How To Shoot Lightpainting Timelapse
What is a Lightpainting Timelapse?
Lightpainting Timelapses combine drawing colorful lines into an image with the fast and interesting movement of Timelapse videos. In a Lightpainting video you can watch the "light lines" drawed by moving lights in a dark scene growing with the time. All lights that are moving through your video pull a bright line behind them.
Lightpainting photos are awesome - but Lightpainting videos let you watch the light-lines growing! While Lightpainting photos "compress" the happenings of a timerange into one single image, Lightpainting videos capture each moment separately. This allows a wide range of creative editing possibilities!
What do I need to shoot Lightpainting videos?
- a camera that allows you to set exposure time manually in video mode
- a video editing software like Adobe Premiere (a simple one like Magix Movie Maker should work as well)
- additional software to create the Lightpainting effect. As a software developer I built one on my own, I provide it to everyone for free here on my website
The Basic Workflow: Lightpainting Video at normal speed
Taking the footage
Mount your camera on the tripod. Possible settings:
- 25 fps
- exposure time as close to 1/25s as possible!
- set ISO and aperture so that the lights appear bright but not completely white. The background and other objects should be dark, but still clearly visible. Most important: There has to be a clear difference between the brightness of lights and other objects in the image (for pros: the darkest part of the lights must be brighter than the brighter points of all other objects and the background
- Import the clip into your editing software
- cut start and end so that the scene has the length you want
- export it as png sequence. Make sure that the files are saved as 1.png, 2.png, 3.png,... in the original order. Otherwise I recommend Joe to rename them all at once.
- launch my software OEV: by double click on the jar file
(if that doesn't work use the command prompt window. E.g. if the jar file called OEV_1.3.0.jar is saved on your Desktop (and you're called Florian ;) ) then call java -jar C:\Users\Florian\Desktop\OEV_1.3.0.jar )
- in OEV select as source the folder where the 1.png ,... files are saved
- as destination select a empty folder where the output files shall be saved in later
- set the mode to Video
- set the amount of input frames
- click Start and wait until the progress bar shows 100%
- go back to your video editing software and import the result1.png,result2.png,... files (you find in the destination folder which you have set in OEV) as image sequence
The Advanced Workflow: Lightpainting with Timelapse speedHere are some tips and additions to the basic workflow to improve your Lightpainting Timelapse:
Taking the footage
To make a Timelapse instead of normal speed video you just have to set a lower framerate (e.g. 0.5fps). When afterwards playing back this at 25fps, your scene moves 50 times faster as usual.
I use a Canon DSLR running with Magic Lantern Firmware. Why? Remember the basic workflow. I said you should set the exposure time as close to 1/25s as possible. Mathematically (and framerate independent) we could say: the product framerate * exposure time should be as close to 1 as possible. If it is 1, I call it "gap-less recording". Because when this product is smaller than 1 (my Canon can shoot at maximum with 1/33s at 25fps => 1/33 *25 = 0.76), your camera does not record every moment of your scene. It takes an 1/33s long image 25 times per seconds -> between each frame the camera waits 0.0096 seconds. Sounds not much, but results in gaps in the light lines in the final video.
Magic Lantern has two main advantages when shooting Lightpainting timelapse:
- You can set the frame rate to less than 25fps (=Timelapse)
- when shooting with 6fps or less, you can shoot nearly gapless. Selecting 1/6s exposure time is possible at 6fps (the real framerate it shoots is around 5.882fps, that's why I have to say nearly). Calculating the product again we get 0.98. That's very close to 1, especially compared to 0.76 what is the maximum using Canon's original firmware.
- use it!!
- set a framerate of 6fps or less, depending on your scene. A faster object requires faster framerates.
- set the exposure time fitting to the framerate. At 6fps set 1/6s ; 0.5fps = 2s ; and so on
Do some brightness corrections before processing in OEV. I am still experimenting with how to get the most out of my OEV software. But I think the most important is to have a clear separation between lights and other objects/background. So what I usually do in Adobe Premiere before processing the footage in OEV, is some color corrections. Lights should not be to bright, but clearly brighter than everything else in the image.
If you launched the OEV software, maybe you recognized that there 4 modes can be selected. I recommend you to try the mode Special Video as well. What it does: The light lines get a maximum length. When selecting Special Video you have to set the value addition amount as well. This defines how long the lines should be (in frames). E.g. setting an addition amount of 50, in each image lines will be created out of the last 50 frames. This is nice for longer scenes with multiple fast moving objects, because in the Video mode the image gets brighter and brighter with the time, until it is completely bright and you can't see anything. However in Special Video mode each light line ends after a certain time and there is space for new ones.
You can see some samples for each mode on the OEV description website. (When using Special Video mode don't wonder if there doesn't happen anything in OEV after starting, this mode needs a lot of time (higher addition amount -> more time). Maybe in the future I will do some performance improvements to this mode.)
There are a lot more things you can do with Lightpainting video than I described here. I am always about to develop new workflows for new result effects. I think in addition with some advanced Adobe After Effects knowledge might be possible a lot.
If you tried this and created some Lightpainting video or Timelapse, it was great if you could let me know an send me your YouTube link! I'm always interested in what you can do with this tool or workflow! So if you have any questions, ideas, bugs, or great results feel free to contact me! firstname.lastname@example.org