Make a Webcam Time-Lapse

Since I began making time lapse videos, I’ve occasionally come across a high quality webcam feed on the internet and thought that it would make a great time lapse video. It’s basically the same setup that I use; a camera set to record some interesting and dynamic subject at timed intervals. Sometimes the webcam even has its own time lapse video, but usually it doesn’t. Over the last month, I’ve been experimenting with different webcam capture software that’s available on the internet. Today’s post is a quick tutorial that uses only free software.

Download webcam capture software

I’ve been using a program appropriately called Web Cam Time Lapse (download link). Web Cam Time Lapse (WCTL) is a no-frills way to save an image from a URL address. Even though the user interface is simple and there aren’t many options, I’ve found the program to be fairly stable even when running multiple captures for days at a time.


Find a good webcam

There are two types of webcams–live streaming video of low quality and jpegs or gifs refreshed occasionally.  For high quality time lapse videos, we’ll want to ignore the streaming video and locate large photos.  Most still images are refreshed between five seconds and fifteen minutes.  There are plenty of websites devoted to webcams, but here are three of my favorites:

Webcam Cruise – a thorough collection broken down by country and subject.

123Cam – cameras with thumbnail previews by geographical region and subject.

Webcam Galore – thumbnail previews by region and theme.

Begin recording

Once you’ve found a good webcam, you’ll have to find the image URL.  This is usually different from the page URL and can often be found by right-clicking the image and selecting “Copy image URL,” or something similar.  You might have to dig a little deeper and view the source code to find the source of the embedded webcam feed.  Search the source code for “jpg” or “webcam.”  These two methods usually work but not always.

Next, open WCTL and click “Add,” at the bottom of the screen.  Pick a name so you’ll remember what you’re recording, paste the image URL, select a save folder, and choose an interval.  For some reason, WCTL doesn’t allow intervals of less than a minute, so you’ll have to pick a subject that can be recorded over hours or days.  Many webcams say how frequently they’re updated, otherwise, spend a few minutes watching the screen to find out how often the image is updated.  Click “Test URL,” to make sure the image loads properly before saving.  Here’s what my settings for Mt. Fuji looked like:

Cleaning up the images

Webcams take a lot of bandwidth, so even the larger images have small file sizes.  Because of this, you can record thousands of images without significantly filling your hard drive.  The 304 images of Mt. Fuji for this video only amounted to 58.2 MB.  The bad news is that bandwidth limitations mean that the image won’t always refresh on schedule and that some of the images will be partial or in some way unusable.

I begin preparing my images for video by first going through and eliminating any distracting photos.  Then, I run Duplicate Cleaner (download link) to quickly delete duplicate files.  I find this much faster than hunting down multiple duplicates.

Because I like to process my photos into time lapse videos with VirtualDub, I have to make sure that the images are saved as jpegs and are in numerical order.  Most of the time, I don’t have to format my webcam images because they’re usually in the jpeg format, but occasionally I’ll find that they’re gif images or that VirtualDub has some problem identifying the format.  When this happens, I quickly batch convert the files into jpegs using Format Factory (download link).  Finally, I select all photos in the set, right-click and select, “rename.”  Now the photos are ready to be processed.

For step-by-step processing directions, please read my post on using VirtualDub for time lapse.


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