Tech & Work

How to create time lapse video from still images on your camera

Add a creative element to your videos by using images you've captured to create time lapse. This walk-through explains how to do it.

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Image: Ant Pruitt

When dealing with video, time lapse sequences offer an easy way to transition between scenes or creatively show the passing of time to your viewing audience. This could be the act of watching short timeframes, such as cooking, or extended timeframes, such as plant growth or sunset. The creative opportunities are limitless. It's all about proper execution. There are several ways to create time lapse videos, such as setting up a video camera and recording for an extended amount of time, but I'd like to show you how to do time lapse video with still images captured on your camera.

What will you need?

  • Camera
  • Tripod
  • An automatic camera option or trigger
  • Video editing software

There are a few items you must have on hand to capture your time lapse footage. Of course you need a camera, but you need your camera to be steady. The best option is to use a sturdy tripod. Next, you'll need the ability to capture images autonomously and within set intervals. Some cameras have this feature built into their menus. For those that do not, you'll need an intervalometer.

An intervalometer is a camera attachment that allows your shutter to fire based on specified shutter speed, times per minute, and total count of shots captured. For example, you can set up an intervalometer to snap photos at 1/100 of a second every 10 seconds for 400 total shots. After the 400 shots are captured, the intervalometer stops. There are several intervalometer options out there, including wired ones, such as this one from Neewer, and this nifty Bluetooth wireless one from Alpine Labs. Finally, you'll need video editing software that will allow you to import images. This could be free software such as Windows Movie Maker or a more robust editor such as Adobe Premiere Pro.

SEE: How to shoot and edit raw iPhone photos

How does this work?

In video, one second of footage is anywhere between 24 and 30 frames (images) per second in most cases. Sure, today's cameras shoot in much higher frame rates, such as 120 frames per second (fps), but for the sake of simplicity, we'll use 30fps. Since you're using your snapshots as footage to build your time lapse, you'll have to think in terms of frames per second and the total duration of your video. If you're trying to create a 10-second time lapse video, you'll need 300 images captured. Why? Each second of your 10-second video consists of 30 snapshots or exposures.

Now that the math is out of the way, let's discuss the composition. If you want your composition to show extended amounts within a short duration, you'll increase your time between shots. For example, if you watch the clouds pass over the sky as you sit outside, they will look as if they're barely moving, if at all. But if you look up at the sky every 20 seconds, you'll notice the clouds' position has changed more drastically. This is how it works for your camera, as well. Tell your camera to adjust how many times it should take a photo of the clouds to build each frame of your video. For me, I suggest shooting every five to seven seconds for about 330 to 400 total shots taken. This will give you a video that's at least 10 seconds in duration but still show a smooth movement of the clouds above.

The technical part

After you've found a location to capture your time lapse, securely set up your camera on a tripod. If you don't own a tripod, a flat surface where your camera will not move during the shoot is OK. Frame up the shot you want. While you're framing, TURN OFF the autofocus and auto white balance options of your camera. This is helpful because lighting can change over time and moving objects in your scene could trigger a different focal point.

Next, set your shutter speed and interval in your intervalometer or automatic firing options. In my example, I set my camera on a friend's screened-in deck to view the clouds on a windy day. I used an Alpine Labs Pulse bluetooth remote for controlling my shot intervals: one shot taken every four seconds, stopping at a total of 330 shots.

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Once you've gotten your images captured, you can start creating the time lapse video sequence. To do so, import your collection of photographs into the video editor of your choice. For me, it's Adobe Premiere Pro. Your import dialog will open a file explorer, allowing you to navigate to the stored images. Single-click on the first image in your directory and look for the option to designate the file as an image sequence. Click open to start the import.

Note 1: If your image files aren't named sequentially, this import process will fail to import all shots captured as a video sequence. Only one sequentially named set of files will be imported.

Note 2: Some video editors do not support RAW images. Refer to your video editor documentation for supported image files information.

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Once the files are imported, you'll be able to view them as one video sequence in your video editor.

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Drag your video sequence into your editor's timeline for more editing, such as speed ramping, color grading, and adding a soundtrack.

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When you're done sprucing up your video, export it and share it with the world! Here's the final version of my time lapse video.

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Video: Ant Pruitt

Conclusion

So that's it. That's how you create time lapse video using still images. Sure you could set up your camera to record video for a few minutes and increase the playback speed in a video editor, but you'll be limited in performance. By recording video, you're allowed to record only as much time as the SD card or camera specs will allow. In some cases, that's only a few minutes' worth of footage. By shooting still images, you can cover a much wider timeframe and use less memory on your SD card.

Your video

Once you have your time lapse video completed, share it with me online. Just tag me on Twitter or Instagram with your beautiful footage. Then share your comments and advice with fellow TechRepublic members in the discussion below.

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About Ant Pruitt

Ant Pruitt is an IT Support Professional with a passion for showing the non-geek how great technology can be. He writes for a variety of tech publications and hosts his own podcast. Ant is also an avid photographer and weight lifter.

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