How to do Time-Lapse Photography & Videos

Time-lapse photography and videos are very cool, I’ve done them myself a few times, including the Solar Eclipse in 2017 and here’s what you need to get started.

What you Need

  • A camera that can take shots on a timer. For most DSLR cameras you’ll need a remote shutter. I have a Nikon D3100 and use a Vello remote shutter and has served me well. It has several modes and has great battery life.
  • A way to power you camera on AC power or a high capacity battery. I used an adapter that fit inside the battery compartment and plugged into an AC outlet which allowed my camera to work all night long.
  • A large memory card. Also note the maximum size your camera can support, some cameras may only support a 32 GB or 64 GB memory card. Also depends on the size of the image and whether you’re shooting in JPG or RAW (RAW files average 2-3 times the size of JPG images). In my case shooting in RAW gave me just enough space to do all the shots over night on a 32 GB SD card.

Calculating Exposure

There are a few things you need to keep in mind about your lens. If you’re using a telephoto lens your exposure times will need to be less, wide-angle lenses can have longer exposure times. However, if you have deeper pockets you can get a star tracker tripod and be able to take night long exposures. One of these days I’ll get one, for now I’ll just have to look at everyone else’s photos. To figure out what exposure settings you should use for photographing the night skies for your lens check out Lonely Speck’s Milky Way Exposure Calculator.
If you’re going to be doing a time-lapse during the day time, I recommend using auto exposure for the most part but you do have to keep in mind the lighting source. If you’re doing a time-lapse of a plant sprouting, vines, etc, you probably will fare better with automatic exposure. While if you’re doing a time-lapse of clouds going by you can most likely set your exposure for the duration. For astrophotography you do want to set a manual exposure and don’t boost the ISO too high — check that calculator out!
While not all cameras do this, my Nikon D3100 does. If you set a 20 second exposure you do have to wait about 20-22 seconds before being able to take the next shot. That means for a 20 second exposure you can only take shots every 40 seconds roughly, other cameras you can take shots every 21 seconds; I always leave about 1-2 seconds head room.

A Note About Flickering

I personally have not encountered problems with flickering with the D3100. However, some tips you can use to reduce the likelihood that you’ll see in your final product. One is to use the widest aperture (smallest F-stop). Use a lower ISO to have a longer shutter time, there are slight variances in shutter lag and at high ISO and very high shutter speeds these discrepancies are much more noticable. As a last resort you can purchase software that can fix the flickering for you, but I’m making this tutorial for those on a budget and aren’t looking to spend thousands on their hobby.

How many Shots do I need in a Time-lapse?

The next question is, how long do you want your time-lapse video to be? How many shots do you need to take? How long is this going to take to shoot all these photos? If you’re not concerned with any of that then you can go right on ahead and start shooting. I can say that I typically don’t worry about all that, I usually just leave the camera shooting all night long to find a completely full memory card (shoot in JPEG instead of RAW for time-lapse).
If you want to have a 30 second time-lapse video at 30 frames per second and your camera is shooting 1 photo every 30 seconds it’s going to take 7 1/2 hours and 27,000 photos. If you choose to run at 60 FPS, you’ll need double. Don’t panic, time-lapse videos can make up tens of thousands of photos, but mostly space is going to be an issue. I personally don’t worry about shooting in the highest resolution all the time, it just depends. Yes, when it comes to astrophotography, higher is better and if your camera supports large memory cars you might be fine having 50,000 photos in the end.

Putting your Time-lapse Together

You don’t need fancy software, that’s the good news. I typically use Movie Maker in Windows, but Microsoft has since dropped support. Despite that, Movie Maker works just fine in Windows 10. You can use other software such as VirtualDub orĀ  VideoMach, all of these options are free. You’ll need to import all photos and then select all the photos and set the transition time to 0.033 seconds for 30 frames per second or 0.016 seconds for 60 frames per second.

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