Building a business is a learning experience and in my short time as a filmmaker, I have learned a lot of lessons and made a lot of mistakes. The goal of this website is to help you avoid some of the mistakes I have made along the way by giving you a behind-the-scenes look into some of our productions.

How to Shoot Motion Controlled Timelapses

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Once you have mastered static time-lapses, the next thing to add to your repertoire is the ability to shoot motion controlled time-lapses. Like static time-lapses, it is key to think of each frame as a unique image. At any point in your shot, you should be able to pull out a frame and be proud of it. The biggest different between static and motion controlled time-lapses is that you are using movement to help tell your story. When approaching these shots, you will want to inspect the shot and then determine the best way to capture the motion and before you can do this, there are a few things you need to consider. In this post, we will be looking at:

  1. Composition & Movement.
  2. Intervals.
  3. Shoot Move Shoot vs Continuous.
  4. Analog vs Digital.
  5. One Axis (Slider).
  6. Three Axis (Slider, Pan & Tilt).
  7. Multi Axis (Slider, Focus, Iris, Zoom, Pan, Tilt & More).
  8. Moco Crane.

Within each of these categories, we will be looking at interval and connectivity settings as well as things to consider when shooting each different style. Please note that I will be focusing on Kessler gear with specific setups but you can use any motion controlled gear that you have access to. These principals will apply no matter what system you are using. Also, virtually all camera setting rules (APERTURE, SHUTTER, INTERVAL) that you would use for a static time-lapse apply for motion controlled time-lapses as well. If you are unsure what settings to use for your given scenario, make sure to check out the static time-lapse post.

For motion controlled time-lapses, you will need to consider the path you want to take with your camera. Always take test images along the path your camera is traveling to ensure you are happy with the image at all times. Think of a motorized time-lapse as a series of photos. Any image in the clip should tell a story so it should be your goal to find the best path for your camera to take in order to best tell your story.

What Gear to Buy?

One of the challenges of shooting motion controlled shots is the financial obligation. There are two schools of thought when deciding to finally purchase gear. The first is to buy what you can afford as soon as you can afford it and the second is to save up for quality equipment. I don’t know how many times I went the cheap route and wished I would have saved money because the gear either didn’t work consistently or broke. When choosing a motion control solution, I HIGHLY recommend doing your research and determining what the best solution is for you. Because of the amount of work / dedication / time that goes into capturing motion controlled shots, it is imperative to use gear that is consistent!

Another thing to consider when buying equipment is upgrade paths. Some companies, such as Kessler offer upgrade paths which allows you to get your feet wet with their baseline gear and then when you want to upgrade, you can get a discount on the more advanced systems (Basic controller to Oracle upgrade path). I know a few people who started with DP gear and when they were able to they upgraded first to the basic controller and then finally the Oracle bundle.

Prepping Gear

With the introduction of motion controlled gear into your workflow, you will want to make sure all your gear is prepped in studio and that you have all the equipment you will need to capture your shot. I usually keep my kits organized and labeled so I can quickly build up a kit for a shoot. I keep all my camera gear separate from my motion controlled gear and have lists prepped for each so I can easily double check that I have all the pieces I need for the given setup.

1. Composition & Movement

Before looking closer at how you shoot motion-controlled time-lapses, I want to look at why you would want to shoot them – including how these types of shots impact the story you are trying to tell. To best understand this, I want to look at why motion is added to live action video. When the viewer is taken along on a ‘journey of a space’, they are done so in the way that the filmmaker desires. These tours through these spaces are done in a way that helps to guide the viewer to the important elements of the scene. When thinking of how to frame up your shot and the type of motion to add, it is key to break down how we investigate a scene.

St Thomas Moca

With the limitless possibilities of ways to move the camera, such as multi-axis motion controlled rigs and hyper-lapses, it is important to determine the best way to tell your story. As we start to see more one axis side-to-side slider time-lapses, we are more than ever forced to think of WHY we are adding this motion. When you explore a space, how do you move through the space? It is rare that you would move from one side to another so why would you capture your shot in this motion? Although these shots do serve a purpose, spend some time examining how you want your audience to experience the space.

One such example of someone who explores space in a fresh manor is Terrance Malick who, in almost every film uses the landscape as a character in the film and explores these spaces in an extremely poetic way.

Now at this point, you may be asking, what does each type of movement represent. Think of how you move through a new space verses how you move through a space that you frequent. When a viewer is watching a film for the first time, they are experiencing these surroundings how you would when somewhere new.

