Creating Time Lapse from Raw Files

One of the really useful nuggets I picked up in the Post Production World classes I took at NAB came from the Time Lapse workshop instructed by my buddy Rich Harrington. Rich is a mad genious when it comes to video so I was really happy to have the opportunity to learn a few things from him about panoramas and time lapse photography. One of the most useful tips was to stop using Photoshop to create my time lapse movies and start using Adobe After Effects.

Now I have to tell you, I am not an After Effects person. In fact I have only used it once before to add an on-screen timer on a video and I couldn’t have done that without some help from a few YouTube videos. But Rich showed the class something that was hard to ignore when it comes to time lapse and that is that After Effects can create a time lapse video sequence using raw image files. Photoshop can only use JPEGs to create a sequence, which means that you are pretty much stuck with the processed file. By shooting raw and then using After Effects, you can do all the image editing to your raw files in Camera Raw and create a much better looking video sequence.

Here’s how it works in After Effects CS5.5 -

After opening After Effects and creating a new project, I right-clicked in the project window and then selected Import>File from the pop-up menu.

When the file dialog opened I navigated to the folder where my time lapse raw files were located and then clicked the first image in the sequence. Then make sure there is a check-mark next to Camera Raw Sequence at the bottom of the dialog and click Open.

The next dialog to open was Camera Raw. You only get to adjust the first image in the sequence but it still offers a lot of control, especially when recovering highlights and shadows. You can also do other standard raw processing like adding a calibration style, adjust sharpness, reduce noise, change the white balance, etc.

Once the video sequence was loaded, I dragged it to the New Composition icon to create the video composition. From there I could resize the video and change the position by adding keyframes so that it appeared as though I used a rail system to shoot my time lapse.

My original files had a resolution of 4928 x 3264 pixels, which would make for some huge videos. So I created a composition that was using 1920 x 1280 pixels so that I could make the video appear that it was panning from side to side.

When I was happy with my sequence, I rendered it into a video format so that I could then edit it in Premiere Pro as seen in the final video sequence below.

Rendering raw image files does take a lot longer but it’s definitely worth the boost in quality as well as the control you get from using the raw format. For more information on creating time lapse videos (and HDR stuff) check out Rich Harrington’s 3 Exposure blog. It’s chock full of tutorials, tips and hints for creating all sorts of fun projects.

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