Hyperlapse is a technique in Time-lapse photography in which the position of the camera is changed between the shots.
Fortunately for drone photographers who like to experiment and time-lapse fans who’d like to use drones to expand their repertoire – it is now thanks to the advances in Drone and Camera Stabilization Technology possible to get great looking time-lapses even with consumer level drones. All you need is a bit of planning, experimenting, patience, creativity, and luck!
This Drone Hyperlapse was assembled from nearly 3000 photographs captured with a consumer drone-DJI Phantom 4, travelling on pre-programmed paths at very slow speeds for long periods of time, taking a still picture every 2-5 seconds.
Important Disclosure: Always research the laws governing the use of UAS in your particular country and area.
It is not advisable to fly through the fog to capture images of it above, the condensation may damage your equipment, fog up your lens, and flying out of visual line of sight may not be legal in your country. Instead, find a location to launch from that is already above the fog, which is how this shoot was executed-this ensures the compliance with regulations requiring maintaining visual line of sight with the UAS. When flying aircraft on pre-programmed paths, always retain visual line of sight and the ability to immediately take control of your drone should the need arise.
Planning & Preparation:
Planning for a successful time-lapse begins with choosing a suitable location and time for the best light.
Wind is your enemy. In general, anything over 5mph winds will make it difficult to stabilize the footage and end up with a smooth time lapse.
If you’re planning to fly with your friends, take turns in flying, or keep a good distance between the pilots-mutual interference may trigger return-to-home process and interrupt your time-lapse capture.
Get a high speed SD card for your drone to shorten the required write-times and the time lapse capture interval, and prevent your camera from freezing up while trying to “catch up”.
To create Drone Hyperlapses, you’ll need the ability to program your drone to follow a path at slow speeds, while keeping the camera pointed at a single point of interest. If you own a DJI drone, you may be able to use DJI GO app for some of this, I recommend using Litchi or similar app that your drone is compatible with.
This example was created with DJI Phantom 4 and Litchi app, which can be purchased from your app store. The advantage of Litchi is the ability to plan your missions ahead of time using their online Mission Hub.
Begin with simpler time lapses without any drastic exposure changes and drone sitting in one position, then add slow movement through the scene to create a hyperlapse and experiment your way up to the “Holy Grail” of time lapses – Sunrise or Sunset.
The total capture time is usually limited to the flight time (you can change the batteries to achieve longer capture time in some cases). The “traditional” time lapses captured over longer period of time and especially hyperlapses are created mostly using photographs, you can actually make your life a bit easier and capture video instead-both “photo” and “video” methods are suitable for different situations and expected results-while a fog time lapse can easily be done using both methods, long exposure night time lapses have to be done using photographs due to the nature of long exposure technique.
For this fog Time Lapse, I used the Litchi app to program a simple track between two waypoints, with the camera pointed at Point of Interest in distance. The tracks were about 1000 feet long, the POI was about 3000 feet away. Why POI? The POI allows you to create more complex shots. For example, if you choose a POI on a line perpendicular to the track, the camera will seemingly rotate around this point. If you set a POI parallel with the track and set the altitude of the second waypoint higher than the one of the first waypoint, the camera will travel forward in the shot while climbing and slowly tilting down.
Experiment with different speeds. In this video, I chose speeds from 0.2Mph (barely moving) to 1Mph (good pace for quicker moving shots) for this particular video. The app will tell you how long the intended mission takes at the speed you have chosen. Adjust these parameters so you the drone can travel the entire track on one battery. Litchi app will terminate the mission automatically when Return to Home command is triggered by the DJIGo app, and currently there is no way to cancel this, so keep your drone close and set your low battery warnings as low as you’re comfortable with.
If your exposure changes between throughout the track and duration of the time lapse, fly a manual “planning mission” first, and note the desired framing and proper exposure settings for the intended shoot. Try finding a “healthy middle” to keep the exposure consistent throughout your shot. Keeping the exposure set manually and the changes in exposure to minimum will save you a lot of grief during post processing. For sunset or sunrise time lapses (the Holy Grail), an exposure changes are nearly impossible to avoid. If you leave the exposure set to “auto”, the your time-lapse will likely flicker. Flickering can be removed by a using a de-flickering plugin or workflow during post editing.
