In this article we will teach you how to achieve this end result only using your camera:
Article Series: “How to create the perfect Hyperlapse”
This article is part of our series “How to create the perfect hyperlapse”. Over the next few months, we are going to learn about different techniques, their pros and cons, and when which technique is used best. To be informed about new articles and updates to the time lapse world, please subscribe to our newsletter.
This guide will show you how to plan, capture and post process a dramatic handheld hyperlapse. We will look at the best practices as well as the pitfalls in easy-to-follow instructions that cover everything from planning to the final video. Let’s dive in!
Handheld hyperlapse in a nutshell
Before we get started, we need to make sure that the basic time lapse terminology is clear. Essentially, all hyperlapse techniques add camera movement to the basic time lapse shooting technique. I suggest you familiarise yourself with our introductory articles on time lapse production if you are new to shooting time lapse:
For a handheld hyperlapse, you basically take a step, take a photo, take another step, take another photo and so on and so on to achieve the end result seen above.
Packing the backpack
Now that we are firm on the basics, let’s look at what we will need along the way to create a single 10-second, 25-frames-per-second handheld hyperlapse clip.
Equipment to bring with you:
- Camera (make sure you have the option to turn on a grid overlay on your camera. If you can’t change the display settings to show a grid, bring some tape or a whiteboard marker)
- Storage medium
- A full battery
- An intervalometer (many modern cameras offer internal intervalometers; have a look and search the web for your camera model before purchasing an external intervalometer)
Hardware and software for post production:
- Enough storage space suitable for RAW sequences (one 10-second clip of 42 MB Sony A7rIII raw photos = a 10 GB file)
- Adobe Lightroom
- Alternative: Adobe Camera Raw in combination with Adobe Bridge
- Video editing software that allows you to import photo sequences and has stabilisation capabilities such as DaVinci Resolve, Adobe Premiere or Adobe After Effects
- We recommend Adobe After Effects for the manual tracking capabilities as an additional option if the warp stabiliser fails
- This piece of software is necessary if you intend to shoot sunset hyperlapses with changing exposure settings or if your video flickers
Now we know what to bring and prepare to be ready for our handheld hyperlapse shoot. But what makes the difference between a good hyperlapse and a great hyperlapse?
Choosing your hyperlapse photo subject
It all starts with the right subject. The goal is smooth movement of the camera through space as well as smooth movement in front of the camera. To make sure that the movement in front of the camera is smooth, we have two important questions to answer:
- Can we maintain a fixed interval along the path we plan to cover?
- Do objects or people move faster through our field of view than the time between two photos? If a car passes through our frame in 2 seconds, but we shoot at an interval of 4 seconds, each car will only be visible for one single frame. This will introduce unwanted flicker. This will also happen frequently with people or birds passing through your frame.
Smooth movement of the camera through space depends mostly on your iron will and focus. However, there are some settings that make life a lot easier. Look for a subject that offers a flat walking path and surface. This way it will be easier to evenly space your steps and intervals between photos. Tiles or patterns on the ground help as well. I suggest walking the path once before you commit to the actual shooting. This way you can also look for any obstructions along the path. The goal is to always maintain a clear view of a central point in your subject. This is paramount, as you will have to lock on to that point with the camera grid on your display.
Handheld hyperlapses are swiftly captured and require little equipment and preparation. However, there are some limitations to keep in mind. Motion blur is not an option, neither from camera movement nor from movement in front of the camera. Small and relatively fast-moving particles, people, birds or cars will introduce flicker in the shot and should be avoided when deciding on a composition. Stick with slower processes such as clouds. Depending on the capturing conditions and your skill, you might have to crop 10-20 percent into the video later during stabilisation on the computer. Keep this in mind and leave enough space around the main photo subject for the stabilisation.
Pro Tip: For the best stabilisation results, avoid dramatic changes in camera angle paired with short focal lengths. Longer focal lengths and a photo subject far away are preferable when it comes to easy and reliable stabilisation.
Testing the path and selecting an interval
Great! You have found a hyperlapse subject and are ready to start taking photos. Let’s go through a few pre-hyperlapse checks to guarantee a smooth shooting experience.
- Choose a stationary object to lock on to with the point on your display. This can either be done with the internal grid overlay of your camera or a mark you make on the screen with a whiteboard marker.
- Walk the path and count your steps from start to finish.
- If you need 250 steps or more, you are good to go!
- If you need fewer than 250 steps, try to find a smaller recurring unit of measurement either on the ground – such as tiles – or by taking small steps the length of your shoe. Small distances between shots will be difficult to shoot handheld and are not recommended – stick with one step as a minimum distance between consecutive shots.
