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How to Time-Lapse

Updated: Sep 12, 2019

Blog number two that was suggested by Mum is time-lapse photography. Who doesn’t love a good time-lapse, hell even a bad time-lapse still looks cool. Time-lapse is essentially just a slide show of photos taken at consistent intervals, which makes it look like time is going much faster than it really is. I find time-lapse pretty interesting as it is really more about photography, even though you end up with a video at the end. So here are some tips that I’ve found when trying to get a good time-lapse video.


Time-lapse takes time. The finished video may only be 15 seconds but if you’re capturing photos at 10 second intervals… (warning maths ahead) ok, video requires 25 frames per second so a 15 second video requires 375 frames. Each frame takes 10 seconds to capture so that’s 3750 seconds. Divide by 60 to get how many minutes and that’s 62.5 minutes that you have to spend capturing photos at 10 second intervals for a 15 second video. Now obviously if the interval is smaller, say every 2 seconds, it won’t take as long but either way you’re in this for the long haul and so is your camera. Your camera needs to remain as still as possible so changing out the batteries in between shots is not really an option. You can switch batteries between set ups if you’re getting multiple time-lapses but once you’re set up and capturing you have to work with the battery you have and pray that it lasts.


This is particularly important if you have a long-haul time lapse that might span over a few hours or even days. Typically, these sort of time lapses are to capture a particular motion like a building demolition or something like that which means that you’ll just have to put up with bad weather in order to get the shots. Be prepared is not just a great song from The Lion King (which might be getting cut from the remake um WTF) it’s also a good motto to live by when capturing time-lapse. Know what the weather is doing so that your camera doesn’t get ruined in the rain. If you know it will be raining and have to capture anyway, then perhaps find shelter or capture it from a window or use a waterproof camera like a Go Pro. Similarly, if it's cloudy and then the sun comes out unexpectedly and you’re not prepared it could ruin your shot by overexposing it. Just... check the weather ok?


Know your end goal. Time-lapse is rarely surprising, before you go out you should know what you want to capture and how it will play out. Have an idea of what you want in your head and how it will look once it’s edited. Pick out some music to go with it so you can fit the interval timing to the music or time the sun coming over the hill with the crescendo or whatever you want to do to make the best time-lapse that you can.


This is super important. If your camera is on Auto then the exposure could be all over the place, the focus might drift in and out from your subject, the ISO could be doing weird things. It can be a real mess. Take some time up front to check all the settings and make sure it’s what you want. Now if you’re capturing your first ever sunrise/sunset, you’ll probably get this wrong but that’s ok, trial and error and practice go a long way.


As I have said, you will be there for a while. You want to make sure that what you want to capture is or will be in the frame. You don’t want to have to change the framing halfway through the capture as, much like changing the battery, it will ruin the effect. I have mentioned that you want to keep the camera as still as possible once you start the capture, and a couple of ways to ensure this is to invest in a good quality tripod that you can lock off, and by getting a remote shutter so you don’t have to touch the camera at all.


If you’re capturing a time-lapse over several days, you don’t want your main camera to be out of action for that long. Not everyone has more than one camera but if you do, pick the one that is best suited for the time-lapse. If you’re doing a night shoot, choose the one that works best in low light, if it’s over multiple days choose the one that you won’t need to use for anything else between now and the end of shoot.


It might seem like you have plenty of footage and that you’ve been shooting for ages but when you need 25 frames per second that tail you left on the end of the capture might fall short. Shoot for as long as you can and you can always edit it down when you’re back at your computer. This is especially true of sunrise/sunset time-lapses, make sure you capture enough from start to finish. You don’t want to be back in your car and see some beautiful cloud colours in your rear-view mirror. Stay and wait it out until your confident that you have enough.


Reading lists like this is all well and good but you really won’t learn until you get out and just start playing with settings and locations. Time-lapse is such a good thing to practise because anyone can find something to film. Plants, landscapes, busy streets, clouds, things being built, bananas going ripe, cats following the sun in a room, you get the idea. Just find something and have a play. See what happens with different exposures and on different angles. Your friends and family will likely be impressed even if it isn’t perfect because time-lapse almost always looks cool.

That’s it for this week, I’ll catch you next Monday for a new blog!


Media Melt is a Video Production Company based in Dunedin, New Zealand. If you have any enquires, feel free to contact us here

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Shirley Bell
Shirley Bell
Jun 24, 2019

I think I will just call on my buddy Sam. I could be over the rainbow unframed

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