How to Take Time-Lapse Video: A Guide to Taking Video for Time-lapse

Video is nothing more than a collection of still images. If those still images are captured in real-time, the result looks like natural movement. But if the photos are taken over an extended period of time, everything looks sped up. The purpose of time-lapse video isn't necessarily to speed things up but rather to show motion that would be impossible to capture otherwise.

When you take time-lapse video, you can see the movement of clouds across the sky, watch the stars go by as the Earth spins about its axis, or capture the full magnitude of a busy city street.

If you want to learn how to take time-lapse videos, this post will help. We'll go over the steps involved in making the video and talk a little about the best time-lapse camera for the job.

How to take a time-lapse video

Taking a time-lapse video is more like creating a stop motion animation than filming a traditional video. While you don't have to animate the objects you'll be recording; you do have to calculate frame rates and understand exposure in a way that you don't when you can just point a camera at something and hit the record button. Let's take a look at what goes into it.

Getting the correct number of frames

When recording a time-lapse video, you'll likely have a video length in mind. Most time-lapse videos are 30fps, though 60fps is growing in popularity. So, if you want a 20-second video at 30 frames per second, you know you need 600 frames. That same video at 60fps would require 1200 frames.

To make the math easy, let's say you want your 20-seconds of video to cover 10 hours (600 minutes) of real-time. To accomplish that, you'd need to set your camera to take a shot every minute.

Choosing an exposure setting

Your exposure will affect how your final product looks. A fast exposure will result in super crisp images and give the final video a stop-motion feel. This is great for capturing objects that you want to retain a detailed, natural, lifelike appearance. For a busy street or the nighttime sky, using a more prolonged exposure can add a nice effect to the result, as it will be less crisp and give the illusion of the moving objects streaking by.

Setting up the camera

Like with stop-motion, you want to keep your camera as still as possible. Although it is possible to get panning or zooming effects while taking time-lapse photography, the results often end up less than desired. Almost every modern camera can function as a time-lapse camera, as they usually come with a purpose-built time-lapse mode.

What camera to use for a time-lapse video

When taking a time-lapse video, camera choice should be limited to modern cameras with the built-in time-lapse mode discussed above. Whether you are wondering how to take a time-lapse with a DSLR or a mobile camera, the procedure remains similar. The software inside the camera will handle most of the hard work of timing and taking the shots for you.

If you plan on taking many time-lapse videos, then a camera with manual focus is a good investment. Because of the nature of time-lapse, changes in focus from one shot to the next will look very out of place. Assuming everything stays the same, automatic focus would work well. But a stray bug or any other unexpected movement at the time of the shot could throw off the focus relative to the other shots.


Taking time-lapse photos used to be a long and tedious process, requiring the photographer to manually take the shot when it was needed. This limited the amount of time that could be covered, and the video's frame rate could be captured at. Modern tools have brought this interesting photographic technique to the masses and made the result more accurate in the process. So grab a camera and give it a try; we think you'll enjoy seeing the motion around you in a new way.

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