How to do time-lapse photography


Sunrises make for glorious time-lapse scenes

If you've ever seen the sun come up quickly over the city in CSI, or that fox decomposing in the title credits of True Blood, you've seen time-lapse in action. Here's how to do it...

Time-lapse is where photography meets video. Essentially, all you do is that you take a load of photos, and then play them quickly after each other–like a flip-book cartoon–and watch the frames come to life. Taking a photo every second compresses half a minute into a single second; with glorious results.

All you need to create your first time-lapse masterpiece is a tripod, a camera, an intervalometer, and a good idea.

In order to create your first time-lapse photographic movie, first you will need to think of an idea that you want to convey. Sunsets in the desert, a flower wilting, or (if you're really ambitious) a human being going from cradle to grave - it's all possible.

Taking the photos

So, to begin taking photos, set your camera on your tripod and make sure it stays in the same position throughout the whole process. Next, you can start taking your photos. You can do this by hand, but to get the timings smooth and your video looking better, try using an intervalometer. There's many different types of 'em out there - including ones you can buy for about £15-20 or $20-$30 from Amazon, and, of course, the Triggertrap, which comes with time-lapse features built in.

As a general rule, the more photos you take, the longer your final movie will be. Make sure that you also keep your camera on the same settings while you are photographing your scenes, otherwise there will be a noticeable difference in many of your photos in the final product–I find that Aperture Priority (Av/A) and manual focus works well; that way, the depth of field stays the same, but the camera will compensate for any fluctuations in lighting.

Stringing them together

Once you are done taking your photos, then you can upload them to your computer and lace them together by using a video editing software. Choose a video editing software that you are comfortable with and import the photos into the program. The photos will import in the order that you took them and each photo will automatically be assigned a time per frame. The time per frame is the amount of time that each photo will appear in your video. You can go to your tools and manually enter times that work for your video's concept. Most videos play at around 30 fps, but you don't have to play your video at full speed; you can choose to let each frame last two or three frames of your video, for example.

Overall, time-lapse photography can be a beautiful form of photography. It can be a simple process at first, but as you up your skills, your movies will take longer to produce, and they will become more complex. You can start introducing camera movement during the timelapse, for example, or come up with other cool effects.

If you are feeling adventurous this weekend, then grab your camera and try your hand at time-lapse photography. It is a fun way to spend a few hours, plus your final product will be a video that you can share with your friends and family. Keep practising–it's a lot harder than it sounds!

Need some inspiration?

Earth | Time Lapse View from Space, Fly Over | NASA, ISS from Michael König on Vimeo.

Life of flowers (Жизнь цветов) from VOROBYOFF PRODUCTION on Vimeo.

Good luck!