I first began practicing time lapse photography in 2014 while living in Seoul, Korea working as an ESL teacher. To remember my time and try to capture what I felt.

Time lapse photography gave me a reason to explore Korea and a hobby to pursue. My girlfriend and I traveled to different parts of the country shooting time lapses and I just fell in love.

Scott Herder and is Girlfriend Megan indoe walking through bukchon hanok village in Seoul, Korea holding hands

At the time I didn’t know how to use a DSLR and there were no time lapse apps for smartphones. 

Long story short I made hundreds of mistakes that I have learned from. I’m excited to share what is time lapse photography and how to use it as well.

Learn from my mistakes what took me years of trial and error to learn.

Scott reviewing an image in Gyeongbokgung, Seoul, with crowds as a reference for reference image for Hyperlapse VS Timelapse

Time lapse Photography is a film technique, dating back to the beginning of moving pictures. Often used to establish a location on TV and movie shows, but also to help people see how something changes over time.

The goal of a time lapse video is to show the viewer something we cannot see with our eyes in real-time. For example, clouds moving, the sun setting or rising, the stars twinkling in the sky, shadows moving over time, ice melting etc…

One thing is for sure, time lapse photography is now easier than ever, so let’s dive in.

If you want to level up your time lapse and hyperlapse game so you can charge more money and save hours of headaches and frustration. I have made a course for you that over 400 students have enrolled in!

I’m confident Hyperflow Masterclass will get you from zero to shooting like a pro or I’ll give you your money back!
Check out the course here to see if it’s right for you.

What is Time Lapse Photography

I spent almost a full year shooting this time lapse, and had to shoot almost every single shot 3-5 times because I didn’t know what I was doing.

Time Lapse is a technique of taking hundreds of photos of a subject over a long period of time and playing them back as a video.

It gives us the ability to see a process that might be too long to see in a single day in just a few seconds. Giving us the illusion that time is sped up.

Fun fact, film and movies are recorded at a speed to mimic what our eyes naturally see, which is about 24 frames per second. Frame being another word for a photograph.

Basically, a normal video we watch is typically made up of 24 individual photos per second.

So filmmakers and storytellers alike have found that if they took fewer photos per second, they’d be able to see time move much quicker.

This was done to help us see and learn about processes that move much slower than our eyes can observe.

The Time Lapse technique is basically like having a time machine for a camera.

While we might not be able to watch a mushroom grow and die, or see just how fast the sun and stars are moving through the sky because we just can’t stay long enough to see much change.

With time lapse, we can slow down how often we take a photo, allowing us to see how time has an impact on what we are looking at.

Ok But What does Time Lapse Mean?

A camera on a tripod taking a time lapse as a demonstration for what is time lapse and it's history.

Since the time lapse definition often confuses people, here’s my own personal answer.

A time lapse means using a camera to speed up time with the goal of showing the viewer something we wouldn’t ordinarily be able to see.

How Does Time Lapse Work?

Screen display of the sony a7riii Intervalometer function

Time lapse works by putting a camera on a tripod, and then using what is called an intervalometer (this is built into all modern cameras like shown in the photo above) as a trigger to take a photo at a specific interval of time.

An interval is the number of seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, or years between each photo.

For example, if I have a scene of traffic moving, and everything is going by very quickly. I might have a small interval like one second. That would be considered a FAST interval of one photo per second.

On the other extreme let’s say we wanted to see a glacier’s movement over time. Since glaciers move just a couple centimeters a year. We’d want to take a photo every two weeks. That’s a slow interval of one photo per two weeks.

Once we have all the photos, we convert them into a video using just about any video editing software. The most common time lapse editing softwares are,  Premiere, Final Cut, Da Vinci, LRTimelapse and Lightroom.

What Gear for Time lapse Video

Scott Herder trying to grab all his camera equipment in a silly photo.

While learning what a timelapse video is you might be wondering what gear do I need to make a timelapse?

