How to Get Started in Time Lapse Photography

December 12, 2018 5 min read

How to Get Started in Time Lapse Photography - Movo

So, you're finally ready to make the leap into time lapse photography?

Of course, the burning question you probably have is "How the heck do I make a time lapse?"

In this guide, I offer a few tips and tricks for the various stages of time lapse photography, from planning the shoot to composition to gear and points in between.

Without further ado, let's get started!

Step 1: Time Lapse Photography Requires Planning and Preparation

I know when I want to try something new in photography, the last thing I want to do is spend a bunch of time planning.

But planning your time lapse shoot will only help you get better results, so while it's not as exciting as actually being out there creating the time lapse, planning is nevertheless a critical part of your success.

Planning your time lapse is more than just picking a pretty subject in a great location.

More than that, you need to consider your timing (in terms of the time of day and of the year) as well as what's going on at that location.

Here's what I mean...

If you want to create a beautiful timelapse of clouds drifting over the peaks of the Tetons, early morning or late evening is an ideal time.

What's more, spring and fall when storms are more prevalent will make for a much more successful shoot than in the winter, when the peaks are often socked in by snow and low-hanging clouds.

So, not only do you need to pick a suitable subject, but the timing has to be right as well.
Additionally, think about the kind of movement you might capture at your desired location.

Will you focus on clouds traveling across the sky? A river or waterfall for some nice water motion effects? Waves on the beach? Cars passing by on a bridge?

Without some sort of motion in the shot, your time lapse isn't going to be very interesting. Planning your shoot for the right subject and the right time will help you maximize the movement for the greatest time lapse effect.

Quick Tip: During the planning phase, determine your route to get to the location, where to park, and if any fees or permits are required. Knowing those details ahead of time will help you save time and spare you from hidden surprises.

Step 2: The Right Time Lapse Gear Will Help You Create the Best Videos

MOVO time lapse slider

The great thing about time lapses is that you can create an interesting video with virtually any kind of camera - even basic DSLRs with a kit lens will do.

What's more, many cameras have a built-in time lapse function, so you can start playing around with time lapses with little more than a camera, lens, and tripod.

However, if you want to create the most compelling videos (who doesn't?!), stepping up your game in the gear department is highly recommended.

And I don't mean investing your kid's college fund in a ton of gear, either...

Intervalometer for time lapse

A great investment for time lapse video - especially if your camera doesn't have a built-in time lapse function - is an intervalometer, like the one shown above.

An intervalometer allows you to enter criteria for how often, how long, and how many photos are taken.

In other words, it's like a souped-up camera remote that gives you the ability to get perfectly-timed images in your time lapse sequence.

What's more, many intervalometers offer features that are more advanced than built-in time lapse functions in cameras, like selecting the drive mode of the camera or setting up the camera for a long exposure.

Speaking of smart investments, one of the best things you can do to boost the quality of your time lapse videos is to get a motorized slider system.

What's so nice about sliders is that you can add another element of movement to the shot - rather than having your camera stuck on a tripod, you can use the slider to move the camera as it takesthe individual photos in the time lapse sequence.

That means you get to capture the movement of the subject - the clouds, water, passing cars, and so forth - while also capturing the movement created as the camera makes its way across the slider.

Another neat thing about sliders is that some of them are all but self-contained.

The one shown above - the MOVO Time Lapse Slider - streamlines the process of creating time lapse videos because it's easy to set up, has tons of built-in features, and includes a Bluetooth remote. It's like having a tripod and a remote all in one, only way better.

Sliders like these enable you to control everything from the exposure to the interval between each shot to the speed at which the camera slides along the rig.

Check out the MOVO Time Lapse Slider in action:

MOVO Pro time lapse slider

When shopping for a time lapse slider, you need to consider the weight as well.

In this case, the aluminum alloy construction makes the Movo Time Lapse Slider lightweight and durable, which is just what you want when it comes to photography gear!

And, as I noted above, you don't need to spend a ton of money to get a great slider for time lapse work.

You can pick up a cheap rig for about $100.00 or you can spend thousands of dollars on professional sliders. High-quality sliders like the Movo Time Lapse Slider are less than $500.00, which gets you the performance you want without busting your budget.

Step 3: Pay Close Attention to Composition

On the one hand, composing shots for a time lapse is not unlike composing normal photos.

You want a strong subject, foreground interest to draw viewers in, and elements of interest in the midground and background as well.

On the other hand, you also need to consider the movement of the camera and how the scene will change over the course of the time lapse. In other words, consider what the scene looks like now as well as what it will look like when the last frame is captured.

For example, if you're shooting at the beach, you'll need to take into account the tide so you can capture footage of it coming in or going out. Likewise, if your subject is the night sky, you have to consider how the stars move throughout the night, that way each frame you take has interesting subject matter.

Quick Tip: You can use handy apps like My Tide Timesand The Photographer's Ephemeristo help you time your shoots for the best compositions.

Step 4: Take More Photos Than You Think You'll Need

MOVO Pro time lapse slider

To create a timelapse video that's about 25 seconds in length, you need to shoot roughly one photo every 12 seconds for a period of 30 minutes. That's a lot of photos!

But to create a smooth time lapse, you need a ton of photos taken at the right interval.

Naturally, the longer the period between each shot, the less smooth the time lapse will be, which means you need to err on the side of caution and shoot more photos than you think you'll need.

While each subject and scene is different, typically, a good rule of thumb is that for a slow-moving subject you need one photo every 10 seconds. For fast-moving subjects, you might need a shot every three seconds or so.

At the same time, time lapses of the night sky only require one shot every 20-30 seconds.

The point is that creating beautiful time lapses requires a lot more than just aiming your camera at something that looks good and setting an interval timer.

If you truly want to inspire people with the videos you create, you need to take the time to plan, get the right gear, mind the composition, and get tons of photos, too!