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How to create a time lapse video.

Time lapse video is an exciting and cool effect you may wish to try. It tells a story in a quick span of time - usually 2 minutes or less. There are two methods of creating time lapse photos; either by taking hundreds of photos spaced at equal intervals or creating a time lapse by sampling a recorded movie. Both of these methods will be discussed. Note that also some camcorders have an internal sampling function that can create a time lapse in-camera. We will not discuss this method as using a camcorder is pretty much self explanitory.

Frame Rate and Interval: There are two considerations when creating a time lapse; Frame Rate and Interval. These must be balanced if you expect to get the best time lapse video. In standard video, frame rates are typically anywhere between 24 and 30 fps (frames per second). However, depending on the video editor you use to assemble the time lapse, you may not achieve these frame rates. For instance, Both Windows Movie Maker and Apple's iMovie (MAC) will create time lapse video, but iMovie's frame rate is limited to around 10fps.

The interval is also important. Interval is the time between each successive photo. For action time lapses, intervals of 5 seconds or less are typical, while scenery (clouds rolling by - dawn to dusk, etc), intervals of one minute or more will be better. One limitation here is that some cameras, especially compact cameras may not be able to achieve intervals higher than 30 sec., or their sensors may overheat.

If you wish to skip to creating a time lapse with a video recorder, you may skip to that section:

Creating a time lapse video with a camera.

Required Equipment

Camera: First, you need a camera capable of interval photograhpy. Some cameras have built-in interval timers. Cameras such as a Nikon P7000, Nikon V1, and Nikon D7100 DSLR all have interval timers which can be used for time lapse photography. However, the Nikon P7000 for instance (a compact camera) is limited to a minimum interval of 30 seconds, so it may not be useable for action time lapse movies.

And if your camera does not have an interval timer - if it has a wired remote capability - mostly limited to DSLRs, you can purchase an inexpensive 3rd party Intervalometer, which will perform the timer function.

Most interval timers required a remote shutter cable connection to the camera, but there is one timer that will work with an IR remote (Pclix XT).

Before you buy an intervalometer, make sure the connection cable or remote encoding is correct for your camera.

Tripod: You will also need a tripod to support your camera. I have used traditional tripods as well as a Gorillapod (on my balcony railing aboard a cruise ship), and even clamp mounts. Whatever method you use, ensure the camera is secure and steady. Also, you may optionally want to invest in a slow-motion rotation device, such as a CamaLapse 3 to provide a nice rotational element to your time lapse. If you have a small camera such as a GoPro HERO , a popular alternative is to create your own timer using a IKEA Ordning Kitchen Timer, and the adhesive mounts from the GoPro mounting system. Unfortunaely, these devices are only appropriate for small, light weight cameras - not DSLRs.

Battery Power: Some cameras may be limited to just a couple of hours of operation due to battery capacity. One noteable exception may be the Nikon V1, as it uses a huge battery; the same found in some advanced Nikon DSLRs. However, most camera manufacturers do have AC power options for many of their cameras, and this may be an option if you have AC power available. Some DSLRs also have an optional grip that can be used to extend battery life. However, one caution is that the manufacturer brand grips can generally use multiple batteries simultaneously, while 3rd party grips may require changing out the battery.

Post-Processing Software: Anything from Windows Movie Maker, iMovie, Quick Time Pro, and Adobe Photoship Elements Premiere will work to assemble the photos into a time lapse. Generally any editor that can create a slide show movie from individual photos will work, providing you can set the interval to your desired frame rate. While I have already indicated iMovie and early editions of Windows Movie Maker are limited to about 10 frames per second; Windows Movie Maker 2011, Quick Time Pro, and Photoshop Elements Premiere will do higher frame rates.

Setting up the Shot

The obvious first step is to setup the camera on a tripod and compose the photo in the viewfinder. Depending on the capability of your camera, you may wish to turn autofocus off, as that can save battery power. If the camera does not need to focus for each shot, then the battery will last longer. For the same reason, if you can turn off the LCD screen review after each shot, then this will also increase battery life.

Setting exposure is a bit tricky. Do you want the scene to remain constant regardless of sunlight or shadows? If so, set the exposure to Aperture Priority. Aperture priority will also allow you to control the Depth-of-Field, depending on the scene. One problem with this approach is that if your time lapse go through significant lighting differences; perhaps from mid-afternoon to night, then the exposure system may not correctly expose for the night time conditions.

If you set exposure to manual, you will capture the mood of sunlight vs. clouds, and even darkening skies as day becomes night. However, due to the limited dynamic range of digital cameras, you may find some adjustment is necessary during this period. There is no right or wrong setting, and experimentation is in order.

Interval: : As indicated above, setting an interval of 5 sec or less for action shots or 30 sec or more for scenery is a good starting point. However, realize that you may lose your audience if your time lapse is longer than 2 minutes, so 45 minutes of a dawn-to-dusk time lapse may be excessive.


Photos = Movie length (in seconds) * Frames per Second


So if you want to take a 2 minute movie and use a frame rate of 24 FPS, you will need 2,880 photos.


Interval = Elapsed Time (seconds) / Photos


Continuing, if you want to show a 12 hour duration of clouds going by in a scene, you would need to use an interval of 15 seconds (43,200 seconds / 2,880 photos).

To simplify:


Interval = ET/(ML * FPS)


Where Interval in seconds, ET = elapsed time in seconds, ML = movie length in seconds, and FPS = frames per second (24 to 30).

Finally, set the image quality and size to minimum in your camera. Even 19201080 Full HD only takes about 2.1 Megapixels, so you do not need the full resolution out of a 24 Megapixel camera. This is not only overkill, but results in file sizes so large that they will almost be unmanageable. If you shoot 2,880 photos at 24 Megapixels, they may not even fit onto a 64Gb memory card. And all but the most powerful computers will likely crash when attempting to create a time lapse out of such photos - not to mention a movie with a 80Gb file size will probably not be realistic.


An All-in-One solution.

A relatively unknown camera made by Brinno provides an all-in-one solution with both photo taking and processing into a video all contained within the camera. Several models are available, including the flagship model shown to the right.

This model has interchangeable lenses, an adjustable interval from 5 frames per second to 24 hours, a 1.4" LCD viewing screen, and can be remotely powered so you don't have to worry about battery life.

It can only do 1280x720, but for most time lapses, this should be sufficient. It outputs video in AVI format.

All in all, it is a nice inexpensive solution for those that do not want to do any post-processing.


A demo of the Brinno TLC200 f1.2 Time Lapse Camera.

Brinno TLC200 Pro HDR Time Lapse Video Camera

Brinno TLC200 f1.2 Time Lapse Video Camera