The best of both worlds – time-lapse & TV

Providing innovative ways of showing time passing by on the silver screen, time-lapse photography is the ideal companion for TV.

In recent years the use of time-lapse has become increasingly more widespread in film and on television.

Regular interval photography that represents time at a faster frame rate than when it was originally captured, time-lapse enables a greater degree of scope when presenting the passing of time.

Time-lapse as storytelling

For TV in particular, time-lapse features in a number of popular series.

Breaking Bad (2008-2013), the critically acclaimed American crime drama about a struggling chemistry teacher turned drug kingpin, featured many time-lapse sequences throughout its five season run.

In this context, time-lapse is used to signify hours passing by, with the sun rising and setting over the New Mexico skyline. The long hours and arduous labour endured by the protagonists is also represented in a highly stylised fashion with time-lapse.

The main characters are often featured travelling to different locations across the desert terrain of Albuquerque, or waiting nervously in their vehicles as part of a stake-out. With each season of the series spanning months at a time, time-lapse enables this time to be stretched out on screen.

Time-lapse as TV trope

As well as becoming a more prominent feature of storytelling in TV, time-lapse is also utilised in opening credit sequences in leading series.

The Netflix Original and gritty political drama, House of Cards (2013- ), is perhaps the first series to spring to mind for its use of time-lapse.

Taking six months to capture, shot entirely on Red epic film – the next generation of digital cinema technology – the entire opening credit sequence is comprised of around 30 time-lapse sequences. Set in present-day Washington D.C, the HDR quality of the image helps to set the tone of the narrative.

This sleek and stylish mode of capture is also part of a wider production context, where TV series are created using bigger budgets and cinematic measures.

Another Netflix Original title, Sense8 (2015-2018), features short HDR time-lapse sequences as part of their opening credits.

The series is led by a multinational ensemble cast playing eight strangers from different parts of the world, who are all emotionally and mentally linked – otherwise known as ‘sensates.’ The credit sequence illustrates the diverse locations in which the narrative takes place, with stunning aerial pans across landscapes and cityscapes.


Such shots are intercut with short snippets of time-lapse featuring night-time traffic over famous bridges, city crowds and sea shores in order to signify the different parts of the world that the show’s characters call home.

While rooting the concept of the series firmly in the present day, time-lapse also works to build a sense of connection between people even though they are living in completely different parts of the world – all experiencing the same fast pace of life as represented through time-lapse.

Time-lapse in non-fiction titles

Not only becoming a more common convention used to tell fictional stories, time-lapse is also being featured as part of documentary narratives.

Rapid capture time-lapse, for example, is appearing more frequently in food documentaries such as Chef’s Table (2015- ). Another Netflix title, the series follows world-renowned chefs as they carry out their meticulous culinary skills.

Popular retailer Marks & Spencer famously also continue to use time-lapse to advertise their fine food products on TV. As we have covered in more detail elsewhere, time-lapse photography compliments the detailed labour involved with cooking.

Huw Edwards introducing the Mary Rose project on the BBC News at Ten
Above: Huw Edwards introducing the Mary Rose project on the BBC News at Ten – a report which featured our time-lapse footage.

Photography in itself is a means of documentation and so time-lapse becomes an extension of this capability. As a result, factual-based genres such as broadcast news and current event programming often include time-lapse video as part of their reports.

Whether representing long-term or short-term narratives, time-lapse sequences can help to vary how news is presented to audiences by breaking up the traditional relay of information.


As all of these examples illustrate, this mode of capture is seamlessly integrated with the medium of television. Time-lapse and TV have a complimentary relationship which gives audiences the best of both worlds.

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