How to Make A Time Lapse Video with After Effects

Time lapse is an often used cinematography technique in which a set of images are captured at intervals of time, and when played back, time appears to move faster.

For example, you may have seen the time lapse of the Endeavour space shuttle traveling through Los Angeles:

For this post, I’ll describe the process used to create my first attempt at a sunset time lapse.

Gear Used:


Time Lapse Technique Outline:
1. Choose your subject.
2. Calculate how many shots and at what interval.
3. Take the shots.
4. Compile the photos into a video.


Step 1: Choosing Your Subject

Make sure your subject will actually show a change in the length of time you’re planning to dedicate in shooting in. For example, I’m thinking that doing a time lapse of a pet rock on your desk over a period of 5 minutes will not make for a very stimulating video. But who knows, there are creative people out there that can make anything interesting (here’s looking at you, people who thought of turning a rock into a pet.

Some better examples to try doing a time lapse with:
– sunrise/sunset
– ice melting
– movement of stars
– a busy street
– a building being constructed


Step 2: Calculating How Many Shots and at What Interval

A. First decide how long you want your final movie product to be. (In this case, I wanted a 10 second movie).
B. Decide what you want your resulting frame rate to be. Most movies are between 20-30 fps (frames per second). Generally, the higher the fps, the smoother the transitions will be. (I chose to have a frame rate of 24 fps)
C. Calculate the number of shots need with the below formula:

FPS x resulting movie length = # of shots needed
(24 fps x 10 seconds= 240 shots)

D. Determine how long the event will occur in real time, or how long you plan to shoot the event. (I filmed the sunset over a period of 2 hours -> 2 hours x 60 minutes x 60 seconds = 7200 seconds)
E. Calculate the intervals between each shot with the following formula

Period of time shooting event / # of shots needed = Interval between each shot
7200 seconds/ 240 shots = 30 second intervals)

*If you’re capturing a change that is pretty big over a short amount of time, you’ll want to shoot it more often. For a change that is gradual and slow over a longer time, you can have more lengthy intervals between shots. For example, if doing a time lapse of ice melting you’d have an interval of a few seconds vs. a time lapse of a woman’s stomach over the course of her pregnancy would have intervals of a day or longer.


Step 3. Taking the shots

It is important that the composition of the shots remain similar throughout the duration of the process. Therefore, using a tripod to stabilize the camera is an important consideration. Depending on the length of time and intervals you plan to use, you might also need an intervalometer (for the newbies like me, an intervalometer is basically a timer remote). Set you intervalometer with the number of shots and interval that you figured out in Step 2. (Post coming soon on how to use an intervalometer). However, if you’re just taking one shot a day, then an intervalometer is not necessary as you can just take the one picture a day yourself instead of having to keep the intervalometer running and the camera on all the time.



Step 4. Compiling the photos into a video

For this step, I created a folder with all of my timelapse photos. I then dragged this folder into After Effects. I needed to adjust the After Effects composition to match the frame rate that I decided to use in Step 2. Additionally, I needed to change the default frame rate on the photos. Watch the video below for the screen capture of this process:


Some final tips:

  • It’s recommended to use manual exposure and white balance to keep everything consistent between shots. However, I chose to use auto exposure for this first test shot because with filming a sunset the lighting conditions will change dramatically.
  • Another recommendation is to drag the shutter or shoot the subjects more often with a smaller interval between each shot in order to make a more seamless and smooth video. Dragging the shutter means to use a slower shutter speed. By doing this, moving objects will be blurred, and will prevent “blips” from occurring. For example, imagine a bird flying across your composition. Without dragging the shutter, the bird will be clearly in one frame and blip out of sight in the next frame. This could be quite distracting.

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