A Complete Guide to Time-Lapse Photography

star trail during the night feature image

Time-lapse photography is a technique used to capture a scene or event over a period of time and compress it into a short video.

This type of photography can capture a wide variety of subjects, from the growth of a plant to the construction of a building. With a good vantage point and the right camera equipment, you can capture motion at varying degrees to put a unique twist on your photography.

Time-lapse photography is an excellent way to document the progression of a project or event. To shoot time-lapse photography, all it takes is a bit of tinkering with camera settings and understanding your subject.

Also, each scene requires considerations, from calculating how many shots and the appropriate interval settings to understanding the entire sequence and having an editing workflow to piece together your final result.

This post will cover all you need to know about how to take exceptional time-lapse photographs and videos.

What Is Time-Lapse Photography?

Time-lapse photography gives the effect of speeding up time. It can capture things that happen slowly, like the changing of seasons, or it can be used to show movement, like traffic or clouds.

traffic night time lapses.

Frames captured (the frame rate) are much lower than that used to view the sequence.

For example, an image of a flower opening might be captured once every ten seconds over a period of thirty minutes. When played at normal speed, time appears to be moving faster and thus lapsing. 

Another form of time-lapse is known as “hyperlapse”, when a scene is captured at normal speed, then sped up.

The Benefits of Time-Lapse

Our human-centric life has us experiencing reality on a time scale that we’ve grown accustomed to. Our perception of reality has a set scale in which we measure time.

Months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, and seconds all mean something to each of us, but other life forms on planet earth march to the beat of a different drum, and have slower rhythms that are unobservable to the naked eye in our busy lives.

crowd moving in subway station.

Time-lapse photography is a technique that can be used to create unique effects, such as showing the movement of stars in the night sky or the growth of a plant over time. It manipulates time and brings up to speed slow scenes into a version for our viewing pleasure.

Time-lapse can be used to put a sped-up twist on seemingly slow and boring tasks, such as waiting for traffic to clear, the construction of buildings, or watching paint dry. By using camera technology, we can observe things on a different time scale.

The Best Subjects For Time-Lapse

Many subjects work great for time-lapse photography, but some are better than others. One of the best things to photograph is a cityscape, as the hustle and bustle of everyday life can make for an exciting video. One can almost feel the pulsing of life flowing through the streets at night, or the transition from day-to-night.

Another great subject is nature, specifically sunsets or clouds. This is because they move relatively slowly, giving you plenty of time to capture them in all their glory.

driftwood on beach motion blur.

Landscape: nature, travel, destinations. 

Landscape time-lapse photography is particularly popular because it allows photographers to show the passage of time in a way that would not be possible with traditional photography.

For example, a photographer could use time-lapse photography to capture the changing seasons in a single video. Time-lapse photography can also capture the movement of clouds or other objects that move slowly over time.

icebergs with aurora borealis timelapse in night sky.

Astrophotography: Milky Way, full moon, aurora borealis/australis. 

Capture the beauty of the night sky. A photographer can create a time-lapse video that shows the stars moving across the sky by taking a series of long exposures.

This type of photography requires a lot of patience and planning, but the results are stunning. If you’re near the north or south pole, capturing the surreal green movement of an aurora at night is possible.

Or, if you’re steady and can manage to get a clear night sky, try capturing the movement of a full moon arcing across the sky.

night traffic motion blur in the city.

Cityscapes: cities, night traffic, motion blur. 

Cityscape time-lapse photography is a technique used to capture the changing faces of cities over time. By taking a series of photographs at regular intervals, cityscape photographers can create stunning visual records of how cities evolve and grow.

Time-lapse vids of cityscapes often reveal invisible patterns and rhythms to the naked eye, making them an invaluable tool for urban planners and architects.

Another time lapse technique is changing the exposure time for a night shot. Motion blur from car lights can create traffic light streams streaking through the streets.

What Gear Do You Need For Time-Lapse Photography?

To capture time-lapse photography, you will need a camera set to take a series of photos at regular intervals.

Many digital cameras have this feature built in, but you can also use a separate intervalometer (a device used to take photographs at set intervals). Once you have your camera and intervalometer set up, you will need to find a location with a good view.

Time-lapse photography works best when there is a lot of movement, so look for a busy street, a park, or anywhere else with a lot of foot traffic.

Once you have found your location, set up your camera on a tripod and make sure it is level.

Then, start your intervalometer and let it run for as long as you want to capture.

For slower-moving subjects or scenes, it’s paramount to have consistent lighting and a power source for your camera if you plan on shooting time-lapse photography at a longer frame rate, a period of hours, or even days.

two cameras on tripods with sunrise in the background.

