Time Lapse Photography
Learn to shoot amazing time lapses including the holy grail of time lapse photography, day to night!
Time lapse photography is the process of taking a series of photographs at intervals of more or less the same exposure time but at varying degrees of time. You then stitch the images together to make a short video clip which played back at normal speed, gives the impression of time moving quickly.
For example, you have probably seen footage of flowers opening super quickly, clouds flying across the sky or seemingly static objects suddenly moving about quickly?
The Time Lapse Process in a Nutshell
- 1Choose your location and make sure the ground is solid!
- 2Use a tripod and camera with intervalometer to automatically take the shots
- 3Work out the required length of the final time lapse clip (i.e. 1 minute video)
- 4Work out how long you want to shoot the time lapse for (i.e. 6 hours to show flowers opening)
- 5A 1 minute video at 25 frames per second = 25 x 60 = 1500 images
- 61500 images divided by 6 hours = 250 images per hour or 4.17 images per minute = 1 image every 15 secs
- 7Set your camera to take 1 image every 15 seconds for 6 hours
- 8Make sure the exposure is correct throughout. Use manual if necessary especially if the light is changeable
- 9Once finished, load images into software such as LRTimelapse
- 10Process images and render final video
If you are coming back to this page for reference, use the jump links below. If you are new to time lapses in general, I would suggest reading all the way through first time.
Holy Grail Time Lapse Tutorial with LRTimelapse Review
Key Points in The Above "Holy Grail" Time Lapse Tutorial
Time lapse photography is great fun and quite challenging so why not give it a go! The results are well worth the effort!
Equipment Needed for Time Lapse Photography
Software - Adobe Lightroom
You don't actually need Adobe Lightroom to make time lapses as any photo editor will do. However, when used in conjunction with the next piece of recommended software, Adobe Lightroom is a must!
LR TimeLapse 5
"Advanced Time Lapse Photography Made Easy"
I first discovered, bought and used LRTimelapse Pro a few years ago and love it. It was the best money I have spent on software in a long time. I've been a fan of time lapses for a while but always wondered how photographers created those amazing and seamless day to night transitions.
I'm sure it can be done without software but the time needed would be exponentially longer by not using LRTimelapse. When you see what it does in the video above, you will appreciate the amount of work it does on your behalf. Not only that, it creates the smoothest time lapse transitions you have seen!
In a nutshell, LRTimelapse does all the heavy lifting for you with regards to editing hundreds, if not thousands of images in your time lapse. When shooting the "holy grail" of time lapses, you need to adjust your exposure settings at regular intervals as the light changes. This results in a huge amount of exposure fluctuations that need editing and smoothing.
Not Just for the Holy Grail
By following the exact process outlined once inside the software, creating these time lapses is a breeze. In fact the software doesn't just work wonders on the holy grail time lapses, it works on all time lapses.
Even when shooting time lapses that have consistent lighting throughout the day, you still get mild fluctuations. For example, a cloud may go in front of the sun causing a short underexposed frame or two. LRTimelapse when used with Adobe Lightroom will flatten those exposures to create a smooth, seamless transition.
LRTimelapse Software Purchase Options
What is the difference between the Pro and Private licenses?
There are numerous differences that are mostly to do with quality, output, overlays, conversions (up to 8K) and custom logos that you can see below but in more detail on the LRTimelapse Features page. However, the reason I went for the Pro version is that it allows commercial use.
That means not only can I sell my timelapses as stock video clips, but I can also create time lapses for my clients and make money that way! For the sake of $200, and if you can afford it, why not go for the Pro version. You would only need to sell one time lapse or do a short clip for a client and you have your money back.
Try before you buy!
Really immerse yourself into the software and your time lapses
Get creative and sell your work or skills commercially!
Try before you buy!
Really immerse yourself into the software and your time lapses
Get creative and sell your work or skills commercially!
Do you really want to hone your time lapses to the fraction of a second for ultimate results? Would you like to get started with professional looking astro-photography? Gunther at LRTimelapse has also produced a funky little gadget called the LRTimelapse PRO Timer 2.5 Camera Intervalometer.
