Time-Lapse photography has become a very popular way of taking pictures and many photographers and filmmakers alike are using time-lapses as a wonderful means of adding texture, colour and feeling to their visual productions. Time-Lapse photography is in itself very simple and with these basic steps below, you can create your own beautiful time-lapses in no time.

Step 1 – Equipment Needed

I photograph with a Canon 5D Mach II, however there are a wealth of cameras out on the market. Preferably photograph with a DSLR camera as you have much greater control of the aperture and white balance settings. Furthermore, many point-and-click cameras will not have the portal to plug an intervalometer into it.

This simple device is critical as it is the computer which allows you to set how frequently and for what duration your pictures will be taken. Intervalometers are simple to use and do not need to be complicated at all. Hint: Some intervalometers do not have an off button, so it is useful to just turn the battery around when you want to turn it off.

Canon Intervalometer

Canon Intervalometer

Tripod and Camera Attachment:
A tripod is the third element of any time-lapse setup. Although you can photograph without it, a tripod provides immediate control, stability and ease to composing your time-lapse correctly. Beanbags can be frustrating as wind, reverberation and people can affect the composition setting causing the flow of your time-lapse to be put out. Preferably choose a tripod with heavy set legs so that the camera is given the best chance for stability.

Spare Batteries:
A good selection of spare batteries and a battery grip will give your camera a longer amount of time to photograph.

Step 2 – Setup and Composition

Set up your tripod with camera attached and intervalometer plugged in. Compose your picture with the idea of capturing as much potential movement as possible. Clouds, wind, water, waves and mist are all natural elements which create their own unique shapes and forms. Traffic, construction sites and people are all urban elements which also move to form unique patterns.

Sunsets and sunrises are nice to capture as you will get beautiful color changes which dramatically enhance the video and make it beautifully emotive.

Step 3 – Camera Settings

The camera settings will depend on how long your photography for, how long you wan the video to be and over what duration of time you want to capture images. If you are photographing a time-lapse of people walking on and off an airplane, you will want to keep your intervals fairly short. Once every 5 or 10 seconds will ensure that you get are capturing enough movement to make the time-lapse look fluid. Longer intervals such as a minute will create a speckled time lapse as the people appear and disappear sporadically.

On the contrary, lets say you are photographing a time-lapse over the course of 24hrs, you will only set your intervals to once every 1, 2 or even 10 minutes. It all depends on what course of time you are wanting to show and how fast you want your time-lapse to be. A simple inverse rule applies here: The slower you want your timelapse to be, the more pictures you must take in a set period of time. The faster you want your timelapse to be, the less pictures you must take in a set period of time. More pictures equals more seconds captured and a slower time-lapse, less pictures means less seconds captured and a faster time-lapse.

I usually set my camera on aperture priority, with my ISO on 100 and white balance on sunny or cloudy. Make sure you don’t set your white balance onto automatic as it will cause flickering owing to the adjustments the camera makes in fading light. If you want to go higher with your ISO you can, however anything over 800 will start to give you noise, particularly as you go into night time and the stars.

Once you have set the time-lapse up, check out the first couple of pics to see you are happy with the composition, colors and aperture. Then leave it for your desired amount of time. A two hour time-lapse with photographs every 20 seconds will give you around 8 seconds of super smooth time-lapse footage. You can always slow this down or speed it up in post production.

Step 4 – Post Production

This is the method that was kindly taught to me and has made things very simple to process time-lapse pictures. Using Adobe AfterEffects I do the following:

  • Create a New Composition at 1920 x 1080
  • Import my time-lapse images in chronological order. Click on import, select the first image and then click on force chronological order. Click Import.
  • Drag and drop the imported file into the composition and scale it down to the 1920 x 1080 parameters.
  • Click on Effect, Color Correction, Adjust Hue/Saturation and do simple color correction to enhance/subdue saturation and contrasts.
  • Click on RAM preview and watch the time-lapse render. Watch again in normal speed to make sure you are happy with it.
  • Click on Composition, Add to Render Queue, choose Output To destination and click Render.

Another method is to import the pictures chronologically into iPhoto, then import them into iMovie and each picture to a time of 0.2 seconds. This method, however means you have to manually touch up each image individually to enhance the overall color/contrast of the clip.

Step 5 – Put it Online

There is a growing community of time-lapse enthusiasts who are showcasing their work and actively talking about ways in which to push the art of it. You will find plenty of like minded people on both Vimeo and YouTube. And if you need any inspiration at all, take a look at the most recent work by Terje Sorgjed. Absolutely stunning!


The Arctic Light from TSO Photography on Vimeo.

Please leave any other ideas and thoughts that you feel I may have left out about time-lapse photography in the comments section below.

Filed under Photography

About the Author

Rich Laburn

Head of Digital

Rich is the driving force behind Londolozi’s online storytelling and the Londolozi blog. His passions of digital media, film and photography, combined with his field-guiding background, have seen him take the Londolozi blog to new heights since he began it in 2009. Rich ...

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