Should I hire out a time-lapse or shoot myself?
This is a question one might ask oneself, but there are several follow-up questions regarding feasibility and practicality that will determine the ultimate answer.
What is your intended purpose?
Is this a personal project, or is there a product, client or presentation that is involved? In other words, does your time-lapse require a ‘professional’ look, or are you shooting for personal reasons? If it is for personal enrichment, it is likely you should just shoot yourself unless you have an expectation of high production values…then, it really depends again – do you have the skills and equipment to achieve your goal? Even if production values aren’t paramount, you still may want to hire a professional for your time-lapse project, for example; If you need reliable results – if you are trying to capture a fleeting event or if you have a short window to capture and produce the final product – then you will likely want to hire this service out regardless of the final use. If you are still unsure whether you should try your hand at your time-lapse project, continue reading for a clear appraisal of the likelihood of your success. If you have a time-lapse professional project to shoot and you haven’t shot time-lapse before and you aren’t already an enthusiast or professional photographer, definitely hire someone. If you are a fully competent photographer, ask yourself the following…
Do you have the equipment?
If you are planning to shoot a time-lapse, you will need decent equipment. You will need an “enthusiast” or “professional” camera, otherwise you will LIKELY end up will a less-than-ideal result. You need the manual settings and likely the removable lens and low-light capabilities you will find with these cameras. You will also want to be shooting in a RAW file format, and, in an ideal world, you would have a lens system that will accommodate static apertures to prevent flicker (an undesirable change in the perceived brightness of the successive images that produces a sort of ‘strobing’ effect when composed to video). You will also need a nice tripod – not an unstable, bargain tripod. These will often sag depending on the weight of your camera/lens and the tripod build. They will also feature clumsy controls that will move the tripod itself during adjustments, changing the camera perspective slightly, and make the framing you would like difficult. They are also substantially less stable, which can often result in some camera shake – which is almost always highly undesirable. This is especially problematic if your project will require you physically adjusting any settings on the camera during the course of the timelapse. You will also need an intervalometer (some cameras have this in their firmware) and/or a remote shutter. There are also other pieces of equipment you should have depending on the nature of the shoot – such as cards with the capacity and the speed to capture your timelapse, weather protection for yourself and your camera, neutral density filters, and adequate power (which can mean a battery grip or even more extreme solutions). Depending on what you are shooting, you may also need appropriate lighting, yet another equipment cost. You will also almost certainly want to consider all potential equipment requirements for your particular project and make sure you are adequately equipped.
You will also need the computing capacity to deal with a large number of RAW images in post-production, so this needs to be considered as an element of the equipment requirements. The software will be an element you will require as well.
So what should I do if I don’t have the equipment? Well, if you want to get into shooting timelapse regularly, it might be advantageous to purchase the right equipment and start shooting yourself – especially if you are not on a tight timeline or need to shoot an event or phenomena which will only occur once or within a limited timeframe. That said, if you don’t have at least most of the gear and are willing to expand, hire someone. Also, even if you have the equipment, but you don’t seek to make time-lapse into a hobby or profession, hire it out.
Do you have the expertise?
Timelapse can be pretty demanding on a photographers mastery of the art and science of creating images. You will need a good grasp of exposure, and how exposure is altered by each of the settings in your camera – shutter speed, aperture, ISO (or ASA/film speed), white balance, file format, even focus. If you aren’t VERY familiar with these terms, hire the time-lapse production out.
Do you have the editing talents and software?
When shooting time-lapse, there are a lot of things which can result in an undesirable final product. This may not happen, but you need to know how to fix it if it does. Most commonly, flicker will be an issue. Some other things may occur as well – sometimes abrupt changes in color or lighting, which are parallel phenomena to flicker; some washed out shadows or clipped highlights may appear, or some camera shake. Especially if you are shooting RAW, these issues can likely be remedied, but you will have to know or learn exactly how to do make appropriate adjustments. There is software out there that will develop your RAW images – Adobe’s Lightroom being the industry standard and what I would highly suggest if you are considering shooting timelapse – and there is software out there that will adjust how the images will sort of transition and form the video itself. Plug-ins to Lightroom are available and are often the most seamless option, but also standalone programs exist, which allow you to make necessary adjustments across the entire timelapse, as modifying each RAW image individually is impractical. You will need solid editing software to consider shooting yourself. You will also need to familiarize yourself with the software. If you are already familiar with Lightroom or Photoshop, it shouldn’t be too hard – or if you have expertise in video editing programs like Premiere, Final Cut Pro, or AfterEffects.
You will also need something to ‘stablize’ the outputted video from RAW. Just like flicker, this may not be an issue for you, but you need to be ready if it is. Most decent video editing programs have a stabilization plug-in of some kind that will satisfy this need. It may be a good idea to shoot a somewhat wider focal distance than you want the final product to appear – for one, you will have ample resolution, and secondly, if you DO have camera shake, you will need some cropping ability to stabilize the image in post. I would suggest using Premiere or Final Cut Pro from the video output, although there are several options for this. If you are completely new to software post-production, hire the time-lapse out…Unless you are ready to do a lot of learning.
So, in conclusion, you can shoot time-lapse yourself. However, if you want a reliable product, you need the equipment and expertise. Beyond that, each shoot can present issues that aren’t touched on in this article as each time will be different in some capacity. Wind can be an issue. Changing cloud cover can be an issue as well. A draining battery on a monolight could present problems. A lot of these issues will not be noticeable until you start working in post and will result in the issues described above. An experienced individual will be able to more effectively mitigate or prevent these potential problems – the experience you will not yet have. However, if you consider yourself a well-equipped, software savvy, enthusiast photographer, you can most likely do this yourself. I would leave myself ample time for hiccups and adjustments in post, but if you feel confident, give it a shot. If not, hire someone to shoot timelapse for you.