Time lapse Photography

In recent times have begun to appear on the Internet, more specifically on pages such as youtube, vimeo, etc, many videos made with a very curious technique called Time Lapse.

These are videos of spectacular landscapes or situations in which everything happens very quickly.

In a few minutes you can appreciate, for example, the sunset, a sunrise or even the course of a whole day.

Have you ever wondered how they do it?

Don’t worry, in today’s article I will explain you step by step how to do it and what you should keep in mind so you can perform your first Time Lapse without dying in the attempt.

What is a Time Lapse ?

As its name indicates, Time Lapse is a sequence of photographs taken with a certain time separation between them.

Then, using a computer, they are put together to create a video that gives the sensation of being recorded in fast motion.

Never seen one?

Take a look at the next one and you will understand better what I am talking about:

Although it may seem like a really new technique, it’s actually not so new because there are short films from the beginning of the century made in Time Lapse to show a slightly faster version of reality.

Time lapse Vs video

You’re probably wondering why take hundreds of pictures to make a video if your camera shoots in Full HD?

The answer is simple:

Your camera’s video mode, despite using the same sensor and filming in Full HD, is much more limited in terms of metering and exposure settings and the resulting quality than if you use your camera simply to take pictures.

This means that however much your camera films, the video modes do not process noise, capture light, or work at the quality your camera is capable of taking a picture.

Think about it: a 16-megapixel camera takes pictures at a size of 4928 x 3264 pixels while in video mode it’s capable of capturing 1920 x 1080 pixels.

If you were thinking of taking a video and using software on your computer to speed it up to achieve the same effect, you’re likely to be disappointed when you see it.

Types and uses of times lapse techniques

Time lapse rates

While you can make a Time Lapse video of anything you can think of, if you take the time to research the different types of videos shared on the Internet, you’ll find that not every situation is ideal for making an amazing Time Lapse.

In general, we can say that there are 3 main types of situations with which you can get some amazing videos:

1. Nature: this includes all kinds of flora and fauna that live in nature.

From the blossoming of a flower to the creation of an anthill.

2. Landscapes: sunsets and sunrises, storms and lightning, winds, clouds, sun and stars, etc.

3. Others: everything that does not fall into the two previous classifications but that may be attractive to document: traffic on a street, the construction of a building, and everything where something attractive is created or transformed over time.

While in the first two classifications (Nature and Landscapes) the fluidity and continuity of the video is key to its impact, in the third (others) it is not so important to lose some intermediate sequences because what is important is not the evolution but the transformation of the chosen elements.

Uses and applications of time lapse

This technique, which is booming nowadays, is used by many media, agencies and photographers where power is sought:
To show long-lasting events, like the course of the stars in the sky, in a short video.

To show in the same scene different subjects moving at different speeds.

Any other kind of artistic work.

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The necessary equipment

Timer Camera

The key to being able to take these kinds of pictures or videos is to have a camera, whether it is an SLR or not, that allows you to take pictures every certain amount of time that can be programmed.

However, if your camera doesn’t have this option built in at the factory, you can try an intervalometer or an external remote trigger.


As you can imagine, the stability of the camera is a prerequisite for quality Time Lapse.

To achieve this, the ideal is to make a good, sturdy tripod.

As you gain experience, you may also need a slider base or rail so you can move the camera around a scene, while still taking pictures stably.

I recommend you read the following article: “How to Properly Mount a Tripod” if you don’t want to waste hours of work and hundreds of pictures.


The lens you will use depends on the scene you are shooting.

If you want to photograph a landscape, it is recommended that you use a wide-angle lens (8 to 25 mm).

But for a flower bloom, for example, a macro lens would be ideal.

However, you can do it with the lens you have at hand, it doesn’t have to be the most expensive one.

While quality is important, in Time Lapse it is not so important.

Charged Battery

Battery charged to 100% and as far as possible, have more than one.

If you have a grip that allows you to use more than one battery at the same time, excellent.

Ideally, the photo session should end when you want it to, not when the batteries are ready.

High Capacity, High-speed Memory Card

Memory cards of the highest possible capacity and speed.

If you run out of space in the middle of a session, you may miss frames crucial to the continuity and fluidity of your final video.

Better safe than sorry.

A good Book

Despite being a very exciting process, it is extremely boring.

Imagine sitting for 4 hours with nothing to do but listen to the camera’s shutter release and take a picture every 30 seconds.

You can go crazy! Take something with you that you can entertain yourself with during the whole shooting process.

Location and Framing

The location you choose to mount your camera on the tripod and the elements you decide to incorporate into the frame to dress up the scene are fundamental for the resulting Time Lapse to achieve the impact you’re looking for.

Choose your protagonists well and take your time to decide how you will arrange all the elements you have available within the frame to achieve the desired impact.

The less you improvise, the better.

Keep in mind that changing an element of place, means redoing hundreds of pictures.

Take your time to study the location and framing well.

How to set up your camera for a Good Timelapse

Once you’ve arrived at your chosen shooting location, you’ll not only need to set up your tripod and camera, but you’ll also need to adjust all your camera settings to take each photo.

That is, make a good measurement and exposure of the scene to be photographed, and then set the intervalometer to automatically take a picture every so often.

Depending on the scene you’re shooting, the interval between each shot will vary:
If you want to take a picture of a sunrise, for example, it is recommended that you use an interval of about 30 seconds since the sun will not vary much in position from one to the other.

On the other hand, if you want to photograph a motorway full of cars, it is advisable to use a much shorter interval, otherwise the continuity jumps and the resulting video flow will be too noticeable.

