Time-lapse photography involves shooting hundreds, or even thousands, of still images, which are replayed in a sequence to become a time-compressed video. An engaging art form, it can help to breathe new life into traditional landscape photography. "Time-lapse photography allows you to see fresh potential in a landscape," says Alex Nail, a professional landscape photographer and time-lapse filmmaker who produces imagery for organisations including Visit Britain and the Woodland Trust.
"With landscape shots it can be difficult to engage the viewer, but as soon as you incorporate motion the scene comes alive. If you're out on a beautiful summer's day, the harsh lighting might not be great for stills, but when you see clouds bubbling up or sweeping by, that's a perfect opportunity to shoot time-lapse."
A sunrise, a flowing stream, waves at the seashore, or even passing traffic on a city street can all be turned into mesmerising footage, taking as little as just a few minutes to set up and shoot.
Using the Canon EOS RP, a small, light and intuitive full-frame mirrorless camera, ideal for creativity on the go, Alex shares his five top tips for shooting time-lapse landscapes.
1. Start with the correct kit
For Alex, the small, light and powerful Canon EOS RP was ideal for shooting time-lapse landscapes in remote locations.
To shoot time-lapse landscapes, Alex uses a tripod, a wide-angle or mid-range zoom lens and usually an intervalometer to set the interval between frames. However, a number of Canon cameras feature a built-in intervalometer and a Timelapse Movie shooting mode, including the EOS 250D, EOS 90D, EOS M6 Mark II, EOS 6D Mark II and EOS RP, which can all capture time-lapse footage in 4K. The EOS RP enables you to shoot at intervals of one second or more with a finished duration of up to 3,600 frames, in 4K UHD or Full HD, and makes the process easy: you just set up the camera, decide how much of a gap you want between shots and how long you want it to shoot for, and the camera takes care of the rest, stitching the images together into a video sequence for you in-camera.
"With the Canon EOS RP, you can simply set up the camera and let it do its thing as the scene changes in front of you," Alex says.
Alex pairs his Canon EOS RP with a Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM lens. "This lens suits time-lapse photography because it delivers really useful focal lengths. I shoot a lot of my time-lapse landscapes at 24mm but this lens means I still have extra reach for more distant scenes," he says. Alongside the next-generation RF lenses, the Canon EOS RP is also compatible with Canon's range of EF and EF-S lenses via an EF-EOS R Mount Adapter.
2. Set your camera
The 5-stop Image Stabilization technology in the Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM lens is beneficial when shooting handheld, but Alex advises using a tripod for time-lapse shots. "If your lens has an Image Stabilizer switch, remember to deactivate IS when using a tripod as it can cause drift," he says. Selecting Timelapse Movie mode on the Canon EOS RP will disable the lens's IS.
To increase clarity and consistency, Alex also advises locking down the settings. "Remembering to switch to manual focus always catches me out. If the scene changes, or the light levels change, or there's just the slightest shift in focus, it can cause problems, so lock it all down – camera and settings – and focus manually." Simply move the AF/MF switch on your lens to MF.
3. Master the exposure
Landscapes are reliant on natural light, which can change quickly in a matter of seconds, so exposure has a significant role to play in time-lapse photography. Unless he's shooting directly into the sun, Alex shoots sunrises and sunsets in Aperture Priority mode, which means the camera automatically sets the shutter speed according to the light. "The changes in exposure between frames are very small," he says, "so there is less flicker than you might expect." However, if you want to capture natural exposure changes, Alex suggests switching to manual mode. "This is actually the easiest way to shoot a time-lapse, because you can just set it up and forget about it."
In Timelapse Movie mode on the Canon EOS RP, you can take a test shot to evaluate the exposure settings before pressing the movie shooting button to start recording the time-lapse sequence.
4. Choose a duration to fit the scene
To decide the interval between shots, think about how quickly the scene will be changing. Flowing water, waves on the seashore and passing traffic all move fairly quickly, so shorter intervals will capture things without abrupt, jarring changes. For fast-moving clouds on a windy day, an interval between 1 second and 4 seconds should do the trick.
In order to produce a four to six second clip, Alex aims to film between 10 and 12 seconds of footage – "you may not know exactly when the most interesting part is going to happen," he explains. If you step up to creating time-lapse footage manually in software, you can also speed up the playback, and "doubling the number of frames also allows you to double the speed if you notice your time-lapse is changing too slowly." Most of Alex's sequences start with around 300 frames, which gives him 12 seconds of footage when played back at 25 frames per second (fps).
As your skills develop, Alex advises experimenting with twilight transitions, and then with starry skies. "To time-lapse the night sky and see the stars spinning around Polaris, shoot at 40-second intervals with a 30-second shutter speed," he says. "You'll need a much longer time period than for shooting clouds."
Battery life is definitely a consideration when you're shooting through the night. "I've found that Canon batteries are very reliable, even if it's cold," Alex says, but bear in mind that battery capacity will drop in cold conditions. For lengthy or overnight shoots with the Canon EOS RP, you might need to think about connecting the camera to a power source using optional accessories such as the AC adapter AC-E6N, DC coupler DR-E18 or AC adapter kit ACK-E18.
5. Create a compelling composition
When shooting stills of landscapes, Alex favours featuring strong graphic elements in the foreground, such as rocks, trees or water, but composing time-lapse shots requires a different approach. "Making successful time-lapse footage is about simplifying the frame to allow its qualities to shine. When I'm shooting stills, I'm very precise about composition, but with time-lapse I shoot a bit wider because you can't anticipate what might happen – and then in post-processing I can crop in later if I want to. The Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM lens is ideal: I can shoot wide, but if the scene demands a tighter frame, such as when the moon or sun sinks below the horizon, I have that covered too."
So next time you're out and about, look for opportunities to bring the landscape to life – creating a time-lapse doesn't have to take much more time than you might spend setting up on a tripod for a still landscape photo, and a camera with a time-lapse shooting mode such as the Canon EOS RP makes it so easy.
Written by Natalie Denton