How to Do Time Lapse Photography

If you’ve witnessed onscreen clouds dash across crystal-blue skies or workers construct buildings in less than a minute, you’ve seen time-lapse photography in action. Movies made with this technique have fascinated audiences for years: Time Science, a site devoted to "intelligent image recording," calls time-lapse "a fast forward of reality." Photographers create these types of captivating movies using cameras that capture images at extremely slow frame rates. For example, if you film a flower petal very briefly every few minutes, you can combine your images and make the flower appear to open gracefully in seconds. Make the moon fly across the sky or grass grow instantly by learning the secrets of time-lapse photography.

Things You'll Need

  • Tripod (recommended)
  • Intervalometer (optional)

Instructions

    • 1

      Use helpful accessories. You only need a camera to shoot a time-lapse video, but several accessories can make that task easier and help you produce professional looking videos. A heavy tripod — which costs more than regular ones — helps your camera remain steady even if someone jostles it. If you plan on creating many time-lapse videos, consider investing in a heavy tripod.

    • 2

      If your camera does not have an automatic shutter-clicking feature, get an intervalometer. This handy device connects to your still camera’s shutter and presses it automatically at intervals you set. You’ll find this useful when your filming projects take hours and you don’t have time to sit by it pressing the shutter all day. It also minimizes the risk of moving the camera because you never have to touch it during the shooting project.

    • 3

      Protect your view. In the book "Digital Video Hacks ," Joshua Paul suggests roping off the area that contains your subject. This may seem like common sense, but you may forget that people, animals, passing buses and other items can wander into your camera's view eventually. Time-lapse videos can take hours, days or longer to shoot. Anticipate interruptions when planning your shoot location and movie length.

    • 4

      Learn to capture star trails. You cannot see the stars move with the naked eye even though they are blazing through space at incredible velocities. However, you can amaze audiences by making them move onscreen after filming them at slow frame rates. Award-winning professional photographer Harry Davis reveals his secrets for creating engaging star-trail videos. He recommends taking multiple short-exposure images of the night sky instead of the more traditional approach of leaving the camera shutter open and taking a long, single exposure. After taking individual snapshots, layer them when combining the images to create your movie. Harry notes that this technique helps minimize the risk of seeing stray objects in your video. Also, he says, using layered images results in videos that have less noise.

    • 5

      Check your batteries. If you wish to shoot three hours of footage and your camera’s battery only lasts two hours, you will have a problem because once you begin filming, you cannot move the camera -- not even to replace the battery. If your camera can use an AC adapter and a power source is nearby, plug that into your camera. It can then film as long as it doesn’t run out of memory.

    • 6

      Plan your frame rates. Frame rate refers to the number of images you will take per second, minute or hour. Use lower frame rates to make objects move faster and higher frame rates to slow them down. Use a time-lapse calculator to help you determine the optimum frame rate. You can find these by searching the Web. To use a calculator, plug in your desired movie length and let the calculator compute your filming time.

    • 7

      Use your computer. Today's cameras can store large amounts of data in flash devices and memory. However, that memory is not infinite. It may fill up depending on how many still images you take during your photo shoot. Check your camera’s memory capacity before filming and delete old images that you don’t need. If your camera has the ability to store images directly to a computer, consider connecting your camera to a desktop or laptop computer if you anticipate potential low-memory problems.

    • 8

      Artists and professional designers understand composition. Great works of art often consist of foreground objects that appear in front of the main subject. If you’re shooting sailboats floating lazily down the river, for example, position your camera so that a foreground object — such as a tree — appears somewhere in the scene. When you play your completed time-lapse video, it will combine the motion of the foreground object and background subject to create a visually appealing three-dimensional scene. Remember the basic rules of photography and apply them to your time-lapse photography products. With a little knowledge, planning and dash of creativity, you can wow your friends with amazing movies that do indeed speed up reality.

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References

Resources

  • Photo Credit Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images

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