Time Lapse

April 2011

I have been experimenting with time-lapse photography ever since I had a camera capable of achieving it. These pages will describe some of my experiments and experiences, together with some examples.

All the techniques used here require some specialist software: to control the camera, extract the frames and to compile the video. I have listed my favourite applications on the Links page.

I have been using three distinct methods: Interval Exposure, Frame Extraction and Tethered Camera. The method used depends on the subject matter, its location and the period of time the recording is to cover.

Interval Exposure
Exposures are taken on a stills camera at timed intervals. The camera I use has an interval timer built in. Many new DSLRs have similar modes. For those cameras that do not, some DSLRs can be fitted with an Intervalometer to carry out the same operations. A suitable video editor is then used to create the movie from the sequence.

Advantages Disadvantages Suitability
No extra hardware if camera has the capability
Simple concept
Expensive extras if the camera does not have the capability
Limited range of timing options available except on very expensive equipment
Long recording runs or where timing interval is greater than around a minute

Frame Extraction
A video is recorded with a video camera (or stills camera with video capabilities) and frames are extracted as stills. A video editor then creates a movie from the sequence.

Advantages Disadvantages Suitability
Only a simple video recording is needed
The interval period need not be decided at recording time.
Requires suitable frame extraction software
Unwieldy for long recording periods
Short recording runs or where the timing interval is short

Tethered Camera
A web cam is connected to a PC or laptop and software records still images from it at regular intervals. Then, as before, a video editor creates a movie from the sequence.

Advantages Disadvantages Suitability
No new hardware Requires special software to control the camera
Laptop or PC needs to be in close proximity to subject and running for extended periods
Optics and picture quality of web cams not always good
Long recording runs for indoor subjects