Here's a time-lapse photography video we made of us decorating the tree this year. Hope you like it!
How'd we do that?
It took a combination of trial, error, and luck to get this photo sequence to turn out well. I had the bright idea to give it a try just before we started putting ornaments on. Whether it worked out the way we wanted it to or not, we thought it would be a fun experiment and learning project. The following is a little technical, but I think it could be helpful to anyone wanting to do a similar project.
The equipment used to make the sequence:
- Canon 50D camera
- EF-S 10-22mm lens
- Speedlite 580 EX II (master) and 430 EX II (slave) flashes
- DSLR Remote by OnOne Software
- My laptop
The camera and 580 flash were set up on the tripod about 10 feet away from the tree. The 430 flash was placed a few feet closer and lower on our coffee table. The lens was zoomed to about 20mm and was manually focused. I also set the exposure mode to manual, in order for the photos to have a more consistent look. The ISO was set to 200, white balance to flash and the shutter speed and aperture were 1/30 and 6.3.
Even with a DSLR camera, taking indoor pictures with motion under room lighting is kind of tough. Freezing the motion with as little blur as possible is even tougher. If the ISO was bumped up higher, I thought the images would look a little more grainy than I wanted. Increasing the aperture could have left a little too much out of focus and, of course, lowering the shutter speed would produce a lot of undesirable blur. The only option left was to increase the light!
We tried a few options before resorting to flashes. The room the tree is in is our living room, which is about 21 feet by 16 feet with an 11-foot vaulted ceiling. We turned on every light in the room and took a few test pictures. The results were very dark and lacking detail. Next, I decided to try a really bright work light that I have. I placed it on the floor and shot a few more tests (example at the left). The result was better detail, but the light cast some pretty big shadows that also made the results look bad.
We have flashes for our cameras, so I decided to try them next. When using more than one flash, one of the units is placed on the camera, like normal, and is designated the master. The secondary/slave flash fires when it detects the master flash firing. It's a pretty cool feature. I've known about it for a while, but I hadn't tried it before. Setting them up to work like this required a peek at the manual but it was up and going in a few minutes. I tilted the 580 EX II to a 45-degree angle and used the catchlight panel to bounce some light back to our faces. I set the 430 EX II to use the wide panel, in order to better illuminate the lower portion of the frame. There may have been a better way to set this up, but I haven't done a lot of flash photography yet and can still claim ignorance. Hopefully my experienced photography friends aren't shaking their heads too hard .
The results turned out pretty well. Shadows are there, but they're not as dark as the photos with the work light. They also made it possible to get a better freeze of the action as we were hanging ornaments.
There are a number of ways you can take a series of photos with most DSLR cameras. Wired or wireless remote units with built-in intervalometers are available for many cameras. An intervalometer, in photography, is used to trigger a number of exposures over a given amount of time, such as one picture every 15 seconds, which is what we used for our project.
I don't own a dedicated camera remote, however. Instead, I used some great software called DSLR Remote from OnOne Software. DSLR Remote is a two-piece package. An application runs on your Mac/PC, which is attached to your camera via a USB cable. The DSLR remote app runs on the iPhone or iPod Touch. It can control your camera via WiFi. You can use this software to release the shutter (take pictures), change camera settings, view photographs taken on your iPhone/iPod Touch and even enable Live View (if supported on your camera) and see the output in the palm of your hand. Ad hoc wireless networks are supported, too. This software has an intervalometer function that did just what I needed for our project.
There were some minor technical difficulties during our Christmas tree decorating ... namely my flash batteries giving out! The flash started firing every other photo, so we had to stop and get fresh batteries. Minutes later, we were back in business. Overall, we were very pleased with how the photos turned out. Very minimal adjustments to them had to be made.
I resized the sequence of photos, 153 total, to 1920x1280 and imported them all into Adobe Premiere. Premiere kept the photos in filename order, which made it easy to drag and drop them onto my video sequence. I selected the entire set and added cross dissolves with just a few clicks. Next, I did some searching for some Creative Commons music and found "It's Christmastime" by Oliville Christmas Dynasty. If you're not familiar with Creative Commons, follow the link to learn more. In a nutshell, it's a licensing agreement that lets artists publish their works for others to use or modify, generally with only a few guidelines. I listened to a dozen songs before choosing this one, which I thought was a great fit for the video.
Despite the bumps here and there, the project was fun. We learned a few things, too, like putting hooks on your ornaments first and then hanging them up seems to go much faster than putting the hooks on as you take them out of the box. I also learned my rechargeable batteries may need replacing soon! Hello, Santa?