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Shooting a Holy Grail Time Lapses with Adobe Lightroom and LRTimelapse

16 April 2015 | John White Book Accommodation

My first 'Holy Grail' time lapse taken from Lions Head in Table Mountain National Park


Once you have grasped the essentials of the simpler constant exposure time lapse, then it is time to move onto the more challenging multiple exposure time lapses which deal with changing lighting conditions. Time lapses that capture a large change in exposure in a smooth transition are generally referred to as ‘Holy Grail time lapses’ E.g. Time lapses that move from daylight to a starry sky. Capturing a Holy Grail time lapse is challenging as it requires changing a combination the ISO, shutter speed and even the aperture over the course of the time lapse. In order to get the smooth transition, it is critical that you shoot in raw image mode so that the sudden exposure changes (1/3rd stop changes due to changed settings) in each image can be smoothed out over multiple images. To create this smooth transition from day to night, you will need to download Adobe Lightroom and LRTimelapse. LRTimelapse is software that creates the smooth transitions from light to dark by smoothing out the large 1/3rd stop exposure changes (from changing your ISO, shutter speed or aperture) into multiple small exposure changes over a number of images. If you rendered a time lapse video without carrying out the smoothing process, there would be a noticeable flicker in the video created by the settings changes.  Adobe Lightroom is used to edit the images and then process all the RAW files into JPEGs. After processing the JPEGs, LRTimelapse then renders the images (stitched them together) into the time lapse video. 

Here's a few tips to help get you started. 

Pre-Setup checklist 

  1. -Decide what you are going to photograph
  2. -Decide on the frame rate (image interval) according to what you are shooting
    • -Fast moving objects – 0.5 to 5 seconds
    • -Slower moving objects – 5 to 15 seconds
    • -Very slow, low light shooting – 10 to 30 seconds
  3. -Remember that your shutter speed is limited by your frame rate and the time it takes your camera to get ready for the next shot. E.g. If your frame rate is 10 seconds, your longest possible exposure will be about 8 seconds when you include about 2 seconds for your camera to prepare for the next shot. If you are transitioning from light to dark, this becomes really important as it will impact on your ability to change the ISO, aperture and shutter speed between images.


Setup Checklist

  1. -Set camera to manual mode
  2. -Turn off AWB (Auto White Balance) by changing it to the most suitable manual setting
  3. -Set camera to RAW image format (essential for LRTimelapse)
  4. -Turn off image/lens stabilization (avoids small movements in the lens)
  5. -Set desired aperture
  6. -Place camera on tripod
  7. -Use sandbags to secure/stabilize the tripod if it is windy
  8. -Focus on subject and then turn off autofocus (avoids small changes in focus)
  9. -Take test photos and adjust ISO and shutter speed for correct exposure
  10. -Set your frame rate on your built-in or external intervalometer (remote shutter release)
  11. -Set the number of frames you want to take. Or just select the infinity option and let it run until you choose to stop the time lapse.


Automatic Exposure & ISO-Ramping

If you really want to take your time lapse photography further and save a lot of effort changing settings during your time lapse then you need to give qDSLRDashboard a try. In conjunction with a smartphone or tablet, this software takes full control of your cameras shutter release as well as the ISO, shutter speed and aperture. So rather than crouching over your camera and changing settings for hours, you can relax and enjoy a drink while your smartphone/tablet does all the hard graft! For Android devices you will need a USB OTG cable to connect for a wired setup. Alternatively you can have a wireless setup (the only option for iOS devices) using inbuilt wifi in some cameras or a TP-Link MR3040. My first choice would be the wired setup as it requires less kit and one less battery to keep changed… For more information on all your options, take a look at the LRTimelapse tutorial.


Post Production

Post production of your RAW files using Adobe Lightroom and LRTimelapse is a bit more complex but pretty straight forward it you have been through the tutorials. There are a number of comprehensive tutorials on LRTimelapse that explain every step of the process. It is highly recommended that you view these before attempting a Holy Grail time lapse:

  1. - Download and install Adobe Lightroom and LRTimelapse
  2. Basic Tutorial for LRTimelapse 3
  3. Deflicker Tutorial for LRTimelapse 3
  4. Day to Night (Holy Grail) Tutorial with LRTimelapse 3’s Holy Grail Wizard
  5. “True Holy Grail” – 3-way auto ramping for time lapse transitions
  6. Automatic Exposure & ISO-Ramping with LRTimelapse and qDSLRDashboard


Good luck with your time lapse!