Learn how you can create beautiful and compelling motion time-lapse photography from your own drone.
There are many reasons to get into flying drones. The love of flying and controlling an untethered aircraft is surely exhilarating, and the novelty of being on the cutting edge of new technology is always fun. But like many, many others, the allure of exploring aerial photography and videography has been the thing that makes our eyes widen and our imagination soar.
We have all been dazzled by so many shots online or in films and TV of those sweeping landscapes or gorgeous bird’s-eye views of just about anything you can imagine. But what’s next? How else can you add exciting new twists to these shots to keep it interesting?
OK, you’ve seen time-lapse photography before. Clouds rolling and tumbling swiftly across a pale blue sky... headlamps on cars flickering as they skitter along busy staccato highways below.
Most times, you see these clips taken from a static, or unmoving, camera position. As cool as they are, now imagine how much more dynamic the scene would be if the eye could slowly fly forward over the same scene. The movement would still flash by in a time-bending show; however, you would be immersed even further with the added dimension of motion pulling you ahead into the scene.
This is hyperlapse.
Drone manufacturers such as DJI, Autel, and others realize that the same old aerial views can get boring, no matter how beautiful the subject. You can only look at so many sunsets or landscapes, or urban shots from 100 feet, before they start to look the same. The answer comes back to adding some creativity into the mix.
The thing is, flying in intricate patterns while controlling camera movements and settings can be a little daunting for those new to the game, or even with moderate experience. You have a lot going on at all times, so anything to make it a little easier to get a cool effect should be welcome, right?
Many drone models now offer "intelligent" flight modes, such as hyperlapse, to give you a result that looks like a seasoned pro took the shot. A few taps in your settings and the drone does the work for you. Depending on which drone you fly that has this feature, it will walk you through the rendering process in a few steps and there you go.
The built-in hyperlapse tools will absolutely do a good job for you, and they are also a great way to get a feel and understanding of how to set up shots and flight patterns, as well as a good sense of the whole thing in general. But when you are ready to take even more control you will need to apply a bit more effort—but the results will be the reward.
One of the first things to understand is that even though watching a hyperlapse clip appears to be a regular video, it is actually a well-timed and well-defined series of still photos edited together to give the effect. If you are familiar with different frame rates, you already understand that any video is composed of a series of stills anyway. Hyperlapse is different in many ways since the images are quite unique and timed at specific intervals.
There are a few guidelines to keep in mind when shooting your project.
First, decide on your flight path, whether it will be forward toward a subject in the distance (tall mountain or buildings in the distance, for example), tracking alongside a highway, or any other path. Try to limit your motion to one direction. The idea is to keep your flight consistently going in the same direction, focused on something in the distance. Avoid panning or tilting the camera between shots. You want things to line up perfectly back in your editing software, and too many transitions will make your final result shaky or jarring. Smooooooottttthhhhhhhh is the key here.
Second, think about how far you will need to fly and how may images you will need to take. This is where you will want to break out the calculator and do some math. There are some nice online calculators that do the work for you, but you should know how to do this calculation on your own.
A simple formula would be to multiply the total project time in seconds by the frame rate (such as 24fps or 30fps) to get the total number of images you will need. (For example, 60 seconds x 24fps = 1,440 images). Wow, that’s a lot of images huh? This is why getting the calculations right is so important. Now, to get those images, you want to determine the interval between snaps. Two seconds is a good rule of thumb, but you can modify this to suit your creativity. This means that you are taking 30 images per minute. So, doing the math, if your project run time is going to be 60 seconds—one minute—and you know you need 1,440 images, divide 1,440 by 30 and you will get the duration you will need to capture all the images for your project.
As you can see, this comes out to 48 minutes, which is beyond the flight time of most drones on a single battery. It is important to plan your flight accurately to cover all these bases, as you can see. Typically, a hyperlapse shot should be much shorter anyway. One full minute can get excruciatingly long and even boring to sit through, so this is a case of "less is more." Stable flight and quality editing trump a long, drawn-out shot every time.
And don’t forget about getting those shots perfectly timed. Most popular drone software allows you to set up timed interval shooting. If you look in your camera settings you will likely find options to shoot in intervals of two, five, 10, or more seconds. This takes a ton of work out of it for you so you can concentrate on flying. Of course, more advanced operators can also set up a waypoint mission or use something like tap-fly to further automate the flight to minimize course deviation. Experiment, experiment, experiment!