time lapse

We're going on a roadtrip - grab your camera and drive-lapse

I'm meant to be driving to Edinburgh tomorrow—good health permitting—and if my car weren't due to be crammed to the gunwales with my brother's belongings, I might've considered turning it into a drive-lapse. Or a time-lapse of the journey. It would be possible to do this using a common-or-garden time-lapse technique, but if I were to find myself stuck in a traffic jam (heaven forfend), we'd have shot after shot of my car stationary on the A1, which isn't so thrilling. The clever people at Triggertrap have developed a way around this problem, however: distancelapse mode. Rather than triggering your camera to take a photo at timed intervals, it exploits your smartphone's GPS to take a photo at specific distance intervals. How very nifty!

Safety first

Shooting a drive-lapse will necessitate mounting your camera and triggering device securely in your car, with a decent view of where you're going. While this might seem simple, whatever means you choose to mount your camera in your vehicle, you must do it safely. Laws will vary from country to country, but the primary consideration is that your kit mustn't obscure the driver's vision and neither must it be a distraction. Do be sure of the regulations before you go anywhere.

Selecting a mounting option

You have a few options to mount your camera in your car. A superclamp attached to the passenger seat's headrest stalks is ideal: it won't obscure the driver's vision and the camera has a great view. Alternatively, you could opt for a suction cup on the windscreen or a tripod wedged in the backseat. Remember: it's about being safe.

Aperture priority mode or Manual?

Choosing your preferred shooting mode for a drive-lapse can be a bit of a conundrum. If you're likely to encounter changes in the weather conditions or light throughout the duration of your journey, manual mode will leave some shots over-exposed and other under-exposed. Aperture priority mode can solve the exposure issue, but leave you with a flicker problem. You're going to have to weigh up which mode will suit your journey, and therefore your final video, best.

Time and space considerations

If you're going on an especially long journey, you'll need to make provision for this, in terms of your personal needs and your kit's. Your memory card will require sufficient space and you might need an external charger for your phone, too.

Drive time!

With all of these considerations, ehm, considered, it's time to do this!

Mount your camera

As we've already discussed, your camera needs to be mounted legally and securely. You don't want it wobbling about if you encounter potholes or sleeping policemen.

This was a Manfrotto clamp, for the record

Camera, meet Triggertrap

Hook up your camera to the Triggertrap dongle and the dongle to your smartphone. Secure your smartphone, too, as you don't want that moving about.

You could do this as an ordinary time-lapse, but if you get caught in traffic, it could prove a bit dull

Set your camera

Your camera needs to be in manual focus mode in order for Triggertrap to function, so if it isn't already, switch it to manual focus and adjust to get the image sharp. You also need to choose between aperture priority and manual exposure modes, and set your exposure accordingly.

Let Distancelapse take the strain

Open up the Triggertrap app and select the Distancelapse mode. If you're driving on the motorway, 300 metres is a good interval. Hit the big red button, allow the GPS to settle, and then off you go!

300 metres should do the job

Putting together your video

When you've completed your journey and have all your images, it's time to compile them into a video. We'll save that for another article, but this one should get you started. Then you get to relive the journey, in shortened form.

Much of this, including all the images, is based on the fantastic How to shoot a road trip timelapse tutorial found on Triggertrap's How-To microsite, and it's reproduced with permission. Triggertrap How-To is full of great content for making the most of your camera. You should take a look.

Shooting star trails

Star trail photos can be incredibly compelling and while they take time to produce, they're probably not as difficult as you might think they are. In fact, there are two methods that you can use to capture the night sky with the stars streaking across it: a single long exposure or what effectively amounts to a time-lapse composited into a single image. This is our guide to shooting star trails. Star trails by Thomas Langley (thanks to Triggertrap)


Light pollution can be a pain when you're attempting to shoot a star trail photo. If you're not able to see the stars, your camera won't be able to, either. Should you live in a city, this means looking for a location that's suitably isolated to give you a view of the sky, but isn't so isolated that you make yourself vulnerable. And if you don't live in a city, you still need to be somewhere accessible.

You also want to think about your scene. You might find that having something of interest in the foreground of your shot will improve it. Barns, dilapidated or otherwise, obelisks, and rock formations are all good starting points.

By finding Polaris and focusing on that, you'll produce a circular star trail; point your camera somewhere else in the sky and your trails will be more linear.


