The Basics Of Timelapse Photography

The basics of timelapse

Timelapse photography is an incredible art form.

It acts as a looking glass into another temporal dimension.

I have been a professional timelapse photographer for over a decade.

I've been lucky enough to travel all over the world creating timelapse (and hyperlapse) content for clients such as Canon, Google, Samsung, Lumix, Adobe, Ford, and more.

This in-depth article will teach you all you need to know about shooting and editing a basic timelapse sequence.

We call it a “basic timelapse” because the light doesn't change as we're shooting.

For timelapses where the light changes, for example at sunrise or sunset, you will need the so-called “holy grail” timelapse tutorial.

1. What camera equipment do you need for timelapse photography?

Contrary to popular belief, you don't need expensive equipment to create great-looking timelapse footage.

At the very start of my career, I was shooting on an entry-level Canon 600D.

You can get a 600D second-hand for less than $200 these days.

I actually got my first few paid timelapse jobs using that camera!

So, you don't need a fancy camera, but at the very least, you will need:

  • A camera that you can trigger (either with a remote or from the internal software).
  • A remote (this can be an external one or built-in to your menu system).
  • A camera mount. This can be a tripod or a clamp, whatever you need to keep your camera steady.
  • A subject to shoot. Try and find people, traffic or some nice clouds.
Shooting timelapses at Canyonlands, Utah.

That's just for the basic timelapse setups, without any of the fancy motion-control stuff you see on bigger productions.

If you're interested in the camera equipment I use for my high-end timelapse jobs you can have a look at my complete gear list here.

2. How to set up a basic timelapse shot

So you've got your gear, you're on location. Now what?

  1. Mount your camera on your tripod and make sure the entire setup is sturdy. You don't want your rig to go tumbling down.
  2. Turn on your camera and switch it to Manual (M) mode.
  3. Make sure you are shooting RAW photos.
  4. Select the appropriate exposure by adjusting your shutter speed, aperture, and iso values.
    • The reason everything is on manual and nothing is left on auto is because you – the camera operator – know best. Cameras aren’t built with timelapse photography in mind. The camera might choose the perfect settings for a single photo but then the light changes ever so slightly and you end up with a different exposure on the next photo. This results in visually distracting flicker, one of the most common beginner mistakes in timelapse photography. Watch this video here to see what timelapse flickering looks like and how you can solve it.
  5. Frame up your composition, while making sure that your camera is level.
  6. Focus your lens and disable autofocus. If you leave autofocus on, your remote will trigger the lens to focus for every frame it shoots. On some frames, it will fail to focus properly and you end up with a very jittery-looking sequence that you can not fix in post-production.
  7. Disable lens stabilization if you have it. When mounted on a tripod, the stabilizing mechanism will actively ‘hunt’ for motion and create movement in between photos. This is fixable in post by applying digital stabilization but why fix things in post when you can get it right from the start?
  8. Grab your remote or intervalometer and connect it to your camera. Select your desired interval (the number of seconds between taking photos). You can use the following as a guideline, however, feel free to adapt and experiment:
    • People or foot traffic: 1 second
    • Vehicular traffic: 1 to 2 seconds
    • Clouds and cityscapes: 3 to 5 seconds
    • Sunset or sunrise: 6 seconds minimum
  9. Double-check all your settings, and then hit start on the remote, sit back, and relax. This is a great time to read a book, listen to a podcast, take photos on your phone of your camera setup, yell at a stranger to get out of your shot, etc.
  10. Let the sequence run for at least 300 photos. This will result in 12 seconds of video in a PAL environment such as Europe, or 10 seconds of footage in an NTSC country like the USA.
  11. Once you've shot your photos, hit stop on the remote, pack up your bag, and send me a message on Instagram telling me you've just shot your very first timelapse!

By the way, did you know that this tutorial also comes in a handy free e-book called The Basics of Timelapse Photography?
You can download a free copy below.

3. Post-production

We've arrived at the next phase in creating timelapse videos: post-production.

Post-production consists of offloading your memory cards, color grading your photos, and finally creating a video file.

Software-wise I'm using Adobe Lightroom Classic and Adobe Photoshop because you can get both in a bundle at a very good price. Click here to check the latest bundle price.

Sadly, I am currently not aware of any free software that does a good enough job.

A random photo of me at Bondi beach. Shot by Nicolas Rakotopare.

3.1 Post Production: Color grading your photos with Adobe Lightroom

Before we begin color grading we need to transfer the data from the memory card to an external (or internal) hard drive.

It's faster to work with Solid State Drives. I mostly use this model by Samsung.

Make sure you are efficient with your folder structure and where you put your files.

There's a reason I dedicate so much time to this in my paid content!

  1. Open up Adobe Lightroom Classic and import the folder containing your photos using the ‘Import > Add’ method.
  2. Group timelapse sequences into folders and rename them to reflect the content of the shot. I like to work with the following ’date-location-shot’ structure: 2018-05-30-MacquariesChair-OperaWideSunset-RAW
  3. Select the sequence you would like to process and select the first photo. Go to the Develop module (or hit D on your keyboard). Colour grade the first photo, afterwards we will synchronize the settings onto the rest of the sequence.
  4. Adjust the settings (exposure, contrast, white balance, vibrance and saturation) as required. If you'd like to edit exactly how I do it you can check out my Timelapse Presets & LUT Collection.
  5. Hit G on your keyboard to view the whole sequence, then with the first photo selected ‘Shift + Click' on the last photo of the sequence.
  6. In the top menu click ‘Photo > Develop Settings > Sync Settings' to synchronize all settings.
  7. Select all the and export them as a JPEG sequence by clicking ‘File > Export'. Use the below export settings as a guideline.

3.2 Post Production: Creating Video Files with Adobe Photoshop

Now that we’re done color grading the RAW photos and exporting them to a new JPEG sequence we can move on to creating a video file from your photos.

  1. Open Photoshop and select ‘File > Open’.
  2. Navigate to the correct folder and select the first photo of your desired image sequence.
  3. Make sure to enable ‘Image Sequence’ under the options tab and then set the frame rate. I use 25 fps but you can use whichever frame rate has your preference.
  4. Go to ‘File > Export > Render video’. Depending on your computer's processing power this can be a time consuming process.
  5. I recommend using the basic recommended settings to generate your video file, as pictured below.
Export settings for Adobe Photoshop

Now it’s time to post your clip on instagram and watch the algorithm block you from getting any views because you're not making comedy or dance content.

If you liked this tutorial to the basics of timelapse photography then you might be interested in The Ultimate Timelapse Guide.
This 142-page e-book features everything you need to know to plan, shoot and edit the highest possible quality timelapse sequences in the most efficient way possible.

Do you prefer learning from video content? Then The Ultimate Timelapse Course will be more your thing.

You will learn basic and advanced holy grail shooting (sunset / sunrise), advanced editing using Lightroom, LRTimelapse and After Effects, how to ramp settings (gradually change over time) using a free Lightroom plugin, advanced deflickering methods , hyperlapse photography, astro-photography, and so much more.

Get all the best tools and techniques to become a great timelapse photographer.

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