The good news is you can make a timelapse video on your phone. This is a great way to get started and I have easy-to-follow guides on how to shoot a time lapse on an iPhone and how to shoot a time lapse on an Android.

If you want to go deeper into learning more about how does a timelapse work on your DSLR, the good news is you can do that too. Here are a few essential camera gear for shooting a time lapse video.

Tripod is what you’re going to want to keep it stable, here is my personal favorite timelapse photography for on the go because it’s lightweight and compact and versatile. However if you want to go deeper into your time lapses like shooting in windy conditions, or in crowds where you need to be above people then check out my guide to all the best timelapse tripods for every level. My two favorite travel tripods are Peak Design Travel Tripod and Manfrotto Be Free.

Camera, any camera from smartphones to DSLR’s will work. 

A computer or smartphone to edit the footage.

Lastly there are some nice accessories to make it easier if you are looking to level up your time lapse videos. For example, a Neutral Density filter is nice to make skies pop and allow you to get motion blur in the middle of the day. For Neutral Density filters Polar Pro’s are my favorite but PRICEY. Hoya is my second favorite and considerably cheaper.

Make sure you get the right filter size for your lens thread. On your lens it will say what millimeter then lens cap is on the side.

A photo of me (scott herder) pointing at my beautiful camera lens.

It’s backwards but it says 82 under the 35 indicating its a 82 mm lens.

I can’t recommend the Peak Design Backpack enough as it’s comfortable, heavy duty, waterproof, can carry everything and has a lifetime warranty. One time I ran over my bag with a rental car and ripped a hole in it and guess what. They replaced it for free no questions asked. That is incredible! Seriously, buy this bag if you’re in the market.

Peak Design Travel Bag for organizing and storing all my camera equipment.

History of Time Lapse Photography

Antique plate camera on wooden tripod during a landscape photo as an example of what is time lapse.

The history of time lapse photography goes back to the invention of film. When Eadweard Muybridge was originally hired to settle a debate on if a horse ever lifted all four feet off the ground while it was running or if one or two were constantly touching.

To do it, he set up cameras on tripwires to catch the horse galloping and created the first moving picture.

The_Horse_in_Motion by Eadward Muybridge as an example of what is timelapse.

Apparently, Muybridge left the camera running all night and inadvertently getting a time lapse. Although he didn’t call it that, nor did the term really spread.

This is where it starts to get dicey as a lot of resources cite Georges Demenÿ as coming up with the first time lapse of plants and clouds as early as the 1890’s but I couldn’t find any examples even though his work is in the Oxford Museum. Sadly it seems to be missing.

But him, and many others were interested in the technique of “time lapse” or capturing lots of stills to study movement, and how things change.

The earliest example I could find of a timelapse was from 1901, where we saw the Demolishing and Building Up The Star Theatre.

This is pretty cool, they built a custom apparatus that would take a photo every four minutes taking photos of the deconstruction of the theatre over the course of a few days.

The video doesn’t actually build it up but was meant to be played in reverse immediately after watching it in the first place, and it seems to have blown viewers minds when it was first seen, because it was the first time anyone had seen a time lapse. Which I get because that is pretty cool.

Another one of the first time lapses I could find was Percy Smith’s “The Birth of A Flower.”

Here we are back to the original time lapse meaning. Mr Smith wanted to do research on things we couldn’t normally see with our own eyes.

Pioneer of Time Lapse as We Know It

Eventually, a man by the name of John Ott got into time lapse photography and has probably contributed more to the skillset than anyone else to my knowledge.

Learning how to manipulate the amount of water the plants got, the types of light they received and just by simply being meticulous in his findings and experiments learned he could cause plants to flower, bear fruit, change their sex of them and so much more.

It’s honestly some fascinating stuff. He has some amazing books on timelapse and this absolutely mesmerizing documentary going in-depth on every flower he’s ever time lapsed the clients like Disney and what he learned along the way. It’s honestly, kind of incredible.


