How to Shoot Time-lapse Photography : A Beginner’s Guide
While there are so many different types and styles of photography, there is something so uniquely refreshing about time-lapse photography. Perhaps it is the fact that this style of photography is the antithesis of many of our busy, mile-a-minute lives—or perhaps it is just how cool these photos ultimately turn out.
If you aren’t already familiar with time-lapse photography, the best thing you can do is to go see some samples for yourself as there is no way to explain it in a method that will convey how amazing time-lapse really is. However, if we had to put it into words, time-lapse photography is a technique that manipulates time so that you can depict something that would take days or hours to complete in a matter of seconds.
For example, a time-lapse of a sun rising and setting would include countless film frames that are captured at a lower speed and replayed much quicker to show the sun setting and rising in a matter of seconds, instead of over a 12-hour period.
Here’s a time-lapse I took of the Northern Lights. These were 12 second exposures taken over a 2 hour span:
Time-lapse photography is unlike any other form of photography and while it may seem entirely complex (especially when you see the final product) it is actually much easier than it seems. This is why I have created a how-to guide for beginners who want to learn the ropes of time-lapse photography and see how they can create stunning time-lapses for themselves.
Time-Lapsing Step One: Gather Your Gear
Before you can start shooting this unique type of photography—you need the right gear. If you are already shooting with a DSLR (as many photographers are) then chances are you’re already going to have a lot of the items you need. Just to be safe, here is a full rundown of the basic time-lapse gear, you will need to create these stunning masterpieces.
A great tripod is an essential staple of time-lapse photography. After all, you’re not going to be standing there holding the camera for several hours, or days, while capturing your images.
You need a rock-solid tripod that is very heavy and won’t move. Don’t over-think it , in fact the bigger the better—you just need something that is stable.
Of course, in order to shoot time-lapse photography, you are going to need the right camera. A DSLR is great, and many people already use them for their other projects.
There is no one “right” DSLR out there for this type of photography, but if you need to buy an entirely new camera, go with something you like for your everyday photography needs.
Time-lapsing the Milky Way is a challenging and rewarding acvitity. These shots were taken at 8 second intervals at 8000 ISO over a 4 hour span
This is a tool that you may not already have in your arsenal of equipment, but it is one that you will need—and one you may actually use more than you think. The intervalometer is an automated camera trigger and is completely programmable.
In other words, you can use this simple device to capture hundreds of photos in precise intervals. There are some cameras that can have them installed via firmware, but if this isn’t an option with your device, you can buy an external intervalometer. There are many different products out there, in a variety of price ranges, depending on your needs.
ND filters may not be as necessary as some of the other items on the list, but they are still important to your final product. These filters are meant to reduce the intensity of light without altering the color—they are kind of like shades for your camera lens.
Ultimately with ND filters, you can use a slower shutter speed in brighter environments, so that you can capture motion blur in a time-lapse sequence and in the case of time-lapse photography, motion blur can actually be a good thing.
Time-Lapsing Step Two: Collect Your Accessories
In addition to your main gear, you are also going to need a few accessories as part of your time-lapse project. Make sure to gather all of the necessary extras ahead of time so you are ready to set up your shoot when the time is right. Here’s what you need:
- Battery Grip- This is an accessory that can work with most DSLRs. This allows you to extend the size of the camera’s battery compartment, so you can house two batteries instead of ones. A majority of time-lapse projects can be completed with one battery, but it is smart to have this backup as an option.
- Extra Memory Cards- Time-lapse shoots are long, and you are going to need more memory cards to hold everything you shoot, this can also help keep buffer times to a minimum.
- More Batteries- Time-lapses require long shoots, which means you need a lot of battery life to cover them. This should be a no brainer, but it is worth mentioning—you will need extra batteries.
- Card Readers- This is an accessory that most people don’t have but one that can really make your time-lapse project much simpler. When you do a time-lapse, you are going to be transferring a huge number of photos. So, instead of waiting for images to transfer, you can save yourself a ton of time with a card reader. Trust me, it will be worth it.
Capturing the transition from Day to Night is aptly called a Holy Grail Time-lapse . Stunning movement and colors are a hallmark of this type of time-lapse photography:
Time-Lapsing Step Three: Shoot The Time-Lapse Sequences
Now that you have all of the gear and accessories that you need, it is time to get to the meat of the project, actually shooting the sequence. Full warning—you are going to have a ton of photos, even more than you likely think. A lot of the fun part of shooting time-lapse sequences comes with editing and putting everything together, but you have to get some data first.
A guide to shooting time-lapse sequences could be dozens and dozens of pages. After all, there are so many different types of time-lapses you can shoot.
Before you get started you should be aware of some of the most common time-lapse intervals. The interval you select means how quickly the scene will appear in front of you in your final compilation.
While every project is different, here are a few common internal amounts:
1 Second- Best for: moving traffic, drives, quick-moving clouds/storms.
15-30 Second- Best for: moving shadows, sun moving across the sky without clouds, stars.
90 Seconds or Longer- Best for: construction projects, growing plants, changing landscapes
The following guide is a basic overview on how to do it and what to expect, you may need to engage in a little trial and error to really capture your ideal final product.
- Create a Composition—Take your time to not only create an interesting scene, but think about an anticipate how that scene will change.
- Choose a Program Interval—Think about the speed and flow of action and consider the guide above as a reference. Once you’ve decided, make sure to program your intervalometer.
- Set Your Camera Exposure—This of course depends on what you are shooting, but you will want to expose to minimize flicker and to create motion blur. Make sure you utilize manual mode to lock in consistent exposure and check your ISO, shutter, aperture, focus and white balance.
- Do a Mini Time-Lapse Test—Once you’ve done a mini time-lapse, mark the desired sequence for your intervalometer, then do a final tripod and camera stability check and you are ready to begin.
Capturing a rising moon in a time-lapse sequence is a challenging task because you constantly have to meter your exposure — A steady hand can make all the difference:
Step Four: Putting it All Together
Now that you have all of the images you need, it is time to put it all together. Keep in mind, you will likely need to throw your first few away as they tend to have a little movement in them.
The best way to put together your time-lapse compilation video is to use a software program that is specifically designed for this time-lapses. Here are a few free options that are great for beginners:
There are also some great programs that cost a little more, but tend to have some more features. These include:
- Premier Pro
- Quicktime Pro
Capturing cloud movement is one of the most rewarding and breathtaking applications of time-lapse photography. You want to shoot at short intervals (1-2 seconds) when the clouds are moving this fast:
No matter what you use, you can start to have some fun in putting these photos together and seeing your time-lapse come to life. It is important to remember that time-lapses can be tricky at first, and if your first attempt doesn’t go as planned, just be ready to try again. It is not as easy to make adjustments in the field, so you may not see where you need to make tweaks until you get into the editing room.
It will require some patience, but I promise you that patience will pay off in the end.