This guide covers a handful of essential items for time-lapse, if you’re just getting started, use this as a checklist of things you’ll need.
Time-lapse photography can be a tricky thing. Often issues will emerge in the final product that did not appear in any individual image. Such issues include flicker, camera shake and highlight clipping. Most of these issues can be resolved by proper preparation – and being well equipped is a good start. Here are a couple ideas for equipment that will help you complete the time-lapse you envisioned.
The very first thing is essential – you will need a tripod or some other form of stable mounting equipment such as a hi-hat for lower angles, or a fixed enclosure for longer-term time-lapse. It is important that you get a well-built, solid tripod (or other device) with solid locking mechanisms as you don’t want the camera to sag during the shoot. Lighter, cheaper tripods also tend to shake in wind, even if apparently stable and on a solid, even surface. To prevent tripod movement, in addition to a well constructed tripod, it may be wise to bring along something to weigh down the tripod itself, to prevent vibrations or movement caused by wind or other elements. Do not skimp on your tripod, you will regret it. Also, if you get a quality tripod it will serve you well after you replace your current camera body.
Secondly, you will want a controller, or intervalometer. It is going to be nearly essential. The intervalometer will set the intervals between each capture, which is how you want to be shooting your timelapse.
Some cameras have basic intervalometers built into their firmware, others do not. You may need to get an external intervalometer. If you do not have one, you could manually trigger the shutter using a remote shutter, however, you do not want to touch the camera body, this will cause vibrations or a mildly changed perspective in the final product, which is highly undesirable. Spring for an intervalometer if you don’t already have one, it will improve the quality and ease of shooting your next time-lapse.
Third would be sufficient power. If you are shooting for a longer period of time especially. The last thing you want is for the power to run out in the middle of your planned time-lapse shoot. Often, a battery grip will be sufficient, essentially doubling the power capacity of the camera body. Remember, use higher capacity batteries from trusted manufacturers. If you have longer periods for which you plan to shoot, or intend on taking a large number of exposures, plugging the camera into an external source may be a good idea. You can get DC power adapters and an external battery or even use a small generator – there are even solar options if you have longer shooting times which can be coordinated with a weather-sealed mount.
High-speed, high capacity cards are a good fourth item to include. Especially if you are capturing at a quicker rate, the speed of the media can be an issue.
If you are taking more shots, capacity can be an issue. Cheaper cards typically only write at low speeds – around 30mbs. If you are shooting RAW (which you ought to be) at a quicker rate, this can exceed the write-speed of the media, meaning you will have issues. Tragic issues. Make sure your cards are fast enough. Also, RAW images can be quite large, but it is wise to shoot in the format. This will allow you to have a lot of control in post-production. For this reason, and the fact that time-lapse often requires a large number of captures, larger media capacities are highly suggested.
Neutral density filters. They will reduce the amount of light that will hit your sensor without altering color. This will allow you to use larger apertures and longer exposures and/or get good color in circumstances which otherwise might result in some highlight clipping. Variable neutral density filters are nice and versatile, however, beware – they can impose their own artefacts into your images. I would suggest owning a couple of solid neutral density filters of different strengths – a 3 & 6 would be a good place to start. They can be stacked atop one another, so you would have 3 possible ND strengths with these two filters. Alternatively, you could merely get a variable filter. Remember, you don’t want to cheap out, and make sure you take good care of them; any flaw in the filter will reveal itself in the image!
Rain and weather protection for yourself and for your gear is a good idea. Even in sunny weather, this is often necessary as direct sun can damage your camera if the body gets too hot. Moisture is also a serious issue. Even on weather sealed camera bodies, rain and moisture can get on the lens, or even compromise the weather-sealing.
Some people even have housings built for their camera during their time-lapse shoot. It is important that, regardless of the length of your shoot, that your camera is stable and protected from the elements – the last thing you want is to turn an expensive camera into a paperweight, and ruin the shoot in the process! You also want to protect yourself – if you are uncomfortable, you will not be performing your best and may cut corners. Make sure you are well dressed and prepared for whatever the elements may bring. Although this is another expense, it will be inexpensive compared to the cost of replacing your equipment.
Lastly, it would be a good idea to have a wider-angle lens on spare camera body. This is a luxury, but one that has sure advantages. For one, with the extra resolution you will almost certainly have in your stills, if you shoot a wider angle, even if you need to crop you will have plenty of resolution to work with. Also, if an issue emerges with one camera body, the second should deliver a usable product. If both shoots go well, you can compare the two timelapses and go with whichever is more pleasing, or you could even use the second camera for a transition to a second angle if it suits your project!
Certainly this is not a complete list, as each shoot will have it’s own challenges, but this is definitely a good place to start. Remember to consider the environment you are shooting, how long you will be shooting, and try to think of how your time-lapse will come short; this will keep you informed and reduce issues in the field.