Time Lapse Tricks

Time Lapse Tricks

If you have never heard of  a time lapse before click here to find out what they are. They are a lot of fun! If you have a Canon power shot there is a little software hack, called CHDK, that you can use that will allow you to take time-lapses that way as well. Another cool thing I have recently learned about was Magic Lantern. It is a software add on for your camera that will do a lot of really cool stuff in addition to giving to an intervalometer on board! Check it out!

Here is a little Inspiration for you before we get started with our tips. A shout out to Kelly Lacy for the creation of this video!

I have seen a lot of posts online lately of people just trying out time lapse. I was really excited to see that it’s becoming very popular. Unfortunately, a lot of them out there are really low quality. The camera shakes quite a bit, and there is a lot of flickr and it is taking people a really long time to compile the images together. I put together these tips to address some questions I have seen on a lot of blogs, so enjoy!

I know that most of us creative types hate these words, but it really is true. Doing the math for your time lapse  to figure out how many seconds between shots, is how you are going to get really awesome motion capture. Let’s use a sunset as a great little example of doing the math.

Let’s say you want to be shooting for an hour before sunset because you think thats the best light. Now, let’s say you want to condense that one hour of motion into one minute. The best frame rate to play back your images if 24 frames per second (fps). If your video is going to be one minute long, 24 frames per second X 60 seconds gives you a total of 1440 frames or pictures that you have to take in one hour.

So next let’s find out how many seconds of shooting time we will have. We will be shooting for 60 minutes, at 60 seconds a minute thats a total of  3600 seconds of shooting time. So 3600 seconds of shooting time divided by the 1440 frames we want to capture gives us an interval of 2.5 seconds between shots. 2.5 seconds is going to be what we need to get a nice smooth motion of the sun setting over a one hour period in a video that will last one minute.

The next thing you are going to want to do is to Stabilize your camera. A lot of  videos that don’t look professional have a lot of camera shake to them. Don’t just set it on a park bench or use a monopod stuck in the ground. You really are going to want to get a nice stable tripod. I would even recommend throwing some sandbags on the leg supports of the tripod. Do EVERYthing you can to make sure that camera isn’t going anywhere.

Another thing to think about is the surface you are placing your tripod on. Don’t place your tripod on your wooden deck and expect your shots to turn out well. If you walk on wood while you are shooting, the boards will move and your camera will move with the steps. If a wooden flexible surface really is the only option to get that awesome shot, hurry up and get off that surface, and put up some caution tape and make sure no one walks near the camera.

Another option that is really cool (and will allow you to place your camera on a more stable surface that isn’t walked on) is one of these little Gorillapods!

A big mistake that a lot of beginners make is that they have their camera set on RAW. This is a huge no no. NO computer can play pack these files decently. You have to remember that HD video 1080p is only 1920px X 1080px at 72 dpi. That means that you probably have to set your camera on the lowest settings to make sure that they are near the size that you will end up with them at. if you want to resize all your images at once in Photoshop , you can use this tutorial to learn how to make an action!

Now there are multiple schools of thought on this. Some people say that since you have to shrink your files later in photoshop anyways, why not just shoot with the highest quality. In my opinion it takes less time running your batch with the smaller file size, so might as well free up more room on your card for a longer time lapse.

Now another thing to think about, that totally goes against the whole #3 rule, is that you may want to shoot in a high settings so that you can pan. What I mean is that, if you insert a large time lapse video in a video editing program where your composition is at the 1920 X 1080 setting. That will make it so that you can pan across the larger video so that you only see a portion of your time lapse at a time. You can then animate that video to pan to the left or the right and give the appearance that you were moving the camera on some rails at the time the shot was taken. Something to experiment with.

Manual, Manual, Manual! Say it with me, “MANUAL!” This is the best tip I can give you. Turn every possible setting that you can to the manual function. A lot of the flicker and weird focus issues that you see on time lapse video comes from the fact that people shoot them with automatic functions on their camera. Set the shutter speed, aperture, and focus manually for sure.

