Time-Lapse Tips from Adobe

I’ve learned of a new technique for creating time-lapse movies that I wanted to pass along.

Time-lapse imaging is an entirely new area of astrophotography previously accessible only to those who had access to expensive custom-made movie cameras, at least in the film days. Now anyone with a Digital SLR camera can take time-lapse movies of the night sky and landscapes with lots of Wow! factor. Here, as examples, are a couple of recent sequences I’ve done.

Moonrise over Vermilion Lakes, Banff

Trains in Twilight at Morant’s Curve, Banff

(You can see more of my time-lapse movies at my Amazing Sky channel on YouTube.)

One of the other wonderful, if not breathless, aspects of the digital technology is how tools and techniques are always improving. Thanks to a new tutorial at Adobe, I realize there is a better way to assemble the hundreds of frames that make up a typical time-lapse movie, using a tool I already had, Adobe Photoshop. For years I had been using Apple’s Quicktime Pro software to string together movie frames — each frame being a time-exposure still image. Quicktime works very well but any processing of the frames had to be done while they were still images, before stringing them together into a movie.

Adobe’s tutorial, linked to below and here from Adobe TV, demonstrates how to use the special “Extended” version of Adobe Photoshop — that’s the extra-cost scientific edition of Photoshop — to do the same thing: pick a folder of images and then automatically string them into a movie at a frame rate you pick. The secret is selecting the “Motion” workspace to reveal the motion picture timeline.

The beautiful thing about this technique is that the entire movie can then be processed using Adjustment Layers and other usual Photoshop processing methods. By turning the movie layer into a Smart Object you can even apply filters like Sharpening and Noise Reduction to the entire movie, but do it non-destructively. Anyone who has taken my DSLR Astrophotography workshops will know my penchant for non-destructive editing using the superb tools that Photoshop provides. Non-destructive editing is my mantra.

Being able to stay within Photoshop for working on movies, as well as the original still images, is a tremendous advantage. Again, I am a big proponent of simplifying the workflow by staying within the one software package as much as possible.

Yes, Adobe Photoshop is costly, and the Extended Edition more costly still, but it is worth it for what it can do for us demanding astrophotographers. For example, the Extended Edition also has superb but little-known tools for stacking, registering and combining images in one fell swoop, essential for deep-sky photography. Now I know it handles time-lapse movies as well, all the more reason to get it. You learn something new every day!


— Alan, March 27, 2011

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