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How to Shoot Day to Night Time-lapses

By Preston Kanak

As many people have proclaimed, day to night or night to day time-lapses are the ‘holy grail’ of time-lapse shooting. They tend to draw the attention of viewers because of their assumed complexity. At the same time, what people don’t understand is that they aren’t as tough to achieve as they appear. In this blog post, I will quickly walk you through a few different ways of capturing these types of shots.

Note: I will not be going in depth about the post production, such as white balance blending, but I will walk you through the basic process for working with your files.

There are three different ways to approach day to night time-lapses which include:

  1. Shoot in APERTURE PRIORITY and de-flicker in post.
  2. Shoot at least one shot during the day and one at night and then BLEND IN POST.
  3. RAMP YOUR EXPOSURE / ISO.

With each of these given scenarios, there are there elements or settings to consider which include interval, aperture / shutter speed balance & ISO.

Another consideration is white balance. I didn’t include this in the settings above because all this advice is based off of shooting raw, so white balance is able to be changed in post. On the same note, because I shoot low resolution jpegs for reference, I still choose to set the initial white balance. What I normally do is set my white balance based on the shooting conditions. If I am shooting a day to night, I will set my white balance to 5600K. Since we are shooting a raw time-lapse, the white balance is not critical as we will more than likely need to ramp it in post.

I will be using case studies to help illustrate these settings which can be viewed in either the full length Day to Night Tutorial video or the breakout videos below. As much as I would like to recommend settings for each scenario, this just isn’t possible due to the almost limitless possibilities.

Also, I want to also note that my mantra when it comes to learning new techniques is to stick with what works. When I find a workflow that works for me, I tend to stick with this method and as such, the information under bulb ramping is somewhat limited.

I have also drafted up a quick start guide for each section because, let’s face it, some of us like to get to the nuts and bolts. However, if you are serious about mastering time-lapse shooting, you will want to check out the post in its entirety.

***Please note that this series is presented in a serial fashion, and I highly recommend checking out the previous ones if you haven’t already, as there are some skills you will need to master before proceeding to this lesson. If you have yet to check out the previous episodes, click here.

Both the post and video are long, so I recommend sitting down with a coffee and be prepared to take some notes! Also, I have included a bunch of more information in the blog post that isn’t in the video and will keep adding to this post so make sure to also check out the info below!

Aperture Priority

The simplest method of the lot is capturing the time-lapse using aperture priority mode. Although the simplest, it also comes with risks. First off, by shooting in aperture priority, you are relying on the camera’s internal processing or metering to determine the change of exposure between day and night. Often I have found that if I set the exposure perfect for the start of the time-lapse, that it often is either under or over exposed depending if it was a day to night or night to day shot.

Determining the exact settings is a bit of a challenge based on your given scenario, but as an example, I will walk you through a case study.

Aperture Priority Case Study

Another disadvantage with aperture priority is that you will more than likely experience a lot of flicker and will be forced to remove it in post. I primarily shoot time-lapses using the Canon 5D Mark II’s but have recently upgraded to the 5D Mark III’s. I’ve found that the Mark III’s are MUCH better with the accuracy of their metering, resulting in less flicker. It is important to note that with this method, there is a chance of your shot failing because of the amount of flicker.

Screen Shot 2013-03-29 at 16.35.46How to Shoot Using Aperture Priority

To shoot a day to night / night to day time-lapse in aperture priority mode, all you need to do is set your initial exposure and interval and let the camera do the rest for you. For this method, you will more than likely want to use a wide aperture (low number) so your shutter does not have to remain open as long as it would have to be if your aperture was closed. In aperture priority, the camera determines the shutter speed.

In regards to your interval, there are two approaches:

  1. The first method requires you to know how long your longest exposure will take for your given shot. Once you know that, you will then be able to set your interval based on that number. Keep in mind that you will need to work in buffer time as well. For example, if your longest shutter speed is 15 seconds, you will want to set your interval to around 17 seconds.
  2. The second method allows you to set your interval to something quicker, however, by doing this, when your exposure time starts to exceed your interval time, the smoothness of the motion will be inconsistent as you will start to get fewer frames as it gets darker. The time between shots will also change as the exposure times increase. Although it’s not noticeable on most shots, there are times when you will notice this on motion controlled shots. 

