How I Made a Time Lapse Movie with My DSLR - Digital Photography School

How I Made a Time Lapse Movie with My DSLR

Picture 4-5DPS reader Ross Ching emailed me a month ago with a link to a movie called ‘Eclectic 2.0′ that he made with a Canon DSLR. When I followed the link to the movie I was amazed what Ross had created. Before reading on – check it out here.

After watching the movie I emailed Ross back to ask if he’d be willing to write a guest post here at DPS to give us more of the back story on how he put it together. He agreed and what follows is his post (also note – Ross has made put together a second video with more on how he made his movie – you can watch it here) .

What happens if you string together your shots?

When I first got into shooting still photography I would always go out and just shoot whatever caught my eye. I actually got some really neat photos, some of which are hanging on my wall at home. After a while though, I took a step back and asked myself, “What makes all my ‘great’ photos different from the millions of other photos on Flickr?” Well, the answer is this:

Anyone can take a picture. The question is, how are you going to use it?

What if I took my camera and strung all the individual shots together to make a time lapse shot? Well, why stop there? What if I took my still camera and attached it to an extremely slow-panning telescope tripod? That’s exactly what I did to create Eclectic 2.0.

Obtaining the Equipment

When I first set out to create this thing I had to think about what kind of equipment was out there and how I could create the desired effect within my budget (not much). I already had a Canon 20D to shoot pictures, but I needed a way to time the shots so that I didn’t have to touch the camera at all (touching the camera, even the shutter button makes the shot unusable). What I discovered (through the internet) was the Canon TC-80N3. It let me hook up the timer to my camera. This was all previous knowledge from Eclectic 1.

Now I had the challenge of trying to figure out how to make my camera pan extremely slow. Slow enough to go one revolution every three hours. These rigs are specifically made, but cost over 1000 dollars, so I was going to build it myself. I had a preliminary idea of attaching a string to an egg timer, but that did not work at all. After a while, I figured out that Meade makes telescope tripods (Model DS-2114ATS-TC) that do just that. Perfect! Now I just had to rig the camera to it. Once the rig was finished, I just experimented with the tripod; how fast it moved, all the menu settings, how long the batteries would last, etc. Once I understood my equipment it was time to go out and shoot.

Using the Equipment

Much of this information is explained in The Making of Eclectic 2.0 video that I put together.

I get a lot of questions about how long I expose shots. To be honest, it depends. Some shots take 30 second exposures at 31-second intervals for over 2 hours (as with night time shots). Other shots take 1/4000th of a second at 2, 5, 10, etc. second intervals. It all depends how fast your subject is moving (water, stars, traffic) and the lighting conditions. Above all, be sure that when you start taking photos, you don’t touch the camera. If you touch the camera or if the tripod moves in the wind, all the time you spent setting up a certain shot will be wasted.

For Eclectic 2.0, I basically took off in my car headed to various National Parks. I camped in my car and drove around the area looking for cool, scenic landscapes. At times it would get boring since there was nothing to do while the camera took pictures. Other times I would hike around nearby trails keeping in mind that nobody is near my camera to steal it or touch it.

The Music

It is said that sound is more than 50% of the movie. That could not be truer. I scoured the internet (mostly MySpace) to find someone who had the specific feel that I was going for. Luckily, I came across The Ghost Orchid. Since they were in the beginning stages and were unsigned, the gladly let me use their music.

The Post Production

After most shots, I would import the photos onto my laptop and check to see how the scene came out. To do this, I imported the photos like a normal digital camera. Then I needed to resize my photos to be 1080p. (They could have been ultra high definition, but I decided the largest they needed to be was 1080p.) To do this, I had to resize every picture that would have taken a very long time to do since I literally took thousands of photos. Instead, since I use a mac, I created a custom Automator action. (Learn more about Automator by Googling it.) This lets me simply click 1 button and the resizing is done. It will crop the top and bottom of your photos, so be sure to keep that in mind when you’re shooting. If you’re using a pc, well, you’re on your own.

