How to Calculate Time Delay

Stringing images together as a series of moments can capture change over time. This technique is called time-lapse photography. The photographer takes an image, waits a specified interval of time and then takes another image. This process can be repeated over the course of a long period. To create a successful series, you will need to make images at the correct intervals. Shoot too infrequently and your sequence will be too choppy; shoot too frequently and your sequence will not capture the way the scene changes.


    • 1

      Study your subject thoroughly. This doesn't mean you should crack a book. Rather, practice observing your subject from many angles at various times throughout the day. Through this careful observation, you will become intimately familiar with your subject, growing to understand the ways it changes and looks in different light and at different times of day. This familiarity is essential for selecting the correct time delay in time lapse photography.

    • 2

      Take five test images at a set interval. One second is a good place to start. Look at these images in sequence and see if the subject's change can be seen in this sequence. If the sequence is too jumpy, shorten the interval until the sequence looks smoother and cinematic. If you cannot see the change in your subject in your test sequence, go to the next step.

    • 3

      Take five more test shots with longer intervals between photographs and judge the results. The length of these intervals is determined by how much your subject changes over time. If you are photographing clouds, for example, you wouldn't want to separate shots by much more than five seconds. On the other hand, a flower blooms slowly, so you would want to allow for much longer intervals between shots. Intervals can stretch into several minutes or even hours, depending on how slowly the subject changes.

    • 4

      Shoot a few hundred pictures at your selected interval and review the sequence of images. This can be done easily on a digital camera by quickly scrolling through all the images in the order they were taken. Again, look for jumpiness or sluggish change and adjust your interval accordingly. If you have trouble finding the right interval, move on to the next step.

    • 5

      Calculate the estimated length of the event you are photographing in seconds.

    • 6

      Determine the final length of the sequence you will be producing in frames. One second of video contains 24 frames which means that a 30 second video would contain 720 frames (24 frames per second x 30 seconds = 720 frames).

    • 7

      Divide the length of the event you are photographing in seconds by the number of frames you will need for the final movie. For example, a 10-hour event lasts for 36,000 seconds. If you are producing a sequence of 720 frames, divide 36,000 by 720 to get 50. The resulting number is the interval, in seconds, that each photograph should be separated by. Remember that this equation is to be used as a guideline and not a hard-and-fast rule.

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