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Time-lapse videos are always stunning. It doesn’t matter if it’s a recording of something amazing or utterly mundane. Watching the staccato motion and seeing several hours compressed into a few seconds or minutes… it’s a bit like time travel, isn’t it?
Making a time-lapse video usually takes a lot time. You need to have a suitable camera, enough storage for the photos, a reliable stand or tripod, and good weather conditions if you’re outside. Time-lapse videos can take a while to get right, and this might require several attempts.
Want to make a time-lapse video but don’t have the patience or hardware? Fortunately, there are several tools you can use to do the job.
Post Production Time-Lapse vs. True Time-Lapse
You basically have two choices when it comes to recording a time-lapse video.
- Spend time preparing and record a time-lapse video as the events happen.
- Convert a standard video into a time-lapse movie.
But are there any differences in quality? It depends on what you’re using as a camera. If you’ve employed a dedicated time-lapse camera (or one with a time-lapse mode), then as long as it is stable, and the subject well-lit, the results should be good. Just make sure the delay between snaps is right for the subject!
Meanwhile, mobile devices used for recording time-lapse (or even recording the footage to convert to time-lapse) might yield slightly inferior results. This might be due to a slightly unstable tripod or simply the device’s weight. Meanwhile, issues with auto-focus can affect the quality of the video.
If your only choice is to convert the video you’ve recorded into a time-lapse, you have two main options: desktop and mobile.
Not Just Time-Lapse: Hyperlapse Too!
It isn’t just time-lapse videos that you can produce in this manner. Hyperlapse, a similar technique that features small camera movements, is another option.
It stands to reason: if you’re converting video that features camera motion to begin with, the results are going to be closer to hyperlapse than time-lapse. In short, you have two output options, both of which will deliver striking results.
Just make sure that any video you have earmarked as a hyperlapse doesn’t feature too much camera movement. Any motion should be extremely slow, and smooth enough to be perceptible in the finished video.
Hyperlapse is gaining in popularity, and there are more and more ways to create videos using this visual technique. You can even create a hyperlapse on Google Street View!
Convert Video to Time-Lapse on Your Desktop
Many desktop video editing suites have built-in tools that make converting a standard clip into a time-lapse movie very simple.
As such, the method will differ slightly depending on which suite you’re using. For instance, if you’re using Adobe Premiere CC, this video will show you how:
If you’re looking for free software to create time-lapse videos, there’s no better option than VLC.
Begin by launching the VLC Media Player (if you don’t already have this versatile media player on your computer, you should). If you’re running Windows 10, make sure you launch VLC Media Player with elevated privileges. Simply right-click the app icon and select Run as administrator.
Next, open Tools > Preferences, and at the bottom of the screen, find the Show Settings radio buttons. Select All (#1 in the image below), then in the new view that appears, look for Video.
Expand the list and click Filters (#2). Here, put a check in the Scene Filter (#3) box in the right-hand pane.
Move to the left-hand pane, and find Scene Filter in the expanded Video list. Select this, then paste the destination (perhaps a new folder) path into the Directory path prefix field. Look for the Recording ratio box next, and input the value you want. For instance, to export one in every ten frames, input 10.
At 30 or more frames per second in your original video, 10 is a good place to start and won’t fill up the output directory. Too many and the time-lapse video will look to smooth. Too few and it will seem quite jerky. You might need to experiment here to get the best results.
To finish, click Save. Then go to Media > Open File and browse for the video you wish to convert. Select, and watch it through from beginning to end, without skipping, so that the frames can be extracted.
Wait until the video has finished playing, then return to Tools > Preferences and find the Video > Filters view. Clear the check box to disable subsequent frame extraction every time you play a video in VLC!
Make a Time-Lapse: Combine the Frames
You should now have a directory full of frames from the video you selected. You’re halfway to converting the video into a time-lapse — all you need now is to stitch the frames together.
This can be easily done in VLC Media Player using the Convert/Save function. Open the Media menu and find Convert/Save. In the File tab, click Add… then browse to the location where the video frames were output. Press Ctrl + A to select all the files, then Open.
The next stage is to click the arrow beside the Convert/Save button, and choose Convert. The correct profile should auto-detect, but you can change this if necessary. In the Destination file field, click Browse to find a location to save the compiled time-lapse movie to, and give it a name.
Click Start when you’re done. A few moments later, you’ll see a compiled time-lapse movie, based on images you’ve extracted from the video file! You’ll be able to view it in any video player, and share it online via YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Turn a Mobile Video Into a Time-Lapse Movie
So many time-lapse apps are available for iOS and Android. But what if you want a time-lapse movie from some footage you’ve already recorded with a standard video camera mode? The answer, of course, is a dedicated app, designed to convert the footage to time-lapse.
Probably the best mobile hyperlapse app, Microsoft Hyperlapse Mobile is available on Android. Capable of recording time-lapse and converting existing videos, this free app can be installed via Google Play.
Upon launch, you’ll see two options in this landscape-only app. Choose Import existing video and browse for the video you wish to use.
In the next screen, you’ll a preview of the video, with several options. Tap the menu in the top-right corner to view the settings, where you’ll have the choice to Export videos at 1080p and Export to SD storage. These options are both disabled by default.
At the top of the screen, you’ll see information about the duration and speed of the video. At the bottom, meanwhile, look for the handles. These can be dragged to trim the length of the video down. As you drag these handles, the duration of the video will be reduced.
When you’re happy, click the check button, and wait while the video is imported. This may take a while depending on the length of the video. Once it’s ready, it might look a little bit like this:
A version of Microsoft Hyperlapse Mobile is also available for Windows 10 Mobile and Windows Phone 8.1.
iOS and macOS
If you don’t have Adobe Premier, it’s possible to create a time-lapse movie from a standard video clip using this method.
In short, it requires you to select frames from the video, exporting them, and compiling the images into a brand-new video clip. It’s a bit messy, to be honest, but the results are as good as you might expect.
Making a Time-Lapse Without the Setup Is Easy!
It might be the lazy alternative to a genuine time-lapse, but if you want something as an afterthought, employing one of these methods is the answer. You could always head back to the location and shoot the same scenes with an app or dedicated camera (or, perhaps, a Raspberry Pi), but converting the video into a time-lapse is quicker.
And with the tools we mentioned above (including the venerable VLC, which is completely free), you can do it in just a few minutes!
Have you tried making a time-lapse movie by converting existing footage? Did you use a desktop video editor or a mobile app? Perhaps you found a tool we haven’t covered? Tell us about it in the comments.