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In The Practicing Photographer, photographer and teacher Ben Long shares a weekly serving of photographic instruction and inspiration. Each installment focuses on a photographic shooting scenario, a piece of gear, or a software technique. Each installment concludes with a call to action designed to inspire you to pick up your camera (or your mouse or smartphone) to try the technique for yourself.
So after a couple hours, I went back to my camera, and I stopped the intervalometer. It may have stopped in the middle of a bracket, it's I don't know, doesn't matter I can always throw those out or trim those up. Packed up the camera, brought it back, had a huge mess of data, gigabytes of data. So I've copied that on to my drive, and I have all those files here. Now I'm ready to start the process of merging. Now, normally, when you're just shooting a time lapse, you take all of your frames that you've shot, and you use software that stitches it together into a movie, not stitches, but sequences those individual frames together into a movie.
Normally, when you shoot HDR, a single HDR scene You take those three images, and you run them through HDR processing software, and it combines them. We have to do both of those things. We have to take the first three HDR shots, merge them into a finished HDR, store the result, grab the next three, process those, store that. And after all of that gets done, take all of those stored results, then sequence them together into a time lapse. That could be a real asset management nightmare. Fortunately, Photomatix Pro, which is one of the main HDR processing applications, can batch that for us and automatically grab images out of a folder three at a time and process them.
Again, if you've seen my HDR course, You've seen photomatics in great detail, so I'm not going to go into a lot of its settings here, I'm just going to show you how you can do this batch processing thing. So here I am. I've got this workflow shortcuts palette that comes up right away, and if you notice, right down here at the bottom it says batch bracketed photos, which is exactly what we need to do. I'm going to click that. I get this dialog box, now this is not the normal Photomatics dialog box that you may be used to, it doesn't have the fine level of control that I normally have.
I can get to that control but again we're not going to go that deep into Photomatics here in this short movie. So, what do I want to do here? I want to control my process, I want to merge Into 32-bit H-D-R files. And I can control those settings if I want. I'm going to tone map with details enhancer. Again, I was not facing a real high dynamic range seen. The reason I chose to go for H-D-R is to get the nice H-D-R effect that appears when we process clouds. So I know that that comes from details enhancer, rather than tone compressor. I don't need to worry about any of these fusion things or averaging exposures.
I do want to select three images at a time. I'm going to go ahead and have it align the images, even though I was shooting on a tripod, and. It was windy, the strap might be blowing around. Photomatix does a good job with alignments, so I might as well go ahead and have it do that. Next thing I need to do is tell it where my source images are. So, I'm going to go in here and say Selection by Folder. And then I'm going to select the source folder. And, in this case, that is going to be yeah, this HDR time lapse folder that I copied over here earlier, so I'm just going to select that.
Now we need to tell it what to spit out and where. So I want to go out to a customized location. I've actually already made a folder that I want it to go into. That's this HDR time lapse results that I made. I want to save as a JPEG. I can choose to save as TIFF or JPEG I want JPEG because I know that the software that I'm going to use to assemble the time lapse, requires JPEG files. So that's something I've looked into ahead of time. Save 32-bit HDR file as either a Radiance RGBE file or OpenEXR. I actually don't want either of those. Unfortunately there's no none option.
What that does is it merges a 32-bit file before it does the tone-mapping, and it saves that 32-bit file. I don't actually need it. If I wanted to open these all up later and reprocess them somehow, it would save me a step. But I'm never going to do that. Nevertheless, I cannot Oh wait, I can, look. I've never noticed this before. There's this handy check box here that says, remove 32-bit HDR file after tone mapping. Okay, great. That's going to save me the step of deleting those by hand later. so I think I'm ready to go here. I'm going to go ahead and tell it to run. I'm not going to see anything happen.
It's not going to show me any previews. It's not going to show me the normal controls that I get in Photomatix. It just gives me some status updates here. Loading three images, aligning images, merging images, processing images, removing that HDR file and then it starts the next batch. I did kind of a rough count earlier and it looked like it was taking about seven seconds per bracketed set. So, if you know how many files you've got, You could do the math and get an estimate of how long it's going to take just to do this stage of the process. So I'm going to tell it to stop that next combination, because we don't want to sit here for three hours.
I promise you I would become extremely boring by that point. So I'm going to tell it to stop, I'm going to close that up And if I go in here to look at my HDR time lapse results folder, it managed to make it through six sets and left me with six images. So let's just do a quick preview on there. That's typical HDR-looking clouds. It's a little low-contrasty, but I can fix that later if I want. Or I can fix it now. I could actually do a batch process On all of these individual images before I merge them into a finished video.
And as I move through these, you can see the clouds moving a little bit. That's just the effect we were looking for. Alternately, could stitch them into or sequence them into a video and then use video editing software to do my levels adjustment. So, I'm want to move onto that next step. Obviously, I haven't processed everything. A little bit earlier I processed a few more frames. I've got a few more finished merges so we're going to go ahead and take those and put them into a time lapse. I'm going to delete those HDR files that I don't need. Now, there are a lot of different ways of sequencing individual stills into a time lapse.
A lot of high end video-editing applications will do that. If you don't own one of those, you can probably just Google around on time lapse assembly, or time lapse merging, or something like that. I did that, and I found this little shareware program called time lapse assembler. It's very simple, a very stripped down interface. I choose a source directory of images, in this case. That's this folder right here. I tell it what codec I want to use and what frame rate I want. If I like, I can actually have it scale the images down and give it a quality setting and just tell it to encode.
Give it a name, call it finished time lapse. And it's going to sit there. It's doing it pretty quickly. This is a pretty simple operation. Again I don't know if I want to do. If I really want to really preserve quality it would be best to do that contrast adjustment to my individual images before I do this assembly step because this is all ready compressed video. I'm going to drop it into a video editor and do it there then I'm going to end up possibly losing a little quality. So I'm going to open up the finished result. And there we go. So you can see HDR has given me these really nice cloud effects.
While of course the time lapse is letting me see the motion of the clouds. So if this is something you think you're interested in, you're going to need a few things. You're going to need a tripod, you need a camera, and you need to know what the drive or burst speed of the camera is. You can look that up in your Manual or you can just put it in drive mode and hold the button down and see how many frames it clicks off in a second. If you can do three frames in a second then you can buy yourself a nice inexpensive intervelometer off of somewhere like Amazon or B&H. If not your going to have to go to a more sophisticated solution which might be Tethering to a computer and using remote control software.
Finally you're going to need to do it this way, a copy of Photomatix which really scores because of that batch processing mode and that let's me hand it a huge folder full of images. and it can just pull out three at a time and assemble them. And finally you're going to need some way to assemble the results. Into a finished Quicktime or there, a finished video file of some kind. So before you head out to start shooting, take a look into all of those parts. See if you've got the right kind of camera and if you can identify the right kind of intervalometer. Gather all that stuff out. Find a nice H-D-R-C. And that's going to be a place with a whole lot of dynamic range, a whole lot of dark, a whole lot of light.
Or a scene with a lot of really nice clouds, get set up, and you can take some movies like this.
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