Time-lapse Photography 101

It can be awe-inspiring to see the stars come out at night, or to watch the sun rise through the darkness of the night, or to have a flower bloom from a mere bud right before your eyes. All of these scenes take hours, if not days, in real time, but thanks to time-lapse photography, you can see amazing moments like these, and many others, in only a few seconds. Time-lapse photography involves capturing a multiplicity of images and then weaving them together so that they form a motion picture. It can be a complex process, but when done properly, the end results can be stunning.

Some general time-lapse photography terms

The term time-lapse photography itself refers to the technique of capturing film frames at a frequency that is much lower than the frequency used to view the frame sequence. The frequency that frames are captured is known as the frame rate. The frame rate of time-lapse photography is almost infinitely variable, from a near-normal frame rate, which is between 24 and 30 frames per second, to a frame per day.

Time-lapse can also refer to how long the shutter of the camera is open during the exposure of each frame of film or video. Longer exposure rates for each frame can produce blurs in the motion of the subjects being photographed, which further emphasizes the illusion of high speed movement.

How it all works

If you’re watching a video, chances are the film you’re viewing is being projected at 24 frames per second; meaning that 24 frames will appear on the screen every second. Because the human eye cannot keep up with that sort of frequency, you will see a motion picture, rather than a series of still images.

In most instances, a camera will record images at 24 frames per second. Since that is in line with the projection speed, the images on screen will appear to move at regular speed. Now let’s say you record at a slower speed, for example 12 frames per second. If the images are still projected at 24 frames per second, the objects on screen will appear to move faster. Specifically, they will appear to move twice as fast as normal.

A special device

For accurate time increments and consistency in exposure rates of successive frames, photographers will utilize a device called an intervalometer. This device regulates the motion of the camera depending on the particular time interval between frames. Many digital cameras available to consumers include some sort of hardware or software intervalometer.

How time-lapse videos can be used

The video produced through time-lapse photography can act as a visually interesting piece on its own, or it can be interspersed with scenes of regular speed action in a variety of productions. Promotional videos, event videos, travel films, and both short- and feature-length films can all benefit from scenes involving time-lapse photography. They’re excellent at showing the vibrancy of particular environment like a city square, or the majesty of the sun setting behind a waterscape.

 

Have a look at our Portfolio section for more examples of our time-lapse photography work. If there’s a particular location or landscape that you think deserves to be captured through time-lapse photography, contact us to find out how we can make it happen.