A time lapse is when you shoot a sequence of still images played back in succession to form a moving image. A typical time lapse will show massive amounts of time passing in a very short clip, like seeing the sun set and the moon rise above a city in a matter of seconds instead of the hours it takes to watch this in real time. Time lapses can be used educationally (showing a plant growing at rapid speed), creatively (bustling traffic), or for security (overnight watch of a building or street).
Most people want to shoot them for creative reasons. They make for great title sequence footage in movies, filler for music videos, or even as unique elements in a wedding video. Before heading out to make your own, you’ll want to gather all the necessary gear.
Gear Required for a Time Lapse
• A camera. Your best option for this is a DSLR or comparable mirrorless option.
• A lens. Most time lapses use wide lenses to capture larger scenes. Here is a collection of fast, wide lenses that are great for landscapes, cityscapes, and night skies.
• A tripod. This is critical. You need something to keep your camera steady. A smaller Gorillapod could work as well.
• An intervalometer. A timer for your camera. This will allow you to dial in an interval for your camera to automatically snap pictures. Some DSLRs/mirrorless cameras have this built-in. Refer to In-Camera Time Lapse Photography Resource and Guide.
Finding a Time Lapse Location
The most important part of a time lapse? The content, of course! That is why your location is so critical. Where are you going to shoot? When are you going to shoot? These are all questions you should ask yourself before turning on the camera.
My most important rule for shooting a time lapse is making sure you find a location that has motion – motion that will look great over time. The easiest example is clouds. Clouds look wonderful in the sky but when sped up over time, they look even better! So head outside and look for a great location that has movement: cars, people, clouds, boats, the ocean – anything!
Setting Up for a Time Lapse
Once you’ve found your location, your next thought should be “What is the best singular photo I can take in this spot?” Think about composition, motion, and/or the angle of the sun. If you can frame one amazing photo, you’ve got a great start for the rest of your time lapse.
Put your camera on your tripod, frame the shot, and snap the photo. Make sure it looks the way you want. Expose the shot properly. Ensure that this is how you want your time lapse to look because once the frame is set, that’s how it will stay.
Time Lapse Camera Settings
Let’s quickly touch on settings for exposing your shoot.
• Aperture: Generally you’ll want this high (f/18 – f/22). This will ensure everything is in focus and will allow you to lengthen your shutter speed.
• ISO: Keep this low. You want the best looking photo with minimal grain. If this is low, you’ll be able to lengthen your shutter speed even more.
• Shutter Speed: Use this to hit your proper exposure. The longer, the better. The longer shutter will give more motion blur to your images and help them smooth together when making the time lapse.
So the recipe to start out with is:
• High Aperture
• Low ISO
• Long(ish) Shutter Speed
Time of Day
If you’re shooting during the day, when the light won’t change that much, you are fine leaving your camera on the manual settings you gave them for your test photo. The exposure shouldn’t change that much.
If you’re shooting during sunset or sunrise, you’ll want to set your camera dial to the AV, or aperture priority, option. This will allow you to dial in an aperture and the camera will automatically adjust your shutter according to the light as the time lapse goes on.
When shooting a night time lapse, you’ll need a very long shutter speed. You’ll also likely need a relatively high ISO (2000+), if you want to see the stars. You can keep your camera on the manual setting, for your exposure should not change much once you’re set. Keep in mind that stars will look like streaks with longer shutter speeds.
Once your camera has all of its settings ready to go, plug in your intervalometer (or use your camera’s built-in one if it has it). At this point, you’ll want to choose an interval based on what it is you’re shooting. If the motion in your shots is faster, you’ll want a faster interval. I use clouds as a base number (clouds = 7 second interval). If the subject of my time lapse is faster than moving clouds, I’ll use a faster interval (people walking = 2-3 second interval). If the subject is slower, I use a longer interval (clock hands moving = 15-30 second interval).
Once your interval is set, go ahead and press start on the intervalometer. Your camera shoot take its first photo and continue to take photos at the interval of your choosing.
How long do you wait?
So, your time lapse is shooting. How long do you need to wait? How many pictures do you need? I generally aim for a 10 second final time lapse video. That means I need about 240 photos. There is an easy magic rule that helps figure out how long you need to wait. Take your interval and multiple it by 4. That will tell you how many minutes you need to let your camera run.
For example, if my interval is 7 seconds: I multiply 7 by 4 to get 28. I’d need to wait 28 minutes before my camera shot the 240 required photos.
MAGIC RULE → INTERVAL * 4 = MINUTES YOU MUST WAIT
Creating the Time Lapse
Time to load your photos onto your computer. Bring them up in Adobe Lightroom and head over to the develop tab. Choose a photo in the middle of your collection and give it the desired edits. You can then sync those settings across all of your photos and export all of them as JPEGs.
Bring your edited photos into the editing software of your choice. Drop them onto your timeline at 1-frame a piece. Ensure your timeline is set to 24 frames per second. You can now export your time lapse! Your finished time lapse should be a very large resolution. It will take on the resolution of your photos. So, depending on your camera, it can be quite large…bigger than a 4K video file!
Just like that, you’ve done it! Shooting a time lapse is an easy and enjoyable process. You now have a incredibly high-resolution video time lapse!