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Time-lapse videos allow you to condense hours into seconds with stunning results, and with the arrival of iOS 8, your iPhone makes the process easier than ever. The feature is ideal for giving you a taste for the technique without having to process RAW photos, stitch frames, or render a final production.
Today we’ll be looking at getting the most out of the new feature, techniques for best results, and outsider help in the form of accessories and DIY hacks for the budding time-lapse smartphoneographer.
What Is Time-Lapse Video?
Time-lapse video is a photographic technique designed to show the passing of time by shooting regular still photos at set intervals, before stitching them together again and running them at a “standard” frame rate of 24 or 30 frames per second. This gives the illusion of real-time video that was really shot over a period of minutes, hours or even days.
In order to take high-quality time-lapse videos that you have real control over, you’ll need a modern digital SLR and some method of controlling the shooting interval, like a Raspberry Pi or laptop computer in the field. After planning the number of shots you need by taking into account your desired frame rate and length of video, you’ll then need to process your images en-masse, stitch them together, and render the final result.
This can be an incredibly rewarding experience, but it can be complicated, time-consuming, and expensive to pull off successfully. The iPhone’s new time-lapse feature vastly simplifies the process by removing the need to process, stitch, or render. Everything is handled by the device itself, so don’t expect anything quite like the National Geographic video above.
Instead you should be expecting results closer to the video above, shot over a period of 40 minutes. Apple uses something it calls “dynamically selected intervals” which takes the pain out of having to work out how long to shoot for by deciding for you. Essentially, the camera takes half as many frames per second each time the recording duration doubles. StudioNeat explains this in detail, with the following table as a reference:
Shooting Time-Lapse Video
You can find the option to start shooting time-lapse video in the iOS 8 Camera app. If you haven’t yet updated your device to iOS 8, here’s how along with a few reasons for doing so. Once you’re running the new software, launch the Camera and scroll to the “Time-Lapse” option.
There are a few things to remember when shooting time-lapse video, and they’re especially pertinent to first-time iPhone shooters.
Longer Video, Better Video
If you’ve tried the feature out quickly, it’s likely you weren’t too impressed with the results. Much of the time, the duration of your time-lapse is to blame – it’s just too short to depict a long enough passing of time. In many cases, a longer time-lapse video condenses more into a shorter period, making for a more interesting video that’s going to hold attentions for longer.
The above video was shot using iOS 8 over a 24-hour period – something that’s probably only feasible if you have an iPad or spare iPhone you won’t be using for the time.
If you’re going to be shooting a time-lapse video, your iPhone is going to be tied up for a period of minutes or hours. Enabling Airplane Mode (swipe up to reveal Control Centre, then hit the icon that looks like a plane) disables your device’s radio, so you won’t have any contact with the outside world until you’re finished.
While motion can be introduced carefully (the video above is full of it), most time-lapse sequences will benefit from a firm, stable, and static viewpoint — even if that is your dashboard. Don’t move your device around once you have started shooting your sequence as doing so will result in unsightly flickers and anomalies, ruining the smooth flow. For best results, use a tripod or gorillapod to maintain your composition throughout.
Tripod mounts allow you to attach your smartphone to any standard 1/4 inch mounting rod. You can also build DIY smartphone tripod mounts using paperclips or rubber bands, which work fine in a pinch.
There’s nothing to suggest your time-lapse video is going to be interesting on account of the technique used, so don’t forget that composition is just as important here as it is in still photography.
Remember to check your horizon is straight, though unfortunately you won’t be able use the iPhone’s grid-lines (enabled under Settings > Photos & Camera > Grid) to adhere to (and completely destroy) the rule of thirds.
Pick A Subject
Simply pointing your iPhone at a scene without much happening is bound to result in a boring time-lapse. For best results, pick your subject carefully — large static objects like trees, buildings, or natural landmarks provide a focal point around which you can capture motion. It doesn’t have to be a physical object either — a particular time of day, like rush hour traffic or the setting sun are also interesting subjects.
Lock Exposure & Focus
By tapping and holding on the viewfinder, you will lock focus and exposure for the duration of your sequence. This is useful if you’re trying to capture fading light or want to focus on a particular subject, as the camera will constantly re-adjust for conditions between shots.
The introduction of movement generally turns a time-lapse video into a hyper-lapse video, as Instagram recently embraced with their Hyperlapse app. In order to maintain the silky smooth outcome most photographers desire from their time-lapse photography, some complicated kits exist that DSLR enthusiasts can sink their teeth into.
One of the cheapest ways you can introduce movement into your timelapses is using a basic (flat) rotating egg timer (like IKEA’s Ordning timer) and some adhesive pads. You’ll most likely be limited to an hour’s footage, but with your iPhone mounted on the top, you’ll be able to capture smooth, panning video. If you like the sound of this and can’t be bothered to make it, Photojojo has a mobile version of the Camalapse ($40) available for purchase.
For true “movement” that isn’t simply just a panning motion, rail-mounted systems and dollies are frequently used by professionals to get perfectly smooth video. These rail systems depend on motors capable of maintaining a slow speed for a set amount of time, and while mobile-friendly equivalents like the MobiSlyder do exist, they’re not motorised and that means they’re not up for the job.
You’ll probably want to stick with Instagram’s Hyperlapse (which features some impressive footage stabilisation) for hyper-lapse videos for now.
More Powerful Time-Lapse Apps
iOS 8’s time-lapse feature is simple and very easy to use. That means it’s not as empowering as it could be to the smartphone photographer out there looking for more control. It is better than most basic time-lapse apps out there, though, taking care of settings for you and emphasising the iPhone’s “point and shoot” nature.
The two most powerful time-lapse apps beyond Apple’s offering are Lapse It Pro ($2.99, free trial) and Frameographer ($4.99). Both of these apps provide additional control over interval, frame rate, the ability to add background music, and a host of other improvements. If you’ve tried iOS 8’s time-lapse and simply want more, either of these apps can be used with the techniques you’ve already learned for even better results.
Have you taken any time-lapse videos with your iPhone since updating to iOS 8?