Getting Started with Time-Lapse Photography

May 5, 2009 | Mark Goldstein | Photography Techniques | 20 Comments |
Getting Started with Time-Lapse Photography Image

Time-lapse photography is an old technique that has been around from the earlier days of cinematography. From the films of Georges Méliès' in the 1890's this technique has been used by film makers to speed up time. One of the most notable films that used time-lapse extensively is Godfrey Reggio's koyaanisqatsi. Essentially any motion picture is time-lapse photography captured at 24 frames per second or higher, but the term time-lapse photography commonly refers to capturing a scene in a long period of time with exposures that are farther apart than video or film.

In recent years with the rising popularity of digital photography, this technique is now much easier to achieve and can be done with pretty much any digital point and shoot or SLR camera. Here are a few tips to make the most out of your time-lapse photos and achieve eye-catching results.

What you need to get started:

1. You need an intervalometer to trigger your camera (point and shoot or DSLR) in equal time intervals. This can be a laptop connected to your camera running a piece of software that controls your camera or it can be a smaller timer device. Many cameras come with software that can do this or you can use third party applications that give you more control like Breeze System products. Connecting your camera to a computer to do time-lapse might give you more control but can be a cumbersome solution for shooting in the field and is more suitable for indoors and studio work.

A smaller remote timer or intervalometer is a much more convenient solution but works mostly with cameras that have a sync cable attachment option or IR remote trigger abilities. This includes almost all DSLR cameras and a handful of higher-end point and shoot cameras. There are also a few point and shoot cameras on the market that have built-in time-lapse capabilities but the options are very basic and usually very limited. My personal favorite intervalometer which doubles as a remote trigger is the Pclix LT. It's very small and very versatile for any shooting scenario.

2. A strong and robust tripod is essential for time-lapse photography. If you're shooting outside the wind can create very unattractive camera shake effects in your final result. A big and heavy tripod with a strong tripod head is best.

3. Power source is usually a problem that needs to be considered depending on the location and shooting conditions. For example, if you are shooting outside in the winter, you will run out of battery life much quicker in the cold than indoors. Using a laptop to control your camera makes this even more of a problem.  You either have to carry a lot of batteries or consider using an AC Adapter for both your camera and laptop. AC Adapters are usually an optional accessory for your camera and are not necessarily cheap but if you are serious about time-lapse it's an essential add-on. Keeping your camera warm when shooting outside is another way to save battery life.

Another note about using batteries for time-lapse photography is that you have to be careful when changing the battery so the camera does not move. Also if possible attach the camera to the tripod in a way that the battery cover and storage card slot is accessible at all times. A battery grip for DSLRs is also recommended.

4. Memory Cards. Lots of them. If you're shooting with a laptop and writing directly to a hard drive that's great but most of the time you'll be using the memory cards. You'll need more if you shoot RAW.


Cars and People from Sam Javanrouh on Vimeo.

Shot on a Canon Digital Rebel XT DSLR camera with 15 second intervals.
Parking lot on Bay and Edward in Toronto.

Entry Tags

photos, video, photography, timelapse, intervalometer, time lapse, time-lapse

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#1 Yash Gupta

One of my questions about timeapse photography going from day to night is how to adjust the exposure as it gets darker?

6:38 pm - Tuesday, May 5, 2009

#2 nt

Very nicely executed. A parking lot next to a road so that there was some movement/transition every few minutes. Any idea about the number of exposures made, how much memory it needed?

7:22 pm - Tuesday, May 5, 2009

#3 Danbat

Making a timelapse of a dawn in the mountains i just set the camera to adjust automatic exposure time for every photo before it was take. Was a 15 secs lapse, the first photos were 6 seconds shots and the last was 1/40 secs. Works very nice.

I’m using a 4 Gb card with a 10 mpx camera, shooting raw, and i can take about 300 photos. At 30 frames/sec it will be a 10 secs sequence. For a 1 min video must have a really big card or save the pictures in jpeg.

8:25 pm - Tuesday, May 5, 2009

#4 Yash Gupta

Thank you Danbat, Did you get any “flickering in the final result which is caused by inconsistencies of camera metering”? which camera are you using?

8:44 pm - Tuesday, May 5, 2009

#5 Danbat

Yes, flickering is a BIG problem, but results were good enough to impressionate my friends. I’m not a professional (yet ;) ) so i just ignore it.

I’m using a Canon 40D. Recently i purchase a M42-EOS adapter and using my old lenses with outstanding results. Manual focus and no battery consumption from lenses, so the camera can take more photos in one night session.

