How to Capture Perfect Time-Lapse Photography

23 August 2019

If you have an iPhone, you may be familiar with the time-lapse technique because it’s one of the camera settings – but doing it manually is a whole other ballgame. Like many other types of photography, it’s all about skill and technique. With trial and error, you’ll get the hang of it. But if you want a head start, the team at Ted’s Cameras has put together a guide to time-lapse photography.

What is time-lapse photography?

Time-lapse photography is a cinematic technique that captures frames at a lower frequency, so that when you play back the sequence at normal speed, it appears to be moving in fast-forward. So, scenes that would usually take minutes, hours, days or even months to view can be replayed in seconds.

How to Capture Perfect Time-Lapse PhotographyHow to Capture Perfect Time-Lapse Photography

What equipment do you need for time-lapse photography?

Unfortunately, you can’t use any basic camera. To get stunning results, you’ll need to put together the proper toolkit.

If you’re passionate about time-lapse photography, we suggest using the following gear:

  • DSLR camera - The key is choosing a DSLR camera with manual settings – and specifically, one with the ability to take multiple shots at set intervals. Some cameras feature an in-built interval timer, which is a time-lapse lover’s dream. If those models are a little out of your price range, go for a camera that’s compatible with separate accessories, like an intervalometer.
  • Intervalometer - With this remote control, you can program your camera to take a set number of photos in predetermined intervals. It will make your job a lot easier, so it’s the best accessory for time-lapse photography.
  • Tripod - For the most whimsical time-lapse effect, you’ll want your camera to remain perfectly still in the same location. A sturdy tripod is essential – and it’s an investment you’ll use in all of your photographic pursuits!
  • ND filters - Think of these filters like sunglasses for your camera. They reduce the intensity of the light entering your camera and slow down the shutter speed. ND filters are brilliant when you’re working in bright conditions, and for creating more motion blur in your images. But they’re optional – you can shoot time-lapse photography without them.
How to Capture Perfect Time-Lapse PhotographyHow to Capture Perfect Time-Lapse Photography
  • Battery grips - If your camera has a battery grip, you’re in luck! This optional accessory will effectively double your shooting times.
  • Camera Control Software -Time-lapse software can bring greater convenience and control to your work, or help build the final product. Camera control software, like the Nikon Capture 4.0 and DSLR Remote Pro, can do the job of an intervalometer while shooting your time-lapse - as long as you can keep your camera connected to your laptop.
  • Post Editing Software - Once all the shots are taken, you’ll then need to compile them into a video. To do this, invest in a photo editing software so that you can tweak the exposure and colour levels for consistency, as well as a video editing software to create and output the finished product. Programs like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom are popular choices.

The best camera settings for time-lapse photography

Now that you have the gear (and some idea!), let’s talk camera settings. These settings will help you to master time-lapse photography:

Exposure mode - To make sure the exposure is consistent between shots, try shooting in manual mode. That way, you can control your camera. Set your ISO as low as possible to produce images with little-to-no noise and select an aperture of f11 for a good depth of field. Then, choose a shutter speed that allows for an appropriate level of exposure. If you’re not comfortable with manual mode, Aperture Priority can simplify this process for you (and it works well with changing lighting conditions, like sunrises).

How to Capture Perfect Time-Lapse PhotographyHow to Capture Perfect Time-Lapse Photography

Focus settings - Manual focus is the usual go-to for time-lapse photography. This will prevent your camera lens from finding different focal points throughout the shoot (and spoiling your time-lapse).  Have some fun with it, though! Experiment with focusing your lens to infinity, or place a subject in the middle ground of your shot and lock focus at that point.

Time-lapse interval - The ‘right’ interval setting comes down to the nature of the shoot and your personal preference. For fast-moving subjects (for example, passing traffic), we suggest an interval of 1-3 seconds. For subjects that fall somewhere in the middle (for example, sunsets), try 10-30 seconds. And for lengthier scenes (for example, construction jobs), choose intervals of 5 minutes or more.

Pro Tip: Make sure your interval time is longer than your exposure time. Buckle down, because you’ll have to do a little math to work this out. Generally, videos play back at 24 frames per second, which means you’ll need to take 24 shots for just one second of video. 

The formula? Length of the video in seconds x frame rate = number of shots to be taken.

Other tips and tricks for time-lapse photography

Finally, these tips will take your time-lapse photography to another level:

  • Pick an interesting subject - This sounds obvious, but try to find a scene or subject that will suit time-lapse photography. The most successful time-lapse scenes are compiled during a period with a little movement. This can be as simple as the gathering of a crowd, or the passing of clouds through the sky.
  • Consider composition - Spend some time nailing down your framing. Composition is essential to the success of any image or video.
How to Capture Perfect Time-Lapse PhotographyHow to Capture Perfect Time-Lapse Photography
  • Shoot more than you think you need - Remember, most videos play back at 24 frames per second, so you’re going to need a lot of images!
  • Set up your tripod correctly - To keep your tripod steady the whole time, weigh it down using the hook (if your tripod has this feature), and don’t raise the column all the way up.
  • Double-check your gear before you leave - This is a must for every location shoot. Confirm you have spare memory cards, as well as a fully charged battery or two.

Get the gear for time-lapse photography

Ready to experiment with time-lapses? Head to your local Ted’s Cameras store and our friendly team will help you to find the gear you need.

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