Please have a look at these amazing time-lapse videos:



I just don't get how they do it. I am a fairly experienced photographer, however, I do not have a lot of experience with time lapse shots. Nevertheless I understand the basic principles of how to avoid flicker. But in videos like this, some real advanced stuff is going on. Just some points to illustrate what I am talking about. It seems that all effects except the growth, are shown in real time. Like for instance movements of the plant, and its surroundings, and the lighting.

  • There is this thing called wind. So if you shoot with a fixed interval, to capture the motion of a growing plant, the plant should be in a different position each time right? How is this not the case?

  • One day you will have direct sunlight, the next it will be completely cloudy. This results in a different distribution of light, which cannot be resolved purely by controlling the exposure?

  • Are these kind of timelapses even created on a photo camera? Or do they use video equipment?

Any insights into this time lapse magic will be appreciated. I am really interested in some more information and experiences. Can anyone recommend a good source of information on this topic?


2 Answers 2


I can't watch your videos at the moment, but if I got it correct they are timelapses of a plant growing while the environment doesn't change or changes very little. It gives the impression that the plant grows fully over a short amount of time, or the the plant and the environment move at different speed.

If my assumption is correct, BBC did this for the opening of the Plants episode of David Attenboroughs Life series (ep 1). At the end of the episode they describe exactly how they did it.

Basically what they did was grow the plants in a studio with blue screens where the studio was set up to exactly mimic the scene in the forest. They then did 2 timelapses. 1 shot over a few hours of the actual woodland scene, and one shot over a very long time (maybe months) of the plants growing. They then put the first timelapse on the bluescreen of the second.

I would link to the episode, but cannot access youtube at the moment.

  • \$\begingroup\$ That's a very plausible explanation for how these scenes were filmed. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matt Grum
    Apr 10, 2014 at 10:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yup, I am trying to get a look at the behind the scenes of 'the private life of plants', which could also give some more insights. On the wikipedia-page for this series another example is given: "Outdoors time-lapse photography presents a unique set of challenges: the varying light and temperatures in particular can cause many problems. To film bluebells under a canopy of beech trees, for example, cameraman Richard Kirby covered them with a thick canvas tent that was lit from within to simulate daylight." \$\endgroup\$
    – mmumboss
    Apr 10, 2014 at 12:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for pointing me in the right direction. I am watching the final part of that episode now. That's really interesting. \$\endgroup\$
    – mmumboss
    Apr 10, 2014 at 12:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ No worries, glad I could help. The whole series is incredibly interesting and well done. There's not much you can't do with the carte blanche Sir David receives from the BBC - and I absolutely do not mean that in a negative way. \$\endgroup\$
    – Darko
    Apr 10, 2014 at 13:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ Could you maybe add a link to the episode when you'll have access to YouTube? This will make your answer more complete. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 30, 2014 at 13:11

It is possible that the photos were taken manually using software that would allow overlaying the previous image with the current. This would allow to make sure that wind isn't causing a problem between frames and that positioning is good. Most likely by positioning it properly yourself. This is how stop motion is generally done now, by comparing the amount of change between frames and making sure everything is properly positioned. The feature is available in magic lantern as well as purpose built software and is generally called ghosting.

For lighting, artificial lighting could be used on the macro stuff. If you overpower the natural lighting with artificial, then it doesn't matter what the weather is like. This also seems likely as there are no night intervals in the shot either. On landscapes, it's more planning. You just need to choose a day when the weather is cooperative and hope for the best. You could manually color grading on a frame by frame basis, but getting it right in camera would simplify things a lot.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Is the first paragraph practically feasible? Wouldn't some kind of post-stabilisation make more sense? \$\endgroup\$ Apr 10, 2014 at 0:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you didn't use an overlay, the background would move. You need the subject to be in the same place related to background. Easiest way to do that is to have the previous image shown as an overlay. I know magic lantern can do this. \$\endgroup\$
    – AJ Henderson
    Apr 10, 2014 at 1:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ I meant: aligning each image with the previous image using an overlay will probably take a very very long time, right? So is it feasible to align each image (probably several hundred) separately by hand (even with an overlay)? \$\endgroup\$ Apr 10, 2014 at 2:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ You would do it as you are shooting. That's how stop motion works. It's a more rigorous procedure than an intervalometer, but far better quality results. \$\endgroup\$
    – AJ Henderson
    Apr 10, 2014 at 4:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ So if I understand correctly, someone is sitting behind the camera, waiting for the scene to align with his previous image, and then shooting his next frame? \$\endgroup\$
    – mmumboss
    Apr 10, 2014 at 6:14

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