One of my favorite types of photography is time-lapse.When done well, time-lapse videos can be a breathtaking testament to the beauty of our natural surroundings.Heck, even if the terrain isn’t spectacularly beautiful, putting it into motion can still offer a sense of wonderment about the world in which we live.To master the art of time-lapse videos, there are a number of critical steps involved.
Step 1: Scout the Location
When looking for a landscape to feature in a day-to-night time-lapse, you want something that will allow you to capture the gorgeous transition of light as the sun falls below the horizon and shadows creep across the landscape.
To do this, you need a location that affords you an unobstructed view of the western sky.
But remember, you aren’t just banking on a single moment in time to capture images for the video. Instead, you need to be assured that wherever you set up your gear, that you’ll have a view of the entire sunset.
You can use Google Earth to pinpoint a location and see an augmented reality version of the sun’s path from that spot at any point in the day. Then, once you’re in the field, you can use apps like PhotoPills to determine how the sun will track at your location and get pinpoint times for the sunset as well.
Step 2: Pack the Essential Gear
Though there are plenty of excellent locations for sunset time-lapse photography that are easily accessible, not all locations are as easy as hopping out of the car and setting up shop.
If you want to head to locations off the beaten path, it’s wise to pack light and only take the essentials.
In this case, that’s your camera and lens, a tripod with a Syrp ballhead, a Syrp Super Dark Variable ND Filter, and a Syrp Genie Mini, which gives you motion control over your camera and works as an intervalometer as well.
With the accompanying smartphone app, you can direct the Genie Mini to shoot smooth, panning time-lapse video. In fact, it comes pre-loaded with time-lapse video pre-sets to help even the most novice of time-lapse photographers create epic videos.
Step 3: Compose the Shot
Using the ballhead on your tripod, the next step is to compose the starting frame of the time-lapse.
Simply adjust the head as needed, remembering that your camera will likely shoot in 3:2 format, whereas the time-lapse will be in 16:9 format.
That means that the top and bottom of your image won’t be visible in the time-lapse, so be sure to compose the shot such that nothing of great importance is in these areas.
Additionally, when composing the shot, it’s a good idea to have something of interest to draw the viewer into the time-lapse, like the building and the grasses in the screenshot above.
But composing the shot also requires that you arrange the elements within it to be pleasing to the eye.
Using the rule of thirds can help you do that, by placing the sunset in the upper one-third of the frame.
Of course, that means that the bottom two-thirds of the image needs to have elements that are visually engaging, which has been done in the screenshot above.
Step 4: Set the Exposure Settings
The difficulty of creating a time-lapse at sunset is that the lighting starts out quite consistent, and then when sunset commences, the lighting changes rapidly.
One way you can overcome this difficulty is to manually adjust the ISO over the course of the shoot, which allows you to maintain a constant shutter speed from start to finish.
If you want to blur the movement of clouds and other objects in the shot, you’ll need to extend the shutter speed by using a variable ND filter like the Syrp Super Dark shown below
Another tip is that you don’t have to shoot your time-lapse in full manual. In fact, if you don’t need a long shutter speed, aperture priority mode should work well.
However, regardless of what mode you use, err on the side of underexposure, that way you’re sure not to blow out the highlights in the sky as the sun moves across the camera’s field of view.
And don’t worry if the images you take look really dark – you can recover the details in shadowed areas in post-processing much easier than you can recover details in blown out highlights.
Step 5: Set the Time-Lapse Settings
The settings you use to record the time-lapse images will depend on how long it takes the sun to set at your location. Thus, PhotoPills comes in handy for getting a specific time frame for your time-lapse.
A good starting point is to set the duration for about 2-2.5 hours, and since the earth rotates around the sun at a rate of about 15-degrees per hour, a rotation of 30-degrees is advisable, as shown above.
With the Syrp Genie App, it’s incredibly easy to set these parameters.
Once you have the first frame set, you can use the Genie App to drag the camera and lock in the endpoint. From there, you can fine-tune the settings, press “Return Home” in the Genie App, and the camera will rotate back to their starting position.
Another thing to keep in mind is that when you set the interval, that is, the time between each individual photo, you need to account not only for the movement that the Genie Mini needs to make, but also the time your camera’s buffer needs to work.An interval of 15 seconds should give your camera plenty of time to do its thing in between each shot.