The Complete Guide to Time-Lapse Photography

Time-lapse photography has become very popular in the last few years. This is the method used to capture light-trails, the movement of the moon, or space rockets firing into the sky. This is a great way to deal with low light conditions. It is also used to show a lot of action in a very short amount of time.

The basic idea is that you take many photographs at intervals and stitch them together during post-processing. The outcome is a sequence that plays back faster than usual. The end result will become a video, as it is the only way to show this sequence of images in succession – one after the other.

This is a technique that can be seen in commercials (Turkish Airlines), title sequences (House of Cards) and films (Baraka). Here they have been used to show cities going about their daily life in a sped-up manner. These videos add a very high-production value to any project. However, they can be complicated, time-consuming and need a lot of planning.

Camera Equipment

Camera Recommendations

There are many different cameras you can use for time-lapse photography. These can range from DSLRs, Go Pros and even mirrorless versions.

The only caveat is that the system definitely needs to be digital. This is because you will be taking hundreds of images in a relatively short period of time.  Also,  checking things like exposure and focus is absolutely necessary.

Your camera system doesn’t need to be top of the range. With the right equipment, you can create time-lapses from any DLSR. But be aware that older camera systems might not have the quality needed to produce these stunning videos.

Trying to capture Astro-Lapses (time-Lapses of the night sky) at the highest possible quality might require a full-frame DSLR (such as Canon 5D MIII). This is because a cropped sensor would not do the scene justice.

There are many different camera options for timelapse photography

Recommended Tripods

Tripods are a necessary piece of equipment when it comes to time-lapse photography. This technique requires your camera stay undisturbed for substantial periods of time.

Tripods allow the shot to keep the same frame, which retains that fluidity from one photograph to the next. Any slight movement will cause flickering and ruin any professional photographic sequence.

Your tripod needs to be of good quality, sturdy and stable, but light enough for you to take on adventures with you. It all depends on what you are photographing and your budget.

This article recommends a carbon fibre tripod and runs through all the reasons why this should be your choice. However, don’t run out and buy one if you don’t need it as any tripod will work just as well.

A tripod is a necessary accessory for timelapse photography

How to Choose the Right Intervalometer for Time-Lapse Photography

An intervalometer is a remote control device that plugs into your DSLR. This allows you to set-up the picture taking aspects of your Time-Lapse, and it is here where you set up the intervals between each photograph and how many pictures to take.

There are many options to choose from, some being from camera manufacturers that fit your camera body specifically. Others are from third party companies. A little research is needed on your camera system and what you want to get out of your Intervalometer, also taking into account your budget.

The first thing you need to find out is whether your camera has a built-in intervalometer. If it does, then a separate, external intervalometer is not needed, unless you prefer to have a system off-camera.

An Intervalometer is a very handy piece of equipment for Time-lapse Photography

Filters for Time-Lapse Photography and Why They Are Important

One of the most important filters in the world of photography is the Neutral Density (Nd) filter. These are especially necessary for long exposures and time-lapses in very light conditions, such as the middle of the day. This is because an Nd filter takes exposure stops out of what you are photographing by blocking the light.

The filters can go from 1 stop to 10, and although you can stack them, we do not recommend this. Stacking Nd filters might be a cheap way to get the desired result, but you can often see them and subsequent lens flares. These are time-consuming to fix in post-production (if at all) and could potentially lower your production value.

This article gives you all the information you need concerning Nd filters.

Using a Neutral Density filter for Time-lapse Photography can help keep your exposure time down

Camera Settings

Shooting Modes for Time-Lapse Photography

When it comes to shooting modes on your DSLR, you should have a basic idea of the possibilities. The four modes you need to understand are Av/A, Tv/T, B and M.

M, which is Manual, lets you control every aspect of the camera. This is the setting we recommend for time-lapse photography. It can be frustrating at first to learn through trial and error, but it is better for you and your photography in the long run.