Next what needs to be done is make a Quicktime movie out of the individual photos. Using Quicktime Pro, I chose file>Open Image Sequence… then select the first photo in the photo set. Quicktime then asks what frame rate you want it to be. I use 24 frames per second because that’s the Hollywood standard. Finally, you can preview your movie and save it. From there I simply took it into Final Cut Pro and edit the shots like a normal movie.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category.

Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

  • http://tonybullard.com Tony Bullard

    This Instructable is a great way to make your own timer for free if you have a TI-83 hanging around!
    http://www.instructables.com/id/Turn-a-TI-Graphing-Calculator-into-an-Intervalomet/

  • David

    Cropping and resizing on windows machines can easily be done using IrfanView and many other similar programs – so you’re not on your own on a windows pc.

    Apart from that: Inspiring post!

  • http://www.whatsgottastay.com Jeremy Hall

    Thanks for the guest post with the information and the wonderful movie you created that represents so many hours of work. Some sequences were better than others, but overall the piece of work is very impressive.

  • http://jlbgibberish.blogspot.com Jayme Lynn Blaschke

    Okay, this is simply awesome (and I mean that in the true sense of the word, as opposed to the bastardized pop-culture over-use that debases it). Bravo, sir!

  • Alex

    Thats really neat, great job with the time laps video! I love it how its move about instead of those normal time laps videos which are just straight and not moving, hooking it up to a telescope was a neat idea! Wiked man! really nice movie!

    I m going to try this some day

  • http://b-b-pliskin.com Bob Pliskin

    The elements which turned me into a student of cinematography, a teacher of geology, earth science, and photography (now retired) were all present in your inspiring time-lapse film. Thank you!

  • http://100101.kurodust.net Ben James

    This is really fantastic. I would love to do this sort of work myself (on a smaller scale) but unfortunately have never been able to find a timer for my Konica Minolta Dynax 5D.

    If anybody knows where I could find one, or even how I could get the Canon one to work with the 5D (damn lack of standards), I would be extremely grateful.

  • http://don.vn.cz/ DoN

    Hi, nice article. Me and my mate are/were working on a dslr HD timelapse movie project, you can check out the trailers from http://timelapse.vn.cz/

  • http://torley.com Torley

    I’m in awe of this movie… what beautiful work by Ross Ching, and such a helpful post to accompany it!

    I don’t really do “physical” photography, but I’m avid about photographing scenery within the online world of Second Life, and this is inspiring.

  • http://neil.creek.name/blog Neil Creek

    Fantastic work Ross, truly a masterpiece to be proud of. I’ll be showing it to all my friends!

    I’ve tried my hand at some time lapse photography too, and I’ve often thought about how to get the camera to pan through the shot. Using a computer controlled telescope tripod is genius!

    If you would like to see my short time lapse piece (the one I’m happiest with of my experiments), you can have a look here: http://neil.creek.name/blog/2007/09/02/p365-sep01-driving-time-lapse/

    I look forward to seeing more from you in the future!

    Neil

  • PRH

    WOW!!!!!!!!
    those time lapses were truly amazing.
    The post was very informative too.

    PS you can set up photoshop to resize and save photo’s using a batch command…. record all your actions for resizing one image, save the action and play on all open images or all images in a particular folder etc…
    I don’t know if this is any better then Ross’s method or any that are mentioned in the responses, but certainly worth giving a go if you already use PhotoShop.

  • Ames

    This is utterly awesome!

  • http://www.2dolphins.com/ Rob O.

    Not only awe-inspiring, but just plain inspiring. You’ve got my brain working feverishly on how I might be able apply this sort of technique to some of my own photo sets…

  • Stephen

    awesome work; great post!

  • Usama Kanaan

    I really enjoyed this post and look forward to trying this.

    One thought regarding the automation of photo resizing: for those with photoshop, a simple action can be recorded that performs this task and then the “automate” function can apply it to as many files as you want with the click of a mouse.

    Thanks again for the great post and beautiful movie.

