How to make a timelapse with a Canon 500/550D

by Luno2012

Timelapse photography allows us to see processes that would normally appear very subtle to the human eye, but when captured, enables us to see that process much more pronounced – such as a beautiful sunset, a blossoming flower, or melting ice. Below is an example, capturing the sunset in Norway. If you would like to try a timelapse, please read on – it is very easy to do, and very impressive!

Timelapse of a sunset in Oslo

What do you need to make a timelapse

1. A DSLR camera (preferably)

2. A timer device (available from ebay, for your make of camera). My camera is a canon 550D and so I use the timer displayed on the right, which works perfectly and is very easy to use)

Alternatively; you can use the software CD that came with your camera, which usually has timing software on it. However, this mean you always need to have a laptop with you, as opposed to the timer, which you can take anywhere.

3. A tripod (it is very important to keep the camera completely still throughout the timelapse, any movement of the camera will effectively ruin the timelapse, you will see an example of this later)

4. A good location: choose a location where changes in the environment are occuring – this can be places where there are many people, a sunset/sunrise, changing tides, moving clouds etc)

How to set up your camera

  • Once you have chosen a suitable location, mount your camera on the tripod (or a stable area).
  • Auto focus on the image you will be taking. Once you have achieved focus, turn off autofocus if you are timelapsing a landscape, or a low light picture. This will save battery on your camera, and prevent shots from not being taken (due to failure of autofocus). However, if you are doing a timelapse of people it is best to leave autofocus on, as your camera will always have something to focus on.
  • For changing light conditions: use AV mode (or shutter priority), as your camera will automatically adjust to the changing light – such as in sunset timelapses.
  • Make sure your camera is not set to auto white balance, as this can create flickering.
  • To save battery – you can also turn of “image review” on your camera

Setting the timer

You will notice once you have your timer (or any timer) that there are four main settings:

  1. Delay – This is the delay between each shot. You can leave this at 0, unless you have a long shutter speed (night photography)
  2. Long – This is for the shutter speed, for example if you are doing a time-lapse of the stars, and you need a shutter speed longer than 30 seconds.
  3. Interval – This is how often you would like to take a picture, for a fast changing environment (sunset), a good starting point is every 15 seconds.
  4. number of shots – this is as it says – for the number of pictures you would like to take. You can set this, but it is easier to leave the setting at (—-). This will mean the camera will just carry on taking pictures until another limiting factor means no more pictures can be taken; expired battery or unavailable space on the memory card.

Timelapse of the stars, with the pictures put together
Timelapse of the stars, with the pictures put together

  • Shutter Speeds: pick a shutter speed which best suits the environment you are timelapsing, for example if you are timelapsing the stars, you will need a long exposure, to capture as much light as possible
  • Interval Times: For a fast changing enviroment, it is best to use minimal interval times, such as 15 seconds (sunrise/sunset). For a slow enviroment (timelapsing the construction of a building) you can use much greater interval times (perhaps 1 shot every 20 minutes)
  • Battery Power: Once you start timelapsing, you will find that your battery will last longer if you are shooting with quick shutter speeds, as opposed to those with long exposures. You can purchase an extra battery for your camera, but it may be hard to change the battery whilst not moving the tripod. A much better option for longer timelapses, is using an AC power adapter for your camera (available from amazon). One battery should last about 6 hours on an interval of 15 seconds, in daylight.
  • Image Settings: Set your camera to shoot in JPG, rather than RAW, as processing of each image will take much longer with RAW shooting (and use up the battery much quicker)

The most important aspect to time-lapse photography is the stability of the camera. Do not allow the camera to move at all.


An impressive timelapse of the night sky

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