Time-lapse is a video that is often referred to as “fast motion”. You’ve def­i­nite­ly seen these on the web: bloom­ing flow­ers, clouds rush­ing over the city, stars swirling across the sky. Such con­tent always attracts atten­tion — first­ly, because it is sim­ply unusu­al, and sec­ond­ly, because it can be used to show things that are invis­i­ble in every­day life. To learn how to make a beau­ti­ful time-lapse, read this mate­r­i­al.

Using the time-lapse tech­nique, you can show morn­ing, after­noon, evening and night in one minute. In the pho­to, you have to use Pho­to­shop for this / Pho­to: Alisa Smirno­va, Fotosklad.Expert

To cre­ate time-laps­es, time-lapse pho­tog­ra­phy is used, and then a video is col­lect­ed from the result­ing pho­tos.

Time lapse equip­ment
How to shoot a time­lapse
Assem­bling a time-lapse from ready-made pho­tos
Build­ing a time­lapse right in the cam­era
Build­ing a Time­lapse with Adobe Light­room and Adobe Pre­miere
How to make your time­lapse more inter­est­ing
Time­lapse from video

If you take one pic­ture, you get an ordi­nary day in the life of a provin­cial town, in a time-lapse you can see how life is in full swing, how much around us is con­stant­ly chang­ing / Video: Alisa Smirno­va, Photostore.Expert

Shoot­ing a sim­ple time-lapse is quite demo­c­ra­t­ic in terms of equip­ment. A mod­ern cam­era with a high res­o­lu­tion will allow you to get a time-lapse with a res­o­lu­tion of up to 8K, but an old DSLR with a res­o­lu­tion of 10–12 MP will do. Also, many smart­phones have a mode for shoot­ing time-laps­es.

Since we need the cam­era to stand still in one place for a long time, we need a sta­ble tri­pod.

The weight makes the tri­pod even more sta­ble and reduces vibra­tions. This is espe­cial­ly true in strong winds / Pho­to: photographylife.com

If your cam­era does not have set­tings for inter­val shoot­ing, you will need a spe­cial remote con­trol. Well, so that the cam­era does not turn off at the most inop­por­tune moment due to a dead bat­tery (this is espe­cial­ly true for film­ing in cold weath­er), you should add a bat­tery pack with an addi­tion­al bat­tery to it. If the cam­era sup­ports exter­nal USB pow­er dur­ing oper­a­tion, you can use a pow­er bank. Well, if it doesn’t sup­port it, the pow­er bank can be con­nect­ed to the bat­tery slot through a spe­cial fake bat­tery. In order not to freeze your­self, do not for­get to dress warm­ly, grab gloves and hot tea or cof­fee in a ther­mos.

In order for every­thing to work out dur­ing assem­bly, before shoot­ing, you need to fig­ure out how many frames you need to shoot and at what inter­val. Both the quan­ti­ty and fre­quen­cy depend on what we are shoot­ing and how long we want to get the video.

Sup­pose we want to shoot sun­rise and get a one-minute video as out­put. For exam­ple, in the lat­i­tudes of St. Peters­burg at the end of July, it will take about 3 hours to catch the last stars and the first sun in the time­lapse. You can cal­cu­late the exact time using a solar cal­cu­la­tor.

The stan­dard frame rate required for smooth video is 25 frames per sec­ond. This means that for one sec­ond of the fin­ished video you will need 25 pho­tos, and for a minute — 60 times more, 1500 frames. Shoot­ing will take three hours — that’s 180 min­utes, or 10800 sec­onds. Divid­ing 10800 sec­onds by 1500 frames, we get an inter­val between frames of about 7 sec­onds.

When shoot­ing events whose dura­tion is dif­fi­cult to pre­dict and which can end at any moment (for exam­ple, the north­ern lights), set the min­i­mum inter­val between shots. Usu­al­ly it is 1 sec­ond / Video: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

When the num­ber of frames is select­ed, you can start shoot­ing.

