2016 PHOTOCHALLENGE, WEEK 52: GUEST POST – TIME STACKING

GUEST POST – TIME STACKING by Jeanie Sumrall-Ajero

I’ve been fascinated by time stacked images for some time now so it seemed like a great idea for a challenge. What is time stacking? Essentially it is a time lapse except all of the frames are layered on top of one another in just one image instead of creating a video. The technique is commonly used for astrophotography (star trails), car trails and waterfalls but it can also be use to create amazing landscape images.

Sunset - Time stacking example

Layering a series of landscape photos containing clouds gives a wonderful sense of movement to a landscape image. This image is a time stack of 56 photos taken 10 seconds apart. For colorful clouds, take photos of a sunset. (This technique won’t work very well at sunrise, so be sure to take photos at sunset if you want some color in your clouds.)

Wrath of a Thunderstorm

For those of you short on time or patience, you can use fewer photos in your time stack. This is just 15 photos taken 5 seconds apart. There are two elements that determine how smooth or jagged the movement in the clouds appears: (1) the amount of time between each shot and (2) how quickly the clouds are moving. If the clouds are moving quickly and you want a smooth look, you’ll need to take more photos. If the clouds are moving slowly, the interval between shots can be larger. Having said that, it’s nearly impossible to guess what your image will look like once all of the photos are stacked and that’s half the fun of it!

Time stacking example (29 photos)

Unfortunately, not everyone will have amazing clouds to photograph this week. Not to worry! In this photo my initial goal was to smooth out the water, but then I realized that I caught the gulls in flight as well. Not only did the size of the flock seem to grow, but their flight patterns in the sky seemingly appeared out of nowhere when I stacked the photos. This is a time stack of 29 photos taken in just 10 seconds, i.e. burst mode. (Note: If you want to try this technique with flying birds, you will need to find white birds or at least birds that are lighter than the sky behind them. It won’t work otherwise.) I included one of the photos used in the stacked image so that you can see the difference between a “normal” image and the stacked version of the same scene, particularly the water, the number of birds and the flight patterns of the birds in the sky.

Waterfall - Time stacking example

Another use of the time stacking technique is to fill out waterfalls or other moving water. If you find a waterfall that doesn’t have much water, you can make it look fuller by stacking a few photos together. Again I have provided both the stacked image (on top) and a single image from the stack. The difference is most visible in the water going over the large rock just to the left of center, but if you look closely you’ll see that the volume of water looks fuller throughout the stacked image.

Car trails - Time stacking example

Or you could stack a few photos of light trails from cars. It doesn’t take many photos to make a road look really busy! This image was created from four stacked photos.

Star trails - Time stacking example

And of course if you love astrophotography, this would be a great challenge to show off your skills with star trails. This image was created from three 15-minute exposures.

For more inspiration be sure to check out the amazing time stacked photos of Matt Molloy, a pioneer of using this technique for landscape photography: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjCgruXn (There is one of a smoke stack that I think is way cool!)

HOW TO DO IT

Taking the photos

  1. You’ll need a tripod. If you don’t have a tripod, you can search google for DIY tripods.
  2. For best results, use Manual Mode on your camera and set both the ISO and White Balance to something other than Auto. Basically you want all of the photos in your series to be taken with the exact same settings.
  3. Make sure your exposure it set to capture as much detail as possible in the lightest elements of your scene, i.e. don’t blow-out the highlights. It is the highlights that will be creating a pattern in your stacked image, so you want to capture as much detail in the light areas as possible.
  4. If you have an intervalometer feel free to use it, but for the purposes of this challenge I had just as much luck counting to 5 or 10 between my shots and taking the photos without an intervalometer. Regardless of the method you choose, be sure to be consistent with the time between each photo (especially for cloud photos – waterfalls and car trails are more forgiving).

Processing the photos

If you do not have Photoshop, I’ve put together a video tutorial explaining how to stack your photos in www.pixlr.com (a free online photo editor). The technique I show in the video should work with any photo editor as long as it supports layers and layer blending modes. I encourage you to watch it even if you have Photoshop since you might pick up a tip or two.

If you have Lightroom and Photoshop, there are numerous tutorials and videos available showing how to do time stacking.

In addition, Matt Molloy has written a tutorial explaining his technique at http://iso.500px.com/time-stack-photo-tutorial/. I encourage you to read through it for more details from his perspective.

When posting your photos this week, it would be fun to also post a single photo from your time stack as a comment so we can see the difference time stacking makes.

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About the author: Jeanie Sumrall-Ajero is intensely curious about life and loves to explore it through the lens of her camera. She has dabbled in photography from time to time throughout her life, but it wasn’t until this past year when she took a semi-sabbatical from work that she decided to explore photography more seriously as a creative art form. Jeanie’s Flickr page can be found at www.flickr.com/photos/the-digital-jeanie/.