In this article we will teach you how to achieve this end result only using your camera and a tripod:
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 tripod 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!
Tripod hyperlapses stem from a time before in-camera stabilisation and motorised gimbals – back when taking sharp handheld photos in challenging lighting conditions was actually challenging. Are tripod hyperlapses still relevant in this day and age? The answer is a resounding yes!
By following our guide, you will not only learn how to plan, capture and post-process a tripod hyperlapse from start to finish, but you’ll also discover why the results set the tripod hyperlapse apart from the rest of the pack.
Hyperlapse adds dramatic camera movement to time lapse production techniques. The goal of this article is to give you a comprehensive guide to creating a tripod hyperlapse. Some basic time lapse terminology and post-production knowledge will therefore be helpful. If you are completely new to shooting and post-processing time lapses, check out our introductory articles.
For a tripod hyperlapse you basically take a photo, move the tripod to the next position and take another photo. You repeat this process until you reach your end position.
If the goal is to create a 10-second clip, you will have to shoot 250 photos (assuming a frame rate of 25 fps). Other frame rates work in the same way. Simply multiply the desired output frames per second by 10 to calculate the number of photos necessary for a 10-second clip. Easy. (Read all about it here: How to choose the perfect time-lapse interval)
Packing your camera bag
You will need to bring the following:
- Camera with a grid overlay function (if your camera doesn’t have this, bring a whiteboard marker or some opaque tape)
- Storage medium
- Full battery
- Neutral density (ND) filter (if you are shooting during the day)
Hardware and software for post-production
RAW photos are big and we’ll produce a lot of them. Therefore, you should reserve hard drive space accordingly. For example, a 10-second hyperlapse clip using Sony A7rIII RAW photos amounts to roughly 10 gigabytes of footage.
You will need to process the RAW photos to work with them in your video editor. This usually happens in software such as Adobe Lightroom. Any other software that enables you to batch-process and grade the photos works just as well.
After the processing you will open the sequence as a video to polish it. Automatic stabilisation suffices in many cases, but especially with tripod hyperlapses you might have to manually stabilise the clip. The software we recommend for manual as well as automatic stabilisation is Adobe After Effects.
LRTimelapse adds ramping and deflickering capabilities to Adobe Lightroom and is therefore a necessity for sunrise and sunset hyperlapses. The deflickering capabilities are often useful for fixed lighting situations as well.
Once you are prepared for the shoot, the next step is to decide on a perfect tripod hyperlapse subject.
Choosing the right subject for your tripod hyperlapse
There are a few factors to consider before you go out and shoot.
The first thing to be aware of is that you will not be able to move your tripod quickly from one position to the next. Therefore, all fast processes are better captured with a gimbal or handheld. A good starting point is an interval of at least 10 seconds between exposures. This will give you enough time to move the tripod and adjust the pan and tilt angle of the camera. A common mistake is to forget about the increasing duration of the exposures during sunset. Be aware of this limitation when deciding on a minimum interval for your subject. This will determine if it even makes sense to use a tripod for the subject.
Placing a tripod and adjusting the camera perspective might feel easy and fast to do if you only have to do it once. When you have to do it 250 times, otherwise unimportant factors, such as the height of the tripod, become very relevant. The same holds true for the distance you need to move your tripod.
When choosing a subject, you also need to think about what distance to cover with the movement of your hyperlapse. This is another case where tripod hyperlapses shine with flexibility. You can choose everything from metres to centimetres for the stride distance. For example, if you have two centimetres as the distance between photos, you can simply use the legs of the tripod as an indicator of how far you have moved the camera. This is a task that would be much more difficult when shooting handheld or on a gimbal. And this is especially true at long intervals.
This leads us into the next big topic: smooth movement.
Smooth movement in front of the camera
When something passes through your camera’s field of view quicker than your shooting interval and you capture it with a fast shutter speed, it will prominently show up in only one frame. If this thing covers most of your frame, it will introduce flicker to your hyperlapse. We do not like flicker!
Flicker and ND filters
Luckily, shooting on a tripod lets you shoot with longer shutter speeds. Motion blur is one remedy for the issue of flicker from fast particles or processes in front of the camera. There is no limit to how long you can expose from a sturdy tripod and I recommend you take advantage of this. A typical scenario one often encounters is when there are people or birds in front of scenic landmarks. If you want to show how the sun, clouds or shadows move in relation to this landmark, don’t let the busy people stop you.
Use a strong ND filter to create 250 proper motion blur trails, instead of 250 group photos.
Now that we know how to avoid unappealing movement in front of the camera, let’s look at how to ensure a smooth impression of our camera movement.
Smooth camera movement through space
With a gimbal, you have the option to move the camera even during the exposure (up to a certain shutter speed ~0.5 seconds). This motion blur at the edges of the frame cannot be achieved with a traditional tripod hyperlapse. A smooth moving hyperlapse depends on your iron will and focus during the capturing process (and digital stabilisation, of course).
