 2013 Comments (16) Views: 225 The Extensive Raw Timelapse Tutorial, Timelapse

The Raw Time-lapse Tutorial: How To Shoot Day To Night Time-lapses

As many people have proclaimed, day to night or night to day time-lapses are the ‘holy grail’ of time-lapse shooting. They tend to draw the attention of viewers because of their assumed complexity. At the same time, what people don’t understand is that they aren’t as tough to achieve as they appear. In this blog post, I will quickly walk you through a few different ways of capturing these types of shots.

There are three different ways to approach day to night time-lapses which include:

  1. Shoot in APERTURE PRIORITY and de-flicker in post.
  2. Shoot at least one shot during the day and one at night and then BLEND IN POST.
  3. RAMP YOUR EXPOSURE / ISO.

With each of these given scenarios, there are there elements or settings to consider which include interval, aperture / shutter speed balance & ISO.

Another consideration is white balance. I didn’t include this in the settings above because all this advice is based off of shooting raw so white balance is able to be changed in post. On the same note, because I shoot low resolution jpegs for reference, I still choose to set the initial white balance. What I normally do is set my white balance based on the shooting conditions. If I am shooting a day to night, I will set my white balance to 5600K. Being that we are shooting a raw time-lapse, the white balance is not critical as we will more than likely need to ramp it in post.

I will be using case studies to help illustrate these settings which can be viewed in either the full length Day to Night Tutorial video or the breakout videos below. As much as I would like to recommend settings for each scenario, this just isn’t possible due to the almost limitless possibilities.

Also, I want to also note that my mantra when it comes to learning new techniques is to stick with what works. When I find a workflow that works for me, I tend to stick with this method and as such, the information under bulb ramping is somewhat limited.

I have also drafted up a quick start guide for each section because let’s face it, some of us like to get to the nuts and bolts. However, if you are serious about mastering time-lapse shooting, you will want to check out the post in its entirety.

***Please note that this series is presented in a serial fashion and I highly recommend checking out the previous ones if you haven’t already as there are some skills you will need to master before proceeding to this lesson. If you have yet to check out the previous episodes, click here.

Both the post and video are long so I recommend sitting down with a coffee and be prepared to take some notes! Also, I have included a bunch of more information in the blog post that isn’t in the video and will keep adding to this post so make sure to also check out the info below!

How to Shoot Day to Night Time-lapses

Aperture Priority

The simplest method of the lot is capturing the time-lapse using aperture priority mode. Although the simplest, it also comes with risks. First off, by shooting in aperture priority, you are relying on the camera’s internal processing or metering to determine the change of exposure between day and night. Often I have found that if I set the exposure perfect for the start of the time-lapse that it often is either under or over exposed depending if it was a day to night or night to day shot.

Determining the exact settings is a bit of a challenge based on your given scenario but as an example, I will walk you through a case study.

Aperture Priority Case Study

Another disadvantage with aperture priority is that you will more than likely experience a lot of flicker and will be forced to remove in post. I primarily shoot time-lapses using the Canon 5D Mark II’s but have recently upgraded to the 5D Mark III’s. I’ve found that the Mark III’s are MUCH better with the accuracy of its metering resulting in less flicker. It is important to note that with this method, there is a chance of your shot failing because of the amount of flicker.

How to Shoot Using Aperture Priority

To shoot a day to night / night to day time-lapse in aperture priority mode all you need to do is set your initial exposure and interval and let the camera do the rest for you. For this method, you will more than likely want to use a wide aperture (low number) so your shutter does not have to remain open as long as it would have to be if your aperture was closed. In aperture priority, the camera determines the shutter speed.

In regards to your interval, there are two approaches:

  1. The first method requires you to know how long your longest exposure will take for your given shot. Once you know that, you will then be able to set your interval based on that number. Keep in mind that you will need to work in buffer time as well. For example, if your longest shutter speed is 15 seconds, you will want to set your interval to around 17 seconds.
  2. The second method allows you to set your interval to something quicker however, by doing this, when your exposure time starts to exceed your interval time, the smoothness of the motion will be inconsistent as you will start to get less frames as it gets darker. The time between shots will also change as the exposure times increase. Although not noticeable on most shots, there are times when you will notice this on motion controlled shots. 

