I don't make time-lapses, but as a viewer I frequently happen to find time-lapse videos that I can't or don't watch at all. Here are my tips for all of you out there to make your sequence of images more appealing to any audience.
A time-lapse is a video made from a number of photos. Every original video footage is basically the same. The difference is that the latter can have embedded sound, and the adjacent frames are a few milliseconds apart in time. With that clarification, time-lapses are not much different than a short film. The question is how to make a short film watchable by audiences. The answer is to think of it as a short film, not as a sequence of images. If you know how to make a short film interesting, you will be able to make a time-lapse interesting too.
Judging a Book By Its Cover
I evaluate a time-lapse by its cover image and its title. So do most people out there. I don't play it if the title is not capturing my attention or the cover image is not captivating. How many times have you watched a movie based on its poster? How many times you haven't watched a movie for that very reason? If your time-lapse shows something extraordinary, show it in the title and in the thumbnail image. If it's not, what's the point of publishing it?
Beautiful Is Not Enough
You've seen movies with beautiful cinematography, but lack of story whatsoever. That's where most time-lapses miss the point too. They are beautiful, but they are a bunch of nice looking images combined into a video. In the age of information abundance, we've seen it all. Show us a story, not 15 minutes of nice images. We, as viewers, are always hungry for stories. Story comes first, visuals are after that.
How to Create a Story With a Time-Lapse
- Combine several sequences to create context. This is like intro, main plot, and ending. When shooting a time-lapse, think about that. It's a short film after all.
- Use different points of view, which means create several time-lapses from different angles of view.
- Use sound to enhance the story. A voiceover may be the actual story backed up with beautiful visuals.
- Use text to tell the story. Subtitles or similar are a great way to help the viewer remember your video and watch it until the end.
- Show something the audience doesn't see often. We've seen it all. You have to surprise us.
If You Don't Have a Story...
- Make it short. Sometimes it's just a bunch of beautiful images, I understand that. If you can't think of a captivating title, keep the video short. The first thing I do when I sense a not-so-entertaining time-lapse is to look at the duration. To me, more than two minutes is too long.
- Don't publish it as a standalone video. Use it as a b-roll or a cutaway in another video.
Making an intriguing time-lapse is an art of its own. If you want to be a good artist, you have to be a good storyteller.