Time Stacking tutorial

Have you ever wondered how photographers make the water appear smooth in photos? Long exposures in broad daylight would require the use of Neutral Density (ND) filters. What if your lens doesn’t come with a filter thread? What if you don’t have an ND filter at hand? This tutorial will teach you how to smooth out water without ND Grads or long exposures.

In this tutorial we will be using a technique called ‘time stacking’ which is basically a set number of photos taken during a certain amount of time (Usually it is from a few seconds to a few days).


Here is a list of what you’ll need to do your time stacking:

  • A camera (Preferably a DSLR)
    If you use a DSLR you could also add an intervalometer into the list. My compact camera, for example, comes with a built-in time lapse shot function built-in but for this tutorial we won’t be needing one. The burst function is just fine.
  • A tripod or something to hold your camera still
    This is not necessary if you have a steady hand but it could save you a lot of trouble realigning the photos in post-processing.
  • Photo editing software
    I use Adobe Photoshop but there’s lots of other options out there that would work just fine.

The photoshoot

In my case, I shot a hand-held burst of about 2 seconds and chose the 3 best photos but you can do anything from 2 seconds to a few hours with an intervalometer and use all the photos. You can also shoot anything from sunsets to waterfalls.

The post-processing

As I said before, there are a lot of different photo-editing programs that you can use to achieve the final product. I’ll be using photoshop in this tutorial, but some of these steps may apply to other programs as well.

Photos start.png
The 3 photos I started from

Open the first photo of your time stack – this will be your bottom layer. Add others on a new layer, selecting lighten as the blending mode. Once I’ve

Screen Shot 2017-05-09 at 3.03.28 PM.png
Selecting lighten as the blending mode

finished adding all the photos, I usually tweak the levels adjustment to bring

Screen Shot 2017-05-09 at 3.14.02 PM.png
The levels adjustment panel

more detail into the brighter bits, as you’ll find that they get really white and washed out. I also did a few adjustments to the saturation and contrast to improve the overall look of the photo.

Tips for success

  • After editing my photos, I discovered that there was an auto-align feature in photoshop that could have saved me the trouble of going through all my photos and aligning them individually, if only I knew of it before. Select all the layers and got to Edit > Auto align layers. I usually just use the auto
    Screen Shot 2017-05-09 at 3.06.35 PM.png
    Auto-align in the menu bar
    Screen Shot 2017-05-09 at 3.06.54 PM.png
    The auto-align prompt window

    mode on the prompt window that appears. You may find that you need to crop your image after auto-aligning the layers as there may be bits and pieces sticking out of the original image.

  • If it’s really windy and you’re using a tripod, you can weigh it down with a rock attached to a rope on the centerpiece.

And that’s it! Feel free to leave a message below if you’re having any trouble and I’ll do my best to help out.


3 thoughts on “Time Stacking tutorial

Add yours

    1. Fast shutter speed is useful if you don’t have a tripod handy, but if you do you can use the exposure suggested by your camera for the occasion 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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