Take control of time – explore slow-motion, time-lapse and hyper-lapse video

Learn how to capture time and motion in a creative new way, with tips from time-lapse and hyper-lapse filmmaker Matthew Vandeputte.
Filmmaker Matthew Vandeputte uses his camera from an elevated position among city buildings. © Pete Jobson

By playing with time and motion in your videos, you can reveal a world that's normally hidden from view – slow down fast-moving action, or speed up longer events such as the sun rising or clouds drifting across the sky. Here specialist filmmaker Matthew Vandeputte shares his techniques for shooting across the time spectrum, from slow-motion to time-lapse and hyper-lapse video.

The key to all these techniques is frame rate. This sets the recording and playback speed for video footage, in frames per second (fps). The most common standard recording and playback speeds are 25fps or 30fps. Movies are usually 24fps, so 25fps looks more "cinematic" while 30fps looks crisper and is often preferred for capturing fast-moving sports and news, for example.

It doesn't really matter which you choose, but normally your recording and playback frame rates should match each other. To produce slow-motion footage, you need to record at a faster frame rate – if you record at 50fps, for example, and play this back at 25fps, then any movement will be shown at half speed.

To speed up the passing of time, you need to record at a slower frame rate. By shooting 25 individual frames over a longer time period and then playing them back at 25fps, you can condense minutes, hours and even days into just a single second of video. This is how time-lapse and hyper-lapse videos are created. A hyper-lapse is a type of time-lapse where the camera is moving. Time-lapse is traditionally shot on a tripod or on a motion control slider, so the camera stays in almost exactly the same spot, but for a hyper-lapse, you move the camera position between each photo.

A bright blue sky filled with white clouds.

"A time-lapse is a really good way to create an establishing shot or an introductory shot for a new scene or a new location, such as a big wide landscape or cityscape," explains Matthew. "A hyper-lapse is more like a special effect shot where you're taking the viewer on a journey. As a director once told me, it's like a flight through time and space."

Matthew is a filmmaker and video editor who specialises in creating awe-inspiring footage that blends real-time and slow-motion video with distinctive time-lapse and hyper-lapse techniques. His work is used commercially, and can be seen on Netflix, National Geographic and the Discovery Channel.

"I saw an astrophotography time-lapse video online when I was in film school about 11 years ago, and it just blew me away," he reveals. "I had an EOS 600D [now succeeded by the Canon EOS 850D] at the time, and I realised that it gave me the means to do time-lapse too. So, I shot my first sequence that night, and I've never stopped shooting them since."

A city street, with cars coming to a stop at traffic lights.

Time-lapse and hyper-lapse technique

Time-lapse and hyper-lapse both require still images to be taken at regular intervals. For a time-lapse, Matthew advises shooting a minimum of 300 photos, "as that will give you at least 10 seconds of video, whether you are playing back at 25fps or 30fps."

A number of EOS cameras, including the Canon EOS R6 and EOS RP, have a built-in interval timer that is able to automate the process for you, as well as a Time-lapse Movie shooting mode that produces video clips ready to share straight from the camera. Matthew prefers to save individual photos as RAW files, though, as this gives him more options when it comes to post-production. After processing his RAW images, he applies digital stabilisation in Adobe After Effects* and does the final edit in Adobe Premiere Pro.* However, you can get started creating time-lapses from a set of JPEGs in a range of software including the free iMovie on a Mac or MakeAVI on PC.

For a hyper-lapse, Matthew says so many frames might not be practical. "If you were to shoot 300 photos for a hyper-lapse, it could potentially take you hours to move the tripod and reframe each shot. And for most hyper-lapse clips, you don't need a sequence that long. So I would suggest shooting at least 120 photos instead. I also recommend taking each photo manually while trying to be consistent with the interval between each shot. If you rely on automated interval shooting and you're not ready to frame up the scene by the time it triggers, then you may have to start again."

The speed of the movement you want to capture in a time-lapse or hyper-lapse will determine the interval to use between each photo. Fast subjects can require short intervals of a few seconds, while slow-moving subjects, such as a flower growing or fruit decaying, may need gaps of several minutes.

A cityscape at sunrise, with rolling clouds overhead.

How to shoot time-lapse and hyper-lapse

If you're shooting something close-up over a long period of time, you'll need to consider artificial lighting to ensure that the lighting conditions don't change too drastically. In landscapes and cityscapes, however, the change in light over time is likely to be a key point of interest in your footage. A critical piece of kit either way is a tripod, because if the camera moves between shots then still objects will seem to "flicker" disturbingly and moving objects will jump about unnaturally. For an effective hyper-lapse, the camera must seem to move smoothly, not jitter.