  • Eryn

    Simply put – breathtaking. Your time lapse definately captures some of the beauty of Southern Utah and beyond. Bravo to you and keep up the wonderful work!!

  • Stephen S

    Incredible! I’d love to try this. The way you put it together is absolutely awesome.

  • Rajat

    You are a genius!!

  • http://talljoanne.blogspot.com Joanne

    Nice! Along the same lines, have a look at this marvellous MTV (Lenore’s Song) made up of animating 16,000 photos:

    http://www.yunyu.com.au/home/music#videos

  • http://www.zestfullyclean.com tkny

    does anyone know the best remote timer for a nikon?

  • http://otoksia.fi Timo

    awesome stuff!

    As a sidenote – something to keep in mind when doing these with an DSLR: Canon consumer DSLRs’ shutters can apparently survive about 50.000 exposures in average (and other brands’ consumer models are probably not that much different).

    While that may sound like a lot, you will exceed it by creating a single timelapse movie of 35 minutes at 24 frames/second. Or 20 movies of 3,5 minutes at 12 fps.

  • http://www.timelapseforum.com ziad

    @Timo: I know the 30D and similar cameras from Canon have a life cycle of about 100,000. The higher end models are double that!!!

  • http://www.indonesiawild.com Djuna

    Thanks so much for sharing. In answer to some comments:

    1) Russel Brown makes nice free scripts to help automate resizing and movie-making via Adobe Bridge. Google “Dr. Brown’s Services”.

    2) The Nikon MC-36 cable release doubles an intervalometer (time lapse machine).

    3) Replacing the shutter on a dSLR costs a couple hundred bucks — a fraction of the price of the camera. My professional grade Nikons are rated to around 300,000 releases. I’ve exceeded that on my D200, and it’s still clicking away just fine.

    Happy shooting!

  • http://homepages.xnet.co.nz/~georgeba/kaktuszvirag.html George

    Hi all,
    You don’t even have to have a camera with built in time lapse facility, just one that can be controlled via USB. I have a Nikon 40D, you just need the control program and a laptop.
    The program is Nikon Camera Control Pro. You have complete control over the camera from your laptop.
    I just shot a cactus flower opening in the morning, about 360 shots, one every 30 seconds. If I can do it, anyone can :-)

  • Nicholas

    Breathtaking timelapses!

    I am however a little confused as to why you’d waste valuable resolution by downsizing all your photos to 1080p. You do realise you can use a video editing program such as Final Cut or Premiere Pro to actually pan and zoom over the full-resolution time lapse sequence (since the 1080p window is smaller than the resolution of the photos you use)? With this method you can actually achieve “fake” panning and zooming without any kind of special camera tripod at all. (Yes this isn’t as good as your 360-degree pans obviously, but it’s an excellent budget way of doing things for those starting out.)

  • http://tonybullard.com Tony Bullard

    Anyone know of a program other than QT Pro? It seems this functionality goes in and out depending on the release you have, and they don’t support PCs at all.

  • http://tonybullard.com Tony Bullard

    Answering my own question:
    I found Virtual Dub, which is completely free.
    It seems to have to covert the files to TGA files to make an .avi with the images, but that’s pretty easy using irfanView.

    Just “Open Video” and select image sequence from the drop down menu, and select your first file. From there it’s pretty easy.

  • Undergroundphoto

    i made some time lapse stuff on you tube
    http://www.youtube.com/user/Undergroundphoto

  • http://thoughtographics afton badger

    loved it, thanks so much for shareing.

  • vaaern

    mm, and I was thinking my time lapses were good!!! This is simply amazing!!! but I have a question! Is it dangerous to leave your camera on for a few hours? or is it beter to keep doing this with my mobile phone?

  • DavidKC

    Great timelapse and very helpful information! My beginners attempt at a clouds and lake timelapse, with camera settings:
    Valley Clouds and Lake Time Lapse

  • http://www.faicalHajji.com Faical hajji

    Very good post it explains the technic very well.. it’s easy to read and very simple to understand !!
    Thank you for sharing !!