Take test photos and make sure that you have room for things to get a bit brighter and a bit darker, and that they will still look good (remember to delete these off of your card before shooting). If you are taking a time lapse that will span from day to night, gradually adjust the manual settings to accommodate for the changes in light to get some neat shots, and the details in all of the lighting situations. Don’t just switch automatically to a big jump from the aperture almost all the way closed to wide open. Over some time, gradually adjust the settings.

How you manage your individual image files once you get them on your computer will make or break your video. Sometimes cameras can be a bit screwy with naming the files and especially the numbering of them. First, you will want to make sure that you have all of the images in one folder. When I first started doing time lapses, I noticed this and went through and re-named/ re-numbered every photo so they would show up in sequence. That was DUMB. I should have used Automator. Here is a great tutorial that you can follow that will allow you to rename all of your images to make them sequential, and it takes no time at all!

Another thing to think about at this point while you are batch renaming your files, is batch editing. Maybe you want all of these photos to be cropped or have a levels adjustment in photoshop instead of working on them in a video editing program. You can follow this tutorial to learn how to apply the changes you did on one photo to the rest.


Quicktime Pro is hands down the best way to get your images to play back. There are other programs out there that are free and are labeled specifically to be used for time lapses, but if you are doing video, you are going to need this gem for something sooner or later so the $30 cost really is not that bad at all. Follow this tutorial for opening up your images with Quicktime Pro. Then you can take that movie file and plop it in any video editing program and add titles and music. If you have trouble finding good music for your time lapse check out our audio for film post here. It has some great resources for you!

For further reading:

Photo Jo Jo-Ultimate Time Lapse Guide
Time-Lapse Blog
Vimeo Video School-Time Lapse’s
Vimeo Video School-Time Lapse With a DSLR

Also, if you have any Questions or want further information on how to do a time lapse, just leave a comment. I would be happy to get back to you.
Thanks for reading!


  1. admin
    September 8, 2011

    Kelly, Have you tried out Magic Lantern on your Canon Yet?

  2. kelly
    September 8, 2011

    Math. Yeah, that’s true, unfortunately me, I’m more of a run and gun type person on all things, and I don’t calculate frame or pics or whatever. Just know that you’ll want to have shots closer together (time wise, I usually do 5 secs. for sun ups and sun downs, and 7 to 10 for day time) or further apart, depending on the scene of course. And with stars, 30 sec exposures continually, no breaks in between, love em.

    I just got on of those Gorillapods, and it is really cool. Not the best for stabilizing shots, especially when the wind is blowing something fierce, but nothing else matches it when it comes to portability, you can stick it pretty much anywhere!

    As for file size, I’ve usually shot in small (which is something like 1100×900 or something) which has been plenty for the internets, since vimeo doesn’t do 1080p, and it’s not like I’ve got a Bluray burner or anything, but as of late (past few months) I’ve shot in Lg (like 3400 x 2000 something), which gives you tons of space to pan, and even if you’ve only got a 4gb card, there’s no way you’ll fill that up, unless you’re shooting all day or you take a pic every second!

    I agree with manual, though I have had some good timelapses just using the AV setting on my camera, but I know that it’s highly unlikely to get great video but just leaving it on automatic, ESPECIALLY the focus, man, I’ve left autofocus on a couple of times accidentally, and it totally ruins anything you’re trying to do. blah. It’s like your video is having a seizure or something. ; )

    I can honestly say that I’ve never renamed any files that I’ve shot. I’ve always had Quicktime Pro, so easy as that. My old process was to organize all the pics into different folders, based on the scene, then turn them into Quicktime movies with Pro, and edit them in Final Cut. But for some reason (maybe it’s the case of wasted time with Quicktime Pro?), but I just organize them into folders and open them as Image Sequences in After Effects and do everything from there (you can change frame rates and size and pretty much whatever you want).

    Thanks for the info, what a pleasure to read sir!


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