Worth checking out for help with:
You can create time lapses with most modern cameras these days whether it is a:
The more modern the camera, the more likely it will have a built-in time lapse feature in the menu somewhere. Learn to use it. If not, you can use certain free time lapse apps for your Smartphone, or a timer release for your DSLR or mirrorless camera. Just be sure to get one that is compatible with your particular make and model.
After your camera, a tripod is essential to keep the camera in exactly the same position throughout. That is unless you are being really creative with "moving" time lapse photography. Your tripod needs to be very stable and placed on solid ground. Even the sturdiest of grassy "knolls" can move over time...especially on time lapses of 4 hours or more.
I would actually recommend a similar tripod to the one I have used for many years. It is a professional video tripod but is great for time lapses as it is so sturdy. As I mentioned earlier, you don't want ANY movement during your shoot so make sure it has locking brackets in between each leg. Also, a pro tripod should have the option of using spikes at the end of each leg rather than a rubber tip. Go for that.
As you can see in the image at the top of this page, I also use sliders (more below) to create wonderful moving time lapses. Therefore, when the camera reaches the end of the slider during a time lapse, I need to know the tripod can handle that weight.
A filter is possibly something you may not have thought about when shooting time lapse photography but they are important. The reason being that time lapses taken with longer exposures create smoother movements resulting in better looking videos.
For example, if you are doing a time lapse of the sea and use a fast shutter speed, the water will look incredibly "jittery" in the final output. Using a longer exposure of maybe 1 second will blur the water and give a much nicer look to your resulting time lapse.
The only trouble is, getting a slow shutter speed in the daytime is tough without a filter. Even at 100ISO and an aperture of f16, you will struggle to get anything slower than 125th/sec shutter speed. The only way to do that would be to use an ND filter. What these do is reduce the amount of light coming through the lens (by varying degrees depending on the filter) thereby allowing a slower shutter speed.
Breakthrough ND Filters
For general ND filter work, for say 6 stops of light reduction, I can't recommend the Breakthrough ND filters enough. In numerous tests, they came out number one for clarity and realistic colour reproduction time after time. That's why I use one myself for video work.
That will allow you to go from a daylight exposure of 250th/sec @ f8 to 1/4 sec @f8.
However, if you want super smooth water like in those beautiful waterfall scenes you see (below), you might want to look at a 10 stop ND filter. That will allow your exposure to go from 250th/sec @ f8 to 4 seconds @ f8...in the daytime with no quality loss!
You will need enough memory on your memory card to hold a large number of images
For example, a recent time lapse I shot over a 2 hour period with one RAW photo taken every 5 seconds, resulted in:
...all for a time lapse that ended up being less than 30 seconds long (below). Any longer and I would have gone over the 64GB limit for that size of card. Make sure you have enough memory when you are planning your time lapse...and planning it is essential.
If your camera has dual card slots then all the better. Your time lapses can be super long before you need to worry about card space. I always go for quality, high capacity memory cards just to be sure. You don't want to spend 8 hours+ out in the middle of the night only to get home with corrupt cards and all your images missing.
Specialist Time Lapse Equipment
Motorised Slider for Moving Time Lapse Photography
This is where it gets fun and this is where your time lapses take on a whole new dimension. It is also where they become a commodity. Specialist time lapses are more likely to woo your clients and get sold on stock libraries.
Whilst not essential for great time lapse photography, a motorised slider will add a whole new dimension to your work. You can add basic slides, pans and tilts to make your time lapses pop. There are even some cabled time lapse devices out there that will allow you to slide your camera across rivers and through forests!
Timings for Your Time Lapse
You will also need to work out the timings for your shoot.
Final length of time lapse
How long do you want the finished time lapse photography footage to be?
Anything too long will not look right or could bore the viewer. Time lapses are meant to be short and sweet and show a world we generally never get to see other than in super slow, real time. Let's say a flower takes a full day to open and you want to show this in around 30 seconds of footage.
