I had imagined making a timelapse video was going to be like wrestling a 500lb greased up gorilla, yet amazingly it isn't that hard. I've tried it a few times with my Olympus (the timelapse, not the gorilla wrestling) with "mixed" results. And by that i mean not very good ones: when I tried sowing the shots back together it was all too slow and jumpy, so I had to do some research into how the hell to accomplish a proper time-lapse. So here are some cool things I've learned too so hopefully they are of some use!
Step 0 - Get a Camera!
Well my first step was going to be buying a GoPro, BUT to start off with a timelapse you don't even need that. There are some free timelapse apps you can get on your phone (Android phones have Framelapse) that can take heaps of pictures for you and stitches them together all quite neatly. There is additional costs to unlock almost everything (so if you want to change frame rates, speed of the film etc) then that's an upgrade, but as it goes it's going to be FAR cheaper than a Go-Pro or indeed another camera as most people have a SmartPhone already. If you want to go down this route, then splash the cash - all of $3.89!! Once this is done, you'll need to mount your phone onto something or against something, but otherwise your mission is accomplished. Put the kettle on, ignore the rest of this blog and put your feet up! Alternatively if a camera phone and app aren't going to meet your needs, read on!
First, Buy a Go-Pro or a Faux-Pro!
An amazing first tip! However, any of the wide angle cameras will do and for the longest time I've coveted a GoPro copy called the SJCAM. There are many high end products from Sony, HTC etc but these guys at SJCAM look really good - it's simple, it looks a lot like a GoPro so you're used to the controls, it comes armed with lots of free stuff, it shoots in 4k, has wi-fi, a 16 mega pixel camera, and most importantly is about half the price with some great functionality. I don't get any endorsements obviously but I just like the look of their cameras.
Next, take photos!
These tips just write themselves! For timelapse I love landscape shots and since I'm right on the edge of Melbourne CBD, I like to see the clouds floating on by. The wide angle of an action camera means that you can capture a wealth of detail. Doing this with your Canon or SLR will increase the click count quite quickly i.e. when you come to sell it, people may ask you the mileage of your camera (my 7D is 21,000 ish for example) which means it's still pretty young. The higher the click rate, the longer the mileage, hence another reason I'd be keen to use the GoPro instead of my $1500 camera. I've put one together this afternoon using the steps below, so will see how that turns out.
There is though a formula to work out the number of photos you need: think about what you are photographing and how quickly it moves. I've tried a few things: being in the park; being at my desk; hanging the GoPro off the balcony. All have had mixed results but for me taking a shot every 2 seconds seems to get the images I like with the smoothness I like. I had a dig around the on internet and people have recommended the following:
I have not tried these yet so if you have, let me know! Oh, and you need none of the maths below, so don't stress!
How long do I need?
How long is a piece of string? To which my Dad would respond 'twice the lengths of half of it'. (The anecdote doesn't help! - Ed) Basically it depends on how long you want your video. There is a little math involved, but generally if you need 12 seconds of compiled cloud footage to show at 30 frames a second (as good as any) then you need 12 x 30 = 360 frames to be captured. That means in roughly 30 minutes, you'll get 900 photos which will give you a little less than 36 seconds of footage. For me I like a gentle fade in and fade out so take 4 seconds off for that too.
Go Pro Studio
GoPro Studio Controls
In the last screenshot you can see the timeline and the different functions available to you on the right. I like to fade in and out of the video to make it appear a little smoother, which is very easy to do, and you can add a quick title in there as well by just dragging and dropping. This is clearly going to need an actual video! Problem is that the audio is terrible on my computer, so the next stop is getting a quality microphone that will plug into my laptop or phone so I can record. I'll also need a screengrabber so that I can record the video itself and capture everything I do on screen...I'll have this ready for next week
Adding Music to Go-Pro Videos
Adding music to your video sounds daunting, but really with GoPro Studio it really isn't. There are lots of resources out there but what I've found most useful for me is FreeMusicArchive.org - they have thousands of musical samples and individual artists that have uploaded music and albums of work, all for free that you can use and add to your videos. Am sure they'll appreciate a donation to their site if you use it often. I love little classical guitar pieces, so I'll be using that for my next video, and I'll show you exactly how to do that next week!