To begin with, we put the cam­era on a tri­pod, choose a beau­ti­ful angle and tight­ly tight­en all the tri­pod latch­es so that noth­ing moves dur­ing the shoot­ing. Impor­tant points in set­ting up the cam­era before start­ing time-lapse shoot­ing:

- focus on the desired object, and then turn off aut­o­fo­cus. If this is not done, dur­ing the shoot­ing process the cam­era may refo­cus on anoth­er object or take blur­ry frames — for exam­ple, if it gets dark and aut­o­fo­cus fails to work in the dark;

- if you are shoot­ing a one-dimen­sion­al land­scape, the aper­ture can be closed to val­ues ​​​​of 11–16 so that every­thing is in sharp­ness. If your pic­ture has sev­er­al plans, select the aper­ture val­ue based on the plot. If, for exam­ple, a flow­er­ing tree is in the fore­ground, and a city panora­ma is in the back­ground, it is worth cov­er­ing the aper­ture to at least 8;

- the ISO val­ue is cho­sen to be min­i­mal in order to get the high­est qual­i­ty pic­ture with a min­i­mum of noise. The excep­tion is night time-laps­es: if you are shoot­ing the Milky Way or the North­ern Lights, you will have to open the aper­ture and raise the ISO to 1600–3200;

- it is impor­tant to set the shut­ter speed cor­rect­ly. We cal­cu­late it accord­ing to the clas­sic cin­e­mat­ic for­mu­la: the shut­ter speed should be twice as fast as the frame rate.

That is, if the inter­val between frames is 1 sec­ond, then the shut­ter speed should be ½ sec­ond, and with an inter­val of 10 min­utes, it is advis­able to set the shut­ter speed to 5 min­utes. This is nec­es­sary so that mov­ing objects (peo­ple, cars, clouds) in the frame move smooth­ly and con­tin­u­ous­ly. With short shut­ter speeds rel­a­tive to the inter­val, mov­ing objects in the fin­ished video will move with a twitch, or even sim­ply “tele­port” from place to place. If over­ex­po­sure starts at slow shut­ter speeds, a neu­tral den­si­ty fil­ter will help.

Read also:

Mar­riage in pho­tos and videos — how to rec­og­nize and remove
How to Shoot a Cityscape: Tips for Begin­ners
Man­u­al mode: cam­era set­tings for a begin­ner

All of these set­tings are good for shoot­ing in rel­a­tive­ly con­stant con­di­tions: if, for exam­ple, you are record­ing clouds mov­ing over a city in the mid­dle of the day, or the move­ment of stars at night. If you’re shoot­ing sun­rise or sun­set, it’s best to use one of the cam­er­a’s semi-auto­mat­ic modes. S is the best choice, in which you can choose the appro­pri­ate shut­ter speed for smooth video.

The fact is that in the con­di­tions of dawn and dusk, the light lev­el will con­stant­ly change, which means that the set­tings in man­u­al mode should also change. More expe­ri­enced time lapsers always shoot in man­u­al mode and use spe­cial pro­grams to equal­ize the expo­sure of fin­ished frames, but this is a top­ic for a sep­a­rate arti­cle. At first, it is bet­ter to trust the automa­tion.

If no strong changes in light are expect­ed, then set the mode to M and do not for­get to turn off auto ISO. If this is not done, expo­sure errors are pos­si­ble, in which the sun peek­ing into the frame will make it dark­er, not lighter.

Expo­sure errors when shoot­ing a time-lapse in auto­mat­ic mode. The frame with dark clouds (on the right) was made brighter by the cam­era than the frame with the blue sky and the sun (on the left) / Illus­tra­tion: Alisa Smirno­va, Fotosklad.Expert

And one more impor­tant point: if your cam­era has an elec­tron­ic shut­ter (and most mod­ern mir­ror­less cam­eras and some SLRs have it), then turn it on. So you save the resource of the mechan­i­cal shut­ter.

After the cam­era is set up, we find the inter­val shoot­ing mode in the menu (in cam­eras of dif­fer­ent sys­tems it can be in dif­fer­ent places in the menu), set the select­ed inter­val, start shoot­ing and be patient.

Building a timelapse right in the camera

Some cam­eras are able to assem­ble the fin­ished video on their own. For exam­ple, this fea­ture is avail­able in Nikon Z6, Canon 850D, Olym­pus OM‑D E‑M5 III. Sony and Fuji­film don’t have that capa­bil­i­ty.

