What is Time Lapse Photography and Film Definition - Featured

How do you make a time lapse video? There is more than one way to create a time lapse video and even more ways to finetune the time lapse process. Creating great time lapse videos can be daunting as it is an incredibly technical feat with a number of settings, tools, and variables that all must be taken into account. Whether you’re wondering how time lapse video works, what time lapse photography is, how to create time lapse video, or even how to make a hyperlapse, we’ll cover the process from start to finish.

How to Time Lapse a Video

How to make a time lapse video

Before we get into how to make a time lapse video, it is important to have a solid understanding of time lapse photography and videography. To put it in the simplest terms, how time lapse video works is with a slow frame rate. Instead of the standard 24 or 30 frames per second, a time lapse video might only take 1 or 2 frames per second. 

For time lapse photography, this can be a slow exposure of a single frame. We’ll also be talking about how to create a hyperlapse as well, which is a time lapse video with camera movement.

Check out some great time lapse videos and take a behind the scenes look at how to make a time lapse movie.

Hyperlapse and Time Lapse Photography in Practice

Now that we’re clear on precisely what a time lapse is, it’s time to learn how to do a time lapse video. We’ve broken down the process into five essential steps.

How to make a normal video into a time lapse

1. Choose your subject

The best way to make a time lapse video involves carefully choosing the subject of your time lapse. The same considerations toward framing and composition when shooting a normal photo or video apply to time lapse photography and great time lapse videos as well.

But the best way to record a time lapse involves the additional consideration of time, specifically change over time. A time lapse video where nothing changes isn’t going to be very interesting. The most important thing when choosing a time lapse subject is movement.

The options for the type of movement to capture in a time lapse are near limitless. The movement of people, animals, vehicles, water, clouds, anything at all, can make for a dynamic and engaging time lapse.

The following time lapse examples from Breaking Bad showcase how to do a time lapse video with a variety of subjects and movement styles.

Time lapses and hyperlapses found frequent use in Breaking Bad

Time lapse videos of course have a place outside of narrative works as well. Time lapses are a staple of documentary filmmaking. A time lapse video can also serve as its own piece of media without the need to be attached to a larger work.

This time lapse video offers a stunning glimpse of the day and night cycle of life at sea.

30 days at sea in a single time lapse

There’s no one correct answer to the question: how do you make a time lapse video? There are multiple valid ways to execute a time lapse just as there are many ways to utilize them. Get creative with your time lapses. This technique allows for far more experimentation and exploration.

How to do a time lapse video

2. Prepare your gear

Before you go out shooting time lapses, you’ll need to choose your gear. You have a lot of choices for time lapse cameras and time lapse apps ranging from simple and cheap, to complex and expensive. 

Time Lapse Camera

The first and most important piece of gear to decide upon is the camera. Choosing the best video camera will either set you up for success or give the entire project less-than-ideal results.

Technically speaking, you can learn how to make a time lapse video with any digital camera on the market. Many consumer and prosumer grade cameras have built-in time lapse modes that will allow you to easily capture your own time lapses.

GoPros and most DSLRs, for example, come equipped with special time lapse functionality making them extremely effective time lapse cameras. You can even make a time lapse video on your iPhone or Android device. If you’re wondering how to make a time lapse video on your iPhone, it can be as simple as recording video normally and then speeding up the footage with a time lapse app or one of the best video editing apps

There also exist specialized time lapse cameras designed with this exact purpose in mind. A couple of brands focusing on time lapse specialized cameras include Brinno, Work Zone, and Moultrie cameras.

It’s a good idea to compare cameras and keep your specific goals in mind before making a purchase. This video shows direct comparisons between a few possible time lapse camera options.

Time Lapse Cameras  •  Go Pro Hero 7 vs Afidus vs Canon 80 D

A camera is the only piece of equipment that you 100% need in order to make a simple and basic time lapse. But there are a number of additional tools and timelapse software to achieve better results if you’re willing to spend a little extra time and money.

Tripods and Motorized Heads

Your top priority after a camera should without a doubt be a tripod, lest you be at the mercy of flat surfaces to perch your camera on. A time lapse is not the type of thing that is easy to capture handheld. 

A simple tripod which you can get for just a couple of dollars should be enough to get the job done. If you want to spring for something more expensive, there are motorized tripod heads made specifically for capturing automated hyperlapses.

This video is a review of a Movo brand motorized tripod head, but there are many brands available on the market.

Motorized tripod head in action

Intervalometer

After a camera and tripod, your next priority should likely be an intervalometer. Before you go out and purchase an intervalometer, be sure to check through the menus of your camera as some cameras have them built into their hardware.

An intervalometer isn’t necessary if you’re only looking to capture a quick and simple time lapse but if you want to step up your time lapse game, an intervalometer is a must-have. The video below offers a quick breakdown of what an intervalometer is and how it works.

