There are a number of ways of shooting time-lapses. Many of the new generation cameras even have a built-in time-lapse function.
I however, try and avoid this as shooting a series of stills and then converting the individual frames into a time-lapse sequence later, has some great advantages. The main advantage being that you can shoot in RAW, which means you have a lot more options when post-processing the images and creating your final time-lapse sequence.

There are a number of tips and tricks for shooting time-lapse. Whether you’re trying to learn the basics or just looking to progress from your camera’s built-in automated time-lapses; there are several important considerations you need to keep in mind and below are a few simple steps you can use to shoot your time-lapse videos.

Have the Necessary Equipment

There are a few things to keep in mind when setting up your camera for time-lapse. As with any photography, before you can begin you have to sort out what equipment you will require. Below is what you will need to start off;

  • Camera:  A good quality high-resolution DSLR will produce the best quality sequences. Also, good low light capability is important for night time sequences.
  • Lens:  Most of the time-lapse videos I shoot are of wide scenes, so I mainly use a Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens which has been great. But I would really recommend a lens that’s good in low light – in other words, a lens with a minimum aperture of f/2.8 or less.
  • An intervalometer:  A device used to automatically and repeatedly trigger the camera’s shutter at a specific interval of time. It is used for precise timing of each image for the duration of the time-lapse that you select. (Many cameras now have built-in intervalometers or interval time shooting options, so check your equipment before going out to purchase a new one.)
  • A stable base:  A stable base is essential to a great time-lapse shoot. You can use a tripod, ground pod or anything similar.
  • Variable neutral density filter:  If shooting in bright daytime conditions, this allows you to shoot at a slower shutter speed to provide a more pleasing level of motion blur.
  • High capacity memory card:  Depending on how long you want your time-lapse to be, you will need to shoot a large number of images so a large capacity card is very important.
  • Have freshly charged batteries loaded in your camera:  Use a battery grip for additional battery power. This is important when you are shooting really long time-lapse sequences, most single camera batteries won’t have enough power to shoot through a night.
Photograph of a Canon trigger remote
Photograph of Nikon remote trigger

Working out your Time-lapse – The Formula

Finally, you need to calculate how many images you will need to shoot, and how long the duration needs to be between each image to produce your end result. There’s a basic formula to help you figure out these things, and in order to do so you need to know two things first:

  1. The length of the event – sunrise, sunset or stars as examples.
  2. The intended length of the finished time-lapse sequence Let’s say for easy calculation sake that you’re covering an event that is about 2 hours long. Let’s also assume that you need to make a 20-second long time-lapse video of the event. The recommended frame rate for the time-lapse sequence should be 24 frames per second (which is the standard for the PAL video system).

Find the interval likes this:

2 hours = 7200 seconds
7200 seconds / (24 frames x 20 seconds) = 15 seconds between each frame – In other words, you will need to have a delay of 15 Seconds between each image.

Alternatively adjusting the formula slightly you can figure out how many frames you need to shoot: Let’s say that you want to make a 1-minute video at 24 frames per second. Simply multiply: 60 seconds x 24 frames = 1440 frames.

There are also a number of smartphone and tablet apps, specially designed for shooting time-lapses that help with the calculations which is always a help.

Brendon Cremer shows how to set your DSLR camera to do time-lapse

Processing your Images

I use software called LR Time-lapse 4 in combination with Adobe’s Lightroom CC to process and combine all my images in the final video Sequence. I hope these simple tips get you started making some amazing time-lapse sequences.