Time-Lapse Photography – a Quick Guide to Building Your Movie


Time-lapse photography shows you events that occur over an extended period that are captured on camera and shown in a relatively short time.

Time-lapse imagery is the capture of individual images of a subject at preset intervals over a preset duration. These individual images are then combined using software, thereby compressing the event into a much shorter time span.  If you were to witness an ice cube melting it would take an hour or more. With time-lapse the process from solid to liquid could be seen in seconds.

What do you need to do time-lapse photography?


Though point-and-shoot cameras will do the job, digital single lens reflex cameras (DSLR’s) and mirror-less cameras allow for the most flexibility. They not only capture images that are of a higher quality but have features most suitable for time-lapse. In particular, they are capable of manual exposure and focus control. They also have an array of lenses to choose from and all the accessories required for capturing time-lapse sequences.


All focal lengths are suitable based on the subject you select. A lens that has a manual aperture ring is best as the aperture blades do not open and close for each shot captured.


The key to achieving a great lime-lapse sequence is a good intervalometer. This is a device capable of triggering your camera with accurate intervals and precise shutter actuations. It can be an external or internal device.


Image Stabilization and Vibration Reduction are good but they are no substitutes for a good tripod for time-lapse photography. Use a solid tripod.

Batteries and/or AC Couplers

Because of the long duration of time-lapse sequences, the batteries in your camera may drain out before the sequence is completed. Here are a few tips to help you increase your battery life:

  • The single battery in your camera powers a number of functions. Many of these can be switched off for time-lapse capture or you can decrease their “on-time”.
  • A major drain on the battery is the LCD display and Live View. Use these screens only if it is imperative and then make certain that you lower the brightness using one of the custom functions. Also, limit the preview duration, keeping it to a minimum.
  • Don’t use your camera’s LCD screen for viewing and deleting images. Leave that activity to be performed on your computer after you have downloaded your images.
  • If you are shooting a sequence indoors you can use an AC coupler to power your camera.  An AC coupler is used in lieu of the camera battery.

Formula for Time-Lapse Capture

The typical frame rate for movies is between 24 and 30 frames per second. As a guideline, the greater the frames per second the smoother the playback.

When using a DSLR, you have all the control to create good time-lapse sequences. Selection of shutter speed, depth of field and the interval between shots can be set as desired. Just remember, the faster the movement of the subject or subjects within your project, the shorter the interval between images captured. However, you may be limited in low light situations.

Here is a guide for intervals:

1 Second

1 – 5 Seconds

15 to 30 Seconds

3 – 15 minutes

Air and Road Travel

Sunrise Sunset

Moon going across the sky

Growing Plants

City Scenes with Traffic

Crowd Scenes

Stars and Milky Way

Home Building Projects

Bicycle Rides

Slow Moving Clouds

A good starting point for any subject matter is to create your time-lapse with a shorter interval than you may think is appropriate. You can always discard alternate or irrelevant images from your final sequence if you want to speed up the action.  For example, if you decide to use a 30 second interval for a moon sequence, but want to be sure that the final sequence will be smooth, shoot at 15 second intervals. You can get back to your original plan by removing every alternate image for the final sequence.

Prepare your images

Using any software editing program, crop or size your captured images to a width of 1920 pixels and a height of 1080 pixels for a 1080p HD video (use 1280 pixels by 720 pixels for 720p video). Make sure your crop registration is identical for all the images.  If you are not comfortable doing this, use the automatic resizing provided by most time-lapse assembly software.

Now that the images of the sequence are ready, you can use one of the many free applications for Windows and Mac operating systems to create your video. Some of these are VideoVelocity from CandyLabs, Photolapse from Stephan van der Palen and Time-Lapse Assembler created by Dan Bridges. For under $30 Apple Quicktime Pro 7 can be used to create some excellent time-lapse video.

How to use Time Lapse Assembler for Mac


  1. Open Time Lapse Assembler
  2. Select the directory that contains the image sequence
  3. Select the codec. Use h.264 or mp4v for making .mov files or mp4v for making .mp4 movies
  4. Leave the frame rate at 30fps
  5. Set the dimension to resize
  6. Scale proportionately
  7. For HD video you can adjust the width to 1920 or 1280 (1920 for 1080P video and 1280 for 720p video)
  8. Select Quality High (you can always use Max but the rendering will take longer
  9. Click on Encode
  10. You will be presented with a Save window. Name your sequence and click Save.


The software will produce a Quicktime compatible movie file that can be viewed as is, or used for further editing in iMovie or any other video editing software.

