So you’re heading out to film some timelapses. Great work! It can be daunting just setting off, with the amount of work needed for just 10 seconds of film. The preparation, the setting up, the checks and re-checks, the filming (and waiting), the editing…oh the editing!
There are so many variables that can send a TL shoot down the wrong path. So we should try to control those that we can control, and plan for those we can’t. These are just a few warnings from issues I’ve had in the past. Your list of things to check and add to your prep tick list will grow and grow, and probably never stop.
Check over your gear before you set off. There’s nothing worse than lugging everything down to a shoot only to find something is broken, out of battery or forgotten. I know this is a simple one that should be done regardless, but it’s really worth reiterating. When I go out shooting timelapses I have the camera(s), the intervalometer(s), the slider, the pan and tilt head. All of these require charging and, especially the slider, has a lot of parts that can move / disappear / break.
Also, be prepared to rig. You may find that something has changed or a better angle can be found somewhere less accessible. Be prepared with allen keys, cable ties, tape, some light grip equipment.
Scouts honour! Do you know what you are shooting and what your parameters on the intervalometer should be? This is especially important for a day-night or night-day TL. If you can, try to do a test shoot a day or two before. Go down with just your camera and get a test photo whilst light and whilst dark. That way you know where you’re ramping to and from.
And check the weather. Nothing worse than having to call off a shoot because it starts raining half way through the TL.
Always shoot in RAW
Make sure you have a big enough SD / CF card with you. You don’t want to have to compromise the later edit because you only had space for jpegs. It’s never an ideal solution to “fix that in the edit”, but so much actually can be rescued in the edit, if you shoot in RAW. For a sunrise / sunset, a highlight rescue can be preferable to messing about with the ramp on-site.
Review on the go
That said, about rescuing the highlights, do remember to review your pictures on the go. Use your histogram on the camera’s screen. Check if you need to do anything to alter the ramp if it’s getting way out of control. Don’t just expect to sit back and ignore the setup once the TL is going.
Check for movement
You can do all the prep you want, and watch every frame captured during the TL. What you probably won’t see is tiny movement from wind, from vibration. This sometime’s just happens. I once did a TL on a pier looking out to sea. The pier seemed pretty solid with concrete posts down to the seabed. And I watched almost all of it as it was captured because it was a sunrise and I wanted to keep an eye on the levels. I was pretty happy with it, despite the lack of an actual sun due to the clouds. However, when I got it home there was crazy movement all over the place. The pier had been constantly moving and the TL was pretty much unusable.
It’s sometimes easier to get the TL made with no colouring or anything, just a simple quick knit together, then you can easily locate which frames (if there are just a couple) need to be taken out. If it’s just a couple of shudders, take the photos out. It’s not ideal to ‘lose a frame’ but chances are this won’t affect you TL in most cases.