The simple answer is yes.
Time-lapse is typically created by taking still images and using them as frames for a video or film. This allows time to move forward more quickly depending on the interval between each photograph.
You are very unlikely to be able to decide to produce a time-lapse after having taken photographs – unless very short, time-lapse is something you are going to need to plan to create. If you were thinking you might be able to make a time-lapse out of a dozen handheld photographs, well, you could, but you must remember that most video is between 24 and 30 frames per second and almost all time-lapse is shot from a tripod (for good reason).
The absolute minimum frame-rate for motion to appear smooth is typically 12 frames per second – so a dozen photographs could become as much as a second. The use of a sequence of still images, displayed sequentially, has been used since to create even the earlier motion pictures. Early examples of film, such as “Sallie Gardner At A Gallop” were essentially timelapses. These early motion pictures were a series of still images replayed at between 12 and 24 frames per second, which gives the appearance of a consistently moving picture. Now, mind you, 12 frames per second is generally not recommended, 24 is a standard minimum frame-rate. I personally shoot 24 images for each second of video I want to produce. Some shoot 25fps and 30fps as well, which coordinates with the NTSC and PAL framerates.
So, if you do have an image sequence which you intend to make a time-lapse from, the other issue is going to be camera stability and perspective. If the images were shot hand-held, there will be changes in both the framing and the perspective. This can be overcome, however, it will take some effort! You will need to become familiar with some pretty advanced software such as Adobe AfterEffects, Premiere, Apple Final Cut Pro, Motion or similar. You could fix the movement in the camera using simpler software, but this will require you to reposition each photograph individually to create the same framing in each image. Regardless of the software, you will need to expand and crop in order to stabilize the image. It will be very difficult to create the product you have in your mind’s eye retrospectively. Trust me, you want to shoot your time-lapse with a stable camera.
This is why it is essential to plan your time-lapse and to shoot either on a tripod or some other stable mounting device. You want to create a number of shots which will showcase the movement you are trying to capture over the duration you would like it to appear – typically 24, 25 or 30 shots per second – for every second of video, you will need one still image for every frame. For example, for a 10 second time-lapse, I would capture a minimum of 240 stills. Many use 30fps, meaning 10 seconds would require 300 still images.
Once you have the images for your time-lapse, you are going to need to compile them into a video. There are many ways to do this, including open source time-lapse software, video editing programs, and apps for your phone, as well as dedicated time-lapse programs.
There are open-source and freeware options for compiling still images into video. Some options include VLC, which allows you to assign still images as frames. There is also Timelapsetool (Windows), Timelapse Creator (Windows), and Timelase Assembler (Mac). If you are using a smartphone, there are options as well, such as TimeLapse Camera (Android), and Timelapse (iOS).
For more features and control, especially for the Adobe Suite user, there is LRTimelapse. LRTimelapse allows you to use RAW images and coordinates with Adobe Lightroom. This allows you to apply adjustments and filters to multiple or all photographs in the time-lapse – it will also transition between these adjustments to allow a smooth appearance. LRTimelapse does offer a very well-featured trial version for free. If you are using Lightroom, the LRTimelapse’s free demo is your best option – give it a shot – even with the limitations, the trial version is a far more robust piece of software than anything else you will find. To learn more about LRTimelapse, read our review to gain some insight.
Lastly, you can also use most video editing programs to create a time-lapse. First, obviously, you are going to import the still images. If these are RAW, you will likely need to create JPEGs. After importing, when you place them into the timeline. When adding to the timeline, they will occupy the duration determined either by your preferences or by the programs default settings. Change these settings to a single-frame duration for stills, and then import them into the timeline. This is roughly the procedure for most video editing suites. Make sure your project is at the framerate you intended to use when you captured the images. Most video editing software will automatically be set to 30, 29.97 or 25fps – make sure to adjust to your time-lapse needs.
Learning is the key to success
Whilst it’s easy to get started with time-lapse, getting a professional result is another matter. If you’re just getting started, follow our beginner’s guide.
As well as learning the necessary skills and techniques, you will then want to invest in the right equipment. Here’s our guide to what gear you’ll need.