How to Record Time-Lapse Video with iPhone Camera

Oct 10, 2014 - 7 Comments

iOS Camera icon You can easily record amazing time-lapse videos using the iPhone camera. Of the many Camera capabilities that iPhone offers, perhaps one of the most fun and interesting to use is the Time-Lapse feature. Not long ago, Time-Lapse photography and video was considered fairly advanced, but the iPhone makes it so simple that quite literally anyone can record a high quality time-lapse video with little effort at all. We’re going to demonstrate how to use the new Time-Lapse feature on iPhone, and offer a few tips to get the best results with your videos.

For some quick background, time-lapse works by reducing the capture speed of record images in a video, and that reduced framerate gives the illusion that time in the video is moving faster, as if a video is sped up or lapsing. The effect is really nice, and can be used to record everything from a blooming flower, to traffic zooming around a city or a road, clouds flying in the sky (which is our example video below), or people moving around maniacally in a scene, or whatever else you want.

How to Record Time Lapse Video with Camera on iPhone

As already mentioned, you’ll need the latest version of iOS to have this feature on the iPhone, and a fairly modern iOS device as well. The newer iPhones will record the timelapse in higher resolution video than older models.

  1. Open the Camera app on the iPhone as usual, and swipe over (or down) until you’re on the “Time-Lapse” selection
  2. Tap on the “Record” button to start capturing time-lapse video
  3. Tap on the same button to end the time-lapse recording and save it to the iPhone as a video

Record Time Lapse video on iPhone

Remarkably simple, right? It is, when the video is done recording you’ll find it in the Photos app “Recently Added” or “Camera Roll” section, or the “Videos” section of iOS Photos (yes, that’s a little weird that videos are in the photos app).

Example Time Lapse Videos Shot with iPhone

You’re probably wondering what an iPhone time-lapse video looks like, so here’s a relatively short example that I captured shooting a time-lapse video of clouds passing over some nearby trees.

That’s pretty incredible looking, right? All I did was set the iPhone down on the ground pointing at some trees and started recording, very little effort involved despite the fact that the timelapse looks professionally produced (well, at least to my admittedly very amateur photographer ability and eyes). The recording itself probably lasted nearly a minute long, which was condensed down into that short video which is several seconds long, that should give you an idea of why it’s important to record for as long as possible to get the best results.

Here’s another, shared by a reader who recorded a time lapse video of flying into and landing at Chicago O’Hare airport:

Phenomenal, right? These are just a few examples of some of the amazing footage you can capture with time lapse on the iPhone.

While Apple made this super simple to use, let’s use some specific tips to get the best results and capture the best time-lapse video possible.

iPhone Time-Lapse Video Recording Tips

After playing around with this great feature for a while, the following tips tend to lead to the best results:

  • Record in Horizontal orientation for best results (and to avoid Vertical Video Syndrome)
  • Set the iPhone somewhere stable to avoid camera jitter or motion, or better yet, use a stand or tripod for iPhone or iPad to record the video
  • Lock the exposure and/or focus before starting to record the time-lapse video
  • The longer the time-lapse video is recorded, the better the results – keep in mind that frames are dropped intentionally to get the speed-up effect, so you’ll want more recorded video to get a reasonable length clip
  • Be sure there is enough storage space available on the iPhone to allow for the time-lapse capture, the feature uses a fairly large video cache and buffer, particularly on newer models that can record in 1080p and/or 720p high-resolution video

You can think of time-lapse as basically the opposite of the slow motion capture feature, which is another really neat Camera trick that’s built into the iPhone now.

While this is limited to the iPhone and iPad with iOS, if you’re using Mac OS on a Mac, don’t feel completely left out. While it’s not built into the operating system, an awesome longstanding free tool called Gawker allows for easy time-lapse recording in Mac OS X using the Macs built-in iSight / FaceTime camera, and it works really well too.


Related articles:

Posted by: Paul Horowitz in iPhone, Tips & Tricks


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  1. George says:

    How can’t long can you run the time-lapse with An iPhone 6?

  2. Toby says:

    Here’s a fun example of a time lapse I recorded when we flew into Chicago Ohare airport:

    • Paul says:

      Toby, this is fantastic, I’m going to embed it on the page as an example of the time lapse feature. Thanks for posting!

      • Toby says:

        Glad you liked it enough to post it. Cool! One tip I learned is that after 30 minutes of recording, the iPhone will drop frames from the final version to save space, which really speeds up the final result. I always keep my recordings <30 minutes, more like 25, or any movement (like flying) is sped up too fast.

  3. Spencer says:

    I was wondering if there was a way to record the video directly onto my laptop due to the fact that my iPhone doesn’t have very much memory and I would like to record for at least 5 hours

  4. Lee van Leer says:

    My friend just uploaded one to Facebook but it uploaded in low resolution instead of the high resolution he recorded it in on his phone. Does this always happen with Facebook or is there a trick for that?

  5. john ellis says:

    you people sure do a great job! look forward to your column every day. what a great help you are,and your explanations are so easy to follow..keep up the good work…sincerely…john

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