Time-Lapse Photography

Time-Lapse Videos and Long Exposures

In just a few seconds the viewer can see houses springing up, flowers sprouting out of the ground and then withering away. Time-lapse recordings really speed things up as if the Earth suddenly began rotating faster. Even if taking such exciting recordings used to be something best left to the pros, nowadays it’s relatively simple to take such recordings yourself using your digital camera.

We’ll show you how you can create impressive time-lapse videos and cool photos with long-exposure effects and what you should pay attention to.

How Impressive Time-Lapse Videos Are Created

The easiest way to create a time-lapse video is to play a video at 2X or 5X the normal speed. However, instead of adjusting the video settings, you’ll end up with better results if you create a series of individual photos. When doing this, your shooting rate will depend on the speed and what kind of motif changes are taking place. You could, for instance, take photos every 5 or 10 seconds and then later play them back as a video with 24 or 30 pictures shown per second.

The Right Camera for Time-Lapse Photos and Videos

Time-lapse recordings can basically be made with any camera. Whether using a DSLR, or compact, bridge, or system camera – it’s important that the camera is equipped with a manual exposure mode (M mode). Action cams most often already come equipped with a special timer or a mode for interval shooting, which makes creating time-lapse videos that much easier. Smartphones and tablets, on the other hand, unfortunately don’t offer too many possibilities. With the help of practical apps, however, you can still create time-lapse recordings with an iPhone or Android device.

Tested and approved by us: the time-lapse app “Miniatures” for iPhone and “Lapse It” for Android.

A video made by ifolor with the time-lapse app “Miniatures” using an iPhone 5 with an interval of 2 seconds. Recording time: 1 hour and 15 minutes. Subsequent speed adjustment in iMovie: 150%.


In the settings you can “fix” the exposure. This is important when shooting in twilight conditions for instance. Otherwise the exposure would be automatically adjusted again and again as it gets darker and darker. This would result in jumps in brightness in the recording. This is one of the cases where the limits of smartphones are shown. SLRs, on the other hand, are better equipped for handling this, although you’re more likely to always have your smartphone with you and whip it out at any time. Just make a few adjustments to the settings and you’re ready to get started.

Before Recording: The Right Equipment for Time-Lapse Recordings

No matter which camera you’ve decided to use, a tripod or a sturdy support is a basic requirement for taking brilliant time-lapse recordings. This will help you avoid unnecessary and annoying shaking during fast playback. Additionally, you should make sure that your device’s battery is fully charged and that you have enough free memory space for several hundred photos.

The right camera equipment for time-lapse recordings

Inspiration for Motif Search and Design

Since basically everything in the world is constantly changing, almost anything can be used as a suitable motif. Of course, landscape photos with moving clouds or sunsets during the blue hour are easier to plan and curtail than something like the construction of a new building. However, things like blossoming flowers or the building of a house are still popular time-lapse motifs. Other brilliant motifs could be things like a crowded intersection at twilight or a ship passing by. The only requirement is that you regularly take a photo from the exact same position.


For even more impressive time-lapse videos, you can also have your camera move while making the recording. Small cameras, for instance, could be affixed to something like an egg timer.

Camera Settings for Time-Lapse Recordings

After setting up your tripod and choosing the right image section to use, you’ll then have to set the parameters, such as the aperture and ISO value. Here we recommend using a relatively open aperture (small f-number) and as low an ISO value as possible (50-200). Be sure to put your camera in manual mode before shooting your series of photos to ensure the camera does not automatically change the settings while the photos are being taken. For your first time-lapse attempts, you should use the JPG format. This will ensure you have enough free memory space for the photos. Also, importing and editing your photos afterwards is a lot quicker than when using large RAW files.

Setting the Shooting Rate for Time-Lapse Videos

To create a smooth time-lapse video, you’ll need to use 24 (optimally 30) photos per second (frames per second / fps). The question, then, is in what interval your camera should shoot each individual photo in order to end up with a good result afterwards. Here it’s best to try out a few different settings since the speed with which the motif changes will determine how many photos you need to take per second or hour. You should aim for an interval of one to five seconds when photographing scenes on the street or people in public and five to 15 seconds when photographing the sun or sky. When photographing blooming flowers, you can use an interval of about 30 to 60 seconds. For longer projects such as photographing the change of seasons or the building of a house, it’s best to only take a picture every hour or every day.

A try by ifolor. Interval: 10 seconds. Exposure: ¼ of a second. Recording time: a little more than an hour.

The Software: How to Turn the Photos into a Time-Lapse Video

There are numerous (as well as free) programs that you can use to compile the hundreds of photos you took into a video. One option is to use just about any video-editing program to completely import all of your photos at once and export them as a video. This is easy to do with programs like iMovie for Mac, Adobe Premiere, Windows Movie Maker, or Photoshop Lightroom (the demo version will suffice in most cases here). Another option is to create a simple photo slideshow with your default image viewer and play it at an accelerated rate. You’ll end up with the best results if your video has 24 or 30 fps.

Photos with a Long-Exposure Effect

You can also use the time-lapse effect for individual photos. With a camera and source of light, you can “paint” on your photos. Doing this is called “light painting.” To do this, set your ISO value to 100 and choose a long enough exposure time and photograph yourself while “painting” a motif in the air with something like a torch in front of the camera. This is another instance where it’s best to just try it out a couple of times to find the right settings for the motif.

Light painting – time-lapse photos


Time-lapse photos and videos constantly offer us out-of-the-ordinary insights and brilliant or surprising results and the possibilities are almost endless. It’s not uncommon that you’ll end up with photos that don’t only work great as a video, but also as a printed-out photo series.

Of course, it’s best to learn from the pros: in the following article you can learn more about the Swiss photographer Alessandro Della Bella and his time-lapse series “Helvetia by Night” (with video).

Timelapse – Stars moving over the Matterhorn
Stars moving over the Matterhorn during a time lapse on Tuesday, 1 February 2011 in Zermatt. © Alessandro Della Bella

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