iPhone Time Lapse Video Basics
A time lapse video is essentially a compilation of hundreds of still photographs displayed chronologically at many frames per second. The result is a video clip that seems to have been fast-forwarded. Time lapse videos are an effective way show slow movement and changes over time in a given scene.
With a wide selection of apps available for iOS, the iPhone is an incredibly capable device for making time lapse videos. And within its technical limitations, the mobile device can create compelling images and videos that are sometimes impossible to make even with a traditional camera setup. And most importantly, everything from shooting, processing, to sharing can be quickly done right on the phone.
Creating a time lapse video on the iPhone is a fun and rewarding experience. Below is an outline of several key points that may help you get started on your very own time lapse video project.
iPhone (iPhone 4 or later recommended)
Choosing an appropriate vantage point is crucial to a successful time lapse video. And the decision should revolve around the subject and the composition. Often the subject of a time lapse video is movement itself - movement of people, animals, cars, clouds, water, light, etc. Pick a subject that changes, moves slowly over time - or presents intermittent, sporadic, unpredictable movements for interesting results.
The composition is also extremely important. I find a time lapse video to be most powerful when there are at least two different types of movement in a given scene. For example - moving traffic in the foreground placed against clouds in the background can generate a strong sense of contrast in motion.
So try to seek out vantage points that best incorporate these elements. Some places to consider include aerial view of traffic, sweeping landscape with lots of clouds, or a open space where people gather. As a rule of thumb, each frame of a time lapse video should also be as good as a still photograph.
There are many time lapse apps available (both free and paid) in the App Store. I personally prefer TimeLapse for its user interface and control settings. Another popular app to use is Lapse It. Most time lapse apps do similar things - the difference is usually in control settings or output resolution.
When shooting a time lapse video, pay attention to the following:
- Secure the iPhone (on a small tripod or solid object) to eliminate camera shake.
- Turn off iPhone’s auto-lock feature.
- Make sure the iPhone has enough battery power.
- If possible, from your time lapse app lock the exposure once it’s set before shooting, to prevent the camera from constantly re-adjusting exposure. This will get rid of a distracting effect called “flickering”.
The shoot duration, final length, and shutter speed all contribute to how the final video will look. If your time lapse app allows you to modify these parameters, it’s best to try out different settings in various situations. The settings greatly depend on your subject and what you’re trying to accomplish. For a final video length of 15 seconds, I typically use the following shoot settings for duration:
- 5~10 minutes for city traffic
- 10~15 minutes for pedestrian
- 15~20 minutes for clouds
- 20 minutes or longer for sunrise/sunset
Of course, as mentioned earlier, these are not strict rules for this is a dynamic and creative process. It takes patience and practice to get it just right. And some apps let you adjust shutter speed as well. In general you can leave shutter speed on “auto”.
I do the majority of my editing and post processing with an app called Videon. This app allows me to straighten and sharpen my videos, as well as make adjustment to important parameters such as exposure, contrast, temperature, and saturation. Some of these editing features are also included in many time lapse apps.
My editing usually begins with straightening my video, followed by slight sharpening and brightening underexposed shadowy areas. After these adjustments, I trim the video to 15 seconds before exporting it to camera roll. I then use another app called Lumify to pair my video with appropriate background music. And frequently I put on an Instagram video filter before I share.
Lastly, don’t be discouraged if your first time lapse videos don’t work out. As many factors contribute to a successful time lapse video, it’s best to keep experimenting with different settings under different conditions. And to see my time lapse videos, check out the hashtag #lapsetagram on Instagram!
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