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Time-Lapse Photography using your Infrared Modified Digital Camera

Digital Time-lapse Photography is a somewhat new field to most photographers that is not only appealing but a new challenge as well. Time-lapse photography during the daylight hours is fairly simple and can produce great results with very little, if any, additional equipment. As with any photography technique there can be additional expenses for different effects. But, getting started is not an expensive venture. At first we'll start by discussing some simple time-lapse techniques that will help get you started into this field with minimal expense. Later, we'll dive into more techniques and additional equipment used for different time-lapse results.

IR Time Lapse:

Timelapse compiled of day and night time infrared images. Cameras used: Canon EOS 40D, 50D, 60D, 7D, Nikon D300s, D800, D3 and D3s. The cameras had been converted to capture infrared by Spencer's Camera & Photo ( Images were compiled into a timelapse using Adobe Photoshop CS5 and Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.

More Infrared Time-lapse videos at our Portfolio page: Spencer's Camera - Infrared Timelapse Portfolio.

Essential Equipment

Other than a quality digital camera there are a few essential items needed to get started in time-lapse photography. First, an intervalometer (Programmable Timer) is essential unless your camera has this function built in. An intervalometer will allow you to program the cameras exposure times, starting time, frequency of the exposures and number of exposures. (You can manually fire your camera using a cable release and a stop watch but it will get very old very fast. You can also simply set the camera to continues release mode and lock down the release button causing the camera to continuesly fire. Neither of these methods is recommended due to undesirable results.)

Second, a solid tripod or stabile mounting surface that will not vibrate or move easily with wind or other vibrations. Use of an unstable tripod will produce shacky results in your final sequence.

That's it; nothing else is needed to get started.

Basic Time-Lapse Techniques:

Intervalometer Basics: It's very important to learn how to use your intervalometer and how it controls your camera. Keep in mind that the camera needs enough time between exposures to record the image before the next exposure starts. Setting the exposure frequency a few seconds longer than the actual exposure is important. We usually set the exposure frequency at least 3-5 seconds longer than the actual exposure. A normal camera will take any where from 1-3 seconds to write a JPG file to the memory card while it may take as long as 3-5 seconds for the average camera to write a RAW file to the memory card. Allowing the camera enough time between exposures to save the entire image will allow the camera to capture images indefinatly without stopping to write any image files to the memory card.

Exposures: In most cases it is important to set your camera to "Manual" exposure mode. Letting the camera choose the exposure for each image can result in exposure "flicker" in your final time-lapse. Also, we have found that setting the camera to the widest possible aperture setting (wide open) will lessen the chance of "flicker" in the final time-lapse sequence. Test and set the appropriate exposure before starting the time-lapse and set it manually for the entire sequence.

For most daylight settings we prefer capturing exposures in 5-10 second intervals. Most cameras will easily write the images to the memory card within 5-10 seconds and this interval will allow for adequet subject movement. The lowest possible ISO setting (for clarity) and the widest possible aperture setting (to limit flick) is appropriate. In some cases a tighter aperture may be necessary to increase depth of field.

Composition: The basics of normal photography also hold true with time-lapse photography. The rule of thirds and other basic rules of composition are important, keeping in mind possible subject movement through out the sequence. Compositions with at least three layers of depth will increase the quality of the end result. A subject with a moving object or objects is very important as well.

Shooting: Simply set up the camera using your best judgment of composition, test and set the exposure and start the sequence using your intervalometer. Let the exposure sequence run for the desire amount of time and then stop the exposures. In general, a final compiled time-lapse sequence of less than 4 seconds is not long enough and a final compiled sequence of more than 10-12 seconds is too long. Considering that most video frame rates are 24-30 frames per second you want to time your sequence to be more than 100-120 frames (exposures) and no more than 260-300 frames (exposures). But, keep in mind that during final post processing you can decrease or increase the frame rate which will allow some flexibility when capturing your subject. Less than 24 frames per second will produce "choppy" results. This is the reason most videos consists of at least 24-30 frames per second.

Compiling the Final Sequence: There are many different software programs that will enable you to compile the final time-lapse sequence into an actual video. We use Adobe Photoshop, Adobe After Effects, Adobe Premiere Pro and others for different effects. The general idea is to adjust and edit your images, compile the images into a video sequence and export the sequence into the desired video format. There are many variables to consider when editing, compiling and exporting your time-lapse sequence and many free tutorials online that will provide the answers for your specific desired results. Audio mixing, video special effects, layering and many other final adjustments can be made. There is a small learning curve for making final edits but don't get frustrated, it will make more sense after your first edit. Remember, keep it simple! We recommend keeping it very simple and clean or your final video may become confusing, complicated or overly complex.

