Time Lapse Photography: How it Works

The Secret to Capturing Stunning Timelapse Videos

A relatively new genre of photography is generating a lot of interest these days. Time-lapse photography is all about taking a series of photos of a scene at small intervals, keeping the focusing point and exposure unchanged and then combining them together to make one video that plays back at 24 or 25 frames per second. Examples could be a time-lapse video of the earth shot from the international space station or clouds playing adrift with the cityscape in the distant background.

What you need to get started in time-lapse photography –

• A DSLR camera
• A lens
• A tripod
• Supported memory card with a large storage capacity
• An intervalometer
• A PC / Laptop with a movie editing software

Time Lapse Photography: How to Make Stunning Time Lapse Videos
photo credit: Zach Dischner

You may skip the tripod bit if you have a place to set the camera down without it being knocked about. A ledge or a chair or even a box will do. The idea is that the composition should not change across the video. There are software alternatives to using an intervalometer. But in that case, you will need a laptop too at the site.

Getting started

In order to do time-lapse photography, the first thing to remember is that the exposure should not change at any time. The slightest bit of visual jerk will ruin the video. If the camera is set to the Auto mode it will try to adjust the exposure depending on the changing light. The result will be a series of images where exposures are different from one another.

Another thing you should do is lock the focus right before you start shooting. Locking focus is essential to time-lapse photography as it helps you to ensure there is no focus jerk. What I mean is that the camera should not hunt for focus in each frame making your videos appear to be in and out of focus.

How many images do you need?

A basic way to calculate how many images you need is to figure out how long the video is going to be. Let’s say that you want to make a 1-minute video of a sunrise. Let’s assume that it is a 30-minute affair, depending on where you are and the time of the year. The ideal frame rate for a smooth video is 24 frames per second (fps). So you need a total of 60 x 24 fps = 1440 images to be taken. The images are to be evenly spread at a time delay of 1800 / 1440 = 1.25 seconds.

Time Lapse Photography: How to Make Stunning Time Lapse Videos
photo credit: Lone Primate

How to pull everything together and make a video

The final task is to import all those images that you had taken, make any corrections that might be necessary such as white balance, contrast boosting, etc. and finally to import them to a video editing software. There is a bunch of free and paid-for software that does the job. QuickTime Pro is one such good software to start with.