Time-Lapse Tutorial: Time-Lapse 101 The Basics

Many Camera Options

We have all seen time-lapse videos everywhere from commercials to television show and movie intros that leave us in a state of awe. Any nature lover is engaged by watching the slow changes in nature. Starting with sunrise, sunset, stars and the moon cycles, blooming flowers, growing plants, construction and human growth.

There are many elements that make up a good time-lapse video. From the camera used, to the clouds in the sky. Here are some basics to get started in time-lapse. For some equipment I will link to B&H Photo and Video or a site for more information about the product. You can search any and every other source for price comparison. I will also link to some videos that I have made using the equipment.


Sony Cameras

There are many methods to create a time-lapse video. We can record live video for the duration, and for full control of the frames, we can start with photographs. When I was first creating time-lapse videos, I was recording a scene (usually clouds and reflections of clouds) with my ContourHD helmet camera. This camera would capture live video for 1-2 hours. I would then render that capture to around a minute of video.



Camcorders allow you to capture your scene with live video then in post production rendering your video faster to a desired speed in time-lapse video. Many camcorders can be used to capture your scene. Starting with helmet cameras like the Contour HD cameras and the GoPro cameras (the GoPro having a time-lapse image feature) can be good for an outdoor enthusiast who doesn’t want to invest in a lot of expansive fragile camera equipment to take on a camping trip or into the woods.

Any camera that can record video from 30 minutes to an hour or more can also be used to create time-lapse video. Camcorders are limited to capturing at 24-60fps and have huge file size for each capture (usually 3-8Gb per capture).
Camcorders can be good for driving time-lapse. If we use a DSLR to capture a drive, we are limited to 1fps. This can result in a much faster video than we would like. Using a camcorder to capture more frames per second can give you the exact speed you want in your video.

Both videos are captured with a ContourHD camcorder.

Roosevelt Island air tram with
ContourHD and UltraClamp mount

Cloud and Reflection Time-Lapse

Mini/Specialty time-lapse cameras:

Mini Camera Mini Camera on magnetic mount
Some cameras have been specially developed to capture and create a video file directly from the camera. No post-production or rendering needed.
Brinno Time-Lapse Camera Basic or Pro. These cameras have many functions and are good for the someone who is just starting in time-lapse.
I have a Campark HD 720p Time-Lapse Camera from ebay and is very tiny and discreet. The mini cam does is limited because there is no screen to see where the camera is looking but it has a built in time-lapse function and you can change the capture interval from a computer.

Mini Hd camera Time-Lapse at 1 second interval

Mobile Apps:

Smart phones can be used to create time-lapse videos. Both iPhone and Android users can enjoy creating great videos. There are many apps and each app has different features. You will find some apps may fit you better then others. Most of them are free but have a lot of advertisements built into them. For IOS I have used the app Miniatures. It creates a tilt-shift effect(makes things look like toy models). The free version stops recording at 10 seconds of video. This app is good for capturing traffic, street activity, and is also good for clouds and sunsets.

DSLR Camera Mode:

The mode that your camera is in has an impact on how your video will turn out. Setting your camera on automatic mode will result in inconsistent lighting between frames. My general rule of thumb is set everything. This should avoid any unnecessary flicker between frames.
Manual Mode

manual mode
Set the ISO. Set the white balance. Set the shutter speed. Set the Aperture. Set the interval. Set the focus. Check the image record folder. This should minimize flicker in your video.

Aperture Mode

Aperture Mode
There are times where you cannot set your camera on manual mode. If the light conditions change, like a sunrise or sunset, you will need some automatic settings. To capture a sunset, I use Aperture Mode and Auto White Balance. With these settings your camera will adjust shutter speed and white balance to adjust to the changing lighting and light color temperature.

Manual Mode – Long Exposure

Long Exposure
To capture night scenes we will use a long expose. For night traffic I enjoy the long light streaks. A 4 second exposure every 5 seconds will create this. Test your camera with these setting and make sure it is taking an image every 5 seconds. If it is not try 3 or 3.5 second exposure. Everything else will be set (white balance, ISO, aperture).

Long Exposure of Clouds and Stars at Night

Long Exposure of Driving at Night

Aspect Ratio (3:2 or 16:9)

If your final output of your images is for 1080p video, then it only makes sense to capture in 16:9. If you are adding a pan effect in post-production then you may choose to capture in 3:2 but you will have more lost data when capturing in 3:2 mode. Image Size (Small, Medium, Large or Raw)
Most DSLR cameras have 3 image sizes that they can produce. If your output video file will be 1080p, you only need a 3 or 4 mega pixel image. One benefit of capturing with a larger image size is you can pan the 1080 video within you larger mega pixel image. Capturing with Raw or can result in more light and data per image but will require an additional step in post production.

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3:2 and 16:9 Aspect Ratio and Photo Sizes

DSLR and Programmable Timers:

Timers Timers

For full control of your video, you will need a DSLR. Any brand will work. The key is the programmable timer/remote trigger. This will allow you to take photographs in intervals. The interval between frames or pictures will vary from the subject and the length of video you desire. Timers come in both wired and wireless versions and will plug into your remote shutter port.
For Canon users try Magic Lantern. It will give your camera more features including an intervalometer. I have never been able to use this on my own camera as I use Sony cameras. But it has been recommended by a Canon user.