Astrophotography Time Lapse:

Utah Night Time-lapse II - A compilation of time-lapse clips taken in Utah during 2010, 2011and 2012 using many different cameras, including the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Canon EOS 7D, Canon EOS 60D, Canon EOS 50D, Canon EOS 40D and Nikon D3s. Some clips were taken using various on-lens filters for added effect. All cameras are Astroconverted cameras. Images were compiled into time lapse using Adobe Photoshop CS5 and Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.

More Infrared Time-lapse videos at our Portfolio page: Spencer's Camera - Infrared Timelapse Portfolio

Astro (Long Exposure) Time-Lapse

With astro (long exposure) time-lapse sequences there are a few things that should be take into consideration. Balancing the very long exposure times needed, ISO settings for sharpness and increased digital noise are the most challenging issues. There are a few key options that will help capture faint night sky objects without sacrificing sharp noise free images.

Camera: First, a full spectrum astro-converted camera is more sensitive to IR and Visible light which will allow the camera to "see" the faint objects of the night sky more easily. This means the camera can capture night sky objects with less exposure time and without increasing the ISO as much. Both of these features will benefit the final image with less digital noise propblems. The added option of our sensor heat reduction system will further decrease the negative effects and build up of digital noise.

Star Streaking/Trailing: First, star streaking/trailing can be an undesired problem but can be overcome. Obtaining a sharp wide-field image of the night sky can be achieved if you follow one simple rule, the "Rule of 500". If you simply divide 500 by the focal length of the lens you get the maximum possible duration of the exposure (in seconds) without star streaking. For instance, when using a 10mm lens (500 divided by 10mm = 50 second exposure) you will be able to capture a maximum 50 second exposure without the stars streaking. You may see some streaking on the outside edges of the image but none at the center. Another example: When using an 18mm lens (500 divided by 18mm = 27 second exposure) you will be able to take a 27 second exposure without any star streaking/trailing.

Long Exposures: Long exposures can reveal a few issues including digital noise, light pollution (due to cars, city lights, moon light), unpredictable weather, and others. It is important to plan accordingly and scout your location before hand. Be careful not to use any unwanted light source while shooting or your entire sequence may be lost. Our astro-converted cameras will reduce digital noise and produce better performance than a normal camera.

A Few More Tips: Be prepared for a possible long night when shooting an astro time-lapse. The average exposure for an astro time-lapse is 30-40 seconds and will consist of a minimum 200-300 exposures. That's 2-4 hours on average and up to 8-10 hours of time in the field at one spot. Especially during a cold winter night it can feel like a long time. Keep in mind battery life especially in freezing temperatures, frost build up on the lens and any other cold related issue. Changing weather conditions no matter what the season can be a concern as well. Always protect your gear from weather, moisture and theft by not leaving it alone on location during the night. Be mindful of unwanted shadows, especially shadows created by you and your gear. Bottom line, have fun and experiment with different techniques. The learning curve is short and your first time-lapse sequence will reveal both the shortcomings and positive results of your efforts. Learn from your experiment and make adjustments for improvement.

Why Choose Spencer's Camera & Photo?

As always, we recommend using a camera that has been converted or modified by the competent professionals at Spencer's Camera & Photo. Here are the main reasons you should choose Spencer's Camera for your camera conversion:

High Quality Standards

Spencer's Camera uses only the best and most advanced tools and techniques to perform camera conversions.

Cleanroom and ESD Safety: Spencer's Camera uses only the best and most advanced tools and techniques to perform the conversions. Great care is taken to insure your camera is handled in the highest quality and cleanest work room environment. All tools used are Antistatic ESD safe and the equipment is properly grounded for antistatic safety as well. Our technicians are professionaly trained giving the highest attention to maintaining accuracy during the IR conversion process and while calibrating your camera upon completion of the conversion. We use reliable and time proven methods and material to install the new filter in your camera including added measures to insure long term reliablity. We do not simply install the filter using double sticky tape and hope it will stay in place long enough for the warranty to run out. Yes, we have seen this from other converison providers.

Focus Adjustments: In most cases, focus adjustments are needed, and performed, to maintain sharp and accurate focus while shooting IR images. This means your camera will perform as well or better than before the IR conversion. Yes, included as part of the conversion service, we calibrate the Autofocus system during every conversion we perform. (FYI: the conversions are not permanent and can be reversed upon request at a minimal charge.)

Repair Service Provider: Spencer's Camera not only provides quality IR Conversion Services, we are also a Camera Repair Facility. This makes Spencer's Camera uniquely qualified to competently perform your camera conversion with great care and expertise. Also, this gives us a unique perspective and indepth understanding of camera functions and operations, allowing us to convert and calibrate your camera precisely and accurately. Also, we can repair your IR camera that was converted by other conversion providers. We have repaired many cameras that were converted by our competitors and were damaged during the conversion process or never perform correctly.

Warranty: All conversions are convered under our 12 month warranty guaranteeing the functionality of your camera. It's very simple, our workmanship is the highest quality and we stand behind it.


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