When choosing your settings using this method, it is a fine balancing act. For most shots, the night shots will have a smoother motion and your day shots will have a staccato look as seen in the image below. 

long_vs_short_shutter_speed

(left) SHUTTER: 1/4000 ISO: 100 APERTURE: 5.6 (right) SHUTTER: 1/30 ISO: 100 APERTURE: 22 FILTER: Heliopan Vari-ND

Okay, now I am sure you are asking, can you just get to the point already? WHAT SETTINGS DO I NEED TO USE TO SHOOT A DAY TO NIGHT TIME-LAPSE USING APERTURE PRIORITY MODE. Although it is a bit of a balancing act to get started, here is the step-by-step guide.

Quick Start Guide – Aperture Priority

To shoot a time-lapse in aperture priority mode, you need to:

  1. Set camera to aperture priority mode.
  2. Focus image.
  3. Choose interval using method 1 or 2 mentioned above.
  4. Set INITIAL EXPOSURE (Aperture & ISO). As mentioned, when choosing your settings using this method, it is a fine balancing act. For most shots, the night shots will have a smoother motion and your day shots will have a staccato look if you hope to capture the most dynamic shift between day and night.
    • Option 1 (Day to Night): This method is the most versatile for capturing the widest range of light change. However, you will get a staccato effect during the day time portion. Aperture: 2.8-4.0 ISO: 640-1250 Shutter: 1/1000 to 1/8000 NO FILTER
    • Option 2 (Day to Night): This method allows you to capture a smooth / fluid motion throughout the entire shot. The downside is that your range of available light is limited in some scenarios. You will not be able to capture an astro time-lapse with this method. Aperture: 5.6-16 ISO: 100-320 Shutter: 1/30 to 1/15  Use ND Filters
    • Option 1 (Night to Day): This method is the most versatile for capturing the widest range of light change. However, you will get a staccato effect during the day time portion. Aperture: 2.8-4.0  ISO: 640-1250 Shutter: 10-30 seconds. NO FILTER
    • Option 2 (Night to Day): This method allows you to capture a smooth / fluid motion throughout the entire shot. The downside is that your range of available light is limited in some scenarios. You will not be able to capture an astro time-lapse with this method. Aperture: 5.6-16 ISO: 100-320 Shutter: 10-30 seconds. USE ND Filters
  5. Double check focus.
  6. Start the time-lapse.
  7. Sit back and take in the environment.

Blend in Post

My go-to option out of the three is the blend option. With this method, you will not only be able to ensure your time-lapses stay flicker free but you are also able to track the progress of your shot. By breaking the shot into sections, you are able to shoot multiple shorter time-lapses with more flexibility in post.

Blend in Post Case Study

Unlike shots captured using the aperture priority method, you are easily able to control how smooth your motion is.

To shoot using the blend method, you will want to focus on consistency and repeatability. You will need to shoot at least two time-lapses. It’s totally up to you how many you want to shoot but two is the minimum. I would recommend more as the transition is smother with more, however, processing does take longer and is a little more complex, especially when shooting motion controlled shots.

If you are shooting a static time-lapse you do not need to worry about variance in repeatability and can simply layer your shots, no matter what speed they were recorded at. However, if you are shooting a motion controlled shot, you will want to run the same shot out in it’s entirety and then match the final clip’s speed before lining up. I will go over this more specifically when I go over the post processing. I highly recommend using your motion control devices internal camera control functionality to trigger your camera as you will be able to line up your shots easier by simply basing the variation in time from the difference in the amount of frames captured. These devices should tell you how many pictures were fired (or if your card was formatted you will be able to highlight all images in your browser to find out how many photos were fired).

How to Blend Between Two Motion Controlled Shots


In the video above, I walk you though how to blend between two motion controlled shots.

Once you have lined up all your shots, all you need to do is blend between them using the opacity function (or using the ‘holy grail’ method if using LR Timelapse).

***Please note that you may see some variation in the moves so I recommend using a difference matte in After Effects to make sure the tracks line up. I will go over this method in a future tutorial.

Quick Start Guide – Blend in Post

To shoot using the blend option you need to:

  1. Set camera to manual mode.
  2. Set your focus.
  3. Set exposure (aperture & ISO) for each given shot with the desired settings. If you are unsure what settings to use, check the samples at the bottom of the post on how to shoot a static time-lapse.
  4. Choose interval based on the look you want.
  5. Double check focus.
  6. Start the time-lapse.
  7. Monitor as your exposure changes.
  8. Stop the time-lapse and adjust settings, ensuring not to bump camera.
  9. Repeat steps 6-8 as desired depending on the amount of shots you want to capture.

