DOLLY ZOOM TUTORIAL FOR TIMELAPSE AND HYPERLAPSE

For anyone who has ever seen those shots where it looks like the subject of the scene stays the same size but the background recedes away, this video is a quick tutorial that explains how to achieve the shot in camera.

The video above is more detailed but here is the summary.

 

First you’ll want to know how to do a hyperlapse or at least the idea behind them. If you aren’t familiar with the technique it’s basically using a tripod as a dolly without a track. You take a photo, move the camera forward a little, take another photo and repeat the process many times, then stabilize your footage with a program like Adobe After Effects. If you need a more detailed description you can check out this article on DPreview.

Hyperlapse 01

When I get to an area that I think will make for a good dolly zoom I’ll raise my camera to eye level since I’ll be picking up and moving the tripod about one hundred times. I also will almost always use an ultra-wide zoom lens since this will really emphasize the effect. In this case I used a Panasonic 7-14mm lens which on a full frame sensor would be a 14-28mm.

Next I’ll take three sample photos of the scene. I start back pretty far from the subject of my scene and zoom all the way in on the lens. I then walk forward quite a bit zoom out about half way take another photo and finally walk forward again and zoom out all the way.

These are from the final video. When doing my test shots I had initially started to close to the building on the right and would have ended up cropping most of the top of the building off. Doing test shots is very important.

Hyperlapse 02

Once happy with the test shots, the rest of the technique is pretty much the same as doing a regular hyperlapse while moving towards your subject. The only difference is that you will be zooming out almost unperceivable between each photo. This can be done by twisting the zoom with your hands but I’ve found that using a follow focus as a zoom controller makes this process easier since the zoom increments are so small.

Hyperlapse 03

 

The follow focus I used as a zoom controller is the CAMTREE Solid Gear Follow Focus. While it doesn’t offer the focus stops the higher end products have, it is much more affordable and works well for the vast majority of shooting.

Other than zooming out I put my camera in autofocus for this type of a move since most lenses not designed for video aren’t parfocal and won’t hold focus when zooming.

Once you’ve run out of your zoom range you can either stop your hyperlapse or continue on as you would for a regular hyperlapse. I recommend making sure you have at least 100 photos before quitting the process though. With 100 photos the resulting video clip will be just a little over four seconds in length if playing back at 24 frames per second. To get an idea about the time you should expect to commit to this, the video in the tutorial ended up lasting about five and a half seconds and from my first shot to the last took 35 minutes not including test shots.

 

GEAR LIST:

SOFTWARE LIST:

  • LRTimelapse – For smoothing out exposure jumps as the sun went down
  • Adobe Bridge CS6 – For selecting photos when there was an exposure bump
  • Adobe Camera Raw CS6 – For giving the photos a look and matching exposure bumps
  • Adobe After Effects CS6 – Makes photos into a video file and smooths out shaky video.

Intermediate Timelapse

Wireless Intervalometer

Wireless Intervalometer

Starting Out

In this tutotrial I’ll share my preferred way of capturing timelapses.  I’m going to stay away from “day to night” or “night to day” techniques(also called the holy grail) since these are fairly advanced and can be overwhelming when starting out.  We won’t be shooting any video, instead we will capture the scene with photographs.  The only extra piece of gear we’ll need is an intervalometer.  These can be found in camera shops and online.  I don’t have a preference for which brand is best, the main thing you need to double check is that the intervalometer comes with the correct camera control cable.  This is the cable that will connect with the intervalometer and tell your camera when to take a photo(if possible have two cables on hand, cables will mess up at the worst time).  On the software side of things this does require more specific and expensive items but I’ll cover that part after the scene has been shot.

 

Inserting camera control cable into camera

Inserting camera control cable into camera

 

Starting out, make sure the camera is on a tripod with the pan and tilt locked so the footage doesn’t shake, wobble, or drift.  The first decision to make is whether to shoot .jpg or raw.  I always shoot in raw if at all possible.  Raw gives much more room to really manipulate the colors and brightness in post than .jpegs do, however raw images use up way more card space than .jpgs.  When you see just how much better raw images look the advantages to raw make the larger file sizes a non issue.

