- 1 second
- road trips
- cars on highways
- fast-moving clouds
- 1 to 3 seconds
- slow clouds
- crowds of people
- herds of animals
- 15 to 30 seconds
- sun traveling across the sky
- stars traveling across the sky
- plants following the sun
- shadow movement
- 30+ seconds
- plants and blooming flowers (1.5 to 2 minutes)
- building sites (5 to 15 minutes)
One of the most common reasons for not trying time lapse photography (or videography if you prefer that term) is that “There's just too much calculation involved.” To be fair, it's true that there's some math to be done if you are creating a video of a specific length for a specific purpose. On the other hand, if you just want to try one of the cool things you can do with your DSLR camera, you're not really bound by any restrictions.
So, unless you need to make your presentation suit some particular parameters, why not just start with an interval that tends to work with the subject you're shooting and have a little fun? With that in mind, I'm about to give you some very basic interval settings for various time lapse subjects, to help get you started.
Keep in mind that these are just suggested starting points and your results will vary. If you just want to set up and shoot a time lapse to see how it turns out, these interval settings should give you reasonable results in most situations. If you don't like the results, you can make some adjustments and try again, or just decide that this isn't your “cup of tea”. If you do like them, you can make the decision to pursue this photography/videography genre and learn to create stunning, dynamic videos from your sequences. When you're ready to do that, I recommend checking out the great motion gear from Revolve Camera.
So, keeping in mind that these are simply “ball park” estimates, here are some interval ranges that should work for common subjects:
NOTE: Interval times MUST be longer than exposure times.
RULE OF THUMB: If you're unsure about an interval for a new subject, choose a shorter one. Extra frames can be deleted. Missing frames can't be added later.
Of course, this doesn't cover any exposure settings, because the scene you're shooting will determine those. Remember, you're shooting still images, so those are the rules that will apply. In most instances, it's a good idea to determine your settings, then set them in manual mode.
It also doesn't tell you how to process all those still images and turn them into a video. If you own Photoshop or Lightroom, batch-processing images isn't difficult. For those first quick attempts, though, you might want to just skip the processing and merge the photos as they are so you can see the results quickly. QuickTime (PC/Mac) and iMovie (Mac) can handle the task. There will be tutorials coming up for those of you who want to really “get into” the process.
I hope this little guide will give some of those photographers who have been “on the fence” about shooting time-lapse an opportunity to get out there and give it a try. I think most will come to the conclusion that it's easy, fun and potentially rewarding.