Bulb Ramping

The last of the three options is bulb-ramping. I won’t be going in depth on how to shoot a day-to-night time-lapse using the bramping solution but if you would like to find out more about this method, I have included resources at the bottom of the page.

With this method, you are able to smoothly blend between exposures to create a smooth transition between day and night. The disadvantage of this method is that with some of the devices, you need to manually ramp the exposure as the light shifts. I have also found that minor deflickering is necessary for these time-lapes.

Another disadvantage is that the range of exposure change is limited and you may not be able to achieve the range of light achievable using the blend option.

Bulb Ramping Tutorial by Joel Schat

Joel Schat is a Time-lapse Photographer living in Beautiful British Columbia. The video above was embedded with permission. If you would like to find out more about Joel or view more of his work, make sure to check out his website.

Quick Start Guide – Bulb Ramping

To shoot using a bulb ramping device, you need to:

  1. Set camera to bulb mode.
  2. Set exposure (aperture & ISO) for each given shot with the desired settings. In bulb mode, you cannot fire your camera faster than 1/10s.
  3. Choose interval starting point based on the look you want. As the light either darkens or lightens, change your settings accordingly.

Currently there are a few options on the market for capturing day to night time-lapses using a bulb ramper which include:

  1. Promote Control w bulb assist kit – The Promote Control Bulb Ramping / Bulb HDR Assistant Kit helps create high precision bulb Time-Lapse sequences, ensuring accuracy of up to 0.001 EV steps. Now you can create stunning time-lapse sequences of sunsets or other variable light conditions.
  2. GB Timelapse - Currently limited to Windows platform – Trigger your camera using a windows based computer connected to USB port of camera.
  3. Timelapse + – This device is used for triggering the camera as well as auto-bulb ramping.
  4. Triggertrap App – iPhone app developed to trigger your camera with bulb ramping integration.
  5. Little BramperCurrently Sold out & limited to Canon DSLR’s: Little Bramper was designed to addresses this short-coming, permitting smooth exposure variationsover a wide range of exposure (>10 stops).
  6. Magic Lantern – Software solution part of the ML install.

Out of all these solutions, I have only used the Little Bramper Solution.

Resources

Still have questions on how to shoot day to night time-lapses using the bramping method? I’ve attached some resources below for reference.

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16 Responses to The Raw Time-lapse Tutorial: How To Shoot Day To Night Time-lapses

  1. Nick Li says:

    Thanks again, for your extremely in-depth and informative tutorial.

    During your post-production, did you mention about converting your CR2 raw files into DNG files???

    A dng file contains pretty much the same amount of details that a raw file has, and it’s approx. 2mb smaller than a raw file. This number looks quite unimpressive but it still saves a lot of hard driver spaces!

    • No problem! As for converting the files, I didn’t mention that in the tutorial. I don’t usually do that with my workflow just because of the conversion time. What method do you use to convert the files? Also, I will go going in depth on archiving in a future video as well.

  2. Nick Li says:

    I use Lightroom for DNG conversion—Although it spends much longer time than transferring ordinary raw files. Like many people say, time>cost, which means time is more precious than the cost of buying hard drivers on these days. What’s your point of view?

    I typically convert raw files into DNG because:

    – I put time-lapse into some small local companies’ videos, so I don’t have a tight deadline.
    – I don’t have big budget to afford external hard drivers(currently a 500Gb+1Tb WD).

    Here are links to videos that I learnt about DNG files and easy workflows. I can’t wait to watch your next video.

    – Lightroom DNG conversion:(Jump to 3:30) http://bit.ly/GSFDfR.
    – Complete workflow: http://bit.ly/bNQSch.

    In addition, during your AE workflow, I notice that you changed your rendering setting for each of your compositions individually, which is kinda of a hassle.

    Here’s the solution and a few tips:

    1. Open “Edit”-“Preferences”-“Import”, change the value from 3o to 24 in“Sequence Footage” box, so your image sequences will be AUTOMATICALLY arranged to 24fps in EVERY time you import them.

    2. Hit “Ctrl+M” for adding composition to render queue. Likewise, you can explore more shortcuts by looking things next to that function on the menu.

