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How to Shoot Timelapses

Memorial of some kind NY skyline also

Last weekend I hosted my first timelapse workshop for NJSpots. The workshop was hosted at Liberty State Park in New Jersey overlooking the Manhattan skyline.

The weather was absolutely perfect for time-lapses and we got some good shots over the afternoon/evening. As a workshop recap, here are some steps on how to shoot timelapses, including composition, manual exposure settings, intervals, and creating the video.

Step 1: Composition

If the composition is not good for a still photo, it won’t be good for a timelapse

  • Composition: The first step is the most important to a good timelapse find a good composition! Take some time to research your location, scout compositions, and set up your camera/lens for an interesting subject. Each timelapse should have a focal point what will the audience be looking at?
  • Tripod: Once you find a composition make sure to set up your camera/lens on a sturdy tripod.  The tripod makes sure your video will not shake which can be a distracting element. Remember to turn off the vibration reduction on your lenses when using a tripod. See the best tripods and camera gear here.
  • RAW Photos: Finally, before you start setting your exposure, ensure your photos are set to RAW. The RAW files will give you the best opportunity to edit the photos including white balance and using the entire dynamic range.

Step 2: Manual Exposure Settings

The next step is to set your exposure and place your camera in manual to lock the settings

  • Focus: Most cameras have autofocus features which need to be disabled during timelapse. A change in the focus layer could ruin the video. The first step is to focus on your subject while in Auto and then place the camera into manual focus for the entire video.
  • White Balance: The next step is to set a white balance. I typically use the default white balance settings such as “Daylight” or “Cloudy.” The purpose of this is to make sure the camera uses the same white balance the entire shoot so there aren’t unintended changes that may create flicker in the video.
  • Exposure: Next, set your exposure on the camera. The priority for a timelapse is shutter speed. As a rule of thumb try and have a second or longer shutter speed especially for moving objects like water, people, boats, cars, etc. Aperture and ISO should be the most favorable (i.e ISO 100) and f/11-f/16 if possible. A ND filter may be needed for long shutter speeds though which can change these settings.
  • Test Shot: Take some test photos to make sure you are happy with your settings before setting the intervals.
Paterson Great Falls

Step 3: Intervals

Timelapses are shot in 24 frames per second. Shoot a minimum of 240 photos for 10 seconds of video

  • Choose Interval: The first choice is your interval. How much time will be in-between each photo?  This depends on your subject. Some general guidelines are below
    • People / Cars: 2 seconds
    • Waterfalls: 2 seconds
    • Fast-Moving Clouds: 2-3 seconds
    • Slow-Moving Clouds: 4-8 seconds
    • Sunrise/Sunset: 6-12 seconds
  • Choose Number of Photos: After the interval is selected, the number of photos will be used to determine how long the timelapse will last. In general, attempt to shoot at least 240 photos to create a 10-second video that can be enjoyed.

Step 4: Create the Video

Editing: The next step is to edit your photos into a video

  • Image Sequence: Adobe After Effects and Adobe Premiere Pro can be used to merge photos into a video. Upload the photos from an image sequence into your timeline.
  • Composition: The composition frame rate and size can be edited from here. My recommendation is to create 3840 x 2160 video sizes (4K). Upload to Instagram in 1350×1080 or 1080×1080 videos for the best quality so there is no additional compression. 

We hope you enjoyed the workshop and this tutorial! Thanks for joining us, and see you at the next one!

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