- Divide the number of steps by the number of frames to capture. 250 steps on the path divided by 250 photos = 1 photo per step. 500 steps on the path divided by 250 photos = 1 photo every other step, etc.
- What interval is best suited for this hyperlapse subject? Think about how long objects or people need to pass through your frame and decide on your interval. This will depend on your shot’s field of view as well as the speed of the objects/people.
- The number of steps between two shots will also factor into the shortest possible interval between two shots, as you must walk a bigger distance. To test the minimal interval, you can ask a friend to count the time it takes you to get from one test capture to the next along the way. A good starting point for an interval with one step distance is 4 seconds.
The path is clear, and you are ready to start. Does that apply to your equipment as well? There are a few things that need to be checked.
To do in advance:
- Make sure there is enough space left on the camera storage.
- The battery must last for the entire duration, as changing will not be possible as you would not be able to keep the interval.
- Look at the lens and especially at the sensor for dust spots or hair. If you use a filter, make sure it is clean as well.
- Turn on in-camera or lens stabilisation if available.
- Select either the manual mode for fixed lighting situations or the aperture value mode for dramatically changing lighting conditions during the shooting timeframe.
- To get a reading on whether the photos are still correctly exposed during the shoot, turn on the EV (exposure value) indicator. Most cameras have it on by default.
- Turn on the grid overlay in your viewfinder or on the monitor.
- Enable the RAW file format.
- Turn off potentially limiting settings such as the picture profile setting on the Sony A7 models.
- Turn on the level indicator on your camera if available to make keeping the roll axis horizontal easier.
To do immediately before shoot:
Take a short moment to think about whether the lighting or focus distance change dramatically along the path. If they do, you will have to adjust the settings at the end position as well and figure out a way to ramp between the two settings – such as auto focus if you move substantially closer to the subject or aperture value mode for automatically adjusted shutter speed to keep a proper exposure along the path.
Back at the starting point of your walking path, switch your camera on and adjust in this order:
If you have a zoom lens, make sure you will not accidentally change it during the walk. Extreme positions of the focal length ring are the preferable positions. This helps as you are half as likely to change the focal length during the shoot by accident than if you use a setting somewhere in the middle.
Open the aperture of your lens as wide as possible by selecting the lowest ‘f’ number available. This will keep the focus shallow and help you to see in what distance the focus lies. Zoom in on the image and focus manually. Keep the focus manual throughout the shoot.
Set the correct exposure to retain information in both bright and dark areas by adjusting one of the three values of the exposure triangle. You can control the amount of light that hits the camera sensor with the aperture, the iso and the shutter speed. (Read all about it in Manual mode for beginners)
Switch to the desired aperture. Typically, an f stop between 5.6 and 11 is a good choice. For maximum sharpness, I recommend f8 in bright daylight.
Use the reciprocal rule to determine whether the shutter speed is fast enough to avoid camera shake/blur from shooting handheld. This rule states that the shutter speed should be at least the reciprocal of the focal length. Shooting at 25 mm equals, at the very slowest, 1/25th of a second. To be sure that every shot turns out sharp, I would suggest 1/50th of a second. This is half the exposure time of the reciprocal rule.
Shooting the handheld hyperlapse
With the above taken care of, there is nothing left to do other than walk the path and capture the photos that will make up your handheld hyperlapse.
- Start your intervalometer.
- Take evenly spaced steps.
- Find a fixed step rhythm and keep it.
- Walk a straight path and stay focused on the chosen point of your subject.
Congratulations, you now have the raw material for a dramatic camera move that blends time and space – exciting!
Hopefully still in awe of the beauty of your subject, the post production process can begin.
Start by importing your sequence of photos to a folder on your workstation. You probably took other photos besides the hyperlapse sequence, which means that it might be necessary to sift through your files and locate the first and last frame of the hyperlapse.
Move your selected photos to an individual folder for this handheld hyperlapse. Give the folder a clear name, such as “handheld_hyperlapse_01”. By doing this you will find it more easily from the editing software.
The final step in creating this one-of-a-kind time lapse camera move happens in the digital realm. Fire up your favourite video editing software and prepare for greatness! Your editing software needs to support two things: importing an image sequence as a video and a way to stabilise shaky footage. Some of the next steps will be specific to Adobe After Effects. Adobe After Effects is my recommendation for polishing both hyperlapse and time lapse sequences.
From photos to video
In your editing software, import the image sequence by selecting the first photo and checking “image sequence” before clicking on import. This will tell the editing program to look at the photos as a single video file.
