How to Create a Time Lapse

Updated on May 15, 2019
Matthew Scherer profile image

Matthew is a filmmaker from South Texas. He has shot various short films that have played at numerous festivals across the United States.

Required Materials

To create a time lapse, you'll need:

  1. A professional digital camera.
  2. A timer remote controller.
  3. A computer equipped with Quicktime Player 7.

Finding the Right Shot

As stated above, you'll need a professional digital camera for this, one that is compatible with a timer remote controller. For Canon cameras, you'll need a remote that uses the Canon 3-pin port. For Nikon, you'll need one with an N3 port. Each brand of camera has its own compatible timer, so make sure to find the corresponding one.

To capture the time lapse, the camera will be in picture mode only. The lapse is set into video form in post production, so movie mode is not necessary. While it's possible to capture a time lapse of anything and everything, there are a few things to keep in mind.

You want to make sure you're capturing something that will have a lot of movement. For this reason, many time lapses are shot outdoors with the sky in frame. This provides a nice view of the clouds and/or stars as they whiz by the camera, showing a clear passage of time.

If there isn't much movement in your shot, it won't be clear that a lot of time has passed. Busy city streets are also a favorite, since you get to see all the civilians and cars pass by quickly. Don't limit yourself to just outdoor shots, but know that whatever is being captured needs to show some visible change.

Getting the Optimal Settings

Once you've got your location set up, it's time to set the interval on the timer. Under interval, set the desired time period in between pictures. This means that if you select a two second interval, the camera will automatically take a picture every two seconds.

To get the optimal setting, you have to take into consideration what you're shooting. If you want to capture quick changes, such as people walking up and down a sidewalk, a shorter interval is recommended. For longer events, such as day turning into night or a plant growing, a longer interval will be best.

Some timers even offer intervals of half a second or fractions of a second to capture extra quick changes. This is ideal to get a seamless flow of action happening quickly with no blur.

The next step is to set the duration of the lapse on the timer. This will be the total amount of time that the camera takes pictures. For example, if you set the duration to 10 minutes at an interval of two, the camera will take a picture every two seconds for ten minutes.

Capturing

Once your shot is ready and your timer set, it's time to begin capturing. For shorter lapses under an hour, it's recommended that you stay by your camera to make sure nothing interrupts the lapse. This can be boring, but ensures that no issues will occur.

For longer lapses, be sure that if you're leaving your camera overnight that it's in a safe and secured area that won't be tampered with. Also ensure adequate battery power and card storage for the duration.

It's a good idea to have a storage card exclusively for the lapse, as it will make sorting it out in post a lot easier. If you format the card before starting, only the lapse will be stored on the card, and in order. Once the lapse is finished, it's time to take it into post-production to bring it to life.

Assembly

This is either the hardest or easiest step depending on if you followed the rest of the guide correctly. If you have a card containing only the lapse with the pictures in order, it will be a piece of cake. If you have the lapse on a cluttered card with the pictures out of order, it will be considerably more difficult.

As stated in the required materials, Quicktime Player 7 is recommended. Other programs can assemble time lapses such as Premiere Pro and Photoshop, but Quicktime Player is especially easy. Once Quicktime Player is opened, go to File > Open Image Sequence.

This will allow you to select the folder containing the time lapse. Note that you don't have to select all of the photos, just the first one. If the photos are in order, Quicktime will automatically arrange them in order starting from the first one selected.

After this, Quicktime will ask you what frame rate you would like the video in. If your time lapse is for a film, I would recommend setting it to 24 frames per second. However, this also comes down to preference for each shot. For longer intervals like two or three, frame rates of 15 and 10 are recommended.

Once this is complete, you will be shown the video. Usually it appears too large, so you can select Fit To Screen under the View tab to get it to size. The video will appear choppy, but don't worry! We need to export it first.

Go to File > Export. This will bring up a window that allows you to select which codec you'd like to export it to. For use in Apple editing software, I would recommend Apple Pro Res 422. However, you should select whichever codec is compatible with your editing software. Once this step is done, your time lapse will be complete and ready to go!

Questions & Answers

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      • Matthew Scherer profile imageAUTHOR

        Matthew Scherer 

        2 months ago from Corpus Christi

        Thanks for your comment, Peggy! It is very fun to see the completed project :-)

      • Peggy W profile image

        Peggy Woods 

        2 months ago from Houston, Texas

        What a fun project that would be to create time-lapse images. Thanks for the tutorial.

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