How to Use After Effects to Take Your Aerial Hyperlapse to the Next Level
One of the most amazing and engagement-inducing features of the latest drone technology is the aerial hyperlapse. A hyperlapse is much like a time-lapse, but one in which the camera moves during the filming.
In the DJI Fly app (and DJI Go 4) you can set up a hyperlapse that produces a fairly good quality product right out of the camera.
I’m going to walk you through the process of using Adobe After Effects to take your hyperlapse to the next level.
What to Film
What looks good in a hyperlapse is certainly subjective, but generally speaking, you need consistent movement.
With cities and cars, this is fairly easy to find, but I live in the woods where the clouds, and their lower cousin fog, are pretty much all I’ve got. Pair that with glassy reflections from a calm body of water, and you’ve got a recipe for success.
Sunsets and sunrises are also fun to capture, but as a warning, the lighting conditions can change dramatically during those times and we will need to keep our settings consistent to avoid jarring changes in the final product.
I find the golden hour to be an excellent time to shoot hyperlapses and switch into regular photo and video mode once sunset happens.
Now the calm winds you can see as evidence of the glassy reflection above are not only for the symmetry provided, but also help to maintain a smooth flight which makes stabilization all the easier later on.
How to Film
- In the DJI Fly app, click on the icon above the shutter button to open up the menu.
- Scroll down in the column immediately to the left to find Hyperlapse.
If you are shooting a particular subject, circle mode can be useful, but otherwise, I stick with course lock. It provides a nice steady movement in a single direction that makes stabilization later much smoother.
Once you’ve selected course lock, you will need to determine the direction you want your drone to fly and lock that course in.
In my case, you can see that I’ve chosen to fly towards the sun. If you press the lock icon, it will close and turn yellow, indicating that you have successfully locked the direction.
In the bottom right corner, you can see all my settings. Notice that I am in PRO mode rather than auto.
Also, notice that in addition to producing a 4K video file, I’ve also set the camera to record the RAW images.
I wanted to get nice sun rays as the sun poked out from behind the clouds, so I set my aperture to its smallest setting f/11, which left my shutter speed at 1/200 to minimize blown-out highlights.
As you can see from the histogram above the map, this image is exposed very darkly, but I should be able to recover quite a bit of shadow detail when I edit the photos later because I’m shooting RAW.
If you press the down arrow underneath the yellow lock icon, it will open up a small menu that allows you to change the three hyperlapse settings.
The first is the interval, which is how often the camera takes an image. You will generally be producing a 24 or 30 fps video, so at 2 seconds (the minimum value when shooting raw), you will get about a second of footage for every minute of flight.
One of the best things about the Mavic 3’s insane flight time is being able to take super long hyperlapses, or having enough battery to stay flying after your hyperlapse is complete.
The second setting is Length. This is what determines the length of the final clip as well as the length of your flight. I chose 14 seconds, so that means I need 350 frames, and the flight will take 11 minutes and 40 seconds.
The final setting is Speed, which is fairly self-explanatory. I think the default is like 1.1 miles per hour, but I like the 2.5 to 3 miles per hour speed as I feel I don’t get enough movement if I’m too slow. Too fast, however, and it will be too much movement, obviously.
Capturing the Footage
Once you’ve got your setting situated, go ahead and press the shutter button to begin taking your hyperlapse.
I find it best to set my remote down to avoid accidentally touching a button, but I make sure it’s just within reach in case of an emergency. This also allows me to better keep my eye on the drone and, hopefully, the killer sunset happening.
There is a timer and frame counter that lets you know how much more filming you have. Towards the end of the time, you will get a warning that you are almost finished shooting.
At any point while shooting, you can hit the +1s button to add a second of finalized video. Keep in mind that this adds about a minute of flight time with the settings I am using.
Once you’ve finished shooting all of your images, the app will stitch them all together into a stabilized video clip.
Reviewing the Footage
This is straight out of the camera in terms of stability. As there was almost no wind, it is quite stable, though it does wobble a bit at the end.
I applied some color corrections in Premiere Pro, which you can see turned on and off during the clip.
For my taste, this is way too dark, admittedly because I underexposed to keep the details in the clouds around the sun. Unfortunately, the shadows are not recoverable using the video alone.
Editing the Raw Images
Using Adobe Lightroom, I import my entire micro SD card to my external hard drive and then use color labels to isolate the raw images from the hyperlapse.
You can see I’ve applied a basic edit to the first image. So much more detail is recoverable in the shadows of the raw image compared to those in the video clip.
I typically edit the first shot, copy the settings (command + c) and paste (command + v) them to the final image.
The final image was still pretty dark, so I bumped up the exposure a bit and then copied those settings back to the first image to make sure it wasn’t too much.
At that point, I selected all 350 images from the hyperlapse. I did this with the first image selected and then pressing ‘command + a’, which allows the Sync feature to be used.
Synchronizing the settings is much the same as copying and pasting but for many images at the same time.
You will probably notice that it takes quite a while for all of the images to show the change in settings. I usually give it a minute or two before exporting just to be sure.
Exporting the Images
With all of the images selected, I go up to File > Export. This opens the export menu.
The first option is export location. I have a folder on my external hard drive devoted to hyperlapses, so I tap Choose… and in that Hyperlapse folder, I create a subfolder titled with the hyperlapse I’m exporting.
In this case, I was flying over a local Lake Hebron at sunset so…
Under File Naming, I use the same name for the individual images and add a three-digit sequence to the end so that as the images are exported, they get a sequential number. This becomes helpful when importing the images into After Effects.
