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Take Time-Lapse Videos To A New Level

Take Time-Lapse Videos To A New Level
Last week, we discussed how photographers can turn a series of still images into a time-lapse video without the use of video editing software. The process is simple and effective, but there are some things you can do with video editing software (such as Adobe Premiere Pro) that easily add production value. Namely, with even a basic understanding of Premiere Pro, you can add motion to time-lapse videos thanks to effects such as pans and zooms.

With a static time-lapse video (created by locking the camera down on a tripod) the framing of the scene never changes. To introduce motion during capture, photographers can use sliders to move the camera slightly between each exposure so that in the end, the time-lapse has movement built in. But even a static locked-down time-lapse can incorporate these moves with smart editing.

The best news about working with Adobe Premiere Pro is that it’s part of the Creative Cloud suite of applications. So while many photographers choose Adobe’s cost-effective “Photography only” subscription, which includes just Lightroom and Photoshop, users of the “All Apps” subscription package have access to every Creative Cloud application—including Premiere.

Some photographers balked when Adobe switched to a subscription model, but I’ve enjoyed it for this very reason. I’m able to explore other applications that I wouldn’t have purchased on their own. Premiere is the perfect example of this, as it’s helped me dip my toe into the world of video editing.

With my already-made static time-lapse video in hand, I open Premiere Pro, create a new Project and navigate to the folder containing the video file to import it. Then I right-click on the imported file in the media browser and choose “New Sequence from Clip” to add the video to the timeline.

Next, at the top of the window is the Home icon, to the right of which is a list of options. Be sure your clip is selected so you’ll see Effects options here. Under Fx and Motion, Position and Scale sit atop the list. These two controls open up a world of motion control for your video.

Take Time-Lapse Videos To A New Level

Immediately to the right of these is a miniature version of your video’s timeline. Here you can click and drag through the video to set start and end points for the motion, known as Key Frames. (You can also move through the timeline at the bottom of the window or scrub through the video in the program preview to choose your points. All three timelines move in sync.)

When adding motion such as a zoom or a pan, you may want to move throughout the entire duration of the video or just through part of it. I first chose the latter option, starting the sequence zoomed in and then slowly zooming out for about two-thirds of the video. To do this, move to the start of the video and then double-click on the Scale numerical value to enter an amount of enlargement—such as 150%. You can eyeball this, too, by simply clicking on that numerical value and dragging your mouse up and down to increase or decrease the zoom level. With the value where you want it, click the Toggle Animation icon immediately to the left of Scale to place a keyframe for the start of the zoom.

Along with the zoom, I’d like to pan from left to right in the image. The easiest way to accomplish this is to click and drag on the Position values—dragging up or down on the first value to shift the horizontal position and dragging up or down on the second value to adjust the vertical position. In this way, you can position the video correctly and ensure the image always fills the frame, never leaving an empty background. Click the Toggle Animation icon next to Position to set a corresponding keyframe for this effect.

Next, scroll along the timeline to determine the point at which you want to end the movement. If you’d like the motion to play out for the duration of the video, move all the way to the end before marking the keyframes. In this case, I chose a spot about two-thirds of the way through the video. Since I wanted to return to the original values at this point, I click the Reset Parameter icon next to Scale and Position in the Effects window, which automatically places keyframes. If I wanted the two effects to end at different times, simply move to a different part of the timeline when applying each keyframe. And if I wanted values other than the original centered, full-frame look, I simply repeat the click and drag of the values next to Scale and Position. In this way, the zoom and pan are easily adjusted in a what-you-see-is-what-you-get fashion. To test the effects, simply drag the cursor on any timeline to the beginning and click the spacebar to play a preview.

To create a video that zooms in, start with a setting of 100% in the Scale value of the Effects window and then move the cursor to a later frame before adjusting the scale to, say, 200% and placing a keyframe. The example included here shows such a zoom.  

To do this without a loss of quality, it’s imperative to start with a video source file that’s at least double the resolution of the final output. So for instance, if your final output is 1080p, it’s best to start with a 4k file so that you can crop significantly without a compromising the quality. That means outputting JPEG files for your original time-lapse construction that are at least 3840 pixels on the long side.

Take Time-Lapse Videos To A New Level

To save a new video file, click Export in the File menu and choose media. In the popup window, ensure the file format and output settings match the video you’d like to save. I recommend H.264 to save a versatile MP4 file and be sure the “Use Maximum Render Quality” checkbox is ticked to preserve as much image quality as possible. If you’d like to shrink the video resolution for any reason, adjust the Basic Video Settings in the middle of the export window. In this way, you can actually shrink the file size and even trim the length of the clip without compromising the integrity of the original sequence, which can be saved in your Project when you exit Premiere Pro.

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