To best understand this, I will use a couple examples. If a character moves towards something, they are ‘taking a closer look’ or interested in finding out more. However, if the character pulls away, they are disconnecting from the scene. If you are trying to wrap up a film, you will more than likely want to pull away verses move closer. As for multiple axis moves, this could imply that you are invested in your surroundings and looking into every crevasse.

2. Intervals

When shooting motion controlled shots, I highly recommend shooting as many frames as possible as it is much easier to speed shots up than slow them down. At this stage, you will want to use a time-lapse calculator to determine what your interval should be for your given scenario. I use the Kessler Time-lapse Calculator built into the Kessler App.

**If shooting a time-lapse using more than one axis, please refer to the specific sections for more information on modes and intervals.

3. Shoot Move Shoot Vs Continuous

When shooting motion controlled time-lapses, the most common question I get is whether or not it is important to shoot using shoot-move-shoot or continuous mode. Shoot-move-shoot indicates that your camera will only fire when not moving. More specifically, the camera will fire, then move and stop, fire and repeat – in a shoot move shoot fashion. As for continuous, the camera will fire when it is moving.

Many people believe that it is imperative for the camera to not be moving when it fires or there will be motion blur. However, unless shooting with an analog system and using more than one axis, you do not need to worry about using shoot-move-shoot mode. In these cases, the major factor for motion blur is NOT the mode, rather is due to longer shutter speeds. The longer your shutter speed, the more motion blur you are adding to your final image. This motion blur will only be present in objects in your foreground.

To best understand this, you will need to understand the distance vs shutter speed ratio. If you are shooting an astro time-lapse over 5ft with 30 second exposure over 3 hrs, your motion blur will more than likely look normal. However, if you are traveling the same 5ft over 30 minutes using 30 second exposures, the distance the camera moves between photos will be larger which in turn will increase the amount of motion blur you will experience. If you want to avoid motion blur, it is key to keep the distance the camera travels between photos to be minimal.

**If shooting a time-lapse using more than one axis, please refer to the specific sections for more information on modes and intervals. Please note that you will get some motion blur when using continuous but it is subtle on one axis moves, even when shooting an astro time-lapse with a shutter of 30 seconds unless moving a long distance over a short period of time. If you are shooting multi-axis moves, you may want to use shoot-move-shoot to avoid blur if moving a large distance in the pan/tilt axis.

4. Analog Vs Digital

Currently there are two different types of systems on the market. The first and cheaper solution are the analog systems. Analog signals are a continuous signal which represent physical measurements. It uses a continuous range of values to represent information and is subjected to deterioration by noise during transmission and write/read cycle. As such, analog systems, although precise, are not 100% repeatable. Using a pulse system to move the camera down the slider, this system only sends out a signal based on a set of perimeters.

As for digital systems, these systems are able to produce 100% repeatable moves and do so by monitoring the given position of the camera within the trajectory of the given move. Digital signals are discrete time signals generated by digital modulation. It uses discrete or discontinuous values to represent information and can be noise-immune without deterioration during transmission and write/read cycle.

5. One Axis (Analog)

1axisWhen shooting one axis moves, there are two things you need to determine. The first is the type of move you want to do and the second is to determine how much motion blur you want. What are you trying to accomplish with the shot? Are you wanting to draw the audience in? If so, you may want to do a push move. Once you have determined the type of move you want to do, you will then want to determine how much motion blur you will want and this is determined by your shutter speed and to a lesser extent, your interval.

For one axis moves, it doesn’t matter if you shoot with continuous movement or shoot-move-shoot. I know a lot of people believe that you need to shoot with shoot move shoot in order to avoid blur but there is no need. Blur can be created by a longer shutter / interval combination. To create motion blur, use a shutter speed longer then 1/5 second. The longer your shutter, the more motion blur you will have. If you do not want to have motion blur, have a shutter speed between 1/50 second and 1/5 second. One thing you will want to keep in mind is that this motion blur will only be visible in objects that are in the foreground and it will be subtle.

Determining when to use one axis shots verses static shots is also dependent on subject matter. If there are no foreground elements, there is no need to shoot the given shot with motion. However, if there are foreground elements, you will want to determine how to use these items in your image. Because one axis shots can be subtle, it is important to find interesting foreground elements.

6. Three Axis (Analog System)

Before moving onto three-axis moves, it is key that you understand how to shoot one axis shots. Like one axis moves, analyze the path that you want the camera to take. Can you pull any shot out of the sequence and be happy with it? If not, re-analyze the situation to see if there is a better shot. Power is also in the subtleties. Personally, I don’t like huge moves, rather moves that are well thought out. Similar to one axis moves, it is imperative that you have a point of reference in the foreground if you hope to be able to see the movement.