Modern Time Lapse Photography

This is a decorative photo as a placeholder for the topic of what is a time lapse?

Today we still have lots of films and tv productions do time lapse photography on things like Mushrooms in Fantastic Fungi on Netflix and the absolutely amazing work by Rob Whitworth on many British Nature Shows like Planet Earth.
Technology has made it so  almost any camera can create a time lapse. The most commonly used one is either your phone, GoPro, or DSLR.
All have either automatic, semi-automatic, or full manual options for shooting and editing time lapses.
Smartphones being the easiest to use for shooting a time lapse. Since they have fully automatic options that don’t require any settings to fuss with. Just simply press play, wait, and voila you have an edited time lapse.
The only drawback to these automatic apps is their quality and how they are made. It basically speeds up your video 30x. Your smartphone records video at a lower quality resolution than it does taking still photos. 
For this reason, your time lapse won’t look as good as if you had taken photos and converted it into a video.
You also don’t have the ability to edit it at such a high quality for the same reason.
More professional setups involving DSLR’s are done by taking hundreds of photos, then using a 3rd party software to do the editing, deflickering, color correcting and stabilizing the footage if needed.
The two best ways to edit time lapses are using LRTimelapse and Lightroom (probably the absolute best way to do it.) As well as DaVinci.
LRtimelapse and Lightroom require money and those two programs. While DaVinci Resolve is free, a single program and has the ability to stabilize should you need it.

Time Lapse Sub Genres – Flowmotion

Rob Whitworth is in this author’s opinion the current pioneer blending time lapse and cinema into his own creation called “Flowmotion” but that’s another story.

The classic examples of time lapse that we commonly see are going to be landscapes, clouds, stars, plants growing, blooming, dying, rotting, buildings, people and traffic, and just about anything else you can imagine that we can’t normally see with our eyes.

It’s been something that has fascinated people ever since its creation.

How to Use Time Lapse Photography for Your Projects

The purpose of time lapse photography is two things. First, it is to show use how something changes over time.
Second, it is to show us what we cannot see in real time with our eyes.
It would take hours, days, weeks, months, and sometimes years to see how things are changing. However with time lapse photography we can see them in seconds. Giving us a much better understanding on how things change.
Some of the classic examples of time lapses that we see all the time are things like clouds, crowds, traffic, sunrises, sunsets, buildings being constructed, art work being made, plants growing, the stars, the moon, aurora borealis and so many more.

Day to Night Time Lapses AKA Holy Grail Time Lapse

By far the most difficult type of time lapse to do is a day-to-night or night-to-day time lapse. This is where we see the dramatic changes from a bright beautiful day to a dark night time and perhaps even stars.
The reason why it’s so difficult is because cameras can’t see as good as our eyes. They only have so much ability. And when the light changes, the camera settings have to change which can result in what is called “Flicker.” 
Flicker is the unwanted jumps in light changes or white balance from photo to photo that gives us the impression that the video is flickering or pulsing. It’s considered distracting since it’s typically unwanted.
You can greatly reduce the flicker you get by shooting with good fundamental settings. For example, making sure that your auto settings are turned off, things like auto white balance, and auto exposure.
Another big factor is taking long exposures for your photos that are half of your interval which I’ll go into a bit more detail in a moment.

Time Lapse Photography Common Terms


These next three things, Interval, Shutterspeed and Framerate, have a huge impact on your time lapses so I want to break them down very simply.


One of the most common and important terms to learn regarding time lapse photography is an interval. 
We could dedicate so much to just talking about an interval, but the main thing to know is an interval is basically the amount of time that lapses between each photo.
You choose how many seconds you want your interval to be based on how quickly what your shooting is moving.
The slower the subject moves, the slower you will want your interval. For example, if you are shooting a time lapse of clouds, sometimes clouds look like they are stuck in the sky and not moving quickly.
Other times clouds look like they are flying by in real time.
In each situation you would want to choose a different interval. The interval affects how quickly or slowly things in your scene move.
It comes with time and I have many different cheat sheets on what interval to use.