If you took one frame/photo per second, that would give you:
At 30 frames per second playback, that would give you 48 minutes of footage. That is 86400 frames divided by 30fps (frames per second) = 2880 seconds = 48 minutes). Way too long unless you then speeded it up in post processing. You would have 86400 images to place in a timeline.
This could be played back at 60 frames per second giving you 24 minutes…but that is still too long.
Take less photos
For a time lapse photography sequence of a flower opening over a 24 hour period, 1 shot per second is far too much. How much movement do you see with the naked eye in just a second? Not a lot!
Try one frame per minute, that will give you:
Much more respectable and this, when played back at 30 frames per second, would give you 48 seconds of footage. Play it back at 60 frames per second and you have 24 seconds of footage. This would show the flower opening in its entirety. 1440 images in a timeline is much more manageable too!
Time Lapse Photography Lighting
Unless you live in the far northern hemisphere and the lighting is constant, you will have problems as darkness falls when shooting outside. You may want to show night into day and vice versa*. However, a much more practical and pleasing way to do this is under man-made lighting conditions.
*NOTE: This is totally doable but only with some special software that I also use. Check out LR Timelapse and thank me later ; )
Set the flower up in a spare room and use some form of continuous lighting. Turn off all other lights and black out the windows. For one this will give a constant and correct exposure and the warmth from the light may even speed up the opening.
Once the flower and lights are set up, set your camera to its desired settings with aperture and shutter speed. Make sure the batteries are fully charged. Do you want deep or shallow depth of field? Try and keep the ISO as low as possible for quality. Don’t worry about long exposures of a second or so if that is all you can get. There will be virtually no movement in the room during that second.
Now, you will need to take a photo every minute for the next 24 hours which can be a chore. We all need sleep! A quick and easy way to do this is to use a timer release for your camera.
I used to use the Canon TC80N3 Timer Remote Control on my 5D Mark IV and loved it. However, it was limited to just 99 frames meaning you will have to come back and press "start" again every 99 frames (or every one hour and 39 minutes if shooting one frame per minute…a bit of a pain for longer time lapse sequences)! Luckily, the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV and other modern cameras have built in intervalometers.
Alternatively, third party manufacturers make these for all makes and models of Digital SLR. Cameras such as Pentax, Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Sony etc and for a very reasonable price. These ones can shoot up to 399 shots and more.
You can set these to take images at any interval you wish and for as many frames as you wish. This is depending on the limits of each model. Once set up and running you can go about your business knowing that your camera is doing all that work for you as the timer takes the shots!
I need to get out and do more of this myself as it can be great fun and the possibilities are endless.
Sell your time lapse footage as stock video
The following video has a few time lapse sequences using special equipment and software. For the moving time lapses, I use the Rhino Ultimate Slider which is simply amazing. In fact, I used this kit for a Netflix documentary in 2018. See at 1m 34s and later in the video here:
Again, the night to day and day to night time lapses were done using LRTimelapse. Genius software! You can see more day to night time lapses plus a "hyper-lapse" sequence in my portfolio video here:
Lessons learned were not to leave autofocus on as at some point the focus shifted to a spec on the window, luckily the depth of field was pretty good. Secondly, it was hard to know whether to use auto exposure or manual. I used manual but in hindsight, auto would have been better in this instance.
My first ever "moving" time lapse
Just for fun, this one was a little more tricky and taken in the days before Rhino Sliders and LRTimelapse. I wanted movement when shooting a time lapse with my old Go Pro so I bought an egg timer! As well as taking one shot per second, I also put the Go Pro on top of the revolving timer so that I would get a pan effect in the final output.
Think of some ideas for your own time lapse photography and write them down. Also write down how you intend to shoot whatever it is you want to shoot. Make a detailed plan and just do it. Time lapse photography is great fun but takes a lot of practice to get it right! When you start creating amazing time lapses, especially the Holy Grail ones, think about selling them as stock video!