In this article we will teach you how to achieve this end result only using your camera and a gimbal:
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.
Smooth camera movement nowadays is almost always achieved by gimbal stabilisation. The proliferation of motorised gimbals has redefined stable moving shots in film and video production. From the get-go, gimbals promised to revolutionise the production of hyperlapse photography as well. But the impact hasn’t been as great as expected. The kind of hyperlapse that profits most from a gimbal system differs substantially from a tripod hyperlapse or a low-profile handheld hyperlapse.
In this guide you will learn how to plan, capture and post-process a buttery smooth gimbal hyperlapse. We will look at best practices and potential hurdles in an easy-to-follow guide. So, let’s get started!
As the following paragraphs will focus solely on gimbal hyperlapses, you will benefit from a basic understanding of time lapse terminology. Knowing the common denominator of all time lapse techniques based on photos will help as well. You can read up on the basics here:
Basic time lapse shooting
Basic time lapse post-production
Packing the camera bag
We are aiming to create a 10-second hyperlapse clip. To achieve this from a sequence of photos, we need to know how many frames these 10 seconds will contain.
Example: At a frame rate of 25 frames per second, we need to capture 250 photos to produce a 10-second video.
Equipment to shoot your gimbal hyperlapse
It is helpful to have a grid overlay to keep the desired point on your subject fixed. You will also be able to identify gimbal drift more easily, but we will get to that later.
Bring your favourite lens for the subject you want to shoot but take two hyperlapse-specific factors into consideration:
- Short focal lengths give you more dramatic motion at the edges of the frame and will therefore enhance the perception of speed. The downside is that small inaccuracies in the walking path are more likely to introduce unwanted parallax errors. These can range from difficult to impossible to stabilise.
- Medium and long focal lengths give a slower feel to the hyperlapse but yield better stabilisation results. One downside is the requirement for faster shutter speeds, which limits the creative use of motion blur.
You will need an internal or external intervalometer. Check out our review of the LRT Pro Timer 3!
Set your gimbal up in advance and learn every mode, knob and special feature it might have. And don’t forget to calibrate it! Depending on your gimbal, that might work via your smartphone with the manufacturer’s app or a laptop.
Things you will need in post-production
Enough to save all your RAW sequences. A single 10-second clip of 42 MB of Sony A7rIII RAW photos amounts to a ~10 GB file.
Alternatively, Adobe Camera Raw in combination with Adobe Bridge or any other software to batch-grade RAW photos and export them to a compressed format such as .jpg.
Video editing software
It must allow you to import photo sequences and have stabilisation capabilities. Most available applications such as DaVinci Resolve or Adobe Premiere Pro offer a way to stabilise shaky footage. Our recommendation, however, is the compositing software Adobe After Effects, as it offers additional manual stabilisation methods if the automatic stabiliser fails. Moreover, you can directly import RAW photo sequences as video in After Effects and add a single grade with Adobe Camera RAW – very convenient!
Optional software: LRTimelapse
LRTimelapse is a highly specialised piece of software that features tools for animating and ramping grades. It works best in conjunction with Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Camera RAW. It is often not necessary to do the extra ramping step when showing only a short timeframe with fixed exposures in a hyperlapse. However, if your hyperlapse flickers, it might still be worth looking at LRTimelapse, as it offers tools for deflickering.
We have gathered all the ingredients we need and are now ready to dive into the creative process! What should we capture in our gimbal hyperlapse?
Choosing your gimbal hyperlapse subject
The options when moving your camera through space with a gimbal are endless. You can orbit a subject, walk straight towards it, follow a person, simulate a POV city tour or even do a full roll rotation like the “infinite spin”. What objects or subjects are most suitable for a gimbal hyperlapse? There is no right or wrong answer, but certain choices can make your life quite a bit easier.
When starting out with your first gimbal hyperlapses it is best to stick to simpler camera moves. Walk along straight paths and choose stationary photo subjects such as buildings or statues. You will have to walk at a steady pace with no change in speed and without breaks along the way. Will you be able to do that, and will the environment allow for that over the duration of your shot? Try to anticipate whether at any point the path might become blocked by people or other potential obstructions.
Expert tip: Gimbal hyperlapses shine especially when featuring relatively fast processes around the subject. It does not always have to be the weather; you could also show a square filling up with people or the traffic in front of a landmark. You have a few ideas of a process to feature? Great! But there is one more consideration before you make your final decision. Smooth movement through space and smooth movement in front of the camera are the two main objectives when creating a hyperlapse.
