Shawn Reeder (shawnreeder.com) may not have all the big awards in photography and videography, but he holds one of the highest remarks from well known Director of Photography Philip Bloom as having "one of the most beautiful time lapses [he] has ever seen." Many would consider this equal to winning one of the industry's highest awards. Time lapses can be captured in two general ways: shooting continuous video and then compressing it or shooting hundreds to thousands of still photographs and sequencing them in a program such as QuickTime or Adobe After Effects. This is far more complex than it sounds, as exposure through sunsets and sunrises can be troublesome, along with problems of flickering, storage, and choosing the right lenses. Shawn was kind enough to shares some tips of his time lapsing expertise.
SETTING UP FOR A TIME LAPSE
"For me there's an easy first question when I prepare to shoot time-lapse: Is the shooting during the day, which almost always means sunrise or sunset times, or at night. For daytime shooting, I can include and actually prefer slower lenses (I love the Canon f/4 L series), while at night, fast lenses are essential, typically f/2.8 or faster.
My next consideration is whether I want to shoot with motion control or shoot static. If I'm going static, I just need my camera, an intervolometer, and a good solid tripod. But often I love having motion control in my shots. I use Kessler Crane motion control systems, mainly the 5-foot Cineslider, Oracle controllers, Elektra 500:1 motor, and Revolution head. I also use fast UDMA 6 or 7 cards, 16 and 32 Gig."
When I choose my composition for time-lapse, it depends on two main things. If I'm shooting a motion controlled shot, I need something in my foreground to show the motion. So I'm always looking for some nice, interesting foreground can be shown against a beautiful sky. There's much more freedom when shooting static. I'm usually just trying to find a beautiful scene that highlights whatever it is in the shot that's going to show motion, typically stars or clouds for me. Setting up on location can range from minutes for a static shot, to hours for a complex motion-controlled move."
CHOOSING A MODE
"I never shoot on Aperture priority or use multi frame HDR. I shoot everything on manual, and while I do process my images to try and maximize dynamic range, I'm not using any special 'HDR software' or multiple image techniques."
SHOOTING STAR TRAILS AND THE FLICKER PROBLEM
"I shoot everything at a constant aperture, mostly between f/2 and f/3.2 for nighttime shooting. I don't want any streaks in my stars, so I try to use a fast enough shutter speed for the focal length I'm using to not have star trails."
I shoot almost all my time-lapse no more than 1 stop down from maximum aperture, and really most of the time its 1/3-2/3 stop down if not wide open. This minimizes the distance the aperture must travel for each actuation which keeps the potential for variance much lower than if it was closing down many stops. Sometimes if its too bright out and I need to stop down a bit, I'll use the lens twist method (which can be googled), which essentially tricks the camera into locking the aperture at a constant position. Although I have not been able to get it to work on my Canon 5D Mark III, it does work on my Mark II."
TIME TO MAKE A TIME LAPSE
"I worked on and off on this piece that I just created [Yosemite: Range of Light], which is almost 5 minutes, for close to 2 years. Its been countless hours, but its been a personal project of someplace I love, so I was passionate about getting it just right."
"I recently saw Tom Lowe's film "Timescapes," and I was blown away. Even though I had helped work on the project, and was there for many of the shots in the film, and even had some of my own shots in there, I wasn't prepared for the emotional impact it created by bringing everything together with such beautiful score. I'm really excited to see Samsura! The trailer is mind blowing."
SHAWN'S EQUIPMENT LIST
"I have a Canon 5D, 5D Mark II, and 5D Mark III. I use all of them, but mostly the 2 newer ones. I have lots of Canon lenses, but I mainly use my 17-40 mm L and 50 mm L of my own lenses for time-lapse. Honestly though, I rent lenses ALL the time. I'd say 80% or more of the time I'm shooting time-lapse, I rent glass. I rent the Canon 14 mm L and Canon 16-35 mm L II. I also enjoy getting the 17 mm Tilt Shift and 24 mm Tilt Shift every now and again."