Your smartphone can do more than just take regular photos or videos — it can even play around with time and movement. Not in that TARDIS way, mind you, but with time-lapse video and stop-motion animation. These are two cinematic techniques that let you really have some fun and you can find plenty of apps that let you tinker around with both approaches, often with the same program.
Time-lapse video (where original timeframe is altered but the images aren’t) is a great way to capture a natural occurrence like sunrise and compress a longer event into a few minutes or seconds. Wanderment, a gorgeous nature video shot in 4K resolution, shows off what you can do with time-lapse, but you can easily use the approach in your own backyard, say, during that next massive snowstorm. (Instagram’s Hyperlapse app for iOS may have gotten a lot of people interested in this type of video, but it’s not the only time-lapse app out there. Read on.)
Stop-motion animation is great for telling your own little stories with clay models, Legos or action figures, all subtly moved one frame at a time. This creates the illusion of movement when all those individual photos are played together as a video. You know, you’ve seen professional stop-motion in productions like Brickfilms’ LEGO movies, the Wallace & Gromit series, Robot Chicken or those quaint old 1960s holiday specials. With stop-motion, you can expand your own creative powers and if you’ve got a kid home on holiday break, getting him or her to make a movie frame by frame (at 10 frames per video second) can keep ’em busy until school starts again.
So what apps are out there for these sorts of video feats? Depending on your hardware, you may already have one on your phone. As shown here at the left, the Camera app in Apple’s iOS 8 software has a time-lapse feature you can use to create sped-up videos of things like sunsets or sporting events. Some phones in the Android arsenal — like the Samsung Galaxy Nexus — had time-lapse powers years before iOS 8.
Third-party apps are abundant. Check out O Snap for iOS, Lapse It for Android and iOS (left), iMotion, StopMo Studio for iPad, StopMotion Studio for iOS (below) and Windows Phone, or PicPac for Android. Most apps are $5 or less, or free with in-app upgrades to get things like special effects and green screens. If you don’t know which app to get, read the reviews and download the freebie versions of programs that offer starter editions so you can get a feel for the one that works best for your needs.
A tripod for your phone can also help, especially if you’re doing stop-motion animation, where only the subject of your video should be moving. A decent tripod costs about $30 or less and you can find them online or in stores that sell smartphone accessories. Joby’s GripTight GorillaPod Stand (above) is one off-the-shelf option, or you can build your own. As for keeping still while you shoot, you may be able to use the call button your phone’s headset cord as a remote shutter control — it works on the iPhone, so check your Android or Windows Phone manual to see if your model has similar powers. You can also look for a third-party accessory if you want to have remote control and your phone isn’t equipped.
One you have your gear in hand, just plot out your movie or what you want to time-lapse and settle in. It’s a great way to capture a moment in nature — or flex your directorial skills with actors you can completely control.