Below is some must-have gear for taking time-lapse shots:

  • A camera (whether a DSLR, mirrorless, or GoPro) is required to shoot in manual mode and capture images in RAW format.
  • A sturdy tripod is also necessary to keep the camera steady during long exposures.
  • A remote shutter release or intervalometer is also recommended to avoid shaking the camera during exposure.
  • A wide-angle lens is necessary to capture a large field of view.
  • A neutral density (ND filter) is a must-have accessory for any time-lapse photographer.

By reducing the amount of light that enters the camera, ND filters allow for longer exposure times, which is essential for capturing the subtle changes that occur over the course of hours or days.

In addition to longer exposures, neutral density ND filters can also help to create a more dreamlike quality in your footage by blurring out moving objects such as clouds or cars.

One reason RAW format is best is because it allows for total control over exposure results. An ND filter can help mitigate the amount of post-processing required. If you do shoot RAW make sure you have a large enough memory card.

What Camera to Use to Shoot Time-Lapse Images

When choosing a camera for shooting time-lapse images, there are a few things to consider:

  • Sensor size. A larger sensor will give you higher-quality images, but it will also be more expensive.
  • Frame rate. You’ll want a camera that can shoot at least 24 frames per second so that you can create smooth, fluid time-lapses.
  • Battery of the camera. Time-lapses can take a long time to shoot, so you’ll want a camera with a good battery, so you don’t run out of power halfway through.
camera on tripod with sunset in the background.
  • Interval between shots. This is determined by the desired effect. A shorter interval will result in a smoother video, while a longer interval will create a more choppy video. It is important to experiment with different intervals to find the one that works best for your particular project.
  • Shutter speed. A faster shutter speed will result in a smoother, more fluid video. Conversely, a slower shutter speed will create a choppier, more jittery video. There are many factors to consider when determining the ideal shutter speed for your timelapse, including the frame rate, focal length, and aperture.
  • Number of megapixels. As megapixels continue to increase in digital cameras, so does the importance of megapixels for time-lapse photography. The more megapixels a camera has, the higher the resolution and image quality will be. This is especially important when shooting time-lapse videos, as you want your footage to be as clear and sharp as possible. With more megapixels comes more detail, which means your time-lapse videos will look amazing!
  • Time-lapse mode. The latest DSLR cameras come with a time-lapse mode that allows you to take a series of photos at set intervals and then combine them into a single video. Check to see if the camera you’re planning on getting has this feature.

The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV is a great choice for time-lapse photography.

It has a 30.4 megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor and can shoot up to 7 fps. It also has an intervalometer built in, so you can easily set the intervals between shots.

The Nikon D810 is another great option for time-lapse photography.

It has a 36.3 megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor and can shoot up to 7 fps. Like the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, it also has an intervalometer.

If you’re looking for a more affordable option, the Sony Alpha a6000 is a good choice.

It has a 24-megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor and can shoot up to 11 fps. While it doesn’t have an intervalometer built in, you can use third-party software or apps to control the shutter intervals.

phone on tripod pointed toward Shanghai cityscape for time-lapse video.

Software and Apps For Editing Time-Lapse Photography

There are many great time-lapse photography software programs available on the market today. You’ll find many apps for iOS or Android, as well as editing software for Windows and Mac.

The Best Time Lapse Apps For Mobile Devices

Lapse It Pro (iOS and Android)

This program offers a wide range of features and options that allow you to create stunning time-lapse vids easily. The interface is simple and easy to use, yet still packed with powerful tools. And perhaps best of all, it’s very affordable – especially compared to similar programs.

Intervalometer – Interval Timer for Time Lapse

A great option that will allow you to set up your shots and intervals easily. The app also has features that will let you customize your time-lapses, such as changing the frame rate, resolution, and more.

Framelapse: Timelapse Camera

An excellent tool for time-lapse photography. It allows you to set up your camera, choose your settings, and automatically take photos at regular intervals. You can then string the photos together to create a beautiful time-lapse video.

The Best Time Lapse Software on Windows and Mac

LRTimelapse

A software program that enables you to create time-lapse videos from your photos. It provides various photo editing tools, such as exposure compensation, white balance, and keyframing. You can also use LRTimelapse to generate interval timers for your camera.

PowerDirector 365

Makes it easy to create stunning time-lapse videos with just a few clicks. Select the photos you want to use, add some transitions and effects, and let PowerDirector do the rest. You can add music to your video to make it even more special.

Adobe Premiere Pro

A powerful video editing software application that can be used for creating time-lapse vids. When creating videos with Adobe Premiere Pro, you can control the playback speed and the interval between each frame. This allows you to create unique and creative time-lapse videos that impress your viewers.

Final Cut Pro

If you’re looking for top-of-the-line software for time-lapse photography, then you need to check out Final Cut. It’s packed with features that allow you to create stunning videos, and the results are always impressive. The software is easy to use, even for beginners, and it produces high-quality videos that will impress your audience.

stars streaking in a night sky time lapse.

