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A quick photo primer on Instagram's Hyperlapse app

Instagram's new time lapse toolkit is a ton of fun -- more so if you know the ins and outs of the art form. Here's a best practices guide for snapping sped-up shots through space.

Instagram's new Hyperlapse app helps stabilize video and speeds up time. Nick Statt/CNET

Instagram announced a standalone iOS app, Hyperlapse, on Tuesday that shoots video that can be sped while remaining smooth thanks to an image-stabilization algorithm that reduces shakiness. To exercise your creative time lapse muscles, however, a brief photography refresher and some simple tips will go a long way.

A hyperlapse is a specific technique under the umbrella of time lapse photography. A traditional time lapse is a lengthy snippet of footage that gets sped up in post-processing to compress time. That way, you can view hours of video of a sundown, a night's sky, or a bird's-eye view of cityscape in a matter of minutes -- even seconds.

Standard time lapses are generally static or involve only slight motion. In contrast, a hyperlapse involves motion and combines the elements of a cinematic tracking shot with a time lapse.


The big idea here is to show fast movement of the camera across distances -- think accelerated shots out of a car window while you're driving along a windy road. This usually requires expensive equipment like a Steadicam stabilizing unit since moving a camera shooting live video and then speeding it up tends to exacerbate any slight hand movements you've made.

Instagram's new app boils seeks to offer quick fix solution to these myriad problems into one mobile package. The app's creators didn't want the function to be buried in Instagram's toolkit. There are two features: the start-and-stop recording button and the speed dial. The video either can go into your camera roll or directly to Facebook or Instagram.

Here are the basics to keep in mind when using Hyperlapse:

1. For stationary shots, shoot from afar

Time lapses work best when you're able to speed up a typically slow-moving event, like the movement of the sun or a cloud formation. The same applies when you want to emphasize the chaos of countless unrelated movements in a tight space. Anyone who's ever been stuck in a Manhattan traffic jam can relate.

Due to the limitations of mobile, you need to be aware of the camera angle as well as your distance from the action if you're going to successfully turn all those subtle movements into a concentrated flow. That means finding a good vantage point where the key motion is relatively limited to a certain aspect of the frame or takes place uniformly across the frame.

With Hyperlapse's time lapse feature, the key for taking stationary shots like the one above is to shoot from far away and, preferably, from a point of elevation. That way you're able to concentrate the camera on one direction of motion to emphasize the attention around an interesting slice of a scene.

2. Be aware of time and motion

Even more so than when using a standard stationary time lapse, hyperlapses involve getting creative with motion as it relates to time. That means the desired effect depends upon the duration of your shot, the subject's speed and your distance.

Instagram's app lets you accelerate a shot up to 12 times its normal speed. For capturing an image of an airline lifting off, just two or three times the shot's speed yields a neat effect. For stationary shots taken farther away, you'll want to experiment with the higher-end of the speed dial. But it also means that you'll need to capture anywhere between one and a half to two minutes of video to get even a 10 second clip at 10x speed or more.

Hyperlapse offers users a simplified too,l but it doesn't let you customize the speed after-the-fact. You only get one opportunity to choose. Nor does the app let you speed up, slow down different parts of a shot or stop and start the recording to achieve a stop-motion effect. While both features may get included later on, it's important to understand the limitations both of Hyperlapse and of the world you're capturing with it. Experimenting with what works -- and what doesn't -- is the best way to figure this stuff out.

3. Take rides

One of the key functions of a hyperlapse, sometimes called simply a moving time lapse, is to snap shots while riding on a moving object as opposed to taking a video of moving objects while standing still.

That means shots while riding a bike along a simple path work great, especially to emphasize movement. Shooting a video from the passenger window of a car or or plane is also a good place to start. Instagram itself advertises everything from trampoline jumping to rollercoaster rides:

With image stabilization, you need not worry about shaky video as the camera moves through space. That also eliminates one of the barriers to filming those more mobile scenes. And because Instagram's main goal is let people curate personal daily snapshots of their lives as if they were mini-movies, Hyperlapse fits right in, giving users the chance to shoot the scenes that Hollywood studios spend multi-thousand dollar equipment to illustrate.