Time-lapse photography – an introduction

Time lapse photography is a sequence of photographs which captures the same scene or activity over intervals creating a regular series of photographs. When compiled, the sequence forms a continuous, projection of the process. A slow process appears accelerated. Examples might include the movement of clouds, which might normally be very slow. The growth of a plant over days might be another example. Here is a time-lapse sequence of a sunset with some lovely clouds…

Here is another one showing a Lotus flower blooming as a timelapse sequence…

A quick-starter introduction
In general time-lapse is done from one viewpoint. So using a tripod is helpful to keep the scene fixed and the image steady. Other settings need to be steady too. It is important to make sure the scene changes as little as possible to make the final sequence smooth. Scene changes, exposure changes and re-framing make the final image sequence jerky and difficult to follow.

It is also worth fixing your settings on the camera so the auto features do not change the light. So switch your camera to manual control. Set ISO, aperture and shutter speed too, so the shot is correctly exposed and with a steady exposure throughout the sequence. Focus the camera and turn off ‘auto-focus’. This will ensure the camera does not suddenly auto-focus on movement or changes in your scene – which would change the framing of your sequence introducing jerkiness.

Once your camera is set up you need to find a way to take the pictures at intervals. In a short sequence, say a table-top diorama or story you might take shots manually. Take a shot, change the scene, take a shot, and so on.

For a longer sequence with regular intervals you will need some form of intervalometer – a device that counts off intervals of time and takes a shot each period. The intervalometer is attached to your camera. You set the time interval and your camera takes shots until stopped.

See some intervalometers on Amazon.co.uk.   External link - opens new tab/page

Make sure you have sufficient space on your memory card for your project to be completed. One shot every second for one hour that produces 3600 shots. You will probably need to use a small file format that uses a small memory space to store that number of shots!

Making your time-lapse sequence
Once you have your shots you will need to combine them into a slide show or time-lapse video. To create your video some software is needed. Many photo-editing applications like Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop (CS5 extended) can do this conversion. Some great free software is available. Try IrfanView   External link - opens new tab/page will create slide-shows for you that will run as video sequences. There are also dedicated software systems that are specialised and can produce sophisticated shows of all sorts of sequences. One example is ‘Proshow’   External link - opens new tab/page. You will need to refer directly to the relevant help-files or manual to get instructions for your application.

Long sequence time-lapse
if you are sufficiently committed you can get some wonderful sequences over a long time period. People do daily photographs of themselves, actions or scenes year on year, long term changes in the environment, traffic… you name it. As an example here is a wonderful timelapse created from 3500 images taken during the course of a year.

One year in 2 minutes from Eirik Solheim   External link - opens new tab/page on Vimeo   External link - opens new tab/page.

Further training
Here is a more in-depth training video on time lapse from GavTrain…

Have fun with time-lapse photography. Remember, we love to have your comments and feedback.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.

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