I’ve written a few articles here on the site about slow motion and it’s ever-growing accessibility and quality. It seems like with every new year we push the limits of high speed photography. In fact, lately I feel it has become a fad, often being taken to such an extreme we find ourselves fast forwarding to the climactic points, completely contradicting the appeal of slow motion to begin with.
At one point I nearly uploaded a video titled “1 Million Frames Per Second Butterfly“. It was going to be a 5 minute long video of a butterfly in flight. I was looking to innocently mock at this obsession with slower and slower motion with such an extreme title, only to have viewers slowly realize that the butterfly is not moving, and they were in fact looking at a static, non changing single image throughout. Making the point that limitlessness technology does not necessarily mean limitless discoveries, understanding, or enlightenment. As the butterfly would illustrate with its undramatic seemingly static state.
High speed photography has now been pushed to SUCH an even further extreme than anyone ever thought imaginable, that it has become once again a major breakthrough. How does One Trillion Frames Per Second sound? At a trillion frames per second, a video of my butterfly making just ONE single flap of its wings by my calculations would take over 12 1/2 YEARS to watch. Hopefully now you can understand what a staggering figure 1 trillion frames per second is. So far this furthers the point of my butterfly, so why is it a major breakthrough?
When we’re talking about speeds this extremely slow, a butterfly from this perspective is more immobile than the grand canyon seems to us now. So what moves fast enough that can be analyzed at this speed? Well, imagine flicking on the light switch and being able to see the photons extend outwards from your lamp’s light bulb and emerge out into the darkness of your room, creating light as they bounce infinitely in every direction as they come into contact with the objects around them. Imagine being able to capture on film- the speed of light.
1826 Joseph Nicéphore Niépce captured the first photo with an exposure time of 8 hours.
1877 Eadweard Muybridge devises a shutter mechanism made of wood, brass, and rubber bands, to capture a horse in motion at a shutter speed near 1/125th of a second.
1964 Harold E. Edgerton photographs a bullet piercing an apple at a shutter speed of 1/1,000,000 ( one millionth of a second).
2011 Ramesh Raskar and his team at M.I.T figure out a system to capture images at one trillion frames per second.
Femto Photography: The Video
CLICK… CLICK… CLICK…
For most time lapses it is not uncommon to leave your shutter clicking for hours on end, and is easy to rack up over a thousand photos in just a few time lapses. Obviously this is much more of a strain on a shutter than it would undergo normally in the hands of a non-time lapsing photographer. But is it bad? Well, since a camera shutter does have a life span and will one day need replacing, you are unfortunately drawing that day nearer with every click you take. But the answer is not so black and white to say it’s bad or it isn’t bad, because shutters have a long life to live…
Depending on the model, Canon cameras have a shutter life expectancy of 50,000 to 300,000 actuations.
An average time lapse is made up of a few hundred pictures. Personally I make sure every time lapse I film has a minimum total running time of 15 seconds.That’s 360 pictures per time lapse. A Canon 7D’s shutter life for example is rated at about 150,000 actuations ( clicks). So although each time lapse chips away at the life of your shutter, you have to do some serious time lapsing to wear it out.
For parts and labor it will probably cost you $250 and up to replace your camera shutter. Although it’s not uncommon for you to buy, use, and sell your camera in under the life span of your shutter. To understand this better, here is a list of what you can get out of shutter with a life span of 150,000 actuations.
One shutter life is roughly equal to:
- 150,000 Pictures 
- 416 Time Lapses 
- 1 Hour 44 Minutes of Time Lapse Video 
- 150,000 Video Clips 
So in conclusion if an average time lapse is 360 pictures and a $250 shutter lasts for 150,000 pictures, then each time lapse is costs you about 6 cents. So look between your couch cushions if you have to, get out there and lapse some time.
 Rough estimate of a Canon 7D’s shutter life span
 Assuming each time lapse is a total of 15 seconds on a 24p time line or 360 photos.
 150,000 pictures = 6250 seconds = 104.166 minutes = ~1 hour 44 minutes
 15 second time lapse is 360 pictures @ 24fps
Say Goodbye to Time Lapse Flicker!
If you’ve had a lot of experience with making Time Lapses you should look into the “Little Bramper”- a tiny yet powerful piece of equipment you always hoped existed ..
Read on- an excerpt from the maker:
A photographic intervalometer is a gadget that fires a (stills) camera periodically. To make a time-lapse you compile this image sequence into a movie (using software like Quicktime Pro, After Effects, etc.).
Little Bramper is an intervalometer with some unusual and advanced capabilities. Most significantly, by using the camera’s Bulb mode it allows you to vary the exposure smoothly during the time-lapse session. This is Little Bramper’sraison d’etre. Little Bramper also allows you to use arbitrary intervals; no longer are you limited to whole seconds. With this flexibility comes a degree of additional complexity, so I still recommend conventional intervalometers (cheap ebay ones) for basic time-lapse scenarios.
I have recently purchased one but have yet to use it. I will surely post another article with more detail when I do. The two photos are renders of the little bramper I modeled in SketchUp for a future project.
Making and Saving a Time Lapse Video:
Once you’ve taken a long series of photos with your camera and intervalometer, you’ll need to use your computer to turn it into a movie. Do not worry if you have hundreds and hundreds of photos it is very easy to do. Above is a video showing the process below I will outline step by step instructions. There are several ways to do this, I am only detailing the most likely way you will be doing it. *You must have Quicktime Player 7. Quicktime Player v10.0 will not work. If you don’t know which quicktime you have, open it, click Quicktime in the top tool bar, then About Quicktime Player. There you will see the version.
- Open Quicktime Player 7
- Choose “File”, “Open Image Sequence”
- Locate the folder containing your time lapse photos, click the first photo in the sequence only
- Click “Open”
- Choose your desired video frame rate from the drop down menu.
- Choose “File”, “Save As”
- Name your video and save it somewhere on your hard drive as “Self-contained movie”
Keep your camera folders organized while shooting it will save you a lot of time when you get back to the computer. Test your shots and as soon as you are ready to start your time lapse create a new folder. You can find on article on how to do this here: How to Prepare Camera Folders for Time Lapses
Most likely your video will be too large to play smoothly. This depends on your picture size. An 18 Mega Pixel photo will be roughly 5184 x 3456 pixels. HD Video is only 1920 x 1080, so you can see why your computer might have a hard time with playback. But don’t worry this is part of the process and only the first time you save your time lapse without any compressions yet. Keep this High Resolution original as your “control“. You can scale down copies of it when you edit at any time, even zoom up and pan around to some degree and still have full HD.
In this post I have made a video that does most of the talking, posted below. I have provided a specific example of compositing using a time lapse sequence I shot with the exposure bracketing function. The video conveys a process showing the advantages of using alpha mattes which you can apply to time lapse, regular video, HDR, back ground replacement, color grading, and more.
The most important step is preparing your alpha matte which needs to be done on location while you are shooting. With your camera in the EXACT position as it is when shooting your time lapse or video, take a highly over exposed or under exposed photo. Adjust the settings until the ground or sky is as close to pure black or white as possible without bleeding into the other. The goal of this is to provide a photo with a clear differential between ground and sky so an alpha matte can be easily created that perfectly matches the elements in your video. Once you have an appropriate photo you will make a .psd or .png in photoshop and inport that into after effects or your compositing program and use this as your alpha matte.