Time-lapse photography is a cinematography technique that allows you to record a slow-moving scene or process and turn it into a sequence that plays back at a higher speed. Often photos that are captured over hours are compressed into a few seconds or minutes of video, creating a time-lapse effect. It is a technique that offers photographers the freedom to capture subtle, slow movement that is usually not seen by the naked human eye.
Time-lapses create the illusion of the fast movement of usually slow processes and changes by manipulating time. It involves capturing a series of stills of a scene at regular intervals, over a period of time, the sequence is then quickly replayed in its entirety to speed up the movement of a slow process. It is often used to capture the movement of natural landscapes and busy city streets. It enables you to capture slow-moving natural processes such as the movement of celestial objects or the growth and blossoming of a flower and can give you a greater connection to the natural world and your surroundings.
You do not have to be a professional or an experienced photographer, or own expensive equipment to start capturing time-lapses. The Nikon d3100 is a great option for time-lapses when combined with a compatible intervalometer.
Keep reading for tips on shooting high-quality time-lapses with the Nikon d3100.
Set The Interval Timing
One of the main things to consider when setting up your time-lapse is the interval timing. Depending on whether you are shooting a fast or slow-moving process, your interval timing will differ. It is important to consider the pace of movement in the scene you are capturing, to correctly calculate your time-lapse interval speed.
Faster movements such as that on a crowded city street or a busy motorway will require shorter interval timing between each still, of between one and three seconds. Allowing too much time between each still image when capturing fast-moving objects will result in jumpy images. If you are shooting a slower process or scene such as celestial movement in the night sky, you can allow for longer intervals of up to thirty seconds without risking a jumpy sequence.
It is necessary to purchase an additional intervalometer that is compatible with your Nikon d3100 when taking time-lapses. The intervalometer will allow you to set up an interval time-lapse for your Nikon camera as it is not a feature that is already built into your particular camera model. Connect the intervalometer to your camera before you decide to start shooting and select the correct interval timing, depending on whether your scene involves fast or slow-paced movement.
Choose Manual Mode
When you are shooting a time-lapse on your Nikon d3100, choose manual mode to give you the most control and best results. It may be tempting to select automatic or priority mode when shooting your time-lapse but be aware that automatic settings will not give you the same control over the exposure and color balance of your time-lapse images. Should you decide to shoot your time-lapse on automatic mode, your camera would alter the exposure and color-balance of each image still depending on changing levels of light and exposure in your scene. The camera cannot consistently change each shot, resulting in inconsistently exposed images. Choosing manual mode will give you much more control over the look of your images and your time-lapse sequence.
It can take some time to get used to shooting in manual mode, however, the Nikon d3100 is a great camera to learn with. Select the Manual mode on the camera’s mode dial. Select your aperture or f-stop depending on the depth of field that you desire for your time-lapse. A lower aperture is suitable for lower lighting conditions and will give you a shallow depth of field (and a blurry background). A higher aperture will keep more of your scene in focus.
Select your shutter speed based on your desired look and the speed of movement in your photo. If you want to capture sharp images of fast-moving objects, select a shutter speed of 1/80 or faster. If you desire an atmospheric motion blur or light trails, choose a slower aperture of 1/40 or slower. When you are selecting your shutter speed, a good rule to remember is to halve your desired frames per second to calculate your shutter speed e.g. when shooting at 30FPS select a shutter speed of 1/60.
Choose Manual Focus
The Nikon d3100 has the option of both automatic and manual focus, however, when shooting time-lapses manual focus is recommended. Manual focus will allow you to maintain a consistent focal point throughout your time-lapse’s sequence of images. When setting up your time-lapse, select manual focus on your Nikon d3100 by turning the focus ring on the lens. With some Nikon lenses, move the switch on the lens to the manual focus position.
Manual focus will ensure that each image in your sequence is focused in the same way and will allow you to maintain consistency in each image throughout your time-lapse sequence. If you decided to shoot your time-lapse in automatic-focus, your camera would refocus on a new subject to taking each still image. Automatic focus would result in inconsistently focused images and is especially problematic if you are shooting a fast-moving scene such as a busy city street.
If you are shooting a time-lapse of a landscape scene, aim to focus your image on the point of infinity on the horizon. This will ensure that more of the image is in focus. When shooting at night, or in lower-lighting conditions, focusing can be more difficult. If you are shooting a time-lapse of the night sky, for example, select auto-focus to focus on an object in the scene such as the moon, once the camera has successfully focused on your chosen object, switch to manual focus to ensure consistency throughout your images.
Shoot In RAW
When shooting your time-lapse, select the Nikon d3100s RAW file mode to ensure that you have more creative control when post-processing your images. While it may be tempting to shoot in JPEG to save space on your memory card or hard-drive, you will be losing image data and quality. To achieve high-quality images and gain more creative control, it is worth shooting in RAW rather than JPEG.
When shooting in JPEG you are giving the camera control over how it processes the image and adjust its color, sharpness, and exposure, meaning that a lot of the image data is lost and is not recoverable. While JPEGs may be suitable in certain situations, it is usually not recommended if you are looking to create a professional quality time-lapse.
Shooting in RAW gives you a lot more control over your images in post-processing because you don’t lose any of the image data and you have the freedom to edit it as you desire. With RAW the camera simply captures the image, unprocessed, giving you the final say over how your image looks. RAW files also have better image quality and a higher bit depth (the amount of color value a photo contains) compared to JPEG files.
While RAW images do take up more space on your hard drive and memory card, it is worth it for the higher-quality time-lapse images that you will be able to capture.
Use A Tripod
Using a tripod that is compatible with your Nikon d3100 will result in higher quality images and will also prevent any blur or shake that may be caused by the wind. If the location that you are shooting in is particularly windy or exposed, make sure that your tripod is heavy enough to withstand the movement to prevent shaky images.
In the same way that you want your image focal point to remain consistent throughout your sequence, you want to ensure that there is no movement or shaking that will cause your time-lapse to look blurry or inconsistent. Ensure your tripod is placed in a stable and secure position so that it cannot move or fall over. If you have spent hours scouting your location and setting up your time-lapse, you don’t want to ruin the sequence by bumping into the tripod or watching it fall over because of unstable ground. If you move or alter the position of the tripod during shooting, your sequence will likely be ruined and you may need to start again. Make sure to position yourself far enough away from your tripod to ensure that you do not accidentally knock it over when you are moving.
If you want to add an extra dimension to your time-lapses, consider adding motion. While in traditional time-lapses the camera will remain in a stationary position for the duration of the sequence, show motion to add interest. Choose a motorized slider that is compatible with your Nikon d3100 to add slow and smooth movement to your time-lapse.