You just have to step outside the manual a bit and find the cool things you can do with your digital video camera and your editing software.
We have all seen them in a movie or a TV show, those very cool shots where they speed up time and capture a long segment of time and condense it into a very short amount of video. My very favorite example of this technique was an arty movie of many years ago that was called Koyaanisqatsi. (view trailer) In that movie they had some very interesting segments where they did time lapse effects to show driving on a bridge, flowers growing, clouds flying by and so on. Another example is many of the TV news stations nowadays have a camera that captures the day's weather and then they process it down to a 20 second clip to show the clouds and weather racing by on screen.
Well this technique is not just a tool in the hands of the movie makers or the big TV stations. You can do this with your digital video camera gear too. I will go into two ways that you can accomplish this effect and get some cool results for your next video project. This one is worth playing around with in order to find the right settings to get the most dramatic effect.
Technique number one is to use the camera itself to do the time lapse recording for you. Almost all digital video cameras have the ability to do an interval recording. What this means in a nutshell is that you tell the camera how long you want to record for and how long in between recordings and it will go on autopilot for you for as long as the battery lasts or the tape runs out. This is what those cameras at the convenience store do, they record a few seconds of motion every 30-60 seconds giving the overall view of the traffic in the store over time.
Now if you want to capture some time lapse in your digital video camera you will need to get into your cameras menu and find Interval Recording (or in my case Int Rec, as I use a Sony PD 150 for my camera) When you select this option you will decide how long of an interval between shots you want and how long to record each time. If you are trying to capture something that takes a long time to occur and in which not much happens quickly you will want to set the interval at around a minute and the record time as short as possible on your camera. An example would be if you wanted to record a day in the life of a flower or the clouds rolling by in the sky. Suppose however that you want to capture an event that has lots of action and occurs over a much shorter time frame. Then you would want to shorten the interval between recordings and increase the time of each recording. So in this case you might record every 15-30 seconds and record up to 2-3 seconds of video each time.
I used this technique to capture an afternoon of work being done by a team of carpenters on my house remodeling project. The result was a flurry of activity as workers raced hither and yon nailing boards, carrying equipment and building walls. I have added it to my photo collection of the project. (Hey I had to live through the project so I might as well have a great record of it for posterity!)
Now suppose you have one of the great software video editing packages on your computer to work with your digital video camera. Now you can do it in post as they say in the business. You can record any length of video you want (subject to the limitations of your tape length) and then import it into your editing program.
I use Adobe Premiere Pro for my editing jobs, but I have also used Avid DV Express, Final Cut Pro, and others in the non linear editing world. These are all great programs and are very powerful products that can create some very professional looking videos. You don't have to have these products to create your own videos but if you are serious about digital video editing it might be a good idea to take a look at these options.
I digitize my raw video of the scene I am doing time lapse on into my computer (big hard drive, video eats up GB's of space) and then import the clip into my time line. From th3e timeline you can then select the clip with a right click. From there you will be given a menu with options depending on the software you use. Select the option that says "duration", "speed" or something similar. Change the speed of the clip so that time will speed up considerably. If you have an hour of video in the clip and want to shorten it to 2 -5 minutes then you need to increase the speed of the clip to 3 or 4 thousand percent of normal. This will require your software to render the clip at the higher speed and may take some time top process depending on the speed of your computer.
Once you have rendered the video clip at the new speed you will want to play it to see if the movie flows evenly or if you will want to readjust the speed setting to make it better. Sometimes you may want to shorten your raw video and adjust the speed down somewhat in order to get a smooth flow of action. Once you have rendered the clip at the new speed you can now cut and splice it as you see fit with the speeded up action intact. There are some things you will record that might only need a slight speed change, take for instance some digital video of your kids playing sports. Double or triple the speed of the clip and show it to them and you might have them rolling on the floor.
You can also use these techniques to capture the growth of a flower or plant over the course of days or weeks. Simply set you camera in exactly the same place at the same time each day and record an interval that works each day fro however long you want to document. May be you get the seedling just breaking soil and follow it all the way through turning into a full grown plant.
Another interesting idea is to capture the path of the moon across the night sky. Set up your camera on a tripod in a spot that can see the path of the moon for several hours. Set the camera to interval record and put the moon on one side of the frame so that it will pass across the frame as the night passes. This one may require some testing in order to get the exposure and framing right as well as the right interval to record at. Most likely you would want to set the interval as long as you can and the record time as short as you can but do a test run first to see what works.
I can't stress enough that using your digital video camera can be great fun and you can achieve some cool results. Play around and test. You just might find yourself creating some very creative digital video to share with the rest of the world.
Kevin Rockwell worked as a network TV cameraman for 20 years shooting news and sports. Now a devoted fan of digital photography and video he works to gather information, tips and news for digital camera users. Oh and he loves to shoot pictures of cool and interesting things all the time. (http://www.greatdigitalcameras.info)
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