When it comes to the exposure triangle, you want the lowest ISO as possible, as this gives you the best quality. You also want a medium to wide aperture, such as f/8, as these allow the biggest area of focus on your subject.

These settings should determine your exposure time. The exposure time is the least important in this aspect, and there are other things you can do to keep the shutter speed fast (see Nd filters).

Showing the possible camera settings for timelapse photography

Motion Blur

When creating your first time-lapse photography project, you will come across challenges to overcome. One challenge might be that you find some of the photographed subjects feel choppy and staccato.

Subjects like traffic or people are the most affected. This is due to the intervals between the photographs being too long.

Photographing at 1-second intervals loses a lot of information between each shot. So people and cars jump from one position to another. This might be a necessity due to the amount of light denoting what your camera settings are.

This is where Nd filters come into play. They cut down on the light and allow you to photograph longer exposures. This allows more collected information from movement and giving your subject more blur.

There is also the 180° rule. The idea is that you should set your shutter speed to twice that of your frame rate. For example, if you are shooting 25 fps (frames per second) then your shutter speed should be set at 1/50. 200 fps equal 1/400.

What this does is create a more natural look during final playback. If you were just photographing one image at 1/50, the subject would be blurry and uninteresting. But because we are working with 24 fps, the single image doesn’t matter. It’s the fluidity that makes the final outcome powerful.

This article gives you great advice and examples to follow for stunning images.

Finding the correct balance of motion blur to your Time-lapse photography

High-Speed Memory Cards for Time-Lapse Photography

One of the most overlooked areas of photography is using the correct memory cards for your project. If you don’t need to take a lot of photographs in a very short period of time, you can get away with most memory cards.

However, some cameras require high-speed cards to be able to record, or some filming or photographic options are unavailable.

The speed of your memory card really does matter, especially in the field of time-lapse photography. You will need something that records all the information that the photographs create fast, so it can move on to the next.

If you were to use a slow-speed card while photographing with a 1-second interval, you might find that the time it takes to record and write the information is longer. This has the potential to stop your time-lapse dead and send you home.

Whether using a Micro-SD card, an SD card or Compact Flash card, there are different options and speeds you need to be aware of. This article runs through all of the information on what to look for when buying.

A collection of the best and fastest memory cards to use

How to Shoot Timelapses

Finding the Perfect Subject

While researching the subject of time-lapse photography, you will find many different possibilities. The options are endless.
Anything moving has the potential to be a time-lapse. There are beautiful examples of cities, landscapes and even germinating seeds through this time-lapse process. They are all captivating. Find something that interests you.

Shooting a time-lapse photography project from a high-vantage point

How to Calculate the Number of Frames

Every time-lapse project is different. The number of frames and the speed of your intervals relies heavily on how fast the scene that you want to capture changes. A building project taking place over many years will require one number. A shot of cars on a highway at night will be very different.

A rough idea would be that fast moving clouds would need something around 1-second intervals. Slow moving construction projects could be one image every 15 minutes.

The number of photographs you need might depend on your finished video. If you need a 30-second clip of moving clouds, you will need (1-second interval @ 25fps) 25 pictures of every second of footage. 25fps x 30-second clip = 750 exposures. These will take (750 seconds/60) 12.5 minutes to photograph.

Trial-and-error plays a big part here, but this article gives a great idea to help you get started and very close to the perfect interval exposures.

Time-lapse photography interval calculations

Long Exposure Time-Lapses

A long exposure is capturing one scene in one photograph, where the shutter stays open for a period of time. A time-lapse is taking many photographs of the same scene and creating a video from all the captures.

It is possible to make a time-lapse out of long exposures. The benefit here is it can help create a more fluid project. The transition between the images becomes smooth and lowers possible flickering.

If you are shooting in the daytime, you might find areas hit with harsh sunlight one moment, covered in shadows the next. This can play havoc with your exposure time and can also create light flutters. When you are going from a well-lit area to a dark one very fast, it will create a distracting effect.

