With Time Lapse photography, you set the camera’s interval timer (select Nikon digital cameras have the feature built-in), to snap a photo at specified intervals over a select period of time. After you’re done shooting, depending upon the interval and length of shooting time, you may have dozens, hundreds or thousands of individual frames that will need to be combined into a finished movie.
The individual frames—when viewed as a movie—will show your subject over the course of time that you had set it to be photographed.
Favorite Time Lapse subjects include stars moving across the night sky, sunrises and sunsets, and even flowers blooming.
In the days of film, an intervalometer or interval timer, was an optional accessory that had to be connected to your camera, but nowadays it’s built right into Nikon DSLRs and even Nikon 1 and some COOLPIX digital cameras.
Certain Nikon DSLRs, such as the D4, even feature a dedicated Time Lapse Movie mode that records the images at the intervals you set, for the specified amount of time, and processes a completed movie in the camera, saving it as a .MOV file.
The great advantage to using the Time Lapse movie mode is that you don’t have to deal with the hundreds or thousands of individual high-res files in post-production to manually create the movie file.
So, if the Time Lapse movie mode is so convenient, what’s the benefit to using the interval timer function and “doing it yourself” so to speak [read: processing the image files into the finished movie during post-production].
Well, there’s a trade off. The Time Lapse movie mode doesn’t save the individual image files—when its finished processing the movie file, you’re left with only the .MOV file. So, had you wanted to do something with the individual files, you can’t. The camera doesn’t save them.
Secondly, there are a few other modes that you can’t use simultaneously with the Time Lapse movie mode, but that you can use together with the interval timer. This includes the built-in HDR mode as well as bracketing of exposures.
If you want the full res individual files, or want to combine two shooting modes, you’ll have to use the interval timer. In this mode, the camera will save each individual full res file (if of course, you’ve set it to capture images at full resolution).
You can also set the camera to shoot HDR and use the interval timer simultaneously for HDR time lapse. After shooting, simply combine the frames into a finished movie using a non-linear editing system.
Another reason you might want the larger original files is to be able to zoom or pan around the frame while creating your time lapse movie, and with larger files that offer higher resolution and detail, you’re able to do this on the computer with software in post-production. This is known among multimedia artists as the “Ken Burns Effect.”
Setting the Time Lapse Movie Mode on the D4
- Choose an interval and shooting time.
- The camera offers a default setting of 5 second interval, 25 minute max shooting time.
- Remember to choose your interval time to be longer than the slowest shutter speed you are going to be using.
- Maximum shooting time of the camera is 7 hours 59 minutes.
- Start shooting—using the menu, select ON and hit OK.
- If you set it to start shooting now, it will begin after 3 seconds.
- The max length for the time lapse movie is a 20 minute movie.
- You can manually stop the time lapse in the menu, by selecting OFF and hitting OK.
- If you end a time lapse interval in mid shooting, it will process the movie from the beginning to the point that the camera stopped recording.
Setting the Interval Timer for Time Lapse Photography with the D4
- Go into the shooting menu
- Select the interval time.
- Choose starting time (now will begin in 3 seconds).
- Choose the interval.
- Choose the number of intervals and the number of shots in each interval.
- Highlight ON and press OK.
- You can pause and restart
- You can also stop the time lapse capture.
After working as a photojournalist for several hometown newspapers in his native state of Utah, Steve Heiner joined Nikon in 1985 as a Technical Representative in Dallas, TX. He later worked in Sunnyvale, CA; Salt Lake City, UT and eventually New York. During his time in the field, Steve provided technical assistance and training to pro photographers during major sporting and news events. He has trained government and military specialists around the country and while at sea. He joined the Nikon management team in the Melville headquarters in 1999. Today he holds the position of Senior Technical Manager and Media Spokesperson.