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Time Lapse – How to Compress Time

As a videographer, I am always trying to effectively tell a story. I have discovered that one of the most effective storytelling tools in video production is the time lapse.

With a time lapse you can compress a long and static event into a short engaging clip. An effective use of a time lapse is a party like the clip below where people mingle around but don’t do anything too interesting to capture as video clip. As a single video shot this would be as interesting as watching grass grow. However, when compressed into about 3-5 seconds the clip is engaging, and it tells a story without boring the viewer.

When making a time lapse there are few things to consider. First, what is it that we want to focus on. The image that we want the viewer to lock on should be still or slowly progressing/regressing. On the other hand, the figures or characters moving around will be moving fast and so we want to blur them out. In this type of video production this is achieved through motion blur with the use of a slow shutter speed. The shutter speed in the above mentioned video clip was set at 1/3 sec and we get a ghosting effect of the people. Hence, the viewer perceives the activity but is focused on the aesthetics of the room and people who are still or moving slow.

Another important element to consider is movement. As discussed earlier, repetitive movements like people mingling around should be blurred. However if we want to add drama to the video we can SLOWLY move the camera to the point of focus

Or we can SLOWLY move around the subject like here. The movement should be just above the threshold of being noticed because this type of movement is effective if it is felt rather than seen.

The slow dramatic movement of the camera in a time lapse is achieved by using a mechanized slider. The slider moves the camera progressively from start to end point every time a picture is being taken.

As a videographer and a filmmaker, I don’t always set up a traditional time lapse where camera takes picture over a set period of time. Sometimes I will film a long video clip knowing that I will manipulate the time. For instance, I will speed up a gimbal video clip to make the scene more dynamic. An advantage of this video production technique is that I can slow down the clip at specific moment to highlight something interesting.

There are also some very sophisticated time lapse techniques where the slider movement and or speed of the time lapse change over the course of time. These types of time lapses require careful planning and tools like a computerized application that can control video production sliders or dollies.

In summary, a time lapse is a video production technique that can show something otherwise boring in a new, fun and engaging way. And yes, it can even make watching grass grow exciting!