Smooth movement through space
Shoot-move-shoot capture vs continuous-movement capture
Traditional hyperlapses captured on a tripod or handheld follow the shoot-move-shoot sequence. You take a photo, move to the next position, stop and take another photo. In the continuous-capture method, you move during the exposure, thus creating motion blur also from moving through space and not only in front of the camera.
Smooth movement in front of the camera
If an object crosses your camera’s field of view faster than your shooting interval, the motion blur will appear as flicker. In an ideal world, you would set your shutter speed to an angle of 180 degrees and not worry about flicker. However, there are other limitations to consider. One such limitation is the longest shutter speed that will still produce sharp photos on a gimbal. Depending on the focal length, my experience is to only choose long exposure times close to the 180-degree shutter angle if you use a very wide-angle lens and walk straight towards your subject, keeping the middle unaffected by the motion blur. Even then I would not dare go longer than 0.5 seconds as the shutter speed (with a few artistic exceptions). If you shoot at an interval of 1 second, the motion blur at 0.5 seconds as the shutter speed will be correct.
Testing the path of your gimbal hyperlapse
You have selected a subject for your hyperlapse and are ready to produce just the right amount of motion blur. It is time to move on to selecting a shooting interval and preparing the walk.
You want to keep the focal point on the subject in the same position of your composition throughout the frame with the help of a display overlay or marking. Does the path allow for that, or will you pass something that temporarily blocks your view? An example would be a bridge that you must walk underneath.
Selecting a hyperlapse interval
I recommend walking the path in advance to identify possible obstacles before you are halfway into your hyperlapse. While test walking the path, count the number of steps you must take to get from the start to the end frame. This information is necessary to calculate the number of steps per frame. Steps are a useful unit of measurement. If you have a distance that requires at least one step per frame and you want an interval of one second or more, you are good to go. 250 steps for a 250-frame hyperlapse at an interval of 1 second is a good minimum.
If you have a shorter distance to cover, look for smaller units of measurement, like tiles on the ground. However, be aware that there is a limit to how small the increments can be while maintaining a smooth path for your camera at intervals longer than 1 second. The issue with continuous shooting arises from having to always move the same speed. There is also a limit to how slowly a human can walk. At some point you will begin to wobble when taking multiple photos per step over a long duration. If you want to cover a short distance with few steps and create a hyperlapse feel, use a fast interval close to real time video frame rates. This will require a fast camera with a burst mode and a fast SD card.
To keep it simple, we will stick to 250 steps and one photo per step at an interval of 1 second. Clouds typically move a bit slowly at an interval of 1 second, but traffic and people will exhibit a visually interesting speed.
Ready, set, go? Time to check your equipment!
Gimbal hyperlapse gear check
With the subject selected and the path clear we are almost ready to capture the gimbal hyperlapse. To ensure a smooth experience, let’s look at what needs to be taken care of in advance and what we need to check directly before starting the hyperlapse walk.
To do in advance
- Look at the number of photos you can still take on your camera and make sure there is enough space.
- Changing battery during a hyperlapse shot is not possible. Check for a full battery.
- The sensor of a mirrorless camera is especially susceptible to dust and hair which will show up on your photos at high f-stop numbers. Clean your sensor if necessary.
- Also clean the glass of your lens and the ND filters.
- Turn on the camera stabilisation if your camera offers this option.
- To monitor the photo’s exposure, turn on the exposure value (EV) indicator or the histogram on your camera.
- The zebra brightness indicator might also prove helpful for very bright contexts prone to clipping.
- Switch on the grid overlay on your camera or mark the middle with tape or a whiteboard marker.
- Set the file format to RAW.
- Turn off any limiting settings such as the (ISO-range-limiting) picture profiles on the Sony A7 series.
Set the camera to manual exposure mode if the lighting does not change from the start to the end position or over the duration of the shoot. If the lighting does change along the path, I recommend using AV mode (aperture value). Gimbal hyperlapses are not ideal for changing light contexts. Most often you will want to stick to the manual mode with a fixed exposure.
Setting up the gimbal
To keep the camera level without unwanted vibration and unnecessary battery drainage, balance your camera in the same setup as during the shoot. If your gimbal has the option, perform an automatic balance assessment.
