How to create an HDR Timelapse – a Dustin Farrell Tutorial

by Dustin Farrell32 Comments

It's the year 1991. I'm a kid on a beach in St. Petersburg, Florida trying to capture another amazing sunset with my new awesome camera. This was the day I first learned about the inadequacies of digital photography. That picture I took . . .  sucked. The sunset didn't look nearly as magical as it appeared in person. Me = bummed.

We have all experienced this at one point or another in our lives. A camera's ability to capture the contrasts of the world has tough competition . . . the human eye. A digital camera just cannot replicate extreme highlights and shadows in the same photograph. One day maybe, but today, not so much.

The goal of translating what my eye could see to my photography is what first attracted me to HDR. HDR has got a bad rap in the last few years because of overuse. Many photographers are pushing the sliders way too far to the right. In my opinion, when used for good and not evil, HDR can be magnificent.

A barrier that HDR photographers my never break through is the fact that people can usually spot multiple exposure photography.  Even though an HDR photo may closely resemble how the scene naturally appeared, we have been trained to know that a digital camera cannot replicate wide dynamic ranges. What is really a natural looking photograph gets flagged as not. Still though, if your goal when creating an HDR image is to emulate the dynamic range of the human eye, then your photo has the potential to be naturally amazing.

So, “How in the heck!?”

First of all, choose your exposure values in the AEB setting menu. I usually max out the range of my camera at -2, 0, and +2. Your intent is to take multiple exposures of a high contrast scene. Different cameras have different bracketing options. Some cameras will allow you to take as many as 7 exposures. The Canon 5D2 is limited to 3. Using a tripod will help the processing tremendously.


For HDR timelapse shooting, your intervalometer needs to be set in a slightly different manner. The “long” menu is key here. With your camera set in continuous shooting mode with the AEB enabled set the long value to 2 seconds. This will tell the remote to press and hold the shutter for 2 seconds. The final step is to set an interval amount. Consider the amount of time needed for the camera and CF card to write your multiple exposures when determining an interval. Once you press start on your timer remote the HDR timelapse sequence will begin.

Secret Menu

Magic hour is over, time to edit! Do your chosen HDR editing software a favor and copy the file folder to a faster local or external drive on your computer. When you open this folder, you should have a group of pictures that vary in exposure like this.

Raws for HDR

Now I need to mush my three exposure bracket into one beautiful photo. The software that I have chosen for batch processing my HDR timelapses is SNS-HDR. I had tried other programs and plugins prior to discovering SNS and none can come close to its ease of use and most importantly, absence of flicker. When I first attempted HDR I tried the popular program called Photomatix. My results were frustrating because of the amount of flicker that Photomatix would cause. I gave up on that program long ago but recent results like Tanguy Louvigny's have made me think again

To learn more about how I use SNS-HDR to batch process raws click on the “How to HDR Timelapse” video below. If you are determined to perfect this art take the 18 minutes and listen to me ramble. For your initial tests go ahead and shoot jpeg or at the most small raws. This will make the learning process more enjoyable and your computer processor will thank you. Remember you still must take all the steps necessary not to induce flicker while shooting. If you aren't shooting wide open then you may experience aperture flicker. To avoid this make sure to employ the “Lens Twist Method“. Batch processing a large amount of large raw files can take several hours depending on the obvious factors. As a habit I do this processing before I go to bed at night.

For any questions you may have feel free to comment below, on the video link, or on my Twitter. Good luck.

[tentblogger-vimeo 38838557]

(cover photo credit: snap from the video)


  1. Great tutorial! What is that controller you’re using?


  2. Mesmerizing. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and tweeking my interest and venture into this process. Just purchased Photomatrix Pro and will use it to get started. Thanks for the headsup on this software. Using and IMac & I photo. Thanks again Tom

  3. Very informative video for time lapse and thanks for showing the lazy way of HDR processing!

  4. Three questions:
    -What program do you prefer for the image sequence?
    -How do you do the movements, just zoom in in the image sequence, or do you use a timelapse travel?
    -And finally, in what mode do you have to put the camera in, manual mode for the lighting or something like av or tv for automatic shutter or aperture?