Timer Intervals:
When setting your interval between frames, the things to consider are, How long is the event I am capturing? Is it a long sun set, or quick cloud movement? For clouds during the day, I usually set a 2-4 second interval. 2 seconds is usually where I start. If I want faster movement in the video, I would use a longer interval, like 3 or 4 seconds. If the event is longer, like a sunset or sunrise, I would set a longer interval. I would test several shots to make sure your camera is taking a picture every timer interval. Some changes do not take place for many days. For plants and changing seasons, a longer more dedicated setup is required. You will need to plug into wall power for extra long captures. As a battery will at most last 6 hours. Here is a quick guide to interval times:
Driving 1-2 seconds
Clouds 2-4 seconds
Sun Sets 4-10 seconds
Snow accumulation: 1 minute
Ocean and Sea Tides: 1-2 minutes (1:30 has worked well)
Plants and flowers: 5-8 minutes

Driving with 1 second interval

Clouds with 2 second interval

Sun Set with 4 second interval

Snow Accumulation 1 minute interval


Ocean and
Tides at 90 second interval (1 minute 30 seconds)
Plants and Flowers
Plant growth at 5 minute interval


To calculate an exact interval for an event, you need a few calculations. You will need the desired video clip length (we will use 2 minuets of video). And you will need the event length (an average sun set is 2 hours). I will calculate for 30fps video.
For each minuet of video there are 1800 frames.
2 minuets of video = 3600 frames
2 hours = 120 minuets = 7200 seconds/3600 = 2 second interval.
Basically it is length of time in seconds divided by total amount of frames will give you the interval.
I usually set a quicker interval and if I would like faster movement I can make it faster in post-production.

There are also apps that can calculate interval or frame rate or any other time-lapse video calculation.
Search the app store for “Time Lapse Calculator”.

Other Camera Settings:

I have my camera set to reset the image file number for each record folder. The images will start at dsc0001 and will increment for each image. This will make it easier to see how many images for each capture and manage folders of captured images.
I also set a new record folder for each capture.

Camera Supports:

To ensure a stable video, you will mount your camera on a sturdy mount like a tripod, or a clamp mount. The camera should not shake or move with the wind.


Tripods come in all sizes and price ranges. A good tripod is worth the investment. Some tripods can change from tripod to monopod.

Clamps Mounts:

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Pedco UltraClamp and UltraClamp base with 7 inch Articulating “Magic” Arm.

For small camcorders and mobile phones, a clamp mount might be suitable. Mounting your camera with a clamp mount will allow you to use your surroundings to hold your camera in place. Most hand rails are great for mounting with clamp mounts. Pedco UltraClamp is the clamp I use.
For greater flexibility of mounting, you can use a clamp and an articulating “magic” arm.

Mobile Clamps:

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Pedco UltraClamp with Joby Phone mount
A mobile clamp is simply a clamp to hold your phone to a standard tripod screw. Joby Phone Mount works great with the Pedco clamp.

360 Pan Timer:

360 Timer 360 Timer on Articulating arm and Clamp base

This is a timer that has been modified to have a camera mount. There are many other tutorials about creating a 360 pan timer. Most of these timers only can turn 360 degrees in one hour.

360 degree time-lapse with 360 Timer and ContourHD camera


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A camera slider can make your videos feel more dynamic by adding camera movement. This will make you feel more immersed in the scene. A slider comes in many track lengths from 18 inches to 8 feet.

Special thanks to Naccari Productions for the Slider and Dolly images.


A camera dolly usually mounts to a tripod and can roll along a track or smooth ground. To use track with a dolly, the dolly must have track wheels installed. Track wheels are normal wheels that have been mounted at 90 degrees to roll along the sides of the track (usually round tubing). Tubing can be laid straight or any turn.

Motorized Dollies and Sliders:

PICT_20150222_194059[1] PICT_20150222_132545[1] PICT_20150222_125358[1]

Motorized camera movement can create a very dynamic video. A motorized slider can track stars, clouds, or just change perspective in your video. A motorized dolly will give the sense of a virtual walking tour of your scene in time-lapse. Advanced motorized sliders have smartphone apps to control timing and position of the camera with precision.

Motorized Pan Tilt Heads:

A motorized pan and tilt head will attach to a tripod and will turn your camera to the desired position. Control of these is available in manual or smart phone app controlled.

Advanced Camera Movement:

Cameras can be mounted virtually anywhere. Some things to keep in mind when designing and capturing with motion is what direction are you capturing and what direction is the scene flowing.

Post Production:

Now you have your images captured


There are many programs that can turn an image sequence into a video. For full creative control, I recommend After Effects. If you only want basic editing, then Light Room, Sony Vegas, or Adobe Premiere would be good options. I use Adobe After Effects for full creative ability.

File Management:

File and folder naming can make it much easier to find your sequences later. Starting a naming system is a good practice. The naming system I use is NYClouds1.mov, NYClouds2.mov, DenClouds25.mov, DenSunSet15.mov, NYSunSet8.mov and if there are variations of the same sequence I would name the video NYClouds2_2.mov. I usually render the image sequence scaled to fit 1080p for the first video(NYClouds2.mov) and for variations I would pan across and name it NYClouds2_2.mov.

Here is a handy tool for Sony cameras to check the shutter count for your camera.

Video Codecs:

A video codec is how the video file is compressed. File compression can result on data loss and that is why your on-line videos usually have a fuzzy picture.
For rendering video, Quicktime with H.264 is the most common. This will result in a .mov file that is recognized by most video players.


Thank you for reading my tutorial. I would love to answer any other questions that I may have missed. Please comment any questions or feel free to email me. I have more tutorials planned, this is only the beginning.

I would love to see any work that you have made. Please share and comment a link to your video!

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