 

Once you’ve figured out the composition for the shot and you’ve gone with either raw or .jpeg the next step will be set up the intervalometer with the number of shots to take and how many seconds to wait between taking the next photo.  If there are fast moving clouds I’ve found shooting once every five to seven seconds works out pretty well.  If there are no clouds around and you want to show shadows moving across the ground one photo a minute works out alright except for sunrise and sunset.  Be prepared to stay in a spot for at least two hours if recording shadows moving.  Staying in a spot for this length of time is necessary because you would only capture 120 photos and if editing at 24 frames per second(the same number of frames per second most movies are shown) you will have a timelapse of five seconds.  Recording moving shadows is somewhat risky because if clouds do show up and block the sun the shot is pretty much ruined and a significant amount of time has been wasted.

 

Intervalometer attached to camera

Intervalometer attached to camera

After setting the intervalometer up we move on to picking our exposure.  I always choose to shoot in manual exposure mode if I will be around the camera.  Manual exposure is prefered over aperture or shutter priority because cameras can be easily fooled into making a scene too bright or dark if a cloud passes in front of the sun.  Most of the time setting the manual exposure to negative one EV(exposure value) works out pretty well but you really need to make sure nothing in the scene is overexposed to the point of pure white, or only have a very small portion of the scene pure white like just a small percentage of clouds.  If nothing is blown out in scene you will want the camera shooting as close to blowing stuff out as possible to try and keep noise out of the shadows.  Everything should now be ready to go, double check focus and then have the intervalometer start controlling the camera.

 

Looking through the electronic view finder.  Negative one EV

Looking through the electronic view finder. Negative one EV

After the desired number of photos have been taken the post production process starts.  A good length of time I’ve found for each clip in a timelapse montage is five seconds, so try to capture at least 120 photos if editing at 24 or 23.976 frames per second.  The advice for five second clips is for a pretty fast edit, if your video will have a slower pace plan accordingly and take more photos.

Some cameras make new folders if there are over a certain number of photos taken and your timelapse will be spanned over these folders.  All the photos will need to be in one folder on your hard drive before going any further.  For editing I use Adobe Production Premium CS6.  Out of all the programs in the suite I’ll use After Effects for this tutorial, but for “holly grail” timelapses more programs are required.

 

Start out by opening After Effects.  With the program open, Click on “File” >” Import” > “File…”

Select the first photo of the timelapse, then click on the “Force Alphabetical Order” check box, finally click “Open”

A window with your photo should open like this.

 

Importing a sequence into After Effects

Importing a sequence into After Effects

If you shot in raw making sure to barely blow your highlights out or get close to blowing them out the photo will probably look underexposed.  This was to be expected since the sky is usually brighter than the ground.  Check out the sliders to the right of the photo.  Bring the slider that says “Highlights” to the left and the slider that shows “Shadows” to the right.  Play around with the rest of the sliders and see just how much power there is to manipulate the look of the image.  In the photo below is my final color correction to the image…it’s a really big difference compared with what I started with.  If I can avoid fixing things in post I’m usually for it, but when shooting landscapes there’s rarely a good way around fixing it in post.

 

Abandoned House in the west end of Louisville Kentucky.  No color correction.

Abandoned House in the west end of Louisville Kentucky. No color correction.

Once happy with the color correction click on “OK” in the lower right of the “Camera Raw” window.

 

Abandoned House in the west end of Louisville Kentucky. After color correction.

Abandoned House in the west end of Louisville Kentucky. After color correction.

This next step is difficult to explain through words so I’ve included a picture going through the steps.  Note that this is going for a “film” look at 23.976 frames per second.  If you are looking for a more video look this can be changed to 29.97 frames per second in NTSC countries or 25fps in Pal areas.  If you’ve never really noticed the difference in the ways movies look compared to a soap opera try both the 23.976 version then the 29.97 version.  The results are pretty cool.

 

interpreting footage in After Effects

interpreting footage in After Effects

Now that the footage is at the desired frame rate click anywhere on the timeline.  This tells After Effects that we want to work with what’s on the timeline.  To export the sequence so that we can view it in real time click on.  “Composition” > “Add to Render Queue”.

 

Setting up After Effects for an Export.

Setting up After Effects for an Export.

Now we set up our settings for the export.  The settings I’m about to go through aren’t what I usually use in my timelapses, but they are good to quickly see how your timelapse will turn out while keeping the render at HD resolution and also a fairly small file size.

