Time Lapse photography

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Time-lapse photography is a cinematography technique whereby the frequency at which film frames are captured (aka the frame rate) is much lower that that which will be used to play the sequence back. When you replay this sequence at normal speed, time appears to be moving faster and lapsing.

Blossoming Pelargonium. 2 hours are compressed down to a few seconds.


Eadweard Muybridge, a nineteenth-century photographer is often quoted as originating the technique. One of the first uses of time-lapse photography in a feature film was done by Arnold Fanck in his series of work calledBergfilms, including this 1926 film The Holy Mountain.

How time-lapse works

Even if the film camera is set to record at a slower speed, it will still be projected at 24 frame/s. Thus the image on screen will appear to move faster.

The change in speed of the onscreen image can be calculated by dividing the projection speed by the camera speed.

So a film recorded at 12 frames per second will appear to move twice as fast. Shooting at camera speeds between 8 and 22 frames per second usually falls into the undercranked fast motion category, with images shot at slower speeds more closely falling into the realm of time-lapse, although these distinctions of terminology have not been entirely established in all movie production circles.

Time-lapse can be achieved with some normal movie cameras by simply shooting individual frames manually. But greater accuracy in time-increments and consistency in exposure rates of successive frames are better achieved through a device that connects to the camera's shutter system (camera design permitting) called an intervalometer. The intervalometer regulates the motion of the camera according to a specific interval of time between frames. Today, many consumer grade digital cameras, including even some point-and-shoot cameras have hardware or software intervalometers available. Some intervalometers can be connected to motion control systems that move the camera on any number of axes as the time-lapse photography is achieved, creating tilts, pans, tracks, and trucking shots when the movie is played at normal frame rate.


Ron Fricke is the primary developer of such systems, which can be seen in his short film Chronos (1985) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1K9N9flhOx4