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

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 the link above, for your make of camera). My camera is a canon 550D and so I use the timer displayed in the first link above, 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 occurring - 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

General Tips

  • 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 environment, it is best to use minimal interval times, such as 15 seconds (sunrise/sunset). For a slow environment (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)

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

Comments 13 comments

scottySA profile image

scottySA 5 years ago

This is really cool! I saw the timelapses they used in the BBC frozen planet documentaries. I didn't realise that it actually relatively simple to do one!

Ghost 4 years ago

Just have to correct you on one point.

I quote:

"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." End of quote.

Not totally correct. AV mode stands for Aperture value, or if you want, Aperture priority.

Meaning that you control the aperture manually and that the camera controls the shutter speed to match for changing light condition.

That setting is also to recommend for not getting a difference of the depth of field.

I guess you already knows this, I just thought about newbies that could find this a little confusing.

Thanks for great info otherwise!


CyclingFitness profile image

CyclingFitness 4 years ago from Nottingham UK

Awesome. I'll have to try this with my 500D. Just getting used to it's settings so this should prove very useful indeed.

Teo Della Torre 4 years ago

Greta tutorial.

I just have one question, WHY ISN'T MY CAMERA TAKING ANY PICS!?!?!?

I followed your instructions and have the same timer. unfortunately when the timer counts down the camera does not take a picture. i am very new to this.

What am I doing wrong?

Thanks in advance

Luno2012 profile image

Luno2012 4 years ago from United Kingdom Author

thanks for explaining that @ghost :)

@ Teo Della Tore - I am very sorry to hear about the problems you have experienced. the first step to take would be to make sure the remote timer you bought is compatible with the camera you have. It will usually say this on the product description.

However, It is most likely that you have purchased a faulty timer. A good way to investigate this would be to plug in the remote timer to your camera, put your camera on manual mode and "BULB" (or the setting which allows your camera to take an unlimited exposure).. and push on the big (round) button on the timer... (slide it up). If nothing happens, unfortunately this probably means the timer does not work.

there are some good timers you can purchase from ebay, such as:

i urge you to give it another go with another timer! hopefully it work next time! good luck!

TrahnTheMan profile image

TrahnTheMan 4 years ago from Asia, Oceania & between

Great hub! I recently got a remote ('bulb') trigger release and was amazed at how cheap they are (less than $10) and how useful they are- highly recommended.

player 4 years ago

It's a good camera,but to get the the larger lenses genuine canon ones that is is a rip off.Buy opteka there ok i got a 2600mm lens and i can zoom in on jupiter,and only paid $350.00 compared to minimum $15000.00 + with canon.Can you imagine how angry you would be if that lens was accidentally dropped or stolen

Resolver2009 profile image

Resolver2009 3 years ago from Bournemouth, UK / Oslo, Norway

This article is truly amazing, and explains explains everything ever so well. Thank you Luno!

ArockDaNinja profile image

ArockDaNinja 3 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

I have a canon vixia m500. Any advice?

Luno2012 profile image

Luno2012 3 years ago from United Kingdom Author

ArockDaNinja: Will look into that and get back to you :-)

Deepak 2 years ago

" I use the timer displayed on the right........"

Right to what?

Can you please explain how can I make TL videos without my laptop?

Luno2012 profile image

Luno2012 2 years ago from United Kingdom Author

Hi @Deepak - that sentence should read "use the timer displayed in the first link above"

It is a Remote Control timer device that you will need in order to do a TL without your computer. You simple plug this Remote timer into the side of your camera, and proramme the timer accordingly - i.e to take a picture every 15 Seconds.

If you have a Canon 500/550d/600 or similar, you can buy the timer from the link provided above in the text. You need to buy a timer that is compatible with your camera.

For more information and help, visit this link:

Good Luck!

Declan 2 weeks ago

What sort of apature to shutter speed settings are you using?

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    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

    Have a different camera model - no problem!

    If you follow the link below, you can by a remote control timer for a Nikon D90, Nikon D3100, Nikon D3200 and Nikon D5000. Follow the above tutorial, but us the remote control timer for YOUR camera model.

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