Want Time-lapse? Better Get an Intervalometer

©2011 Richard Harrington

When it comes to shooting time-lapse videos, there is a real need to consistently and repeatedly fire off multiple exposures. While you “could” sit next to your camera and constantly press the shutter button, this would get old really fast.

The standard tool needed for regulating the amount of exposures during a time-lapse shoot is an intervalometer. When you turn it on, you can program the camera to shoot stills. An intervalometer allows you to easily set a timer for when you want the camera to begin recording, set the interval between exposures, and determine how many frames you want to shoot.

©2010 Richard Harrington

Typically, an intervalometer is a tethered device that connects to your camera via a port. Some cameras may have a built-in intervalometer. This allows you to shoot time-lapse shots without carrying extra gear. However, the external models make it easier to tweak adjustments as the camera is rolling. Just be sure to always keep spare batteries with you for the intervalometer or it becomes dead weight.

©2011 Richard Harrington

Once connected, do not leave the intervalometer dangling from the camera. When plugging it in and beginning your operation, make sure you have a good solid place to leave the intervalometer. If the cable is too short to reach the ground, don’t just let it dangle in the wind. Tape it to one of your tripod legs with the face showing, or even better, run an extension cable to the camera. The remote switch function is very useful because it prevents you from coming in contact with the camera while it’s running. If you need to turn off the operation during some break in the action, or change the interval, you want to avoid touching the camera or tripod. A subtle bump can appear as a jolting frame change in the final clip.

©2011 Richard Harrington

For shoots that will last over a period of days or weeks, it might be a good idea to invest in an intervalometer that includes a light-sensing switch or programmable timer. You can then avoid recording at night (if you don’t want to). Check out the Time Machine from Mumford Micro Systems at www.bmumford.com/photo/camctlr.html.


About Richard Harrington

Richard Harrington is the founder of RHED Pixel, a visual communications company based in Washington, D.C. He is the Publisher of Photofocus as well as an author on Lynda.com. Rich has authored several books including From Still to Motion, Understanding Photoshop, Professional Web Video, and Creating DSLR Video.

Posted on July 11, 2011, in Gear, Time-lapse and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Richard,

    I like to do timelapses from sunset into stars, and I’ve come across a few challenges. I wonder if you or any readers know of some solutions?

    1. The built in intervalometer of my D700 is not reliable with shutter speeds over 10-15 seconds or so, it just quits randomly after somewhere between 25 and 150 or so shots. No reason, totally random. I can’t find any setting that might be doing this, long exposure noise reduction is disabled, manual focus, manual exposure, etc. I use my external Promote Control to get around it, and that works perfectly fine. Anyone else experience this?
    2. Is there any hardware or software that can do exposure or bulb ramping on a Nikon? Canon users can use the Little Bramper. I’d like to do a timelapse from sunset into the Milky Way, the so called “holy grail”. The meter is not sensitive enough to use auto exposure after sunset (maxes out at 1 or 2 seconds, f/2.8, and ISO 2800 and won’t push it further), but manual exposure won’t work with such a large exposure difference unless you can automate it. I’ve not found any remote control software that can script different exposures at different times. Setting up 15 or more bracketed exposures with my Promote Control and then hand picking exposures later and attempting to remove flicker is the best I have come up with so far. However, fitting all the wasted exposures on a single card, not to mention the sheer length of time to bracket that many shots, are two serious issues with that approach. I’ve not found a bulb ramping solution for Nikon’s yet…

    Looking forward to reading others’ experiences! HDR timelapses sure are a lot of fun!