  • http://johnearly.com John Early

    Great stuff! Do you have a link to ready-made slow-speed panning devices and/or slow-moving dollies? I have looked but can’t seem to locate anything. Thanks in advance.

  • http://chrislearyweddings.com/ Chris Leary

    Fantastic info – just ordered a TC-80N3!

  • http://www.vividphotovisual.com Vivid Photo Visual

    Great time-laspes, especially like the pans/tilts during the TL. The locations are stunning as well, we don’t really have the vistas like that over here in Manchester. For those interested in a more static Time-Lapse subject. Here is our 15 day time-lapse of a Virgin Atlantic 747 being given its new livery.

    http://www.vividphotovisual.com/Clients/Virgin-AirLivery/Time-Lapse.aspx

    Keep up the good work.

  • Ehi_remen

    Thanks for the info…I decided to create a Time Lapse video of my own :)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jk8vSodbqSs

  • http://www.e11world.com e11world

    I may look into getting that telescope tripod because it radically changes the outcome of the final project and if it’s not too expensive, that would be sweet. I just have to figure out how to get that working with my Canon D60 or just use the TC-80N3 instead for static time lapse!
    Great explanation here but I wish you or anyone shares some numbers/settings for night and stars, landscape and sky, and other setting types for this.

  • http://linkbeamphoto.com LinkBeam

    Here is the best time lapse work I’ve seen so far. Truly amazing stuff:

    http://vimeo.com/22439234

  • http://www.pikfliks.com fatdog

    Try iphone app Pikfliks, easy time lapse integrated with email, itunes & facebook

  • Michael Phan

    Shot my first time lapse running around downtown Los Angeles for a few days with my Canon 60D.

    Check out my time lapse video here: http://youtu.be/PR0VeYZ6k-Q

Some older comments

  • Michael Phan

    January 3, 2012 05:28 am

    Shot my first time lapse running around downtown Los Angeles for a few days with my Canon 60D.

    Check out my time lapse video here: http://youtu.be/PR0VeYZ6k-Q

  • fatdog

    May 27, 2011 12:28 pm

    Try iphone app Pikfliks, easy time lapse integrated with email, itunes & facebook

  • LinkBeam

    April 30, 2011 06:41 pm

    Here is the best time lapse work I've seen so far. Truly amazing stuff:

    http://vimeo.com/22439234

  • e11world

    March 31, 2011 09:48 pm

    I may look into getting that telescope tripod because it radically changes the outcome of the final project and if it's not too expensive, that would be sweet. I just have to figure out how to get that working with my Canon D60 or just use the TC-80N3 instead for static time lapse!
    Great explanation here but I wish you or anyone shares some numbers/settings for night and stars, landscape and sky, and other setting types for this.

  • Ehi_remen

    October 15, 2010 04:03 am

    Thanks for the info...I decided to create a Time Lapse video of my own :)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jk8vSodbqSs

  • Vivid Photo Visual

    October 12, 2010 02:03 am

    Great time-laspes, especially like the pans/tilts during the TL. The locations are stunning as well, we don't really have the vistas like that over here in Manchester. For those interested in a more static Time-Lapse subject. Here is our 15 day time-lapse of a Virgin Atlantic 747 being given its new livery.

    http://www.vividphotovisual.com/Clients/Virgin-AirLivery/Time-Lapse.aspx

    Keep up the good work.

  • Chris Leary

    June 25, 2010 10:59 am

    Fantastic info - just ordered a TC-80N3!

  • John Early

    March 30, 2010 03:13 am

    Great stuff! Do you have a link to ready-made slow-speed panning devices and/or slow-moving dollies? I have looked but can't seem to locate anything. Thanks in advance.

  • Faical hajji

    January 27, 2010 09:38 am

    Very good post it explains the technic very well.. it's easy to read and very simple to understand !!
    Thank you for sharing !!