I leave File Settings at 100 quality and don’t limit the file size or mess with the Image Sizing, though you could reduce the size of the images as you will only be using 3840 x 2160 at most, and these images are 5272 x 3948 (on the Mavic 3).
Once you hit export, it takes quite a while. Just go ahead and leave your computer while it’s happening.
Too often, I’ve found myself tempted to open up After Effects while waiting, and I’m always disappointed in my decision as the computer crawls to a halt.
Importing to After Effects
Once your export has been completed and you open up After Effects and create a new project, you will need to import those images as a sequence by choosing File > Import > File.
In the menu window that pops up, navigate to the folder on your external hard drive that contains the exported images.
Select the first image and make sure that ImporterJPEG Sequence is selected. This will create a 30-frame-per-second sequence that you can use to make a composition.
If I’m including the hyperlapse in a video that was largely shot in 24 frames per second, you would want to change that by right-clicking on the footage in your project panel and using Interpret Footage > Main.
Drag the footage you created into the composition panel at the bottom of the screen. It will create a composition with the size of the images and whatever frame rate you’ve selected (or 30 fps if you haven’t changed it).
The first thing I like to do is go into my composition settings (Composition > Settings) and rename the composition and increase the width and height to allow the footage some room as it is stabilized.
I’d increase this to 5500 by 4500. Though you can certainly change it later, you just don’t want to lose any of the image as you are stabilizing.
At this point, you can watch the clip (it takes a while to render) to see how much stabilizing you are going to need.
It is also a good idea to keep an eye on the horizon to look for points that are visible throughout the clip to use as tracking points.
Stabilizing the Footage
On the right side of the screen, open up the Tracker Menu and select Stabilize Motion. This will create a single tracker point on your image that can be used to track and stabilize the position of the clip.
You also want to select the button for Rotation which adds a second tracking Point.
Each tracking point is composed of an inner and outer square. The inner square is the actual tracking point, and the outer square is the area in the next frame that After Effects will search for that same point.
I usually make them a bit larger than they come by default by grabbing the corners and stretching them.
If you make them too large, however, it will take a very long time to stabilize, and you might run into issues.
As for where to put the trackers, I like to drag them to distinguishable points on the horizon like mountain peaks that stay visible throughout the entire clip without obstruction.
The peak I picked above for tracking point one, for instance, got covered up by a bright sun ray towards the middle of the clip and ended up messing up my first round of stabilization.
I ended up just picking another peak to fix it.
With your playhead at the beginning of the clip, press the play button next to Analyze in the Tracker menu. It will progress frame by frame, moving the tracking points over the positions you have chosen.
I like to pay careful attention during this part, so if I see a tracker move significantly off my selected point, I can stop it and correct it or start over with a new point.
Once it has finished tracking each frame, it will show you how they have moved throughout the clip with a series of light blue squares.
You can then select Apply, and you will be given the choice to stabilize just the X direction or both X and Y. Choose X and Y.
After Effects will then create key frames for each individual frame that keeps those objects in the same spot.
If you play through the image, you will see it wiggling around in the larger frame you created. At this point, I like to create another composition that will have my final export settings.
In the project panel, drag the composition you created to the “Create New Composition” icon, which is between the ‘Folder‘ and ‘Rocket ship‘ icons.
Then go into the composition settings and change the name. I’m going with 4K edit here to distinguish it from the vertical composition I’m going to make for an Instagram reel.
You should also change the dimensions to match your preferred size, 3840 x 2160 for 4K video.
You can then use the scale and position options under Transform in the composition panel to get your clip where you want it.
You can also use key frames here to zoom in or pan around to add some dynamics to your image.
Like I said, I made another clip version framed to Instagram Reels, which I named appropriately and set the size to 1080 x 1920.
I used key framing on this version to make sure the sun stayed perfectly centered. On the first frame, I centered the sun using position and pressed the stopwatch to insert a key frame.
I then went to the last frame and repositioned it with the sun again in the center. This created another key frame that After Effects would smoothly transition between.
Finally, After watching this narrower version of the clip, it was clear that there was a slight amount of wiggle still visible, so I added warp stabilizer found in the Effects and Presets Panel.
It took a minute to analyze and apply the stabilization, but it was definitely worth the extra effort.
Exporting the Final Footage
Once stabilization is complete, it’s time to export. File > Export > Add to Adobe Media Encoder Queue. I do this with both my 4K and Instagram versions.
This again begins the long and painful process of opening up another Adobe application, but just wait for it to be complete.
Once Media Encoder is up and running, you should probably adjust the export setting.
Click on the blue text below Preset. Mine defaults to BlackBox as I am usually exporting these clips for sale as stock video.
You read my article about making money with your drone, right?
» MORE: How to Turn Your Drone Hobby into a Side Hustle – 5 Ways to Earn Cash Today
Clicking there will open up your export settings. Under Preset, you can choose whatever Preset you would like.
Since I’m exporting this particular clip to YouTube for you to view, I’ll select the YouTube 1080 Full HD Preset, but I will also set to Render and Maximum Depth and well as Use Maximum Render Quality, which are the same settings I used for the export of the straight out of camera edit earlier.
Once you hit okay, you will be able to press the play button in the upper right-hand corner and wait for the export to render. You can see the final results below.
It might seem like a lot of work, but you can certainly see the huge improvement between this and the straight-out-of-camera version. While I’m at it, here is the version I posted to Instagram.
These hyperlapses are super fun to shoot and produce a very satisfying result that creates lots of engagement.
Don’t let your app have all the fun, though, so take the time and invest the effort in producing a top-notch hyperlapse using After Effects.