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How To Make a Time-Lapse in Photoshop

Time-lapse videos are becoming increasingly more popular. Following this trend, cameras are providing the ability to make a video time lapse directly in-camera. And you can also create a time lapse in Photoshop.
In-camera time-lapse is obviously very convenient. All you need to do is to set up the interval, exposure settings and let the camera do the rest. There’s no post-processing involved and the workflow is relatively fast.
In-camera production of time lapse videos, however, will short-circuit some of the creative decisions. This is why many time lapse videographers still prefer to assemble a time lapse video from individual stills.
screenshot of a timelapse time line headerThis makes it easy to  produce 4K (or even 8K) video, employ high dynamic range techniques, achieve some impressive motion blur and to take control of the camera position frame-by-frame for hyper-lapse video.
The downside of all this creative control is of course the post-processing time and the need for software.

Time-Lapse Assembler

Top-end video editors such as Adobe Premier Pro or After Effects will both be able to assemble a series of photos into a video and a great deal more.
If you just want a basic time-lapse assembler though, there are a number of freeware offerings available.  Timelapse Assembler is a popular application that works on both PC and Mac.
Screenshot of opening a time lapse assembler application
You will need to make a folder that contains all the component JPEG photos renamed in a numerical sequence and then select the output size for your Quicktime movie. There are no bells and whistles but it gets the job done.

How to Make a Time-Lapse in Photoshop

Photoshop has been with us now for over twenty years. We’ve seen the addition of layers, layer styles, vector graphics, smart objects and a host of new tools and refinements including some 3D capability.
In attempting to be a kind of graphics Swiss Army knife, Photoshop is not always the best tool for the job compared to software that’s designed for a very specialised use.
That being said, it’s often surprisingly good at handling new challenges – and video is no exception.
Video editing has been possible in Photoshop since CS3 extended although early versions were fairly basic. The latest versions of Photoshop allow you to edit and blend video with some ease.
This article will focus on how to combine your image sequence into a video.
I’ve already covered topics such as image size and type in some detail in “What Are the Best Settings for Time-Lapse Photography?so I’ll assume you’ve already taken a few hundred (preferably raw) medium sized images.
I’ll also assume that if you have a recent version of Photoshop, you also have to Lightroom. Both are available in the same subscription package and work very well together.

Image Preparation in Lightroom

It’s generally a good idea to make a new folder for each time-lapse sequence you shoot to keep things well organised.
Click on the folder in the Library view to see your sequence. Check all your images, and discard any duff photos.
Then apply some basic tonal adjustments and cropping to a representative image that can be copied to all the other images in the sequence.
You can do this very easily using Lightroom.
Screenshot of how to make a time-lapse in Photoshop
Once you’ve adjusted one image, and the image is still selected as shown above, press CTRL or CMD ‘a’ to select all the other photos. Then click the Sync button.
Screenshot of syncing images in Lightroom
Click ‘Check All’ to tell Lightroom to copy all the possible adjustments. Then click Synchronize to copy these develop settings to the other images in your sequence.

Alternative Sync Method

Here’s another, more streamlined way to achieve the same settings across all your photos.
Select a single image from your sequence when in the Library module. Then press CTRL or CMD ‘a’ to select all the others in your folder as before.
Now, with them all selected, go to the Develop module. Next to the Sync and Reset buttons at the bottom of the right panel is a switch:

Screenshot for choosing between normal and auto sync modes.
This switch (outlined in yellow) toggles between normal and auto sync modes.

Click this switch to activate the Auto Sync function. Now as you edit your target photo, Lightroom will copy those edits in real time to the other selected photos.

