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What is Time-Lapse Photography?

Last Updated: Nov 03, 2015 03:34PM MST

​Time-lapse is a photography technique where images are captured at a much slower rate than used to view the final sequence. For example, images captured at a rate of 3 images every second, and played back at 24 frames per second results is an increase of 8 times the normal viewing speed. 
 
Processes that appear to change very slowly to the human eye, e.g. plants sprouting and flowers blossoming, are magnified into a sequence of intense motion and fury.
 

Origins of Time-Lapse Photography
 
Time-lapse photography was popularized by Dr. John Ott. Ott started out as a boring old banker with photography being a hobby he used to attract the ladies. During the 1930’s Ott acquired a plethora of photography equipment and began capturing time-lapses of plants. He eventually built automated cameras for following the growth of plants as they developed.

 
 
His work was featured in classic documentaries such as Walt Disney’s Secrets of Life (1958), which pioneered the modern use of time-lapse on mainstream film and television.  He also penned several books on his time-lapse work as well as filmed the documentary “Exploring the Spectrum” (DVD 2008).
 
There have been many other films, TV shows and documentaries that have included time-lapse photography - see if you can remember any.  We know we can.
 

How Time-Lapse works
 
Time-lapse sequences can be shot with a wide range of intervals - from an image captured every tenth of a second to an image captured every day, week, or even longer.
 
The time-lapse effect is achieved when images that are captured at slow interval are played back at a fast rate (typically 24 frames-per-second).
 
 

Advanced Camera Movements
 
Most time-lapse videos are captured by placing a camera into a fixed position throughout the capturing process. However it is also possible to move the camera while taking a time-lapse to create the illusion that the camera is also moving in normal speed.

 

The Mountain from TSO Photography on Vimeo.


One of the first films to use this technique was a short film “A Year Along the Abandoned Road” directed by Morten Skallerud, The film was shot in Norway over the course of 105 days. During the course of capturing the time-lapse the camera pans and moves around during the course of capturing.
 
Creating time-lapses is a way to show the long passages of time quickly and creatively.
 
 
 
 
 

 

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