We describe a framework for deriving sequences of digital elevation models (DEMs) for the analysis of active lava flows using oblique stereo-pair time-lapse imagery. A photo-based technique was favoured over laser-based alternatives due to low equipment cost, high portability and capability for network expansion, with images of advancing flows captured by digital SLR cameras over durations of up to several hours. However, under typical field scale scenarios, relative camera orientations cannot be rigidly maintained (e.g. through the use of a stereo bar), preventing the use of standard stereo time-lapse processing software. Thus, we trial semi-automated DEM-sequence workflows capable of handling the small camera motions, variable image quality and restricted photogrammetric control that result from the practicalities of data collection at remote and hazardous sites. The image processing workflows implemented either link separate close-range photogrammetry and traditional stereo-matching software, or are integrated in a single software package based on structure-from-motion (SfM). We apply these techniques in contrasting case studies from Kilauea volcano, Hawaii and Mount Etna, Sicily, which differ in scale, duration and image texture. On Kilauea, the advance direction of thin fluid lava lobes was difficult to forecast, preventing good distribution of control. Consequently, volume changes calculated through the different workflows differed by ∼10% for DEMs (over ∼30 m2) that were captured once a minute for 37 min. On Mt. Etna, more predictable advance (∼3 m h−1 for ∼3 h) of a thicker, more viscous lava allowed robust control to be deployed and volumetric change results were generally within 5% (over ∼500 m2). Overall, the integrated SfM software was more straightforward to use and, under favourable conditions, produced results comparable to those from the close-range photogrammetry pipeline. However, under conditions with limited options for photogrammetric control, error in SfM-based surfaces may be difficult to detect.