A time-lapse interval, in relation to the speed of the action in front of you, essentially determines the speed of your output video. While these guidelines will help you set a proper time-lapse interval framework, no two scenes or events are exactly alike. It still pays to do a little “back of the photography journal” calculations. This post will help you sort things out.

How to Choose a Time-lapse Interval

I queued up the time-lapse exposure video to the beginning interval section.
(***amature tutorial warning*** ūüôā These were the first I’d ever made, updated videos in the works)

Here are a few things to think about:

What do you want to capture and how long is the event?

What specific event do you want to capture? Is it a full sunrise, a start to finish construction project, or a clip of cars at night on a busy highway, etc. ¬†What event and how much of the event you want to capture is the first consideration in determining your interval.¬†[aside]This post on Choosing a timelapse interval¬†is part of a larger road-map outlining timelapse photography called The Massive Time-lapse Photography How to Guide…[/aside]

Determine: How long you need to be present and snapping to record what it is that you want to include in your time-lapse compilation.

How fast is the action taking place?

Think about how fast the scene is changing. ¬†Also think about how you would like that change to be displayed in the final time-lapse compilation. ¬†For example if you have a fast changing¬†scene and you want to record smooth fluid motion then you will want to set a shorter interval. ¬†A slower changing scene can allow a longer interval to still¬†achieve¬†smooth playback. If you want “jerky” motion, where it looks like things pop from one location to another (instead of blending) use a longer interval in a fast scene.

Decide: How you would like the final compilation to flow.
Observe: How fast the scene before you is changing.

The exposure and time-lapse interval tutorial video above shows a side by side comparison of a short and long interval and the resulting speed change.

To give you a feel on where to start here are some common scenes with possible intervals:

1 second
Moving traffic
Fast moving clouds

1- 3 seconds
Slower moving clouds
Moon and sun near horizon (or telephoto)
Things photographed with a telephoto[/one_fourth]

15 – 30 seconds
Moving shadows
Sun across sky (no clouds) (wide)
Stars (15 – 60 seconds)

Fast growing plants (ex vines) (90 – 120 seconds)
Construction projects (5min – 15min)[/one_fourth_last]

How long do you want your time-lapse compilation to be, and how long to shoot?

Think about how many pictures are required to give you the compilation scene length that you want? ¬†Too short and you won’t have enough frames to make a meaningful compilation. (ever see a 4 second time-lapse, by the time you realize what you are watching, it’s over). ¬†Too long and you will have unneeded extra frames to¬†transfer¬†and process (not a huge deal though unless you are short on card or hard-drive space).

Sometimes you may need a specific length compilation to fit an assignment or a storyboard segment in a larger time-lapse work.¬†Whatever the case it’s good to do some back of the photography journal calculations. There is one stipulation you need to follow as you do your calculation:

Interval must be longer than exposure

Time-lapse frame interval

Wikipedia CC license

Frame interval > Exposure time

Your interval MUST exceed your exposure time. A good rule of thumb is to keep your exposure at about 60% – 80% of your interval to give your camera enough time to clear the image buffer before the next frame is taken.

Avoid dropped frames

Think of your camera’s buffer like a pipe connecting the newly recorded image and you camera’s memory card. ¬†It takes a little bit of time (depending on your image resolution) for the information to be processed and flow from one place to the other. ¬†If you try to send images too quickly some may get lost (your camera will skip a frame). ¬†Bad news. ¬†I’ll be explaining the concept of camera buffer “dropped frames” in greater detail in a¬†separate¬†post, but for now make sure your camera’s “read/write” light is off before the next frame is taken.

Bringing it all together:

Frame rate: Time-lapse compilations are commonly rendered at 24 or 30 (fps) frames (photos) per second.  While there are other uses for other rates, this example will include a 30 fps compilation.

