How to capture changing seasons in time-lapse

Last month, the BBC broadcast the amazing-looking (we haven’t seen it in Australia yet) The British Year, a four episode extravaganza featuring each season showcased by the BBC’s ever-famous time-lapses (you can meet the time-lapse team and view their showreels on The British Year website). The show includes some footage of the same scene across the seasons achieved by taking video footage from exactly the same position across the year and then slowly transitioning between them (a technique known as lapsed time or time-study). The footage is great, but I was intrigued that the team chose to use time-study and not time-lapse.

Chad Gordon Higgins, one of The British Year time-lapse team, has blogged here about how he captures time-lapses of changing seasons. It’s worth a read! Here’s his video of the seasonal transition of a tree moving from summer to autumn.

 

 

After you’ve watched the BBC footage, check out Jamie Scott‘s time-lapse video Fall below. Jamie diligently recorded his position and settings at 15 locations around Central Park, NY and revisited them 2 days a week for 6 months (an amazing technical achievement!). (Attn BBC: I’m sure Jamie would accept your call…)

 

 

Jamie’s technique is to transition together a series of short-term time-lapses taken at the same locations. This is a great and skilful way to capture the change in season, but is not technically long term time-lapse. To truly capture the transition between the seasons, you need a sequence of photographs that shows every stage. Forrest Pound of Kontent Films, who recently made some long term time-lapse rigs for the award-winning film Watershed, explains the difference in this succinct video.

 

 

Another time-lapse holy grail?

The coveted day-to-night (or vice-versa) transition is frequently referred to as the ‘holy grail’ of time-lapse photography because it requires careful configuring of camera settings and skilful editing to work with the changing light conditions. (Thanks to LRTimelapse’s holy grail workflow, the editing part at least has gotten a whole lot easier!*)

However, there’s another holy grail of time-lapse photography that requires just as much skill: capturing the changing seasons through long term time-lapse. Capturing the changing seasons (or any long process) over a period of months means probably capturing only a few frames each day, which in turn means your lighting is going to change not slowly across a sequence like with a day-to-night transition, but between almost every single photo. If you’re used to doing short term time-lapse, imagine time-lapsing the flickering shadow of a tree on a sunny day with exposure set to auto – well, that’s pretty much what you end up with when shooting long term time-lapse!

Before I get into the how-to, here are some good examples of long term time-lapse.

Previously we’ve featured Samuel Orr’s A Forest Year when talking about time-lapse soundtracks, and it’s only right to feature the video again to show off his skills in editing over a year of transitions between seasons.

 

Since 2005, Eirik Solheim has captured the changing seasons from his living room window using a number of techniques, including time-study (you can see that video at the end of this post). In 2010, Eirik again captured the changing seasons, this time with true time-lapse , taking one photo every 30 seconds for the whole year. He compiled a cool composite still image from the photos and then sifted through the 1600 images to create this video. You can also read about how he did it.

 

While not of the changing seasons, this long term time-lapse from Relive It shows the challenges of working with a wide range of exposure situations in the same sequence.

 

Weather-proof and continuous power

There are a number of things to consider when shooting long term time-lapse. Firstly, and most obviously, your camera has to be in exactly the same spot for each photo. You could record your settings and revisit the site/s like Jamie Scott, but ideally long term time-lapse means not having to move your camera! Luckily for Samuel and Eirik, they have homes that overlook their scenes (and presumably no home dance parties that could have seen their tripods knocked over). However, to capture long term time-lapse anywhere else, you would want a weather-proof housing and a continuous power-source that you can secure somewhere and leave to take photos indefinitely. Incidentally, our photoSentinel Pro would be perfect for the job (shameless plug!) or you could follow this excellent Instructable by the afor-mentioned Forrest Pound from Kontent Films to make your long term time-lapse housing.

 

Remote status reporting

Secondly, you want to know your equipment is still working over the long haul. While a weather-proof housing and continuous power are vital, they’re not much use if your camera dies for some other reason. There would be nothing more disheartening than setting up a long term time-lapse only to come back months later and discover that it died an hour after you left. If you’re not setting up your long term time-lapse kit looking out your own window, then the best way to check on your equipment (here comes the really shameless plug…) is through the live status reporting enabled by an internet connection. In the case of the photoSentinel Pro, the 3G connectivity means you can know what is happening to your camera at any time, wherever you are. It also allows you to get every photo beamed straight to you and to change your shooting regime online whenever you want.

 

Tips for editing

Lastly, there’s no shame in using all the automated plugins and programs you can to make your editing easier, especially in smoothing out the dreadful exposure flicker that is inevitable in long term time-lapse. I’ve already given a plug to LRTimelapse for its holy grail workflow and we recommend it for long term time-lapse editing too.* The really helpful thing about LRTimelapse is the exposure graph it pumps out which enables you to see immediately any frames that are way off the average exposure. The great thing about a long term sequence is that 1) there’s not a lot of change from one photo to the next and, 2) you generally have tons more photos than you need, meaning you can simply delete the frames that are too far gone. LRTimelapse also features an automated process that will delete all frames outside a specified exposure range, and a magical deflicker button to smooth out the exposure even more (with long term time-lapse you may need to run the sequence through the deflicker process a few times).

Outside of LRTimelpase, you can also use Adobe Lightroom’s ‘Match Total Exposures’ to sync any two frames (though it has been said that doing it manually is almost as fast and can achieve better results) and the After Effects plugin ‘CC Wide Time’ which will further smooth flicker by creating ‘echoes’ before and after each frame.

 

Other ways of capturing the changing seasons

As mentioned in the intro with reference the BBC’s time-style and Jamie Scott’s blended short term time-lapses, there are other ways to capture changing seasons. Though not true long term time-lapses, it would be a shame not to show off the following two great videos.

Kirill Neiezhmakov has taken time- and hyper-lapses of the same Kharkov monuments in both summer and winter and cut them together in this fantastic piece.

 

 

The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation took the same trip several times on Norway’s Nordland Railway and cut the video footage together to look like one journey.

 

 

Eirik Solheim’s One Year in 40 Seconds is great-looking time-study video and he does a great job on the transitions.

 

 

P.S. If you want to master the original holy grail of time-lapse, check out Preston Kanak’s tutorial and make life easier with LRTimelapse’s holy grail workflow.*

 

* Disclaimer: we have an affiliate relationship with LRTimelapse which sees photoSentinel receive a small kickback for click-through purchases. However, really we promote LRTimelapse because we think it’s an awesome product!

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