What is a Hyper-lapse?

Hyper-lapse is one of those cool photography techniques which uses a combination of time-lapse and the concept of video shooting to produce some interesting clips. Hyper-lapse is time-lapse, but the difference is that in hyper-lapse the camera actually moves in between shots as compared to in time-lapse where the camera stays absolutely still the whole time.

Each frame captures any movement inside it and when they are all pulled together and played back in 24/25 frames per second it seems that the camera is gliding through a scene that is on hyper-drive.

Despite the many similarities between the two techniques, the approach for hyper-lapses and for time-lapses are slightly different. Any camera movement between frames will ruin a time-lapse sequence. However, the essence of hyper-lapse is all about moving your camera between each frame.

Set-up

To shoot a hyper-lapse you need the same basic set-up. A camera, a lens and a tripod are your basic tools. Next, you also need a remote trigger for making the exposures. The last tool isn’t an absolute must though.

During a hyper-lapse sequence the camera moves between each frames. That throws up some interesting challenges in itself. The first compositional aspect that you have to keep in mind is that you need to have a point of reference in the frame at all times. Though, the camera is moving, the viewer’s eyes are fixated on something in the frame. If that reference point continuously moves in and out of the frame or continuously changes position inside the frame it introduces visual jerk. Visual jerks are not nice, to say the least. It is a challenge to achieve that perfect smooth composition over the entire duration of the clip.

Special Equipment Like Robotic Dollies

These days robotic dollies and other devices are available that can move a camera in a controlled motion over a distance during the course of a shoot. All you need is to set the distance, the time over which this should be traversed and start the time-lapse sequence. The dolly uses a set of pulleys and motorized sliders to move the camera across rails. A product that immediately comes to my mind is the Syrp Genie. However, these can be prohibitively expensive to buy, with the entire kit running into several thousand dollars. The best way going forward is to be able to rent something out. But, if you don’t have that option, don’t fret. You can still be able to shoot using some clever improvisation.

Improvisation

Coming back to that discussion about the reference point (and this is relevant for tripod and monopod based shooting), the best way to keep your frames steady is by marking out an element in your frame and then keeping that element fairly at the same point in the frame throughout all the frames. The element can be anything really. It can be a tree, a light post, a tower or even an interesting motif on a building. As you move between each frame, that element must be positioned at the same spot as in the previous frames.

The next aspect to tackle is the actual movement part. The camera isn’t locked down to one position during a hyper-lapse. It moves. But that movement is (mostly) linear and measured and carefully regulated. It means the camera does not move in a zig-zag line. Further, the camera movement path is predetermined. The length of movement between each frame is also predetermined.

Hyper-lapse tutorial

On wooden rail by Dan Eckert

The camera dollies and other automated systems that I mentioned in the previous paragraph such as the Syrp Genie can be programmed so that they move the camera over a predetermined distance, as an intervalometer connected to the camera fires the exposures after a fixed interval of time.

When you don’t have an expensive camera dolly at your disposal that is when you have to be resourceful. One way to keep the camera on a straight line is to actually draw one. If you are shooting in the streets you can use the curb as a marker. Place two legs of the tripod on the straight line marking the curb. That way your camera position is always aligned. After each frame, move the tripod for a predetermined distance and make the next shot. Repeat the process till you have all the frames you need.

There are some infra-red distance markers that are very handy for precise movement of the camera / tripod between each frame. But if you don’t have that sort of fancy stuff you can use simple measuring tapes or use your feet as a distance marker.

Number of Shots that You Need

The number of shots that you need has to be calculated first up. This of course depends on two things. That is the number of frames for playback and the length of the hyper-lapse clip. I prefer the cinematic 24 frames per second. Let’s say that I need a 5-second clip. That means the total number of frames I need to shoot is 24 x 5 = 120.

Next is the distance that I need to cover between each shot. This of course depends on what is the total distance that I intend to travel over the course of the entire clip. There is no right or wrong in this. Smaller distances traveled between each shot results in the whole clip to be a lot smoother.

Divide the total distance you want to travel over the course of the clip by the number of the frames that you need. Let’s say that you intend to travel a distance of 20’ over the course of the clip. That’s 240”. That means you have to move the camera precisely 2” between each frame.

Converting the Individual Frames into a Hyper-lapse Sequence

The final step is to pull everything together, post-process them and create the final hyper-lapse clip. The basic post-processing steps are the same as in time-lapse. Even the conversion to a video clip are the same. One advice though, I strongly suggest using batch processing techniques so that you can speed up the whole process and get the video ready to upload in the shortest possible time.

Rajib Mukherjee

Rajib Mukherjee

Rajib’s love for the road is second only to his love for photography. Wanderlust at heart and a shutterbug who loves to document his travels via his lenses; his two passions compliment each other perfectly. He has been writing for over 6 years now, which unsurprisingly, revolve mostly around his two favourite pursuits.
Rajib Mukherjee