The best time of year for shooting star trails is definitely dependent on personal preference. How long you can manage safely in the cold is probably your primary concern. But you do need to be shooting on a cloudless night with no or little moon.

Setting up

Once you've decided on your location and set up camp with warm clothes, thick boots, and a thermos flask, it's time to set up your camera.


Set your camera on its tripod; place it in manual mode and switch the lens, preferably a wide-angle one to get as much sky in the shot as possible, to manual focus, too. Frame your shot—ideally with something of interest in the foreground—with the lens focused to infinity.

When it comes to exposure, you need to be in bulb mode, the aperture should be as wide as possible, and try ISO 1,600.

Take a test shot with a exposure time of 30 seconds; if the stars are bright and clear, you're ready to go. If it looks a little dark, adjust the exposure time until you're happy.

Camera trigger

If you're using an intervalometer, you need to set it to record as you would for a time-lapse video, using the exposure time you tested for.

Choose your exposure time, number of exposures, and the intrval between them

If you're using Triggertrap Mobile with its star trail mode, set the exposure time that you established in testing with a two second interval between frames, and select the number of frames you want to take. You can choose a huge number of frames and stop after half an hour or 45 minutes of shooting if you're not certain how long you need to be out there for.

Hit go!

That should be about it. Hit go and wait for your camera and the universe to work its magic. Do remember to keep warm and safe!


When you've accumulated all the images that you need, it's time to compile them into a single image with the help of some software. If you have Photoshop, that's perfect. If you don't, there are other options including the star-trail-specific StarStax.

A stack of images

Transfer your images from the memory card to your harddrive, keeping them in a single folder with their original file numbers. Whichever programme you use, this is important to ensure that the images don't get out-of-synch. The rest of this tutorial uses Photoshop to assemble your star trail shot, but you should be able to extrapolate the process to any other programme.

Import your images

Open Photoshop and import your star trail images using File –> Scripts –> Load Files into Stack. Select your folder of star trails photos, highlight all of the photos, and then select Open followed by OK.

Stack importation makes life easy (Image thanks to Triggertrap)


When all of your photos have made their way into Photoshop, select all of them in the Layers panel, and then in Blending Mode select Lighten. Tah-da! You should have a star trail composite.

Blend them together for your final image (Image thanks to Triggertrap)

You can make adjustments to individual layers if you want, but otherwise, you're done and it's a case of saving. (You might want to save an unflattened PSD file and a flattened JPEG version.)

Much of this, including all the images, is based on the fantastic How to capture a star trail tutorial found on Triggertrap's How-To microsite, and it's reproduced with permission. Triggertrap How-To is full of great content for making the most of your camera. You should take a look.

Triggertrap, meet Android

Triggertrap's Android menu

When the team behind the universal camera trigger, Triggertrap, announced a mobile version of their time-lapse-tastic device at the end of April this year, it offered iPhone users 12 different means of triggering their cameras from their phones. As well as being able to react to light and vibration, it included distance-lapsing and eased time-lapsing (allowing you to control the intervals between shots) options, for added fun. Android users, however, felt a bit left out. But not anymore!

From today, Triggertrap will be available for download to Android platforms running version 2.3 Gingerbread or higher.

When paired with a cable and a dongle, Triggertrap for Andoid can control the shutter release on SLR cameras in eight different ways, including five different time-lapse modes, long-exposure HDR, and star-trail modes.You can download it for all of £2.99 or $4.99.

In order to make the most of Triggertrap Mobile, you will need a dongle, and the Triggertrap team has announced dongle version 2. This one is faster than version 1, is compatible with both iOS and Android devices, and with a total of nine different camera connectors, can service 280 camera models. That'll be shipping from the end of September and will cost £19, or £29.99, including a camera connection cable.

Just by-the-by, at the end of September, Triggertrap for iOS will update to version 1.4 and be available in French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and Norwegian. Russian, Chinese, and Japanese are on the horizon, too.

For anyone who took up my suggestion of bribing the team with single malt Scotch, boutique gin, or vintage wines, to get an Android version, it looks like your endeavours paid off!

Making a time-lapse


Every photographer experiences a creative block at some time or another. So what do you do when this happens? I personally fall into a foetal position on the floor, kick my legs, and spin around in circles while crying like a six-year old. But what do YOU do? Well, here’s a thought. How about a time-lapse? If you have a dSLR and a sturdy tripod, then you already have most of the ingredients for this magnificent recipe. So let’s get started!


