A place for experimental photographers

Time-Lapse Photography

Time-Lapse photography is gaining increasing recognition to the extent that this technique continues appearing in mainstream motion pictures on a regular basis and there is plenty of great examples on the Web. No photography blog would also be complete without an entry revealing the basics behind Time-Lapse Photography. Therefore, this post will discuss numerous aspects of Time-Lapse Photography including equipment, technique, processing and workflow in order to bring you closer to shooting your own Time-Lapse clip.

What is Time-Lapse Photography?

Basically, time-lapse is a photography technique that involves taking a series of photographs, maintaining the same interval between the shots, and then compiling them into a slide show or a movie clip. This technique is ideal to demonstrate events that usually take substantial time to develop in a relatively short period of time. Numerous examples of Time-Lapse Photography include blossoming flowers, growing plants, rotting vegetables and fruit, changing weather, moving clouds, cityscapes at night, night sky as well as city life. What makes this technique even more interesting is the fact that by increasing the intervals between the shots, it is possible to demonstrate unnoticed events that take time, in seconds.

Here are some of my examples of time-lapse projects shot both at night and in the daytime.

Notice how fast shutter speed and relatively long intervals made the video quite ‘choppy’.

Here on, the other hand, smaller intervals made the video flow better.

Finally, longer exposures taken at night create impressive trails of light.

Also an example of a time-lapse project made form video rather than picture files

This post will guide you through the steps of making your first time-lapse movie and will discuss some issues related to both capturing the pictures and post-processing workflow. Obviously, there are many ways of making a time-lapse movies and many photographers have their own favourite technique and software. Here, I will present and discuss what, in my opinion, is the most straightforward and sensible approach photographers can use as a template to expand their experience upon.

So, what you will need is a DSLR camera, a tripod, a shutter timer controller, Quicktime Pro, Adobe Lightroom 3 and movie editing software such as iMovie, Adobe After Effects or Final Cut, lots of patience and computing power.

There are two stages of making a time-lapse movie. First involves taking the pictures and the second requires post-processing them and working on the video file.

First, find a scenery you would like to capture such as a busy train station etc. Place your camera on the tripod and compose the picture. Next, adjust your camera settings. Remember, you will be shooting over an extended period of time, therefore, you have to shoot in the Manual mode. Decide on the right aperture and shutter speed and, after focusing, switch the focus to manual and white balance to an appropriate setting. Connect the shutter timer controller to your camera and decide on the right interval. Some cameras, such as Nikon D7000, have a built-in interval meter which makes the whole process easier. Bear in mind that longer intervals will make your video go faster and are generally better for events that take slower to develop such as moving clouds, changing weather, blossoming flowers etc. Shorter intervals, on the other hand, are better for faster action such as moving people or cars. When shooting people, I usually use 1-2s. intervals and when shooting landscapes the interval is usually 4-6s. Also remember that if you are planning to capture extremely long events, the light is bound to change drastically. Therefore, it is advisable to shoot in Aperture-priority mode as the camera will adjust the shutter speed in order to get the correct exposure in every picture. Finally, activate the shutter timer controller and start taking pictures. One last piece of advice: once the camera starts taking pictures, avoid any temptation to adjust it as this will ruin your project. In other words, just stand back and do not touch the camera, making sure that nobody else moves it by accident.

Once you have your images, you will have to turn them into a movie and that is when the workflow begins. Depending on the speed of your time-lapse movie, you will have to take at least 800 pictures to get approx. 30s. of footage.

Begin with transferring the pictures on your hard drive. Then import them into a picture editing software such as Adobe Lightroom 3. Start working on the first picture, then create a preset and apply it to all the remaining pictures. The reason for doing so is that you can always improve the quality of your pictures by increasing clarity, sharpness and working on the curve to compensate for the exposure. Finally, export all the pictures to a separate folder.

Once you have all your pictures ready, launch Quicktime Pro to turn them into a movie. Simply go to ‘File’ and then ‘Open Image Sequence’. Your camera has done a great job at numbering all the pictures so you don’t have to worry about anything. Next, Quicktime will ask you for the speed of the clip in fps (frames per second). The unspoken standard for time-lapse is 24fps but you may also experiment with alternative speeds. After selecting the speed Quicktime will display a separate window with your footage. Your pictures will be significantly bigger than the window, so go to ‘View’ and then select ‘Fit to Screen’. Finally, go to ‘File’ and select ‘Export’. Then a separate window will open where you can select the destination of your clip and adjust the quality, size and audio settings by going into ‘Options’. If you don’t want to access the settings, you can also select a more convenient options ‘Export for Web’ and QuickTime will do all the work. This is also an excellent way of making clips optimised for Web delivery.

Depending on the processing powers of your computer, you may wait up to 5 minutes till your clip is ready. Once Quicktime finishes working on your file, the movie will be ready. Now you can add music, subtitles, transitions, effects, panning, zooming etc. using a variety of movie editing software. If you are a beginner, I would recommend iMovie 09 which is simple and intuitive to use. If you are interested in more advanced editing, you may want to try Adobe After Effects or Apple Final Cut. There is plenty of free on-line tutorials on how to use them so you shouldn’t have any problems in using the basic controls.

Finally, here is a collection of the most ambitious and inspiring time-lapse clips on the Web. Enjoy!

The Ultimate Guide to Time-Lapse Photography

Time-Lapse Tutorial

How to Make a Time-Lapse video with your DSLR

Like I said, there’s plenty of excellent and inspiring examples of Time-Lapse photography on the web made by both amateurs and professionals.

Thanks for reading and good luck with your photography.

Please remember that all material in this post is copyrighted.


30 responses

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      January 25, 2012 at 9:14 pm

  3. Seem to be missing one of my favorite timelapse professionals, and the guy I consider the Godfather, Tom Lowe and the stuff he’s doing for his film of the South West United States. His short film Rapture is a great example of the unique uses of timelapse photography: http://vimeo.com/16369165

    November 10, 2011 at 9:45 pm

    • Grzegorz Rogala

      Hey thanks a lot for the info. I have included the clip in the collection. It’s surely a great example of this kind of photography.

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    • First this is fantastic video. I am an anortsomer and educator. We just talked about aurorae last week in class and this is getting shown to my students on my very next class. I’m also interested in the music. What is title of the song and the artist that you used with your video? Thanks for sharing!

      May 23, 2012 at 12:55 pm

      • Grzegorz Rogala

        Thanks a lot and I’m glad you like the videos. Just right-click the video you like and watch it on vimeo. In the description you should find all the info about the artist and music. By the way, these videos are not mine. This is just a small collection of other inspiring artists on the web.

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