Time lapse is a creative technique that distorts time. Highlight the stunning beauty of a metropolitan cityscape, the frenetic pace of people walking on the street, or the ever-changing light all at warp speed. Turn the ordinary into something exciting and extraordinary. Watch the black of night rapidly transform into the shimmering light of morning. Shooting time-lapse is fun and easy once you get the hang of it. In fact, once you do, you’ll be hooked. Learn how to create a time lapse video in 5 easy steps.
Disclaimer: “This post contains affiliate links. I earn on qualifying purchases.”
Table of Contents
What Is Time Lapse?
A time-lapse video is the opposite of a slow-motion video. In this type of video, a series of still images are taken, and then artificially sped up to create a seamless video where time appears to be moving very quickly, distorting the perception of time. As an example, we all know how long it takes the sun to set. In a time lapse, this process can happen in a mere ten seconds.
Any moving subject is appropriate for time-lapse, such as people walking through the city, children playing at the park, a plant swaying in the wind, or the tide rolling in. The camera is typically stationary, but I know some photographers who like to move around when shooting stills for time-lapse.
Time lapse is also great for detailing processes that take place over a period of time. For instance, an artist beginning and finishing a painting or the moon rising over the mountains.
What Equipment Do You Need?
- Camera: You can use your DSLR, any compact camera, or smartphone to shoot a time-lapse video.
- Tripod: You’ll definitely need a tripod, especially when using a DSLR. You can use a shoulder pod to attach your phone to the tripod.
- Intervalometer: This is an advanced shutter release timer that will trigger your camera’s shutter to whatever firing frequency you choose. This is an invaluable tool for time-lapse as it allows for hands-free shooting, and allows you to be in the video if you so choose. Some cameras, like Nikons, have built-in intervalometers, but unfortunately, Canon DSLRs do not. In this case an external intervalmeter must be used. Check this one out. If you’re using your iPhone, all you need to do is utilize the time-lapse setting in your camera app.
- Time Lapse Video Software: You’ll need editing software to assemble your photographs into the proper sequence and set the frame rate. I’ll go into more detail on software below. During the editing process is when you’ll add your music, making your video super fabulous.
How To Create A Time Lapse Video
1. The first step is to determine the subject of your video: What do you want to photograph? Content will always be key in a time-lapse so make sure it’s great and that your subject is moving.
2. Select your location: Do you want to capture people, cars, boats, or animal? Choose your subject, then go where they are.
3. Stabilize your camera or phone with a tripod: Like all still shots, pay attention to your exposure, composition, and lighting. Use a small F-stop for time-lapse. F/18-F/22 are ideal, ensuring the entire frame is in focus, and allowing for the slowest shutter speed possible. I like shooting in manual mode to correctly dial in exposure.
The longer the shutter speed, the more motion blur your images will have, and the more smoothly they’ll blend together. Your ISO should be at a low setting to eliminate noise and grain, and allow for the slowest shutter speed possible. Of course, if you’re shooting at night, your shutter speed will be very slow. To compensate, your ISO will need to be quite high at around 2000.
For sunset and sunrise shots, use the aperature priority mode on your camera. This way you can set the aperture, letting your camera automatically choose the shutter speed depending on the changing light. And like always, either custom white balance your camera or use the camera white balance setting most appropriate for your lighting.
4. Now it’s time to use your intervalometer: Plug in your external intervalometer or use your camera’s built-in one. Choose an interval based on the motion of your subjects. The faster the motion, the faster the interval. The intervals can start at two seconds and go all the way to 30-second intervals. When set, press start, and take your first photo. All your subsequent photos will be taken at this chosen interval.
5. Shooting your time-lapse according to how long you want your video to be: How many photos should you aim for? Here’s a general rule of thumb when trying to figure out how long your camera should run. Let’s say you set your intervals to five seconds. Multiply five by four and you get 20.
You’ll need to let your camera shoot for 20 minutes to get the required number of photos for your time-lapse. We’re talking about 200 + photos for length video. Keep in mind, the less time between your shots, the smoother your video will be.
The goal is to choose an interval that won’t produce too many pictures, but will shoot enough images that your final video will be at least 15 seconds. To give you a feel for timing, a clip that is 25 seconds long will require a full 30 minutes of shooting at an interval of 12 seconds.
Think how many pictures will be taken during that half hour time frame – a whole lot! A good rule of thumb is to shoot more images than you think you’ll need.
Time Lapse Video Software
There are a variety of software options available for editing time-lapse. Lightroom, iMovie, QuickTime Pro, and Picasa are all easy-to-use platforms especially if you’re using a DSLR. Picasa and iMovie are free to use for Mac users. QuickTime Pro will run you $29.99, and works for both Mac and Windows.
Lightroom is part of the Adobe Creative Cloud, and costs $9.99 a month. Most likely you already have this program if you’re a professional photographer. I love Lightroom because you can batch edit all your pictures, saving a ton of time and effort. All time-lapse images should be set to 1-frame each, and the timeline set to 24 frames per second.
And for you Windows users out there, you can use Windows Movie Maker at no charge. The interface is intuitive, making it easy to customize the parameters, and publishing your video is a cinch. Filmora Video Editor is also a great choice if your making time-lapse videos. The drag-and-drop feature, animated titles, filters, overlays, motion graphics, and other special effects make it simple to customize your video, sharing it directly to YouTube, Vimeo, an Facebook.
Lapse It is a widely used IOS app for editing time-lapse on your iPhone. You can view a tutorial of Lapse It here. The free version is ok, but ideally you’ll want to pay $2.99 for the premium app. You’ll then have access to all the amazing options and features you’ll need to make an awesome video. Customize the frames per second, resolution, audio, and codec. There are other time-lapse apps, but Lapse It is a popular one.
If you’re interested in creating time-lapse videos, you might also love the idea of dipping your toes into the fascinating world of astrophotography. Many people think you have to spend thousands of dollars to get started, but that isn’t true. You can actually get started using remote equipment, rather than buying your own.
Astrophotography is an amazing way to harness the beauty of the cosmos. Remote astrophotography lets you create gorgeous images, minus the exorbitant cost associated with this genre of photography, by using state-of-the-art remote astronomy telescopes located all over the world.
Using remote telescopes is a great way for beginners to get started learning basic concepts of photographing objects in space. Click the link below to access a comprehensive guide that will teach you how to use remote telescopes for astrophotography.
Time lapse is a creative way to turn your still images into dynamic, moving pictures. Transform the mundane into something truly magnificent by distorting time, changing the way every day scenes are typically viewed.
Making a time-lapse video is cinematic creativity at its finest. If you haven’t dabbled in this type of video creation, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable it is.
Have you shot time-lapse before? Let me know in the comments:)