Welcome to our guide to basic time lapse post-production. Please make sure to read our article about shooting your first basic time lapse beforehand, so we are all on the same page and can dive right into turning your sequence of photos into a jaw-dropping time lapse video file.
There are several ways to do time lapse post-production. This is only one of them. We have optimised this workflow over the years and use it every day. It is a combination of three different programs we have come to appreciate and would recommend to anybody who wants to get into time lapse post-production:
All these programs offer free trial versions, which we recommend for people who are new to time lapse photography and not sure if they will like it. There is lots of free software out there that might produce similar results.
We have chosen to introduce you to these programs because the workflow is scalable and offers you endless possibilities later on when your skills improve. Since this is a guide to very basic time lapse post-production, without any light changes (like sunrises or sunsets), we will not need LRTimelapse for this tutorial. This workflow only focuses on using a combination of Lightroom and After Effects.
Let’s start time lapse post-production
You should have a folder with pictures you took for creating a time lapse video. If you have more than one subject, we recommend you sort the different image sequences into different folders.
We recommend (if possible) shooting RAW images instead of JPEG. The reason for this is that the RAW format allows you to edit the colours of your images better. RAW images store more information in their files than JPEGs. How this works exactly from a technical point of view is a whole other topic that we might discuss in the future, so don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter to stay updated.
The disadvantage of the RAW format is you need to apply some colour correction, and you are well advised to convert them into JPEGs before you turn them into a video. That’s what Adobe Lightroom is for. If you shot JPEG instead of RAW, skip the following section and go straight to the Adobe After Effects part.
Converting RAW into JPEG
Open Adobe Lightroom and make sure to activate the “Library” tab in the upper-right corner. Then click the “Import” button in the lower-left corner of the screen. Navigate to the folder where you stored your RAW files. Make sure you select all of them and import them into your Lightroom setup.
Change your working setup to “Develop” and select the first image you imported. Now you can start colour-grading the image. If you haven’t done this before, make yourself familiar with the basics of Adobe Lightroom. There are plenty of tutorials on YouTube, for example this one.
As soon as you finish grading your picture, click on frame number one in the bottom-left corner. Hit “CMD+A” if you are working on an Apple machine (or “STRG+A” if you are a Windows user) to select all images. Next, hit the “Synchronize” button. Make sure in the following pop-up window that every option is selected and hit “Synchronize”.
In the upper-left corner of Lightroom, you can now see a progress bar with “Pasting Settings” written above. What’s happening right now is Lightroom copying all the settings you applied to your first photo and pasting them onto every other picture, so they all get the same settings.
Export the RAW files into JPEG files
As soon as Lightroom has finished, make sure all your images are still selected and right-click on any of your photos. Select the option “Export”.
A new pop-up window will open, giving you the chance to choose your export settings and where you would like to store the JPEG files we are creating.
Select the folder you would like to store your files in under “Export Location”.
The next step is an important one, so please be careful. Under “File Naming”, check “Rename To”, and select “Edit” within its drop-down menu. In the following pop-up-window, you should delete whatever text is in the textbox. As soon as your text area is clear, please select “Sequence # (1)” and hit the “Insert” button. This makes sure every JPEG gets a unique number starting at “1” counting upward. Hit “Done” to save these settings.
We recommend setting the “Image Format” to JPEG, “Quality” to 80 and the “Resolution” to 72 pixels per inch. This will help you save hard drive space while maintaining good image quality.
We’re done and you can hit the “Export” button. Your JPEG files are now being exported to your folder. The progress bar is again visible in the upper-left corner of Lightroom.
Starting Adobe After Effects
You’ve got your folder with your JPEG files ready at hand, so please go ahead and open Adobe After Effects. It’s time to turn your JPEG sequence into a video file and watch your final time lapse at last. Exciting times!
In After Effects, click on “File” in the upper-left corner and select “Import”. Navigate to the folder of your JPEG files. Select one JPEG file with one click. (If you did the Lightroom part, this should be called “1.jpg”.) Make sure “ImporterJPEG Sequence” is checked.
What this option does is tell After Effects that this is not one single picture, but a sequence of pictures that belong together. So, as soon as you hit the “Import” button, After Effects imports all the images together as a video sequence into its workspace. Let’s do it!
After the import is finished, you will see your JPEG sequence on the left side of your screen in the so-called “Project” window.
Next, we need to tell After Effects what frame rate this image sequence is so it plays it back with the speed we’d like to have. Right-click on “Image Sequence” and select “Interpret Footage” → “Main…”. A new window will pop up, where you can set the frame rate by changing the value of “Assume this frame rate”. I’m changing it to 25 frames per second because I’m based in Europe. If you don’t know about frame rates, please read this article. Hit “OK” to save your changes.
Create new composition
We now need to create a new composition by clicking the little composition button at the bottom of the “Project” window. A composition is like a new working space where you can combine several videos, images and effects.
A new pop-up window appears, allowing us to apply settings to your composition, such as resolution, length, frame rate, etc.
By changing “Width” and “Height”, you can set the resolution of your composition, which will also be the resolution of your final time lapse video. Here are some basic standards everybody uses depending on the resolution you would like to get:
- 8K (7952 x 5304) – Width: 7952 / Height: 5304
- 4K (4096 x 2304) – Width: 4096 / Height: 2304
- FullHD (1920 x 1080) – Width: 1920 / Height: 1080
When choosing the resolution, make sure to select one that is smaller than the original photos of your camera.
Set the frame rate to the same value you chose when we interpreted the image sequence.
For a composition name, choose something you like. We are simply going to call it “timelapse”. Click “OK” to create a new composition.
Fill up your composition
You can see the freshly created composition in your project window to your left. Double-click to open it in your timeline window.
Drag and drop your image sequence into the timeline window of your composition. Hit the “S” key to open the scale setting and scale the video down until it fits your frame the way you like it.
Next, hit the space bar so that it starts loading. At first, the video will appear to be stuck, but that means it’s loading. Eventually it will play fluently (depending on how much processing power your PC or MAC has).
Congratulations, you have finished your first basic time lapse. Now render the whole thing into a video file and enjoy. To do this follow these steps:
Change your “Timeline” window into the “Render Queue” window. If there is no “Render Queue” window, click “Window” → “Render Queue”. This opens a new window called “Render Queue”. Drag and drop your “timelapse” composition from your project window into the “Render Queue” window. Click next on the “Output Module” to choose the settings of your video file. We recommend the following:
Windows: leave everything as it is and set “Audio Output Off”
Mac: click on “Format Options” and select the video codec “Prores 422”, hit “OK” and set “Audio Output Off”
Hit “OK” to save these settings.
Click next on “Output To:” to set the location where you would like your video file to be stored.
Click the “Render” button on the right side and wait for the progress bar to complete.
All done! You will find your finished file in your folder.