A Free Guide to Time Lapse Photography for Beginners

What are Time lapses used for?

Time Lapses are quickly becoming snappy social media showpieces for businesses and general users alike. They’re a fantastic way to tell a long story in a short space of time, without using words. And time lapses are easy to achieve, even for a beginner. This is why they’re becoming the storyboard of choice for showcasing hobbies, talents and services online.

What is a Time Lapse?

Put simply Time Lapse cinematography is a sequence of individual images (photos or frames) taken at set intervals. These are then edited together and played back at normal speed. In essence, a time lapse allows you to manipulate time. Objects and events that would normally take minutes, days, hours, or months to complete can be viewed from start to finish in seconds.


Are you a kitchen builder who wants to showcase your work from start to finish?

Do you tidy gardens and do general odd jobs, and want to show your clients what your work involves?

Do you valet cars? Make clothes? Set up for events? Fell trees? Look after animals? Paint? Cook? Decorate cakes?

The list is truly endless. Most people have the ability to utilise time lapse photography in some form or another – even a beginner. At the end of the day you are setting up a camera, leaving it to record on its own and then just stitching it all together in an editing suite afterwards. And if the word ‘editing’ sends shivers down your spine, look at it this way – In simple terms, you’re bulk selecting the all photos from your time lapse and pasting them into a timeline. Basically, if you know how to copy and paste – you will be able to ‘edit’ a timelapse.

A time lapse is a lot more engaging than simple ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos you see daily. Time lapses are a bit different; they actually add value to your story by quantifying the effort you put in. If it’s done right, using the right equipment, and the right quality footage, you’ll be onto a winner.

How do you create a time lapse?

As a beginner, to produce a time lapse you’ll need a camera capable of taking stills at set intervals over a certain amount of time. If you’re thinking of using a DSLR-type camera, you will need an intervalometer. If you’re using an action camera, you need to use a camera with auto capture capabilities, or a dedicated time lapse setting.

I know from experience that most action cameras on the market with auto capture capabilities only allow a time-lapse interval of 60 seconds in its maximum setting (GoPro included). Olfi followed suit for a short while until we got involved in a few large time-lapse projects with some of our customers.

Shorter time lapse intervals are great if you’re using the feature for capturing fast moving weather (clouds), traffic, crowds of people or a sunrise. However, if you want to think outside the box and capture things which take a while to develop, you’ll need to have longer time lapse intervals available at your disposal. A fast-ish growing or flowering plant would need an interval of 1-5 minutes. Building constructions would benefit from a time lapse interval between 10 minutes to 60 minutes. It all depends how long the project is likely to take to complete.

A combination time lapse, which uses both short time lapse intervals (up to 60 seconds) and long-term time lapse intervals (literally any interval over 1 minute) in the same sequence, may be beneficial for some people. For the beginner, i wouldn’t recommend attempting a combination time lapse before you’ve mastered the consistencies required to make a good short-term time lapse. However, combination time lapses aren’t necessarily just for the established time lapser – It may be that you’d have part of your time lapse captured at a shorter interval (like bringing a crane on to site, and setting it up) and then extend the time lapse intervals for the general construction work.

As a beginner, what do I need to create a time lapse?

A time lapse can be as easy or as complicated (and as cheap or expensive) as you want to make it. You could fork out for a DSLR, spend some time learning about aperture priorities, ISO and shutter speed, and then create a professional top notch time lapse. Or you could search for a decent enough camera or action camera that has all of the required features to complete a Time-Lapse.

Time Lapse dslr
Canon DSLR with Rode External Mic

1. A good quality action camera, or a DSLR.

I’m not a professional photographer. When someone hands me a DSLR i’m the type of person who puts everything in to Intelligent mode to avoid messing it all up. But if there’s one thing I do know, it’s that if you don’t understand how to use a DSLR you need to learn before you embark on a project like this, or it could all go terribly wrong.

I do know my action cameras though. I know their limitations. And I know what quality to expect from completed time-lapses on a good quality action camera.

What to look for in an action camera for time lapse photography.