You need to consistently align the grid and point for 250 photos. Choose a subject that offers a smooth walkway surface for the entire length of your chosen camera path. Bonus points if it also offers dividable patterns on the ground. An example would be smooth pavement with a tile pattern. You could, for example, take four photos per tile to keep a consistent stride – so convenient!
When you capture longer periods of time, such as a sunrise or sunset, think about whether the path will be obstructed when you reach a point close to the end of your path. Groups of tourists often seemingly conspire for this very reason. You won’t be able to wait for them to pass, as your interval needs to march on at a constant pace.
Pro tip: If you shoot at a tourist hotspot, arrive before or after the masses appear.
In conclusion, choose a subject with a suitable path leading to it. Try to capture longer processes such as slow clouds. When composing your image, allow for a crop of 10-20 percent for image stabilisation. Leave enough room around your subject!
A path worth treading
You now have everything in your bag and are ready for the last preparations to ensure a smooth shooting experience.
- Choose a point on your subject that you’ll want to keep in the same position in the frame. This is where the grid overlay of your camera will really help you. (Alternatively, a mark with a whiteboard pen or a piece of tape will do.)
- Determine the framing at the start and the end of your path. Walk the distance while counting the steps you have to take. If you need 125 steps or more for your 250-frame hyperlapse, steps are a good enough unit of measurement. If you only cover a short path, look at other recurring patterns you can divide on the ground. When the location does not offer any help in this respect, but you still want to only cover a short distance, use chalk to mark every camera position along the camera path. The calculation is always as follows: number of steps (tiles, etc.) divided by the number of photos. So, 250 steps divided by 250 photos equals 1 step per photo.
- Now you will have to determine the interval that showcases the process you want to depict best. This interval has to give you enough time to move and adjust your camera. A good starting point is 10 seconds between exposures with a stride distance of one step.
You have walked the path and crunched the numbers. Time to bring out the equipment!
Checking your hyperlapse gear
You will take 250 photos in a row without a chance to switch cards or batteries in between. Therefore, I advise you to be extra careful when preparing the gear to avoid mid-shoot frustration.
Checks in advance
- Ensure there’s enough camera storage space.
- Check the battery level.
- Mirrorless cameras are particularly susceptible to dust and hair spots on the sensor that will ruin your hyperlapse. Check the sensor beforehand.
- Clean your lens if necessary.
- For fixed lighting situations, the manual mode will work best. If you capture sunset or any other changing environment, aperture value mode with a fixed maximum exposure time is the way to go.
- The exposure value (EV) indicator and the histogram are helpful during a hyperlapse, as the brightness often changes during the shoot for several reasons.
- Activate the grid overlay or mark the middle of your screen with a whiteboard marker.
- Switch to the RAW file format (and never switch back).
- If your camera has limiting settings, turn them off. (Picture profiles in Sony Alpha line cameras!)
- Test mount your camera on your tripod and balance it.
Settings immediately before the first exposure
The following paragraphs apply if the lighting conditions stay the same over the duration of the shoot.
The focal length is a creative choice and therefore we want maximum flexibility. On zoom lenses, try to frame the shot at one of the two extreme positions of the focal range, so you don’t accidentally change it.
Telling what exactly is in focus can be difficult in bright daylight on a small camera screen. Open the aperture as wide as possible to make this task easier. Digitally zoom in as much as possible into the frame and focus on your chosen point on the subject. Keep the focus manual and ideally fixed throughout the shoot.
When you are satisfied with the focus, switch to an f-stop that offers the best sharpness on your lens. Typically, an f-stop between 5.6 and 11 creates the best results.
The goal when adjusting the exposure is to maintain information in both bright and dark areas. You can control how much light hits the sensor by adjusting one of the three values of the exposure triangle. While clipped highlights are often not recoverable, underexposed areas can be lifted quite a bit in post-processing.
The strength of a tripod is keeping the camera still. This allows for a lot of creative freedom when choosing your shutter speed. Shutter speed determines how the movement in front of the camera will appear. Smooth and cinematic movement follows the concept of a shutter angle of 180 degrees.
Neutral density filters
If you read carefully, you might have noticed that the recommended settings for aperture and shutter speed do not yet account for proper exposure. During daytime, your ISO will quickly hit the bottom limit. Therefore, it is of little help when trying to use an open aperture or a longer shutter speed.
Hence, we need a fourth option to control the amount of light: neutral density filters (a.k.a. sunglasses for your lens). Moreover, you will be able to follow the recommendations of this guide. A good ND filter collection for daytime tripod hyperlapses with a full-frame camera starts around an optical density of 1.8 (ND64).
With all of these preparations and considerations taken care of, there are only 250 exposures between your first exposure and the raw material for a truly magnificent hyperlapse.