Autotune the motors of your gimbal for the weight of this specific camera-lens combination.
There are many ways to utilise the various modes of a gimbal for a hyperlapse. You can, for example, set up a mode that allows for ultra-slow panning movement to orbit around a subject. A mode that is useful for both video and hyperlapse is the chicken head mode, which I recommend to always have programmed into the gimbal. Just like the head of a chicken, no matter how much you move the body of your gimbal, its head (the camera) will stay level and fixed in its focal direction.
Beware of hyperlapse gimbal drift
If you have already used a gimbal for slow camera movements, you might have noticed a common problem: gimbal drift. There are few things more annoying than your gimbal slowly drifting and panning or tilting your camera in an unwanted direction. The problem is especially prominent during temperature changes, as the gyro and accelerometer sensors are not impervious to changes in the shooting environment. Learn about how your gimbal calibrates its sensors and whether you can access this calibration routine on location to alleviate the drift problem. Nevertheless, especially over long shooting durations, expect some drift and prepare a way to correct it with the joystick of your gimbal.
Back at the starting point, it is time for a last pre-hyperlapse check.
To do immediately before the shoot
As already described, the situation at the end location can be quite different from the starting location. Take a moment to think about whether the lighting context or the focus distance will change dramatically between these two perspectives. If there is a dramatic change, think about a way to ramp between the two settings, such as autofocus or aperture value mode for changing exposure. Alternatively, you can select a good middle ground between the two extremes (recommended).
The good news: As you will not touch your camera during the hyperlapse shoot, accidentally changing the focal length on a zoom lens is not an issue.
The bad news: Despite shooting on a gimbal, you will still have to stabilise the footage afterwards and thus crop into the composition. Leave some room around your subject and choose a focal length a bit shorter than what you would ideally have in mind for this subject.
Select the lowest f-stop number available on your lens and focus on the subject as diligently as you can. Do this by digitally zooming in on your camera and then focusing on the point you plan to remain on during the shoot.
Modern cameras offer great dynamic range and retain information in both bright and dark areas of the frame. Nevertheless, you will still have subjects and contexts that are beyond your camera’s capabilities, such as shooting directly against the sun. Make sure that the dynamic range best shows and exposes what your hyperlapse is about by adjusting the values of the exposure triangle: ISO, aperture and shutter speed.
Ideal f-stops for crisp images over the entire frame are typically between 5.6 and 11. I recommend shooting at f8 if your subject and ND filter situation allow it in combination with your desired shutter speed.
In order to achieve spatial motion blur, use the 180-degree shutter angle guideline. In other words, set the shutter speed to half your interval. Do not go slower than 0.5 seconds as a rule of thumb. As there are multiple variables that influence the longest shutter speed possible, I recommend taking a few test shots along the path and checking if the images turn out consistently sharp.
As you have probably already guessed, if you set the aperture for maximum sharpness and the shutter speed for the desired amount of motion blur, only the ISO value is left to adjust exposure. On a bright day, it might not be enough to reduce the ISO to its lowest setting. So, to keep artistic control, we need another way of darkening the image. Neutral density filters to the rescue! The filter I find myself using the most is an ND64 on bright days. ND filters are a great investment not just for hyperlapses, but also for video and static time lapse production. Invest in glass!
Start up your calibrated gimbal and set it to chicken head / full-lock mode. Make sure your way of subtly correcting drift is operational.
Be it external or internal, set the proper interval and the number of photos you wish to capture on your intervalometer. For this example of a first gimbal hyperlapse, set it to 250 photos and a 1-second interval.
You have chosen the starting position? The framing, gimbal and camera are all set?
Shooting the gimbal hyperlapse
Time to press the start button on your intervalometer and start walking!
Take evenly spaced steps and listen to the shutter giving you a consistent rhythm. Your aim is to move continuously, almost gliding or hovering over the ground. While exhausting, your future self will be thankful for ensuring such smooth sailing in post-production.
Walk the straight path towards your subject and correct small drifting errors with the joystick of your gimbal.
Congratulations! Time to take a moment and rejoice. You now have the ingredients for a smooth gimbal hyperlapse that bends time and space!
Post-production of your gimbal hyperlapse
Hopefully, you are as eager as I usually am to see how the hyperlapse turned out, so post-production can begin.
