To understand the basic idea behind time lapse photography images, think about children’s flip-book images. These books sometimes portrayed a simplistic stick-man. He would seem to move as the pages turned. Each page would be drawn with slight changes to the stick-man, perhaps a moved foot, leg, or hand, so that when the book pages were flipped quickly, the stick-man would appear to be walking. If enough pages chronicled small progressive changes, then the flipping pages create a virtual mini-movie. This is very similar to the premise behind time-lapse photography.
A popular use of time lapse photography is to capture growth in nature. For example, a series of photos may show a seed sprouting from the ground. The very ambitious may then further chronicle the plant as it progresses into a fully fledged flower. When the photos are taken from the same vantage point, at frequent and regular time intervals, the growth of the plant seems miraculous in retrospect. This type of photography may look complicated, but it is actually rather simple to create time lapse photos. Even a beginner with a little time, a way to stabilise their camera, and a basic program to play back the series of photos can make spectacular captures.
Beginners may feel comfortable tackling some of the most popular subjects. Good choices might include changing cloud formations, the evolution of a building project, busy city crowd scenes, an ant colony, or growing plants. Each is popular because it can be such a dramatic subject, yet it need not be difficult.
Recently a photographer from the Netherlands made a big sensation, both online and on television news, with his time lapse photos. His work features his daughter, photographed at progressive intervals between new-born infant to age twelve. He took each shot from a very similar vantage point, for the sake of continuity. The footage conveys twelve years of growth and change, in a mere two minutes time.
Any camera that can take a still photo, even today’s camera phones, may be used for basic time lapse photo projects. Granted, professional photographers may use more precise equipment, but the results from the basic camera can be charming and enjoyable to watch. Modest camera movement or slight change in exposure can create a quirky and fun final project.
If a camera tripod is available, use it. If not, it’s okay to improvise. The camera should remain in the same position throughout the project or be able to be placed similarly each time shots are taken. Without a tripod, mark your camera placement with objects or chalk. If your camera has a built in timer mechanism, which allows you to specify how often to take a new shot, use it. If not, you’ll need to take each photo by manually pressing the shutter button. As a beginner, don’t worry too much about how many images are needed or how long of an interval to leave between shots. These first projects are purely for fun and experimentation.
After you’ve taken the photos, choose one of the free or low cost photo programs made for playing back time lapse images. QuickTime Pro is one example, but there are others. Test out the playback speed to see how things look. Maybe more photos at shorter intervals would make a more impressive result. Consider whether camera movement became bothersome or if it added to the quirky fun of the scene. Decide if you like the way the changing lighting or exposure looks and consider making adjustments for your next project.
There really is no right or wrong way to make a time lapse sequence. The resulting images are right if they’re enjoyable to create or watch. It can be a great hobby for anyone who is moderately interested in photography. For those who are truly committed to this method, the chronicling of time can become an art form.