Using Sequence to Quickly Compile a Beautiful Time-Lapse

Pictures capture moments, videos capture time. The former is valuable, yes, but the latter is its parent. Sadly, it’s not realistic for the average person to capture a beautiful sunrise in video that’s as high resolution as a photograph. That’s because not everyone has a Red camera. (For good reason: they’re priced in the tens of thousands, far out of the price range of the average consumer.) However, you can always make a time-lapse: a series of images taken seconds (2–30) apart and then merged to form a beautiful moving picture.

Time-lapses are a fascinating concept, and also one of the best ways to show someone what a scene looks like because you can get a larger aperture and use fancy 10mm lenses. Since it’s captured differently than a video — there are less frames per second — you are able to get a much higher resolution, so you can edit and crop things to your liking. Time-lapses are perfect for constellation movements and you’ve probably seen a lot of them around Vimeo. If you’ve ever wanted to make your own, Sequence may just be the best app for that.

Inspiration

Before we begin, you may be wondering why on earth a making a time-lapse is even the least bit cool. To those folk, I say you browse Vimeo a bit. For some inspiration, or maybe just a bit of fun, here are four of my favorites:

A Quick Introduction to Capturing a Time-lapse

You can skip this section if you have basic knowledge of the time-lapse procedure.

Vintage Camera by CubaGallery.

Vintage Camera by CubaGallery.

If you have no experience taking pictures for a time-lapse, don’t worry: I’ll explain it to you. It’s actually a very simple process. You will need a DSLR (i.e. Canon T3i) or compact system camera (i.e. Sony NEX–5N), a tripod (the sturdier the better), and an intervalometer for your camera. The intervalometer is required to take a time-lapse simply because it’s impossible for you to time things apart perfectly. If you feel that your camera’s buffer (the time between photos) is enough, feel free to get a regular remote. Just make sure you get the right one for your camera and read some of the reviews on the item before purchasing. You can also leave a comment below with your camera model and I’ll find you a good one.

Once you have the required items, find yourself a scene. This can be anything from, as I said before, the night sky to leaves on a tree to clouds in the sky to a lake’s waves. Just make sure the scene doesn’t require a rapid refresh rate (sports, people, or anything fast-moving), because that’ll yield a choppy and unrealistic video – though of course, some people like this style. If you want to do something like this video (another example), it’s possible but requires a bit of a different technique. (Also, that video uses a tilt-shift effect on every photo for the miniature look.) When you’ve thought up a nice scene, set up your tripod, camera, and remote.

Canon 400D settings by Missy & The Universe.

Canon 400D settings by Missy & The Universe.

It’s best to use manual for shooting the photos that will make up your time-lapse video. You should never use auto and, if you must, resort to aperture priority (Av or A on your toggle) with a manual ISO. If you leave things to the camera, it will yield very inconsistent images due to the changing scene — no matter where you are. It’s also a very good idea to manually set the white balance so you don’t have to batch process a bunch of overly-warm images.

When you’re all ready for shooting, plug in your intervalometer, set a timer, and begin shooting. The faster the shutter speed, the better. You don’t want a bunch of blurry images that don’t progress nicely as a video. You also don’t want an aperture that doesn’t get everything in focus. Make sure to carefully spend time setting your properties before beginning a shoot.

Importing the Photos

Launch Sequence and this will pop up.

Launch Sequence and this will pop up.

Once you’ve finished capturing life around you, it’s time to import all the photos to your computer. Since there will probably be over 100 (preferably, since that only makes a 4-second video at 25 frames per second), give your computer some time to download the files. I shot my test run in my camera’s RAW format, so it took an extra long amount of time to import, but it gave me more flexibility with pre-time-lapse editing.

Sequence is importing images.

Sequence is importing images.

Now launch Sequence and drag your folder of photos into it. The app may take a few moments to load things up, depending on how many photos you have, but for me it only took about ten seconds with 120 photos. Once everything is finished, the app waits for you to press play, or hit your spacebar. It will then run through your time-lapse at 25 FPS. You can change this number by clicking the gear beside the numbers in the middle of the screen and typing in what you’d like, or selecting a number from the drop-down menu.

Deflickering and Other Processing

The deflickering options.

The deflickering options.

As you watch your time-lapse, you may notice a lot of flickering. That can be caused by your exposure not being set the same for every shot, light in the room changing, or you using auto mode instead of manual on your camera. Regardless of the reason, Sequence has a nifty Deflicker feature. Check the box in the bottom left and the app will quickly take out the flickering in your time-lapse — at least, as much as it can. You’ll notice that things are more ambient than before, and more balanced.

Look at the Deflicker graph to know what parts have spikes (lots of flicker). You can also adjust the amount of deflickering by clicking the gear beside the feature and changing 10 (default) to your preference.

Browsing the imported photos.

Browsing the imported photos.