  • DavidKC

    October 8, 2009 08:48 am

    Great timelapse and very helpful information! My beginners attempt at a clouds and lake timelapse, with camera settings:
    Valley Clouds and Lake Time Lapse

  • vaaern

    September 17, 2009 03:30 am

    mm, and I was thinking my time lapses were good!!! This is simply amazing!!! but I have a question! Is it dangerous to leave your camera on for a few hours? or is it beter to keep doing this with my mobile phone?

  • afton badger

    June 26, 2009 05:30 am

    loved it, thanks so much for shareing.

  • Undergroundphoto

    June 19, 2009 06:12 am

    i made some time lapse stuff on you tube
    www.youtube.com/user/Undergroundphoto

  • Tony Bullard

    February 22, 2009 01:45 am

    Answering my own question:
    I found Virtual Dub, which is completely free.
    It seems to have to covert the files to TGA files to make an .avi with the images, but that's pretty easy using irfanView.

    Just "Open Video" and select image sequence from the drop down menu, and select your first file. From there it's pretty easy.

  • Tony Bullard

    February 22, 2009 01:14 am

    Anyone know of a program other than QT Pro? It seems this functionality goes in and out depending on the release you have, and they don't support PCs at all.

  • Nicholas

    January 9, 2009 05:25 pm

    Breathtaking timelapses!

    I am however a little confused as to why you'd waste valuable resolution by downsizing all your photos to 1080p. You do realise you can use a video editing program such as Final Cut or Premiere Pro to actually pan and zoom over the full-resolution time lapse sequence (since the 1080p window is smaller than the resolution of the photos you use)? With this method you can actually achieve "fake" panning and zooming without any kind of special camera tripod at all. (Yes this isn't as good as your 360-degree pans obviously, but it's an excellent budget way of doing things for those starting out.)

  • George

    November 12, 2008 12:05 pm

    Hi all,
    You don't even have to have a camera with built in time lapse facility, just one that can be controlled via USB. I have a Nikon 40D, you just need the control program and a laptop.
    The program is Nikon Camera Control Pro. You have complete control over the camera from your laptop.
    I just shot a cactus flower opening in the morning, about 360 shots, one every 30 seconds. If I can do it, anyone can :-)

  • Djuna

    July 17, 2008 11:58 am

    Thanks so much for sharing. In answer to some comments:

    1) Russel Brown makes nice free scripts to help automate resizing and movie-making via Adobe Bridge. Google "Dr. Brown's Services".

    2) The Nikon MC-36 cable release doubles an intervalometer (time lapse machine).

    3) Replacing the shutter on a dSLR costs a couple hundred bucks -- a fraction of the price of the camera. My professional grade Nikons are rated to around 300,000 releases. I've exceeded that on my D200, and it's still clicking away just fine.

    Happy shooting!

  • ziad

    June 14, 2008 09:27 am

    @Timo: I know the 30D and similar cameras from Canon have a life cycle of about 100,000. The higher end models are double that!!!

  • Timo

    April 10, 2008 08:32 am

    awesome stuff!

    As a sidenote - something to keep in mind when doing these with an DSLR: Canon consumer DSLRs' shutters can apparently survive about 50.000 exposures in average (and other brands' consumer models are probably not that much different).

    While that may sound like a lot, you will exceed it by creating a single timelapse movie of 35 minutes at 24 frames/second. Or 20 movies of 3,5 minutes at 12 fps.

  • tkny

    April 1, 2008 03:04 am

    does anyone know the best remote timer for a nikon?

  • Joanne

    March 25, 2008 03:29 pm

    Nice! Along the same lines, have a look at this marvellous MTV (Lenore's Song) made up of animating 16,000 photos:

    http://www.yunyu.com.au/home/music#videos

  • Rajat

    March 25, 2008 01:37 pm

    You are a genius!!

  • Stephen S

    March 25, 2008 10:19 am

    Incredible! I'd love to try this. The way you put it together is absolutely awesome.