How to Import Your Images Into Photoshop

To prepare your images for Photoshop, they need to be exported as JPEG images into the same folder with a file name that’s appended with a number.
This must have leading zeros, like this – flower-0001.jpg, flower-0002.jpg, flower-0003.jpg.
This numbering is important. Photoshop adds the images into the video sequence based only on the ASCII value of their filenames and not on any EXIF data.
You will also need to make your JPEG files using this name and number scheme if you want to use the freeware Timelapse Assembler.
Select all the images and hit Export to bring up the export dialogue:
Screenshot of importing images to make a time-lapse in Photoshop
Under File Naming, tick ‘Rename To’ and select the edit option from the drop-down list. This will bring up the Filename Template Editor (shown above left). Click the sequence drop-down list and select a format with leading zeros.
A preview of the filename format will be shown at the top of the Filename Template Editor (in this example it’s Lily-0001.jpg). When you hit ‘Done’, this format will appear in the File Naming section of the Export dialogue.
Check that you’re exporting as JPEG images and that the size has been set up according to the resolution of the display device.
If you want to zoom and pan around your video, the images will need to be slightly larger than the intended video resolution. If not, just set the long edge to 3840 pixels for 4K Ultra HD, 1920 pixels for Full HD or 1280 for standard HD.
Take no notice of the value in the ‘Resolution’ box (normally set to 300). It’s not relevant for our purposes. It’s the pixel dimensions that matter. In this example, I’ve chosen a width of 1280 for a standard HD video.
When the export is complete, you should end up with a numerically sorted list in your chosen folder. It’s now time to open Photoshop.

How to Make a Time-Lapse in Photoshop

In order to keep things tidy and not display panels you don’t need, you can select a specific work space or even save your own for later recall.
Photoshop has a special work space for dealing with motion graphics. You can activate it by clicking on the Window menu option. Then Workspace>Motion.
When you do this, you’ll notice a Timeline area appears at the bottom of your screen. To load your prepared photos sequence onto the timeline, select File Open and navigate to the folder where you stored your image sequence.
Select any single image in the sequence and click the Options button at the lower left corner of the File navigator window to reveal some extra options and tick the ‘Image Sequence’ box.
In this example, I’ve selected the first image. Since Photoshop assembles the sequence in the numerical order you already defined, you can select any image in the sequence. Photoshop will still arrange them correctly.
The important thing is not to select more than one photo. The Image Sequence box will not be available if you do this.
Screenshot of importing sequence - How to Make a Time-Lapse in Photoshop
Click ‘Open’ and Photoshop will ask you to select a frame rate. The drop-down box contains many of the common frame rates such as 24, 25 and 30fps. You can click custom to set your own rate to speed up or slow down the final video.
Here, I’ve selected 25fps. When you hit OK, Photoshop will add all the images in the folder to the timeline. If you’re not sure what frame rate to use, you can just pick one and modify it later from the timeline menu.

A screenshot of frame rate on Photoshop

Photoshop doesn’t actually import the images but it does reference (or point to) them. Don’t change any of the component file names or locations until you’ve rendered your work as a video file.
The timeline will now contain your sequence (by default called ‘Video Group 1’) ready for you to edit. The layer palette will also show a new group called Video Group 1 in which your sequence resides.
If you’re familiar with using Photoshop for photos, you’ll find working with video fairly intuitive. You can apply masks, blending modes and layer styles to a video in the same way you’d apply them to a photo.
As you might expect for a video editor, you can load multiple video clips and trim them to length, change their order and add keyframes and music.
In Photoshop, a video group can contain a number of video clips that appear as separate layers within that group on the layers palette but as a sequence of contiguous clips in the timeline.
Each video group in the layers palette will appear as a separate layer of clips in the timeline. You can think of this as a video version of the layers palette when processing normal photos.
This enables you to combine several video clips in a virtual video mixer using all the compositing techniques you already know from working with still photos.
In this example, we have just one sequence in one video group and we’re not attempting to composite it with any other media. All we need to do is just trim the sequence to length, preview it and then render it to make a real video file.

