How to Make Macro Time-Lapse Videos

The video above shows my first experiment with macro time-lapse. I’ve used affiliate links where practical because they allow me to fully share my techniques for free.

The $42 Solution

I’ve done some macro (small object) photography in the past with my Canon Powershot S3, but my DSLR’s main lens won’t let me focus on anything closer than about a foot away. In order to take macro photos with a DSLR, there are three basic options: use an expensive macro lens, use a lens reverse ring with a fixed lens (explained here), or use a macro extension tube.

I chose the Fotodiox macro extension tube set for $12 because it seemed like the easiest and most versatile solution. The macro extension tube seemingly works like magic. You put one or more segments together between your lens and camera, and voila, you can now take macro shots. By adjusting how many extension tubes you put together, you can adjust how big your subject will appear.

This fly looks huge, but note the shallow focus.

It’s hard to complain about a $12 macro setup, but be aware this technique gives a shallow depth of field, especially at its closest setting, cuts down on light entering the lens, and requires manual lens adjustments because the camera doesn’t touch the lens.

I countered for these problems by choosing a stationary subject, adjusting the focus by hand, and buying a $30 macro ring LED light. The LED light sits on the front of the lens and comes with several rings to fit different sizes. It has a battery pack that sits in the hot shoe and comes with an AC adapter. You can also use a ring flash, but I felt a steady light might work better for time-lapse.

How I Made the Video

For the pills dissolving video, I used my regular intervalometer, camera, and 18-55mm lens. I set the LED light to only light on one side in order to create some texture. My first recording was the multivitamin at the end of the video. The AA batteries I used ran out quickly, which is why it fades to black. I used the LED light’s AC adapter for all the other shots.

Before recording, I put each pill in water on my desk while I worked on something else in order to get a general idea of what to expect. Some pills fully dissolved in less than a minute, while others took over an hour. For consistency and to eliminate bubbles, I used cold water and let it warm up to room temperature before pouring it over the pills.

I shot the photos with only a couple of extension tubes and then cropped. This gave me a greater depth of field so the pills wouldn’t go out of focus when I poured in the water. As usual, I shot in RAW and edited color and contrast with Lightroom 4 (half off student pricing available).

Because the dissolve times were so different, I adjusted the photo rate from less than a second to 15 second intervals. After editing the photos, I compiled them into video with VirtualDub and edited the clips in Windows Live Movie Maker.

Finally, I adjusted the play back speed to slow down when something interesting was happening. For example, the pill with the large “E” took over an hour to shed the top layer, which quickly floated away. When I edited the video, I sped up the slow dissolve and then greatly slowed down the layer shedding.

If you make a macro time-lapse video, please post a link in the comments or let me know if you have any questions.

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