Ever wonder what setting to use to capture a particular timelapse? Here are a few of the settings I have used in the past for a few difficult scenarios. Although these settings are primarily for timelapse videos, it may be useful for still photography as well.
Day to Night
There are several methods such as exposure ramping or taking two exposure on separate days and blending them in post. I usually prefer to keep it simple by setting my mode dial on aperture priority and letting the camera adjust the exposure accordingly.
Rolling clouds can throw off exposure on day to night timelapse in Aperture Priority.
Every camera will adjust the settings differently so some experimentation is required. As a starting point, I prefer to set my aperture to around f/8. This will not only ensure a sharp focus but also forces the camera to bump the shutter speed to about 1 second as night falls. I usually keep the ISO at a fixed low setting but auto can be used if you anticipate drastic daylight swing that changes in shutter speed alone cannot handle. I usually set my white balance to flash or shade as it provides a happy medium between the daylight and tungsten, if needed, minor adjustments in post can correct the color temperature.
Be aware that any auto setting, exposure may not be a linear decline (e.g. clouds entering and leaving the scene may throw off the exposure) it is best to babysit the process. If AE isn’t giving you the results you like, you can make incremental changes in exposure if done carefully and consistently.
For night to day, re-read this last paragraph backwards. Just kidding, but you can start with the settings the the camera used at the end as a starting point.
A starting point is a fast wide open aperture 2.8 or wider, 30 second shutter speed, and ISO as high as you find acceptable for your particular camera (usually around 1600 for me). 30 second is about a long the shutter speed can be before the stars turn into trails. White balance is set to daylight unless there are practical lights in the scene to account for.
Timelapse of the Polaris (the North Star).
Be aware that if you want to go from day to night or vice versa, aperture priority may not yield good results because some camera’s timelapse function may not allow shutter speeds upwards of 30 seconds.
Streaky Highway Traffic
Of course this will depend on the speed of the traffic but in general, I prefer to crank my shutter speed to at least one second or more to get decent streaks for highway traffic of 65mph. I believe the timelapse below is about a shutterspeed of 4 seconds.
Traffic along I-5 in front of downtown Seattle.
Aperture, Shutter speed, and ISO is less important here. You may want to leave one on auto to account for changing condition since the last thing you want to do is fiddle with the camera settings while driving.
What does matter is the time lapsed between shots. At highway speeds, anything longer than 1 second will be unusable unless you’re in bumper to bumper traffic or have long stretches of highway with little twists or turns. In most camera, fractions of a second is not an option so the next best thing is to take continuous video and speed it up in post. This is sometimes a good option in general for timelapse where you don’t know what you want to end result to look like because this give you control over how much or how little to speed it up. In addition you can even ramp the speed up and down to emphasize certain subjects or actions.
The footage you see here and more are available for purchase at pond5, shutterstock, and fotolia. What settings do you prefer to use for capturing various scenarios? Do you want to hear my thoughts on a scenario not covered here? Please leave a comment below.