Here, the article goes through why long exposures are great to use in your time-lapses. It also gives you stunning examples of the possible effects.

Using the beach for great long exposures is a great way to make stunning photographs

Ten Tips on What to Do for Time-Lapses

The ten tips here cover some basic ideas, such as making sure you have all of your equipment. These are very wise words for all kinds of photography. Others, such as making sure you know about your camera settings and how to frame, are also essential.

The ones you might not have thought about yet would be using live view to photograph for example. This allows you to halt the mirror dropping and raising in every photograph. It also helps with framing and focusing.

Go through this article and make sure you have all the equipment you need and have given everything some thought.

Using rock formations is a great example of time-lapse photography

Ten Tips on What Not to Do for Time-Lapses

Just as there are ten tips on what you should do, there are also ten things that you shouldn’t do. Some of these are very obvious; don’t shoot in JPEG being the most important.

Others concentrate more on the time-lapse itself, such as do not focus solely on the moving subject. Each time-lapse still has to be framed correctly and creatively, as the movement alone is not interesting enough.

Others tips focus more on the final stage of the project. One thing to not do is overdo the manipulation or retouching. This can take away from the image itself and make it too fantasy-esque. Another would be NOT to use the music of Sigur Ros, or use Youtube, because of bad compression rates.

This article is very informative and written by a time-lapser with a lot of experience. Read it to get more out of your time-lapse photography.

An over developed time-lapse photograph can be unattractive

Cinemagraphs and How to Make Them: Photoshop

Cinemagraphs are the combination of video and photography, but almost the reverse of a time-lapse. They are still images that have movement within them. But they aren’t really still images or videos.

They embrace the world of gifs and have been named like this since 2011. It is animation in a very creative sense.

They can be made using any setting that has movement. They are best made where some of the movement can be frozen and other areas are left to run wild.

A great example would be a flamboyant dinner party in full swing, but the only thing moving is wine pouring into a glass.

Cinemagraphs, like time lapses, are very easy to get wrong, and they can often be overdone or retouched too much. Try to be subtle and low-key, and use your creativity.

Here you can find an in-depth tutorial on how to go about this cinemagraphic process.

A cinemagraph of reeds and water

8 Smartphone Time-Lapse Applications

What could be better than creating these time-lapses on your phone? You don’t need to worry about memory cards, expensive wide-angle lenses or complicated batch processing.

There are already ways to capture time-lapses on the last few iPhone releases. But if your smartphone doesn’t have this option, check these apps.

There are free and paid versions, both for iPhone and Android users. This means you can try them out before you commit. Go through the list here and start practicing.

Time-lapse app Lapse-it application for your smartphone

Other Useful Applications

The Photographer’s Ephemeris

This great little app started off as a way for landscape photographers to know the positions of the sun and moon. This is great for planning a trip, to see the times of sunrise and sunsets so that you don’t miss a thing.

Now the app has a 3D version, which allows you to see how the sun/moonlight affects the landscape anywhere in the world. It will show you when and where shadows will fall, leaving other areas well lit.

This means that you can plan and organise your time effectively, in a country you haven’t arrived in yet. It will even tell you the position of the milky-way in comparison to the landscape. This will really help you understand where best to photograph.

This article gives you all the information on what it can do and where you can get it.

The photographers Empheris smartphone app to help you with your time-lapse photography

Time-Lapse Calculator

The basic idea of this app is to calculate the combination of interval and amount of shots you need to create a video of a certain length.

For example, if you wanted to capture traffic at a busy intersection to create a 1-minute video. If the frame rate was set at 30fps and you wanted 2 seconds between shots, this would take 90 minutes to capture.

You can even save presets to go back to time and time again. The interface is a little crude, but you aren’t using it because it looks nice – you are using it to further your time-lapse photography.

Time-lapse photography calculator for figuring out how many images to photograph

DSLR Phone Remote 

Was there a time where you wanted to photograph outside, and needed a remote device to control and fire the shutter? You no longer need a dedicated cable release or shutter control plugged into your camera, thanks to your phone.