Olfi® Camera - Flexible Tripod with Olfi one.five
Olfi® Camera – Flexible Tripod with Olfi one.five

If you’re planning on going down the action camera route (recommended for a beginner embarking on a time lapse for the first time), you need to find one which is proven to produce quality looking images. My first piece of advice would be to look for an action camera which utilises a reputable sensor, like the Sony Exmor-R sensors. Brands which avoid naming the sensor used in their cameras, or quote an unknown name, should have their footage heavily scrutinised before considering them. Do a search for customer footage.  And always take published customers reviews with a pinch of salt, especially on the likes of Amazon. You may find it enlightening to Fakespot any Amazon listings you come across. (If you hadn’t heard of Fakespot before reading this, you can thank me later!)

Key Features to look for when buying an action camera for time lapses:

  • A Reputable sensor used in the camera. E.g. Sony Exmor-R
  • A specific time lapse Mode or setting within the camera
  • Options to alter the Exposure, ISO and possibly other variable settings.
  • Option to automate the time lapse capture Intervals (beyond 60 seconds if you’re looking to do an extended time lapse) – Please Note: Most action camera time lapse intervals peak at 60 seconds, but check out the Olfi tech spec
  • Ability to power and record whilst still protecting the camera and the charging ports from the elements (for outside time-lapses) – You really should check out the Olfi one.five Black and the Power and Record case accessory.
  • Remote Control Compatibility

2. External Power Source – Mains power, battery bank or generator.

More often than not, the battery in whatever camera you use for your time lapse will not be enough to complete the job on its own. Even if you think it will be, it is still best to simultaneously power and record with your camera to safeguard the success of your project. The last thing you want is be let down by an empty battery.  Imagine spending all that time setting up your shoot to have an incomplete time lapse at the end due to a power fail. Yes, you could just change your battery part way through, but the changeover would need to be prompt and seamless. Also, the camera would have to be placed in the exact same position that it started, to avoid anyone noticing that the time lapse had been paused part-way through. At the end of the day, successful time lapses all tend to have one thing in common – consistency.

Remember, you will need an extra long USB cable to connect your camera to the external power source. Your included power cable is not likely to be long enough for the job!

3. A tripod or stable mounting surface.

Time Lapse dog with Tripod
Stable Tripod for a stable time lapse

Successful time-lapses are normally achieved using a tripod to steady your shots. However, there are some amazing motion setups you can buy to perform a moving time lapse. As mentioned above, the key to any time lapse success story is consistency. Whilst static time-lapses are the most common form of time lapse, motion time lapses can produce wonderful pieces of artwork. A moving Time lapse is achieved by the camera moving very slowly and smoothly as it captures the scene at set intervals. Because the camera movements and capture intervals are consistent, you can create some truly beautiful art! To achieve this, you’d need to invest in a motion controller. They’re not cheap (around £600), but if you’re going to be getting serious about time lapses, kit like this will certainly make your footage stand out.

I, however, stick to my trusty tripod setup.  Stability is the most important element to a successful time lapse so you want something sturdy and solid.  You could even go for a second hand tripod. If it’s stable and has 3 working legs then you’re onto a winner! As a beginner, you need to be aware of the biggest time lapse mistakes that people make – wonky footage is probably one of the top 3 mistakes that people make – your whole time lapse result will be dampened by bad framing, and sloppy camera placement.

4. Equipment to cope with the weather – for outside time lapses

Time Lapse Rain on lens
Time Lapse – Rain Drops keep falling on my on lens

If you’re in a country that suffers from unpredictable weather patterns (like us in wet Wales, UK), you need to plan for a downpour.  You don’t want your planned time lapse being rained off due to lack of planning. Not only is water dangerous around electrics but rain droplets splashing on to your lens during filming will result in an annoying, view-obscuring drip on your finished product too, putting a dampener to your video.

A roof for your camera.

Try giving the camera (DSLR or action camera) a little roof above its head to alleviate the chances of droplets landing on the lens. Remember to take into account the effects of windy rain too, by ensuring that the roof allows for spray.

Rain protection for the power port connection on your camera.