While many dSLRs have an “interval shooting” feature built in already, some don’t, so you’ll also need a way to time and trigger your shutter release. There are several pieces of hardware available, but I like to use a Hähnel Giga T Pro. It’s the only one I’ve ever used, but it seems to work perfectly fine and is easy enough to figure out. Whatever you decide to go with, make sure it has an interval timer function and an exposure count control. Without these two features, you won’t be able to create your time-lapse.

Essential kit, if your camera doesn't have an 'interval shooting' function

For this tutorial, you’ll also need QuickTime software, which you can download here. (If you own a Mac and you’re running Snow Leopard, then you’ll notice that you have QuickTime X and can’t install QuickTime 7. Read this post by Apple to get around this problem.)

The location

You can shoot a time-lapse of just about anything you want. Obviously, it makes more sense to shoot a scene that has a lot of motion in it, such as fast-moving clouds, a busy city square, or a train station. Once you determine your scene, it’s time to get set up. Keep in mind that you’ll need to dedicate some time to this project, so bring along a book or something to keep you occupied while you shoot. ‘How long should I shoot,’ you ask? Well, that depends. And in order to figure that out, you’ll need to do some basic number crunching.

The maths

To determine the time required to shoot your time-lapse, you’ll have to work backwards. For simplicity’s sake, let’s say that we want our final video to be one minute in length. A normal time-lapse video will consist of 15 frames per second. So 15 frames times 60 seconds is 900 frames.

How smooth or choppy you want those 900 frames to flow is up to you. If you’re shooting clouds, then you’ll probably want a smoother effect, so you’ll want to shoot in shorter intervals, say every five seconds. So 900 frames taken every five seconds is 4500 seconds, divided by 60 seconds per minute, which comes out to 75 minutes, or an hour and 15 minutes worth of shooting. Phew!

So now that you have your location picked and how long you’ll be shooting for, let’s get set up.

The set-up

Place your tripod where you want and frame your shot. Make sure your tripod is as stable as you can get it. Any movement during your 900 shots will be very visible once you combine everything together in your final video. If you brought your camera bag with extra gear in it, the added weight could help with stabilisation, so try hooking it onto your tripod.

Get comfy whilst your time-lapse is shooting

Now check your camera for settings. Because you’re taking 900 frames, you’ll want to shoot in JPG to make sure they all fit on your memory card. Also, since your video will likely be used for web-friendly applications like Youtube or Vimeo, you don’t really need to have extra-large high resolution photos.

Make sure you focus your shot and then disable your auto-focus to ensure consistency across all of your frames. You’ll also want to shoot in either manual or aperture-priority mode. If you’re out in an open field during high noon with a lot of clouds in the sky, you’re bound to be in bright sunlight during some shots and darker shade during others, so aperture-priority will help ensure proper exposures throughout your time-lapse.

Once you’re all set up, program your interval timer to the correct settings and start shooting. Grab your book and get comfortable. You’ll be there for the next 75 minutes.

Creating Your Video

Once you’ve downloaded your photos to a folder on your computer, it’s time to put everything together. Open up QuickTime and click Open Image Sequence under the File menu. Select only the first image in your sequence and click Open. Next, you’ll want to select your frame rate. For our example, we’ll go with 15 frames per second. Click OK and QuickTime will do the rest for you.

You now have your master time-lapse video. Make sure to save it as is. You can then go back to the File menu and choose Export for Web to save the video as a more web-friendly version, ready for Youtubing.

Congratulations, you now have your first time-lapse video!

Extra Steps

While this tutorial simply covers the basics of time-lapse photography, there are plenty of other methods available to play with, so once you get some practice down, you can start experimenting a bit. For example, you may want to batch-edit your photos in Photoshop to create a more unusual time-lapse, such as one in monochrome.

If you’re shooting a busy street at night, you might want to use a slow shutter speed to make the car headlights streak throughout your video. Or you may want your time-lapse to pan across a large scene, a bit like this one, to give your video a wow factor. The options are endless.

Time-lapses can be a great way to create a fun and unique project on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Maybe you have things to do around the house, so you set up your gear in your backyard and shoot while you do your chores. Or maybe you’re at a cafe in a busy city square. Why not shoot a time-lapse of the buzz around you while you sip on a cappuccino and read a book? It’s simple to do and I’m sure you’ll be pleased with your results.

And just so that you know, this is my favourite time-lapse out there:

Hayaku: A Time Lapse Journey Through Japan from Brad Kremer on Vimeo.