When starting out to shoot timelapse, the vast amount of options can be very confusing. If you new to photography as well, everything can be even more daunting. I’m going to break down the basics of camera control, explaining the options you should use for shooting timelapse, and why.
For the most part this tutorial will assume that you are using a DSLR. However all settings will do the same functions across different types of cameras. Cheaper cameras tend to have less controls though, so you might only have a few automatic options.
There is only two modes that I ever use on my camera when shooting timelapse. Aperture priority, and manual. The main reason for using these two modes, is that it gives you finer control over how the camera will take pictures. If one setting on your camera starts changing, the entire timelapse can be ruined.
If you left the camera set to fully automatic mode, it could adjust the ISO up resulting in a grainy picture. Or, it could give an error saying “there is not enough light”, when all is required is a long exposure.
Aperture priority fixes the aperture at a set value, and adjusts the shutter speed as required. If the light in the scene is changing a lot (such as at sunset), use this mode.
However, lets imagine you were shooting on a cloudy day and the sun kept popping out from behind clouds. When the sun is behind the clouds, the camera would increase the exposure to compensate for the lack of light. But when the sun pops back out, the camera would decrease the exposure to compensate for the brighter scene.
The end video would have rapidly changing exposures, which give a strobe-like effect. This is not pleasant to watch, so where possible stick to manual mode…
Manual mode gives you full control over all settings on the camera. If you set the camera to start shooting, each photograph will be exposed exactly the same as the previous one. This is the best way to prevent flicker from occurring!
It’s also worth reading up on preventing timelapse flicker, by using the lens twist.
Once you have decided on the correct mode to use, it’s important to select the right settings in-camera.
Shutter speed – This will depend on the scene that you are shooting, and how much light is available. As a rule of thumb, never shoot above 1/20 of a second. By shooting on a longer exposure, fast moving objects will blur through your images. This makes the video play back smoother. If shooting in daylight, you might need a neutral density filter to block out some of the light.
Aperture – Again, set this as required by your scene. If possible, aim for an aperture of around 11 (this is generally the sharpest region of your lens).
ISO – Set to the lowest possible value.
White Balance – Set according to the scene. If you are shooting in changing light, leave it at ‘auto’.
Image quality – Only use RAW. Raw captures as much light information as possible, and gives you far greater control when editing the pictures.
Focus mode – Manual. Never ever, ever leave your camera set to auto-focus when shooting. If you leave it to auto, the camera might try and adjust the focus mid-sequence, resulting in out of focus or missed shots.
Lens stabilization – If your camera has this option, turn it off. If it’s set to on, the images might not align properly.