A Rough Guide to Timelapse Photography

Timelapse refers to capturing a series of images at a predetermined frame rate. It’s most commonly used to show scenes that evolve slowly. For example, this method could be used to show the movement of clouds or sunsets at a faster rate than would ever be seen in a natural setting. Sequences are becoming increasingly common in television programs such as news, nature programs, and title sequences.

nature timelapse photography

“Milky Way over Mt Kobau” captured by Preserved Light Photography / Caillum Smith

Timelapse allows subtle processes–which are usually impossible for the human eye to notice–to be shown at significantly increased speeds, allowing the viewer to see an event that could potentially take place over days, weeks, months or even years, in a matter of seconds or minutes.

For instance, one of the most common uses of timelapse is in nature programs, where flowers are seen opening and plants are shown emerging from the ground at an incredibly fast rate. Even the yearly changing of the seasons can be documented and reproduced in a matter of seconds.

How to Create Timelapse Footage

The process of recording footage is simple in theory. Essentially, you find a place to shoot your desired scene, set a recording rate for the camera (i.e. a frame per second/minute/hour), and let the camera run for as long as needed. Getting the technique right can be hard, but as with anything, practice makes perfect.

Aside from a camera, there are some other important tools required for time-lapse:

  • A tripod – so the camera remains stable.
  • An intervalometer – to control the frame rate of the camera. Usually, this equipment will not come with a camera, and must be purchased separately, although some modern digital cameras have the functionality built in.
  • Quality video editing software.
night timelapse photography

“Hanoi Hoan Kiem Timelapse” captured by Duong Nguyen

In addition to the tools listed above, here are some key considerations:

  • Take test shoots. Once you’ve found an ideal position, do a test run to see if there are any unforeseen influences on the camera or viewing angle.
  • Shoot in a suitable format. Depending on the software used to edit the video, different file types may be required. Look into this beforehand, as you don’t want to waste a day shooting only to find that your computer or software can’t handle the images you’ve captured.
  • Batteries. Timelapse requires a much longer battery life than regular camera work, due to the long periods of time the camera will be in use for. Make sure to pack all the juice you need.
  • Memory. Timelapse work can fill up a memory card very quickly. Either bring a spare memory card or make sure your current card is up to the task.

Which Camera Should I Use?

Many types of camera are suitable for time-lapse photography, but modern digital cameras are superb for the job. The ideal camera will be small, robust, and will preferably have the ability to shoot in HD. Action sports cameras, such as the Drift HD and GoPro, are perfect for the task. Designed for shooting in an action packed environment, these cameras are sturdy enough for almost any time-lapse project.

Timelapse can be a very long, drawn out process, and often a day’s work will produce only a few seconds of footage. But when this technique is used to full effect, the results can be remarkable. It’s well worth the initial hard work during trial and error phase. As difficult as it is to get right, this style of photography can be an incredibly rewarding art form.

About the Author:
Submitted by Matt Taylor (actioncameras.co.uk), Marketing Manager at Action Cameras.

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