Have you ever watched one those cool time lapse videos and asked yourself “I wonder how they did that?” Me too. So I added “learn to time lapse” to my bucket list. Time lapse is one of those things that has become infinitely more approachable with the advent of apps and the smart phone. Making a time lapse used to involve complicated and expensive equipment (which you can definitely still use if you want to make super high quality videos), but now just about anyone can make a cool time lapse video with equipment they already have in their pocket. Here’s an easy guide on how to make time lapse videos with your smart phone.
What is time lapse?
Before jumping in, let’s explain what time lapse is. Many people incorrectly assume that time lapse is just shooting a video and then speeding it up. In actuality, time lapse is a series of still photos that are strung together and played back to create a moving sequence. What makes it interesting is that the rate at which the photos are played back is faster than the rate at which they were captured. This allows you to see movement that your eye wouldn’t normally pick up on. For example, you could take a picture of clouds every 10 seconds and then play those pictures back at 30 frames per second and you’d see the clouds rapidly changing and moving across the sky.
What equipment do you need?
For beginners, all you should need is your smart phone, a tripod and an app to help you sequence and render the photos. The app I use is Lapse It, which is available for both iPhone and Android. (Note: Some smart phones like the iPhone have a time lapse setting, but it doesn’t allow you to control any of the settings, so I prefer to use the app). If you already have a tripod, you’ll need an adapter that will hold your smart phone.
Step 1: Compose the photo
One of the key benefits of time lapse is movement, so when composing your shot, you want to look for things with some sort of movement (e.g. clouds, sunrise, tides, traffic, etc.). Your camera needs to be still while taking the photos, so find an interesting scene, set your camera up on the tripod and you’re ready to go. Note: Try to set up your camera where people won’t be walking in front of it (unless people are the subject of your time lapse).
Step 2: Adjust the settings
Once you’re camera is set up, you’ll need to set the frame rate. That is the number of seconds (or minutes) between each photo. Lapse It allows you to easily adjust the frame rate based on what you’re trying to capture. If something is moving relatively quickly, you can set your frame to capture a photo every few seconds. If it’s moving more slowly (sunrise for example), you can set your frame rate to capture a photo every 10-15 seconds.
Step 3: Take the photos
Once you’ve chosen your subject, set up your camera and adjusted the settings, just hit the “capture” button to start taking photos. At this point you can sit back and relax, because it can take a bit to get enough photos for the video. For example, if you plan on playing photos back at 30 frames per second and you want a 30 second video, then you need 900 photos. If you’re taking a picture of clouds every 10 seconds and you want to take 900 photos, then you need to take photos for 2.5 hours.
Step 4: Render the images
Once you’ve taken all the photos you need, just hit “stop” and Lapse It will automatically bring up the settings for rendering the final images. This is where you can choose the playback speed, add music or filters, trim the video, etc. Each time you adjust a setting, you can play back the sequence to see what your final video will look like. When you have it like you want it, just hit “render” and Lapse It will complete the project. Once it’s done you can save the video to your camera roll or share it to social media like Instagram or Facebook.
The final product
What does the final product look like? I was in Belize a few weeks ago and took a quick time lapse of the sunrise. I’ll put it below, but if you’re reading this post in your email, you may need to visit Intentional Retirement to actually watch the playback. I’m still learning the ropes myself, so this isn’t the best quality in the world, but you get the idea. Now you can give it a try yourself.