    3. In the render queue, you can CREATE A TEMPLATE of rendering setting for batch processing. Andrew Kramer(You must be familiar with this awesome guy) introduced this in his 09-tutorial. Here’s the link to that tutorial (pay attention to 6:00): http://bit.ly/cRR2H4.

    4. You can CUSTOMIZE a setting for naming your exported files. Inside the render queue, there’s a down-side triangle beside the “Output To” tag. Click the triangle and so you can see a few default naming pre-sets. If you are not satisfying with them, click “custom” in the drop down menu to create a pre-set on your own.
    5. “Ctrl+D” to duplicate your rendering queue in case something’s gone wrong, so you don’t go back the composition and “add to render queue” again.

    6. On the top right corner of a composition window, there’s an icon (three squares are connected to each other) in the bottom-right corner of a composition window to activate the flow chart option. This is pretty awesome, because it lets you to see effects connected to that composition, which is similar to node graph in other professional visual effect software. This video here explains this well: http://bit.ly/13MhEr1.

    • Thank you so much for the tips in that comment! When I get to the post workflow videos I will definitely include those steps if you are cool with that (obviously giving you credit). The main reason I went the way I did with the tutorial was that AE was a fresh install with all system defaults. I figured that this would benefit people who have never used AE before. In hindsight, that extra two minutes probably would have made sense to include in the tutorial. Thanks again!

      • Nick Li says:

        You are welcome! We all can learn things online and so I DON”T SEE ANY POINT of hiding them. Instead, sharing them motivates people to explore more awesome features and they will continuously benefit other people.

  3. [...] the task may seem daunting at first. That’s why photographer Preston Kanak has put together this comprehensive and easy-to-follow tutorial that discusses the three approaches to shooting the perfect day-to-night [...]

  4. [...] Preston Kanak has a detailed piece (with a matching video) on the three ways to win the day to night holy grail: [...]

  5. [...] This video also goes in depth on Preston’s post workflow as well, including a screen recording of him working in Lightroom, LRTimelapse, and finally After Effects. If you are looking to capture any day to night timelapses, this video contains a wealth of knowledge to get you started. As always, Preston suggests going out and shooting as much as possible, as what you’ll learn from attempting a few timelapses can help tremendously. For more details on capturing these kinds of sequences, you can read more over at Preston’s blog post on day to night timelapses. [...]

  6. […] Preston Kanak recently released an amazing full length and very detailed tutorial on shooting timelapse for day […]

  7. Ariel Estulin says:

    Preston, this is great stuff for someone just starting out. The one thing I can’t figure out is how to check my exposure during the process. In your video you mention just hitting the PLAY button to check. On my 5dII this is unresponsive. I have to stop the time-lapse, check the exposure, adjust and start it up again. I’ve tried M, AV, B.

    I did find that it works when the interval time is greater than 9 seconds.
    I’m using the Canon intervelometer and a 32gb Sandisk Extreme card. Maybe the card is too slow?

    • I typically will fire a few tests shots before starting the time-lapse to find perfect exposure. Also, there is a review image option in the menu you will want to make sure is turned on if that’s the route you want to go. Your card speed should be fine. You will also want to make sure you are shooting manual – unless shooting a day to night and then you can potentially use Av mode.

  8. Wes Melton says:

    Hey Preston – your tutorial here is amazingly helpful. One question for you – in the after effects tutorial the shot at the end shows your camera on a motorized rig – would you mind sharing what rig that was? Was that home made or a product that can be purchased somewhere?

  9. […] Preston Kanak, a friend of LensProToGo, runs an amazing blog with tons of tips and educational resources for filmmakers. His latest and greatest is talking about how to shoot day to night time-lapses. We get this question quite a bit when renting time-lapse gear. Day to night, or night to day shots are pretty spectacular and maybe a little easier to achieve than you expected: […]

  10. Roman says:

    Dear Preston – thank you so much for your awesome tutorial. I managed to do my very first timelapse video on my own because of you (I used AV mode). I really appreciate your work and how easily you are able to explain difficult things. There is one question I’d like to ask though: How do you treat white balance? When you start your timelapse, do you initially fix one colour temperature or do you use AWB? Would it make sense to adjust the colour temperature while prost-processing the few key-frames and let LRTimelapse calculate the smooth transition?

    Best regards from Switzerland!

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