GoPro time lapses are an awesome way to capture footage over a long period of time and then compress the footage to play back over a shorter period of time. The end result is that time appears to be moving faster which makes for a cool effect as part of a bigger edit or even as a standalone video.
Time lapse mode is one of the most popular GoPro modes (along with video) so you should definitely add this editing technique to your repertoire of skills since it’s a big crowd pleaser.
I’ve put together a list of 7 easy ways to dramatically improve your GoPro time lapses.
1. Spin for the Win: add some Rotation
Rotating your camera will add another dimension to your time lapses. This effect is especially cool if you’re on the top of a mountain or in the middle of a busy place with foot traffic or cars for example.
The slow spin adds a nice contrast to the fast playback speed of the time lapse as well.
To get this effect, you can either buy a 3rd party time lapse mount or if you’re the DIY type, you can make your own!
For those of you who prefer to purchase a more professional mount for capturing rotating time lapses, here are a few of my recommendations.
- Flow-Mow Time Lapse Mount – I personally own this mount and it works great. A full 360 degree rotation takes 2 hours and there is even a 1/4″-20 threaded socket on the bottom if you want to mount it to a tripod. You will need a GoPro Tripod Mount so if you don’t already have one, click here to check them out on Amazon.
- GoPole SceneLapse GoPro Mount – similar to the Flow-Mow but this one rotates 360 degrees in 1 hour instead of 2. As an added bonus, it already comes with a tripod mount. I personally haven’t used it but since it’s made by GoPole, a reputable brand in the GoPro community, I’m sure it works great.
2. The Slider Effect: Panning in Post Processing
This technique also adds some motion to your time lapse but you don’t need any physical hardware to make it happen like in technique #1.
Instead, this virtual camera movement can be applied in your favorite editing software AFTER you’ve already captured the footage.
The idea is to add a slow horizontal or vertical pan during the time lapse. You just need to zoom in a little bit, set a starting point aka key frame (all the way to the left for example), set an end point (all the way to the right) and then you will get the feeling that the camera is slowly moving from left to right during the time lapse.
These panning movements can add a very professional and cinematic feel to an otherwise static time lapse. Don’t worry if you find the movement to be too subtle or not as drastic as technique #1. Subtlety is the key here. If the movement is too fast, it can look a bit amateurish (that’s my opinion at least).
Check out the final result of some virtual camera panning in some footage I captured below. Notice the subtle left to right panning. Pretty cool, right?
3. Zoom In, Zoom Out
This is exactly like technique #2 but instead of panning you play with the magnification. You can start the time lapse zoomed in and then end it fully zoomed out. The viewer slowly starts to see more and more of the environment which makes for a neat effect.
You can also go the other way so that the viewer starts fully zoomed out and the time lapse ends with a focus on the main subject.
Like my advice in #2, don’t make the movement too fast or abrupt. Slow and steady tends to always be the best choice.
4. Play around with the Playback Speed
Is there a funny or unique frame during your time lapse? Pause your video on that frame or slow down the speed so the viewer has time to see it.
An example could be an animal getting super close to inspect the camera or a person making a funny face during the time lapse. Anything unusual will work.
It also adds a little surprise to the viewer and should keep their attention!
Here is an exact example of what I mean with the animal. Notice how the beginning is a time lapse and then it slows down to normal speed so you can see what the little marmot does next! Technically, this is just a video sped up and then played at normal speed but the point is to show you the effect of changing speeds.
5. Combine Multiple GoPro Time Lapses with Nifty Transitions
Variety and spontaneity are key. If you’ve captured multiple GoPro time lapses, you can combine them into the same edit.
Think of it as a showcase of your best GoPro time lapses. You can make themed time lapse compilations (combine a bunch of time lapses from all the places you visited for example) or a year in review video of your best time lapses from the past 365 days. Get creative!
However, don’t just switch to the next one immediately. Take the time to add a cool transition. Here are some ideas to get the creative juices flowing:
- Zoom in towards the end of time lapse #1 and transition to time lapse #2 where you are already zoomed in. Then zoom out at the beginning of time lapse #2. You can make the zooming in and out effect fast or slow but try and make sure the speeds are the same.
- If you have time lapses that show a change in the amount of light such as a sunset or sunrise, try and match them up. Let’s say you have a sunset time lapse (going from brighter to darker) and then a separate night lapse of some stars (darker), link them up so there is a smoother transition from dark to dark.
The point of this technique is that there is a commonality between the ending of one time lapse and the beginning of the next one.
6. Length Matters: Shorter is Better
Unfortunately, our attention spans are getting shorter and shorter. Ever wondered why Instagram and Vine videos are so popular? They set limits because they know we can’t handle anything longer!
If you want the best chance of having your footage viewed and shared, shorter is better. Trust me! Give the audience enough but have them begging for more when it’s over.
If you’re creating a time lapse video from a single session of shooting, try and keep it to around 30 seconds or less (this is assuming you’re posting to YouTube, Vimeo or Facebook). The exception to this rule is technique #5 since you’re combining multiple time lapses but in that case, there should be enough variety to keep the viewer’s attention for a longer period of time.
If you’re creating a bigger edit and plan on using some time lapses to help tell your story or set the scene, you’ll naturally want to use them for shorter periods of time.
If you’ve ever watched GoPro’s camera launch videos, you’ll notice their time lapses last 3-5 seconds max. That’s really all you need! An example is in their GoPro Hero3 promo video, they have 3 time lapses one after the other only lasting 11 seconds total! Click here to see for yourself.
7. Invest in a Sturdy Tripod
This critical piece of hardware is essential to capturing high quality GoPro time lapses. There is nothing worse than finding out after the fact that your camera has shifted or moved during recording due to wind, vibrations or any other external forces.
The final time lapse video will exaggerate this movement and it will look choppy and unprofessional.
A solid base will ensure minimal if not zero movement.
Bottom line: invest in a tripod. You will end up using it for a lot more than just time lapses as well.
Here are a few of my own recommendations that are perfect for the GoPro:
- Joby GorillaPod Action Video Tripod– lightweight, flexible and easy to carry. You can even attach it to things like tree branches and chain linked fences.
- GoPro Tripod – this tripod is good enough for flat surfaces or even snow or sand. However, if the terrain is very uneven, I’d recommend going with something more flexible like the Joby. Also, if you already own the GoPro 3-way mount, this same tripod is already included!
- As a last resort, you can use the plastic plate that was holding your GoPro in the original packaging. It’s flat and allows you to at least keep the camera in its housing since it has a flat adhesive mount on it. The last thing I want you to do is remove the GoPro from its housing so you can set it down flat.