If you’re powering and recording with your camera, you need some weather protection for your camera. No DSLR or action camera can offer waterproof protection whilst powering and recording a naked camera. Exposing the ports to connect a power cable, renders all waterproofing efforts void. Even those action cameras which claim to be waterproof without a protective case would require some additional protection for the port area in order to stop water from damaging their camera during a power and record situation.

However, there are action cameras out there that have weatherproof port protection options available to aid with a weatherproof power and record solution. The Olfi one.five – 2nd Gen, Black Edition camera has a Power and Record case available as an accessory which can be used in the rain (obviously!) because it creates a completely sealed unit. Several motorcyclists requested this feature in 2018. It was also requested by a TV production company wanting to power and record the Olfi in a specific scenario. This involved a need to lower the camera down a narrow hole by its power cable. In order to prevent excessive weight strain on the USB port of the camera, they required a solution which meant that the protective case needed to bear the weight of the cable, so Olfi recognised the demand and delivered with the Olfi one.five 2nd Gen. Black Edition.

Time Lapse DSLR Rain Jacket
Don’t just protect yourself from rain drops during a time lapse, protect your camera too!

If you’re planning on using a DSLR, you can buy a storm or rain jacket for your camera. These jackets offer rain protection for your camera, and cover the ports to prevent rain from damaging the camera.

Protect your power source from the rain!

I tend to use a DRiBOX. These are relatively inexpensive to buy from the likes of Ebay or Amazon and work well with battery banks and extension leads.

DRi-BOX for extended time lapse photography
Protect your power source from rain during a time lapse

If you don’t know what a DRiBOX is, it’s effectively a tupperware box for portable electric power sources and cables. They work by channeling power leads up and under a protected hood, and through secure cable clips to keep water out. You can probably fashion your own out of a plastic storage box but i personally like the DRiBOX features, and find that this is the best way to protect electric connections from the elements. Remember, it doesn’t take a lot for water to conduct electricity. As i’m one of those people who has absolutely no luck whatsoever, I think it’s best for me to use a DRiBOX – you can make your own decisions, obviously!

Now that you have the equipment you can get started with your photographic adventure.

The Preparation

So you’ve decided on your time-lapse subject and you’ve got the kit. Now it’s time to prepare for the event. If you’re a beginner, or you rush your time lapse planning, it could all still go wrong at this point if you randomly set your interval and get going before you’ve considered the end video.

There is no point creating a time lapse and the final video being 8 seconds long when it’s taken you all day to create it. If this happens to you, you’ll be so disappointed with the end result. When planning a time lapse, ask yourself these questions in the beginning:

How long do you want your completed time lapse to play for?

Too long and you’ll bore the viewer

Too short and you’ll underwhelm the viewer

The ‘Sweet Spot’ for social videos tends to be between 60-90 seconds, but certainly not over 2 minutes. The snappier the video, the better the interaction.


What is the frame-rate that you’ll render at?

Put simply, how many frames per second do you want your video to play back in?

For the beginner about to embark on your first time lapse, this question is commonly overlooked.

Commonly, this will usually be 24, 25 or 30 frames per second. However, artistic licence lets you decide what is best for your scenario.

By using a time lapse calculator, you are able to experiment with your numbers so that you have no unpleasant surprises with final clip length or amount of available memory required to complete the task.

How to Setup and start your time-lapse project

Once you’ve decided on your location and are all set up and ready to go, take a couple of test shots to see if everything you want displaying is in focus, and in shot. Also, check that the framing is as you wanted it to be (straight!), and then go for it!

Press START and enjoy the atmosphere around you, whilst your camera does the hard work.

Making a time-lapse is actually rather relaxing. It allows you to express your creativity while you enjoy a moment of relaxation. Take a book and have a chill, enjoy a picnic with your family, or just enjoy the world.

Tip: If you are shooting during sunrise or sunset, you need to keep an eye on the shots. This is to avoid any unpleasant under/over exposure shots. If the quality of shots starts to deteriorate, you will have the opportunity to – very gently – alter your settings without disturbing the camera.



COMING SOON… A Beginners Guide to Editing a Time Lapse


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