When choosing your settings using this method, it is a fine balancing act. For most shots, the night shots will have a smoother motion and your day shots will have a staccato look as seen in the image below. 

long_vs_short_shutter_speed

(left) SHUTTER: 1/4000 ISO: 100 APERTURE: 5.6 (right) SHUTTER: 1/30 ISO: 100 APERTURE: 22 FILTER: Heliopan Vari-ND

 

Okay, now I am sure you are asking, can you just get to the point already? WHAT SETTINGS DO I NEED TO USE TO SHOOT A DAY TO NIGHT TIME-LAPSE USING APERTURE PRIORITY MODE? Although it is a bit of a balancing act to get started, here is the step-by-step guide.

 

Quick Start Guide – Aperture Priority

To shoot a time-lapse in aperture priority mode, you need to:

  1. Set camera to aperture priority mode.
  2. Focus image.
  3. Choose interval using method 1 or 2 mentioned above.
  4. Set INITIAL EXPOSURE (Aperture & ISO). As mentioned, when choosing your settings using this method, it is a fine balancing act. For most shots, the night shots will have a smoother motion and your day shots will have a staccato look if you hope to capture the most dynamic shift between day and night.
    • Option 1 (Day to Night): This method is the most versatile for capturing the widest range of light change. However, you will get a staccato effect during the day time portion. Aperture: 2.8-4.0 ISO: 640-1250 Shutter: 1/1000 to 1/8000 NO FILTER
    • Option 2 (Day to Night): This method allows you to capture a smooth / fluid motion throughout the entire shot. The downside is that your range of available light is limited in some scenarios. You will not be able to capture an astro time-lapse with this method. Aperture: 5.6-16 ISO: 100-320 Shutter: 1/30 to 1/15  Use ND Filters
    • Option 1 (Night to Day): This method is the most versatile for capturing the widest range of light change. However, you will get a staccato effect during the day time portion. Aperture: 2.8-4.0  ISO: 640-1250 Shutter: 10-30 seconds. NO FILTER
    • Option 2 (Night to Day): This method allows you to capture a smooth / fluid motion throughout the entire shot. The downside is that your range of available light is limited in some scenarios. You will not be able to capture an astro time-lapse with this method. Aperture: 5.6-16 ISO: 100-320 Shutter: 10-30 seconds. USE ND Filters
  5. Double check focus.
  6. Start the time-lapse.
  7. Sit back and take in the environment.

 

Blend in Post

My go-to option out of the three is the blend option. With this method, you will not only be able to ensure your time-lapses stay flicker free, but you will also be able to track the progress of your shot. By breaking the shot into sections, you are able to shoot multiple shorter time-lapses with more flexibility in post.

Blend in Post Case Study

Unlike shots captured using the aperture priority method, you are easily able to control how smooth your motion is.

To shoot using the blend method, you will want to focus on consistency and repeatability. You will need to shoot at least two time-lapses. It’s totally up to you how many you want to shoot but two is the minimum. I would recommend more, as the transition is smother with more, however, processing does take longer and is a little more complex, especially when shooting motion controlled shots.

If you are shooting a static time-lapse, you do not need to worry about variance in repeatability and can simply layer your shots, no matter what speed they were recorded at. However, if you are shooting a motion controlled shot, you will want to run the same shot out in its entirety and then match the final clip’s speed before lining up. I will go over this more specifically when I go over the post processing. I highly recommend using your motion control device’s internal camera control functionality to trigger your camera, as you will be able to line up your shots easier by simply basing the variation in time from the difference in the amount of frames captured. These devices should tell you how many pictures were fired (or if your card was formatted you will be able to highlight all images in your browser to find out how many photos were fired).

How to Blend Between Two Motion Controlled Shots


In the video above, I walk you though how to blend between two motion controlled shots.

Once you have lined up all your shots, all you need to do is blend between them using the opacity function (or using the ‘holy grail’ method if using LR Timelapse).

***Please note that you may see some variation in the moves, so I recommend using a difference matte in After Effects to make sure the tracks line up. I will go over this method in a future tutorial.

 

Quick Start Guide – Blend in Post

To shoot using the blend option you need to:

  1. Set camera to manual mode.
  2. Set your focus.
  3. Set exposure (aperture & ISO) for each given shot with the desired settings. If you are unsure what settings to use, check the samples at the bottom of the post on how to shoot a static time-lapse.
  4. Choose interval based on the look you want.
  5. Double check focus.
  6. Start the time-lapse.
  7. Monitor as your exposure changes.
  8. Stop the time-lapse and adjust settings, ensuring not to bump camera.
  9. Repeat steps 6-8 as desired depending on the amount of shots you want to capture.

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Bulb Ramping

The last of the three options is bulb-ramping. I won’t be going in depth on how to shoot a day-to-night time-lapse using the bramping solution, but if you would like to find out more about this method, I have included resources at the bottom of the page.

