If I had to make a top 10 list of shows on TV, then Breaking Bad and its prequel spin-off, Better Call Saul, are certainly at the top of that list. They combine great character arcs with entertaining cinematography. One visual staple the shows' creator, Vince Gilligan, frequently uses as a transitional tool is the time-lapse. Of course, many who are reading a blog on the Bevisgear website are Top Shelf camera bag owners, and thereby photographers. Therefore, most will know the basics of a time-lapse, however, few may know how to achieve a moving time-lapse. This technique can bring an extra dimension of dynamism to any video.
There are a few different methods to achieve movement of the camera in-between shots. 'All-in-one' sliders will take care of movement and camera timing, like those made by Edelkrone, but unfortunately, they can cost up to and over $1000. As much as I would like to work with such a capable tool, I instead purchased the Zhiyun Crane 2 gimbal, which I also use for video.
Selecting a suitable scene for a time-lapse follows many of the same composition rules for photography; leading lines, foreground/background, and symmetry all play an important role in getting that eye-catching shot. One key feature that differentiates a time-lapse from standard photography is motion. If nothing is moving, then your time-lapse will be pretty dull. Clouds, cars, people, and even lights turning on and off, can create movement when taken over a period of time. A special circumstance to this rule is when creating a moving time-lapse with stars, ensure there is a foreground object, like a tree, to give something for the sky to move against.
Once you have your scene selected, you are ready to set up! Of course, you'll need some gear:
- Programmable gimbal or slider
- Intervalometer with remote trigger (built-in may suffice, but an external one gives you more control)
- Headlamp (if shooting at night)
Because your camera will be moving, you will want to frame the beginning and endpoint. Depending on the gimbal/slider you are using, you can typically set up these points through a mobile app. Keep in mind that you will need to take the exposure while the gimbal is not moving, so use a photo or TL mode on the app if it has one (move-stop-shoot-move). After you have set up your beginning and endpoints, you are ready to set up the timing as follows:
- Have the camera set in manual mode, as well as for the focus.
- Make sure the shutter mode is in silent or electronic mode (if possible).
- Turn off photo review.
- Set desired exposure time in camera (take a test photo).
- Add a 3 sec movement buffer before and after the exposure time to get the photo interval time and set it on the intervalometer remote (E.g. 5 sec exposure + 3 sec buffer before + 3 sec buffet after = 11 sec timer interval total).
- Set the photo length on the intervalometer to 0 secs (the timing for the exposure is more reliably controlled through the camera in manual mode).
- Set the gimbal movement to the same amount of time as the interval timer total.
- Set a delay of 3 sec on the intervalometer remote (will create an offset between the gimbal movement the exposure).
- Press start on your gimbal app, then start the intervalometer timer once the gimbal timer appears on the screen.
I would not recommend connecting the camera to the gimbal as it might interfere with the remote trigger. I have found my gimbal has an automatic moving time-lapse mode, but it doesn't work since it moves right before the photo is taken, making the image blurry. To figure out how long you need to let your camera snap photos, you can do so with the aid of an app like Time Lapse Calculator.
Once you have the photos, there are many methods to create a final video. I use Lightroom to process them, and then make them into a video using Adobe Premiere. There are plenty of resources on YouTube to help in that regard.
Of course, dedicated time-lapse equipment makes the whole process easier; this is my workaround using what is essentially a video gimbal. Surely, it takes a little more effort and practice than a regular time-lapse, but I feel, in many cases, the extra dimension of movement will be worth the extra time invested. Although, having that quick-access Top Shelf certainly makes the task a little easier!
- Adam Melnyk, BEVISGEAR