How to shoot time-lapse photography in 4 easy steps
Time-lapse photography has been around for a very long time. Surely, beginners have seen a clip of it and have tried to imitate it. But what exactly is a time-lapse and how is it done?
Before heading on to the actual tutorial, here is a quick background on what a time-lapse is.
A time-lapse is a technique where you shoot several photos at the same position over a long period. This may take several minutes or even hours. Once it is done, the photos are edited into one spectacular footage.
Time-lapse is often used to showcase a changing scene. In movies, it is used to depict the passage of time.
That sounds simple, isn’t it? In theory, shooting one is fairly simple. But, there are several things that you need to do to get a spectacular shot.
Time-lapse equipment: what do you need?
Besides the camera, an intervalometer is a must whenever shooting a time-lapse. This ensures that you are taking a certain amount of photos at a certain interval. It reduces the need to manually press the shutter to take a photo.
The best thing with an intervalometer is you can set the time between shots.
Now, why is it important?
Different cameras have varying speeds when processing an image. It may even take longer when shooting raw. Using an intervalometer lets you set the time delay without interfering with the actual image processing.
If your camera’s image processing buffer takes about 3 seconds to finish, you can set the intervalometer to 5 seconds. This gives it 2 seconds of allowance before taking the next photo.
What’s the best intervalometer?
Time-lapse images do not work if the position of the camera changes from time to time. Using a tripod fixes the camera at a certain angle and you can take images at the same position throughout.
There are cheap tripods out there but they tend to be flimsy. If you are shooting at a windy area, these tripods can be moved by a gust. Or if not, then the small movements due to the wind will be noticeable.
If you do not have a durable tripod, then you can try to hook sandbags or your camera bag into it for added stability.
ND Filters or Polarizing filters
Shooting time-lapse images usually involve landscapes or seascapes. These places tend to have reflections that cause blown-up highlights. The polarizing filter helps in minimizing reflections and lessens blown-out areas.
Moreover, a neutral density (ND) filter helps in shooting under bright scenes. If ever you need to shoot in the noon or under direct sunlight, an ND filter can give you the optimal exposure.
Blur is one of the enemies when shooting a time-lapse. If your images are blurry then it will be impossible to fix them later in the post.
With a cable release, you can click the shutter without even touching the camera.
Having one with a longer cable also helps in reducing blur. How? The longer cables absorb the initial vibration when clicking the shutter.
Is it necessary to have one?
Having a cable release is a great tool. But, if you do not have one and you have a remote shutter, then that should do.
There are cameras with Wi-Fi capabilities that let you press the shutter via a smartphone. That is a good option as well.
What is the best camera for time-lapse photography?
- GoPro Hero9 Black
- DJI Osmo Action
- Canon EOS 250D
- Canon EOS R6
- Sony A7 III
- Sony A6000
- Fujifilm X-T4
- Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV
- Panasonic Lumix S5
These cameras all have built-in intervalometers. The GoPro and DJI Osmo are action cameras but they are capable of taking excellent time-lapse images.
Moreover, for beginner shooters, you may opt for the Canon EOS 250D or the Sony A6000. The other cameras are more expensive, but they have better sensors and excellent features.
Either way, the best camera for time-lapse photography is the one you have right now. You just have to make sure that you can maximize its capabilities.
Beginner time-lapse photography tips to get started
There are several techniques when shooting time-lapse. Each photographer has a style when taking these photos.
But to get you started, here are eight tips you should know.
- Set your camera to manual mode to get the best possible exposure. Use manual focus and set it to your desired subject. Use focus magnification and zebras if your camera has one.
- The ideal focus area for landscapes should be one-third into the screen. If you want to keep everything in focus, use a small aperture and use the hyperfocal distance. This ensures that all parts of the image are in focus.
- When it comes to aperture, try to use f/8 or smaller. Shooting wide open at f/2.8 or larger is rarely beneficial. It only helps when shooting in low light situations such as astrophotography time-lapse.
- Use the lowest ISO setting possible on your camera. The lower the ISO, the lesser the noise. If you are shooting under the sun, ISO 400 or lower is better. But if you are shooting in low light, you can go higher.
- Calculate shutter speed, image processing, and shooting interval carefully. This is to avoid skipped frames and missed shots.
- For DSLR users, using mirror lock-up mode helps in reducing camera shake.
- Mirrorless users and DSLR users are also advised to turn off image stabilization either through the lens or the body. Having this up means that the camera will find the slightest shake possible and might end up blurring the photo instead.
- Turn off live view mode. Shooting a time-lapse takes a lot of time. One way to conserve battery is to turn off the live view.
How to take time-lapse photos?
Step 1: Pick a spot and compose your image
Step 2: Check the shooting interval or the exposure time
The perfect time-lapse should have a balanced interval. If it is too long, then the final output will look choppy.
