One of my favorite styles of photography is timelapse… showing the passage of time through a series of still photos that are then created into a movie.  This is a great way to see time passing.  For example, here is a simple shot I made during my recent trip to Tokyo.


No matter what you are shooting (people, landscapes, nature) you need to remember a core concept.  Time-lapse is all about the movement of the subject within the frame.  You will want to think about how that movement is going to cover up the photographic frame and pull the eye through.

Being able to identify the movement will help you determine the interval setting to use.  The interval is how often you take a picture.  For example, with the street shot above, I was very close to the action with fast moving subjects.  I shot with a one-second interval and combined that with a two-second exposure.  This led to a lot of streaking shots captured with little gap — hence smooth motion.

© James Ball

© James Ball

On the other hand, if I was shooting a sky and  the clouds barely moving, I’d choose to shoot a longer interval so a sense of drama was created. With experience, you can increasingly make educated decisions about that span between exposures.

Don’t worry, even if you have a little trouble early on, you can just shoot more frames than you need (although this will fill up your camera quicker).  Then in postproduction you can speed up the playback rate.  Just don’t get lazy… you still want to develop your time estimation skills.


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Join the conversation! 7 Comments

  1. Great information, but your times are confusing. “one-second interval and combined that with a two-second exposure”. Taking 2 second exposures every second is either a typo or you have developed a new branch of physics.

    I suspect what was done was a 2 second exposure setting with your intervalometer set to 3 seconds resulting in a 1 second gap.

    • Nope Bob… you’re wrong here. The interval is the time between the shots. So

      Two Second Exposure
      Camera waits 1 second
      Two Second Exposure


      Trust me… I know how to read a menu. :01 typically means 1 second across the board.

      • Thank you for your reply and clarifying that… “Click Two Second Exposure Close Camera waits 1 second Click”

        You cannot take a 2 sec exposure every 1 second. I know what you mean though.

        What you just described above and in your reply is a 3 second interval. Click, 2 secs, wait, 1 sec. On any intervalometer I have used and the ones I have designed, the nomenclature would be, that that is a 2sec exp + 1 sec wait = 3 sec interval.

        The camera or intervalometer does not know or care if you have a camera connected. It only knows to sent a signal to perform an operation (trigger the shutter) at some interval. In this case that was every 3 seconds, unless I am wrong?

        Most people into time lapse will or have already figured it out. Thank you for this,and your many ongoing excellent posts, making photofocus THE blog for photography, I never miss reading.

        • Bob…. Different devices call it different things. You are talking about the interval between opening the camera. Many cameras like Nikon and Olympus count it as the time between shots (when the aperture is closed). Regardless… its an easy concept once you wrap head around it. With Nikon and Olympus, I am using internal software… this measures the time between the aperture vein closed… as I described.

  2. I believe it depends what kind of intervalometer you use. For mine, I have to do what Bob said (little bramper). For my backup, I have to do what the article says.

  3. i love the time lapse video. great shot.


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About Richard Harrington

Richard Harrington is the founder of RHED Pixel, a visual communications company based in Washington, D.C. He is the Publisher of Photofocus and Creative Cloud User as well as an author on Rich has authored several books including From Still to Motion, Understanding Photoshop, Professional Web Video, and Creating DSLR Video.


Cinematography, Shooting