Interval Example: Fast clouds and a compilation length goal

It’s an awesome sky and fast moving clouds are being painted a warm orange from the evening sun. ¬†You have decided that you would like to create a 10 second cloud time-lapse compilation with an extra 2 seconds to fade in and out. Here’s what you calculated:

You want 12 seconds of compiled cloud footage to be shown at 30 frames per second.
This will require [ 12 x 30 = 360 ] 360 frames to captured.

You can see that the clouds are moving moderately fast and you want a nice smooth video. You decide to shoot at a 2 second interval.
At a 2 second interval and with the goal of 360 frames, you need to snap images for [ 2 x 360 = 720 ] 720 seconds or [ 720 / 60 = 12 ] 12 minutes (not including exposure time but that is minimal).

“Outstanding!” You think to¬†yourself¬†as you grab your copy of Atlas Shrugged and begin to setup for the shot. You can either program your intervalometer to shoot 360 frames at a 2 second interval, or you can set it to infinite frames and just watch the time. ¬†I usually do the latter (if I don’t need to save the card space for something else) incase something interesting comes into view I can just let it roll.

It’s worth mentioning…

If you are shooting a changing thing for the first time and aren’t really sure what interval to use, it is usually best to use one that is faster than you need rather than slower. ¬†You can always speed up too many frames in post but you can’t ever go back and capture those missing too slow intervals.

Return to The Massive Time-lapse Photography Tutorial:
[includepost id=”177″][/includepost]

  • Very helpful tutorial, especially with the table provided as reference.

  • Seven_Six_Two

    Thanks for the great information! I’m currently doing a time-lapse of some Teasel seedlings. I’m recording with a webcam at 1 image every 5 minutes, and my film is going to be 15 fps. It’s looking good so far, so I’d say that your estimation of 90-120 seconds is good for playback at 30fps.

  • Micah

    Great tips! Question, I know you said for situations where the light changes, like a sunset, you use aperture priority. Have you experienced with setting your ISO to auto? would that do essentially the same thing?
    Thanks again!

  • Pingback: TIME: technical understanding of time lapses | My Photo notes()

  • Peter Quinn

    These are excellent guidelines. To calculate the precise interval necessary to achieve a certain video length, I recommend this web app: http://www.packafoma.com/blog/2014/01/22/time-lapse-photography-interval-calculator/

  • Pingback: GoenRock's Vlog¬ģ » Blog Archive » Asiknya Ber-TimeLapse Dengan Lumix DMC-GF6()

  • Bryce Teel

    Do you know if there is a calculator out there in which you plug in the length of the TLC video you are trying to create. We have a 2 month construction project, which we are trying to slim down to a 3 minute video. We have the Brinno TLC200 Pro, so it compiles all the photos into a video automatically. Any suggestions would be much appreciated.

    • If you make a 30 frame per second video that is 3 minutes long that gives you 5400 exposures. 5400 exposures spanned over two months gives you:
      60 minutes * 24 hours = 1,440 minutes per day
      1440 minutes * 60 days = 86,400 minutes in two months
      86,400 / 5,400 = 16

      You need to take a photo every 16 minutes to make a three minute long 30fps video that archives a 60 day event.

    • If you make a 30 frame per second video that is 3 minutes long that gives you 5400 exposures. 5400 exposures spanned over two months gives you:
      60 minutes * 24 hours = 1,440 minutes per day
      1440 minutes * 60 days = 86,400 minutes in two months
      86,400 / 5,400 = 16

      You need to take a photo every 16 minutes to make a three minute long 30fps video that archives a 60 day event.

  • Hirogen

    Thank you very much. I have been searching for just this type of tutorial. You have addressed a ton of mistakes I’ve made so far.

  • Pingback: 5 Steps to Shoot a Simple-ish Time-Lapse Video With Your DSLR - Photodoto()

  • Extremely helpful. Thank you so much. At least the basics have become clear.

  • Pingback: Time-lapse no Zenfone 2: Voc√™ j√° usou? – ZTOP()