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Time-Lapse Photography

moving cameras images video

Anglo-Australian Observatory, RMIT University

Time-lapse photography is the use of photography to compress elapsed time in a still or moving image. In motion media, the playback time will be shorter than the recording time. Time-lapse photography allows processes or phenomena that take place over a period of time to be evaluated at a more convenient pace or in a manner where the subtle changes that occur during the event are more easily observed.

For moving images, digital cameras and webcams can be used to acquire a series of still frames over an extended time that can readily be made into video footage, and time-lapse VCR recorders (often used with low-resolution surveillance cameras) are also available. More sophisticated video time-lapse systems combine programmable pan, tilt, zoom, and similar actions. Facilities with high-quality film and video cameras add a studio-like dimension to time-lapse footage. Such systems can be programmed to work unattended for extended periods.

Essentially, any slow-moving action can be captured and converted into a dynamic time-lapse sequence, ranging in subjects from a comet moving through the solar system or the division of bacteria under the microscope. In these two examples there is the requirement of additional specialized equipment. The more typical applications of time-lapse photography include plant and crystal growth, living cell division, sports photography, weather patterns, sun and moonrise sequences, traffic flow, and building construction.

Still images can also record action over time, either by the use of a long exposure on the same frame of film (as in a star trail) or by combining many separate frames into a single image (as in an analemma or chronophotography). Central to time-lapse imaging for scientific use is planning and a knowledge of the event duration in real time. This governs the number of images or frame rate required to record the sequence.

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