How To Capture Changing Seasons in Time-Lapse (Updated for 2020)
A few years ago, the BBC broadcast The Great British Year, showcasing the changing seasons across the UK.
The show includes some “time-lapse” footage of the same scene across the seasons.
This was 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 Great British Year time-lapse team, has written 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.
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 still not technically long-term timelapse.
To truly capture the transition between the seasons, you need a sequence of photographs that shows every stage.
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.
This is 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 timelapse.
Capturing the changing seasons (or any long process) over a period of months means probably capturing only a few frames each day.
This 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 timelapse!
Before I get into the how-to, here are some good examples of long-term timelapse.
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.
We worked together to create the below video ‘A winter transition’, a part of Air New Zealand’s marketing campaign to draw people to the holiday hotspot.
Photos were captured every 50 minutes using photoSentinel equipment overlooking the wooded hills of Arrowtown and the Remarkables ski resort.
For each image, a RAW photo file was stored locally and a preview JPEG was sent to the Diaries Downunder team over the cellular network.
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.
While not of the changing seasons, this long-term timelapse 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 timelapse.
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 timelapse 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).
That way, you can secure the camera somewhere and leave it to take photos indefinitely.
Incidentally, our photoSentinel Mach II would be perfect for the job (shameless plug!).
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 timelapse 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 timelapse 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 Mach II, the 4G 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.
Such plugins are especially in smoothing out the dreadful exposure flicker that is inevitable in long-term timelapse.
I’ve already given a plug to LRTimelapse for its holy grail workflow and we recommend it for long-term timelapse 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 in your subject 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.
Additionally, there’s a magical deflicker button to smooth out the exposure even more (with long-term timelapse 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).
Lastly, the After Effects plugin ‘CC Wide Time’ 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 timelapses, 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.
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