Time-Lapse Exposures

Time-lapse photography (a technique which has been around for a while) is used to compress, express, and convey a sense of the passage of time.  The digital age seems to have ushered in new fundamentals regarding time-lapse photography.  The introduction of video editing programs have allowed people to string together mass amounts of time-lapse photos to show the compression of time in small video clips.  A more old school approach would simply involve setting up the camera and leaving the shutter open for a determined amount of time.  This blog will focus on my experimentation with this technique and along the way I will discuss the principals I used for setting up my equipment and present the results at the end.


The equipment used for this project was pretty easy to find.  The most obvious piece of equipment needed is the tripod.  Aside from that, I did employ the use of a neutral density filter (ND Filter).  An ND Filter is used to regulate the amount of light that passes through a lens.  The model that I have, allows me to reduce the light by about 8 stops.  It is essentially like putting a pair of sunglasses on the lens of your camera.  Blocking out this much light allows us to take longer timed exposures.  Pictured below, is a model made by Promaster.

ND-FilterThe filter is adjusted by rotating an outer ring.  It is wise to set up your equipment with the filter set to its most clear setting.  This will allow you to adjust your focus and make judgements for the rest of your settings.  Once you have your subject framed up, you can rotate the ring to block out the amount of light you feel would be appropriate and start firing off photos.  The camera needs to remain absolutely still when taking the pictures.  To help with this, it would be a good idea to set a timer or use a remote to avoid slight bumping of the camera when depressing the shutter button.  I used a remote made by Insignia for most of this project.


Pipe-SetupFor the first photograph in this project, I happened upon an unusual water fountain that features two pipes spilling water into a basin.  I saw this as the perfect opportunity to use the ND Filter that has been burning a hole in my camera bag for the longest time.  This was my first time using the ND Filter and took quite a while to get my settings correct.  I knew that I wanted to capture the water in motion, not just the water spilling out of the pipes, but also the movement of the water in the basin.  This is where the ND Filter performs as intended.  I was able to take longer exposures in bright daylight without too much worry towards over exposing the photo.  This photo was shot at high-noon, so I used the lowest ISO setting I could get for the least amount of grain, and a relatively high f-stop because I really didn’t want a lot of depth of field.  When shooting a time-lapse of rushing water, I chose to shoot it as a flat image.  I felt it would be best to have the entire photo in focus, and depth of field would blur out some of the motion.  That would have detracted from the over-all goal for this photograph.  This picture probably turned out to be the best one in this series.  For the other photos in this series, though, I had different goals in mind.


The rest of the photos in this series were taken at night.  Two of them have an urban feel, and one of them was taken of the north star from an observatory.  I don’t have any pictures to illustrate the setup for these photos and I do apologize for that.  Figure b. (below) is a different type of time-lapse photo.  It is actually a composite of two images.  I took a picture of my home town before sun down, then I waited till there was an appropriate level of darkness and fired off a time-lapse photo.  When layered in photo shop later, it presents a brighter view of the city horizon and still captures that night time feel.  This is especially useful if there is a lot of traffic to capture in the time-lapse, but traffic was pretty slow the night I took that photo.

In figure c, I took a long exposure of traffic from an overpass.  My main goal was to capture the motion of tail lights on a busy highway.  I was alone this night and was passed by several drunk pedestrians.  I was actually a little worried about how expensive my camera may have looked.

Figure d. is a much longer exposure of the night time sky.  I trained by camera on the North Star because this is the only star in the sky that does not move.  Astronomy has been a long time interest of mine and the local observatory is one of our best attractions.  Notice elements of light pollution in the lower right corner.

I want to thank everyone for taking the time to read this blog entry.  The final photographs from the project will be below this paragraph.  Please take a look at them, leave comments, questions, and criticisms.  Thank you.



“Fig. A.” f/22, 15 sec, ISO 100


City Lights

“Fig. B.” Composite image, no settings.


“Fig. C.” f/5.6, 118 sec, ISO 100.










“Fig. D.” f/4.5, 1004 sec, ISO 100.



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