How To Create A Time Lapse Video

Everyone loves a great time lapse! It's a simple way to draw your audience in on another level.  In this tutorial we’re going to go over how to create a classic time lapse video.  We’re going to go in depth with what to do, some common mistakes to avoid, and how to take your time lapse to the next level!

What Is A Time Lapse

There’s really two different ways that you can go about creating your time lapse.  The quickest way to do this is to take existing video footage and speed it up.  Not the greatest solution, but it's technically a time lapse, because video in and of itself is just a bunch of still frames played in succession.  But what we’re really talking about is a series of photographs taken over a long interval of time.  Specifically so that you can show the movement of time.

How To Create A Time Lapse

Here’s what you’re going to need:  a camera, a tripod, and an intervalometer.  Just like the name suggests, this device measures intervals of time in order to tell your camera when to take a picture.  This is the key to getting a really smooth time lapse as it perfectly spaces out when each shot is taken, making the speed of your resulting video perfectly consistent.  You can get away without if your camera has a time lapse function built in like most modern smartphones do.  But for cameras that don’t, you’re shots won’t really end up looking as nice without one.  It’s worth the investment.

Place your camera on your tripod and set your shot up to take a picture.  Plug in your intervalometer, and if you’re trying to get stars at night, you might need to switch your camera to BULB mode so that the shutter can stay open for longer.   

Play around with your camera settings in order to have a properly exposed shot.  Remember that a triangle of shutter speed, ISO, and aperture will work against each other to create your resulting exposure.  


Now, think about how long you want your time lapse to be.  Let's say you want it to last for exactly 5 seconds.  How many pictures do you need?  If you plan on having a 24fps video, you’d take 5 seconds and multiply by 24 frames per second which equals 120 pictures.  For a 30fps timeline it should be 150, and a 60fps timeline would need 300 pictures.

Why does this matter?  Well think about how long you might have to sit there.  If you just shot off 120 pictures rapid fire, the end result is that your video would be really close to normal speed, and not really interesting at all.  The longer between each picture you wait, the more quickly time will pass in your resulting video.  So if you decided to wait 10 seconds between each picture, you’d be waiting almost 20 minutes.  On a 60fps timeline,  you’d be waiting closer to 50 minutes.  You’d better bring something to do because waiting for that long can get boring very quickly.

Time Lapse In Premiere

Now that you have all your photos taken, bring them into premiere.  Highlight them all and drag and drop them onto your timeline.  These photos will likely be a different size than typical videos you shoot and not quite the 16:9 ratio you may be used to.  Your photos may also be much larger in size.  So drop them in and for your first photo, resize and re-position it to the point at which you’re happy with it.  Now copy the motion section from your effects control panel, then highlight all the pictures and paste the attribute.  This should re align all your photos in exactly the same way.  

Now you’ll notice that when you drag and drop your pictures, they each last for about 5 seconds or so.  This is NOT what we’re going for, so highlight all your pictures and go right click and go to speed/duration settings.  From here, manually set the frame length to one frame.  Then select ripple, and press OK.  Now each picture lasts for exactly 1 frame, and when played back, you get your time lapse effect.

Now here’s the next key that will help make things a lot easier. If you’re adding this time lapse to a larger project, it can really help to nest these clips together.  Highlight them all and right click and go to nest.  Now your time lapse will act as a single clip made up of your photos.  

There you go! That’s how you make a time lapse!  Or at least, that’s how I would go about it personally.  But just to be safe, there’s a few things that you need to watch out for during the whole process.

Common Mistakes

Here are some common mistakes to avoid.  Once you start your time lapse, NEVER move your tripod.  Don’t even touch it.  Just let it do it’s thing.  Moving your camera any microscopic amount will show as a noticeable bump in your video, which is incredibly distracting and hard to get rid of.

Secondly, never use auto settings.  Make sure your controls are all set to manual.  Any change in exposure, even if done automatically by the camera, will look terrible in your final video.  Make sure to keep everything consistent.  

Finally, check on your time lapse from time to time.  Your camera will likely spit out an example image for review before taking the next one.  If it just doesn’t look as good as you would have liked, or if you accidentally left the lens cap on, shutting everything down early and starting again is a way better solution than waiting an hour only to realize you don’t even like it enough to put in your video.

Now we’ve learned what to do and what not to do, but how do we make your time lapse stand out from the crowd?


The key is to NOT rely on the fact that you’re going to speed things up to wow your audience.  You need any one picture within that time lapse to be noteworthy on it’s own.   Use composition guides like the rule of thirds and leading lines (just as two examples) to make your pictures awesome. Need a refresher on composition? We did a video on that! Take a look if you want some help getting great composition in your videos. If you string together 300 well composed and amazing pictures, then the motion of things like rolling clouds or stars will only increase the "wow factor."

Stars and Star Lapse

That’s the other thing: STARS.  They’re awesome!  But sometimes they can be difficult to capture.  If you want to go for it, we would suggest doing some more reading up on the topic.  But if you’re going to try to capture some stars, we would like to offer this piece of advice.  

It has to be a really clear sky, which means no cloud coverage.  Additionally, there has to be very little light pollution where you’re shooting.  This means no street lights, cars, houses, or anything nearby residential or human populated areas.  These will all likely give poor results.   You need to be able to actually see stars when you look up.  You won’t be able to expect your camera to pick much up when you yourself don’t really see anything.

High vs. Low Shutter Speed

Lastly, when creating your time lapse, is it better to go with a high or low shutter speed?  Basically, do you want the motion of your time lapse to be crisp and sharp, or buttery smooth and fluid?  Higher shutter speed will give objects in motion a lot of detail as they go by.  On the other hand, low shutter speed will create a lot of motion blur and make things feel like they’re blazing by, and may also give you the illusion like it's leaving a trail in its wake.  This decision is actually up to you.  What do you like better for your shot?  What kind of aesthetic are you going for?

My suggestion?  Try them both out, as well as the rest of the tips mentioned in this video. Keep practicing over and over to get really good at creating stunning time lapses.  They can serve as an amazing element to add to your video.

I hope you found this video helpful! If you did, we’ve got tonnes of other tutorials here at Motion Array.  For example, we’ve got a tutorial on how to create a zoom blur, which is how we went from the phone screen to the title at the beginning of this video.  

If you have any questions, please ask them below in the comments section. Also, be sure to check out all of our other awesome tutorials. 

Composition Tutorial:

Zoom Blur Tutorial:

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