Time-Lapse from NASA Photos Tutorial

Image courtesy of the Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center

There are a bunch of NASA time-lapse videos circulating right now with millions of hits such as this one, and this one. How would you like to make the next million view video? Turns out you can make an amazing looking video from photos that are available for free from one of NASA’s websites.

Links mentioned in this video:
Mars Rover Raw Images
Using NASA images
SOHO Sun photos
SOHO image use terms
NASA time-lapse videos
NASA mission images
Gateway to Astronaut Photography terms of use
Pilfer extension for Firefox
DownThemAll! extension for Firefox

Getting Started

Check out some of NASA’s photo websites, such as those listed above, or look for interesting space photos around the internet. Hopefully the person posting the photos will link back to the page or tell you which specific photos they used. NASA offers the top ten images of the week on their site. These can be a good starting point.

You’ll want to find interesting photos taken from a fixed position in a series of at least one hundred. I recommend the ISS-031 series in this video but I also use the search feature to cut through the huge amount of photos. Try entering “airglow” in the “Features Contains:” box. This is an ethereal light generated by the Earth’s atmosphere. It makes for some amazing photos.

Selecting and Checking

Once you have an idea of which photos you want, I suggest previewing them in low definition to make sure the photos line up without major jumps between shots. To do this, I used the Pilfer extension in Firefox and the DownThemAll! extension to preview a whole series and then download the photos in one swoop. This process should take five to ten minutes for a short clip. Once the files are downloaded, open them with your favorite time-lapse software. I usually use the free VirtualDub but I have tutorials for QuickTime Pro, Windows Live Movie Maker, and Picasa.


Once you’ve decided you like a photo sequence and know the exact numbers, return to the NASA website and click to download the individual full size images. These images are large so they’ll have to be reduced in size for your video. It’s a slow process of requesting and downloading each image but it makes for some amazing videos. Let me know if you use this method by including a link in the comments. If you liked this tutorial, please share with friends by using the links on the left.

Related posts:

2 thoughts on “Time-Lapse from NASA Photos Tutorial

  1. Cool tutorial! Inspired me to make one of these videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7nLXjHzMbuw

    I found an easier way of downloading the pictures though. Using terminal MacOSX/Unix, I’m sure there is a simlar way of doing this on cmd line in windows.

    curl http://eol.jsc.nasa.gov/sseop/images/ESC/large/ISS034/ISS034-E-%5B17489-17910%5D.JPG -o “/Users/James/Pictures/ISS/ISS034-E-#1.jpg”

    ISS034 is the mission number, you can swap out the large for small and get the small versions to see what you are getting before committing to downloading the HD pictures.

    1. Thanks for sharing your video.
      In Windows, I’ve found an ftp client like FileZilla works well. I have a tutorial mostly completed using this method but there doesn’t seem to be much interest in this. Thanks for offering your method.

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