Time-lapse photography is an age-old trick that allows photographers and videographers to speed up time. A popular tool for shooting astrophotography, sunsets, the growth of plants, city life, and construction, time-lapse photography is a go-to for displaying subjects in fast-forward.
It’s similar to stop-motion animation. The difference is that stop-motion creates the illusion of motion using still objects, whereas time-lapse photography creates the illusion of sped-up motion using slower-moving objects.
Below, we will go into what time-lapse photography is and what gear you will need to get started shooting time-lapse video.
What Is Time-Lapse Photography?
The practice of lapsed photography was first pioneered by artists such as George Melies, F. Percy Smith, Edward Muybridge, and John Ott. The technique is a way to capture motion over long periods and speed it up to be consumable for an audience. Many phenomena in nature and your environment are fascinating but too time-consuming or impossible to witness firsthand.
Photo lapse beautifully captures events like a gradual changing of the tide throughout the day, the phases of the moon throughout the quarter, or the growth of a beanstalk plant. Or perhaps you want to document the renovation of a building or the painting of a piece of art. Time-lapse photography makes it possible for people to see the actual motion of these objects, just at a higher frame rate than the frame rate at which you captured it.
What Time-Lapse Photography Equipment Will You Need?
Good news: These days, basically any camera is a time-lapse camera. Most digital cameras are optimal, including point-and-shoots and DSLR or mirrorless cameras. You can also easily shoot time-lapse with GoPro cameras. All cameras starting with the HERO4 have a dedicated Time Lapse function for shooting time-lapse video.
Are you in the process of looking for the right camera? Luckily, you can also access time-lapse photography using an iPhone or Android smartphone. Current models have native time-lapse functions and various apps available for download.
An intervalometer is a key accessory you’ll need. It allows you to remotely control your camera and trigger the shutter at regular time intervals. You can get an intervalometer as a small standalone device or connect your laptop and run intervalometer software to get the job done. The downside of the laptop option is that it’s a bit clunky. However, that may not be an issue if you mainly shoot indoors in a closed space. If you’re going with the standalone device, make sure your camera works with the intervalometer.
Your camera may also come with an intervalometer built-in, so make sure you actually need one before buying.
It’s essential to keep your camera stable when shooting time-lapse photos. You need consistency to achieve a polished, shake-free time-lapse. Aim for a sizable, heavy tripod with a sturdy head.
Constant Power Source
Inherent to the nature of time-lapse photography, you need your camera up and running for an extended period. Especially if you’re shooting outdoors, relying on your batteries alone may not be the best idea, especially if you use your laptop as an intervalometer. It could also be worth the investment to get an AC adapter for your camera. Another downside to using batteries is the need to change them out, potentially causing your camera to move and ruining your time-lapse. But if you’re going the battery route, use a battery grip for extra power and make sure the battery slot is easily accessible.
Just as you want to have plenty of power available for time-lapse photography, you’ll also benefit from loads of storage space. Especially if shooting in RAW. Invest in multiple cards—get extras! You don’t want to underestimate how much space you’ll need. If you’re using a laptop, you could instead have your photos written directly to an external hard drive.
Time-lapse photography needs to be smooth. To achieve maximum smoothness, you will most likely want slower shutter speeds. The problem is that shooting at slow shutter speeds can allow too much light in. That’s where an ND filter comes in. ND (neutral-density) filters reduce the amount of light that enters the lens, allowing you to get the shutter speed you want. It will help smoothen out the motion needed for good time-lapse capture shots.
Experienced photographers are likely to already have the editing software to turn their images into a time-lapse video. Adobe software will come in handy, or any video editor, including iMovie. Though the latter is not ideal, look for a video editing program with time-lapse features.
Time-lapse videos are a unique and exciting way to experiment with documenting events in the world. Through time-lapse photography, you gain a new perspective or even see things for the first time that weren’t possible for you to see without this technique. We recommend that you start small if you are just getting started with time-lapse photography. Instead of setting out to film a caterpillar building its cocoon and emerging as a butterfly, try something on a shorter timescale, such as a sunset. One of the most remarkable things about time-lapse photography is that it can create a spectacle out of even the most mundane moments.
Do you have any ideas, stories or tips for shooting time-lapse photography?