Quick and simple intervalometer explanation

Those are the most important pieces of gear when preparing to shoot a time lapse. There are other little accessories and programs such as time lapse calculators and time lapse apps but, odds are, you can get by without them if you know how to properly calibrate your camera settings, which we’ll cover in the next section.

When it comes to time lapse calculators, a normal calculator will give you the exact same information as long as you know the proper formulas. The simplest and most useful formula is time per frame (TPF), multiplied by frames per second (FPS), multiplied by 60 seconds. Using this formula will tell you how long to record in order to end up with your desired time lapse length or “recording time” (RT). TPF x FPS x 60 = RT.


how to make a time lapse video slower

3. Select your settings

Calibrating your camera to its ideal settings for time lapse capturing can be a real challenge for anyone not technically-minded. If your camera is one of many to have a built-in time lapse mode, this will make your calibration step much easier but there are still likely certain options you could fine-tune to achieve even greater results.

This video from Fstoppers offers an in-depth tutorial on the best way to make a time lapse video with plenty of great, technical tips and tricks in regards to selecting your camera’s settings.

Technically focused time lapse tips and tricks

The essential goal when calibrating is to shoot with the slowest shutter possible within your camera. This will make for a smooth looking time lapse video; or give the smoothest image with the highest amount of movement in time lapse photography. 

Without slowing down your shutter speed, you can still capture a time lapse by speeding up your video in post, but the end-result will not look as fluid. And the moving images will not have motion blur if shooting at a high frame rate.

Slowing down your shutter speed isn’t typically a one-step process as it requires altering your other camera settings in order to accommodate for altered exposure time. Lowering both the ISO and aperture of your camera will allow you to slow down your shutter speed without compromising the integrity of your image.

How to make a time lapse video

4. Shoot your time lapse

Now you’re finally ready to shoot your time lapse. There are a few different methods with differing levels of efficacy. If you’ve done the leg work of the previous steps, choosing a good subject, gathering the appropriate gear, and selecting the best settings, then shooting your time lapse photo or video could be a piece of cake.

Simply mount your camera on a tripod and, if your settings are correct, just hit record or snap that photo. If a still photography time lapse is your goal, then the actual capturing process may take you just a few seconds. When capturing a time lapse video, the process can take as long as you want the video to be.

This long-term time lapse shows the effects of evaporation over the course of 66 days. The possibilities for timeless are boundless.

A glass of water evaporates over 66 days

But what about when you want camera movement within your time lapse? A moving time lapse actually has its own name: a hyperlapse. Just like a standard time lapse, there are many ways to create a hyperlapse.

The most professional (i.e., expensive) method of creating a hyperlapse can involve pricey equipment like motion-controlled cameras with timed shutters and intervalometers, but there are cheaper ways to execute this effect as well.

Check out the below video for an easy-to-follow tutorial on how to capture a quick hyperlapse on the fly without tons of fancy equipment.

Camera settings, shooting, and editing a hyperlapse

There are a couple of other considerations you may want to take into account when shooting: weather and battery life. If you plan to shoot a long-term outdoor time-lapse video or shooting in the rain, then weather-proofing your camera is an absolute necessity.

It would be a shame to have your long-term time-lapse video ruined by a dead battery. Specialized time lapse cameras are often built with lengthy battery lives and some even give you the option to rotate through batteries without powering down. You just need to remember to make the switch before it's too late.

The most ideal option for extremely long-term time lapses, (e.g., a time lapse that lasts for days, weeks, months, or even years) would be to hardwire the camera directly into a permanent power source. Not all cameras are designed for this so be sure to check your camera’s specs.

Time lapse software

5. Edit your time lapse

The editing process for a time lapse can vary depending on your shooting method. If you shot your time lapse for an extended period of time at a normal frame rate, then the editing process involves bringing your clip into the timeline and speeding that footage up. This is not ideal as it can produce a jittery image, and it will also be lacking the desirable motion blur on dynamic subjects.

Shooting time lapse video using ideal settings and with a camera enabled with a time lapse mode, the result won’t actually be a video, at least not a first.

Shooting a time lapse properly will leave you with a long series of still images that can then be stitched together at your desired frame rate. Most major editing programs will be able to assemble your time lapse, Adobe Premiere for example is great for assembling time lapse videos. Here's a tutorial on how to use the Adobe Suite to edit your time lapses at a professional level.

Using Lightroom, Premiere, and/or After Effects to assemble a time lapse

Once your time lapse is edited, you are finished. You now have a high-quality time lapse and the only thing left to do is share it. The only thing left to do is keep shooting more impressive time lapses.

UP NEXT

The filmmaker’s guide to frame rates

If you plan to start making your own time lapses, you’ll need a thorough grasp over the concept of video frame rates. An understanding of frame rates is crucial to assembling a time lapse once the time lapse source has been captured. Different frame rates can even help in the actual shooting of the time lapse itself. There are simple math formulas that can tell you precisely how long to record or how many photos you will need, so long as you know your desired end-length and frame rate.

Up Next: Filmmaker’s Guide to Frame Rates →
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