See below an example of the video in very low resolution:

Here are the steps for Quicktime Pro 7

  1. Open Quicktime
  2. Go to the menu and under File – click on Open Image Sequence. Go to the directory where you downloaded your images (make sure you have only the images that belong in the sequence in this folder)
  3. Click on the first image of the sequence and click Open

    Select the Sequence

    Select the Sequence

  4. You will be presented with a choice for picking your frame rate – use 30 frames per second for a smooth sequence. Now click OK
  5. Quicktime will import all the images in that folder and assemble them in their original sequence and at their original resolution. You probably will not be able to see the entire image as it is larger than the resolution of your screen but you can go to the Menu>View>Fit to Screen. You now have the first frame visible in its entirety.
    Assembled Sequence

    Assembled Sequence

    If you attempt to play this sequence you will not see the movie as you might like it to be. It will not be smooth and may pause for long periods. This is because the individual frames are very large and the video has not been rendered for playback.

  6. Save this sequence File>Save
  7. You will be presented with options as to where you would like to save the Quicktime file.
  8. Save the file in the same directory as the original images and name the file

The next steps will render a viewable video

  1. You will export this sequence File>Export
  2. You will get the typical “Save As” option and the “Where” option. Save the export in the same folder as the original files giving it a pertinent name.
  3. There are two other sets of export criteria and an options button. For now, export the sequence as a QuickTime Movie and in the Options Section use H264.
  4. The export will take some time so be patient. Once the rendering and export is complete you will be able to watch the video. 

Have fun making your time-lapse – enjoy!

Read more from our Post Production category

Shiv Verma is a published photographer, educator and technologist and lives in Wrentham Massachusetts. He is an avid wildlife and commercial photographer and conducts photo workshops and tours worldwide. You can check out more of his work. His book "Time-Lapse Imagery" is available in the iBook store Time-lapse Imagery You can check out more of his work on his website.

  • Daniel Lowe

    Well written article. I would note that most camera memory cards (at least in SDHC / SDXC) are not fast enough for 1-second intervals. You need a fast (class 10) memory card for this. However, modern CF card types are usually fast enough.

    I specialized in timelapse, night sky and will be teaching time-lapse workshops in the SouthEastern U.S. my website is http://starmountainmedia.com

  • Thanks Daniel – Good point, yes, faster cards are always a better choice.

  • Daniel Lowe

    Most people will probably have the less expensive, slower SD cards. Those will work great for anything except the 1 second intervals. I only have a faster SD card from shooting RAW with the Black Magic Pocket camera.

  • Jerry Suppan

    Thank you for this explanation on time lapse video creation. I have yet to make one but knowing this is one new capability resulting from the digital era, I may want to give this a try some time. I have a couple questions:

    1. Intervalometer
    What would be your recommendation for a producti moderately priced but works well to accomplish this task? ( I have Sony Alpha A7 (ILCE-7) and also Panasonic’s new FZ1000 bridge type camera capable of 4K. (it can be set to complete MF and control.

    2. Fireworks
    Japan is huge for fireworks displays every summer. For capturing images I was suggested to set f.8 and 1-4 seconds on bulb and on a tripod of course. How might I be able to do time lapse of fireworks displays if even possible? The launches are not necessarily at uniform times and then the explosion itself can happen at any moment a few seconds later.

    I do all my work on Apple Mac equipment (MacMini and Macbook Pro retina). I could work in Windows as a VM, but prefer not too.

    Thanks much for your suggestions in advance.

  • Another free download is LRTimelapse. It also works well with Light Room. Here is a quick sequence of a video I am currently working. I just wish I had a Dynamic Range or emotimo set up to show some movement of the camera.


  • Thank you for your comments. Here are my responses to the questions you asked:

    I have not used the Panasonic FZ1000 but I believe it may have a built in intervalometer like the GH3 and the GH4 (I had the GH3 that has been replied with the GH4). As for the Sony A7 and the A7R there is no external intervalometer. However, there is a Sony app that you can download to the camera that will provide you time-lapse functionality. On my A7R I am able to do bramping for sunrise and sunset time lapse. The camera does a fine job.

    As far as fireworks are concerned. The minimum exposure duration is 5 seconds but a 10 second average is better as you want to get full bursts. So if you were to use 10 second with a 1 second interval each frame would be 11 seconds. to do a 15 second video at 30 fps you will need 450 frames or 82 minutes of fireworks. Most fireworks displays last about 10 to 15 minutes or a max of 1/2 an hour. Even that would not give you enough frames to create a video. You could use 24 frames per second but even then I would not recommend it.

    I only use Apple computers and do not see any limitations.

  • Hi Patrick, LRTimelapse has a free evaluation version but you should get the licensed version for all the functionality. I use this product for all of my Time-Lapse development. I have written and provided extensive tutorial in my book “Time-Lapse Imagery” available as a iBook and an interactive PDF.

  • I have been waiting to get enough captures to make it worth my while. I am very fascinated in Timelapse and am new to it. I will be getting further involved as time (no pun intended) permits and eventually for equipment for the WOW factor. I meant to say Dynamic Perception earlier not Range, I had just woke up and dont know what I was thinking. I also forgot to mention this is a good article and am very glad to see pieces on this subject!

