Boy, I’m so easily side-tracked. I’d originally planned that this post would be a review of Jackson’s Eco 560lb watercolour paper. It isn’t. I had good intentions, but while trialling the paper, I somehow got side-tracked and tried out time lapse photography. Now I’m hooked, and thought I’d share my experience.
Painters often document their work in a sequence of photos. Time lapse photography is just an extension of this. It’s achieved by setting up a static camera to automatically take a sequence of photos at short intervals, typically around a second or two. When played back as a video, time is apparently compressed and a long painting session can be condensed into a watchable minute or two. The results are always compelling and a lot of fun.
Fancy trying it? If you already own a smartphone you need surprisingly little to get started:
1) A smart phone
The cameras on any smartphone are very capable. I use an iPhone 4 (and yes, that is a Spider-man case …)
2) Time lapse App
I used an App called Lapse it, and can highly recommend it. Costs about £3, and is worth every penny. It’s also available for Android phones.
There are all sorts of settings to tinker with including frame rate, resolution, render quality, interval between shots, a filming timer, and more to play around with.
3) Video editing App
Once you’ve recorded your film you will need to press the ‘render’ button within Lapse it. This converts the footage into a format (mp4) you can watch or upload to YouTube etc.
If it turns out well, you can use this rendered file without any further editing. You’ll only need a video editor if you want to ‘weld’ various clips together. I use iMovie.
4) A support for your phone
The success of your time lapse will depend on how steady you can support your camera. Propping it up somewhere convenient, a passing table or chair, will work, and you might be able to hold it steady with books or BluTak. Unfortunately, this gives you little control to frame your shots, and with nothing very much holding your phone, you are risking an expensive tumble.
For me, a tripod is the only sensible option. I’m fortunate as I have several left over from a foray into photography back in the early nineties. My favourites are both made by Benbo: the lightweight Trekker and their back-breaking, but extremely sturdy Benbo One. These particular tripods have an astonishing range of movement and flexibility; you can adapt them to almost any situation.
A heavy tripod will be more stable than a lightweight.
5) A phone adaptor
You’ll need an adaptor to secure your phone to the tripod. These are readily available, and several types are available on Amazon.
I chose this one at around £12. It seems well made and grips the phone gently but securely in landscape format.
The rubber jaws isolate the phone from the tripod and absorb any wee wobbles. This evens out any visual jarring caused by minor knocks. Be aware, in portrait mode the phone can slowly slide out of this mount…
6) A ball joint
Not essential, but you may find a joint like this between the tripod and the phone adaptor will give you more flexibility when positioning your phone. Again, search for one on Amazon or online photography store.
Working the math
Once you have your kit set up you can just plunge in and tinker randomly with Lapse it until you get a result you like; fun, but time consuming. Or you can be more methodical and plan your timings.
You’ll need to calculate how fast your phone’s camera needs to take individual photos/frames when it’s filming. For a mathematical bone-head like me this made my eye twitch a bit, but it is straightforward.
For the following I’ve assumed I want to compress 1 hour of real time video into 30s of time lapse (good length for Twitter):
- Decide how long you want your final time lapse clip to last e.g. 30s.
- Decide how many frames per second (fps) you want your final clip to run at. 30fps is a good default if you want to edit your clip into real time video at a later date. Plug this figure into Lapse it.
- Calculate how many frames you’ll need to take to make up your final clip e.g. 30s x 30fps = 900 frames.
- Decide how long you will need to film your ‘real life’ event e.g. 1h, and pop this into Lapse it in the settings menu under ‘Limit value’ as 60m.
- Calculate how many seconds are in your event e.g. 1h equates to 60m x 60s = 3,600s
- Calculate the interval in seconds you’ll need to leave between taking frames. e.g. 3,600s/900 frames = 4 seconds in between frames. Plug this figure into Lapse it’s interval settings.
If you set up Lapse it with the numbers above, your smartphone will take 1 frame every four seconds for an hour. There will be a certain amount of ‘fudging’ depending on the speed of your smartphone meaning your final video might lose a second two overall. Don’t worry if this happens, it will still look great.
For consistency, your camera and work position need to remain absolutely fixed throughout filming. This is particularly important if you intend to work over several sessions. Worth marking your set positions in case something gets nudged. I used masking tape.
Make sure your camera has a clear shot of your work. Take time to have a dry run, rehearse your movements and think: where will you put your palette, your brushes, your paints, your mediums? Are you likely to obscure or knock the camera when painting?
When I set up for my video of ‘Chun Quoit Glow 2’ I made the mistake of setting the phone up too close to my right shoulder. The result was a very awkward painting position, which made me conscious of the presence of the camera and literally gave me a stiff neck.
You will need to control your lighting too. Wild swings in brightness and colour temperature will be very distracting. I set up on a uniformly dull day with white window blinds drawn and an Ottlite daylight lamp pointed at the painting.
Once you’re ready and the camera is rolling, try to forget about it. I was concerned whether quiet times where I had to mix new colours would be noticed in the final film. However, they aren’t noticeable, so don’t worry about this.
Don’t be disappointed should things not work out right away; the best laid plans and all that. I had many false starts. Above all else, enjoy yourself!