The process of producing a time-lapse video is a lot like creating a flipbook animation. By rapidly changing from one still frame to another, any differences between those frames will create the illusion of movement. That’s what motion pictures are, after all: A series of individual frames that, when played back at 24 or 30 frames per second, give the appearance of a moving picture.
By photographing a series of still images over a long period of time, those stills can become the individual frames in a video. That means you’ve got to start by determining how many pictures to take based on how long you’d like the finished video to be. A 30-frame-per-second video is a good, safe starting point, as 30 fps is a common video frame rate.
At 30 frames per second of video, you’ll need to shoot 300 frames to make a 10-second clip. If you want to record the process of a sunrise or sunset over the course of an hour, you’ll divide that hour (which is 3,600 seconds) by 300 frames in order to determine the interval at which to shoot: 12 seconds. This is a great place to start making a time-lapse.
Next, with the camera on a tripod and locked down steady, you’ll want to use an intervalometer (a smart cable release such as Canon’s TC-80N3 or the Nikon MC-36A) to make an exposure every 12 seconds. Some cameras have this capability built-in, like the Panasonic Gh5 used for the example shown here, and many Sony cameras can utilize the optional Time-Lapse app for automated exposures. However you choose to do it, you’ll want to set your camera to RAW image capture and take a picture of the same scene at a predetermined interval before downloading the images into Lightroom for editing.
With a series of photos in Lightroom, you can and should make wholesale corrections to color and contrast and generally make them look their best before proceeding. The beauty of Lightroom, of course, is that you can improve a single image’s color, contrast, sharpness and shadow detail and then copy those changes to every other image in the sequence using the Synchronize Settings command.
With the images looking as you’d like them to, the next step is to rename them. In order for Photoshop to be able to assemble the time-lapse without issue, all of the files need to be named sequentially, with no gaps in the numbering, with no special characters in the file name, and with file names that are all the same length. That means something along the lines of “ABC_0123,” “ABC_0124” and so on. I select all of the images in Lightroom’s Library module and then hit F2 (or look for Rename under the Library menu) before typing in the name and numerical sequence.
With the files looking right and renamed appropriately, it’s time to export them to high-resolution JPEGs that will look great in an HD video file. A 1080p video is 1920×1080, so I simply make sure to output each file to be 1920 in the longest dimension. If you’d like to take your video to another level (which we’ll discuss next week) you may want to consider outputting your files at a higher resolution to allow for panning and zooming without loss of image quality.
Once all of the high-res JPEGs have been rendered, ensure they’re all in the same folder (one that’s otherwise empty) and open Photoshop. Here you may find it best to change your workspace to a mode more suitable for video by choosing Motion in the dropdown menu that appears when you click the Workspace icon in the top right of the window. This will place the video timeline easily visible at the bottom of the window.
To turn Photoshop into a time-lapse video editor, start by clicking Open in the File menu, and navigate to the folder containing your images. Click on the first image in the sequence, and before clicking Open, click the Options button in the bottom left of the dialogue and check the Image Sequence checkbox in the bottom center of the panel. This tells Photoshop to open not just the file you’ve highlighted, but all of the image files in the folder. Photoshop will then prompt you to enter a frame rate (ensure it’s 30 fps if that’s how you planned it from the get-go) and then click OK to open the image files into an image sequence and see the video appear on the timeline.
Hit the Play button at the start of the sequence and you can watch as Photoshop automatically previews your time-lapse. If it’s jittery and not as smooth as you’d like, click the Resolution dropdown that appears to the left of the sequence and change the quality of the preview to 50% or even 25%. This won’t impact the quality of the finished video, but it will make it render faster for your previewing.
You can click and drag at the beginning or end of the sequence in order to trim the length of the video and you can also adjust the speed. To do this, right-click anywhere in the sequence and a popup window will display the current length of the video as well as 100% as the speed. Cut the speed in half to 50% and the video will get twice as long or dial in the exact duration you’d like and Photoshop will adjust the speed accordingly.
At this point, you could export the time-lapse video, but I like to do one more thing: Make any final tweaks to the image quality in Photoshop. I use Adjustment Layers and masks to control color, contrast, brightness and saturation. Really any fine-tuning that your images may require, you can apply them once to impact the entire video. In the sample shown here, I used a graduated mask and a levels adjustment to burn in the sky as well as the sunlit foreground.
Now with the image looking absolutely spot on, it’s time to export the video. Do this by choosing Export from the File menu, and looking for Render Video near the bottom of the list. This will bring up a dialogue box that allows you to input all of the particulars for your finished video file.
First, choose the file name and location, such as your desktop, then choose a format (such as H.264, which is a good, safe option as it produces MP4 files) and be sure the Preset dropdown is for a high-quality image (which it should by default). The Document Size is where you make sure your 1920×1080 video is the correct resolution—or where you can upgrade the image size if you want to make something more like a 4k output to preserve editing options for later.
Click OK to let Photoshop work its magic and, depending on the length and size of the video, in mere moments you’ll have turned hundreds of still images into a seamless time-lapse video. Come back next week to learn to use another Adobe application to bring this time-lapse video to a whole new level.