Anatomy of a time lapse

Anatomy of a time lapse

My original plan was one photo per minute for a full twenty-four hours.  But, as I mentioned in last night’s post, a thick band of clouds – which persisted through this morning – rolled in and ruined my plans to include a starry night.  So, I collected my gear, downloaded the images and went to work.

To start, it is difficult with digital cameras to do a long exposure project like this in a remote location because camera batteries normally cannot keep a charge that long.  Most photographers who do time lapse do so when there is a power outlet nearby into which they can plug their AC power cord for the camera.  I decided I would bring the plug-in out to the field.  I wanted a steady power source that would provide the AC needed, but did not want to be constrained to doing this near a building.  So, pulling together a few ideas from different sources, I came up with a power source that would likely be able to keep a camera going for longer than a mere 24 hours.  After a Google search, I found a company, Outfitter Satellite, that is normally focused on satellite phone rental.  But, they also provide flexible, portable solar panels for use out in the field.

In the end, as  you can see in the picture above, I came up with a Brunton solar panel, which hooked into a Powerbase battery.  I picked up both items from Outfitter Satellite.  Why not just run power from the solar panels?  The power output would not be consistent, as it would come and go with the availability of sunlight.  But, by plugging it in to the battery, it would keep charging the battery as the battery provided the steady power output needed.   But, the battery did not have an AC output either.  So, to bridge the gap between the battery and my camera, I connected the battery to a Belkin AC/DV inverter.  There, I was able to plug in my Nikon D300’s AC power cord.  All this and I have regular, steady power for my camera.  As the sun goes down, the solar panels stop charging, but the Powerbase battery has sufficient power to keep the shutter going once a minute through the night.  And if that somehow runs out, the AC power cuts and the camera battery kicks in.  Then, the sun comes up, and the Powerbase starts charging again.

Then comes taking the photos.  What is required for this to work is an intervalometer.  Fortunately for me, Nikon has built one directly into the D300.  Most camera owners have to purchase one separately and then interface it with their camera.  You can set the camera to take however many photos you want, up to 999 at a time, at whatever intervals are desired.  It can be set to start immediately, or commence at a particular time.  Once I was set up, I had my camera take a single photo once a minute starting at 5:30.  At 999 photos, that would have taken me until about 10:00 p.m., which would have been perfect, as I would set the camera differently for nighttime photos.  For additional camera settings, I deactivated auto focus and set the manual focus to infinity, set the ISO at 400, selected aperture priority exposure -0.3 compensation, and at f/8.0.  I selected JPEG file size large at normal compression.  I wanted all of the shots to fit on one card.  For something like this, you do not need to use RAW because there is never any intention to make a print from the images.  At around nine o’clock, with the clouds rolling in, I turned off the camera and brought in the gear.

I imported the photos, approximately 885 of them, into Lightroom.  Then, without making any adjustments whatsoever, I exported the files at 400 pixels long at 72 dpi.  This export was specifically for creating a web-suitable flash slideshow.  There are two easy ways to create the time lapse film.  One is with Quick Time Pro, importing the images through “File” and then selecting “Open image sequence.”  There are a variety of frame speeds available – I selected 10 frames per second.  The other option, which created the time lapse for this post, is to create a slide show using Pro Show Gold.  I imported all of the photos into a slide show, then set the transition time at 0.0 seconds and the duration of each 0.1 seconds – ten frames per second, the same rate as the Quick Time show.  Why do it both ways?  Quick Time outputs as a .mov file.  Pro Show Gold has several output options, including Flash and You Tube for web publication.  You can also create executable files and DVDs from Pro Show Gold, so there are far more options.

So here is the result, approximately 15 1/2 hours of a scene condensed into 1:29.  I will be creating other time lapse shows from other locations in the park as time goes by.

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3 Responses to “Anatomy of a time lapse”

  1. Sherry Says:

    I came to your blog through SD Magazine. Idaho resident now, but my northeastern SD family vacationed a few days in the Hills almost every year when I was growing up. I’m loving your Badlands photos. Beautiful. This time lapse video is very cool! Thanks for your work.

  2. admin Says:


    Glad you found the blog. This has been a bit of a coming home for me as well, as I grew up in Rapid City … although I have not lived there since 1985. I have already scouted my location for my next time lapse, so there should be another one up in a couple of days. This one will hopefully be the 24-hour time lapse I originally intended.

  3. Julie Johndreau Says:

    Wow, this gives some perspective on how the Badlands scenery can change in a day. I can’t wait to see more time lapse videos.

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