how to use the interval timer with your camera

woman sitting in chair photograph by Megan Cieloha

by Megan Cieloha

We all know that we need to get in front of the camera more often.

self portrait with baby photo by Megan Cieloha

Our children and other family members want to have evidence that we were at the parties, cookouts, reunions and simply present in everyday life, too. However, it can be unwieldy and limiting to hold (or quickly press and hide!) a remote while working on self portraits. Luckily, there is a simple and reliable alternative – Interval Timer Mode.

Interval timer mode is available on all current Nikon DSLR offerings as well as on several consumer level cameras.

While this tutorial focuses on using the Interval Timer mode on Nikon cameras, there are several remote options for Canon that will allow similar function such as this and this. Be sure to read reviews and confirm that the remote you are purchasing will work with your specific camera body!

black and white selfie with interval timer photo by Megan Cieloha

To set up Interval Timer Mode, navigate to the shooting (camera icon) menu and scroll down to “Interval timer shooting.” It is the last option on both my D700 and my Df, so pressing the up arrow will actually land you on the option more quickly.

  • Click the right arrow to select Interval timer shooting.
  • Choose a start time. If you leave the default “Now” selected, the camera will begin shooting approximately 3 seconds after you press “OK” to begin the shooting sequence. You also have the option to specify a starting time. This option is based on the 24 hour clock (you can see the current time – according to your camera – in the bottom right corner of the screen as you set the “start time” function) so you will need to set the time in the Setup Menu, under “Time zone and date,” if you haven’t already and would like to specify a start time for the interval time.

woman sitting in chair photograph by Megan Cieloha

I always use “Now” as most of my photography has an immediate nature.

  • After choosing “Now” or setting a “Start time” click the right arrow to move on to the “Interval” variable of the timer. This setting will specify the amount of time in between shots/bursts of shots. I like to use about a 3 second interval, but you could chose an interval anywhere between one second and 24 hours. Use the up and down arrows to make adjustments.
  • Click the right arrow again to move on to the “Select no. of times x no. of shots” screen. In this screen you will select the number of times that the camera takes images and how many shots it will take per burst. For example I have mine currently set to 5 x 2. That means that my camera will take 5 sets of 2 shots (at 3 second intervals as specified in the last screen.) You can choose to take up to 999 sets of up to 9 images per set.
  • Once you’re happy with the settings, click the right arrow to move on to the “Start” screen. “Off” is the default, so click the up arrow to highlight “On” then click the “OK” button to start the timer!

self portrait of mom holding children picture by Megan Cieloha

Tips for success

  1. A good tripod with an easily adjustable head will make self-portraits so much easier. I use a Manfrotto tripod and joystick head. The joystick head allows for very quick and accurate adjustments as I simply squeeze the handle and have complete control to rotate or tilt the camera. I wouldn’t trust this tripod and head combination to hold a heavy camera and lens outside without additional weight to hold it down, but it functions wonderfully indoors.
  2. Although a fully adjustable tripod is wonderfully helpful, don’t confine yourself to the tripod box. What other surfaces could you use to support your camera? Would placing it on the floor give a unique perspective? What about placing it deep on a shelf and allowing books or decorative items to provide foreground framing?
  3. My method for achieving focus is to identify something in the room/space that is on the same plane (judging by distance to the plane of the camera’s sensor) that my face or the area of my body that I want to focus on will be located on. I then either focus on that spot with auto focus and subsequently switch the lens to manual focus to maintain focus, or simply focus manually. This step is important because if you leave the camera set to auto focus while shooting with the Interval Timer the camera will attempt to re-trap focus before each shot, which could result in missed focus.
  4. I often have an initial group of settings (ie 3 seconds between 4 sets of 1 shot each) that I will use while making sure that focus and posing are good; chimping and adjusting in between each activation of the Interval Timer. After I am satisfied with focus and positioning I adjust the Interval Timer and take more images per set (ie 3 seconds between 20 sets of 3 shots each) and then very slightly adjust my positioning, without moving off of the focal plane, in between each shot in order to end up with variety in my images.
  5. In order to make editing very simple take advantage of “Sync”/”Synchronize” in Lightroom or ACR. This is particularly effective if you edit completely in LR, as your entire edit can be accomplished on one image and then copied with the simple click of a button to the remainder of the images in the set. This will ensure consistent white balance, exposure and tonal adjustments across the entirety of the images in your set.