How Long Should Pictures Be In a Time-Lapse?

There is no one answer to this question as it depends on the desired outcome of the time-lapse.

Generally speaking, each frame should be exposed for at least 1/15th of a second to avoid blurring, so if you shoot at 30 frames per second, each picture should focus for at least 2 seconds.

However, depending on the amount of movement you want to capture, you may want to increase or decrease the number of frames per second (fps) and the exposure time (shutter speed).

How Many Photos Do You Need For a Time-Lapse?

To create a time-lapse, you will need to take a series of photos over a period of time. The number of photos you will need depends on the desired final length of your time-lapse video and the frame rate you want to use.

It also depends on how fast moving subjects are and how this would appear sped up.

For example, if you want to create a one-minute-long time-lapse at 30 fps, you will need 1800 photos.

Time-Lapse Calculator

A time-lapse calculator is a tool that helps you determine the settings you need to create a time-lapse video.

It takes into account factors such as the frame rate, shutter speed, and interval between frames. This information calculates the total number of frames needed for your video.

stages of flower blossoming time-lapse.

To calculate a time-lapse, you will need to know the rate at which your camera is shooting (frames per second), the length of time that you want your video to be (in seconds), and the number of frames you want in your video.

For example, let’s say you are shooting at 30 fps and want your final video to be 60 seconds long with 100 frames. This means that each frame in your final video will be on screen for 1/100th of a second.

To calculate how long to shoot for, we take our desired number of frames (100) and divide it by our desired fps for the final video (30), giving us 3.33 minutes or 200 seconds.

So, in this case, we would set our timer for 3 minutes and 20 seconds and hit record!

man holding bags waiting to cross the street vehicles motion blur.

How to Shoot Time-Lapse Photos

When creating a time-lapse, you should keep a few tips and tricks in mind.

1. Choose an interesting subject that will hold viewers’ attention. 

Time-lapse of sunsets or cityscapes can be beautiful, but try to find something unique that will capture people’s imaginations. Some ideas for time-lapses are a person’s daily routine, the construction of a building, animals or plants moving, or cars, bikes and pedestrians.

2. Plan your shots carefully. 

Think about the composition of each frame and how the time-lapse sequence will flow as a whole. Setting up for a time-lapse shot is different than normal photography given that you need to anticipate change and plan accordingly. Check the weather forecast to make sure you’re prepared for any clouds that may obscure your shot.

If you’re shooting a time-lapse of a flower blooming, you’ll need to consider how long the process will take and plan your shots accordingly. The same goes for shooting a time-lapse of a busy street corner; you’ll need to account for the changing light and shadows as well as the movement of people and traffic.

3. Pay attention to the lighting conditions

You’ll need ample light to avoid flicker in your final time-lapse video. If you’re shooting on a bright, sunny day and don’t want to overexpose your images, you’ll need to either shoot at a high shutter speed without using an ND filter, or shoot at a lower shutter speed and use an ND filter.

4. Use manual camera settings

In order to get a constant image look, you will need to use manual camera settings for focus, white balance, shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.

To avoid jitters and blurry images, turn off internal image stabilization.

5. Holy grail time-lapse

Aperture Priority mode can be used to make day-to-night (aka holy grail) time-lapses. In this mode, the camera will automatically adjust the aperture based on the lighting conditions. This allows for a smooth transition from daytime to nighttime footage. This is especially useful for beginners who want to try their hand at recording a day-to-night time-lapse, as it makes the process easier.

6. Play with shutter speeds and interval

Shutter speed is one of the most important settings when it comes to photography. It can be used to create a variety of different looks, from motion blur to freezing fast-moving subjects. By playing around with different shutter speeds, you can find the perfect setting for any given situation.

The interval you choose will affect the speed of your footage. Longer intervals will make the footage faster. Shorter intervals will make it slower. Remember, you can always speed up your footage in post-production.

7. Keep it steady

It’s important to use a stabilizer, such as a slider, when shooting timelapse. This will help ensure that your shots are smooth and stable. Be sure to use a sturdy stabilizer to keep your camera still. Any change in position will ruin your timelapse.

8. Be patient! 

To shoot timelapse photography, you need to be patient. This type of photography requires you to take a lot of photos over a long period of time, so you need to be prepared to wait.

Set up your camera and tripod in a comfortable spot, then start taking photos. Depending on the interval you choose, it may take hours or even days to capture all the photos you need. But if you’re patient, you’ll end up with some amazing timelapse footage!

woman looking at her camera settings.

Setup Your Best Camera Settings

To create a time-lapse, set your camera to interval shooting mode and choose a short interval like 1 second. Set your aperture to a low number like f/16 to keep everything in focus and your ISO as low as possible to avoid grainy images.