With this method, you are able to smoothly blend between exposures to create a smooth transition between day and night. The disadvantage of this method is that with some of the devices, you need to manually ramp the exposure as the light shifts. I have also found that minor deflickering is necessary for these time-lapses.

Another disadvantage is that the range of exposure change is limited, and you may not be able to achieve the range of light achievable using the blend option.

Bulb Ramping Tutorial by Joel Schat

Joel Schat is a Time-lapse Photographer living in Beautiful British Columbia. The video above was embedded with permission. If you would like to find out more about Joel or view more of his work, make sure to check out his website.

Quick Start Guide – Bulb Ramping

To shoot using a bulb-ramping device, you need to:

  1. Set camera to bulb mode.
  2. Set exposure (aperture & ISO) for each given shot with the desired settings. In bulb mode, you cannot fire your camera faster than 1/10s.
  3. Choose interval starting point based on the look you want. As the light either darkens or lightens, change your settings accordingly.

 

Currently there are a few options on the market for capturing day to night time-lapses using a bulb ramper which include:

  1. Promote Control w bulb assist kit – The Promote Control Bulb Ramping / Bulb HDR Assistant Kit helps create high precision bulb Time-Lapse sequences, ensuring accuracy of up to 0.001 EV steps. Now you can create stunning time-lapse sequences of sunsets or other variable light conditions.
  2. GB Timelapse - Currently limited to Windows platform – Trigger your camera using a windows based computer connected to USB port of camera.
  3. Timelapse + – This device is used for triggering the camera as well as auto-bulb ramping.
  4. Triggertrap App – iPhone app developed to trigger your camera with bulb ramping integration.
  5. Little BramperCurrently Sold out & limited to Canon DSLR’s: Little Bramper was designed to addresses this short-coming, permitting smooth exposure variationsover a wide range of exposure (>10 stops).
  6. Magic Lantern – Software solution part of the ML install.

Out of all these solutions, I have only used the Little Bramper Solution.

Resources

Still have questions on how to shoot day to night time-lapses using the bramping method? I’ve attached some resources below for reference.

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Comments

  1. Awesome awesome content… thank you Preston! The best, most complete and detailed tutorial on timelapse I’ve seen so far. Answered several questions I had about it.
    Saving in bookmarks for the definitive place to go for a grand lesson on timelapse.

  2. Hi Preston,

    You forgot to add the 4th & 5th method:

    4. Set your 5D in Automatic mode, use a great piece of glass [Zeiss Hassleblad or Contax] WITHOUT any gizmos [i.e, manual lenses only], set the aperture to ~2.8 and let the camera do the rest:
    https://vimeo.com/29562288

    5. Use a ND500 filter to create “lightpaintings” – set the manual lens exposure to f22, shutter speed to 1 sec exposure, intervalometer to 3sec.
    https://vimeo.com/50929023

    rgds
    Kostas

  3. Doug Hancock says:

    Nice tutorial, thanks Preston. I would simplify the mask on the tree though. Less points are more :)

  4. guillaumejuin says:

    Hi, that was the exact thing I wanted for months! You did a good job ordering your explanations. But I was wondering why you do not use that much the bramping method? I only see one inconvenient: using ND filters for day! And yeah, maybe this method is a bit more complicated at shooting. But almost everything is better with it! And especially the flicker. Well at least you don’t go out gambling on the fact that maybe Av mode will not produce flicker…

    Of course the manual blending option is the best with flicker, but I think it doesn’t restitute a good transition. Too much weird for me…

    I do a lot of timelapses, but never did a day to night, because never had the need to, but a client is asking for it in Paris, and I think I wiil go with the Bramp method, 5DII, magic lantern. Will do a blank test this week or the next.

    If anything I said is pure shit, please correct me… I’d be glad ;)

    But anyway, THANKS A LOT Preston for those informations, and thank you philip to deliver it!

  5. Ivan says:

    Nice, Preston. I’ll have a look at those detailed tutorials soon.
    I ‘m lagging behind myself, though… Finally mastered how to get rid of the annoying flickering by using free software: VirtualDub with the MSU Deflicker plugin. For those interested, here is the result: https://vimeo.com/68493175
    (There is also a link to the non-de-flickered video).

  6. deneemotion says:

    Great content and tutorial. Thanks for sharing, Philip! x

  7. Nick says:

    I just wanted to thank you, Preston, for this fantastic resource. I had never really thought of the Blend option before. If you are still checking comments I wonder if you could let me know on how long an overlap for the blend you find works well.