Home Tutorials DriveLapse – a Car Timelapse [VIDEO TUTORIAL]

DriveLapse – a Car Timelapse [VIDEO TUTORIAL]

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Drivelapse is a very usefull technique to add something different from a wide, landscape shot to your timelapse and travel videos. It doesn’t have to be just a car, once you know the technique you can apply it to almost any vehicle you want. It can be a boat, a bike or even a roller coaster. I used this in my flow motion video to show an antique tram.

In this tutorial I’ll focus on a car timelapse. Using this knowledge you will be able to shoot any vehicle timelapse you want πŸ˜‰

As always, I would love to see your shots with this technique. Put it in the comments or on my Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/timelapse.hyperlapse/.

Mounting options

There are a few options to mount the camera. In this tutorial I focus on mounting camera on a tripod inside the car, so the car interior is in the shot. Of course it’s only one of many possibilities, everything depends on the effect you want to achieve πŸ™‚

For some tips on using a slider in drivelapse, check out this post: Car Timelapse with a Slider

You can mount the camera inside or outside the vehicle:

  • Inside the car:
    • A tripod
    • Car headrest mount
    • Window suction cup mount
  • Outside the car:
    • Suction cup mount
    • Specialistic rigs
    • Some wierd, DIY mounts πŸ˜‰

The camera should be mounted firmly. We’re shooting with long shutter speeds, so the camera shouldn’t move at all.

Headrest Mount - foton.kalisz.pl
Headrest Mount – source: foton.kalisz.pl

When using tripod, it’s position will depend on your car and your tripod. I’m using Benro A2980F, which has three different legs position – I can spread the legs almost horizontal to fit the cavities in the car doors. So I put the ‘front’ leg in the center console of the car and two ‘rear’ legs into the doors or to the corner of the rear seat. My tripod also has a hook underneath the center column, so it’s best to put some weight on that. It could be anything, I use a counterweight from my boom light stand. This way you get nice, symetrical framing. Of course, there are tons of other possibilities, so experiment with different camera position πŸ˜‰

Suction cup car mount - cametvblog.com
Suction cup car mount – source: cametvblog.com

Another tripod drivelapse I did a few years ago looks a little bit different – I had an older tripod, I just put that on the car’s floor and sit back with it to hold it the entire time πŸ˜‰ It also worked, so don’t look for excuses, you can do it with any gear you have πŸ™‚

  • Action cameras

Of course for some more complicated mounting you can use an action camera like a GoPro. It has built-in intervalometer for timelapses. I would also sugest you to buy an ND filter for this camera and try to use longer shutter speed πŸ˜‰

Camera settings

  • Interval

This is probably the most important thing here. First of all let’s talk about interval. It will depend on the type of the road. There is a huge difference between driving on a highway and in the city.

If you’re wondering, why not just shoot a regular video, read this article:Β Timelapse vs. Video πŸ™‚

With long, quite straigth highway you can go with interval more than 1 second – I would personally use interval up to 3-5 seconds (but usually lower, 1 sec is a good and safe starting point ;)). On the other hand, even 1 second interval could be too long for some urban, winding road. If you want to drivelapse a road with many curves, you can do one of the following:

  1. drive slowly – you will annoy other drivers, but at least you get a nice shot πŸ™‚
  2. use low fps video mode – some cameras can shoot 1 or 2 frames per second video (there could be more steps between 1 and 24 fps). It provides lower quality than RAW stills, but at least you get the motion blur πŸ™‚

Low fps video has different names in different cameras, in Magic Lantern, add-on firmware for Canon it’s FPS override, Panasonic has VFR (Variable Frame Rate), in Sony it’s S&Q Motion (Slow and Quick Motion).

  • RAW vs. JPEG

If you’re shooting from inside the car, the scene has usually quite high dynamic range. Exterior lit with sunglight is very brigth, while the car’s cockpit is fairly dark. You can try to brighten the cockpit with some ligth or reflector, but for me important thing is to shoot RAW. It allows you to bring up the shadows in post to make the image more balanced. If you’re shooting video, you can try some LOG profile. Of course it doesn’t mean that with your Canon DSLR for example 2fps video on standard profile would look awful – that’s just a suggestion how to improve the effect πŸ˜‰

  • Shutter speed

As always, I prefer to shoot with manual settings. Some people use the aperture priority mode. If you plan to use that, try spot or center-weighted metering. In such wide dynamic range scene the automatics can ruin your shot if setup incorrectly πŸ˜‰

