How to create a hyperlapse video with your drone

Time lapse footage is a creative tool in cinematography, but you can take it to the next level with hyperlapse footage--or better yet, with drone hyperlapse footage.

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When you're creating videos, B-roll provides a great way to transition or set up scenes. Time lapse video has been a staple in video production due to its unique, cinematic look and feel. Now you can elevate your B-roll by going beyond the time lapse strategy--literally. Create hyperlapse footage to use between scenes and blow away your viewers. Allow me to share how to create hyperlapse footage. But instead of using your camera and a tripod, we'll use a drone.

What is a hyperlapse?

Like a time lapse video, a hyperlapse is a collection of photographs carefully stitched together to show off an extended amount of time but in a much shorter interval. Think of a video that plays for roughly 10 seconds to show the full development of a plant. The key difference between a hyperlapse and a time lapse is the movement of the camera. A time lapse video is usually stationary or pans from left to right. A hyperlapse will actually cover ground as the camera moves closer and closer to its subject matter over time on the z-axis.

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How to plan your hyperlapse scene

When it comes to planning your hyperlapse scene with a drone, safety is the first priority. Be sure you're operating your drone within a safe environment where there won't be any harm to yourself, other people, your drone, or the area to be filmed. Also, be sure you're mindful of the FAA regulated fly zones for your shoot. Getting an awesome shot is worth it only when you play by the rules of safety.

When considering your hyperlapse scene, think about a particular subject you want your drone's camera to focus on as it flies near. Also, think of any items within the subject's environment, such as trees, buildings, or roads. These types of clips will look better with one stationary subject as the focal point but movement along the edges of the frame. In my example, I use the vanishing point of a road to focus on. The passing of vehicles and the items along the road will further enhance the dynamic movement in the shot.

Another item to consider is the sky. I try to plan most of my photography around the weather forecast. Some of the best landscape and aerial photography can be captured just before or after a storm. The clouds are almost always dramatic and the sky is filled with amazing colors to boot. Consider this when you're setting up your shot, but be safe.

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Setting up your drone

Most drones today offer a variety of autopilot functions for flight. To do your hyperlapse more effectively, I advise using a waypoint flight. This allows you to specify a path you'd like your drone to fly.


Image: Ant Pruitt

Set up two points to create the flight path. Be sure to specify the altitude you'd like to fly. I've found that flying near 80 to 100 feet altitude has been optimal for most of my scenes. This allows my drone to fly above trees and other obstructions safely, but it's low enough to continue to capture detail on the ground. Set the distance to 1,000 to 1,500 feet in total. This will allow you to safely cover the most ground under one battery charge in most cases, as well as allowing for more photos to be captured. Remember, safety first, so scout your scene before you fly. Also, I typically set my drone to "go home" upon completion of the mission.

As far as your camera settings go, shooting in RAW format would be optimal, as the images will have more data to work with when it's time to post process. I've used both JPG and RAW in the past. In my experience, the JPG works just fine in well-lit scenarios. If possible, shoot in time lapse mode. This will force your drone's camera to snap an image at specified intervals. I suggest a two-second interval between each shot. My drone allows me to use only five-second intervals, so I just manually click the shutter every two seconds during the flight. No biggie. It works just fine that way.

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The drone will try to fly as steady as possible during this time. The gimbal will also try to maintain a steady camera during the flight. Just keep the speed constant and you'll be good to go.

Once you're off and flying down your path, try to keep your speed around two miles per hour. If you go too fast over your path, you won't be able to capture as many photos during the flight. In turn, this will make your final video a lot shorter. See what works best for you, but I've found that two to four miles per hour is the best range. The hope is to get anywhere between 130 and 200 images snapped.


Image: Ant Pruitt

Process your images

After successfully snapping your photos, grab some software for processing. If you'd like, you can do your color grading and correcting in an image editor such as Lightroom or you can just import them into your video editor of choice. I'm using Premiere Pro for my video editing and creation. Open up a new project to import your images. Be sure they're sequentially named or this process will not work. If you have to rename the files to make sure they're in sequential order, do it. Otherwise, click the first file in the import option and select the Image Sequence check box. This will allow you to pull all the images in the sequence into your project as a video file.


Image: Ant Pruitt

Once the sequence is pulled in, drag it to your video editor's timeline and begin your processing. Feel free to take advantage of the scaling, color, and stabilization effects if you need to. Note the resolution of your images. More than likely, they're larger than 1920 x 1080 (HD video size), so you may need to scale the timeline down. Or if they're large enough for UHD (3840 x 2160), you can use this as UHD footage. Be as creative as you want. I also like to adjust the duration of the timeline. I think having a minimum of 10 seconds for the final output is optimal.


Image: Ant Pruitt

Finally, export the video to be used on your platform of choice. Your export settings can be high or low quality as you see fit, as not all platforms support higher bitrates and resolutions. At any rate, what you come up with is going to look awesome.

Your take

Have you ever tried a hyperlapse with your drone? Tell us about it in the discussion below. Feel free to put your video on YouTube and share it with me, and be sure to follow over on Instagram or my YouTube channel to see more tutorials and photography.

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By Ant Pruitt

Ant Pruitt is an IT Support Professional with a passion for showing the non-geek how great technology can be. He writes for a variety of tech publications and hosts his own podcast. Ant is also an avid photographer and weight lifter.