Time Lapse Photography

Michele Wanke

Nothing elicits "oohs and aahs" quite like time lapse photographs. The eye-popping photo technique captures motion in a series of images that can be viewed as a video or montage. Fortunately, you don't need to be a pro to master this type of photography. With a little direction and experimentation, you can wow others by transforming stunning static images into moving masterpieces.

Easier than It Looks

From clouds to flowers, skateboarders to sprinters, flowing water to flickering lights, time lapse photography can add pizzazz to every day photo subject. While the dazzling pictures may look complicated to create, they are essentially just a collection of shots made of the same subject that documents a progression of time.

Examples of Time Lapse Photos

You may have viewed examples of time lapse photography and not even realized it. Television meteorologists often employ this photography method during the nightly news to showcase a sunset or storm as seen through the lens of the station's outdoor cameras.

Time lapse images are taken over a period of time; some are taken from one frame per minute to a single shot taken each month. These individual photos are then presented together to illustrate the movement of a subject in quick succession.

You don't have to be a professional photographer to capture brilliant photos taken over a lapse in time. You can capture cool-looking shots that will impress your family and friends.

Other Examples

The time lapse technique doesn't discriminate when it comes to photo subjects, though some look better in time lapse form than others. You can get an idea of the popular time lapse subjects highlighted in these examples:

  • Extreme Ice Survey: Great examples of melting ice captured over time span of several years
  • Haworth Village: Readers contribute time lapse photo videos in wide range of nature shots
  • Wired: Several examples of different types of subjects

Select Your Subject

When choosing a subject, consider how much time it will take to show a true progression. For example, photographing a pregnant woman from start to finish will take much longer than capturing a sunset in time lapse form.

Evaluate Your Equipment

Before you set out on a shoot, you need to make sure you have the necessary equipment. Fortunately, you don't need to have a pro's arsenal to capture jaw-dropping time lapse photos. Basic tools include:

  • Camera: While you don't need an elaborate DSLR camera to shoot time lapse images, the picture-taking tool will come in handy if you decide to shoot high-action shots. Long term projects, like a 14-month house build can be captured with a simple point-and-shoot camera on a weekly basis. However, it pays to have a high-tech automated camera if you want to document a child doing a cartwheel. DSLRs come equipped with special shooting modes that allow you to capture action in rapid succession.
  • Tripod: Whether you use a DSLR or a point-and-shoot, be sure to mount your camera on a tripod before you start pressing the shutter button. You need to have a steady base in order create a seamless image from multiple shots. If you don't have a tripod, wedge your camera between books or sturdy wooden blocks.
  • Timer Remote: If you are shooting with a DSLR, consider investing in an intervalometer. The handy accessory is often referred to as a timer remote controller and allows you to program your camera to shoot at intervals, such as one frame every five minutes. This provides you the freedom to engage in other activities while your camera captures your subject in motion. Select point-and-shoot cameras and DSLRs feature an interval setting; however, they do not offer nearly the same options you will find in an intervalometer.
  • Filters: Landscape photographers looking to snap time lapse images of clouds, water or flowers often use neutral density or polarizing filters to enhance their shots. ND filters are made from tinted glass and help block light from the camera lens when you are shooting longer exposures in daylight conditions. Meanwhile, polarizing filters benefit time lapse scenery shots by deepening the color of the sky and water. The filters also reduce reflections from glass surfaces and illuminate details in sand, snow or ice.

Helpful Quick Tips Before Shooting

There are a few things to remember before you start shooting. Some helpful tips include:

  1. Set your camera to shoot JPG
  2. Switch to manual exposure
  3. Use manual white balance
  4. Disable auto focus
  5. Keep camera on tripod
  6. Be careful not to shift framing of subject

Editing the Final Shot

All saved time lapse shots should be downloaded to your computer so that you can edit the final product. You have the option of creating a movie of your shots or stitching them together to create a single static shot.

  • Movie: Most time lapse movies play at around 20 to 30 frames per second and can be put together using photo-editing software like Adobe Photoshop. The more frames you select, the smoother the final movie. If you want the movie to run for roughly 30 seconds at around 24 frames per second, simply multiply the frames per second with the duration of the movie. In this case, 24 x 30 = 720 frames. Using this equation, you will need a total of 720 frames for the end product to be smooth and seamless.
  • Montage: To create a time lapse photo montage, simply load your images to your computer and select a photo editing software program to help stitch together a single photo. Software programs, such as Photoshop, have image sequence features that make it easy to blend and fade multiple shots to transform multiple images taken over time into a single sequential shot.

Flex Your Creative Muscle

Digital photography takes the confusion and complexity out of time lapse photography. Technology has advanced cameras and photo editing software to allow amateur photographers the chance to create awe-inspiring time lapse shots. By combining creative composition with basic time lapse techniques, you can showcase your subjects in the best possible light.

Time Lapse Photography