DJI Drone Hyperlapse and Time Lapse for Beginners

I am addicted to time lapses and hyperlapses. Over the years I have done thousands of them, both with drones and ground-based cameras. It is a very creative technique able to portray a different perspective of movement

When using drones there are some specific factors to consider. In this article, I will explain in a very simple way how to plan and shoot time lapses and hyperlapses with the current models of the DJI prosumer line. I cannot go deep into all the aspects, but I will add a link to specific videos covering the topics needed for beginners

A technique very similar to the one used for time lapses also applies to Long-exposure photography with a drone or with a regular camera, you can watch my dedicated article for more details and for creative photography ideas

If You Prefer To Watch This As a Video

Time lapse or Hyperlapse?

Difference between time lapse and hyperlapse

The only difference between the two techniques is that for time lapses the point of view is static, in the case of drones the aircraft will be hovering in the same position for the whole process. Time lapses are interesting when the scene already contains a good amount of movement

In the case of hyperlapses the point of view is in motion, adding extra movement to a scene

Ground-based cameras

A traditional camera sitting on a sturdy tripod is perfectly suited for static time lapses while shooting hyperlapses with it is not easy. Some tool capable of moving the camera in a very precise and smooth way is needed, a motorized slider, a handheld gimbal, a train, or a bus

Thanks to the very high resolution of a full-frame camera, It is also possible to add some movement to a static time lapse in post-production using keyframes to give the impression of a hyperlapse

Hyperlapseswith drones

Drones of the current generation are able to perform smooth, controlled movements in all directions. A drone is a perfect tool for hyperlapses, like a big slider in the sky. The point of view up in the sky offers an unexpected perspective of the scene. For this reason with drones in most cases, we opt for hyperlapses

I have done a Step by step tutorial for beginners on how to shoot a drone time lapse, and another Step by step guide on drone hyperlapses, I suggest them as a starting point for beginners

Choosing the scene

Movement is needed in time lapses and hyperlapses

Time lapses and hyperlapses need movement to captivate the audience. Simple landscapes without elements in motion are better suited for photos than hyperlapses, unless there is a very interesting movement of cloud or a transition from day to night

Seascapes can be interesting if there are several boats moving around, but the motion of the waves looks in my opinion unappealing when it is sped up. In the case of dramatic waves in the sea, I prefer regular video, even better if slowed down

Cityscapes and urban life are often excellent choices for time lapses and hyperlapses. The movement of people, cars, and other vehicles at fast speed is an excellent way to convey an idea of frantic life, excitement, or a race against time

Another excellent subject is day-to-night transitions, especially in urban scenes. In this case, the presence of artificial light adds a lot of interest, reduces the dynamic range, and makes it easier to expose properly

Specific issues with drones

Prosumer drone technology has improved enormously in recent years, but there are several factors to consider when planning a time-lapse or hyperlapse compared to using traditional ground-based cameras

Battery life

Length and shooting time

When shooting time lapses or hyperlapses with a full-frame camera, in most cases I choose a length of the final short movie of 12 seconds, but in some cases, I prefer 25 to 30 seconds, especially for day-to-night transitions

The interval between photos controls the speed of the movement, according to the scene I might choose an interval from one photo every second, up to one every 7 or 8 seconds in case of transitions from day to night. The shooting time needed for a time-lapse varies from 10 minutes up to two hours

With drones, we don’t have so many options. The battery life with the different current models averages about 30 minutes and the minimum interval between photos is three seconds, due to the time needed to buffer each shot

Therefore we are limited to timelapses or hyperlapses of a length of 12 seconds and an interval of 3 to 4 seconds if we consider the time for the setup and for a safe return to home

Warping

A drone hovering for a timelapse has a bit of lateral drifting which will show in the short movie but can be in most cases fixed by stabilizing in post-production. When the aircraft is moving for a hyperlapse, the drifting is less evident, but in medium to strong winds, there will be some unwanted movement

Warpin in the element in the foreground

After stabilizing some warping can appear in subjects in the foreground that appear to move independently from the rest of the scene, due to the shifting of the aircraft and the distortion of the very wide lens. In this case, it is preferable to avoid having elements too close to the camera

Against the sun

Ground-based cameras have bulky lenses composed of multiple glass elements designed to optimize performance, especially when shooting in the direction of the sun

Drone lenses struggle in the direction of the sun

Drone lenses are much smaller and tend to easily develop flares, chromatic aberrations, and loss of detail and saturation when shooting in the direction of the sun. Even though a lot of effort has been put into the design of the lens in the latest models, high dynamic range situations and shots in the direction of the sun remain a weak point of drones compared to full frame cameras

I have done two specific articles about Drone sunset time lapse with fixed exposure values and Drone sunset time lapse ramping exposure. Please refer to them for more details

Hyperlapse modes in DJI Drones

All current DJI models have the same four modes: Free, Circle, Course Lock, and Waypoint. The most powerful by far is Waypoint

