Timelapse video – Spending lots and lots of time outdoors

timelapse Lake District Scafell Pike
A scene from some timelapse I captured of the Scafells earlier this year.

If there’s one thing I adore more than anything else it’s sitting around for hours on end taking in the ever-changing scenic delights of the countryside (except during a storm of course). If you asked me to take a seat and do nothing for several hours in a town or city I’d be bored out of my brains – and I’d tell you to go where the sun don’t shine! However, if you proposed I should do the same but out on the moors or tops? Well I’d happily sit there, grin on my face with not a care in the world.

Too many people I meet are focused on bagging hills and summits or ticking off a given mileage when out in our national parks. And there’s nothing wrong with that of course. Each to their own but for me they miss the whole point of being out in such beautiful places. They just don’t become intimate with an area and appreciate all that it has to offer deep under it’s skin. Passing ships in the night is a saying that springs to mind.

I’d much rather wild camp, or find a secluded spot and take in a fine view than brag about how many ‘Wainwrights’ or ‘Munros’ I’ve visited (usually fleetingly for many). The outdoor gear I use is a tools to a means and so are my legs and feet. My limbs enable me to reach for my heaven up on the fells. Where I can sit, admire and marvel at how the light and clouds in our maritime climate dances on and about the landscape that surrounds me. Even observe four seasons in a day, sometimes just hours in fact. This is where I get my thrill and sense of adventure.

These opening paragraphs will give you an indication to why I enjoy being outdoors but also what’s involved when it comes to capturing timelapse scenes of the countryside. Many people have asked me in recent weeks what’s involved with producing video of a given scene and creating the effect of time passing on by – having seen scenes from ‘Life of a Mountain: Scafell Pike’. So here goes….

I’m not going to go in-depth with all the technicalities of producing timelapse here, so consider this more of an overview. Essentially, timelapse is a series of pictures played back at a given speed to create the sense of passage of time. A simple analogy would be flicking pages from the corner of a book where you’ve drawn a person walking or what have you. Animation if you like.

Nowadays, many video cameras at the upper end of the consumer range (and upwards of course) have an in-built timelapse record mode. This can prove to be really handy but it’s better if you produce such scenes with a DSLR – or at least a camera with a large sensor that has manual controls and the ability for you to capture a series of photos. Why?

For starters a video camera will only capture scenes at 1K resolution (HD basically) where as a large sensor camera like a DSLR has a greater resolution (3K plus). The larger sensor then enables you to capture as much light as possible (if needed, for example night timelapse scenes) and usually with a greater dynamic range of colours. Of course, the lens you’ll use can affect all the above too. But having a 3K image to play with is much more useful than a 1K one.

Below is a picture I took on my phone showing my DSLR – Canon 600D – set up and looking at a view I wished to capture of Beinn Dorain in Scotland last week. Normally the camera would be fixed securely on a tripod, but it was quite a windy day so I positioned the Canon on some rocks. It’s essential when you do timelapse that the camera never moves. Otherwise you’ll have wobbles in your final video – this can prove very tricky when out on the fells!

timelapse scotland canon 600d
Capturing timelapse of Beinn Dorain, Scotland.

Attached is a remote intervelometer. This wee gadget tells the camera how many photos to capture, for how long (optional) and when. In this case I had the remote simply take a photo every 7 seconds for a period of about 40mins. This gave me approximately 450 photos.

Needless to say, I manually focused, composed the DSLR including shutter speed, ISO etc before triggering the remote (though on my remote you can set the shutter speed up on that too).

Once I’m back home, I then process the photos to JPEGs (I always capture in RAW format) into a separate folder. What follows is quite simple really. I then drag and drop all the pics into my video editor timeline stipulating to produce an animation at 25 frames per second (frames being the photos). The end result? A video. Timelapse. Hence the large number of photos you initially captured out on the hill.

There’s more to it than all that, mind. You’ll need to crop the photos to 16:9 widescreen ratio for example. But also you need to wary of things like ‘flicker’ in the timelapse (which is a consequence of the DSLR ever so slightly adjusting the exposure for each photo captured at the time or environmental conditions). There’s methods in minimising this flicker but it’s a long story. Also always capture your pictures manually and never on ‘auto’. Be wary of the weather, pay attention to dew or frost forming on the lens. Keep an eye on the camera’s power. There’s lots to consider you see.

Plus not all video editing software will enable you to ‘stitch’ all the photos together to create timelapse. Particularly consumer packages. However, there’s always a way around this. Adobe’s Lightroom has a timelapse facility/command and you can do similar with commands in Photoshop. There’s some free software online that can help too. ‘Google is your friend’.

The beauty of producing timelapse with a DSLR is the quality of the image you’re capturing. The lenses you can use for effect and so on. And if you have a bright enough lens, you can capture the night sky too. The latter is rather tricky to execute but that’s for another conversation all together.

As you can now imagine, you may need to invest significant funds into kit! Lenses are never cheap for DSLRs. Let alone extra batteries and memory cards…..the list goes on.

So, there you go. If you have the tools, the means, the patience and luck – any one can give timelapse a go! And while you’re out there capturing shots, you’ll be forced to stay put and wait. Admire the scenery around you. And perhaps think differently about the area you’re visiting compared to if you were just passing through ticking off some miles.

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