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How to Make a Time-Lapse Movie with Your DSLR

Sometimes the world moves too fast, and sometimes you can make it move even faster in your DSLR film. Time-lapse photography allows you to control the universe within your movie by capturing a situation in a fraction of the frames, and then playing it back at normal speed making it appear as though life is zipping by.

The operative word here is time. A blooming flower, traffic moving on a busy intersection, or people filling a stadium all takes a healthy investment in time to uniquely depict. But that’s the price you pay when you transform minutes, hours, or days into a matter of seconds. To make it time well spent, you’ll need adequate preparation and the right equipment.

What you’ll need:

  • Any DSLR camera (HD video capability is not required)

  • Digital timer

  • Sturdy tripod

  • Fresh batteries

  • A good book to pass the time

Follow these steps when making your time-lapse movie:

  1. Determine your subject matter.

    You’ll need to figure what you want to capture and how long it will take to show the proper activity. For example, a flower blooming can take several weeks, whereas people embarking or disembarking public transportation may last for only a few minutes.

  2. Place your camera on the tripod and lock down the legs.

    There's nothing worse than having movement during capture because you didn’t tighten the legs or head on your tripod.

  3. Set your camera to a narrow aperture for maximum depth of field.

    With a camera on a tripod and hours of recording ahead of you, you may as well use an exposure setting conducive to capturing maximum depth of field.

  4. Perform a white balance.

    You don't want to invest all that time and wind up with an unflattering colorcast. It’s best to take a manual reading by holding a piece of white paper a short distance away from the lens.

  5. Shoot in manual mode.

    If you worry light values will shift too much, try the aperture priority setting. These work because we’re not using the movie mode. It maintains a consistent aperture by adjusting shutter speed when light values change. It’s not perfect, but it's the lesser of the other evils.

  6. Calculate the time.

    After you figure how long it will take to capture the scene, determine the length of the movie. As a general rule, when time-lapse movies extend past 30 seconds, they lose their zest. After you've determined how long scene capture will take, calculate the duration between each frame.

  7. Set your digital timer (also known as your intervalometer).

    If you’re not sure on what to set it on, one frame per second renders the action 30 times faster than normal.

  8. Wait for the right moment.

    No sense in shooting aspects of the scene not critical to the movie. Conversely, don’t start shooting after the action starts.

  9. Capture the scene as JPEG.

    You don’t need to shoot at maximum quality; just make sure the files are 1920×1280, and you’ll be able to save the movie in high definition.

  10. Push the button.

    Stay nearby or at least make sure your camera is safe. After you import the files, study what you’ve done and make the necessary adjustments next time out.

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