Canon and Olym­pus do this quite sim­ply: in the menu sec­tion ded­i­cat­ed to inter­val shoot­ing, find the “Video from pic­tures” / Time lapse movie item, turn it on and select the res­o­lu­tion of the fin­ished video — 3840x2160 or 1920x1080.

Time-lapse menu on a Canon cam­era / Pho­to: canon.com

Nikon is not so sim­ple. For him, tak­ing pho­tos and cre­at­ing a video are in dif­fer­ent menu items.

If you only need pho­tos, and you will col­lect the video on a com­put­er, select the “Inter­val shoot­ing” item, and you can get pho­tos in RAW for­mat of the max­i­mum res­o­lu­tion for the cam­era (for exam­ple, for Nikon Z7 II it is 45 megapix­els, which means that if you want you will be able to assem­ble time-lapse images in 8K res­o­lu­tion).

If you need a ready-made video, look for the “Time-lapse video” item. It allows you to cre­ate a ready-made time lapse right in the cam­era, but it does not save RAW — the card will have a video file and orig­i­nal pho­tos in JPEG for­mat, reduced to either 3840x2160, or even up to 1920x1080, if you have cho­sen a video of this res­o­lu­tion.

Assem­bling a time lapse using a Nikon cam­era / Illus­tra­tion: Alisa Smirno­va, Fotosklad.Expert

The advan­tages of in-cam­era assem­bly is that you will receive the fin­ished video very quick­ly, in a cou­ple of min­utes after the end of shoot­ing. At the same time, you will not need to occu­py the disk with hun­dreds of pho­tos, process pic­tures and mess with video edi­tors — you just filmed, copied the fin­ished time-lapse from the card, post­ed it on social net­works and col­lect likes and com­ments.

Building a Timelapse with Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Premiere

If your cam­era does not know how to col­lect video from inter­val shots, or you want to get the high­est pos­si­ble qual­i­ty, you should man­u­al­ly devel­op RAW files with the desired set­tings, and then assem­ble them into video.

For devel­op­ment, you can use any con­ve­nient and famil­iar RAW con­vert­er that can batch process images. For exam­ple, the pop­u­lar Adobe Light­room. In it, you can adjust the white bal­ance, extract details from the shad­ows, make the sky rich­er and more con­trast.

The main thing is not to for­get that cor­rec­tions should be applied to all frames of the time-lapse. To do this, select a pho­to with the desired set­tings, select all the pic­tures using CTRL + A, and press the Sync Set­tings but­ton.

If you cor­rect­ed the geom­e­try of the frame, cropped it, or used a mask to dark­en the sky, do not for­get to check the box­es to syn­chro­nize all the set­tings / Illus­tra­tion: Alisa Smirno­va, Fotosklad.Expert

An impor­tant point: to cor­rect the sky, it is bet­ter to use a sim­ple gra­di­ent mask, it is eas­i­ly syn­chro­nized between frames. If you use the “smart” sky selec­tion that appeared in the lat­est ver­sions of Adobe Light­room, then you will need to re-update the selec­tion for each frame — and this is not so easy to do when there are sev­er­al hun­dred of these frames.

After export­ing the fin­ished pho­tos, drag them into Adobe Pre­miere and set their dura­tion to 1 frame.

Select all the pho­tos, press the right mouse but­ton and select Speed/Duration from the con­text menu. In the win­dow that appears, set the dura­tion to 1 frame (00:00:00:01) / Illus­tra­tion: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

Cre­at­ing a new sequence File-New-Sequence / File-New-Sequence.

We select the frame rate of 25 fps, and the size in accor­dance with what video res­o­lu­tion you want to receive. The most com­mon options are 3840x2160 (4K) and 1920x1080 (Full­HD) / Illus­tra­tion: Alisa Smirno­va, Fotosklad.Expert

After that, it remains only to select all the pho­tos and drag them to the time­line. Every­thing, you can choose a team File-Export media / File-Export-Media con­tent.

