How to do Timelapse Photography

By Haje Jan Kamps on at

If you've ever seen the sun come up quickly over the city in CSI, or that fox decomposing in the title credits of True Blood, you've seen timelapse in action. Here's how to do it...

Timelapse is where photography meets video. Essentially, all you need to do is take a load of photos, and then play them quickly after each other -- like a flip-book cartoon -- and then watch the frames come to life. Taking a photo every second compresses half a minute into a single second, with glorious results.

The only tools you need to create your first timelapse masterpiece are a tripod, a camera, an intervalometer, and a good idea.

In order to create your first time lapse photographic movie, first you will need to think of an idea that you want to convey. Sunsets in the desert; a flower wilting, or (if you're really ambitious) a human being going from cradle to grave -- it's all possible.

So, to begin taking photos, set your camera on your tripod and make sure it stays in the same position throughout the whole process. Next, you can start taking your photos. You can do this by hand, but to get the timings smooth and your video looking better, try using an intervalometer. There are many different types of 'em out there -- including ones you can buy for about £15-20 from Amazon, and, of course, the Triggertrap, which comes with timelapse features built in.

As a general rule, the more photos you take, the longer your final movie will be. Make sure that you also keep your camera on the same settings while you are photographing your scenes, otherwise there will be a noticeable difference in many of your photos in the final product. I find that Aperture Priority (Av/A) and manual focus works well -- that way, the depth of field stays the same, but the camera will compensate for any fluctuations in lighting.

Once you are done taking your photos, then you can upload them to your computer and lace them together by using a video editing software. Choose a video editing software that you are comfortable with and import the photos into the program. The photos will import in the order that you took them and each photo will automatically be assigned a time per frame. The time per frame is the amount of time that each photo will appear in your video. You can go to your tools and manually enter times that work for your video's concept. Most videos play at around 30 fps, but you don't have to play your video at full speed; you can choose to let each frame last two or three frames of your video, for example.

Overall, timelapse photography can be a beautiful form of photography (take a look at the stunning Icelandic one above). It can be a simple process at first, but as you up your skills, your movies will take longer to produce, and they will become more complex. You can start introducing camera movement during the timelapse, for example, or come up with other cool effects.

If you are feeling adventurous this weekend, then grab your camera and try your hand at this eye-catching form of photography. It's a fun way to spend a few hours, plus your final product will be a video that you can share with your friends and family. Keep practising -- it's a lot harder than it sounds!

Need some inspiration? Try the timelapse NASA did from a space station, or watching the life-span of a flower. Or just look at any number of the timelapse videos we've published here on Gizmodo UK.

Photo Credit: Sunset over the Golden Gate Bridge, by Haje Jan Kamps

Haje Jan Kamps is a prolific photography blogger who has written a small stack of books about photography. He also developed the recently-launched Triggertrap camera trigger and has been known to travel the world a bit. If you're of the tweeting kind, try him on @Photocritic!