mom holding baby self portrait by Megan Cieloha

Megan CielohaMegan Cieloha, Alabama
Click Photo School Instructor | CM Mentor
website | facebook | pinterest | instagram | google+ | daily project
After growing up and attending college in the Willamette Valley area of Oregon, Megan married her high school sweetheart who had recently commissioned into the Air Force. They packed up all of their belongings and set off on an adventure with the US military as their tour guide. In the past 10 years they have called Del Rio TX, Spokane WA, Lincoln CA and Eastern Sicily (yes, the island in the Mediterranean!) home. Megan shoots with a Nikon D700 and various prime lenses, focusing on a documentary approach to capturing her family and their travels, along with taking an interest in fine art and macro work. For the past two years Megan has taught Mastering Natural Light Indoors and credits her students as a continual source of inspiration and motivation. When she isn’t chasing one of her 3 little boys (sometimes with a camera… but often, simply chasing…) Megan loves to cuddle up with a cup of decaf coffee fresh from the Keurig and a good book. Or, Google for European travel ideas and relevant, detailed and fail-proof, parking directions.

Read all photography tutorials by Megan Cieloha.

mastering natural light indoors photography workshop by Megan Cieloha for Clickin Moms


  • I love this all written out in steps. I used to use a remote before you shared more about the interval timer with me. I absolutely love it. Its so much easier to be natural behind the camera. Thank you for sharing, Megan!! Love your selfies!

  • These images are fantastic! I love setting up my camera to photograph my husband and I while we’re at the house, from sitting on the couch watching TV to cooking dinner together. The results are always a surprise and so fun to see!

  • Jennifer says:

    Love this!!! Thank you , thank you, thank you. I have loved timer pictures since jr high. :)

  • Leigh says:

    Great tutorial and lovely images! Just today I was playing around with my interval timer, so this post was perfectly timed. I’m having trouble with choosing something on the same focal plane as I will be and missing focus. Any other tips? Where did you focus on your image in front of your window, holding your son up? And are you shooting at narrower apertures? Thanks so much!!!

  • Hi Leigh!

    My focusing tends to take a bit of trial and error, along with a narrower aperture than I might use in the same situation if I were to be behind the camera. For the image in question, I focused on the edge of the rug closest to the window with an ap of f/5.0 The more that you experiment with focusing during self portraits the better you will come to intuitively understand how much depth of field you have to play with at a given aperture and where it will be best to place your focal plane within the scene.

  • And thank you Stacey, Lauren and Jennifer :)

  • Cavil says:

    Thanks for posting this! I always say I want to take self portraits but I never get around to it. I needed the motivation!

  • Kelly says:

    Thank you! These are great suggestions! I never even knew this was an option. Wish I had a Nikon so I could try it right away!

  • Leigh says:

    Thank you, Megan. This helps me tremendously!!! I would have focused on the curtains behind you, but now I better understand focal plane.

    p.s. I just snagged a spot in your upcoming class…can’t wait!!!

  • Samantha says:

    Can’t wait to try this out on our upcoming family camping trip!

  • Valerie says:

    Thanks for the info. I’d like to try it one of these days. I have a remote, but a timer has been on my wish list for awhile. Soon!

  • Emily says:

    Megan, these are great tips. I love how they are written down step-by-step. Oh how I wish my Canon 6D had an interval timer. After reading this guide, I would like to purchase one ASAP!

  • Samantha King says:

    My 6D doesn’t have an interval timer built in (so disappointed when I realized it) so I bought a cheap intervalometer on amazon and it has been THE BEST little tool in my bag. I love being able to get in the shots! Thanks for these tips on how to get the best out of the interval shots. I’m also going to use it to attempt some star trails this summer thanks to Laura Froese’s tutorial.

  • Davina says:

    I love my interval timer, but I don’t use it often enough. Such good tips and wonderful reminder to get it out of my bag and into use!

  • Amanda Mobly says:

    This is on my must do list!

  • Tami says:

    This is very helpful. I need to get better at getting in front of the camera!

  • Amber says:

    I bought my Canon 6D specifically FOR this feature and I have yet to use it

  • Renee says:

    I didn’t realize that cameras had interval timers built in! I can’t wait to try mine! Thank you for the wonderful tips!

  • Stephanie says:

    I really need to try this on my Nikon. Thanks so much for this tutorial!

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