Try to use intervals of 5 seconds or less.

To do a Time Lapse of a landscape or a starry sky, as the fluidity is essential, you should use a much shorter time interval between shots, from 1 to 5 seconds.

However, these are general recommendations.

Do all the necessary tests until you reach the result you are waiting for.

Shooting mode

While I always recommend using the manual mode to take each and every one of your pictures, in this particular case and depending on the length of the video, it is recommended that you use the aperture priority mode.


The “amount of light” available in a scene can vary from its beginning to its end, so if you use the manual mode, you should adjust the exposure accordingly.

In contrast, using aperture priority mode, once you set the required depth of field, the camera will adjust the exposure automatically

The life of the equipment

If you have an SLR camera, I’m sorry to inform you that they are not immortal.

In fact, using the Time Lapse technique will cause your camera to wear out more than normal.

Unfortunately, photo by photo your camera will slowly approach its sad end: the funeral.

According to the manufacturers, the life expectancy of most digital SLRs is around 100,000 shots depending on the manufacturer and model of the camera.

That’s why you should make a serious planning process in order to waste the least amount of pictures possible when taking your shots, since after a long Time Lapse session, you will have consumed a small but important portion of your camera’s life.

Don’t despair! 100,000 pictures may not seem like much, but it’s not: take a look at the following article and you’ll understand better: “The Life Expectancy of your Camera [or Your Camera’s Funeral]”.

And if you want to prolong its life as much as possible, follow these recommendations: “The Complete Guide: Cleaning Tips for SLR Cameras”.


Make your first time lapse step by step

Now that you have everything ready, it’s time to take your stuff and start doing your first Time Lapse.

Of course, after reading the next steps:

1. Prepare for the adventure: although it is possible to do your first Time Lapse from the window of your home, if you plan to do it outdoors, I recommend that you not only pack your photographic equipment, but also take with you a coat, an umbrella, a flashlight, sunscreen and everything you consider necessary so that you don’t end up having a bad and long time.

Make sure everything is in its place, clean lenses and charged batteries so you don’t have to interrupt the session for anything.

2. Don’t improvise: as I mentioned before, the more time you spend planning the scenes and choosing the frame, the less time and fewer pictures you will waste.

Imagine that after 4 hours of photos every 10 seconds, you realize that the sunset is out of frame!

3. Duration of the final video: to get one second of filming, approximately 25 pictures are required, so if you want to get a video of approximately 30 seconds, you will have to take about 750 pictures.

Please note that to take 750 pictures with a 10-second interval between shots, the total shooting time will be 2 hours (750 pictures x 10 seconds / 60 minutes = 125 minutes).

Check your plan of action again after calculating the total time of the session.

4. Compose your photos: the moment you place the camera on the tripod is fundamental for correct Time Lapse.

Make sure the camera is firmly mounted and that all the elements of the scene are well arranged in it.

Keep in mind that any unwanted movement can ruin hours of work, so make sure nothing and nobody moves your camera.

Also, make sure you are tidy when using your equipment.

If you leave everything lying around, you’re likely to forget something when you come back to edit the video.

5. Set the parameters for the shot: depending on the characteristics of the scene to be photographed, you will have to set the different parameters for the shot such as: the shooting mode, the format of the photos (RAW or JPG), the time interval between each shot, the depth of field, etc.

Read again how to configure the equipment if you are not clear or make your query in the comments at the end of the article.

Depending on the speed at which the elements in the scene move, you will have to choose which time interval to use.

The faster the speed, the shorter the interval, and the lower the speed, the longer the interval between photos.

6. Focus manually: If you let the camera focus automatically, it may decide to change the focus at some point, such as when a closer cloud passes by.

To avoid the camera getting confused and changing the focus, once your scene is in focus, change the focus mode to manual.

This way, all the elements you have focused on will no longer change.

7. Get comfortable and start taking your pictures!

Processing Time Lapse Image : Making your first video

Once you’ve finished taking each and every picture that will make up the final video, gather up all your stuff and make sure you don’t leave anything lying around as the field of action moves to your computer.

That’s where the magic happens and the pictures come to life!

To put all the images together, you need editing software that allows you to export them to a video file once they have been put together and sorted.

You can use any slideshow program (Proshow, Powerpoint, Movie Maker, etc), if you are not interested in the final video having the best quality.

Or use professional video editing software such as Adobe After Effects, Sony Vegas, Final Cut, etc., if you want your final video to be more professional and of higher quality.

Once you’ve sorted all the photos into whatever software you’re using, all that’s left is to choose the interval between photos and adjust them if the resulting video flow doesn’t convince you.

Here’s a video that explains how to easily get your photos together using Adobe After Effects:

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Adding music for your time lapse

You thought the music magically appeared in your video?

No way.

It is essential that you take the time to select a song that reinforces the message of the video.

Take your time, try it out, and you’ll find the right music for the video you just created.

Nothing is written about taste, but instrumental music tends to be more thought-provoking and allows viewers to focus on the photograph rather than the lyrics.

Once you’ve found the right music for your video, you can incorporate it into your video using the editing software used to put all the photos together.

Ressources :


Final Result

I hope I’ve awakened your interest in this kind of animated photography! Don’t hesitate and dare to make your first Time Lapse and share it with all of us! If you have enjoyed reading this article (as I have enjoyed writing it) I would appreciate it if you could give it a vote/recommendation on Facebook, Twitter or Google+.

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Now Your Turn

Now I would like to know, do you have any question ?

Or maybe do you have some information to add ?

Either way, let me know in the comments below

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