Getting Started with Time-Lapse Photography

May 5, 2009 | Mark Goldstein | Photography Techniques | Comment |

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.

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