There are several techniques that let you create a video using photo mode in your camera, by combining still pictures in post production. And not all of them are called timelapse. I know that naming and differences between all those techniques might be confusing to some of you, as it was for me just a few years ago.
I consider timelapse the main category with a few variations, like static timelapse, motion control timelapse or hyperlapse. So in this understanding every hyperlapse can be called a timelapse, but not every timelapse is a hyperlapse. Basically, timelapse is all about taking series of pictures with some interval between them, and each picture is a frame in the later videoclip. After making a clip out of these photos, we get a smooth video of speeded up reality. This way you can observe things hard to see with your eyes, capture these things that move too slow to see, such as moving clouds, shadows, growing plants or moving stars or Sun. These days we also use them to interest our viewers, to catch their attention and just to look gorgeous. There are a lot of scenarios that look good in timelapse, passing cars, moving crowds or maybe fireworks, cable cars. Pretty much anything that has any movement.
A clock timelapse is a good example of a very basic timelapse. Let’s say you’re shooting a timelapse of a clock. You’re starting at 12 o’clock and finishing one hour later, at 1 pm. So the time span that you captured on the clip is 1 hour, but your final timelapse shot is way shorter. Let’s say it’s a 10 seconds clip showing the passage of time of 1 hour. The obvious disadvantage is that you need to spend there 1 hour to get a 10 seconds clip, so you record way longer than your final clip is.
You can record a video clip of the watch and speed it up in post production, however speeding up is basically removing frames from it. So you record a lot of frames, and use only a small percentage of it. You’re also limited by video codecs. The alternative is to use a still photography mode in your camera. This way you’re recording only these frames that you need and end up with an already speeded up clip. The camera has more time to save each picture, so you can use huge resolution photographic RAW format, which gives great quality, even from cheap cameras. One thing that is vital: using photo mode has the ability to drag your shutter, so using longer shutter speeds to create motion blur.
How much you speed up the reality in your timelapse is represented by the interval. Interval is the time between each picture taken. So, to shoot a timelapse, put your camera on a tripod, set the interval in built in or external intervalometer, and your camera will take a series of still pictures. Then you have to combine these pictures in post production to create a video file. This is usually a little harder to do than it sounds, as there could be some flicker in your shot or you may need to animate some parameters like white balance. That’s a pretty big topic, I’ll just mention that the industry standard solution for post production of timelapse shots is LRTimelapse app combined with Lightroom.
motion control timelapse
As we know how the static timelapses are made, now we can add some movement to our static shots. Moving the camera in timelapse isn’t as easy as in the video. In slow motion, every camera movement is slowed down and you can make even a shaky handheld video look good when slowed down. In timelapse it’s exactly the opposite. Every camera movement is speeded up, so shooting handheld is almost impossible. If you want your camera to move slowly in your final timelapse, you need to move it extremely slow when shooting. That’s why we need to use motion control equipment to achieve that. So these kinds of shots we call motion control timelapses. Electronically programmed motors move the camera very slowly and precisely in one, two or three axes. The most popular are 3 axis systems, which consist of a slider and pan tilt head.
Motion control timelapse gives us a lot of flexibility when it comes to moving the camera, but every slider has its end. If you want to move the camera for longer distances than your slider lets you, or you just can’t afford motion control equipment, here comes the hyperlapse. In my opinion, hyperlapse gives us the most freedom to create amazing shots.
In motion control timelapse, precise motors move the camera. In hyperlapse – you do it. You can do it even handheld. The most popular way of shooting hyperlapse is with a tripod. You can also use a gimbal to get a little different effect. So, you take your camera, take a picture, and before you take another one you move forward, sideways or wherever you want. Then take another picture, make a move and so on. This way, step by step you’re creating the camera movement in your shot. Of course, you’re not as precise as an electric motor, so most of the hyperlapses need to be stabilized in post production. It’s not that you shot your shot wrong and now you need to fix it in post like in the video. Here, you know while shooting that stabilization is a required step of creating the final look of your hyperlapse.
Hyperlapses let us create outstanding movements that aren’t possible to shoot in other ways or would require extremely expensive gear and big crew. Going one step forward would be the flow motion technique, introduced by Rob Whitworth back in 2014. It’s a concept of using hyperlapse with post production transitions to create an illusion of a mastershot, so faking that your video was made in one shot. For me, it’s either trying to hide the fact that we’re moving to a completely different location, so doing a transition that is invisible to viewers, or making it obvious that we’re watching a post production transition, but making it look great and outstanding. This is a great way of showing a few different locations that are thematically connected in the video. It may be a film about one region, city or country, one building, showing different parks, some journey. Creating such a video needs a lot of planning but that’s a great way to make an internet viral.
The last technique I want to mention here is stop motion animation. And as all the previous ones were just different kinds of timelapse shots, this one is a whole different category. Here, we also use still pictures, but for different purposes. In timelapse we’re showing the passing time, in stop motion we use stills to animate, in other words to move the objects that aren’t moving in real life. It’s a little bit like in the hyperlapse technique. You take a picture, move your object a little, then take a picture again, move it again and so on. Hyperlapse and stop motion have a lot in common. I also like adding stop motion elements to my hyperlapse films. Stop motion creates an unrealistic, kind of magical and fabolous look like from a fairytale.
My final conclusion for achieving the most interesting effects, and I believe you’d agree, is that combining different filming techniques together gives the best results. So, don’t hesitate to experiment with mixing hyperlapse with video, slow motion and timelapse. Also, don’t forget to check out the Hyperlapse Academy to learn all the techniques. Be creative and keep shooting.