Time lapse videos are one of my favorite things to do with my camera.
Don't get me wrong - still photography is fun too, but there's just something about seeing the passage of time in my videos that is a little extra special.
Part of the reason why I enjoy creating time lapses is because they're so much easier to make than I originally thought.
I figured you had to have tons of expensive gear and all sorts of experience in photography to make one - I was wrong.
And that was pleasantly surprising!
Here's a quick but comprehensive guide to creating time lapse videos - even if you're a complete beginner.
Find a Subject
The first task of making a time lapse is finding a subject that will change over time and therefore change from frame to frame in your time lapse video.
Landscapes come immediately to mind, as do sunrises, sunsets, the night sky, and the hustle and bustle of a city street.
Here are a few more ideas in case those don't float your boat:
- Ice melting
- Something being built
- An artist creating their work
- Flowers opening
- Rotting fruit
These ideas are easily tackled in a single day, but don't discount longer periods of time, either.
Since time lapse videos are a collection of individual frames, you can create a video that transports viewers across weeks, months, or even years.
If that sounds more your style, try some of these ideas:
- Track a pregnancy each day for the entirety of the process
- Document your cross-country or around-the-world trip
- Take a selfie each day for a year
- Take a photo of your kid or pet each day for a year
The key, of course, is to consider how much time you have to dedicate to the process, and then choose a subject that fits into your schedule.
Get the Settings Figured Out
There are a few considerations to make when creating a time lapse video that will determine how the final product looks.
First, if the subject is something that changes slowly over time (like taking a selfie each day for a year) then you really only need one shot a day.
However, if the subject changes rapidly (like ice melting), you'll need many more photos - perhaps one every 15-20 seconds.
Second, you also need to think about how the time lapse appears when played back. Will it be smooth or blocky?
Smooth shots obviously are quite seamless from one to the next; blocky shots have the appearance of an abrupt change from one image to the next.
To get smooth shots, you need more images at shorter intervals between shots. To get blocky shots, you need fewer images at longer intervals between shots.
Which method you pick is totally up to you - there is no right or wrong answer.
This will take a little experimentation on your part to figure out what look you like the best (and which type of look best suits your subject, too).
Just as an aside, most movies are shown between 20-30 frames per second (fps). If you're going for a smooth look, aim to mimic that frame rate.
Check out an example of a smooth time lapse above by Alpine Labs.
Let's say you want a 30-second movie of ice melting at 24fps.
To determine how many frames you need, you simply multiply the length of the movie by the frame rate, like so:
30x24 = 720 frames
Now, you have to estimate how long it takes for the ice to melt in real time.
Assuming it takes one hour, which is 3,600 seconds, you'd divide the length of the event by the number of frames:
3,600/720 = 5
That means you need to take a photo every five seconds to create your movie.
Taking the Shots
Now it comes time to actually take the photos at the interval you've determined.
This involves a few pieces of gear:
- Camera remote
- Neutral density filter
For a more detailed explanation of time lapse video gear, check this guide.
One thing I want to point out, though is that you can make it much easier for yourself to create time lapse videos if you get outfitted with the right kind of camera remote.
On the one hand, you can use a simple intervalometer to establish the time between each shot.
These remotes tend to be pretty simple with few controls, but they get the job done.
On the other hand, you can opt for a next-generation camera remote like Pulse by Alpine Labs.
This thing is like magic because it doesn't just allow you to set the interval between shots, but it also allows you to determine the length of the movie, change the exposure settings, and do so wirelessly from your mobile phone.
Even better, Pulse has built-in time lapse video settings, so you can start making time lapses right out of the box without having to mess around with all that math.
Heck, Pulse even gives you the ability to ramp exposures, which allows you to shoot time lapses from day to night while getting well-exposed images each and every time.
It'll even work if you leave the immediate area, too...
Unlike other remotes, all you have to do is get your settings lined out, and Pulse will handle it from there. You can go hike around, take some still photos, or get some shut eye!
See how to use Pulse for time lapses in the video below by Alpine Labs:
Not bad, right?
Pulse isn't just for time lapses, though. It's ideal for long exposures, still photography, and real-time video too.
You can view thumbnails right on your phone, and the histogram, too.
And since it's controlled via Bluetooth, you can trigger Pulse from up to 100 feet away.
You can even control three Pulse-enabled cameras right from your smartphone. Just imagine the time lapse possibilities there!
Check out Pulse, and see just how versatile it really is.
Once you have the shots you need, it's time to edit and assemble them in post-processing.
In terms of editing, you can do as much or as little as you like, but by all means, create an action to automate the process.
In programs like Photoshop, you can practice editing on one photo out of the many that will comprise the time lapse, and after you get it just right, create an action to repeat that same process for the entire batch of images using the Automat Batch command.
Once you do that, just select the folder where your photos are saved, determine the source, and make a new folder to place the edited photos. Start the action you created, let Photoshop do its thing, and you'll have a set of photos for your time lapse that are primed and ready to become your video!
From there, you can use any number of movie-making programs to create the video, including putting the images together, adding music, titles, and the like.
For a detailed guide on editing a time lapse video using Adobe Premiere Pro, check out the video below by Eye Stocker:
There you have it! A quick guide to get you started in time lapse photography.
It might seem a bit overwhelming at first, but as you get experience, creating time lapse videos will become second nature.
That's especially true if you use Pulse by Alpine Labs to help you along the way!