On to additional processing, and a really nice photo browsing feature. To know when you’ve taken a photo, click the gear beside Photos and scroll through the pop-up. There you will find timestamps of each image, which might help you understand why things changed so much between shots. Another way to browse your photos is the main slider, which changes images every click. You can drag it or use your keyboard buttons to navigate. Click the button in the bottom right to view the Exif data on a photo.

Quick Exporting

Exporting the time-lapse is very quick and easy.

Exporting the time-lapse is very quick and easy.

Everything so far has been very straightforward, and exporting is exactly the same. Just click the play button in the bottom right and you’ll be presented with an export options screen including resolution, encoding type, frame rate, and scaling mode. There’s also a list of presets to make things easier. Alternatively, you can export all the photos (deflickered) and then import them into another tool. That’s all there is to it, and that’s all there really needs to be.

No Support for Adding Audio or Advanced Editing

A lot of people like to add music to their time-lapses, simply because the video is extremely boring without some sound. At the moment, Sequence doesn’t support that sort of editing, or really anything advanced. For $20, that’s sensible. After all, you can perform all the tasks you need to in iMovie after you export the video file. However, there’s one thing that’s easier to do when you process the whole thing in iMovie: panning.

It’s very common to pan the photos in time-lapses since there’s a large 3000+ pixel image available as the source. When you have a lot of these, you can do fun things like zooming, cropping, and navigating around the screen. iMovie does that automatically when you photos for a time-lapse, but Sequence doesn’t have a way to do panning.

I spoke with the developer about both of these outstanding features and he said that the audio may be added in the future. “I want to walk that fine line before it turns into a full non-linear editing system like Final Cut Pro or Premiere,” he said. As for panning and cropping, it’s “definitely on the roadmap”. The developer said that he thinks of Sequence right now as a simple app, and it “might just be a cog in a workflow for professional timelapse photographers working on larger multiscene projects/films, but it should still offer a one-stop solution for simpler straightforward projects.”

A Beautiful Little Tool

Below is a little something I made quickly with Sequence. It’s not much, but it only took a half an hour, whereas most of the time this kind of stuff takes at least a full day.

I had a great experience with Sequence. Not only was it simple and easy to use from the start, there was also a lot of effort put into the nice user interface and the way you go about creating a time-lapse. It was nice to see the minimalism in some areas, with true features in others. Little things like the Deflicker make this app feel more professional than it’s trying to be, and that’s nice to see.

Sequence will be perfect for anyone who wants to quickly compile their latest time-lapse. It doesn’t offer some of the more advanced tools, but for the price it’s a good value. If you’re looking for something more professional, there are tools like Boinx iStopMotion for $49.99. Obviously, the more you pay, the more you get. Would it be best to use Sequence instead of iMovie? Yes, if you’re looking for a quick way to make your time-lapse without dealing with iMovie’s slow processing time. Otherwise, combine them in a productive workflow.


Summary

With this app, anyone can make a time-lapse, and that's what makes it special.

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  • Matt

    I liked your article since it makes me want to go shoot a time-lapse scene.

    I have a remote for my Nikon D80. Its one of the wireless ones. Would you please talk a little about what an intervalometer is and does? Would I need one of these for capturing the images or will the wireless remote do the job? Lastly, I did a quick search online for intervalometers and found them priced from $10 – $250. What’s the difference in these?

    Thanks,
    Matt

    • http://www.thepapermail.com Jacob Penderworth

      Hey Matt,

      I’m sorry I didn’t get into too much detail about intervalometers. You do need one if you want to space the images out nicely by, say, 5 seconds. Your camera can’t do that on its own and the intervalometer automatically takes images at whatever interval you set it at. They can be very expensive and it all depends on what you’re looking for. Most have the basic functions though. If you just want to do a basic time-lapse, here is the best one: http://www.amazon.com/Aputure-Control-Shutter-Inexpensive-Intervalometer/dp/B003Y34AL0/

      I have the Canon version of that and it works great. You really don’t need anything more advanced for time-lapses, unless you want a wireless one or something. Even the Nikon and Canon models don’t do much more than intervals, a self-timer, long exposure (bulb with anything beyond 30 seconds), and exposure count. There’s actually nothing else you can do with an intervalometer, except use it as a remote. The wireless ones are typically pricier and not as versatile in their compatibility.

      Hope that helps!

  • MacUserDO

    Canon DSLRs come with a bundled app called EOS Utility which allows you to connect your camera to your Mac or PC and control it from there via USB, including the ability to have the camera take a picture in regular intervals. I have been doing time lapses this way, combining the pictures using QuickTime 7 Pro. I don’t know if QuickTime X still includes this feature, but QuickTime 7 Pro continues to work on Mountain Lion.

    Probably your Nikon DSLRs shipped which such an app, too, and then there is the DSLR Remote app on the iTunes Store for those with an iOS device.

    • http://www.thepapermail.com Jacob Penderworth

      I knew this, but not everyone wants to take their computer along on a time-lapse journey. I have a Canon, by the way.

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