Time-lapse tutorial 1

March 1, 2009

At it’s most basic time-lapse photography is just a sequence of pictures that show change over a period of time.

This can be as simple as recording the actions of a motor-car race on a camera with a fast frame rate, or the posing of a model on a catwalk; or as complicated and time consuming as capturing the growth of a plant from bare earth to flower over a period of months.

But what we’ll be looking at here is the use of a still-image camera to produce a video sequence of an action or event over a long period of time, that’ll be compressed to just a few seconds or minutes.



To see some great example of this best in time-lapse film making, do a search for Ron Fricke on You Tube, this will bring back parts of his film Chronos, which used motion controlled cameras to shoot time-lapse sequences across the world.

The joy of films like this is that they show the natural processes of the world, that we barely notice, in a form where they are the stars, where we see that which is normally hidden.

So enough of the talk, how is it done?

Simply put a camera in one place and set it off taking pictures until, you stop it or it runs out of film or memory!
That’s it at its most basic level.
In fact, it’s so simple that my mobile phone will even do it.
I have a Nokia N95 that you can set to take a photograph anywhere between every 10 seconds and 10 minutes until it runs out of memory – that will produce a very acceptable time-lapse film for most people.

But notice that word acceptable! That’s all these time-lapses will be; acceptable and there’s a few reasons for this.

  1. The camera is exposing automatically, so the exposure can and will vary quite considerably.
  2. A long gap between shots – this leads to blipping, where objects appear and disappear as if by magic.
  3. Auto-white balance makes the image change colour.

Moving the time-lapse film from acceptable to great takes little effort and makes such a big difference that the work required is always worth it.


When the still images of the time-lapse are run together, each image will last 1/25th of a second (1/30th in the US) so if you shoot one picture every minute for three hours, that’s 180 pictures that you’ll take, which equals seven and a bit seconds of video! ( Or six seconds in the US)

Note: In the UK and other PAL TV regions, the frame rate of TV is 25 frames per second, whilst in the US and other NTSC areas it’s 30 frames per second.

Editing the film

Virtually every digital camera sold or PC/Mac will come with some video editing software that will allow the importing of a series of still images as a video file – this is where you see your hard work come together (and lets you get rid of the bits you didn’t want).

At a most basic level the Windows PC comes with MovieMaker and the Mac comes with iMovie, both of which will allow you to import an image sequence to make a movie.

One thing, however you’ll need to do before you import the images into your chosen program is resize them to your required video size, be that SD (720px x 576px) or HD (1920px x 1080px).


  1. Place the camera where you want to capture the action
  2. Set it recording, remember each image equals 1/25th sec so you’ll need 250 images for 10 seconds of video.
  3. Resize the images then import into your editing program
  4. Export ready for viewing or uploading.

Next time, how to improve the quality of the time-lapse, advanced editing and motion-control on a budget.


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