Start by importing your footage into the computer. Then sort the hyperlapse photos into a dedicated folder for easier handling.
Your editing software needs to support two features: treating image sequences as video files and a way of stabilising shaky footage. Most modern programs will be up to the task. However, for its capability to import RAW photo sequences and the option to both automatically and manually stabilise shaky footage, I recommend Adobe After Effects. Some of the next steps will be specific to Adobe After Effects.
From photos to video
When importing a sequence of photos as a video file, open the import dialogue in Adobe After Effects. Navigate to the folder that contains your photos. Select the first photo and check the “image sequence” box before clicking on import. This will tell the software to treat the sequence as a video file. In the project window, right-click on your clip and select “interpret footage”. As your sequence does not have any data concerning the frame rate, you need to tell After Effects the proper frames per second. In my case, that is usually 25 fps (PAL).
RAW versus JPEG
As a well-versed photographer you are probably aware of the benefits of capturing photos in RAW. Those files interpreted as video can slow your editing software down to the speed of a slug. If that is the case, you might want to work with a sequence of photos compressed as JPEG. I highly recommend shooting in RAW and investing the extra time to grade the photos before exporting them to the compressed JPEG format. You can use specialised tools, such as Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw, to copy a single grade from one photo to the entire sequence. If your sequence flickers or you need to animate a grading parameter over the entirety of the sequence, use LRTimelapse. This is the most powerful tool for creatively working with RAW time lapse sequences.
Shooting a hyperlapse on a gimbal and still having to stabilise? Is something amiss? Although we created a better starting point by mounting the camera on a gimbal, in most cases even gimbal hyperlapses are shaky. Luckily, there are potent options in modern video editing software, such as Adobe’s warp stabiliser.
To use the warp stabiliser in After Effects, we need to first make a composition from our hyperlapse sequence. Drag the sequence on the composition icon and select the layer inside the composition window. You can create the composition manually in the resolution and aspect ratio of your desired delivery context, such as a 9:16 story for social media for example.
Pro tip: I recommend staying in the original resolution as long as possible for archival purposes and future projects.
In the effects window, choose the “warp stabiliser” effect and apply it to the hyperlapse layer. The default values should give you a good idea whether the effect works well or not on your clip. Then go grab something to drink or do some brief exercise – the analysis may take a while.
Gimbal hyperlapse quality check
Once the analysis is complete and after a short RAM preview, we can finally see the hyperlapse we have created. When checking the quality, you want to look at two main indicators:
- Is there excessive distortion, especially close to the edges of the frame?
- How far did the automatic warp stabiliser analysis crop into the video?
If both the crop and the visual result are good, you are ready to move on to the exporting stage.
Sometimes the basic stabilisation does not yield sufficiently smooth results or displays excessive distortion. In these cases, you can try tweaking the settings of the warp stabiliser. A good first target is the smoothing value. Excessive crop or distortion can often be alleviated by reducing the number from 50 to a low value of 3, for example.
The second option to tweak is the type of stabilisation being performed. You can choose and switch easily between “warp”, “position, scale, rotation” and only “position”.
Sometimes the distortion can be alleviated, but at the low smoothing value, the video is shaky again. In this case, make a subcomposition from the video layer and apply the warp stabiliser once more. This process can be repeated until the video is smooth. If the warp stabiliser fails entirely, you can use the manual tracker in After Effects to stabiliser the clip. As this is rarely the case with a gimbal hyperlapse, I recommend reading about this option in the handheld hyperlapse article.
Exporting your gimbal hyperlapse video
Success! I hope your hyperlapse has turned out great and you are now ready to export the final video.
Current delivery contexts
A plethora of aspect ratios is available for the budding hyperlapse creator. Landscape, portrait, Full HD, 4k, 8k… and the options are only increasing. However, by choosing to create a hyperlapse from high-resolution photos, you increased your own delivery options as well. As you left enough headroom around your subject, you can crop and export the video to most delivery contexts without loss of quality.
If you do not want to go to a specific aspect ratio and resolution just yet, I recommend you render an archival version of your hyperlapse for future use. A high-quality codec with a sufficient bitrate could be the Apple Prores codec with 422 colour subsampling on Mac OS or the equivalent Avid DnxHR codec on Windows.
Sit back and enjoy your hyperlapse, because you should be proud! Share the dramatic hyperlapse goodness you have created with the world and stay tuned for our next article.