How to make a time lapse video

Learn how you can make a time lapse video with incredible quality with a few simple tips.

What is a time lapse?

Whether it’s for commercial purposes, or simply for your own enjoyment, time lapse videography is an effective way to dynamically capture your environment.

At the core of it all, time lapse videography is a technique that uses changes in frame rate to create different effects. In normal videography, the frame rate is the same speed at which the footage is viewed. In time lapse videography the frame rate is often faster than the rate at which footage is played back. This creates the effect of the scene being played back as though it’s sped up.

Although it might sound complicated, you’ve more than likely viewed time lapse footage before, or even captured one on your smartphone. As we dive into the world of time lapse videography, you’ll learn the key features and techniques on how to make a legendary time lapse video.

How do time lapse videos work?

Without getting too technical, time lapse effectively means, the number of photos taken is slower and less frequent, for instance, 20 frames per minute rather than per second. When stitched together and played back this creates the effect of time passing a lot faster than reality.

The slow rate at which photos are taken, means time lapse videos are taken over longer periods of time. Typically, this style of video is used for projects where the subject matter moves slowly but consistently. This may be the construction of a building, the growing of a plant, or the clouds passing across the sky. It can also be used for fast-moving subject matter such as animals or athletes. The difference here is, the shots are taken in quick succession and provide a stop-motion effect.

Professional time lapse videos are normally made up of photographs that are meticulously edited together by a professional videography editor to create one seamless flow of images.

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Key practices to create a quality time lapse

There are a few key practices you need to understand how to make a time lapse video look amazing. To ensure your time lapse video turns out exactly how you want, it’s important to consider shutter speed, exposure time, intervals, and aperture.  These factors will change depending on the subject matter, environment, and effect you want to achieve. If you’re filming it yourself we recommend experimenting until you find the golden combination.

Exposure Time

The exposure time you use for time lapse videography and photography will alter depending on your subject.

For fast-moving subjects, or to create a stop motion effect, we recommend a shorter exposure time. This makes it easier to capture quick movements without blurring the footage.

For slow-moving subjects, (you guessed it) use a long exposure time. This creates the effect of the subject moving seamlessly across the scene. This is a popular choice when shooting the night sky to allow increased light into each shot and create an ethereal feel.

Aperture Time

If your time lapse project is taking place over long periods of time you are likely going to incur changes in lighting. To combat the changes in lighting and ensure your footage is always you will need to alter your aperture.

This means you will need a digital camera that comes equipped with an aperture priority setting. This setting works by prioritising your subject’s clarity and automatically adjusting the shutter speed to allow the right light levels in.

With this setting, you might notice the time-lapse appears to flicker. This is part and parcel of long-term time lapses but can easily be adjusted and removed in the editing process.

Time lapse interval

Similarly to exposure time, the intervals in which the shots are taken will alter with a change in the subject matter. For fast-moving subjects, such as animals, you will need a short interval time. This captures their movements quickly and creates one smooth motion when played back. If you’re aiming for a stop motion effect, where things seemingly ‘jump’ up from one location to another, use a long interval time on a fast-moving subject.

For slow-moving subjects where you want a seamless playback, use a longer interval time. When shooting long-term time lapses with long interval times it’s important to consider if it’s practical. If you’re shooting in a public space and want long interval times, the time to capture enough footage could be hours. In cases like this, it’s more practical to stick with a shorter exposure time and create the seamless effect you’re after in the editing stage.

How to make a time lapse video

With smartphone technology getting increasingly clever, and DSLR cameras becoming more user friendly, time lapse video is more accessible and popular than ever. The biggest step in learning how to make a time lapse video that’s flawless, is preparation. Knowing the environment you’re shooting in, and the effect you are wanting to achieve will help achieve a stellar result.

Time lapse with smartphone

A large majority of smartphones now have time lapse video capability in the camera application or the ability to download a time lapse app. This allows you to select the mode, set your camera up on a steady surface or tripod, and start filming. Results with this method will always vary and there is considerably less control than with a camera. You should also note, you’ll have to film for a considerable amount of time as 5 minutes of smartphone time-lapse footage is roughly 20 seconds of video upon playback.

Time lapse with DSLR camera

If you want to create the best possible time lapse video, a purpose-built DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera offers superior results. Modern DSLR cameras will most likely have a time-lapse mode. This mode will be regulated by an intervalometer. It sounds technical, but effectively, the intervalometer is responsible for controlling how many shots are taken, how often, and for how long.

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Time lapse filming tips

No matter what kind of filming equipment you will be using there is always little tips and tricks that will help you significantly along the way.

Understand your filming equipment

The important first step is gaining a thorough understanding of your filming equipment. It’s always a great idea to fiddle with settings and equipment. This helps ensure when you finish filming the video, you aren’t left with unusable footage after hours of recording.

Know your project/subject

The subject you’re wanting to capture will alter the environment you’re setting up your equipment in. Finding the perfect vantage point and fiddling with the angles will ensure you capture the best result. Don’t forget, if your camera moves at all during the time lapse, the footage is effectively ruined. So, ensure the camera or smartphone is set up perfectly and is stable.

Experience through trial and error

If all else fails, the best way to learn what works and what doesn’t is trial and error. The more you keep filming and altering until you get your desired result, the more you will learn. All this newfound knowledge can then be applied the next time you go to create a time lapse video.


Although capturing time lapse footage can seem time-consuming and fiddly, the end result is always worth the time and effort you put in. With careful planning, experimentation, and continued learning, you can quickly become a pro at capturing good quality time lapse footage.

birds eye media time lapse photography

Is the project you need time lapse videography for complicated? Or do you simply not have the time and resources to capture it yourself? Get in touch with the industry experts at birds eye media and let them take your time lapse videography to the next level.

Through our years of experience and extensive knowledge of time lapse equipment, we have created the ultimate system to capture both long- and short-term time lapse footage. After field testing the system across the globe, over 100 units of our time lapse system have been used worldwide. so, you can rest assured we can capture, edit, and deliver the ultimate time lapse footage to fit your brief.

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