Dime-lapse Photography (Time-lapse On the Cheap)

Photography is about perspective; time-lapse photography offers a different perspective than that of normal shooting, it focuses on the subject of an often overlooked macro-perspective of the world and the results can be very moving. I’m not talking about extended exposure photography I am going to attempt to explain how to make a time lapse Video with your DSLR even if you don’t have a video function.

I began toying around with time-lapse out of sheer boredom one day and it has been a hobby of mine ever since. It probably stuck around because it requires the photographer to go to a beautiful place and leave the camera alone with nothing to do other than enjoy the scenery and find some way to kill the time. I must admit I enjoy very little piece and quiet in my life and I have used this as an excuse to slip off and simply escape the day on more than one occasion.

Time-lapse Photography


With little more than a rubber band and a tripod you too can make some pretty impressive time-lapse videos with your DSLR. The proper and best way of doing time-lapse is to use an intervalometer and Manual settings so you can dial in your specifications precisely. You can however use your camera’s burst mode and auto settings as well as manual settings if you compress your shutter button after metering to your specifications and continue to maintain compression until your series of photos are finished. That’s where the rubber band comes into play. You are going to also need to find something to place on top of the button, really anything you have lying around will work I’ve used pencil erasers and small nuts, both do just fine.

You’ll want a Large and high speed memory card as well.

Before heading out the door you are going to want to determine the best file size jpeg to shoot in (I, like you probably do, always shoot in raw but this is one of the few exceptions.) To determine this you might want to do a few test shoots simply to see how long your camera can maintain continual burst shooting(the longer your exposure is going to be the larger the file size you can get away with because it gives your machine’s processor more time to process and store the previous shot.)

You are also going to need a sturdy tripod. The sturdiness of your tripod is dependent upon how much kickback your camera has but mainly what environment you are shooting in. A standard tripod will usually work in most cases if you keep your elevating neck fully compressed.

Your last preparation will be determining your lighting and timing. Sunsets and sunrises are tricky to shoot because your settings are not going to change on your camera once you have started shooting your series of pictures. You must anticipate what your light is going to do and adjust accordingly before you start.

Time-lapse Photography
By EastWestR14 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

In The Field

Picking your subject can be tricky my piece of advice is, if you are shooting small think slow (plants, slow moving animals and other little things that happen over time.) If you are shooting on a large scale think on a macro level, besides tides and most things in the sky that are fun to capture in time-lapse you might want to think of things like large movements of traffic or people. Many things happen over time, get creative, shoot from different perspectives and find some things not usually seen in the time-lapse perspective.

Stars with an interesting foreground can give you a grand perspective of our planet and you can nearly feel the world spin through space as you watch the moon and stars set into the horizon.

And now you wait, have a drink if you feel up to it and wait a little bit more.

You can also try some things like Slow Pans and Throwing Out the Focus slowly but in order to do this right you are going to need to spend a good chunk of change on some serious equipment or be extremely patient with a steady hand, neither of which I can do.

Time-lapse Photography

Post Processing

This is where modern technology will save you quite a bit of time. The two main things you’ll need on your computer is a photo editing program and a good video editing program. You’re going to want a Photo editing program that will let you sync up your changes or paste your edited photo’s attributes to your entire sequence of photos. Now as far as video editing goes you’ll need a program that will allow you to open a numbered image sequence. Most programs have an option in the import dialog box where you can select the first numbered photo in the sequence and it will import them all as a video file. My preference is QuickTime Pro (it has on option for importing an image sequence under the file menu) but when you are shooting at a higher or lower speed than you think gives the best effect and you want to adjust it, some of the more expensive programs like Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premier can help you out with more options on speed adjustment.