Creating a Time Lapse Movie

July 21, 2010

Photo Tips

A great tool to have in your kit for creative or documentary purposes is time lapse. Time lapse photography is essentially capturing multiple images over a relatively long period of time and then playing them back over a relatively short period. Whether shooting a sunset, a boat trip, a soccer game, or a dessicating piece of fruit the workflow basics are the same.

In Camera

  1. Pick a subject to include the composition and length of time.
  2. Set up your camera for the time lapse.
    • Select Av. For most time lapse shot outside with light and/or subject changing over the sequence use Aperture Priority (Av.) There are times when shooting in a controlled, stable lighting environment that Manual (M) would be the best choice.
    • Choose and set your desired Aperture.
    • Select Auto White Balance (AWB). Similar to the discussion above, when there are many variables, AWB will work best over the sequence. There are, of course, times when a specific white balance would give better results.
    • Select Small JPEG as the quality. Although we normally capture in RAW, the small JPEG provides enough resolution and quality for the timelapse. Remember a small JPEG is higher native resolution than 1080p HD.
  3. Set the interval for the shots. On many Nikon cameras this is a built in feature. For most Canon DSLR models use the TC-80N3. You can simply choose an interval and shoot or for a more detailed analysis look below**.
  4. Use a solid camera support system (tripod, ballhead, L-bracket) to ensure the camera remains steady.
  5. Compose the shot.
  6. Focus.
  7. Exposure compensation, if necessary.
  8. Start the sequence.

After Capture

  1. Either download the sequence images or import into your software of choice.
  2. Batch process the files for tone, color, crop, retouch, etc., if necessary.
  3. Ensure all sequence files are in one folder (if you batched your small JPEGS with ACR or LR, you will need to Save Files or Export to ensure your changes are part of the final file.)
  4. Launch Quicktime Pro. If you do not have Quicktime Pro it is a $29 upgrade from the basic version.
  5. Go to File-Open Image Sequence
  6. Navigate via the Finder or Explorer to the folder containing your sequence files. Highlight the first image in the sequence.
  7. Choose a playback rate from the dropdown menu “Frame Rate.” A common choice is 24 fps.
  8. Click “Open.” Quicktime will build your timelapse and open it when the process is complete.
  9. Save your new timelapse file.

The above steps will work for you most of the time when creating a time lapse sequence. There are some other techniques out there for different, unique shoots but always a variation of what we have here.

Remember, as always, to have fun.

Fiat Lux!



** For those who wanted a more detailed discussion of interval. There is a simple formula to follow if you want a bit more control over your time lapse sequence. If you have a specific playback time in mind the formula will help you figure out at what interval to shoot.

i = (Subject Time/Playback Time) x 2.5


  • i is shooting interval in seconds
  • Subject time is the the length of time you will be shooting in minutes.
  • Playback time is the length of time it takes to playback all sequence files in seconds.
  • Assumes 24 fps Frame Rate.

For example, if you will capture a 120 minute concert and want a playback of 1 minute.

Then i = (120/60) x 2.5 = 5

So, set your intervalometer at one shot every 5 seconds. YOu will capture 1440 shots over the two hours of the concert and at 24 fps frame rate, your sequence will last one minute.

To go further, if you do not want to use 24 fps or don’t know, the formula above may be slightly modified to allow calculations for any frame rate.

i = (Subject Time x 60) / (Playback Time x Frame Rate)

If you want to know how many shots, use the following formula.

#=Subject Time x 60 x Frame Rate


  • # is the total number of shots
  • Subject time is the length of time you will be shooting in minutes.
  • Frame rate is the desired frame rate during playback.

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This post was written by:

- who has written 8 posts on The Digital Photo Experience.

Hal “Bull” Schmitt is a former FA-18 pilot and two-time TOPGUN (Navy Fighter Weapons School) instructor. He is the Director and Lead Instructor of Light Photographic Workshops. Hal’s courses and photo tours are recognized worldwide as the “Best of the Best.” Follow Hal and Light at

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4 Responses to “Creating a Time Lapse Movie”

  1. Amit Says:

    the time lapse movie link was cool. Was wonering if u could help me a bit. I have a Nikon D80 but i am not entirely versitile with the functions yet.
    Where can i find the ‘interval option'(mentioned in the ‘In Camera’ section) in the menu of me camera to try out this time lapse movie making on the D80?


  2. Bull Schmitt Says:

    Unfortunately, the Nikon D80 does not have the Interval Timer function. You can access it via Nikon’s Capture software if shooting tethered. More practical though is to pick up a timer remote. There are many options available. Just google, bing, or yahoo “timer remote Nikon D80” and you will have choices.



  3. Creonn Says:

    #=Subject Time x 60 x Frame Rate
    # is the total number of shots
    Subject time is the length of time you will be shooting in minutes.
    Frame rate is the desired frame rate during playback.

    Hi Bull, i have a doubt in above formula for number of shots!
    this calculation gives a huge number.
    can it be #=(Subject time x 60)/frame rate?



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