Nighttime-lapses stand out from other time-lapses as they combine multiple long exposure shots into a sequence that plays back as a video. The effects and motives are infinite as imagination itself. Most cameras, from mirrorless, DSLR's and even smartphones, can achieve these results as long as they allow you to set the exposure manually. Most of the time, video cameras are limited, as they can't expose for extended intervals like photo cameras. Of course, a great solution is using external triggers such as MIOPS Smart, RemotePlus, or Mobile Dongle.
Best time for city time-lapses
Trails of light caused by cars passing by, bicycles, lighted buildings, or any urban structures lit by incandescent or fluorescent bulbs are the best scenarios to shoot. Any city will offer multiple options, but most important is choosing the ambient light to work. Shooting at night is the best because the contrast is more notable and dramatic.
It is recommended to do city time-lapses in winter because the sun sets earlier, providing a dark sky that is more suitable for capturing lighted motion. However, shooting in summer also has its advantages, providing different effects, such as working during the blue hour, which provides more fainted tones. During this time of the year, backgrounds are more full of life, like trees and bushes full of leaves, which can be more visually appealing. Also, combining day and nighttime-lapses can lead to interesting results. In the end, it all depends on the desired effect and the availability of time.
Consider shooting in raw
If you are an experimented photographer, it will be obvious that shooting in RAW is a must, but for a beginner who doesn't know the difference between using RAW and JPEG, it is important to acknowledge that saving nighttime-lapses in JPEG has a significant limitation. The main issue is, with JPEG files the dark parts of the image will be too underexposed, and the bright lights are often overexposed. Raw photo sequences, which allows you to adjust exposure and contrast much better in post-production, reveal a lot more details that are otherwise lost in the shadows or highlights when saving them as JPEG files.
As mentioned, even smartphones are capable of shooting time-lapses; however, the high resolution of the DSLR and mirrorless cameras allows you to crop and adjust the angle and position of the sequence even when creating a 4K video. Using keyframes, the time-lapse can be animated easily, making the shot look more interesting than leaving it static. That's where the Capsule Slider comes in handy. For example, you can animate a zoom or simply simulate a tracking shot.
Daytime-lapses are usually captured with a neutral density filter attached to the front of the lense. For nighttime-lapses, different filters can be very handy as well, for example, light pollution filters. These filters are designed to block out the wavelengths of light emitted by Sodium Vapor Lamps, the main cause of light pollution. A quality light pollution filter will allow the colors and light emitted by the subject to reach the camera sensor and block out the nasty brown glow of a washed-out sky. The design of the filter includes layers that block specific bandpass lines of the visible spectrum.
The aperture value (Av) refers to the lens opening's size, which determines how much light makes it through the lens. Since aperture values (or f-stops) are represented as fractions, smaller values provide a larger lens opening – and a larger lens opening means more light will pass through the lens. To shoot the night sky and its surroundings, it is highly recommended to use a lens with a maximum aperture value of at least f/2.8 if possible.
Slower shutter speed allows more light to reach the image sensor (great for night photography), and when shooting nightscapes, it is recommended to use a very slow shutter duration of between 20 and 30 seconds. Of course, further adjustments should be made according to the current circumstances.
When shooting still frames for time-lapse, it is important that the camera doesn't change focus every time it takes another picture, so it is important to switch to manual focus mode when shooting time-lapses. When shooting at night, achieving proper focus can be a challenge. Therefore, use the Live View zoom and magnify feature to make your subject larger and lock your focus properly.
This type of photography can lead to impressive results with patience and practice. As an example, and if considering the exposition time mentioned above for taking pictures every 30 seconds, it means that the camera will be shooting two frames every minute. If 180 pictures are needed, then the camera should run for 90 minutes.
Related Article: What is the Easiest Way to Make Good Timelapse Videos?
Manuel Delgado is an award-winning photographer with a specialization in travel and documentary photography. He writes for Contrastly and is a Mentor for NGO Photographers Alliance, having led workshops in Africa with a focus on ethical and humanitarian photography. His work has been exhibited in Europe and the Americas.
Driven by an innate curiosity for his surroundings, Manuel´s process is mainly focused on capturing people in their natural environment; translating through his lens the subtle threads of daily life that are shared across cultures, borders, and races. Depicting people from diverse backgrounds, his work is united by a shared aesthetic that serves to tell each individual’s story. Manuel is currently living in Düsseldorf, Germany.