How to do Timelapses

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Adam Colton Patagonia Torres Del Paine

Torres Del Paine – Sunrise

This article was written in 2010.  So I have gotten into timelapse photography and am really stoked.  Thanks to Jonathan Jelkin for the inspiration.  It basically combines both of my passions of photography and video into one.  It is very easy to get into, and I hope you try it out.  Here are some of my ideas to help you get started, this is just the basics it will be up to you to experiment and make it your own.

You can check out my timelapse here >

STEP 1: Buy an intervalometer off It should only cost $35-55 bucks for the no name brands.  I bought a no name bran one and it did crap out on me.  So I sucked it up and paid a $120 for the Canon one.


The intervalometer is a special remote that plugs into your camera.  It allows you to set your camera up to continuously take pictures, every however-many seconds you want for spacing.  Then you just chill out and let the intervalometer do its thing.  I would go to, type in “intervalometer (your camera name?), and then find it there.

STEP 2: Take your intervalometer and have at it.  There is a lot to this and these are some of my ideas to get started. Over time I will refine the ideas below.

-Make sure you set your camera to JPG mode—do not shot in RAW!  You need JPGs when you create your video in QuickTime; it will not create a video from RAW pictures.  If you accidentally shot in RAW, which I do from time to time, you can covert all your RAW images into JPGs using Lightroom, Photoshop, or whatever program.

STEP 3:  Find what you want to timelapse and have fun.

EXAMPLE – Star timelapse (my favorite thing to shoot). It’s fun to shoot really slow moving objects that the human eye can’t really pick up on, such as the rotation of the stars.

-Having good ISO capabilities is key for this, so usually having a nice camera will help. A lot of older cameras only go up to ISO 1600 which is really grainy, while newer cameras can go up to ISO 6400.  I find on the Canon 7D and 5D ISO 2500 is the highest I will go doing nighttime timelpase and it still looks pretty good.

-Go to a sweet spot where you can see a lot of stars; for example, shooting in LA is not good because there is so much light pollution.  Shooting in the middle of nowhere in the mountains works very well, especially if there is no moon out.

-Put your camera on ‘M” manual

– When I do my star timelapses I crank up my ISO up to 2000 or more.  I keep my f-stop fairly open (2.8 – 4.5) to let a lot of light in.  Aim to have your shutter speed around 25” to 30” seconds; if it is coming out too dark, try to open up your f-stop more (~2.0) or crank up your ISO if you can’t open your f-stop more.  I feel it is better to open fully your f-stop and crank up the camera ISO than to lighten it up with a filter in an editing program (I made that mistake once, so crank it up).

-Then I set my intervalometer 5 -10 seconds over whatever my shutter speed is to get an timelapse of my desire.  So if my camera is at at 30″ second shutter I set my intervalometer around 35 to 40 seconds.  So the camera will take a picture at a 30″ second shutter, then the shutter will close, your camera will then wait 5 to 10 seconds and before taking another picture.  It will keep repeating this process.   If your camera has a slow processor, you might want to give it a couple more seconds (40” or 450”) or however long it needs to process that image and be ready to shoot again.

STEP 4: Math

There is some math involved if you want to get a ballpark of how long your timelapses will be, it is not necessary but helpful to know.  I suck at math but I can do this, so you can do it to.

-So for every 24 pictures (frames) you get 1 second of video.

-So say you have a 25” second exposure.

-So you divide 25” into 60” (1 minute) = 2.5. This means that, basically, for every minute you are really only getting 2.5 pictures.

-You take 2.5 pictures divide that in 24 (frames or pictures) = 9.6

-So it is saying every 9.6 minutes you are getting 1 seconds of video.

-So if you want to have a 5 second time lapse – 9.6 minutes x 5 seconds of video = 48 minutes.

-So this means you have to let your camera run for 48 minutes in order to just get 5 seconds of video, hahah.  That is the way it works with star timelapse.  I usually let my camera run for a couple hours.


STEP 5: Creating the Timelapse (this part is super easy)

So you go back home stoked.  You put all your separate timelapse dealios in their own folder.  Then you open up QUICKTIME.

-Open QuickTime

-File > Open Image Sequence


-You find your timelapse folder click on the first image in that folder and hit OPEN

-Then it brings up a window asking how many frames per second (fps). I have been using the 23.976 fps, so select that (higher framerates than 23.976 will make your timelapse go faster and also shorten them)


-Then it opens up your timelapse—it is huge file.  I usually go to VIEW > Half Size


-File > Export > Movie to Quick Time movie > Options>Settings>Compression Type> ProRes 444>OK >OK > Save.







-Then you just let it compress and then take that movie and IMPORT it in Final Cut Pro or whatever editing software you use and you are set.

In FINAL CUT set you your SEQUENCE to look like this if you are shooting with a Canon 7D or 5D.


HERE are some other thoughts for timelapsing different things.

Cars at night

If you are doing a timelapse of cars, you most likely want the cars’ streaks of headlights to fill the whole screen as one continuous solid line.  So you would experiment and find a shutter speed that is long enough to get one big streak across the whole screen.  If your shutter speed is 5”, I would set my intervalometer to 6” or 7” seconds.  Remember: there is more light around cities, so higher f-stops (such as f5.6 – 8) might be better to ensure that more things are in focus.

SHADOWS (really slow-moving objects)

If you are doing timelapses of shadows (e.g. rising up rocks at sunset), shadows are really slow moving, so you might want some chill time between each picture.

So say you set your shutter speed to 1/5. You might want to set your intervalometer anywhere between 5” and 10” seconds to give it time for some change in the shadow.  Your call: it is all about experimenting.

Daytime timelapses, changing light source

These are really hard because the light source is changing so much due to clouds or the sun setting, and you usually end up with a flicker in your timelapse (some images come out darker, some lighter, and when piecing together your video you have a strobe effect going on).  Personally, I am still experimenting on the best way to do daytime stuff.  Some say keep your camera on Av “aperture priority” where the camera automatically adjusts the f-stop to the changes in light.  Some say set your ISO to auto if you have a big change in light (e.g. from sunset to night).  This kind of works, but it seems like you still need to get a program out there to help get rid of the flicker.

This is some good advice I recently just read on a forum:

When you shoot with a DSLR, each time you make an exposure, the iris closes and opens again. The effective diameter of the iris is always a little bit different from exposure to exposure, and that makes a flickering effect. So there are three solutions:

1. Shoot wide open.

2. Stop down a bit and deflicker it with virtual dub and the edeflicker filter from Donalt Craft.

3. For option 3, be careful – you risk dropping your lens:

– Put your camera on manual mode and on a tripod.

– Stop your lens down on the value you want (on an f-stop number less than or equal to f5.6, if possible; otherwise, you risk that some dust spots on the sensor might be visible in your images, and it’s no fun to remove them from all those photos).

– Push your depth of field preview button.

– While keeping the button depressed, release your lens and twist it very slightly (not much), so the pins in the camera lift off the lens connectors inside. But NOT TOO MUCH, otherwise your lens may fall off.

– Release the DOF-Preview button.

Now the lens keeps the preselected diameter of the iris the whole time.

– Set the appropriate exposure time.

– Make your timelapse.

– After this, demount your lens or lock it again! Believe me – it’s better for your lens’ health (and your wallet, as well).

EXPERIMENT and have fun; that is what I am doing. I am no expert on this; just trying to inspire a few of you to experiment with this, as well. Let’s learn together!  A year from now, I could have completely different strategies.


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