Often cast off as gimmicky, time lapse photography can actually be mesmerizing with the right subject. And as mobile phone cameras grow in quality and the storage capacity of devices increases, it's possible to make a decent sequence with just what's in your pocket, plus a small tripod.
I went out on a recent evening and gaffer-taped my iPhone 5 to the top of my Canon 5D to double shoot some video of the recently launched Bay Bridge lights in San Francisco so I could test out a few apps. One hour and a few easy settings later, I walked away from the pier pleasantly surprised with what the phone's camera could do.
Here are a few apps that can help you get a cool little keepsake that you can also quickly share:
Available for iOS; $2.99 in the App Store
TimeLapse is a solid app, but bare bones for post-shooting editing features. Like other time lapse apps, it offers great options like locking the exposure and white balance to avoid lighting and color jumps over the course of the chosen time lapse period (especially important at dusk, for example).
This app's interface focuses more heavily on selection of the total shooting time, the shutter's shooting interval and a stopping point, which is defined by either a specific number of shots up to 9,999 or an amount of time up to 24 hours. If you're unsure of how long you want the the time lapse to go, you can always select a high number and then stop it when satisfied.
The advantage with this app is that it constructs the time lapse as it goes rather than storing hundreds of images to be processed later. It therefore doesn't require as much of the phone's storage capacity as some others. So this is a good option for photographers with less than 32 GB of storage, depending on what else is on your device. If you're planning on shooting over the course of 30 minutes, it should be fine to set the camera to shoot every half-second or full second. At half-second intervals, you'll end up with a 25-second video at 72 times the normal speed of your subject.
Lessons learned: This app requires you to really envision what you want in your final product, so try to think about how your subject will move and change over time.
Available for iOS and Android: $1.99 in the App Store or $1.99 from Google Play
Lapse It is probably the best one apps there for its intuitively designed pre-settings and its plethora of options for editing. It will allow as much shooting as the device can hold, and if you experience some shake or unexpected interruptions like people waking in front of the shot, you can simply keep going and trim out the time leading up to the problem.
You can shoot as fast as 10 frames per second, although that's not recommended for longer periods, as the sheer amount of data creates a longer rendering process with little advantage, and has a tendency to create confusion on playback for the device. Along with trimming, Lapse It allows a few nice light filters to enhance the image and allows multiple exports of your original image batch so you can fine tune and get the desired result. It even can add music from your collection.
Note that a free version is available for trying out the app, but it shoots lower-resolution images.
Lessons learned: Don't shoot more than five minutes at a time with the super-fast 100-millisecond interval.
Available for iOS; $1.99 in the App Store
Although its editing features leave something to be desired, Timelapse Pro has a simple interface that acts as sort of a hybrid between the simplicity of the aforementioned TimeLapse app and the flashiness of Lapse It. But with a little extra effort, Timelapse Pro can get some great results.
It offers the same type of pre-settings and exposure lock function, and a fast render process. The advantage with this app is that you can choose multiple sections of images to delete within the same project and then re-render for better results. Timelapse Pro allows only one export at a time, but you can save previous exports to the camera roll and start over from the same batch of images.
Lessons learned: The app tends to create a vertical image even when the shot is framed horizontally, but there are plenty of free video rotation apps to fix that.
Let's hear from you: What other apps work well for capturing time lapse video with a smartphone?
Dan Schreiber is a journeyman newspaper journalist currently based in California's Bay Area. Perhaps a little light-headed from too many hours in his high school dark room, he decided at a young age to make photography and writing his profession. Twitter: @danschreib
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