The Photoshop Timeline

The timeline tools are fairly intuitive:

Screenshot of timeline menu used to make a time lapse in Photoshop

The sequence is shown as a blue bar above which the play head indicates the currently displayed frame against a scale of seconds and frames. Click and drag the play head to jump around your sequence.
Clicking and dragging either end of the sequence will enable you to trim it to length. Since the frames are just referencing the jpeg images, trimming is non-destructive. You can always restore the clip length later.
To play your sequence or position the play head on a specific frame, use the controls to the left of the time line bar:
Screenshot of using playback menu to make a time lapse in Photoshop
Under settings, set the resolution to 50%. If playback is not smooth and your computer is not able to display every frame, work at 25%. This only affects previews and will ease the load on your computer’s processor. It won’t reduce the quality of the final video.
Just above each end of the bar are two work area markers. When you hit the play key, Photoshop will play just the section between these two markers.
Drag these to define an area of interest to edit or use them to define a selected portion of your sequence you want rendered into a video.

Enabling Shortcut Keys

Since video editing involves a great deal of play head shuffling, it makes sense to use shortcut keys to speed up the workflow.
When in video mode, you have the option of reassigning some of your existing shortcut keys. They will revert to their normal function again when editing photos.
To enable this, select the timeline menu button as shown above and tick the ‘Enable Timeline Shortcut Keys’ option.
You can now use:

  • The spacebar to start and stop playback;
  • Left arrow key to move back one frame;
  • Right arrow key to move forward one frame;
  • Up arrow key to move to the start of a clip;
  • Down arrow key to move to the end of a clip.

Cutting Out Frames

Checking all the component images in Lightroom before exporting them as a JPEG sequence means you can weed out any duff images. For example, the flash of a car’s headlights during a night shoot or that person wearing a hi-viz jacket.
However, if you missed one, you can still remove it without having to generate the whole sequence again.
Use the playhead controls to position it at the frame where you want to cut the content and make sure the video group is selected in the timeline. Then click the scissors button to split the sequence at the play head.
Move the play head to the end of the section you want to remove and click the scissors button again. Now make sure that only the unwanted section is selected. Hit the delete or backspace key to remove it.

Screenshot of Isolating a single frame ready for deletion on Photoshop
Isolating a single frame ready for deletion.

Alternatively, for a non-destructive workflow, after making the first cut, drag the ends of the adjacent parts of the sequence and Photoshop will automatically close the gap.
If you want to open it up again, you’ll have to first select all the clips to the right of the edit point and drag them further down the timeline to make some room.

Exporting the Video

At this stage, we have just a Photoshop file that’s referencing external media. The video we’ve been watching is just a preview containing our edits and any special effects we may have decided to use.
The time has come to turn all this into a real video file. This exporting process is called ‘Rendering’. Depending on the length and complexity of your video and the processing power of your computer, it can take a while.
It’s not uncommon for the rendering process to take a few hours.
Click the timeline video menu icon and select ‘Render Video…’ or you can click on the little arrow icon at the bottom left of the screen to bring up the Render Video dialogue box:
Sc reenshot of rendering time lapse video on photoshop
Select a name and destination for your video file with an optional sub-folder. Make sure Adobe Media Encoder is selected.
Under Format, select H.264 to make an mp4 file (the most common format on the internet) or Quicktime if you want to make a .mov file.
I would recommend selecting H.264 as this is so widely used. This also makes a huge range of presets available when you select the Preset drop-down box:

Selecting one of these presets will fill in the remaining details such as resolution and frame rate for you. If you don’t want to use any existing preset, just set the Size: to ‘Custom’. Enter the pixel dimensions and frame rate.
Leave the Aspect set to ‘Document(1.0)’. This will produce square pixels. You don’t need to use rectangular pixels because you set the required video aspect ratio back in Lightroom.
Under the ‘Range’ setting, you can opt to render ‘All Frames’, a specific numbered range of frames or to only render the area specified by the Work Area markers on the timeline.
When you’re satisfied with the settings, hit the Render button to make your finished video.
Once it’s created, you can safely delete the component JPEG images and associated Photoshop file. Keep them only if you want to make further video files from the same source images.
For more interesting time-lapse videos, try using more than one camera or more than one viewpoint for the same scene.
You can then assemble the images from each viewpoint into separate video files. And then import them into Photoshop as a sequence of clips to make a single epic video with accompanying soundtrack.

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