David Saffir: The Move to Motion: Timelapse Photography
Jan 2014 30

Timelapse photography is a great way to break into motion-based imaging. Timelapse can be accomplished in at least two ways: combining multiple frames into a single image, or using multiple frames to create a timelapase video. In this article, I’ll discuss the former; we have additional articles coming up that will discuss the latter.

I recently traveled to Monument Valley, Utah. Every photographer wishes for weather and clouds for landscape photography – but that was not to be. Crystal clear skies, and quite cold. Nighttime skies were spectacular, so we decided to try our luck after sunset.
We found a spot near a road that had no vehicle traffic, so headlights were not an issue.

You need little in the way of special equipment to do basic timelapse photography. I used an ordinary tripod with ball head, a Canon DSLR, and a Canon intervalometer.

Here’s an illustration of the intervalometer. This device combines a remote release with multiple electronic camera controls.

The two most important controls for timelapse in this case are outlined in red. The function on the left, called INT, controls the interval between shots. The function on the right, called LONG, controls the length of each exposure.

I set the on-camera controls to bulb, daylight white balance, and ISO 400. RAW capture. The intervalometer was set to 1 second between exposures, and four minutes exposure time per frame. Since I did not specify the number of frames to shoot, the camera would continue until the memory card was full or the battery ran out of power. I used a 32GB 1000x CF card.

The camera was set up on a tripod, with a 24-105mm lens, 24mm focal length, aimed upward at approximately 45 degrees to the horizon. Focus set to infinity in this case. Autofocus was turned off.

A quick tip: make sure that your lens and camera sensor are clean before shooting!

Even though it was quite dark, there was just enough light to frame the shot through the viewfinder. A flashlight sometimes helps with this, but beware of ruining the work of others shooting nearby. A headlamp is also useful for setup, etc.

Start the exposure by pressing the start-stop button on the intervalometer. Remember: don’t touch the camera during shooting, or you’ll ruin the current frame, or even worse, you’ll move the camera and ruin the entire sequence. At four minutes per frame, you’ll want to shoot for at least two hours to produce lengthy star trails. The more frames, the longer the star trails will be. Charge that battery!

This is the final image:


Post-production is straightforward. In this case, I’ll use Bridge, Adobe Camera Raw, and Photoshop to process the image.

Starting in Bridge, I’ll select the sequence of frames that I’ll later combine in Photoshop.

Next I press Command/Control-R and open these images together in Camera RAW.

If I click Select All in the upper left hand corner, I can then make adjustments to all the images at once using normal ACR controls. Be careful; a little touch-up goes a long way.

Click “Done” which will take you back to Bridge. Next, select the image files, and go Tools>Photoshop>Load Files Into Photoshop Layers. This will open all the images in Photoshop in layers in one image, and your screen will look like this:

Select all the layers via the Layers dialogue box. Now, change the Layer Blend Mode to Lighten on one layer, and they will all change to that blending mode. Voila! Your star trails image will spring to life!

You can add Levels, Curves, or other adjustments on additional layers. Now get out there and try it!

David Saffir is a commercial and fine art photographer and printmaker, located in Southern California, and a well-known speaker at workshops and conferences across the US.