If you are happy with your shot, you will first want to program your slide move. This axis can roll in continuous mode. However, when programming your pan/tilt axes, you will want to use shoot-move-shoot. To sync your slide and pan/tilt axis, you will simply need to select the same amount of time to go from point A to B and start each at the same time.

To find out more on how to program this move using Kessler gear, please watch the video below.

7. Multiple Axes (Digital System)

One of the advantages of shooting with a digital system is that you do not need to use shoot-move-shoot. No matter how many axes you are using, you can use the continuous mode.

When shooting moves with multiple axes, determine what role each axis will play in your final move. Do you need to use each axis to help tell your story or are you simply using the extra axis because you can?

To find out how to program a multiple-axis move using the Kessler CineDrive, watch the video below.

8. Moco Crane (Analog)

In order to shoot a moco-crane shot you will need to have a jib/crane and motor kit. These shots are great as establishers, if you are wanting to create an uplifting feeling for the audience or if you are wanting to pull out of a scene.

To find out how to motorize a jib / crane using Kessler gear, please check out the video below.

Tips to Get You Started

Now you may be asking, how do you ACTUALLY shoot a motion controlled shot? Below I have included a few tips that you will want to consider when heading out to shoot which include:

  • Scout / setup early. Motion controlled shots take more time. Make sure you leave yourself enough time to scout and setup your shot. I’ve had many situations where I either did not setup early enough or the shot didn’t turn out as planned. Shooting motion controlled shots can be frustrating because they require the use of more gear and take more work to setup. Leave yourself some breathing room to alleviate stress.
  • Prep Gear Before You Go Out and Shoot. One of the most frustrating things is getting to the location and realizing you have forgot something you need in order to capture your shot. I’ve done it and it kills any motivation you may have. Build your rig up in studio / at home to make sure you have all the accessories needed to capture the shot.
  • Trial and Error. The best way to learn is trial and error. Test your shots at home to make sure you understand how to use your equipment. Use time-lapse calculator apps to help determine your given settings.
  • Research. Make sure you scout the location in advance and know the direction / path of the sun / moon as well as sunset / sunrise before you head out to shoot. Check the surroundings to make sure there is nothing you have overlooked. I’ve ran into this issue. While shooting a video utilizing a 3-axis system, although scouting the previous day, we got flooded out from our shooting location and almost lost the gear we were working with due to flooding.

Conclusion

As discussed in this post, it is clear to know why you are adding motion to your shot. With virtually limitless ways to move your camera, it is key to understand the role the shot will play in your final film.

If you have any questions, let me know in the comment section below.

  • A View of London

    This is such an informative post! I recently got myself a 3 axis rig and this is definitely going to help. I like your emphasis on understanding why one would want to use motion. http://www.nicholasgooddenphotography.co.uk

  • Chris DeAntonio

    I found this article at the perfect time after just investing in my first slider rig for timelapses. I purchased the Rhino EVO with their Motion kit and found that their Move-Shoot-Move mode takes over the camera and does not allow for exposure changes (don’t get me started). So, unless that are no changes in light, I’m going to stick with continuous mode and I was concerned about motion blur – that is – until I read this article. The real test will be the long exposure star lapses.

    A question out to you – what is your approach for focusing when you have a foreground element? With my first test, at f/8, the foreground element (a long log) is a bit blurry at the bottom of the frame. Any tips on how to get everything in focus?

    • prestonkanak

      Yay to getting into motion! It totally changes the way you approach shooting and adds so many options!

      Don’t stress about what you have. It will work great. How long of a movement are you hoping to do? With the blur, you are likely moving down the rail too fast – which either means you have a crazy long rail or are setting everything too fast for the path travelled. F8 is totally fine. I shoot at that all the time (daytime with the bigstopper). Continuous is all you ever need to use unless going over 30 second exposures.

      I always have foreground elements with motion as it makes no sense to use any motion rig without a foreground element. Can you clarify what you mean by having everything in focus? If at F8 with foreground elements close to the camera, there will be some depth issues.

      • Chris DeAntonio

        Thanks for the quick reply! I’m not getting any motion blur yet and only have a 24″ slider. I was just concerned with trying scenes with varying exposure and having to use continuous mode. I think I answered my own question regarding the foreground elements? I was using a wide angle zoom lens and zoomed in a bit so the bottom of my foreground element was a bit soft. I think a prime would help that and not having the element right under the lens, I guess…

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