It is now close to 3 years since I started shooting time-lapse videos with the eMotimo TB3. I want to share my experiences creating the time-lapse videos and pass on a few lessons I learnt along the way.

Here is the first of those lessons. Learning how to get the Pan and Tilt movement right in the time-lapse videos. I made too many mistakes with the pan/tilt movements in my videos. Those mistakes also taught me a few things and you can read about them below.

Tip #1 : Pan with Care

Panning too fast across the frame might create jarring artifacts in your videos and make it a bit disorienting for your viewers. I have done this mistake so many times, trying to pan across a wide panorama in a few seconds (normally I keep my time-lapse clips to about 10 or 12 seconds). And the results have been disappointing. 

I now consciously make an effort to restrain myself while doing pan/tilt movements. Trying to pan across just a small section of the scenery in interesting ways rather than trying to pan across the entire landscape. 

The experience is similar to my initial photography days when I moved from a wide angle zoom to a normal (50mm) prime. With the zoom lens I was always going wide, trying to fit everything in the frame. But with the fixed prime, I have had to be more creative with my framing and composition. And it made me a better photographer as a result. Hopefully the same thing will happen with my time-lapse videos as well.

Tip 2 : Optimal panning speed

So how fast should your Pan/Tilt movements be?

The simplest way to get it right is to ensure that an object in your frame does not span the entire length of the frame within 7 to 8 seconds. This will ensure that the viewer will have enough time to take in the scenery as the camera pans across it.

Tip 3 : Move with the Motion

Another effective technique to ensure smooth pan and tilts is to move the camera in the same direction as the subject movement in your time-lapse clip or video.

For example, if the clouds in your clip are moving from the left to right then you should pan your camera in the same direction as well. This way both the movements (natural movement in the scenery and the pan/tilt movement) will be in sync and the viewer’s attention will naturally flow along with it.

Contrast this with a scenario where the clouds are moving in one direction and the camera is panning in a different direction. In this scenario the two opposing movements would compete for the attention of the viewer. The viewer’s attention would be diverted between following the movement of the clouds and following the pan resulting in a less enjoyable viewing experience.

Tip 4 : Long Lead In and Lead Out

You should use pans as a means to transport the viewer from one scenic view to another.

For this to be effective, you need to allow enough lead in and lead out times in your clip

before and after the pan. Ideally some 3 to 4 seconds on either side of the pan would work well. 

You start off stationary, allowing the viewer to appreciate the scene in the frame. Then pan across to a different part of the landscape and stop of a few seconds to let the viewer enjoy the new view. You should never stop the clip abruptly as soon as the pan ends.

Tip 5 : Move with the visual flow of your Composition

Before we proceed. I need to point my readers to a great article on Landscape Composition rules. This article was originally written for painters but the same rules apply to photography as well. It has been a great source of inspiration for me and I hope you all check it out as well.

One of the rules in that article is for a composition to have a visual flow which leads the viewer toward the main subject of the painting/frame and have their attention linger there. The article talks about how a viewers gaze typically scans a painting from the left to right and so the painter/photographer should make use of this habit to try and lead the viewer towards his subject by following a similar path.

Once we understand visual paths in a composition, we can then try to apply it to our pan/tilt movements as well. We can use the camera movement to guide the viewer along the visual path in the frame towards the main subject in our compositions.