How to create a time-lapse video, step-by-step

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Time-lapse is a wonderful way to capture the essence of something, of a scene before you. A sunrise, or sunset. A busy city scene. The tide, as it goes out or comes back in. Buildings under construction are another popular subject, especially if you’ve got a good angle to watch one come to life, from the foundations to completion.

A time-lapse movie can also be used to capture a journey. Walking through city streets, or traveling on a train, or in a car, from one place to another. It isn’t only a method for capturing a stationary scene.

How to shoot a time-lapse video?

Time-lapse videos are an amazing way to capture a subject over a longer period of time than you would ordinarily take a picture or film something. The good news is, you don't need specialist equipment to create a time lapse video.

Anyone with an iPhone and a Mac can create it. You can do this one of two ways:

#1: Film using Time Lapse mode (iPhone)

  1. Open the camera app;
  2. Scroll along to Time Lapse
  3. Press the red button to start filming (a tripod might be useful if you plan on filming something stationary over a period of hours or days);
  4. Press the red button to stop.

#2: Make a time-lapse video from photos

Again, using a tripod or stable service, you can take multiple - potentially dozens, even hundreds - of pictures of the same subject. It’s important that your iPhone is positioned exactly the same way, otherwise, the angle of each picture is going to be different, which means you won’t achieve the desired result.

Once you have enough pictures to capture what you were hoping for, you need to stitch them together to create the final time-lapse video. One way to do that is to download the macOS app GlueMotion. It's a perfect app for time-lapse photographers that lets you batch edit, deflicker and assemble sequences of images into time-lapse movies.

You can crop, rotate, flip and adjust the colors of your photos, inclining the exposure, saturation or brightness. In a matter of minutes, instead of hours, GlueMotion will have combined your photos to create the perfect time-lapse video.

For anyone who’s serious about filming a time lapse, you might be wondering, is there a way to gain more control than using the camera app? Yes, thankfully there is.

A time lapse calculator

You don’t have to be a videographer to create a perfect time-lapse video. Understanding the elements of your shots plus some basic math will help you do a good job.  

How to choose the right intervals?

Intervals reflect the flow of your time lapse. To set the right intervals, you should dive into your setting and analyze how often the scenes change within the setting. Next, choose how you want to display these changes in a time-lapse video. So it’s all about “feeling” the scene and experimenting with the flow.

Here are a few examples of average intervals between one shot and another:

  • Sunrise and sunset: 10 seconds
  • Clouds moving: 5-20 seconds depending on the speed
  • Crowd and commotion: 5 seconds
  • Building construction: from 10 minutes to several months

Number of frames

The number of frames you use determine the length of the video. On average, it takes 25 frames to produce one second of a time lapse. So if you need a 5 sec video, you’ll use 125 frames. As simple as that.

Keep in mind that if you set custom intervals, the number of frames will change accordingly. Let’s say you have to create a 10 sec time lapse with a 3 sec interval. To calculate the total number of frames, multiple fps (frames per second) by 10 and then multiply the received number by 3 (interval): (10 x 25 = 250) x 3 = 750.

Gain more control over your time lapse settings

If you are filming using the iPhone camera app, there are no speed controls. It films everything at the same speed, with the option to make changes only when you are editing. Unless you download the free Hyperlapse app, which makes it easier to control the time-lapse speed.

When you record using Hyperlapse, it shows during recording that for every 6 seconds of recording it produces 1 second of time-lapse video. Once you’ve finished filming, use the slider in the app to change how slow or fast it plays the final time-lapse video. Further edits and changes can be made if you upload the video to your macOS device.

Another way to gain even more control is with the OSnap app. There is a free version or a Pro version for $3.99 from the App Store. Creating a new time-lapse project using Snap OSnap Pro gives you the ability to speed up and slow down filming, record a voiceover, and even film at a higher resolution. It is ideal for those wanting high-quality time lapse videos.

Instead of recording a video, you can always go the photographic route. Taking multiple pictures, then stitching them together in an editing session to create a beautiful time-lapse video.

Time-lapse photography and editing

When you are setting these pictures up, it pays to remember a few photographic essentials:

  • Position your iPhone in the best location possible to capture the subject. Ideally, use a tripod to avoid balance issues. Keep the iPhone steady.
  • Use leading lines. Whenever possible, give the viewer a way of coming into the scene, from the foreground to the main subject and into the background.
  • Frame your scene using the rule of thirds.

Take the weather, sky, and lighting into consideration. In some countries, at this time of year, it gets dark early. If you've got subjects that are going to move through the frame, such as a train or a plane, make sure you’ve framed the picture(s) the right way as to capture that movement.

Do time lapses have sound?

They do if you want them to. You can easily add audio to your videos in iMovie, Apple’s native video editing software. Once you create a time lapse with GlueMotion, import it into iMovie and start personalizing the sounding:

  1. Click on Audio in the top left corner.
  2. Toggle between Effects and Theme music or import tracks from your computer.
  3. Drag the selected audio clip to your timeline or select a custom range to add a specific part of your clip.

To customize audio in your time-lapse video, you can use editing tools like Capto. The app allows you to change volume, mute as well as set audio fade in and fade out.

How to turn video into a time lapse

If you don’t have time to shoot a time lapse or you lack skills to pick the right intervals between snaps, go with converting. Video editors like Adobe Premiere CC or Pro allow to quickly turn a standard video into a nice-looking time lapse or hyperlapse.

Here’s how you convert videos in Adobe Premiere Pro:

  1. Import your video and open the Effects panel on the right.
  2. Select Posterize time and drag it onto the timeline to customize the frame rate.
  3. Change the rate from the default 24 frames per second. If you set fpt to 1, you’ll see only one frame per second.
  4. To adjust the speed, right-click on the video and select speed/duration. Increase the speed several-fold so that the frames change at a normal rate.

The key mistakes in time-lapse photography

Apart from dos, there are many don’ts that you should be aware of to produce a high-quality time lapse:

  • Not everything should move. Embrace a clear focus in your time-lapse video – an object or a set of objects that you want to speed up. The common mistake is to make the background move in sync with the foreground.

  • Apply filters. If you don’t play, you don’t win. ND filters in a slow time lapse can make a huge difference, so it’s a good idea to experiment with effects before you pick the final snaps for your video.

  • Get rid of flicker. The difference in brightness between snaps which is known as flicker damages the coherence of your time lapse. Even if you do it for the first time, GlueMotion can fix flicker automatically for you.

With GlueMotion, several hundred or thousands of images can be batch edited and successfully stitched together to create the perfect time-lapse video.

Once you are happy with the pictures you've captured - there will probably be dozens or hundreds - you can edit them using a macOS app when they're uploaded or synced using iCloud Photo Library to your Mac.

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