  • JvW

    That all depends on the file size and the write speed -the camera. Take my Canon 60D for example:
    With a 30Mb/s class 10 SD card, highest jpg quality, with the buffer full it will shoot one frame per second until the buffer is written. This means, if you don’t shoot bursts and just start with an interval of one second, it can easily be kept up until the card is full or the battery empty.
    The 60D will accept 45 Mb/s class 10 cards but can’t write faster than a 30 Mb/s can take so it would be a waste of money, and 20 Mb/s class 10 would be a bit slow.
    I’ve seen SD cards advertised to 95 Mb/s or more, so SD isn’t the bottle neck any more; the camera’s write speed can be.

  • Daniel Lowe

    These are all good points 🙂 You’re correct it’s the marriage of the camera + memory card that matters.

  • Glen

    Thanks for an informative article. The information about software is exceedingly helpful. I notice the omission of “sport cameras” like the GoPro. Most of them have time lapse settings built in and require less practice than a DSLR to be useful in time-lapse photography, as well as being economical. Thanks!

  • Thank you for your comments Glen. I the exclusion of the sports/action cams and in camera assembly of time-lapse video like in the Sony A7 ILS cameras was excluded to keep within the guidelines of published articles. More is available in my book on the subject “time-Lapse Imagery” available in the iTunes book store of via my web site.

  • wukedypuk

    This is one I did from my apartment window in Whitehorse, Canada. Its a little noisy but there was no pp on the frames. I literally had my Sony A77 mounted to my Gorilla-pod with the window open at -32c for this one.

    All the editing was done in Picasa


  • Thanks a lot for the guide of interval table.. that will save my time 🙂 . I use Nikon D600 and it has a built-in feature to do timelapse, but if we use this feature then editing will not be possible and you don’t get the RAW files.
    Liked your videos.. really good. I have tried capturing timelapse of Bangalore traffic in India using my Nikon D600 and 14-24mm, f2.8 lens but unfortunately one of the TV channels used the below timelapse without my permission. 🙁 which had a YouTube Standard License.
    More work of mine at: http://www.ravindrajoisa.com

  • Very nice – keep up the good work. Make sure you do not disturb the tripod while taking a sequence. I look forward to seeing more of your work.

  • Thanks for sharing – you sure are brave, keeping your window open at 32 below. Nice sequence would love to see more of you work.

  • Ryne R Slater

    I love watching and creating timelapse short films. Here is one I created in 2012 at Lake Arthur, Moraine State Park, PA. I hope that you enjoy. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=2744906428277&set=vb.1426004101&type=3&theater

  • Anil Nagrani

    sir this is my first timelapse sequence, i don’t have tripod so i kept camera on stable platform but there are some jerks or shake which can be clearly visible in video, is there any way to correct that in any software, or any other tip to improve this sequence.

  • Hi Ryne, Very nice sequence. Two things to consider, shorter intervals to creates smoother motion and good bramping for transitions from night to day or the other way around. Thanks for sharing.

  • Hi Anil, Thanks for sharing. If you use Lightroom you can correct some of the miss alignment but it is a lot of effort and may still yield poor results. Your best bet is to get a tripod and reshoot the sequence. Regards, Shiv

  • Using After Effects you can try the Warp Stabilizer. Here’s an article explaining how to use it and here’s a videotutorial.

    Hope it helps!

  • Thanks PhotoPills – Love your app – using it extensively. Your suggestions is most appreciated. Aftereffects works really well but will not resolve significant registration issues. In addition the article was directed as keeping things simple with minimum expense.

  • Yes, time lapse photography can be overwhelming at the beginning and articles like this one help a lot. Great work, it’s not easy to keep an article simple 🙂

  • Anil Nagrani

    Thanks for your valuable suggestion….I will try it…..

  • Anil Nagrani

    Totally agree with PhotoPills thank for making a wonderful guide…..

  • Anil Nagrani

    Yes sir i am looking forward to buying a tripod….anyway thanks for your reply.

  • Jasmeet Singh


    Please look-up the time-lapse I took at various locations in Ladakh, this year.
    Feedback is greatly appreciated.

  • You have created a very nice set of time-lapse sequences. I would suggest making sure you do not move your setup once you start a sequence. Also use some of the suggestions in the article and my book to prevent flicker. Keep shooting – I would love to see more of your work – post it in the Group Time-lapse International on Facebook for all the group to enjoy.

  • Ed

    This is a great beginners starting point and as a professional photographer I’m keen to make my first time-lapse but hadn’t known where to start before reading this… Feeling inspired! One question though; when you photograph are you using RAW or JPEG? I normally only shoot in RAW and edit, but you’ve not explained how much at that stage you would normally do… Cheers

  • Hi Ed,
    Thank you for your kind words. I shoot 100% RAW. If you would like more information please get my book “Time-Lapse Imagery” available in the iTunes book store or as an interactive PDF – links are on my web site.

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