They may look like they take hours of intense work to produce, but timelapses are a great visual effect that can be achieved with minimal effort. And the best ones can transform even the most mundane situations into visually interesting videos.
Our super talented friend Billy Woodward has been lending his skills to the Creative team here at Wistia, so Trevor and I set up some cameras to capture a timelapse of one of his incredibly intricate pumpkin carvings (‘tis the season, after all).
The good news is you can pull off the timelapse effect using just about any camera out there. Want to hear more about the cameras we used and how we set them up? Well read on, reader!
The iPhone timelapse
Is there anything the iPhone can't do? Well, aside from letting you plug in a pair of headphones… but that’s a blog post for a different day.
Of all of the cameras we used, we ended up being most impressed with the results from the iPhone 8. The timelapse feature in iOS doesn't give you much control, but it will leave you with a ready-to-share video as soon as you’ve finished recording. Here's the raw video of the timelapse we shot on the iPhone:
So what are some tips you should keep in mind when shooting a timelapse video with your iPhone?
If possible, plug the phone into power—a dead phone isn’t going to do you any favors.
Turn on Airplane Mode in case you receive a call or text while recording. The last thing you want is to be forced to start over because your ringtone got in the way.
Lock in the exposure and focus on the subject you're filming.
This may seem obvious, but don't start recording until everything’s in place and you’re ready to go.
Keep recording for a bit longer at the end of your shot to give you some breathing room at the end of the timelapse.
The DSLR timelapse
Even if we preferred using the iPhone 8, the DSLR is still the original timelapse camera. The basic principle here is to set up your camera to take a picture at a particular interval—every second, every minute, every hour… whatever you want! When you combine these images into a video, it will show time passing at a faster rate than with normal video.
Here's the timelapse we shot with our Canon 5D Mark IV:
Some DSLR cameras like the Canon 5D Mark IV or Panasonic GH5 have a built-in intervalometer for creating timelapses. But if your camera doesn't have this feature, you'll need to pick up a manual intervalometer to plug into your camera, like this one that works with the older 5D Mark III.
At the end of your DSLR timelapse, you'll be left with an enormous amount of still images that will need to be combined to make a video. To do this, you can use a variety of different software such as Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom, Premiere, or even the old standby, QuickTime Pro 7.
Some helpful DSLR timelapse hints to take note of before you begin:
Use manual focus.
Shut off the image review to save on battery power.
Turn off any image stabilizer on your lens.
Silence the shutter "beep" so you don’t have to put up with any annoying sounds.
To save space on your card, shoot photos as Medium or Large JPEG files, not RAW.
If you have studio lighting conditions, shoot in Full Manual Mode. But if you're shooting outside with varying lighting conditions, shoot in Exposure Priority Mode.
Bonus tip: You can also use a DSLR (or literally any other video camera) to create a timelapse. Just mount the camera on a tripod and hit "record." When you’re ready to edit, speed up the video footage to make the timelapse whatever length you want! Just keep in mind that this usually works best for shorter sequences under 20 minutes long.
The GoPro timelapse
Every GoPro has a timelapse function built into it. But the newer Hero4, Hero5, and Hero6 models can create timelapse movies without the need to stitch all the photos together, saving you time in the long run.
For our pumpkin carving video, we thought it'd look cool to mount our GoPro on Billy himself with the help of a chest mount. Great concept, right? Turns out this was a horrible, horrible idea.
Lesson learned! The chest mount wasn’t a good mounting option for a timelapse (although it actually would’ve made an awesome B-roll video shot). For our timelapse, we should have mounted it in a secure place to ensure the camera wouldn’t move.
Here are 4 other things to consider when using your GoPro in timelapse mode:
Take advantage of the GoPro's small size. Use your creative eye to spot different locations where you can mount your GoPro to pull off interesting angles.
Make sure your battery is fully charged, or plug into USB power if you can.
Photo Timelapse Mode gives you more flexibility to zoom in after the fact, but Video Timelapse Mode is easier and more straightforward.
Use Protune to dial in your settings for less variability in the image.
Bonus footage! Brewing up some pumpkin magic
Time to answer the question you’re probably wondering by now: How did Billy do it? Let's go behind the scenes to see what went into carving a pumpkin masterpiece that would make even Charlie Brown envious.