Time Lapse

Sample time-lapse videos:

> Play

(10 SEC)

> Play

Ant Swarm
(30 SEC)

> Play

(10 SEC)

> Play

(6 SEC)

> Play

(60 SEC)

> Play

Ice Melt
(10 SEC)

> Play

Sunset 1
(30 SEC)

> Play

Sunset 2
(30 SEC)

Movies require Quicktime.

See more timelapse from TimeScience on Vimeo or visit our YouTube channel.


Time-lapse Tutorial

> About Time-lapse

> How Time-lapse Works

> How to Create Time-lapse Video

> Time-lapse Calculator

About Time-lapse

Time-lapse is like a fast forward for reality; it allows you to observe things happening faster than they actually occur.

Time-lapse helps us understand the world by visually showing changes that we cannot normally perceive. You could sit for several days in the same place and watch a flower bloom. But the change happens so slowly that you could not mentally compare one state of the flower to the next.

The human visual system is designed to detect change. Our eyes and minds can perceive complex changes in a scene better than any instrument or computer system. But it functions only at a certain speed and timescale. Time-lapse allows us to tune the speed of change to the speed that our own eyes and mind can best understand and appreciate.

How Time-lapse Works

We will use the term "movies" (things that move) to refer to both film and video. Movie cameras actually record a series of still images, called frames. From 18 to 60 frames are recorded per second, depending on the movie format. These still images are then played back at the same rate. The human eye perceives this rapid series of images as actual motion.

Time-lapse movies are created by recording frames more slowly. The frames are then played back at the normal rate.

Consider a movie in the cinema which is normally recorded at 24 frames per second. You could create a time-lapse by recording one frame every second. When you play the movie, the frames recorded over a period of 24 seconds are played back in one second. So the recorded scene moves 24 times as fast as the real scene.

One hour of recording would play back in (60/24 = ) 2.5 minutes.

Some tips on creating Time-lapse Video

There are many considerations when creating a time-lapse movie. Here we will present techniques using digital technology, and offer a few practical tips.

Digital Techniques

  1. Video Camera Feature: Interval Record Mode
    Requirements: a video camera with "Interval" record mode.

    Many video cameras, such as any recent Sony DV camera, include an "Interval" record mode with which you can set the camera to record a few frames of video at a specific interval, i.e. every 30 seconds, or every 10 minutes. This is a great feature for time-lapse, but unfortunately does not yield very smooth results because it always records a few frames at a time and the number of frames recorded is not always consistent. To get a smooth time-lapse the camera needs to record only one frame at a time. We can only hope that camera developers will figure out the utility of this feature and integrate it into future systems.

    To record time-lapses using interval recording you need only to activate it in the camera itself and then let it record. Easy! One complexity that you encounter here, as with all techniques, is the question of how often to record an image. See our free online time-lapse calculator for help with your calculations.

    Example: On a Sony camera, recording a 24 hour day at 1 image every 30 seconds takes up 8 to 10 minutes on a DV tape. This compresses to about 30 - 60 seconds of finished video depending on how fast the clouds were going and how interesting the day was.

  2. Speed Up Video
    Requirements: a video camera or webcam, a computer with a large hard drive, software to speed up video.

    A great way to create smooth time-lapse videos is to simply record a whole tape of normal video with a video camera. Then, transfer the video to the computer, saving it to one file. The main limitation with this technique is that you can only time-lapse an event that fits on one videotape. (Usually 1 hour.)

    This can be overcome by skipping the videotape and recording video directly to the computer. In this case the length of the recording is only limited by the size of your hard drive. (See our time-lapse calculator for help.)

    Once the video is saved to the computer hard-drive you can create a time-lapse by speeding it up with software, and saving out a new video file.

    There are many software options:
    • Expensive video software such as Adobe Premier, Adobe After Effects, Sony Vegas Video, Apple Final Cut Pro, Apple Motion, AVID programs and others offer excellent control over the speed of movie files.
    • Windows Moviemaker is included with the Windows operating system and starting with version 2 you can apply an effect called "Speed up, Double". By applying this effect multiple times you have some control over how fast the clip plays.

  3. Record images
    Requirements: a digital still camera or a webcam, a computer,
    software to record images periodically, software to assemble images into video.

    This technique can be the most complex, but also allows you to create the best quality time-lapses. You will need software that can do interval recording. Many digital cameras come with some basic software to do this. Or you can buy some software specifically for this task.

    Attach the camera to the computer, and use the interval recording software to record a digital image periodically to the computer.
    Once the images are recorded you need to assemble them into a video file. This can be done with advanced software such as Adobe Premier and the other software listed above. Or there are several good software options.
    • Movie Salsa for Windows. $20.
    • HandyAvi for Windows. $40.
    • GBtimelapse for Canon Cameras and Windows. $50.
    • IStopMotion from Boinx for the Macintosh. $40 for standard version. $350 for high resolution version.

    With a bit of web searching you can probably find some free tools as well.

    This technique offers the highest quality because of the superior quality of the image sensors in digital still cameras. Also you can create a very high resolution time-lapse video.

Practical Tips

Creating a time-lapse movie is a kind of experiment. When you record normal video you can see the result in the viewfinder instantly, and make adjustments right away to get exactly the shot that you want. With time-lapse, you only see the result at the end, and since it can take a long time - it is best to prepare your shot thoroughly.

Change Think about what things around you are changing. Sky, Street, Food, People.
Think about how long it takes for something to change.
External Factors Think about what other conditions might affect your recording. Light, Wind, Weather, Pets.
One Change Best results are often when you can isolate just one change, eliminating all other factors. For this reason indoor recording is often best.
Tripod Usually you will want to record from a fixed location. Use a tripod. A heavy tripod minimizes the possibility of the camera being moved, even if accidentally bumped. Expect to pay around $100-$200 for a good tripod. It is worth every cent. A great supplement to a full-sized tripod is a JOBY. These portable tripods are light, incredibly versatile and attach to almost anything.
UPS If you are recording a very long time-lapse, consider investing in a Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS). Its a battery based system that ensures that your camera/computer keeps running even if the outlet power goes out for a few minutes or hours.
Good lighting Recording indoors allows you to control the lighting situation.
Do not disturb Consider who or what might interrupt the recording. Because the recording is often running by itself it helps to record in a closed room - and/or with a sign letting people know what is going on.
Patience !!!


Time-lapse Calculator

Time Science      Time-lapse Calculator

Each interval, record

Video Format

Interval Recording Time Playback Time
Record times per
Calculate Calculate Calculate




You can calculate either the interval, the length of time you want to record, or the final length of playback.

Click the "Calculate" button under the value you want to calculate,
and enter the values you know for the other fields.

Click HERE to download the advanced time lapse calculator (You will need MS excel or OpenOffice to view the file).

Let us know if you like the calculator or would like to see any other tools...

2012 Time Science LLC