If you capture raw photos instead of .jpg and your editing software does not support raw files, convert them to the compressed .jpg format beforehand. You can use Adobe Camera Raw or Adobe Lightroom, for example. This will give you the option to also grade one photo and copy the grade to the others before the export to .jpg. If your workstation is not ultrafast, it will also be easier to work with a .jpg sequence than its raw equivalent.
If you want to ramp the grade or make smooth exposure corrections between a start and end frame, you will have to use specialised tools such as LRTimelapse. LRTimelapse is also recommended if you already know beforehand that there will be flicker in the sequence, as it offers tools for deflickering.
In After Effects, the ‘camera raw’ interface will automatically open when importing a raw image sequence. The interface allows you to adjust the image as you please. Let your creative ideas shine and use all the grading tools at your disposal! Keep in mind that what you are adjusting is the first frame. Once you are finished with tweaking the look of your image, the grade will automatically be applied to all subsequent images.
The sequence should be visible as a video file. Make sure that the clip has the right framerate setting. Right click and open the “interpret footage” dialog to set the framerate. I use 25 fps, as that is the standard for Europe (PAL). This will produce a 10-second video from 250 photos.
As humans are not born with wheels for feet and bubble levels for hands, some camera shake is to be expected when shooting handheld. You probably already guessed that we will not be able to enjoy a perfectly smooth handheld hyperlapse straight out of the camera. However, if you have followed this guide closely, even a wobbly raw video can be turned into buttery smooth hyperlapse goodness with some post production love. The key is stabilisation. When using Adobe After Effects or Adobe Premiere Pro, the recommended effect is called “warp stabilizer”.
To utilise this effect, we first make a new composition from the image sequence. Drag the imported image sequence onto the composition icon in the project window and select your desired resolution. I recommend keeping the full resolution of the image sequence for archival purposes, future projects or stock footage. But if you want to go straight to 4K resolution in 16:9, for example, then you can do that in this step.
In the effects window, choose “warp stabilizer” and apply it with the default values. Now go grab something to drink or pet a cat if available; the analysis will take a little while.
Time to come back and look at the stabilisation results. If you are satisfied with the smoothness, you can move on to the next step. However, sometimes there is unwanted, excessive distortion. This occurs especially in the corners. The excessive warping can often be alleviated by reducing the smoothing setting to a low value such as 3 percent. You can also try to change the stabilisation setting from “warp” to “position, scale, rotation” or to only “position”.
If the basic process does not work sufficiently, you can try to nest the composition into a subcomposition and apply the warp stabiliser again. Repeat this process until the resulting hyperlapse is smooth.
Sometimes there are problems during the shoot that are beyond the warp stabiliser’s automatic capabilities. If this is the case, delete the warp stabiliser and use the semi-manual After Effects tracker and its stabilisation feature. You have the option to track one point on the hyperlapse subject and only stabilise (lock) the position of that single point. Or you can use two points the same distance from the camera to also stabilise the rotation. This is the option you most often want to use when stabilising a handheld hyperlapse with the After Effects tracker.
Bonus tip: When you use two tracking points you can also stabilise for scale in addition to position and rotation, which will create a digital vertigo effect – very dramatic!
If that still does not work well enough, first try manually tracking and then warp stabilising the result. You could even combine this result with more warp stabilisers via subcompositions as mentioned before.
There are advanced options in the settings of the warp stabiliser where you can select the tracked points that it takes into consideration. Please refer to specific tutorials if you want to try these settings as a last option.
Exporting the video
Congratulations, you have almost made it through the process of creating a smooth handheld hyperlapse!
Current delivery contexts:
The only thing left to do is to export the stabilised image sequence in your desired output format. With the current variety of viewing devices, media platforms, and resulting aspect ratios and resolutions, it is difficult to settle on one delivery resolution beforehand. Shooting a high-resolution handheld hyperlapse puts you in a comfortable place in this respect. You have the resolution and quality available for exporting the video in every current aspect ratio and resolution without the loss of quality, provided that you left enough headroom around your subject.
Recommended render settings:
For archival purposes, I recommend that you export the video in the original resolution of the image sequence in a codec that has a sufficient bitrate. On a Mac computer, the go-to codec is Apple Prores, and on a Windows machine, the Avid DnxHR codec offers equally viable results.
I hope you are proud of yourself because you should be! Be proud that you made it through this tutorial and enjoy the visual treat that you created. Go ahead and share it with the world.
This is the first article of our series “How to create the perfect hyperlapse”. Over the next few months, we are going to learn about different techniques, their pros and cons, and when which technique is used best. To be informed about new articles and updates to the time lapse world, please subscribe to our newsletter.