 

Exporting footage in After Effects

Exporting footage in After Effects

It’s not uncommon to have a render take 20 or more minutes for a 10 second clip even on a high end computer.  When the render finally finishes, find out where your timelapse was saved to and watch it in your preferred media player.

 

The steps I’ve gone through are just the basics for what goes into most every timelapse shot with raw.  It’s somewhat involved but I’ve found that this method generally provides better results than shooting video and speeding it up later.  After working with timelapses for over a year I don’t think it’s easier to shoot or process the images.  Both take a while to master and are repetitive and tedious tasks.  On more advanced timelapses it’s easy to spend more time processing a timelapse than shooting one.  I find processing of the images to be more enjoyable than shooting most of the time.  When shooting in real time you kind of have an idea of how things will look but it’s not until you reach the post side where you see if you created something cool or not.  It’s kind of like Christmas morning, you’re excited to see what you’ve got.

How to: Basic Timelapse

GH2 in video mode

GH2 in video mode

There are two fundamental ways to make a timelapse, one is by shooting video and the other is by taking a series of photos.  I think the easiest way is the video method.  To do this you’ll need a few pieces of gear and software, but before going any further this is the end product from the tutorial.

For this tutorial I’ll record with a Panasonic GH2 and mount the camera to a window sill with a magic arm.
If possible set the camera’s exposure to manual so your video doesn’t get really dark or bright from when clouds cover the sun or reveal the sun.  If you are in auto exposure mode the image would probably become very dark when the camera sees the sun since the camera is trying to compensate for this really bright light source and ends up underexposing what is actually important in the image.
That’s pretty much it for the part of capturing the image, just make sure the camera is well supported and then ensure that nothing will bother it.
The amount of time you’ll record will vary depending on what your subject is.  In the example I set the camera up as soon as I got home from work and just let it go until it got dark which was about 3 hours and 34 minutes.

Once you’ve stopped recording, the process of turning regular video into a timelapse starts,  This part is really easy but may tie up your computer for a while.  Open your editing program of choice for this one I used Adobe Premiere(there are also free video editing programs online) put your video on the timeline right click the clip go to speed duration and you can either increase the speed by a percentage or set the duration of the entire clip to a what you think feels right.  In this clip I set it to about 40 seconds.  With this speed you can still see the storm progress but no be so long that hopefully viewers won’t immediately click on to another video.  Nothing really exciting happens and if the clip lasted 2 or 3 minutes I doubt anyone, myself included would stick around for it.  Alright so when a speed for for the clip has been entered select a small portion of the timeline and render it out to see if the movement is too fast or slow and change your speed as necessary.  Once happy with the desired effect export the video to your codec of choice.  For this since the GH2 records to an h.264 type codec I rendered out an h.264 type file since I didn’t see any point in exporting a less compressed format that would use way more hard drive space.

Conclusion

There are some disadvantages and advantages to shooting video for a timelapse instead of taking a bunch of still photos.  On the plus side if something really interesting does happen you can play back the footage in real time.  Before the storm happened tornadoes were predicted to accompany it.  I shot at 60 frames per second so in case a tornado did form and I was lucky/unlucky enough to catch it I could slow it down and have some tornado footage if the camera wasn’t sucked up with it.  Another advantage to this is that you don’t need any specialized gear like an intervalometer to take photos at specific intervals and this is probably the most forgiving type of timelapse for anyone starting out.  It’s forgiving because you don’t have to guess what is a good interval to shoot at and potential have a timelapse where things look like they are moving way to fast such as can happen when shooting photos with too much time between shots.  With video if you speed it up too much just choose a slower speed and keep tweaking it till it looks the way you envision.

Generally I think the advantages of the recording video method don’t make up for the disadvantages.  The first disadvantage is that you are limited in resolution for what you are capturing.  I shot this with a resolution of 1280 x 720 which comes out to be 0.92 megapixels.  If I had shot this as a series of photos I could have had a finished piece that had a resolution of 13.9 megapixels.  I do admit that there are some cinema or high end video cameras like the RED Epic that can record at these resolutions but they are expensive and also use a lot of storage space.  Another disadvantage is that on most consumer cameras you don’t have the ability to shoot raw, so while you can do a little bit of color correcting to the image you will always be significantly limited in how much you can tweak the colors and brightness or the final video.  The third disadvantage is that this usually uses more hard drive space than if you would use still photos.