Capture Time in Motion: Timestacking

Liven up your photography by adding the appearance of motion to a scene standard photographic technique would render static. Timestacking blends multiple shots of a scene that contains both static and moving elements. Landscapes on a windy day with a smattering of dramatic cloud are a great place to start – or freshen up the perennial favourite sunset shot.

Wivenhoe waterfront timestack 2

Kit you will need:

  • camera with interval timer, full battery and empty memory card
  • tripod
  • image editing software (such as Photoshop, but not Lightroom)

The interval timer allows you to create a regularly-spaced sequence of exposures with a single press of the shutter release button. Some dSLRs have this built in, others require software downloaded from the web and run from your memory card.

The timer interval allows you to specify:

  • number of shots
  • time between each shot

Wivenhoe Waterfront Timestack 1

Experiment! Shorter intervals make moving elements appear smoother, but m

ay require more shots overall. The images here employed 5-10 second intervals and 30-80 shots.
You can use autofocus but switch to manual focus before starting the timer to ensure the camera does not lose focus (disabling the shutter release in some shooting modes).
Fire off a few single-frame test shots to get your exposure right. Manual exposure gives you a consistent exposure setting, but aperture priority may be suitable in situations where light levels are rapidly changing.

Ensure your tripod is secure, set off the interval timer, and stand back….

Wivenhoe Pier timestack
Next it’s time for some serious Photoshopping. ‘Serious’ because you’re likely to stretch your hardware when combining dozens of images into one.

After downloading images to a computer, divide them into stacking sets – one folder per stack.

Load the first image in a set into your image editing software, check it is sharp, and immediately save it. This is your base image.

flag of St George timestack

Open the remaining images in the order shot and add them as new layers above the background layer of the base image (ensure they line up precisely: shift + drag). Once you have a number of layers, select all apart from background and set layer blending mode to lighten or darken, depending on the moving elements in your images:


  • when moving elements are brighter than background (e.g. white clouds in blue sky) choose lighten
  • when darker (e.g. storm clouds) choose darken

blending-modes screen shot

Flatten the image and load more exposures – repeat until all (or enough!) exposures have been incorporated. The higher your computer spec, the more layers you can add each time before things that to creak.

River Colne timestack
When making colour or tonal adjustments apply the same adjustments to all images in a stack. I tend to make RAW adjustments before merging the images, and leave Photoshop editing until I can see what the whole sequence looks like merged.

Put in the time to be rewarded with stunningly vivid and slightly surreal imagery.

To chat about photography or Photoshop tuition, call me on 07757 259390 or send me a message via email.

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