Hyperlapse and time-lapse: what’s the difference?

Distinguishing time-lapse photography from one of its closely associated techniques.

What is hyperlapse?

Hyperlapse is a technique within time-lapse photography which involves the camera moving considerable distances during capture to create complex motion paths and angle changes. Much like a tracking shot commonly used in film and video – where the camera moves along a particular axis – a hyperlapse is essentially time-lapse but with added movement over greater distances.

The same basic principle for time-lapse capture applies to hyperlapse: images are taken of a particular subject at regular intervals using a mounted camera. Limited motion may also be applied in this instance, using a zoom or pan technique.

Hyperlapse, on the other hand, involves greater acceleration across longer distances, creating seamless motion paths while the camera continues to capture at regular intervals.

Hyperlapse: a history

The term hyperlapse only started to become a permanent part of photography vocabulary in 2014. However, it is thought that filmmaker Guy Roland and his 1991 film called Pacer is actually the first hyperlapse ever made.

Shot using a Bolex 16mm camera in Montreal, Quebec, the original negative was destroyed but a low-resolution video version was preserved in the video magazine, Channel Zero in 1996. The version of the film you see below is digitally remastered from 2015.


Before the rise of digital photography hyperlapse was incredibly difficult to produce.

The visual quality of Roland’s work is certainly of its time; the rather grainy finish to the footage – even in its post-produced form – is a far-cry from what we expect from video today. From this, we can experience Montreal through a ‘retro’ filter which helps evoke a sense of nostalgia for this city.

But this is not to dismiss the techniques that Roland uses in Pacer, which are on a par with some of the best hyperlapses that can be found on the Internet right now.

Not only that, all effects were achieved ‘in-camera’. The film cuts together some extraordinary movements and angles; sweeping up and over tall buildings, reeling passed famous monuments and flying through fences and railings, present the city in a way that had not been seen before:

“Pacer looked at the world in a way no film had before it. The geometry of the city and its construction, the artistry of Montreal’s landscape seen through the hyper-prism of a camera racing through time on a different dimension.”

It was Roland’s innovative use of time-lapse photography which allowed hyperlapse to develop into the flourishing technique that it is today.

Recent innovations

Modern-day hyperlapse is now produced digitally and with all of the capabilities that today’s technology can account for.

Hyperlapse is commonly applied to city settings, as Roland’s work first established. Like Geoff Tompkinson’s work demonstrate, hyperlapse films can provide impressive visual tours of cities from across all parts of the world. Watching hyperlapse is often an immersive experience, creating the illusion that you’re actually flying around a city.

In fact, unmanned aerial vehicles – or drones as they are more commonly known – have been utilised to enhance both time-lapse and hyperlapse sequences. Drones are becoming increasingly used to enhance the visual perspective of time-lapse photography; in a similar way, the height, as well as the flexibility of motion allowed for by drones, have revolutionised how we capture the city from above.

Looking down the River Thames towards the City of London
Above: looking down the River Thames towards the City of London, captured using a drone.

Traditionally, hyperlapse is made up of images taken at regular intervals. In a slight variation of this, however, Matteo Archondis payed homage to the visual perspective allowed for by hyperlapse. Rather than capturing images using a camera, Archondis collected screenshots taken from Google Maps, which he then rigorously stitched together to create this incredible visual tour of the world.

As well as these innovations by professionals and those studying these techniques, recent innocations in smartphone technology has also enabled users to create hyperlapse sequences using applications such as Instagram.

Although not hyperlapse in its purest form (which relies on individual images taken at regular intervals), but rather video that is then sped up, such applications mean that these techniques are available and be refined by everyone with a smartphone.

Subgenres of hyperlapse

In addition to its more varied applications from recent years, there are also similar techniques that have developed from hyperlapse.

Flowmotion, for example, is considered to be a combination of time-lapse photography, hyperlapse and regular film. Thought to be pioneered by British filmmaker, Rob Whitworth, at the beginning of the decade, flowmotion simulates a seamless journey from one location to another, no matter the distance between them. Check out Whitworth’s ‘Barcelona GO!’, the beauty of which needs to be seen to be believed.

Hyperzoom is also heavily reliant on post-productions techniques and was considered to be developed by Geoff Tompkinson, whose work we’ve referred to above. Contrary to hyperlapse, however, the camera remains static throughout capture but relies on the post-production editing to create the virtual camera movement from one location to another.

In time we are sure to see many more innovations of such techniques; it is incredibly exciting to think where we could end up.

Whether these will go back to the more traditional applications that developed from time-lapse photography, or continue to be inventive in terms of means of capture, this is certainly an area of photography that can never be exhausted.

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