"For a hyper-lapse, you need three elements," says Matthew. "Obviously you require a subject, and a track or a path to follow. This can be towards the object, or away from it, or sideways, or in a circle around it. And the third thing you need is an anchor point that you're able to keep in the exact same spot in each photo." Choosing one point in the scene to keep in the same position from frame to frame will make the camera movement seem to pivot around this point, so it seems smooth instead of jumpy. To keep the anchor point in the identical position, Matthew suggests highlighting it with the same AF point in each shot, or turning on your camera's grid overlay.

You can shoot a time-lapse from close-up (to capture a flower opening, for example) or from miles away (such as a panoramic view of clouds sweeping over a landscape). You can use whichever lens suits the scene, but for his work Matthew's preferred lens has been the Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM, and with EOS R System cameras the Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM or Canon RF 24-105mm F4-7.1 IS STM, because the range of focal lengths is ideal for the various subjects he shoots. For hyper-lapse he advises never shooting wider than 24mm, because of the risk of perspective distortion that ultra-wide lenses are likely to produce at the edges of the frame – "if you're shooting at 16mm, for example, and miss your framing from one shot to the next by just a couple of centimetres, then you won't be able to fix the shift in edge perspective in post-production."

A man in a coat and woolly hat adjusting the settings on a Canon EOS R6 on top of a tripod.

Filmmaker Matthew Vandeputte shooting a time-lapse using a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 24-105mm F4-7.1 IS STM lens. This is the kit he used for all the sample videos on this page. © Pete Jobson

Slow-motion technique

"Time-lapse and slow-motion video are on opposite ends of the time spectrum," says Matthew. "Time-lapse speeds things up, and slow-motion slows things down." This makes slow-mo ideal for watching fast-moving action that would normally be over too quickly to appreciate.

In many ways, slow-motion is easier to shoot than time-lapse. Every camera in the current Canon EOS and PowerShot ranges (except the PowerShot ZOOM) can shoot video at faster frame rates. The fastest are usually available only when you record at a lower video resolution, though – the EOS R6, for example, offers 50fps and 60fps at 4K, or 100fps and 120fps at Full HD.

You don't need to shoot at an exact multiple of your output frame rate – for example, you can shoot at 120fps if your camera offers this and slow it down to 25fps in post-production. The faster the frame rate when you shoot, the slower things will look when you play back at normal speed.

A man wearing a coat and rucksack, climbing a flight of steps outdoors in a city, holding a Canon EOS R6 in one hand and a tripod in the other.

A tripod is critical when you're shooting a time-lapse, to ensure that the camera remains steady and only moving objects move between shots. Matthew also carries an ND filter, which makes it possible to use slower shutter speeds and larger apertures even on bright days. "I carry a 10-stop ND most of the time," he says. "This allows me to shoot at f/4, which means that any dust or particles on the lens, the filter or the sensor are blurred out." © Pete Jobson

Using shutter speed

Shutter speed is normally one of the ways you control exposure, but it also determines how moving objects are rendered in the image. Matthew warns that using fast shutter speeds in a time-lapse or hyper-lapse will freeze all motion and result in each frame being super-sharp, which will translate into choppy and jarring motion when the frames are played back as a video. "Using a slower shutter speed to blur moving elements, such as passing cars and people, really does give you the wow effect."

How do you decide the right shutter speed? "There's something called the 180-degree shutter rule," Matthew explains, "which suggests that the shutter speed for video clips should be the inverse of double the frame rate. So, if you're shooting at 25fps, your shutter speed should be 1/50 sec. This gives you the nicest motion blur and the most cinematic-looking footage. I still follow this guideline when shooting slow-mo at higher frame rates, such as using a shutter speed of 1/200 sec when I'm recording at 100fps."

Even when shooting a sequence of still images at a much slower frame rate for a time-lapse or hyper-lapse, Matthew sticks to the 180-degree shutter rule, up to a point. "If you have a four-second interval between shots, which is quite common for clouds, then you would expose each picture for two seconds. When your interval gets longer than that and even into minutes, then don't worry about the rule – but I definitely recommend always shooting with longer shutter speeds and on a tripod."

Using longer shutter speeds means you might need to use other means to control exposure, and this is why Matthew uses an ND filter to reduce the amount of light entering the lens. "If you're shooting in the daytime, then you're going to need a really strong ND filter on the lens to achieve a good exposure at a slower shutter speed," he says.

Now that you have all the tools at your disposal to capture time and motion in a creative new way, why not try out a slow-mo, time-lapse or hyper-lapse film the next time you're shooting?

Written by Marcus Hawkins

*Adobe, Adobe Premiere and After Effects are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Adobe in the United States and/or other countries.

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