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Time-lapse Photography

Monday, March 7th, 2011 by | Filed Under: Digital Photography

Time-lapse Photography

Ever wondered how episodes on Discovery or any feature film captures the entire time span of a day or night in just a few frames? That’s what is called time-lapse photography. You can capture motion in its many variants, whether it’s moving clouds, a scene at a camping site, landscapes, airport terminal, sea waves, sunrise, sunset, waterfall, trailing city lights at night, star scape, changing light and shadows and so on. What that means is shooting the same subject constantly for a specified time and making a movie out of it. Essentially, it’s a progression of time that is on fast-forward.

Here are some tips that could help you get there.

First off, you need a DSLR for something like this that has a Manual mode. Why? Because you need to keep all technical specifications constant during the entire length of the shooting time. And that means, ISO, white balance, shutter speed and aperture values. If you are a stranger to shooting in Manual, you could shoot in the Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority, and then replicate the same settings in Manual.

Winter Sunset 01 from DEU-TV on Vimeo.

In the next step, you have to turn off automatic focus mode on your lens and go manual. This is again for the same reason: to keep the focus constant. In addition, it prevents the draining of your camera battery and blurring of things that you wanted to be in focus and vice versa.

Another thing about video is that you can’t keep shooting endlessly, because it will fill up your memory card in no time. The rule of the game? Shoot in low resolution. But if you insist on a higher resolution, bring many memory cards for the purpose, so you are not left stranded. However, if you shoot in high resolution, you might end up uploading a video of 1GB and that might not be feasible.

Use Lightroom to correct the first image and then sync with the others in seconds. You can use the slideshow panel to make the time lapse.

You need to know where the subject will be at a certain point in time. For example, if you are shooting a sunrise, you need to know exactly where it will rise and move up, so everything is in the frame and not out of it.

Typical Saturday from on Vimeo.

A self timer or a remote shutter release is best for timelapse photography. This is because pressing the button manually might shake the camera and spoil the video.

Add music to the video to make it complete. This can be done in Adobe Premier, Windows Movie Maker, Quicktime Pro, Movie Studio Platinum or Final Cut Express, among others on your PC. You could use the iMovie app on your iPod Touch or iPhone. Try and use instrumental music rather than a song to carry the video forward. Jarring lyrics and vocals could dent the impact. If you need free non-commercial music that is perfect for time lapse, go to

Practicing this kind of photography is important. Why? Because it will give you an idea of where to position your camera, when to shoot and how many to shoot.

Canberra Airport from on Vimeo.

Take enough photos so you can create the video at a reasonable frame rate. Traditional film movies run at 24fps, so every second of your timelapse should include 24 images. Multiply that by the length you’d like your timelapse to last, and you can see how this adds up quickly.

Patience is required for timelapse photography. If you are the kind who loves car rides around big cities at night, it pays to be patient. The very best timelapse work takes hours of preparation and execution. One person even captured the construction of a wind turbine over four days.

~Zahid H. Javali


One Response to “Time-lapse Photography”

  1. Ed Hanus says:

    Years ago in the days of black & white (the early 1950’s) TV there was a show done by John Ott using Time-lapse photo. It featured flowers growing with music in the background. My Mom enjoyed this show, she would drop everything to watch it. I think it was on Sunday afternoons in the Chicago area.

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