  • Eryn

    March 24, 2008 12:20 am

    Simply put - breathtaking. Your time lapse definately captures some of the beauty of Southern Utah and beyond. Bravo to you and keep up the wonderful work!!

  • Usama Kanaan

    March 23, 2008 07:38 am

    I really enjoyed this post and look forward to trying this.

    One thought regarding the automation of photo resizing: for those with photoshop, a simple action can be recorded that performs this task and then the "automate" function can apply it to as many files as you want with the click of a mouse.

    Thanks again for the great post and beautiful movie.

  • Stephen

    March 22, 2008 04:02 pm

    awesome work; great post!

  • Rob O.

    March 22, 2008 03:26 pm

    Not only awe-inspiring, but just plain inspiring. You've got my brain working feverishly on how I might be able apply this sort of technique to some of my own photo sets...

  • Ames

    March 22, 2008 03:10 pm

    This is utterly awesome!

  • PRH

    March 22, 2008 01:55 pm

    WOW!!!!!!!!
    those time lapses were truly amazing.
    The post was very informative too.

    PS you can set up photoshop to resize and save photo's using a batch command.... record all your actions for resizing one image, save the action and play on all open images or all images in a particular folder etc...
    I don't know if this is any better then Ross's method or any that are mentioned in the responses, but certainly worth giving a go if you already use PhotoShop.

  • Neil Creek

    March 22, 2008 10:41 am

    Fantastic work Ross, truly a masterpiece to be proud of. I'll be showing it to all my friends!

    I've tried my hand at some time lapse photography too, and I've often thought about how to get the camera to pan through the shot. Using a computer controlled telescope tripod is genius!

    If you would like to see my short time lapse piece (the one I'm happiest with of my experiments), you can have a look here: http://neil.creek.name/blog/2007/09/02/p365-sep01-driving-time-lapse/

    I look forward to seeing more from you in the future!

    Neil

  • Torley

    March 22, 2008 10:36 am

    I'm in awe of this movie... what beautiful work by Ross Ching, and such a helpful post to accompany it!

    I don't really do "physical" photography, but I'm avid about photographing scenery within the online world of Second Life, and this is inspiring.

  • DoN

    March 22, 2008 08:58 am

    Hi, nice article. Me and my mate are/were working on a dslr HD timelapse movie project, you can check out the trailers from http://timelapse.vn.cz/

  • Ben James

    March 22, 2008 08:35 am

    This is really fantastic. I would love to do this sort of work myself (on a smaller scale) but unfortunately have never been able to find a timer for my Konica Minolta Dynax 5D.

    If anybody knows where I could find one, or even how I could get the Canon one to work with the 5D (damn lack of standards), I would be extremely grateful.

  • Bob Pliskin

    March 22, 2008 03:19 am

    The elements which turned me into a student of cinematography, a teacher of geology, earth science, and photography (now retired) were all present in your inspiring time-lapse film. Thank you!

  • Alex

    March 22, 2008 02:04 am

    Thats really neat, great job with the time laps video! I love it how its move about instead of those normal time laps videos which are just straight and not moving, hooking it up to a telescope was a neat idea! Wiked man! really nice movie!

    I m going to try this some day

  • Jayme Lynn Blaschke

    March 22, 2008 01:11 am

    Okay, this is simply awesome (and I mean that in the true sense of the word, as opposed to the bastardized pop-culture over-use that debases it). Bravo, sir!

  • Jeremy Hall

    March 22, 2008 01:07 am

    Thanks for the guest post with the information and the wonderful movie you created that represents so many hours of work. Some sequences were better than others, but overall the piece of work is very impressive.

  • David

    March 22, 2008 12:54 am

    Cropping and resizing on windows machines can easily be done using IrfanView and many other similar programs - so you're not on your own on a windows pc.

    Apart from that: Inspiring post!

  • Tony Bullard

    March 22, 2008 12:40 am

    This Instructable is a great way to make your own timer for free if you have a TI-83 hanging around!
    http://www.instructables.com/id/Turn-a-TI-Graphing-Calculator-into-an-Intervalomet/

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