How To Do A Time-Lapse Video
Whether or not you're familiar with the term, we're sure you've seen a time-lapse video before. Filmmakers have been making them ever since the invention of photography. You know the drill: everything in the footage looks normal except time magically speeds up and all of the action moves at ten times the normal speed. Maybe it's a sun rising and setting in the span of a few seconds. Or a flower blooming in fast-forward. Or an afternoon's worth of traffic stopping and going at a busy city intersection. Local news channels shoot time-lapses all the to time to show an entire day's weather in a 20-second clip.
You guys do watch local news, right? Anyway, the point is, shooting a time-lapse video is an easy way to make a very cool looking video. Granted, there are a few important techniques to consider, which we'll cover here. But for the most part, all you have to do is set up the shot and let real life happen in front of your camera lens. We shot a time-lapse video of an open-air market coming to life in Guatemala (LINK), and not only did it make for a great storytelling piece, but it also gave us an excuse to just sit back and really study the constantly-changing scene we were filming.
Here you'll find two of the most common methods for making a time-lapse video that can be pulled off with just about any type of digital video camera. We've also included a short checklist of things to remember before you start filming.
Time-Lapse Technique #1 - "Interval Recording"
It doesn't get much easier than this. Whether you're using a $400 handheld you picked up at Best Buy or a $10,000 professional camera you saved up 5 years to get, chances are it has a feature in its menu called "interval recording." In a nutshell, "interval recording" lets you tell the camera to go on autopilot for however long you tell it to (battery and memory permitting, of course), and record at whatever intervals you tell it to. This is exactly what those security cameras at convenience stores do: shoot a few seconds of motion every 30 seconds to give an overall impression of the foot traffic in the store.
Again, all you have to do is scroll around your camera's menu, and find the "interval recording" selection. Then, just choose how long an interval you want between shots and how long you want the shots to record for.
If you're trying to capture something that doesn't have a lot of fast-moving action and takes a long time to occur (i.e. clouds moving over a desert sky), you'll want to program the interval for a longer setting (say, a minute in between takes), and the recording time for as short as possible.
If you're trying to film a fast-moving event with a lot of movement (i.e. a construction site), you'll want to choose a shorter interval setting (say, 15-to-30 seconds between takes), and a longer recording time.
And that's it!
Time-Lapse Technique #2: Fix It In Post!
We just like saying "fix it in post" because it makes us feel like big time Hollywood execs talking about "post-production." All it means is that you set up your camera to capture whatever it is you want to make a time-lapse of, press record, and then shoot for however long you want (or until your memory and/or battery runs out); then, after you import the video into your editing program, that's when you create the time-lapse effect.
So, say you just filmed an hour's worth of a waves crashing on a deserted beach in Tahiti. All you have to do now is drop the footage into your editing timeline, highlight it, and find the menu option that says "duration," "speed," or whatever it is your software calls it. Before you apply the effect, you should be given the option to set the playback speed. So, say you want to shorten your hour's worth of video to 5 minutes, you would just increase the playback speed by 5000-percent or so.
And that's it. It may take a little time for your editing software to render the clip based on the processing speed of your computer. But after it gets done working its magic, you should have a brand new time-lapse video. Now just play it back and see if it works OK.
With all that said, here's a quick checklist of things to consider before you set up your time-lapse shot:
- Time check. How long is the subject or event your filming expected to last? How long do you want your final movie to be? And how much time do you have to commit to filming? Figuring these things out before hand could help make or break your shot.
- Make sure you have something to mount your camera on! Preferably a tripod. You don't want to stand around for hours on end holding your camera. It'll only make for one very shaky and crappy time-lapse video.
- Know thy battery. Is it fully charged? Does it have what it takes to get the job done?
- Remember your memory. Does your memory card have enough space to hold all of the footage you'll be recording?
- Hurry up and wait. Unless you're all alone on a mountaintop, you'll probably want to keep a close eye on your camera while it records. And by that, we mean, you'll probably be sitting around for a while. So, get comfortable!