Long Range Time Lapse: an (almost) comprehensive checklist

What are we talking about?

If you have tried to shoot a time lapse with a telephoto lens, you will certainly know that it can be quite challenging. The biggest challenges will be:

  • Weather must be compatible,
  • Be sure your sensor is perfectly clean,
  • Manage the wind shakes on the tripod.

Nothing original ? Wait, these topics are far from being trivial or “business as usual”.

An example of Long Range Time Lapse – Nikon Z50 – Focal: 1’000 mm

Weather forecast for Long Range Time Lapse

You will need much more than the usual classic forecasts. It seems to be quite close to astrophotography. So, in theory, this site should do the job.

Dashboard provided by 7timer -www.7timer.info

Really ? Well, not perfectly, even if it is useful. Because one of the most important criteria, contrast, is not measured or anticipated locally (or tell me where please !). They are heavily reliant on local specificities as contrast will be lowered by emission of particles (for instance). The experience, in my region, shows that as expected, a clear day after a rainy and windy day looks much better. But there are plenty of exceptions and counter examples. Finally, I came to the point I need to check contrast the day before my shooting day or the morning of it and nothing else can work. I am using former images to evaluate the contrast.

A clean sensor

It is not like for any other kind of photo session. Most of telephoto lens are not as opened as other prime are. So, any dust would be much more visible. Furthermore, haze is inevitable even if the day chosen will limit it (see former paragraph). Therefore, dehazing tools during post-process will be helpful. But dehazing tools enhance dust as well…

As a conclusion, a rigorous approach of sensor cleaning is a must have. Either by a pre-check just before starting the time-lapse or by a systematic cleaning of the sensor.

Wind shake

Not an easy one… With telephoto lens, even if the wind is negligible, aligning the images will be almost mandatory. You will need a dedicated software for this purpose.

The checklist

On top of the above challenges, it is important not to forget anything:

  • Scenario: what you want to achieve, how (intervals, number of shots, shooting RAW or not, which focal, …),
  • Sensor cleaned,
  • Weather forecast (don’t miss the day and remember in particular contrast and  turbulences), clouds as well as clouds are essentials in a time lapse,
  • Programmation of the camera (much easier at home than on the field where it could be dark and cold) for the time lapse,
  • Camera and lens at the right temperature: the gear will need at least 20 minutes outside to be at the right temperature. Failing to do so will change the focus, for instance and the focus must be manually done most of the time for these photo sessions.
  • Set most/all parameters to Manual (focus, exposure, ISO, …) and if not to what is needed. Time Lapse are frequently shot manually and this is more true with Long Range ones.

Please let me know if I have missed something, happy long-range Time Lapse!

P.S. : cover image – Mont Blanc from Geneva during the lock down. Over 80 km away. Exceptionally low pollution. Nikon Z50 – Focal: 1’000 mm. The bright spot at the bottom center of the image is the “Refuge du Goûter” from which most of the mountaineers start to climb the summit.