Shutterspeed could also be it’s own entire subject. It is the length of time that your camera shutter is open to allow light in to make the image.
The longer it is open, the more chance that it will capture things moving. Resulting in motion blur.
Getting motion blur is one of the most important things in a good time lapse.
Motion blur signals to our brain that something is moving quickly.
A fun test to do is to put your hand in front of your face. About a foot in front of your face. Then start waving it back and forth. Notice the motion blur.
When we shoot a time lapse we want to spend a great deal of time making sure that our shutter speed is slow enough to capture movement, so that way we get motion blur.
This helps us convey activity and movement in the finished time lapse.
We can achieve the perfect shutter speed for any situation, by making sure our shutter speed is one-half of our interval.
So if I had a 10-second interval, I’d want a five-second shutter speed.


The_Horse_in_Motion by Eadward Muybridge

Lastly is framerate which again we can go much deeper into, but the main thing to be aware of when it comes to frame rate is it is referring to the number of frames played per second on the time lapse.
The most common framerates for video are 24, 25, and 30fps. Sports and News channels film at 60 fps.
Generally speaking, the more frames you have, the smoother the movement will look. The fewer frames you have, the choppier it will look.
A common framerate of 24 fps is more than enough photos for 99% of all your time lapses and that’s why I recommend shooting at least 240 photos any time you shoot a time lapse because that way you will get a 10-second video.
Again, framerate is simply referring to the number of photos being played per second.

Time Lapse Camera Movements

John Ott was the first videographer to utilize camera movements in time lapse because it was so difficult to do.

The reason it’s so difficult is that you typically need some sort of motion control to move the camera consistently, and INCREDIBLY SLOWLY.

A DSLR on a motion control slider as an illustration for movement on an article discussing what is time lapse photography?

Time lapse camera movements follow the same principles as any other camera movement except for the fact that to pull it off you need to move the camera at a snail’s pace.

You can do about any conceivable camera move. From dolly, tracking, trucking, panning and even so many more now thanks to modern technology like sliders and gimbals.

Typically, a time lapse moves from a few inches to a few feet.

Since you are going to play back the footage at 24fps. Consider how long the video will be playing for and figure out what a normal speed might be.

If you get it right where the camera looks like it’s moving at a normal speed, but everything else is going on like in a time machine. It greatly enhances the illusion of a great time lapse.

There are even formulas to help you calculate this.

Actual speed = the camera frame rate/projection frame rate, multiplied by the perceived speed.

One of the most ambitious examples I’ve ever seen is the short film below titled, “A Year Along the Abandoned Road.” Depicting an entire year in just 8 minutes.

Watch it and notice if you feel like you are just gliding smoothly through time. 

Created by painstakingly by moving the camera manually in incredibly small movements.

Panning time lapses  are when the camera turns left or right. These are by far the easiest to do and use the smallest amount of equipment. A tool like a panner, I love the Syrp Genie Mini II, make it a breeze to pans.

Subgenres of Time Lapse Photography


There are many subgenres of time lapse. The first one is Hyper lapse.

A hyperlapse is a time lapse, with the only difference being that the camera moves between each shot. Typically dozens or hundreds of feet during the shoot giving it a much quicker feel to it and thus being dubbed “hyperlapse.”
First developed by the photographer, Guy Roland, in his film Pacer. What’s really impressive is that it’s shot entirely using film and roller skates. 
It’s honestly super impressive and really cool. Definitely worth a watch.

Since Pacer and new technology in camera’s and post production. Hyperlapsing has become a lot more mainstream and easier than ever to achieve. Helping spawn other subgenres of time lapse.


