How to shoot time-lapse photography

Multimedia / 08.11.15 / Kari Gassmann

Time-lapse photography can add a lot to your production quality on it’s own or paired with other elements, and there is no doubt that time-lapse photography can be absolutely beautiful, like this

The best way to capture a time-lapse is to understand what settings you need to accomplish your goal. The settings will be different for a time-lapse of New York traffic rather than a time-lapse of the stars.

The first thing you need to find out is what interval you will be shooting at. The interval is how much time will pass before the camera takes the next photo.

One way to find out is to figure out how long you will be shooting for. Let’s just say, for example, we want to shoot for 2 hours.

  • 2 hours equals 120 minutes, or 7,200 seconds.
  •  The project will eventually be screened at 24 fps (or whatever you choose.)
  • Your shot goal is 10 seconds. Multiply 10 by 24 fps to get a length of 240 frames.
  • Divide the total number of seconds (7,200) by the number of frames needed (240) to give you your interval. In this case the answer is 30.
  • Therefore, every 30 seconds you make 1 exposure for a 2-hour period, which will result in approximately 10 seconds of screen time.

You can also find out how long you will be shooting for if you know what your interval and screen time will be.

  • Screen time: 10 seconds
  • 24fps (frame rate in post)
  • 24 x 10 = 240 shots needed
  • 240 x 5 second interval
  • = 1200 seconds/20 minutes of shooting time

So you will be shooting for 20 minutes, with a 5 second interval, to get a end result of 10 seconds of time-lapse footage at 24fps.

If you use a motorized slider it gets a little more complicated because you’re also taking into account the length of the slider. Thankfully, they make apps for your phone that do the math for you (both for stationary and motorized!)

It’s important to know what your settings should be, but it’s also important to know what settings work best in certain situations.

  • You’ll want to use a longer interval time if you will be doing astronomical time-lapses. This is because you’ll want to shoot for a longer time (maybe 4 or 5 hours) so that you can see the motion of the stars moving across the sky.
  • You may also want a longer interval for seeing clouds move across the sky, unless it’s particularly windy that day, in which case you may want a shorter interval.
  • Shorter intervals are good for when you’re shooting for short periods of time, and if there’s a lot of motion going on.
  • Drag your shutter for motion blur. The slower the shutter speed smoother it will look because it will add a bit of motion blur to the images. Traffic moving looks best when you drag your shutter speed because the motion is smooth and easy on the eyes.
  • For sunsets and sunrises use Av (aperture priority) mode and then add a deflicker in post.

The more time-lapse photography you do, the easier it will become to understand what settings work best with each situation. The best thing you can do is watch tutorials of people shooting a time-lapse in the same situation you plan to shoot. There are a plethora of tutorials on YouTube.

Not up to the task? Let us do it for you!