Shooting the tripod hyperlapse
- Align your camera with the point on your subject and take your first picture.
- Wait for the exposure to finish and move the tripod to the next position.
- Adjust the camera tilt and pan to align the chosen point with the marking on your screen and repeat.
- Follow a straight path and stay focused.
- Do not touch the camera setup during exposures.
If you did not know how meditative hyperlapse creation with a camera and tripod can be, now you do. Congratulations, you have made it through a lengthy setup and capture process. Time to take a deep breath. You have created the raw footage for a camera move that plays most elegantly with time and space – chapeau!
Tripod hyperlapse post-production
Back from the shooting adventure it is time to look at the pieces and polish the hyperlapse.
Take the sequence you have captured and move the images to a separate folder. You might have to sift through your photos and look for the first and last usable frame of your hyperlapse. Renaming and handling the sequence from your editing software is a lot easier from a dedicated folder.
Now that the organisation is done, your video editing software will give you the first proper visual feedback of what you have created. If you did a thorough job during the capturing, most stabilisation software will work well enough. However, even under the most perfect circumstances, there will be inaccuracies in the framing. Depending on the degree of these inaccuracies, you might have to (semi-)manually stabilise the footage as well. A reliable tool is the motion tracker in Adobe After Effects.
From photos to hyperlapse video
Video editing can take a while, even on a fast computer. Hyperlapses, with their massive data rates and resolution, are even more difficult to work with. Enter image compression. My format of choice is .jpg. So, why not just shoot in .jpg instead of RAW? A wider dynamic range is usually worth preserving and the colour grade will be more dramatic.
The typical workflow to get from photos to video starts with photo editing software such as Adobe Lightroom. The goal is to batch grade all the images with the same settings and export them to .jpg. If you need to ramp individual lightroom/camera raw settings, now is the time to open LRTimelapse.
With the image sequence graded and ready for stabilisation, open After Effects. Open the import dialogue and click on the first image of your sequence. Choose the “image sequence” checkbox before clicking “open”.
Tip: This step might fail if your sequence is not named with sequential numbers.
A photo sequence does not have a predetermined frame rate. Therefore, you need to right-click on the video in the project panel and select “interpret footage”. There you can conform the clip to the frame rate of your choice. In our example, that is 25 fps.
Most surfaces where you will capture a hyperlapse are not perfectly level, even if they seem so at first glance. Luckily, there are powerful stabilisation tools at our disposal. The automatic “warp stabiliser” and the semi-automatic “stabilise motion tracker” are two such tools.
To utilise the warp stabiliser, start by creating a new composition from your clip. To maintain maximum flexibility and quality, stick with the original resolution for now. You can still reframe and crop to your desired aspect ratio and resolution at a later stage.
Inside the composition, drag the “warp stabiliser” effect on the clip and wait for it to finish analysing. This will take a while. Time for a little break!
Look at both the visual result and the necessary additional crop into the frame. If the crop or the distortion is too pronounced, try reducing the smoothness to a lower value such as 5 percent. You can also try switching between “subspace warp”, “position” and “position, scale, rotation” to reduce a possible warping problem.
Sometimes the result is just not smooth enough. In this case, you have two options: If the result is already somewhat okay, try to nest the composition and apply the warp stabiliser again to the new layer. If the hyperlapse is still very shaky or if the warp stabiliser failed entirely, you will want to look at the other stabilisation methods After Effects offers.
In the tracker window of After Effects, select stabilise motion with two points. Two points offer stabilisation for position, rotation and scale. While position and rotation are necessary for a traditional smooth motion impression, stabilising for scale will create a vertigo/dolly zoom effect – very dramatic! The tracked points need to be on the same distance plane and ideally on your subject. Good tracking points are rich in contrast and unique in their visual neighbourhood. The better your choice, the less manual adjusting you will have to do.
After the tracking is done, you can apply the resulting keyframes to the clip and watch the result. As this is more of a manual effect, you will have to adjust the scale of the entire layer to get rid of the black borders around the hyperlapse.
If you are still not satisfied with the result, try nesting the composition again and stabilising the result. The warp stabiliser will much more likely give you the perfect result this time around.
Exporting the hyperlapse video
You are almost done on your path to a wonderful tripod hyperlapse. All that is left to do is to export the stabilised clip.
Current delivery contexts
The raging battle between devices and aspect ratios creates a plethora of resolutions you might want to export to. Luckily, the high resolution and quality of a hyperlapse from still images allows you to crop to most aspect ratios and resolutions. The headroom you left around your subject during the shoot will prove invaluable now.
Recommended render settings
Going directly to the delivery format or creating an archival version of the hyperlapse is up to you. I recommend first exporting an archival version. An easy-to-edit codec such as Apple ProRes 422 or Avid DnxHR will work well.
Congratulations on making it through this guide and creating your first tripod hyperlapse! Enjoy the magnificent visual treat you have created.
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