Waypoint is the most powerful mode

In this mode, we can fly to where we want the hyperlapse to start, frame the shot, and hit a button on the remote controller to create the first point of a mission. For that point, the position of the aircraft, the elevation, and the direction of the camera are stored in memory. We then fly to the ending point of the hyperlapse, frame, and add a second point

The software will handle the smooth transition between the two points. It is possible to add as many points as desired for more complex missions. It is also possible to save a mission to use it again in different light conditions, or with different settings, which is extremely useful. Once you get used to using it, Waypoint mode will be the one to use on most occasions

I have done a specific video about Waypoint hyperlapses, it is made with a Mini 3 Pro, but it works in the exact same way on the Air 2s and Mavic 3 

Free, Circle and Course Lock

Free mode is the one to use for static time lapses

Circle is for obtaining a perfect orbiting movement

I only use Course Lock for a simple movement forward, for all other situations I find Waypoint much more powerful and flexible

I have done specific hyperlapse tutorials for the different models of the current DJI line

Settings for Drone Hyperlapse and Time Lapse

Length of the hyperlapse

In all four modes, the length of the hyperlapse and the interval between shots must be specified. To make the most of battery life I choose a length of 12 seconds, for a total of slightly less than 300 photos if using a frame rate of 24 frames per second

Length in secondsFrame rate (fps)Number of photos
12 x24 =288

For 300 photos the shooting process will take 15 minutes with an interval of one image every 3 seconds and 20 minutes with an interval of 4 seconds

Interval between photos

How the speed of motion varies at different intervals

Let’s have a quick look at how different intervals modify the speed of motion in a time-lapse

  • 3 and 4 seconds are suitable intervals when the movement comes from people walking, cars, boats, and so on
  • When the movement is mostly in the clouds an interval of 4 seconds is still acceptable, although at times 5 seconds would be better
  • For time lapses of sunsets or sunrises in Southern Europe or other places relatively close to the equator, an interval of 5 seconds is fine, but in Northern Europe, New England, or Canada longer intervals would be ideal, but this is not possible due to the battery life 

The only choice with most drones is between 3 or 4 seconds if we want a 12 seconds short movie, although, with the Mavic 3 or the Mini 3 Pro with the Plus battery, we can push it to an interval of 5 seconds

More details about Settings for time lapses and hyperlapses in this article article

Exposure value

For hyperlapses it is crucial to always use manual exposure. The three parameters for exposure are Shutter speed, Aperture, and ISO, but the only current DJI model with variable aperture is the Mavic 3. With the Mini 3 Pro and the Air 2s we can only set the other two values

Regarding ISO we want to keep the value as low as possible, but the tolerance to higher values has increased significantly with recent models, so we can push it from 100 up to 400 without losing too much image quality

Shutter speed and motion blur

Regarding shutter speed, in time lapses and hyperlapses we want to keep the value as close as possible to 1 second if there are moving elements in the scene, in order to achieve the correct amount of motion blur

Motion blur is the most important factor to control, I suggest watching my specific article about Motion Blur. This is what happens when in a hyperlapse when a wrong shutter speed. There is absolutely  no motion blur and the clip is simply unwatchable

When taking hyperlapses with drones, there is very little room to adapt the exposure to the different light conditions, this is why ND filters are absolutely needed for hyperlapses. Check my article Why ND filters are needed for more details

Post-Processing Drone Time Lapses and Hyperlapses

All DJI models are able to instantly produce auto-generated hyperlapses immediately after the end of the shooting process. The quality of these short movies has improved a lot in recent models, so beginners can use them for posting on social media

Much better results are obtained by saving the individual photos as RAW files for color grading them in a photo editor and importing the sequence in a video editor,  where it is possible to reframe, zoom in, and add dynamic adjustments

To edit the RAW photos I use the excellent Luminar Neo, click on the link for more details

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VicVideoPic

I am Vittorio Caramazza, aka Vicvideopic, the founder of this website and author of all the posts. I am a videographer and photographer contributing to several stock agencies. I am an Adobe Certified Expert in Photoshop and Lightroom. I have 10 years of experience with dron videography and photography. I was struck by drone syndrome in 2013. I have owned and tested in depth the following drones: Phantom 3, Phantom 4, Phantom 4 Pro, Mavic 2 Zoom, Mavic 2 Pro, Mavic Mini, Mini 2, Air 2, Air 2s, Autel Evo Nano Plus, Mavic 3, Mini 3 Pro, Mini 3. My home has turned into a breeding ground for drones. I am the owner of two YouTube channels specializing in Videography and Photography, with a focus on drones My main channel is VicVideopic (in English): https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCgaBlrFDONJ4BSEUHa2cLKg My other channel is Drone Mitico, the Italian version.: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkeoY8rPPj-fypUKHckTtwQ I am currently based in Sicily (Southern Italy), but I tend to move quite often. After all, this is one of the main benefits of being a digital nomad…

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