Hyperzoom is Geoff Tompkinson’s groundbreaking technique that lets you effortlessly zoom between multiple cameras. Giving your videos a mesmerizing effect. It’s no wonder this technique has garnered numerous awards and is simply mind-blowing.
If you’re curious about learning this technique, I’ve got a tutorial video that breaks it down in an enjoyable and straightforward manner. 

Trust me, it’s really fun, not as hard as you’d think and it really opens up a lot of possibilities creatively. Well worth the watch.


Now, let’s dive into the captivating world of “Flowmotion,” (video above) a term coined by the brilliant Rob Whitworth. This technique flawlessly blends video, time lapse, and hyperlapse. Creating a seamless illusion of a single continuous shot. Prepare to be awestruck.
For all the time lapse enthusiasts out there, treat yourself to what can arguably be called the most extraordinary time lapse film ever made. 
I’ve tried it many times, it’s really fun when done right.


This is more of a stop-motion technique. Making its way into the world of time lapse and hyperlapse since they employ the same techniques.
Pixelation by definition, is using real people as the subjects of the stopmotion. So we can add pixelation to our time lapses by adding people or by adding our hands to make our hands act as if it’s interacting with the scene.
This is something that I have found absolutely fun to do and incorporate into my time lapse work whenever I can. It has a really fun charm and child-like spirit to it that I am just in love with.

Google Earth Lapse

Also known as Google Earth Time lapse.  This is a feature that Google, USGS, NASA, and Time Magazine got together to create in 2009. Released to the public in 2013.
In short, it used satellite images taken from 1984-2012 (and continues to today) to document environmental transformations. Things like natural disasters, deforestation, ice caps melting, water evaporating, buildings effects on urbanization, landscapes etc… 
In 2021 it went a huge update bringing new images all the way up to 2020 and easier to use. 
People have used it to make artwork and make political statements. It’s been invaluable for researchers, scientists and curious people.

Most common Time Lapse Subjects

The Chain Bridge in Budapest at blue hour with traffic going by as an example of what is time lapse photography?
The most common time lapse subjects are traffic, crowds, clouds, sunrises, sunsets, stars, flowers, plants,  and construction.
These all give us the ability to see something that we just can’t see with our normal eyes. We need help of a camera to give us the ability to view the passage of time in a different way.

Choosing the right Time Lapse Interval

Choosing the right Time Lapse Interval can be a challenge but here are some general rules of thumb shooting a time lapse.
If you are shooting traffic or people, 1-2 seconds is a great rule of thumb. Remember that if you chose a 1-second interval, that means you’d want to choose a 1/2 second shutter speed if possible.
For clouds, it will really depend on how quickly they are moving. If they look stuck in the sky, 10-seconds. If they are moving fast, 2-5 seconds. 
Again if you chose a 10-second interval for clouds, you might want a shutter speed of five seconds to get that nice motion blur. 
For stars, a good interval is 20-30 seconds depending on your preferences. I like getting more stars so I do a 20-second interval with a 15-second shutter.
For flowers, plants and mushrooms. It will depend on each one and how quickly they bloom, grow etc…
So reverse engineer a 10-second video by remembering you want at least 240 photos. Then google how long it takes to bloom, grow, die whatever, and reverse engineer it so you get 240 photos.
I have a full post and video diving more in-depth on common intervals and how to choose the perfect interval for any scene.

Methods for capturing time lapses.


In 2014 apple introduced the time lapse feature in the camera app and ever since it’s been really popular.
The way Apple tackles time lapse is very straightforward, open the camera app, press timelapse. Lock your focus and shoot for however long you want.
Apple has a very unique approach to time lapse on the iPhone. It either speeds up the video to be 30x faster and caps the videos length so it won’t be over 40 seconds. No matter how long you shoot for. Which I think is smart because a timelapse that is 10 seconds or longer is too long.

Action Cams

A GoPro rigged to a bike as an example of what is time lapse photography using action cams.