It’s really important to pick the right shutter speed to get smooth drivelapse. By ‘the right’ I mean long enough to get motion blur πŸ˜‰ It will depend on your interval and on how fast you’re moving. Try to use shutter speed about 0.5″ or longer. Of course, it’s hard to get such long shutter speed in daylight, so you will need an ND filter. If you don’t have one, you can try a night drivelapse πŸ™‚ I desribed quite precise the shutter speeds and ND filters in timelapse photography in another article, so it’ll be best to read that too πŸ˜‰ – Should you use ND filters? Motion Blur in Timelapse

There is also difference if you’re shooting stills with intervalometer or low fps video. In video, you will be able to use even 360 degree shutter angle (shutter angle explanation: Cinematic Motion Blur – 180Β° Rule), which gives you even more motion blur. You can do that, because in stills mode, the camera have to take some time to save the image to the card (especially with RAW files). Video mode has different compression and amount of data, it’s designed to work continuously πŸ™‚

  • Lens

Of course, it’s best to use wide angle lens for the timelapse inside the car. I use my favourite, Sigma 10-20 f/3.5 lens (on APS-C sensor). It’s really nice if you can see in the frame the side mirrors, 10mm lens allows that. You’ve got to remember that with the ultra wide angle lens your camera should be positioned too much in the back of the car. You want the front window to be quite big in the frame (definitely not a very tigth strip ;)). You’ve got to find the nice point for the camera to balance the amount of the car dashboard and front window in the frame.

Shooting

If you mount and setup the camera, you just have to start the intervalometer and drive forward πŸ™‚ You can position the rear mirror to see the camera, this way the camera will see your eyes in that mirror.

If you’re following my blog, you’ve probably seen myΒ 3 Axis Gimbal – Timelapse Feature tutorial. I tried to combine that with a drivelapse to get a motion controlled drivelapse shot. As you can see in the gif below, it doesn’t work that way πŸ˜‰ Even the gimbal has checked “frame angles are fixed” box, it still works as a gimbal, which we don’t want in the shot like this. Just a tip in case you would like to try that πŸ˜‰

Editing

Editing a drivelapse is quite simple. Process your RAW pictures as always or import the JPGs to the editor of your choice and basically you’re done πŸ™‚ The footage should be stable, so no post production stabilization is needed.

If you’re shooting stills, it’s probably 4:3 aspect ratio. The video is usually 16:9. You can use the additional height of the image to simulate the camera tilt movement. I’m not a fan of adding a digital movement to the timelapses, because it looks fake. This is the trick I used sometimes – the movement is so subtle, it’s looks pretty good πŸ™‚

To add the movement use two keyframes: at the begining and at the end of the clip. Change the position for both keyframes: for one move the image all the way to the top, and for the seceond all the way down. This way you’re using the full resolution of your stills πŸ˜‰

That’s all! Easy, right? πŸ˜‰ I hope you find this tutorial useful. If you’ve got some car timelapses feel free to share them in the comments or in my Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/timelapse.hyperlapse/. I would love to see your work πŸ˜‰ Also, if you like the tutorial, leave me a comment. It’s really great to hear your feedback. See you next time!

7 Comments

  1. Shahab Gabriel Behzumi

    4 April 2017 at 20:50

    Cool Tomasz!

    Reply

  2. Bart

    5 May 2017 at 15:20

    I really like this and already tried to make an own version. But my exposure had been to long and the streets to curvy πŸ™ Also the camera shakes too much. I have to try to stabilize it more…

    Reply

    • Tomasz

      5 May 2017 at 21:01

      Don’t give up πŸ™‚ next time will be better πŸ˜‰

      Reply

  3. […] wanted to do it like in my Drivelapse tutorial – Β camera fixed to the vehicle. It would be easier with an action cam, but since I […]

    Reply

  4. Piak

    1 September 2017 at 18:51

    Wonder that the vibration inside car is very high. With 0.5s exposure would produce blur single image. However, really like to try this.

    Reply

    • Tomasz

      1 September 2017 at 18:52

      It’s not that bad πŸ˜‰ depends on the road you’re driving

      Reply

  5. […] have already done a drivelapse tutorial, but this one is a little bit different. I like to shoot it symetrically from the back seat, as I […]

    Reply

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