8:57 pm - Tuesday, May 5, 2009

#6 Martin Setvak

Hello, though you mention that there are cameras with built-in time-lapse capability, I disagree that their options are basic and quite limited. The basic interval of Ricoh cameras (GX100/200, GRDI/II, R-series, and CX1) starts at 5 seconds, which might be too long for some scenes, but is fully sufficient e.g. for “timelapsing” of clouds. The main advantage of these cameras is that you don’t need anything else but a tripod… Many examples and namely additional recommendation on setting-up a Ricoh cameras for time-lapse photography (but still valid for any other time-lapse hardware) can be found at my time-lapse webpage: http://www.setvak.cz/timelapse/ You will find there is also a step-by-step guide for beginners on how to set-up a movie file from the sequence of images, which is based on freeware software, and which among other describes how to deflicker a movie…
Regards, Martin

5:06 am - Wednesday, May 6, 2009

#7 Pete

I know this sounds like a plug, but I just finished a time-lapse video of a building my father built recently.  I used a Canon SD1000 at 2 minute intervals (more next time though), using CHDK (google it!).  CHDK is a hack program you can load onto an SD card for use on Canon point and shoots.  The script used for the intervalometer was easy to install, and I put the video together using Picasa.  A little more involved than buying a toy or setting up with a PC, but the battery was at half drain after 6 hours, which is pretty sweet, and all I had to do was leave it alone.  The next one will be better, I think.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yoUZS0Fce0M
“Timelapse of a Timber Frame”

5:21 am - Wednesday, May 6, 2009

#8 Sydney Guy

I absolutely love time lapse photography, but i can not seem to get it right! lighting plays a big factor with time lapse, especially if it is outside and for extended hours.

1:01 pm - Wednesday, May 6, 2009

#9 RAW

I am starting to shoot RAW when i shoot time-lapse, and have encountered a problem.
I edit the RAW media (crop, color, exposure, ect…) in Lightroom2, and export to jpeg in a separate folder. The jpegs reflect all my edits, but as soon as I assemble them in Quicktime Pro, or Final Cut. I loose a lot of the vibrancy of the colors. I am shooting in RAW so I have more versatility in editing, but something goes wrong when I assemble the jpegs.  Anyone else experience this problem? What software do you use to assemble the photos?

3:21 pm - Sunday, July 12, 2009

#10 Danbat

I use VirtualDub for jpeg join in a no-compressing video. Works pretty well. Also use the deflicker plugin explained by Martin Setvak with excellent results. I re-made a timelapse I did last year and made another one. You can find both at http://www.vimeo.com/user560455/videos.

3:28 am - Monday, July 13, 2009

#11 Time-lapse

There are good examples of construction time-lapse films on lobster pictures vimeo and youtube channels. For installed cameras that are designed for prolonged use and stability (and monitoring from a remote browser it is also worth checking out there is the Lobster Pot camera and Lobster Lapse software.

10:33 am - Saturday, August 22, 2009

#12 Matt

Some cameras have interval timer built in.
Nikon D5000, 300, 300s (and maybe higher models)
Most Ricoh CX, GX, GR series can also do this.

2:11 am - Monday, November 2, 2009

#13 Yash Gupta

wow! so nikon has started adding interval timer in the low end models? (D5000) but not in the D90?

2:14 am - Monday, November 2, 2009

#14 John Delbach

What about this one ?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OkbQ2FwZvYk

4:23 pm - Friday, June 18, 2010

#15 Kiran Gosu

And what software did you use to stitch the photos? Do we have any freeware? windows movie maker is not working on my machine for some reason.

3:29 pm - Wednesday, February 16, 2011

#16 kc

Would anyone know what good software to use to put all the pictures together with?

11:31 pm - Thursday, March 3, 2011

#17 KC

Ok i have a Nikon D5000, could someone tell me what settings i would use, to get that lovely night scene with the stars, at the moment its all blue and messed up a bit.

ISO, F, WHITE BALANCE, Anything else that will help.
Thanks.

6:29 pm - Saturday, March 19, 2011

#18 Yash Gupta

@KC I think you need to just reduce the exposure to make it black. You may also need to adjust the whitebalance.

5:30 am - Tuesday, March 22, 2011

#19 KC

Thanks Yash, i will give that a try.

1:47 pm - Thursday, March 24, 2011

#20 fatdog

Any chance of you guys testing my time lapse app just landed in itunes called PikFliks

3:33 am - Friday, May 27, 2011