One crucial step often overlooked during a photo shoot is to check the entire camera menu and clear any unwanted settings that could ruin your time-lapse.

Many settings, such as image stabilisation, AE lock, and shutter speed (long exposure) noise reduction, are usually activated by default. While in the menu, change your camera settings to shoot in the highest resolution possible and RAW format.

When shooting time-lapse photos, it’s important to save battery life. Check to see how long after a shot is taken till your LED screen enters “sleep mode.” Setting short intervals allows you to take more photos over long periods while conserving battery power.

moon phases arcing across the night sky.

Time-Lapse Photography Books

Look no further if you’re looking for the best books on time-lapse photography! These three books are packed with information and beautiful images that will inspire you to create your own stunning time-lapses.

Time Lapse Photography, Long Exposure & Other Tricks of Time: From Snapshots to Great Shots by John Carucci

A great guide for anyone who wants to get into time-lapse photography or improve their skills.

It covers everything from the basics of equipment and setup to more advanced topics like post-processing and creating time-lapses with multiple cameras. The author does a great job of explaining things in a way that’s easy to understand, and there are plenty of helpful tips and examples throughout the book.

If you’re serious about getting into time-lapse photography, this is definitely a book worth checking out.

Time-lapse Photography: A Complete Introduction to Shooting, Processing and Rendering Time-lapse Movies with a DSLR Camera by Ryan A Chylinski 

A beautiful book showcasing some of the best time-lapse movie images worldwide.

This is an ideal coffee table book for anyone who loves photography, and it’s sure to inspire you to create your own stunning time-lapses.

Creative Nightscapes and Time-Lapses: Your Complete Guide to Conceptualizing, Planning, and Creating Composite Nightscapes and Time-Lapses by Mike Shaw

If you want to create amazing nightscapes and time-lapses, Shaw walks you through the process of conceptualizing, planning, and executing composite nightscapes and time-lapses.

He covers everything from equipment and software to post-processing techniques. The book is packed with beautiful images and helpful tips. Whether a beginner or a seasoned pro, you’ll find something useful in this book.

women learning time lapse photography.

Online Time-Lapse Photography Courses

Plenty of online courses are available if you’re interested in learning how to create timelapse photography or vids. These courses will teach you everything from choosing the right camera and equipment to using manual mode, setting up your shots, and using software.

The Art of Timelapse and Hyperlapse Photography with Ian Norman

An excellent online course that involves a hands-on time-lapse project that’ll teach you top-notch time-lapse techniques through intuitive yet professional instruction. 

You will learn three sequences: time-lapse, hyper-lapse, and day-to-night time-lapse.

When you’re finished with the course, you’ll have all the know-how to create stunning sequences with your DSLR, compact, or smartphone. Getting into the specifics, you’ll learn different editing software like Magic Lantern, Photolapse 3, and Time Lapse Assembler.

Time Lapse Photography with Tom Bol

Provides lessons in a logical order to get you producing seamless and smooth time-lapse vids and images.

The course is broken down into bite-sized lessons for easy and intuitive learning.

Tom Bol covers everything from gear, considerations for calculating your time-lapse formula, and programming an intervalometer. He’ll also teach you different kinds of time-lapses like cloud time-lapse, time-lapse at night, and a behind-the-scenes look at how to get smooth transitions using a rail system.

You’ll implement software like Quick Time Pro and Lightroom to tackle one of the most challenging types of time-lapse, such as going from day to night.

sparkler circle over head with cityscape in the background at night.

How to Shoot a Dynamic Timelapse and Hyperlapse with Chris Booker

Offers aspiring photographers the opportunity to learn timelapse photography and how to take advantage of slow shutter speed to add motion blur to videos.

You’ll learn to add movement with time-lapses and hyper lapses and edit your final image using Lightroom, Premiere, and After Effects.

Chris runs through how to shoot static time-lapses, add long exposure into the mix, and then add movement. No composition will have the same scene once you add these elements.

The course wraps up with learning useful editing processes and software. This course is great if you’re looking for all-around dynamic instruction.

person standing on the shore next to boats looking at stars in the night sky.

Conclusion: Time-Lapse Photography is a Great Way to Capture the Beauty of the World Around Us. 

Time-lapse photography is a technique used to capture images much lower than usual, resulting in a video that appears to be played back at high speed.

This technique can capture a wide variety of subjects, from the growth of plants to the construction of buildings, landscapes, cityscapes, the night sky, and more.

Time-lapse photography is unique in that it allows the viewer to see a process that would normally take place over a long period of time in a much shorter time frame.

This can give the viewer a new perspective on the subject and can also be used to create beautiful and artistic shots.

When learning time lapse photography, you’ll gain a greater appreciation for time itself.

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