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Time lapse Videos with a webcam.

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People often treat webcams as only suitable for things like Skype – and when you look at the resolution of some, particularly those on cheap phones and tablets, it’s easy to understand why. But even a £20 webcam can deliver good results, and they have a major advantage not seen in your typical compact digital camera – they can be directly controlled by the computer.

This makes them excellent for time lapse photography – the kind of video sequence where you take maybe 1 frame every 10 seconds, and play it back at maybe 25 frames a second, for an accelerated view of the world.

For this my preferred tool is Handy AVI, which you can find here:

It’s very reasonably process at $39.95 – but I am sure there are other good software tools.

So, how to get started? You might be able to use a webcam built into a tablet or laptop, but I strongly recommend a separate webcam on a cable – it’s a lot easier top stick one of these out the window than a  laptop!

Try whatever you have to start with, if you enjoy doing this look for something a bit better. A better webcam will typically offer features such as higher resolution, (maybe even 1080p HD), a proper glass lens, sharper focus, better image quality, particularly in low light, (or with the Sun in the field of view).

I now mainly use a “Logitech Webcam Pro 9000”, which gives great results, and works extremely well as a webcam too. At the time of writing these are available for £50 to £60 from Amazon, but like I said earlier, you don’t need to spend this much for good results.


I recommend you start with clouds, they are an easy subject, and deliver dramatic results.

Setting up.

So start by finding a good place to position the webcam, where you have a good view of the sky. I find it works well if you can aim directly into the direction the clouds are coming from, or directly into the direction they are going. Make sure your webcam is securely attached – if it slips during the filming, the results will not be good.

If your webcam is plugged into a desktop computer, you will be limited in where you can put the camera! For this reason I normally use my laptop, though you can sometimes find USB extension cables very cheaply, even in pound shops. (Buying them on the High Street will cost a LOT more!)

If using a laptop, check the power saving settings – you don’t want your laptop shutting down in the middle of the run. Turn off all ‘sleep’ type options, but you can turn down the speed if you like, this is not a demanding way to use a laptop.

What rate to choose?

This very much comes down to personal taste – too fast will be hard on the eyes, too slow is boring. It’s also wise to consider the wind speed, as the sky will change much faster when the wind is strong. I suggest you start with maybe 1 frame every 1 to 5 seconds, and play back at 30-60 frames a second.

Also bear in mind, if you go for extreme time lapse, (say x120 faster) you will need to record for 2 hours to get 1 minute of video out. If you have almost any video editing software, you can change the playback speed after recording.

And here’s a sample of the kind of video I get:

What can you expect to see?

That may sound like a daft question, but you often see things in time lapse skies that are not at all obvious to the human eye normally.

Different cloud layers moving in different directions.

Interplay of shadows between cloud layers.

Atmospheric phenomena like haloes and sundogs. (I have yet to capture a rainbow, dammit!)

Sunsets and sunrises can be extremely effective, (though some cheap webcams don’t cope well with being pointed at the Sun directly)

A polarising filter can make the skies look a lot more dramatic and bring out more detail. (I just tape one from a camera over the front, with sticky tape.) Here are a couple of other videos of mine:

Other subjects:

These really are limited only by your imagination – speed up a flower blooming, get a bird feeder and mount the webcam near it. The Handy AVI software will even let you connect up to an online webcam, and make time lapse videos from them.