That’s right – your phone can now act as a remote. Handy for those times where your camera is out of reach, or you are worried about knocking it over.

This is a real danger when it comes to long exposures or time-lapses where a whole project can be ruined by any shake or movement.

One thing you need for this free app, apart from a DSLR and an Android phone, is a phone with an IR (InfraRed) Blaster. This is what allows your phone to communicate with your camera.

There are other cool features this app will allow you to play with, but we shall leave them for you to find. Go grab it today!

A DSLR can be remotely used by using an app on your smart phone

Types of Timelapses

Capturing Star Trails

Photographing star trails is a popular scene in the world of time-lapse photography. It reminds us of the universe above us, and how small we all are in comparison.

It is easy to forget that the sky is very dynamic, as what we see with our naked eye is just a fragment of what is really happening.

To photograph the night sky with the light trails, you just need to take a long exposure. That’s the basic idea. You will, of course, need help from camera equipment, a wide angle lens and a tripod. Other things, such as mobile applications can also help you plan how and where to capture these images.

This comprehensive guide will get you eager to photograph the night sky as soon as possible.

Star trails in the sky photographed over a rock formation

Long Exposure vs Time-Lapse

A long exposure is just one image, taken over a long period of time. Time-lapses are multiple photographs taken over a long period of time and stitched together to create a video.

Depending on what you are photographing and want to achieve, you will need to make a choice between the two.

Both styles have different qualities that bring different themes and focuses out of the captured scenes. There are benefits to both workflows. Time-lapses will have a smaller amount of noise and will be easier to retouch afterwards.

Star trails photographed over a windy road adds two levels of time-lapse photography

Holy Grail Time-Lapses

The holy grail refers to a time-lapse photographic project that goes from day to night. It’s known as the holy grail due to its difficulty. There are so many elements that need to be thought of and planned accordingly.

There are easy ways to try this challenging project, and if you set up your camera correctly, it will do most of the work for you. The biggest problem to overcome is flicker. These are discrepancies between shots where something changes very quickly.

The onboard light meter, whose job is to balance out all the available light sources, can have a difficult time. Sometimes it causes the light to change in ‘exposure steps’ rather than gradual.

This article goes through everything you need to know about these time-lapses, so you can try them out.A holy grail time-lapse goes through the day and into the night


Batch Processing Raw Files

So you have taken a sequence of images over a designated time-frame and now you are ready to create a video out of them. It’s that simple, right? During the post-production stage of the time-lapse project, there are a few basic elements that can drastically change how your final product will look like.

Colour-correction and de-flickering are just two aspects that you will need to think about. The great thing about photographing the same place many many times is that you can ‘batch process’ images.

Since the settings didn’t change much, you can edit many if not all, the images at the same time.

This article shows you how to use raw files as a simple way to go through the huge stack of images quickly and efficiently.

Using Camera raw to batch edit your images

How To Make a Time-Lapse in Photoshop

There are a few ways you can create your time-lapse after taking all those images. Luckily Photoshop is included in this list. The editing of the images can be done in either Camera Raw, or Lightroom and then imported into Photoshop.

Navigate to the first image of the folder, clicking the ‘image sequence’ checkbox at the bottom, and import.

Photoshop will do all the work for you and import the rest of the images, creating a sequence. You can then decide the frame rate, work out all the details of what you want the final product to be like.

This system will only work if all the images are in a sequential numbered format. I find it best to leave the file names to the camera. Skipped over areas can leave images blank and create flickering in your flow.

Try it out and see if creating time-lapses in Photoshop is for you.

Creating a time-lapse in Adobe Photoshop

Creating a Time-Lapse in Lightroom

Lightroom is one of the easiest and fastest ways to work on your images. This is great for time-lapses. You will have many, many images (500+), which Lightroom allows you to batch process at a click of a button.

