I’ve long been a bit of a time-lapse junkie, so when I saw this video of Moscow a few months ago I was really impressed. People have started calling this technique ‘hyperlapse’, and it’s a combination of time-lapse photography with a large but calculated movement of the camera between shots. I thought I’d have a go without using any special rigs or mounts – instead of worrying about moving the camera precise distances, I thought I’d find some existing structure to do the measuring for me.
I live in Sydney so I decided that the Harbour Bridge was a good place to try this. I noticed that the fence which runs along either side of the bridge had regularly spaced uprights which I could butt my camera up against. This was a quick experiment so I didn’t even use a timer remote – I just took a photo, walked to the next upright, quickly lined everything up and took the next photo. The bridge has about 180 uprights from one side to the other.
For every shot I aligned a fixed point on the Opera House with a fixed point in the camera’s viewfinder. This is what gives you the panning motion similar to dolly or crane shots in movies. What I didn’t pay any attention to was the angular alignment of the camera, because it was just resting on a horizontal part of the bridge each time. Turns out that only small tilt variations between shots make a big difference, and the raw frame sequence was really shaky. I ran the movie through the Deshaker video stabiliser plugin for VirtualDub (both are free!) which did a great job at eliminating the shake, but you can see the Opera House still jittering from side to side a little bit.
I’d say that keeping your camera perfectly horizontal is the biggest challenge if you want to do a smooth hyperlapse. If you’re focussing on large objects which are far away (such as buildings) then I don’t think perfect pointing of the camera is so critical – it’s fairly easy to align two points in your viewfinder and even basic stabilisation software should take care of minor x-y translations quite well. Quickly making the camera plumb is the key.
I think these cool techniques are so much cooler if they’re achieved with simple and/or inexpensive tools. I’ve got a few ideas about how the angular jitter can be reduced without too much faff, maybe with some basic electronics. If all these new DSLRs which have digital levels in them would only write the angle data to the image EXIF then you could automatically correct for tilting in post… firmware update, guys?