Time-lapse cinematography has been available for a while for people that own a DSLR Camera, either as a feature on the camera or through an “interval timer”. This technique has been used to show some action that is imperceptible to the human eye: a flower blossoming, clouds moving in the sky, or fruit decaying.
I’ve really wanted to make a time-lapse video for a long time, but I didn’t have a DSLR. Fortunately, the Android Market contains various application for making a time-lapse: some create a *.mov video straight from the application itself, while others take a sequence of photos and store them on your SD Card so you can edit them together using third party software such as Windows Live Movie Maker or Adobe After Effects.
Today you’ll learn how to make a time-lapse video using your Android powered device, and I’ll give you some tips along the way.
Let’s talk about hardware requirements. Making a time-lapse video takes time, unsurprisingly, and so you’ll need a very sturdy phone tripod. You could try to make one yourself by adapting some schematics from Instructables, or buy a ready-made tripod tailored for your phone model from Amazon.
I personally went for the DIY method. As a child I had a pretty big collection of Lego Technic, which I kept, so I figured I’d make a tripod for my phone out of them. After a day or two of fiddling with it, I came up with this:
It’s probably not the biggest tripod you’ve seen, but it does the job.
You may ask “Why do we need a tripod?”. Well, you don’t really need a tripod as long as you can make your phone stay in the right position. When I started experimenting with time-lapse, I had my phone rest on a box on my dorm window sill. But if you merely rest your phone on something, there is a high chance it’ll fall over in the middle of the action (it did happen to me). That’s why a tripod is more recommended.
Once you’ve got your tripod set up, it’s time to decide which application to shoot the time-lapse with. The Android Market has many; I’ve tried two of them: Time-Lapse and Tina Time-Lapse. They’re both amazing applications with their own pros and cons.
I’ll talk about both of them and you decide which one is the best for you.
Time-Lapse is a lightweight time-lapse application for Android. You can adjust the time between shots from 1 second to 60 seconds (or minutes), adjust the resolution from 176×144 to 2048×1536, and set the playback rate (1-30 frames per second). I like the application because it virtually gives you the power of Adobe After Effects’ in your smartphone. Well… okay, not exactly, but the fact that you can select the playback frame rate is a big plus. You can also upload your video straight to YouTube directly from the application. You have to love that.
There’s also a lite version of the application, but that is limited to a 176×144 video resolution. At $1.99, Time-Lapse is a total bargain. I give it a score of 9/10. It does what it is supposed to; mothing more, nothing less.
Tina Time-lapse is one of my favorite applications. It’s written for the users. It’s free and ad-free. Everything you need is on one page. You can name your time-lapse, and set up the interval between shots and the number of frames to use. (This is very important; I’ll tell you why later on.)
The only downside of the application is that it doesn’t produce a *.mov file, but rather *.jpg sequence, which you’ll have to import into Adobe After Effects or Windows Live Movie Maker to create a video from. Still, that’s not a very complicated thing to do. I give this application a score of 8/10.
I recommend using Time-Lapse rather than Tina Time-lapse, because I don’t want to dig into Adobe After Effects or Windows Live Movie Maker here.
You can check out my blog, where I’ll be posting how to use the files from Tina Time-lapse in WLMM.
(Note: From here on I will assume you’re using Time-Lapse.)
Setting Up the Shot
After you’ve got your tripod and your application it’s time to set up the shot. There are three things you have to know when making a time-lapse video: how long the clip is going to last (target duration), at what frame rate the clip will be played back (target fps: this should be 24, 25, 29 or 30; I usually use 25) and how long the actual shooting will take (actual length). Once you know these three things you can calculate everything else using simple math: the number of frames the clip will have (target frames), and the time interval between two consecutive shots in real time (time between frames).
Here are the formulas:
target fps (frames/sec) * target duration (sec) = target frames (frames)
actual length (sec) / target frames (frames) = time between frames (sec)
If you get something like 15.73 seconds between frames just round it to 16 or 15 seconds. The same goes with the target frames. If you get something like 1409 frames you can go with either 1400 or 1500. It really depends on your preferences and how much space you have on your SD Card.
Once you’ve got your time between frames, set up Time-Lapse, attach your phone to the tripod, and you can start shooting.
Depending on what you are shooting and how long you are shooting it for you should get a time between frames greater than 3 seconds. I found that this was the minimum interval; on my phone, the camera can’t focus any faster.
Here are some decent time intervals depending on what you’re shooting:
- Clouds moving: between 3 and 15 seconds, for a period of 3-4 hours
- Lava lamp: 3 seconds, for a period of 2-3 hours.
- Busy streets: between 3 and 20 seconds (depending on how much crowd movement you want), for a period of 4-5 hours
Unfortunately you can’t do flowers blossoming or rotting fruit, thanks to some limitations that come along with phones: battery life, and phone calls. I recommend you set you phone to Airplane Mode, so that no one can call you and prematurely stop your shoot.
Also if you’re doing a time-lapse video make sure you have at least 1GB of space on your SD Card and at least 75% of battery charge. Time-Lapse eats battery and space as well. A 34 second clip at 1080p took 440MB. If you want something longer, you’ll definitely need the space. It’s worth plugging your phone in to charge, assuming that your tripod allows for that.
I hope you enjoyed this article about making time-lapse videos with your Android powered device! Don’t forget to check out my blog where I’ll post a quick post on how to use Tina Time-lapse and I’ll also post some of my time-lapse videos.
As for some video to actually preview what Time-Lapse is capable of, check this out. I know the music is a bit out of sync, but I couldn’t find any track on audio-swap to fit the 34 second clip.