How to – shoot a Timelapse

Interested to get into Timelapse ?
Here’s everything you need to know to get started 😎

1. What is a Timelapse ?

First of all, here is a short explanation for those who aren’t familiar with the concept.

A Timelapse is a video, aka a sequence of pictures. But the particularity of Timelapse is time in the video, which appears to be moving fast. You can say it is the opposite of slow motion. It is often used to show slow moving subjects like clouds, or the whole turmoil of a city.

This ‘speed motion’ is due to the long interval between each picture. Before you get started, you MUST HAVE an Intervalometer or a Timelapse mode on your camera/smartphone. You can try to shoot hundreds of pictures at regular interval manually, but it won’t be easy nor enjoyable.
There are plenty of apps out there that can fulfill this function.

An other option is to use a physical remote Intervalometer.

For shooting, you’ll need to make sure your camera is steady, work your composition, wisely choose your settings, and arm yourselves with patience. For processing, either you get a video file straight out of camera, or a sequence of pictures you must process, using a computer software like Lightroom with the LRTimelapse plugin.

2. Frame

Our first step is to find a good frame, create our image. The process is very similar to taking still pictures, but you have to take time into account. You have to anticipate the movement of your subjects, what will come into your frame while you are shooting.

It takes practice to get used to slow moving object, and to see what will become your frame in 15 minutes, an hour or 4 hours.

For this particular Timelapse for instance, I started shooting a few minutes before the hourly sparkling lights on the Eiffel Tower, so I could capture it.

3. Steadiness

Now we’ve got the frame, it’s time to make sure our camera is steady. If there’s unwanted movement during our sequence, the Timelapse video will be shaky, and not really pleasant to watch. For this purpose, I’d recommend to mount the camera on a tripod, but it’s also possible to put it on a wall, or any other sturdy and stable surface.

Not all movements are undesirable, putting our camera on a motorized dolly rail can help achieve much more dramatic Timelapses, but this is quite an advanced technique.

Once the camera is set and steady, it can be a good idea to secure it. For instance I often use a table top tripod to travel, and have to rely on fences and walls to shoot long exposures or Timelapses. To make sure my camera won’t fall, I try to find something safe to attach my strap. This way, while my camera is taking pictures I can move around and go about my business.

Consider the fact that shooting a Timelapse takes a long time, so be prepared to wait and/or to protect the camera from various weather conditions.

4. Camera Settings

It’s time to set our camera on Manual mode if available. Why Manual? Simply because if we used an auto or semi-auto mode, the camera would adjust the correct exposure for every frame, resulting in a flickering video.

Paired with that, we have to set a fixed ISO value like 100 if you can, to have as less noise as possible. Our white balance should also be set manually, otherwise the color temperature could change randomly throughout the Timelapse.

Now comes an important part of the process : choosing our interval. The bigger the interval is, the faster the video will be. Depending on the movement speed of our subject, we have to adapt this interval. For instance, if we include clouds in the frame it can vary from 3 seconds if they are moving very fast, to 10 seconds if they are slower. Most of the time I use an interval between 5 and 7 seconds. If you’re into “nightlapse”, consider taking a longer interval, as you need a slow shutter speed and your interval time can’t rationally be shorter than your shutter speed.

Our camera is set and steady, we can now figure how long the process is going to take. The minimum speed at which a sequence of images can be seen as a video for the human eye is 24 frames/second. You can use higher speeds to get a smoother video, but then you will have to adjust your interval, and the number of pictures you want to take.
Most of the software will do the math for you, but just know that :
Running time of Timelapse = Total of pictures * Interval
Video duration = Total of pictures / Framerate

And that’s it, the only thing we have to do now, is to start the Timelapse and wait for it to complete. It’s usually a good time to meet people as they often get curious about what’s going on.

We’ll end up either directly with a processed video, or with sequence of images (that’s what I do). If you chose the images, there’s one more step until you can show the world your art 😉

5. Software processing

There’s plenty of different solutions you can use, free or not.
I personally use Adobe Lightroom to process my pictures, and I found a good plugin to export a sequence of images to a video : LRTimelapse.
After importing all my pictures, I start to normally edit them (I’ll make a Lightroom editing tutorial in the future). Actually I only edit the first picture to my liking, mainly tweaking exposure, highlights and shadows. Then I select all the sequence and synchronize it, and check here and there if the editing works throughout the entire Timelapse.

Now the difference with regular Lightroom export is that I’ll use the LRTimelapse plugin exporter.

After a looooot of processing -it sometimes take more than an hour- the software creates you a nice video file. I usually choose it to be in .mp4 for better compatibility and smaller file size.

Congratulations, we have now achieved to make our own Timelapse.

Bonus – the Holy grail Timelapse

What is a the Holy Grail Timelapse?

It’s simply being able to shoot a Timelapse during Sunset or Sunrise. The challenge is that your camera is on manual, and the light will change drastically during this period. If you don’t compensate this, you’ll end up with a video correctly exposed in the beginning, and poorly exposed at the end, like the following :

What we want is this : to keep a correct exposure during our entire shooting.

I’ll make a specific tutorial on how to achieve such a Timelapse, but know everyone can do it. The technique is to Compensate the light by tweaking your shutter speed up or down while shooting. Then, using Lightroom and LRTimelapse, you can smooth the transition and easily get your Holy Grail Timelapse !


46 thoughts on “How to – shoot a Timelapse

  1. Thanks for following me Robin and hope your presence will keep me encouraging. Your write up is wonderful piece of information and help one get into professional mode of photography

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Just a belated thank you for the follow. I regret not checking your blog out sooner so that I may live vicariously through your photos of all the places I have to see…Beautiful! 🙂

    Dils x

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Of course, now I know how to do it, I just need a iconic tourist attraction or a beautiful river. (I do have an apartment building, a 7-Eleven and a bus stop.)


  3. Wow what an informative and explanatory post .. Many thanks for your following Dreamwalker’s Sanctuary.. and love your header with web.. 🙂
    Wishing you a beautiful day where you are, and wishing you many days of Happy Clicking! of your Camera shutter 🙂

    Blessings Sue

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This was a very informative post. Until I read your explanation I hadn’t realised time lapse photography could be attempted with a smart phone and appropriate app. I especially liked the Eiffel Tower video which demonstrates the technique beautifully. Thanks for visiting my blog too Robin.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Your tutorial is excellent. I used to do this with my 35 mm which also had a manual setting and played with lights, exposures, shutter speeds. Am I able to do this with an iPad Air? Just curious as to how I would keep it steady for timed exposures. Do you have a preference of digital cameras? Thanks for the post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. First of all, thanks a lot for following Mary Ann 🙂

      To answer your question, I know there’s a free app called ‘Lapse it’ for apple products, I haven’t tried it but I think it could do the job. For stabilizing I’d use something like a tablet stand, or anything I can find to make steady enough so it doesn’t move for 20 minutes. Sometime with cameras I use my jacket or other clothes, and put everything on a wall.

      I don’t really have preference when it comes to brands. I used mainly Nikon for DSLR, then a Lumix (Panasonic) when I tried mirrorless, and now I like Sony more because I can use legacy (old 35mm) lenses.


  6. Someone asked me how to do this the other day! Definitely didn’t explain it as well as this so shall be sending them your link haha


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