QuickTime Pro Time-Lapse Tutorial [video]

Quicktime Symbol

This video is an update of the original, written post below. Go full screen HD for detail.

Related Links

QuickTime Pro download: Windows Mac

Vimeo compression settings


Often mentioned as the “go-to” solution for time-lapse, QuickTime Pro has been used for years by professionals and amateurs alike. In this tutorial, I’ll explain why you might want to use QuickTime Pro, why other solutions are often better, and how to make your first time-lapse.

The Positive

QuickTime Pro has a few advantages over other software—it works on Macs and PCs, it doesn’t cost nearly as much as other editing programs, it’s fairly easy to use, and it allows you to save files in many different formats. This last reason is why I bought QuickTime Pro, which currently costs $29.99. I can save files in high quality formats for uploads to stock video websites and make sure they’re in the requested format.

The Negative

First, there’s the price. $30 isn’t much, but there are plenty of free PC alternatives such as VirtualDub or even Windows Live Movie Maker. Then there’s the interface. It’s not hard to use QuickTime Pro, but for $30 I’d like some additional editing options and a time line. If you go to Apple’s website to upgrade to QuickTime Pro, you’ll notice several comments reflecting this same view.

Prepping Your Photos

Because QuickTime Pro has very limited editing functions, I’d suggest prepping your photos before you begin. This could include cropping, straightening, color editing, etc. All of these things are easy using Photoshop and creating an action. I haven’t spent much time with the free photo editing program Gimp, but I imagine it has similar abilities.

Importing Your Photos

Begin by opening QuickTime Player. If this is your first time using this software, you might be surprised that the video editor is built into the movie player. I spent about five minutes looking for a separate program.

Click on File>Open image sequence… and find the folder with the images you want to use. At the bottom of the pop-up window, change the frame rate to a good estimate of what you think will work. 24fps is a good place to start if you’re unsure. Note that 15fps or below will show noticeable choppiness in the final video. You won’t be able to change this within QuickTime Pro once you’ve made a selection, so figuring out your frame rate before you start shooting will help. If you need something between 15fps and 24fps, you’ll have to edit the video in another program after you export it.

Once you’ve selected the frame rate, select and open the first image in the sequence. It may take a couple minutes for the images to render into a video.

For most cameras, the size of the pictures will far exceed the need for even HD video. Therefore, the video window that pops up will be much bigger than the screen size. To change the size, select View>Fit to Screen (Ctrl+3) in the video window. This resizes the window to fit the screen, but the video will still be jerky because of its size. For example, the photos I took with my 5 MP camera and later cropped created a video 2641 x 1486 and that takes up 286.66 MB for less than nine seconds of video. By comparison, a feature length movie can be compressed into reasonable quality at around 700 MB and even true HD video has a resolution of only 1920 x 1080.

Exporting the Video

Unfortunately, there’s no good way to preview your video at this stage. To see how it will look, you’ll need to export it. This is where things get a bit complicated as we pick different formats and compression filters. To keep things simple, I’m going to use the QuickTime format (.mov) because it’s standard to QuickTime and works on YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr, and any number of other video hosting sites. If you want to export for stock, go to your company’s website for format specifications.

Click on File>Export (Ctrl+E), choose a file name and location, select your export file type, and then click the Options box. From the new settings window, we’ll focus on three things: Settings, Filter, and Size.

Click the Settings box if you want to change your compression filter. You can probably leave the filter type alone or select H.264 if you want a high quality video.

The Filter box offers limited choices but might be worth a look if you don’t plan to do any further editing.

Size is the most important of the three because most videos will be too big. Click on the box and you’ll see a menu similar to the one below.

I’ve selected HD 1920 x 1080 16:9 because it’s standard for television. (Update: Make sure the video is saved in true 1080p by checking the dimensions on the “Movie Settings” page before you save. I prefer the “1920 x 1080 HD” setting) Now I have to make a choice because I shot my photos in the standard 4:3 ratio and have to change to 16:9. I can either letterbox the video, which puts black bars on either side, or I can crop the video and lose the top and bottom. I usually crop to 16:9 before I import my videos, but for the sake of this tutorial I’m going to choose to crop. Make sure Preserve aspect ratio is checked so the video isn’t squished to size and click OK, OK, and Save. Your video will start rendering.

After a few minutes, you’ll be able to watch your new video. If it goes too fast or too slow, repeat this process and adjust the frame rate accordingly. Once you’re happy with the video, you can open it in another editing program to add music and effects or you can simply upload it to the web. My final video is 23.4 MB and eight seconds long. Music and credits were added with Windows Live Movie Maker.