Things like GoPro, Insta 360, and other competitors are great for making time lapses. Thanks to their small sizes, camera quality, and ease of use are becoming more common.
They all have pre-built time-lapse presets meant to help you get the most out of it.  The main drawbacks are the wide-angle lens they use and the inability for a lot of custom settings. 

Faux Time lapses 

A pretty view of the sunset in Sunset Park Brooklyn as an example of what is time lapse photography.

For this what I mean is recording video and then converting it into a time lapse. You can do this by simply putting your video footage into an app like Premiere, or CapCut and speeding up your footage.
If your editor has an option to change the time interpolation I’d change it to frame blending. This will give your footage a motion blur look. The best part of this is you still have a full video if you need and it’s really simple.
I have a blog post explaining simple ways to convert your video to time lapse. As well as a video on how to convert your video to time lapse if you’re a visual learner.

DSLR Time Lapses

A visual of a camera on a tripod overlooking the coastal cliffs of the channel islands in California as a place holder for an example of what is time lapse photography.
Shooting a time lapse on a DSLR gives you the most control when shooting a time lapse. Obviously, it is a little extra work but the results are so much better.
Using an intervalometer, and having full control over all of your camera settings shooting with a DSLR has increased in popularity because of how much easier it is to do today with apps like LRTimelapse. But it still isn’t nearly as popular as using a smartphone just do to how simple it is.
Once you’ve gotten the hang of that I’d recommend jumping to 13 Easy Tips to Shoot a Sunset Time Lapse with Professional Results
Or if you are more interested in Hyperlapse here’s a fun article. What is Hyperlapse? (+ Learn How to Make Amazing Ones)

Final Thoughts

I hope this in-depth guide answered your question about what is time lapse photography. While also giving you actionable steps on shooting them and the history. Bookmark this site so you can come back and continue learning about the wonderful world of time lapse photography.

If you want to level up your time lapse and hyperlapse game so you can charge more money and save hours of headaches and frustration. I have made a course for you that over 400 students have enrolled in!

I’m confident Hyperflow Masterclass will get you from zero to shooting like a pro or I’ll give you your money back!
Check out the course here to see if it’s right for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Definition of Time Lapse?

A visual technique capturing still images taken over a long time and plays them back as a video sequence. 
The technique is used to show something changing over time that would typically happen to slowly to notice.
Some of the most common examples of a time lapse are clouds, flowers, sunrises, sunsets, stars, construction, and traffic.

How Long Does Time Lapse Record For?  

A Time Lapse will record for as long as you have enough battery and storage on your device.

How Long is a Time Lapse?

A time lapse can be as long as you’d like. However I’d recommend not sharing them if they are more than 10 seconds because that is about as long as people’s attention span can watch them.

Why Does Time Lapse Lag?

Time Lapses sometimes look laggy because whenever shot with the incorrect settings. A very easy thing to do. 

It looks laggy because the footage was slowed down after shooting. Or the camera rig is panning in a direction and the panning is too fast for the camera to move.

Why Time Lapse?

To show people things we can’t see with our natural eyes. For example, clouds moving, plants growing or the stars moving. Another thing is it is a great way to transition to another scene. We see this in lots of tv shows.

Why Use Time Lapse on iPhone?

The reason to use time lapse on iPhone is because it is so easy to do and use. The other reasons are again, to show something changing over time that we don’t normally get to see.

What is Time Lapse Meaning?

The meaning of time lapse is a video made up of hundreds of photos played back to show a process getting done over a long time period that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.

What is Time Lapse on Android?

To get to it on an Android open the camera, click more, and you’ll see a “hyperlapse” setting. Don’t worry it’s the same thing.

Can a Time Lapse Be Slowed Down?

Unfortunately, a time lapse cannot be slowed down. It’s impossible to slow down video because there are no other frames to add to it. You’re just stretching it which makes it look stuttery or laggy.