I did some research many years ago around getting a proper camera - I had many point and shoots and wasn't enamoured by the quality or the colours that were captured from the photos, so I thought 'right, get a proper camera and then you'll have great photos'. As well you know, it doesn't work out like that! As above, amazing clouds...no foreground, no real leading lines..but look at those clouds!!
Olympus, Fuji and Niko
I've had them all as point and shoots or super zooms. I could zoom in to a fly's socks from a quarter of a smile, but it made my shots no better. That's because I couldn't actually take shots, I just pointed and shooted. A fancy DSLR made me no difference. I spent a good deal of money and research on my first real SLR, and plunged straight in to a Canon 7D. It had HD Video (which I've never used) and lovely sharp images. It propelled me to use my camera as I'd invested so much in it, but alas my shots were still crap. Meanwhile, my girlfriend was taking photos with her iPhone and smashing me out of the park. I in turn smashed her iPhone. That's a completely normal reaction, right?
The Canon is a wonderful camera. Unlike the Nikon, it has the stabilisation built into the lenses instead of the body, but like any DSLR lenses, they're all bloody expensive. The Canon 7D though wasn't a full frame camera, which I only learnt after I bought it. What difference does that make? Purely the image sensor size, which means the quality of the image. So I was lugging around the weight of a full frame, but not the cost or the quality of image. Bastard. The standard lens was* an 18-135mm, and I brought a 100mm Macro to use with it too.
* I say was, I still have the camera, I love it!
The image quality though is superb, the start-up speed is terrific, the battery life is immense, and weight is like a bloody millstone. If you like wandering around fantastic touristy areas admiring the breathtaking scenery all the while rubbing your aching neck, a 7D or full-frame SLR is for you!
The most important question ever
What are you using it for? It's so trivial when you first start out. Well, I'm going to take pictures , dumbass! But of what? When? The reason they ask you this is because if you want to take it travelling with you, then maybe lugging around 35kg of camera equipment isn't for you. In the world of cameras, and with most things, you buy for the 'it'll do" scenario. I met a German couple in Uzbekistan with a terrific SLR, so we got talking about cameras and where they had been. Now in their 70's, they had only just climbed Everest Base a few years ago. Did they take their SLR? Did they bollocks. They took an iPhone. If you intend on travelling solely with your car, then get as much equipment as you like! If you love Sports photography, most likely you'll turn up somewhere with a playing field and a car park, so get the best and nicest equipment you like as you won't have to carry it far. Obviously there is more to it than that, but for me it really is that basic.
Olympus Em5 Mark
Enter the fray the micro 4/3rds. After busting my ass around The Stans two years ago, I decided I needed something smaller. Two Germans we met (Anna and Doris) had small cameras, one of which was the Panasonic GH4 with great quality photos and not even a broken neck in sight. My mind was made up. Some investigation later and my girlfriend bought me the Olympus Em5 Mark 2. I love this camera!
So now I have the right camera, I take amazing photos, right?
No!!! I still hate lots of the photos I take, but they are getting better and I never stop learning. There is a fantastic video by Steve Kelby that tells you a great deal over and above the rule of thirds, leading lines, patterns, filling the shot, foreground and background etc that most books tell you. The best bit is that he tells you honestly what he went through to get the finishing shot. No photographer in the world rocks up, shoots and blinder and pisses off to the pub. Does. Not. Happen. Steve is honest enough to admit that and tells you all the things he tried to get that one shot he loves. And then...it's all down to opinion. I have to admit that when Steve was showing off his presentation shots, I didn’t like many of them, but that's my opinion. He probably hates mine, and he'd be right! But it's all down to opinion of whether you like it or not - art isn't a packaged form. I'll add the link here.
Best Photography Tip in the World
I learnt this one today, so am keen to write it up. Today in Melbourne we have had a very cloudy day, but it's been one of those days where an artists grey brush has peppered the canvas with various hues, sporadic mixes of darks and lights that show real drama - the calm before the storm. About 60km away there is an outcrop called the You Yangs, and on this particular day there was straw bails all lined up after harvesting. I had leading lines, foregrounds, dramatic colour...it was all sexy as hell!!! But all of it wasn't worth a damn. Why? Because I forgot my SD card at home. Teh clouds were captured with my Samsung S6. Best tip in the world? Always bring your camera. Try different shots, take lots of photos by trying different angles and settings, but you need your camera with you to even begin. It's pointless when it's at home. Second best tip? Bring your memory....so when you forget your damn SD card, you can picture the shot in your head!
Writing and writing...