How do you determine the interval time? There are exposure calculators available out there. But here is how you do it.
Check the subject and how it moves. If you are shooting a pier, check how the boats move in and out. Always remember that the time between shots should be longer than the exposure time.
As mentioned earlier, if your shutter speed is 5 seconds, the interval should be 7 seconds. This is to give the camera an allowance to process the image first before taking the next one.
As a simple formula, interval time is shutter speed + time to process the image.
Step 3: Press the shutter and wait
Once the intervalometer is set, press the shutter and wait until the images are done. Depending on the length of your time-lapse, it may take several minutes up to hours.
Be prepared when taking a time-lapse photo. Get some form of entertainment as it may become boring as time passes by.
However, do not forget about your camera and keep on checking it from time to time. The battery should be monitored as well. It would be a shame if you are waiting for an hour and the camera is already dead 30-minutes in.
Step 4: Process the image on your computer
The whole time-lapse process is finished on a computer. You have to load it into editing software and combine it into the footage.
DaVinci Resolve is a free video editing software you can use to process your final product. Set the images into the timeline. Once everything is laid out, you can adjust how many frames per second are shown. You may then adjust accordingly.
Once everything is good, export your image into the desired video format. Choose either H.264 MP4 video or any format that suits you.
Ideal interval for time-lapse photography
- To capture the sun during the sunrise or sunset - 1 to 3 seconds
- To shoot the sun’s movement during the day - 15 to 30 seconds
- Capture slow-moving clouds - 5 to 10 seconds
- For fast-moving clouds - 1 to 3 seconds
- Regular moving clouds - 3 to 5 seconds
- Stars - interval time = shutter speed + time to process image
- Aurora - may vary between 5 to 30 seconds
- Moving cars - 1 to 3 seconds
- Boats in a pier - 1 to 3 seconds
- People walking - 1 to 2 seconds
How to compute the total shooting time?
The result of shooting a time-lapse is a great video that has a variety of uses. But the most common mistake people encounter is miscalculating the total shooting time.
Sometimes photographers will shoot for 30 minutes straight. However, they end up with shorter footage than needed.
To calculate the total shooting time, you should schedule the shoot in advance. You also have to plan the total frames per second of the output.
There are three commonly used video framerate - 24, 30, and 60FPS. Take 24 frames per second as an example.
If you are going to have a 24fps video, you need to have 240 images for a 10 second time-lapse.
The basic formula is (video framerate) x (length of footage in seconds) = total number of images. Now, multiple the number of images by the interval time to get the total shooting time.
For example, you are going to take a time-lapse of the sunset with an interval of 3 seconds. The target footage will be 30 seconds at 24fps.
Going by the formula, you need (24) x (30) = 720 frames. You are going to take 720 images in total. To get the total shooting time, you need to multiple 720 by the interval which is 3 seconds.
720 x 3 = 2160 seconds. Divide the answer by 60 seconds to convert it into minutes. The answer will be 36 minutes.
The final shooting time will be 36 minutes. If you want, you can take it up to 40 minutes for extra headroom.
You will then have to set your intervalometer to take photos for 36 minutes straight at 3 seconds intervals.
With that in mind, you may then check beforehand if your battery will last 36 minutes straight. Sometimes manufacturers rate their battery by the total number of shots you can take, so that could be the basis.
What are the best camera settings for time-lapse photography?
It is best to set your camera at manual settings to avoid issues such as aperture and shutter flicker.
Flicker happens when the exposure changes to the camera detecting changes in the environment. If set to manual, the settings will not change and flicker can be avoided.
To avoid aperture flicker, try using f/8 or anything under. Moreover, shutter flicker can be avoided by using a shutter of 1/50. 1/100th of a second is fine as well.
What’s the exposure sweet spot?
This quite tricky as not every situation is the same. For an instance, if you’re going to follow the 1/50 shutter speed and an f/8 or lower aperture, the images might turn bright when shooting under direct sunlight. This could be fine for images taken at sunset or sunrise.
But for images taken at noon, it is best to use an ND filter. This allows you to go for the 1/50 time value and an f/8 or lower aperture without overexposing the image.
There is a different type of ND filter that can make your workflow easier. A graduated ND filter, when used, will make it easier to expose shots.
It can be used when shooting a sunset with the foreground properly exposed. Using the graduated ND filter maintains the regular foreground exposure. It also dims the sky or the sun to match the overall image exposure.
Time-lapse photography is a fun yet challenging genre. It is hard to master but the results are stunning. Plus, the usability of the output is limitless.
For starters, have a checklist, scout locations, and check your composition. That is already a good start. Don't forget to use a sturdy tripod as well.
But lastly, time-lapse photography should be fun. Enjoy what you are doing and great results will follow.