If this tutorial helped, please consider a single click on any of the boxes in the slider to the left. As always, if you have any questions or comments, please leave me a message below and I’ll make sure to follow up.

Related posts:

21 thoughts on “QuickTime Pro Time-Lapse Tutorial [video]

  1. Hi, Thank you for this Tutorial. It help me out a lot…

    What is the best setting for taking shots of clouds?

    Thank you…..

    1. Hi Joe. Are you asking for the best camera settings for clouds? I’d suggest 3 second intervals for slow moving clouds and 1 second intervals if you can see any motion with the naked eye. Remember to lock your white balance to daylight or cloudy if you’re shooting jpegs. Also lock your exposure and focus if possible. My favorite settings are 1 photo per second played back at 24 frames per second. Hope this helps.

  2. I just bought QT Pro with QT7 for mac.

    Why do the screens in my version not look like your tutorial versions?

    Thanks for the great tutorial.

    1. I’m using QT Pro 7 for the PC. I looked up some screenshots for the Mac version and they look similar. Is there a big difference in menu choices?

      I should also repeat that the first screen (not pictured) is the regular media player, which is flashy and not very much like the editing part of the program. Hope this helps.

  3. Im impressed it seems too good to be true your advice for free–it turns out its tricky. I got qt pro last night and wasnt even close to making it work. My question is for the intervalometer–couldnt a person set it to take many short vid clips of 2 or 3 seconds–and then wouldnt it make a sunrise for example seem extremely smooth?

  4. Pingback: Time Lapse Tricks | Design Bread
  5. Hey thanks for the advice. How would you suggest reducing the file size of the pictures before turning them into a time lapse? I have a couple thousand pictures at over 3mb each which results in a really big file, yet a relatively short video. Which most computers seem to have a problem with during playback.


    1. Google’s Picasa program is a fast and easy way to batch resize. After downloading it for free, select the files you want and select “File>Export picture to folder” and then change the resize box to 1920 pixels. This should make your images 1920×1080 if they’re in a 16:9 format. If not, crop to the proper format and then resize. Hope that helps.

  6. Hi
    This tutorial is very helpful. I am working on my first time lapse video. The subject is a rooftop pool in manhattan that is being converted to a vegetable garden. The project is being constructed over a 15 day period. I have been shooting on and off for a couple of hours each day. I set up a brace so the camera is mounted in the same place at the same focal length, exp setting, etc – every time I capture. The end use will be a small VIMEO video for promo purpose. I would like to create this in a software app that is quick, easy and effective. I will be tweaking the files in Capture One Pro before going to the video editing software. Any suggestions for which software to use would be great. I am a MAC!! Thanks so much! Susie

    1. Hi Susie. It sounds like you have the basics down for a good time-lapse capture. I hope you’ll post a link in the comments when you’re done.

      I’m not sure what your best options are for video editing. If you just want to compile the photos into a simple video on a Mac, QuickTime Pro isn’t a terrible option. If you’re looking for something more, I’ve heard good things about After Effects. Other users work with Sony Vegas or Final Cut Pro.

      If you have time, you might ask at the timescapes.org forum.

  7. If you wanted to either lighten or darken the entire series of images by +/- 1 f/stop, would you first import the sequence into Lightroom, make the adjustments, and then export the adjusted files to the desktop and then into QuickTime? Is there a better way? Thanks for the tutorial.

    1. I’d definitely recommend using Lightroom for adjustments. I think it gives me a lot more control. My current workflow for almost all videos is to shoot in RAW; import, batch edit, and convert to jpeg in Lightroom; and then do whatever minor edits are necessary using Photoshop.

      Even when I use Lightroom to adjust exposure, I usually don’t adjust all areas of the picture the same way. Lightroom lets me fine tune the shadows and highlights, and I can even change color saturation based on exposure.

  8. Pingback: My Equipment 2013
  9. What a great and helpful tutorial. I’ve been asked to create time lapse effect of a person doing a flow chart drawing which describes the people and process steps resulting in an end product. In other words, a tutorial about a process for completing a specific task.

    Would taking still pictures of the artist drawing this process on large butcher paper work to create the kind of “fast drawing” I’ve seen in commercials, for example? If so, how many seconds between still pictures would you recommend? Thanks for your time and talents.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please type the characters of this captcha image in the input box

Please type the characters of this captcha image in the input box