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The making of a 15-second time-lapse

Thank six-second vines and 15-second Instagram videos to bring the appeal of time-lapses to the forefront. With limited time spans and the need to digest large portions of information easily, time-lapses are a welcome piece of content to immediately experience slow-moving reactions, constructions, and actions. Creating a time-lapse also requires dedication and planning in advance – some time-lapses may take hours to complete, others in just minutes. The example I show in today’s post only took half an hour in real-time at the most, but your real-time may depend on other factors which I’ll get into shortly.

The planning of a time-lapse

Don’t be alarmed – creating a great time-lapse doesn’t involve too much, but there are minimum requirements that will help make your project easier when it comes to equipment:

  • Tripod – probably self-explanatory, but if your time-lapse spans several hours, you’ll need one of these. If shooting outdoors where conditions may knock about your tripod’s legs, you may also want to consider a tripod that can span wide and low, or bringing sandbags to prevent your legs from sliding mid-shoot
  • Timer remote/Intervalometer – another must. There are plenty of affordable intervalometers available on eBay that can fit the basic needs. Look for one that has multiple settings such as delay, interval, exposure time and number of shots.
  • Large memory card, spare cards and extra battery – depending on your intervalometer settings, it will bring peace of mind to have extra memory cards and battery on hand. Time-lapses can drain both your memory and your camera’s battery, and having a conservative amount of each will help save hours of time should you run out of either prior to the projects completion
  • Creature comforts – bring a friend, a comfortable seat, warm jacket, book, thermos of coffee, etc. If you’re planning a few hours of shooting, little things can help pass the time.

Setting up the time-lapse

There are probably hundreds of ways to go about this, but there are some great questions I’ve learned along the way to understand how to set your intervalometer settings.

How fast does the project move?

I approach this by thinking about the feel you want the timelapse to be. Smooth to show a seamless transition, or rough to show action and chaos? Here are some examples to demonstrate –

Smooth: Uses shorter intervals between exposures to create subtle changes. Great for landscape and astronomic timelapses – for projects that require a lot of time.

Rough: Uses longer intervals between exposures to show a more dramatic scene. Great also if you are limited by memory and battery.

How long do you plan to dedicate to shooting?

To show changes in a shorter timeframe, longer intervals between shots can help speed up your scene, while taking a shorter amount of time to shoot. This is great for projects that move at a faster speed (e.g. something that only takes an hour or two until completion as opposed to the construction of a building over several months).

Will there be changes in exposure?

If shooting scenes such as sunrises or sunsets, you may need to keep close to your camera and set enough interval time to correct exposure before the next timed shot is due. Otherwise it will require more time to post-process which can be even more time consuming than the time-lapse itself.

Where is the focal point?

If there are lots of changes in your scene, it may pay to switch off your automatic focus to prevent your lens altering the frame whilst adjusting for each shot. You will see minor changes to the frame in my 15-second hot air balloon time-lapse at the top of this post as my auto-focus was still on. In future, I may want to manually focus (if there are no sudden changes in focal point in the frames, or look to using a smaller aperture to minimise discrepancies.

Shooting the time-lapse

Once shooting is underway, I like to observe the first few exposures to see if any adjustments need to be made to the intervalometer. Some questions to consider include:

  • Is the change too slow for the time I have dedicated for shooting? If so, increase interval time, and vice versa
  • Do I need to review all images? Once you’re confident in the settings, you can save battery by switching off any review image settings
  • Is there enough time to make adjustments between exposures if required? If you need to adjust for exposure or focal point, ensure that the you have set a comfortable interval time to make adjustments carefully – rushing this may knock about the camera and/or tripod.


For Instagram, you will only be able to upload a video that is at maximum 15 seconds. I stitch in the images in Adobe Premiere, which is fairly straight-forward:

  • Import images
  • (Optional) Delete unwanted frames
  • Nest final images
  • Reduce nested sequence to 15 seconds
  • (Optional) Add audio track
  • Export media in H.264 format

I’m sure there a thousands of more ways to approach a time-lapse, but this has been my experience so far. If you’ve created a time-lapse, have any short cuts, production tips or simply want to share your videos, I’d love to hear from you – shout out below!

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