How to make a time-lapse video

A video is made up from 25 single photos per second, that, when placed back to back, tricks our mind into seeing motion. But what would happen if we only took one photo every minute, and then played them back at 25 frames per second? The result would be a magnificent hyper-realistic compression of time. We call this a time-lapse, and I've created a video that will explain all the steps you need to know so you can make your very own. 

I started off in the beautiful Louvre courtyard in Paris, focusing on the Pyramid, and I hoped for some engaging clouds passing. One must remember when framing a shot that video does not have the same picture ratio as a standard still image. My Nikon D500 produces a native 3x2 image format, being three parts wide, to two parts tall. Video, on the other hand, works in a widescreen ratio, which is, as the name suggests, is wider than a standard image. I changed the shooting mode on the back of the camera from live view photo to live view video mode, and by doing that, it produced black bars at the top and the bottom of the image, so I knew where the edge of my 16x9 image lay.  

Although 25 frames per second is the standard in European and Commonwealth countries, you will notice that there are also 24 or 30 frames per second options, these are standard in North America... because they just have to be a little bit different. In the end, it only equates to a minute difference, but when shooting for minutes and hours, it will make a larger difference in the overall length of the film. Lastly, I needed to think about how to physically make the timelapse video. There are two main ways, an easy way, and a not so easy way. If you have a camera such as the Nikon D500 like me, then you will have an inbuilt time-lapse feature in the video menu. It will work through all of the complex equations, put all the photos back to back and spit out an MOV movie file.  If your camera doesn't have a time-lapse option, it isn't a huge problem. You just need to the series of photos at a constant interval, then put them into an external editing software to make those still images into a video. If you are shooting this way, I would not recommend shooting in raw. When you are taking hundreds of thousands of photographs, raw images will unnecessarily consume a lot of card space. We don't even need to shoot in a large Jpeg image either. HD video is 1920 pixels by 1080 pixels, so most "small" Jpeg images will be far greater than that, meaning there will be zero quality loss when downsampling. 

Before I invest the full 20 min for the time-lapse, I want to make a quick test of 1 min. This way I can quickly see if there are any mistakes, such as exposure, focus, framing or anything else. A common mistake is to leave your focus set to automatic. The result might mean the automatic focusing system will try to find the focus each time before shooting. This will create breathing problem if the lens doesn't focus at the exact same place each time, and deliver us an uneven final product. To avoid this, first, set your focus and then turn your camera's focus off. I do this by switching mine into manual focus. Once I was satisfied with my test, I reset my time to 20 minutes and pressed start. 

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For the second time-lapse in this tutorial, I chose the back of the Notre Dame Cathedral. The concept was to shoot during sunset to have the beautiful sunset colours and see the scene changed from daylight to street light. I used two cameras for this example. One set in manual mode and the other in aperture priority mode with exposure smoothing set on. The result was two very different sequences. The Nikon D7000, which was set in manual, kept the same exposure through our the sequence and got darker and darker until it just fell off into blackness. Whereas the Nikon D500, set to Aperture Priority, continually re-compensated for the amount of light available, always giving me an even exposure.

How many photographs do you need for the perfect time-lapse? This all depends on what you are shooting and how long you want your final video to be. For this shot, I knew I wanted the complete sunset, so I set the shooting time to one hour. Fortunately, Nikon takes the guesswork out of my equation.  If we enter the shooting duration and interval between shots, it automatically calculated the output time. If you need to do it manually, it is a little more confusing. First, find out how many minutes are in an hour, then how many seconds are in a minute. Divide the shooting duration with the interval, this gives us the total frames for our output video. Divide the output frames by 25 (because there are 25 frames per second (or 24, or 30 depending on the frame rate you choose) and you will have the total output length in seconds. In this case, it is as follows:

Shooting Duration: 1h = 60min = 3,600sec
Interval between photos: 13sec
Output video: 276 frames = 11 sec

Click to open a higher resolution version

Click to open a higher resolution version

I went to the Eiffel Tower, the most iconic structure in France and possibly Europe for my last time-lapse in this tutorial. I wanted to make something that combined long exposure night photography with our time lapse, so I found a beautiful carousel that would create delightful light streaks. Because I shot photos and did not just speed up a video file, it meant that I could drag out the shutter speed to two seconds. This allowed us the light trails I desired in the image. There was a little bit of traffic as well that added some more motion to my shot. 

In regards to settings, I shot at an ISO of 100 to minimise the noise. I had a shutter speed of two seconds so I could have enough time to streak the carousel as it spun. My camera suggested f/8 as my aperture, and that looked good to me. I shot in manual mode because I did not want any of the lights to pulsate. I also switched my White Balance onto fluorescent to counteract the green glow of the street lights, this meant it would remain a consistent temperature throughout the sequence. I was careful not to shoot at an interval quicker than the shutter speed. The shooting duration was 20min, with 5-second intervals, which was more than the 2-second shutter speed. Running the same math as before, this gave me a 10-second output video. The result, I am sure you will agree, was quite pleasant. 

Click to open a higher resolution version

Click to open a higher resolution version

The hyper-realistic passing of time lends itself to time-lapse photography. Anything with motion will look great, such as flowers blooming, the sun setting or a construction project. As long as you have motion and movement, it will be a perfect subject. Now that you have all of the knowledge to make an excellent time-lapse, go out and shoot some beautiful sequences. Let us know how they went by leaving a video in the comments below. 

This is the first time we have made a video tutorial, so if you enjoyed it and you would like to see some more, please like and subscribe to the channel and our blog and let us know what you would like to see us talk about next time. Aperture Tours runs one on one private photography lessons in some of the most beautiful cities across the globe. So next time you are travelling come along on a photographic journey with us. I have been Alexander J.E. Bradley, you have been fantastic, and until next time happy shooting.

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Author : Alexander J.E. Bradley

Alexander is the founder of Aperture Tours: professional photography guided tours designed to help you get the best out of your camera whilst exploring wonderful cities with a local. A professional photographer for over a decade Alexander enjoys shooting the surreal by mixing dreamlike qualities into his conceptual images.