On Phantom 4, assuming you have at least class 10 micro SD card, you should be seeing 2 second capture interval for JPEGs, 5 seconds for DNG (RAW). While RAW is desirable for more information available for post-processing, the larger file size simply takes longer to write, sometimes too long for a smooth results-if the drone or the objects in your scene are moving rapidly. JPEGs are compressed, so it’s very important to get the camera settings right, with the photos as close as possible to the “finished” look, as only minimal editing is possible without deterioration in image quality. If you’re fairly confident in your ability to set the camera, I’d recommend using JPEGS, you’ll simply get more images-longer time lapse per battery-even though the total capture time is the same, time lapses with more frames are more forgiving when being slowed down in the post.
Another option, as you will likely only have 15-20 minutes of time lapse material from each flight, is using a video. In this case, set up the highest quality possible-on the Phantom 4 I set it to 4K, 30FPS, Neutral Density Filter if needed for 180 degree shutter (shutter speed at roughly double your frame rate, so 1/60sec in this case). I also turn down the Saturation, Contrast, and Sharpness to -1 for “flatter” profile.
If you shot your time lapse as a video, simply import it into your video editing program. I use Final Cut Pro, but these steps can be replicated in other editing programs. Since the video is 15-20 minutes long, speed it up as needed to create a time lapse effect. You will need to stabilize the footage as the drone will move a bit in wind gusts or the gimbal may slightly roll. In FCP I turn os Smoothcam stabilization, and turn it up as high as I can without causing the video to show the effect of post-stabilization too much (bulging, unsettled horizon). If the clip still needs more stabilization, simply export this clip as a master file (with minimum compression), upload this master file back to Final Cut Pro, and apply stabilization again. Applying “Optical Flow” video quality setting in FCPX also helps to smooth the video out.
If the time lapse clip flickers due to changing exposures, you can mitigate the flicker by using a plugin called Flicker Free by Digital Anarchy. This $149 plugin does a great job reducing the time lapse video flicker. If $149 is a bit too steep, there are a few tutorials on de-flickering the footage “on the budget” on Youtube.
If you’re using Photographs, here is a couple of workflows that I successfully used:
Workflow 1: I like using program called LRTimelapse. This program is available for Both Mac and Windows,
“Private License” will set you back about $110, their “Professional License” lofty $275. Their website provides a great explanation of differences between these two, and they also have limited (but pretty generous) Free Trial Version, which is the way to go if you;re just getting started or only do an occasional time lapse. You also need Adobe Lightroom to enjoy the full functionality of this program, as it uses Lightroom editing and export plugins in the available workflows.
The workflows are fairly easy to master with available online tutorials. The program offers different workflows for working with JPEG or DNG photos, video, or long term time lapses, it also offers De-flickering and Keyframe editing features, multiple export formats and parameters, and much more. It is truly the “Swiss Army Knife” for Time Lapse Assembly. You can export your time lapse as a video file, import it into your editor, and use the video editing workflow as described in previous paragraph to finalize your time-lapse.
Workflow 2: If a Swiss Army Knife is not what you desire at this point, or you don’t use Lightroom, there is a great and easy to use program called Time Lapse Assembler. It is a Free Program (the author does seek donations from users via a link on his website), easy to learn, simple, but works really well. You can export your time lapse as a video file, and then follow the video time lapse workflow described above.
Final few Tips:
Time Lapse Photography can be tedious and a bit boring – quite a bit of patience and perseverance is required, but the results are worth it.
Practice your camera setting skills and experiment with different settings before you invest your time into making aerial time lapses. The process takes quite a bit of time, and it may lead to disappointing results if the camera is not set properly for your scene and light conditions.
Review the video each time you change the stabilization settings, preferably on a larger screen, and fine tune the settings for optimal results.
Using larger aircraft – for example DJI Inspire, makes it easier to create time-lapses even in light wind conditions. The 360 degree pan also helps keep the camera pointed at the Point of Interest with more precision.
Begin with simpler “stationary” time lapses, progress through hyperlapses, then graduate yourself to the “Holy Grail” – sunrise or sunset Time Lapses.
Have Fun, Be Great, Fly Safe!
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