QuickTime Pro Time-Lapse Tutorial [video]

This video is an update of the original, written post below. Go full screen HD for detail.

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QuickTime Pro download: Windows Mac

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Often mentioned as the “go-to” solution for time-lapse, QuickTime Pro has been used for years by professionals and amateurs alike. In this tutorial, I’ll explain why you might want to use QuickTime Pro, why other solutions are often better, and how to make your first time-lapse.

The Positive

QuickTime Pro has a few advantages over other software—it works on Macs and PCs, it doesn’t cost nearly as much as other editing programs, it’s fairly easy to use, and it allows you to save files in many different formats. This last reason is why I bought QuickTime Pro, which currently costs $29.99. I can save files in high quality formats for uploads to stock video websites and make sure they’re in the requested format.

The Negative

First, there’s the price. $30 isn’t much, but there are plenty of free PC alternatives such as VirtualDub or even Windows Live Movie Maker. Then there’s the interface. It’s not hard to use QuickTime Pro, but for $30 I’d like some additional editing options and a time line. If you go to Apple’s website to upgrade to QuickTime Pro, you’ll notice several comments reflecting this same view.

Prepping Your Photos

Because QuickTime Pro has very limited editing functions, I’d suggest prepping your photos before you begin. This could include cropping, straightening, color editing, etc. All of these things are easy using Photoshop and creating an action. I haven’t spent much time with the free photo editing program Gimp, but I imagine it has similar abilities.

Importing Your Photos

Begin by opening QuickTime Player. If this is your first time using this software, you might be surprised that the video editor is built into the movie player. I spent about five minutes looking for a separate program.

Click on File>Open image sequence… and find the folder with the images you want to use. At the bottom of the pop-up window, change the frame rate to a good estimate of what you think will work. 24fps is a good place to start if you’re unsure. Note that 15fps or below will show noticeable choppiness in the final video. You won’t be able to change this within QuickTime Pro once you’ve made a selection, so figuring out your frame rate before you start shooting will help. If you need something between 15fps and 24fps, you’ll have to edit the video in another program after you export it.

Once you’ve selected the frame rate, select and open the first image in the sequence. It may take a couple minutes for the images to render into a video.

For most cameras, the size of the pictures will far exceed the need for even HD video. Therefore, the video window that pops up will be much bigger than the screen size. To change the size, select View>Fit to Screen (Ctrl+3) in the video window. This resizes the window to fit the screen, but the video will still be jerky because of its size. For example, the photos I took with my 5 MP camera and later cropped created a video 2641 x 1486 and that takes up 286.66 MB for less than nine seconds of video. By comparison, a feature length movie can be compressed into reasonable quality at around 700 MB and even true HD video has a resolution of only 1920 x 1080.

Exporting the Video

Unfortunately, there’s no good way to preview your video at this stage. To see how it will look, you’ll need to export it. This is where things get a bit complicated as we pick different formats and compression filters. To keep things simple, I’m going to use the QuickTime format (.mov) because it’s standard to QuickTime and works on YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr, and any number of other video hosting sites. If you want to export for stock, go to your company’s website for format specifications.

Click on File>Export (Ctrl+E), choose a file name and location, select your export file type, and then click the Options box. From the new settings window, we’ll focus on three things: Settings, Filter, and Size.

Click the Settings box if you want to change your compression filter. You can probably leave the filter type alone or select H.264 if you want a high quality video.

The Filter box offers limited choices but might be worth a look if you don’t plan to do any further editing.

Size is the most important of the three because most videos will be too big. Click on the box and you’ll see a menu similar to the one below.

I’ve selected HD 1920 x 1080 16:9 because it’s standard for television. (Update: Make sure the video is saved in true 1080p by checking the dimensions on the “Movie Settings” page before you save. I prefer the “1920 x 1080 HD” setting) Now I have to make a choice because I shot my photos in the standard 4:3 ratio and have to change to 16:9. I can either letterbox the video, which puts black bars on either side, or I can crop the video and lose the top and bottom. I usually crop to 16:9 before I import my videos, but for the sake of this tutorial I’m going to choose to crop. Make sure Preserve aspect ratio is checked so the video isn’t squished to size and click OK, OK, and Save. Your video will start rendering.

After a few minutes, you’ll be able to watch your new video. If it goes too fast or too slow, repeat this process and adjust the frame rate accordingly. Once you’re happy with the video, you can open it in another editing program to add music and effects or you can simply upload it to the web. My final video is 23.4 MB and eight seconds long. Music and credits were added with Windows Live Movie Maker.

If this tutorial helped, please consider a single click on any of the boxes in the slider to the left. As always, if you have any questions or comments, please leave me a message below and I’ll make sure to follow up.

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