    Love your tut btw!
    Grts from Belgium

    1. After Effects for the image sequence.

      Dynamic Perception Stage Zero dolly for the movement but sometimes just zoom in post.

      Always manual. Auto anything usually results in ugly flicker that is hard to edit away.

      Thanks for the love!

  5. Hi, Thanks for the great tutorial! Hope you can answer a few questions for me.

    You say that you are always in Manual mode… How do you tonemap your 1st HDR image (say before sunrise) and then use that settings on a batch all the other frames (say after sunsise). Doesnt that overexpose the last frame?

    Does SNS even out the exposure automatically? Is it necessary to do reduce flikker after SNS?

    1. I guess a setting that will give me the best range during the best light. The shot will overexpose very quickly after sunrise but I only care about capturing that amazing 15-30 minutes of the best sky.

    1. It was a camera from the future. A future camera I say!

      Or maybe I misspoke and it was a film camera.

      One of the two.

  6. Thanks Dustin!
    I realize this post is old but I have a question.
    You say you edit with After Effects. How do you go about removing birds? Do you use another program?
    Thanks and keep up the amazing work!

  7. Great stuff.
    – What do you think of the wireless triggers from Vello?
    – Is there any specific reason you chose the one you have over other brands and models?
    – Does the Stage Zero dolly function OK in cold conditions?


    1. Thanks!

      Never used em’

      No. Don’t get the Canon version. Expensive and breaks quickly.


  8. Great tutorial.

    Would you ever shoot a time-lapse sequence with technicolor cinestyle as you picture style, considering you flatten your image in SNS-HDR anyway. Figured it may eliminate one step in the process, but I have no idea. I’m about to do some time-lapse test shooting tomorrow for the first time so I might try it out.

    Also would you say that you have a preference for setting your meter mode for exposures. Do you find it situational? If so could you please explain your method for various exposure situations?

    Once again thanks so much for the generous tutorial, it has been very valuable to me.

    1. I don’t think so. Flat is flat. I have no troubles achieving an ugly flat look 🙂

      As for metering, it is the most difficult part. Since I have to shoot manual to avoid flicker I just pick an exposure that I think will land me at a good bracket during the best light. Total guessing game but you get better with practice at predicting the future. Totally situational.

  9. Pingback: “TimeLapse Compendium” Conoce todo sobre el TimeLapse (2 de 2) | Visuales

  10. Just tried SNS-HDR thanks to your review and I am blown away! I had never liked photomatix and always wandered why it is so popular, especially after trying this! Results are like day and night!

  11. Hi Dustin !
    Thanks for this great tutorial ! BUT (there is a BUT), I set my bracket as you explain it at 1:28 and my camera takes only one photo (instead of 3 as you explain it)
    Is there something I missed ? Firmware to update ?
    Thanks by advance !

    1. Author

      Your camera has to be set up to shoot 3 different exposures. It also has to be setup in continuous shooting mode. Then the intervalometer has to be told to trigger the camera long enough to complete the 3 shots.

    2. Be sure you press set/ ok after choosing the bracket settings – otherwise you click out of menu and are back where you started!

  12. Hi Dustin congrats for the great article , i would like to set up my
    cam for HDR timelapse at night , do i have to make other adjustments
    beside the exposure ? ( i am complete novice on these so plz bear with me 🙂 )

  13. Hi Dustin, a very nice article! I have to be a bit amused though over your lamentation of the latitude of digital photography. True you are but I amused because as a photographer of over 40 years, digital photography before HDR even was a god send compared to the latitude of film photography. You should have had the opportunity to experience shooting with the famous Kodachrome 25!. I totally agree with you about the overuse of the HDR look. I myself like you use HDR for a natural increase in latitude rather than a “look”. If you do have a film camera, for fun get yourself a roll of Kodak Ektar 100 Professional and do some shooting with that in high key lighting situations and you will experience what the world of film was like.

  14. Cool artical – just one question incase anyone is still following this…. Can I assume that I will not need to adjust the base exposure as the light changes? IE as sun comes up do I still need to lower exposure time (or ISO) to compensate for overexposure OR will the HRD range cover that???

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