Hyper Lapse & Time Lapse: Tools, Definitions & Examples

Time lapse is the art form I cultivate

In order to create better collaboration between creative and business types, I’ve put together this list of time lapse definitions with accompanying examples when appropriate. Although there exist some differences from the norm, for the most part these definitions are common and familiar within the time lapse and motion picture industries.

I hope you find this informative, invaluable and motivating enough to call me to discuss your pie-in-sky project. Hello? 818-422-0696…

The following definitions are common. If the definition is one I’ve come up with vs. what is commonly used, I’ll let you know with a • before the definition  While there are some truisms, rules are made to be adapted by the creator and that’s part of what you’re buying from a professional time lapse director/producer/photographer: a willingness to jump off the deep end for the sake of the project.


Time Lapse: manipulation of time by expanding or compressing. Done in conjunction with still and/or motion cameras. Typical subjects recorded: exploding balloons/water droplets splashing/high speed action, (time expansion/slow motion) and construction/events/people/weather. (time compression/fast motion)


•Hyper-lapse: extended camera moves longer than 12 feet. There’s no agreed upon standard, I picked 12 feet because the practical limit of a dolly track used for time lapse is 12 feet.


Intervalometer: any device that triggers the camera’s shutter mechanism at predetermined intervals. Can be programmed easily and changed on-the-fly. Manual override options a plus. Range in price from built-ins to $300.00 plus per unit. The one pictured here is from Canon. Pricey but bulletproof. Almost. Nothing works perfectly. If this fails it cannot easily be repaired. Unless you know what you’re doing. I work with 11 different types. Don’t get me started…

Behind The Scenes: Camera Set UpsIntervals: how much time the camera is at rest between exposures. Can be from one-second to whatever is appropriate for the scene. Less time between intervals, (1-5 seconds apart) equals smoother time transitions during playback. Brief is better for moving clouds and people. (compression) In construction, I’ve found that 60-180 seconds apart, (depends on the speed of the action and how long it lasts) is extremely suitable for my working style. Very personal and context driven decisions abound here, expert judgement reigns supreme.


FPS (Frames Per Second): reference for how fast a sequence is played back. Higher FPS = faster playback. If a high FPS is applied in conjunction with a less time between intervals time lapse sequence, you’ll get fast movie-like time lapse video. While the action being viewed is smooth, it can go by so quickly as to not register meaningfully with the viewer. Amatuerville and you want guard against this.

Slower FPS’s provide more time to take in content but it can be too jumpy and disturbing to view. You want to guard against this too by using a knowledgeable and thoughtful professional artist. IMHO, the optimum playback is contextual and driven by the unique characteristics of the narrative being produced. And of course by client requirements. Once again, open the door to expert judgement and let it take over your mind…

Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 11.47.48 AM

Motion Control:  camera(s) pan, tilt, move side-to-side or up/down while recording a sequence. Involves specialized equipment and training to effectively use. Knowing how long to program the movement, what type of movement is appropriate, timing the intervals and how to mix all three together is the realm of us pros. I’m just saying’…

motion control devices for time lapse

An example of a time lapse motion control move using the eMotimo TB3 and a dolly track:


 Static Camera: the camera is placed in position and does not move while recording.

GoPro on a Tree

Slider or dolly track: the rail that a camera slides upon while it records a time lapse sequence.

Behind The Scenes: Camera Set Ups

Dolly: left/right, up/down or angled movement:


Single Axis Move: camera in a fixed position and may or may not move. Sounds contradictory but watch this single axis pan:


Double Axis Move: camera is attached to a motion control device and moves in two directions over the course of recording a sequence:


Three Axis Move: camera pans, tilts and dollies over the course of recording a sequence:


Stop Motion: deliberately moving objects within the frame between one camera shutter trigger and the next. A form of animation. Watch the vacuum cleaner, the shoe and the plastic bag:


A sunset time lapse seemed appropriate to end this post.

Here’s something done in the simplest of ways, setting the camera via manual mode and doing nothing else (photographically speaking) as the day fades away…

Next up, my familiar and oft used post-production techniques and their definitions.

Stay frosty.


Michael Stern

My work depicts, appreciates and honors the people who build. Their specialized equipment and stunning challenges are marvels I behold and get paid to interpret. Hope you enjoy this site.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Nice post Michael, I know there are only definitions here, but i’d like to recommend you this tool: http://sunrise-sunset.org/ just discovered it and it’s amazingly useful for timelapses and photography.

    Just wanted to share it, since I don’t have a blog or website and works great for me.


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