This is part 5 of a series on timelapse photography.

If you are incorporating time-lapse footage into a normal shooting schedule, keep in mind that it is going to tie up your gear for a while.  Your camera may end up on a locked off tripod for hours (or even days).  Plus you need to keep the frame clear. How do you stay out of your own camera’s way?  It becomes critical to plan your shooting with additional constraints in mind.


How Long to Shoot

Knowing how many frames to shoot can be tricky.  I recommend that you consider the subject in terms of how long it takes to happen–both in reality and in the finished clip.  There is some basic computations needed that work with the following variables:

  • Real time – Start with the real time.  How long is the event that needs to be recorded?  Break it down into minutes, then seconds for easier calculations.
  • Screen time – How long does the shot need to be for the finished video clip?
  • Frame rate – What do you need the finished file to playback at?  Edit at?
  • Interval between frames – How quickly do you want time to pass? Are you looking to show the passing of minutes or weeks?

So, how long do you  shoot? You come to the answer this way:

  • 4 hours is 240 minutes, or 14,400 seconds.
  • The project will be eventually screened at 30fps.
  • Your shot goal is 12 seconds.  Multiple by 30fps and you have a length of 360 frames.
  • Divide the total seconds (14,400) by the number of frames needed (360) to give you your frame record interval.  In this case – an interval of 40 seconds.

Movement as Subject

No matter what you are shooting–people, landscapes, weather, machines–your subject is essentially the movement of these elements within the frame.  You really need to develop a talent for pre-visualizing how this movement will look in time-lapse mode.  This skill will guide you in determining that important interval setting.

As you look up at the sky and watch the clouds barely moving, or try to imagine a stadium filling with people before its actually happened, you will (with experience, make increasingly educated decisions about that span between exposures.  Experiment as much as possible before your “real” shoot.  Try and get a feel for how long real movement will play on the screen with the different choices you make.


Camera Placement

Where you place the camera is important for time-lapse acquisition.  You need to isolate your camera’s position to minimize the chance of it getting bumped.  You can use traffic cones or partitions to limit traffic.  You can also choose a spot that’s just out of the way (such as a camera mount or an isolated spot).

Camera Framing

With time-lapse you are back to shooting an image with a 3:2 ratio (as opposed to 16:9).  You may want to mark your LCD panel with tape… or just remember the difference when you compose the frame. Speaking of composition, you want to set your frame to minimize unwanted action.  Some types of elements moving in your frame will be distracting from your time-lapse.


It’s important to schedule your shots for the right time of the day. You want the images to really sing.  Be sure to schedule the shot for the best light and motion.  If you’re unsure of the shot, scout the location before hand.  You really need to carefully contemplate the camera placement, because getting a second crack at something is much more costly than usual!

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