To create a time-lapse video, you will need to download a time-lapse video template which will allow you to work with 15, 24 and 30 fps.

Using the slideshow module, you can import the sequence of images and then decide on the frame-rate. Export and you are done.

It is simple, and a no-nonsense way to go about finishing your project. However, Lightroom will never give you the same control over your images as Photoshop. This is a great way to practice your time-lapse photography and see a finished product relatively fast.

Using Lightroom for your time-lapse photography projects

Other Techniques

What is a Hyperlapse and How to Make One

A hyperlapse is basically a moving Timelapse. Timelapses are usually static images, photographed from the same point and perspective. Hyperlapses are created using the same equipment, your camera, a tripod and an intervalometer. You start by taking one photograph, using live view to focus, which should be set to manual.

After taking one photograph, you move the tripod, reframe the scene and shoot again. This continues for as many images as you want; move and shoot. The smaller the movement between the tripod jumps means more fluidity, and less choppy. The processing happens the same way as timelapses, but now you have created a high-value time-lapse without the use of expensive motion capture devices.

Photographing a Hyperlapse by using a tripod, camera and intervalometer can have amazing results

Tilt and Shift Lenses

Now you have a good workflow with your time-lapses, and you are ready to move on to the next level. There are other pieces of equipment you can use to create interesting time-lapses from a static position.

Tilt and shift lenses are special lenses that allow your camera to act like a Large Format camera. The benefit of this is that instead of just focusing on one plane, you can focus on two.

When you focus using your DSLR, you aim for one point in the distance. This is based on how far your camera is away from the subject. With the tilt and shift lens, you are also able to manipulate the focal plane to create areas of focus, horizontally and vertically.

These can be used to make landscapes and scenes look miniaturized. This technique can be replicated using a few simple tips that this article gives you.

Tilt and Shift within time-lapse photography make scenes look miniturised

Time-Stacking Images

Another way to create a product similar to a time-lapse photograph is to time-stack. This also involves taking a lot of images over a designated period of time. But instead of turning it into a video, you layer them into one image. This is somewhat halfway between a time-lapse and a long exposure.

These can give you very interesting, creative effects. Static subjects stay still and sharp, and the movement in the images comes out as very abstract.

Read this article on how to use this idea with Photoshop and layering to start creating them today.

Using image stacking in Photoshop

Using a Drone in Time-Lapse Photography

One of the most creative ways to create time-lapses is by using a drone. Creating a time-lapse from above looking down is a very powerful way to show the life and soul of a city. As it is created from an unusual perspective, and also in motion, you can end up with something very special.

To produce something like this, you will need a drone capable of photographing many images over a period of time. We have already covered camera settings such as what ISO to use and the benefits of using raw over JPEG.

First and foremost, you will need patience and practice. You’ll also need good working knowledge of your drone and all of the permissions surrounding its usage.

Using a drone in time-lapse photography

Motion Control Devices

There are great pieces of equipment designed to help you get the best from you and your time-lapses. Motion control devices are one example.

These are devices that control the motion (duh!) of your camera when you take images for your time-lapse project.

They can be little boxes, sandwiched between your camera and tripod, which turns your camera while it photographs. This allows a smooth pan over an area to add that extra level of interest in your project.

The Syrp Genie Mini is just one of the possibilities out there for motion control, covering all stages of photographic know-how and budget. Go through this article, and look at the examples of what your project can get out of these little, magical devices.

Motion Control Device for time-lapse photography being controlled by a smartphone app

Using Bramping

Time-lapses can be difficult to shoot. Exceptionally more so when trying to photograph a holy grail time-lapse, or rather, going from day to night.

There is another way, with something called Bramping. This is short for Bulb-Ramping.  The idea is that as the exposure changes in your scene, your camera changes accordingly. A promote control can help here, as it gives you more options than an intervalometer.

By using this system, with help from the Bulb setting, your images will have a fluid transition from light to dark. All this without annoying flickering.

Using Bramping for time-lapse photography

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