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Five Tips to Start Making Time-Lapses

Five Tips to Start Making Time-Lapses

One of the greatest ways to show the passage of time is with a time-lapse. A time-lapse is essentially a series of still images taken of a single subject over any given period of time (minutes, to hours, to even days), and then played back quickly to form a video. The usage of stills is really important. A common misconception is that a time-lapse is just sped-up video. While you could do this, there are issues with battery life, overheating, and storage space. With stills, you have the advantage of raw recording, better battery life, and far more storage space.

Basically you just need a tripod, a good location with some sort of movement or dynamic subject matter, and a whole lot of patience. However, there are some tips and tricks that will vastly improve the quality of your final footage. 

1. Set Your White Balance

This isn't necessarily crucial, but it helps save a significant amount of time in post-processing. Set a white balance. Even though you're shooting raw, it's easier to set a white balance at say 3600K across every frame than setting the camera to auto and having to find and correct individual frames later, which is just a total and unnecessary pain. Generally, I would say that you should set your white balance close to the correct temperature, but remember that if every frame is incorrect, you can easily select all frames in a Lightroom collection and adjust them at the same time. In the video below, I left the camera on auto white balance, and you can see how there are a few instances where the color shifts. It is slight but annoying once you notice it. Save yourself the trouble. 

2. Try a Gorillapod

You absolutely need a tripod of some sort to ensure consistent framing in your video. There are some limitations with a regular tripod though. In a lot of places, it can be difficult, or even impossible to use a standard sized tripod. Maybe you want to perch your camera on a railing in a museum, but that museum won't let you lug around your big ol' Gitzo. Maybe you're in the car and need to place your camera around a headrest or on the dash. Enter the Joby Gorillapod. These brilliant little tripods are flexible, relatively small, and can be used in a wide variety of ways. They also hold around 11 pounds, so you can mount a DSLR with no problem.  A standard tripod head can even be attached to it should you want more control over the camera's positioning. I used one of these for all of the shots in the video below. This let me position the camera almost anywhere I wanted and away from the footpaths of the crowd so that the camera wouldn't get knocked over. Bring some gaffer tape in case you really need to hold it down. 

3. External Battery Packs

Time-lapses require your camera to be turned on and shooting for quite a long period of time. The battery for the Sony a6300 that I used to make this video is rated for about 450 frames. This video consisted of over 1500 frames total. An external battery pack will allow the camera to keep shooting for the duration of your time-lapse without shutting off. If your camera needs to be turned off to swap a battery, you'll miss a few frames, and it will show in the final product; see below. For most of the footage, I had the wonderful Goal Zero Flip 20 USB battery plugged into my camera to keep it going. Very few cameras have the ability to charge via USB and shoot at the same time, however. If you're working with Nikon, Canon, Phase One, or whatever brand, the Tethertools Case Relay power system likely has a solution for you. This battery pack can connect to just about any DSLR through one of the proprietary connectors you can get for various cameras. If you don't have an a6300, a7s II, or a7R II, this is your best bet. 

4. Aperture Priority

The best shooting mode for time-lapses has always been debated. In manual, you have total control and the camera does whatever you tell it to. If there is no dramatic change in exposure during your video, this works well. If you're shooting a day-to-night or night-to-day transition, it can be tricky. I find aperture priority to be the best method for exposure ramping throughout longer time-lapses. Depending on your camera, you may see a little flicker in your video. This comes from the metering system misjudging the exposure for a frame and causeing one frame to be slightly darker or lighter. It shows up, and it's annoying. Traditionally, you would use various programs to smooth the exposure out in post, but most modern day cameras (D750 and a6300 especially) have excellent metering systems and handle exposure ramping like champs. I used aperture priority for this entire video and was pretty blown away by the accuracy of the exposures as day turned to night. 

5. Bring Snacks

And also bring a book while you're at it. This time-lapse took roughly five hours to create in total. My phone died because the USB charger I had was powering my camera. Bring something to keep yourself occupied while the camera fires away. 

Grab your camera and your tripod, wait for a partly cloudy day, and get to it. If you need some inspiration, check out this amazing time-lapse film by Maciej Tomkow that I covered a few weeks ago and his other film, "Treasures of Zakynthos." Not long ago, Robert Baggs covered a gorgeous 8K resolution time-lapse that is sure to make your jaw drop. Happy shooting!

Spencer Lookabaugh's picture

Spencer Lookabaugh is a lifestyle and portrait photographer located in Columbus, Ohio, as well as an employee of Midwest Photo Exchange. He is a firm believer in printing, shooting film and digital, and the power of photography. He also shoots landscape work in his spare time.

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Well done! very cool. I use my Go Pro in video time lapse mode set at 10 seconds. I get really great results and it is super easy.

That time-lapse is like if the House of Cards intro met the Koyaanisqatsi soundtrack.

Seems like 89% of TL soundtrack is either sad piano or epic Koyaanisqatsi-esq. This was little different. :)

I kinda agree. I've seen a few where the subject matter was interesting on its own and especially when shown as a time lapse. Like your movie example, a lot of effort has to go into the story and allow the effects to augment that.

Anyone have comments about the Astro timelapse unit? It was a Kickstarter campaign a few years back but I haven't heard much about it in the photography community.


I bought one and I wasn't impressed by the unit. Same for the radian (i haven't tried the 2 though). The Syrp Genie mini is better but still has some bugs.

I love time lapse. Super guide!

Good points, I would add that you should get an strong ND filter (10 stops). This is the very cheap and will dramatically improve the results of the daylight time-lapse.

You can solve the flicker problems from Aperture Priority in post, with software like Flicker Free (http://digitalanarchy.com/Flicker/main.html). But I agree that AP is really the only way to shoot day/night transitions.

Also, I've found that I need to be prepared to act as a wind block. There's nothing worse than the wind kicking up and shaking the camera. Can be very hard to fix in post and I've had the tripod knocked over a couple times. Also helps to put a sandbag on top of the camera to minimize shake.

From what I understand, there are better ways to do "holy grail" timelapses like bulb ramping or using LRTimelapse. More work, to be sure, but...

This is awesome! Great tips! I use this: http://www.videostudiopro.com/en/pages/time-lapse-video/ to create Time Lapse but now with those great tips you shared here I am gonna be a pro :)