In the export win­dow, select the H.264 for­mat and click export. We are wait­ing for a few min­utes, and the time-lapse is ready / Illus­tra­tion: Alisa Smirno­va, Photosklad.Expert

If your cam­era rotates or moves smooth­ly while shoot­ing a time-lapse, the final video will look more inter­est­ing and dynam­ic. Man­u­al­ly it is dif­fi­cult to accu­rate­ly shift the cam­era by half a mil­lime­ter or rotate it by frac­tions of a degree, all the more impos­si­ble to repeat it exact­ly over and over again. There­fore, dur­ing the shoot­ing, spe­cial devices are used.

Time lapse shot with slid­er (33 sec) and motor­ized head (1:19) / Video: youtube.com/Dustin Far­rell

Using the slider when shooting a time lapse

A slid­er is a rail along which a plat­form with a cam­era attached to it moves. There are both man­u­al options (they are designed for video shoot­ing, but not suit­able for time-lapse), and slid­ers, in which the plat­form is dri­ven by a pre­cise step­per motor.

Some slid­ers are cus­tomiz­able with knobs and but­tons, some are cus­tomiz­able via a smart­phone app /Photo: projectgo.pro

The slid­er is well suit­ed for shoot­ing wide-angle time-laps­es in which there is some­thing inter­est­ing in the fore­ground: a rocky shore, a dry tree, or a rock frag­ment. If you are shoot­ing dis­tant moun­tains on a tele­pho­to, the effect of the slid­er will be almost invis­i­ble, then you need anoth­er device, which will be dis­cussed in the next sec­tion.

Using a motorized head and electronic stabilizer when shooting time-lapse

The motor­ized head allows you to rotate the cam­era to show even more of the sur­round­ing area in the time-lapse.

The sin­gle motor head allows you to smooth­ly rotate the cam­era left and right. And if there are two engines, then tilt up and down / Pho­to: cined.com

If you want a more ver­sa­tile device, you can look at elec­tron­ic sta­bi­liz­ers. Some of them, such as Zhiyun Tech Weebill‑S, can do the same if you select the time-lapse mode in the appli­ca­tion.

It may seem to a not very expe­ri­enced per­son that every­thing described above is very com­pli­cat­ed and you can do it much eas­i­er: shoot a video and then speed it up in any edit­ing pro­gram by 10–20 times.

Indeed, this method is used to cre­ate time-laps­es, but it is suit­able only in a num­ber of spe­cial cas­es. For exam­ple, if you need to show the hus­tle and bus­tle of a mod­ern city, you can shoot 10–15 min­utes of video on a busy street, and then com­press it to 10 sec­onds. Or assem­bling and dec­o­rat­ing a Christ­mas tree.

But if we want to show the events of sev­er­al hours or even days in a short video, then the video option will not suit us. Shoot­ing long hours of video is incon­ve­nient for sev­er­al rea­sons:

  • need a lot of space. For exam­ple, 1 minute of 4K video with a bitrate of 100 Mbps will take about 750 MB on a mem­o­ry card, an hour — already 45 GB, but for 5 hours you will need more than 200 GB. The video edi­tor will also not be hap­py when all these giga­bytes fall on the time­line;
  • need a lot of bat­ter­ies. The cam­era uses much less ener­gy to take pho­tos. Espe­cial­ly if most of the time she is in stand­by mode and wakes up once a minute to take a pic­ture. Well, when shoot­ing a video, it con­stant­ly wastes ener­gy, and the bat­tery life is usu­al­ly an hour and a half;
  • The video is worse for pro­cess­ing. If you made a mis­take with the expo­sure and allowed over­ex­po­sure, the details will not be returned in the video. If you make a time lapse from RAW pho­tos, you have a mar­gin for a cou­ple of expo­sure steps and the abil­i­ty to work flex­i­bly with high­lights, shad­ows and WB;
  • to shoot video, you need a rel­a­tive­ly new cam­era that sup­ports high-qual­i­ty video record­ing. At the same time, when shoot­ing a time-lapse from pho­tos, you can use an old cam­era lying around idle. Spe­cial rate of fire and the abil­i­ty to work with high ISO are not required for this, and a res­o­lu­tion of 10–12 megapix­els is quite enough to assem­ble a time-lapse in 4K res­o­lu­tion.