Take Control of Time

shooting a time lapse
Sunsets are prime time lapse subjects - by Brynn

One of the more fascinating exercises in photography is shooting a time lapse.  To be able to  compress hours worth of activity into just a few seconds.  It never fails that you’ll see an event in a different light, you’ll notice things you can’t see at normal speed.

Shooting time lapse is a fairly straightforward process.


You’ll need:

  • A camera with a built-in interval timer or that accepts a third party timer
  • A very large storage card or the ability to change cards in the middle of shooting
  • A spare battery or plug-in power
  • A sturdy tripod
  • A video editing system with the ability to import a series of images as video

Doing The Calculations

First, decide the frame rate of your video timeline. I use 24 frames per second as my standard because it fits with my video time lines, which are either 24 or 30 fps.  The math works like this for 24p:

Length of event:  3 hours
Desired length of final video segment:  90 seconds
Number of frames needed for final video segment:  90 x 24 = 2,160

3 hours is 10,800 seconds.

To compress 10,800 seconds into 2,160 frames that means 1 frame every 5 seconds (10,800/2160).

Each actual minute of real time will be 0.5 seconds of video.  One frame every five seconds should yield a nice, smooth motion in the final video, perfect for clouds, sunrises and smooth continuous motion.

If the shot has a lot of moving pieces, like people and cars moving around, you may want to raise the frame rate for more continuity in the final product.  Otherwise you have cars suddenly appearing and disappearing in the video instead of driving through.

Set up

  • Pick your subject and find a good location for your camera (on a tripod) that will not be disturbed by anyone
  • Set your camera to take JPG pictures to save space
  • Set your camera to manual mode
  • Turn off auto-focus
  • Turn off auto white balance
  • Take a test shot and adjust your cameras settings to your liking
  • Wait

Once you are done you will need to use a movie making program like Quicktime Pro to put together your video.
Good luck and happy shooting!