A perfect flower blooming before your eyes. Clouds sweeping the night sky as the moon rises and, within seconds, arcs to its zenith. A clock racing ahead so that hours pass within moments. You can even see the progression of an exploding star over several years as it blows off its outer layer into space.
These are just a couple of examples of a process known as time-lapse.
So, How Do You Do It
Basically, the technique involves capturing an event on video at a certain rate, then accelerating the rate so that what may take three hours in real time takes only a few seconds when viewed on screen. Time-lapse allows you to control not only the pacing of the video, but the sense of how time passes. While we can’t do this in real-life, the effect can be dramatic when used to convey a specific mood in your video. By changing the rate of playback, you can make an event unfold at a slow, elegant rate, or a much faster rate that makes it seem as if everything and everyone involved has just enjoyed several cups of really strong coffee.
When Would I Use Time-Lapse
You may be asking yourself, “When do I want to use time-lapse photography, and what effect am I trying to achieve?” This is where it’s crucial to have a well thought-out plan created during concept development and storyboarding. There’s a distinct difference between a time-lapse sequence that leaves you with a sense of wonder and awe, such as the example of the flower blooming, and a sequence in which the activity of a single person or a few people is accelerated so fast is almost appears cartoonish. The last example was fun for the first couple of years it was employed, but has now become so overused it’s almost trite.
Time-lapse typically refers to video that is sped up to make things occur more quickly than they do in a natural setting, but it can also be combined with slow-motion techniques to give a slightly surreal quality that captures the viewer’s imagination. This video is a good example of how fast-motion and slow-motion techniques can be combined effectively.
Time-lapse used to be a highly specialized technique, but now it’s far more common. Some smart phones even give you the capability of doing a time-lapse video. To get an idea of the number of cameras can perform certain time-lapse techniques, check out this entry on Wikipedia.
In order to be most effective, a production involving time-lapse has to take into account many elements. For example, if you’re going to do a time-lapse scene outside, will the light be right to highlight the changing perspectives you desire? This can involve extensive location research to ensure you get a good mix of shifting shadows and highlights. If you plan to do a time-lapse of a city location to show the passage of a day, but the sun disappears behind a nearby skyscraper at 12:30 in the afternoon, plunging the camera location into deep shadows for the rest of the day, the purpose of the shot will be lost. So, while time-lapse photography may, in theory and for everyday use, be available to the masses, it’s still best to have input from professional cinematographers and producers in order to ensure your video comes out just the way you want it.
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