How to perfect the drone hyperlapse — as told by one of America’s best drone photographers

You’ve seen her photos in The Sun UK, the Telegraph, and the Mirror. She’s prominently featured in the book “Masters of Drone Photography.” Her work is feature on DPReview. You’ve also seen her at all the big drone events, from those hosted by AirVūz to the Boston Drone Film Festival. Lately, drone photographer Kara Murphy has been hyper-focused on perfecting the drone hyperlapse, and she’s sharing her tips on how to do it.

Murphy also recently relaunched Aerial Print Shop, where she sells her stunning aerial photos as art. And now through the end of the year, Murphy is offering all Drone Girl readers a discount of 25% off any print with the coupon code “dronegirl“.

The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Kara Murphy drone hyperlapse
Image courtesy of Kara Murphy

Drone Girl: Let’s start with some drone hyperlapse basics. What do people need to know to get started?

KM: There are 5 different speeds you can record a hyperlapse. 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s, and 6s. Each “s” represents one second. So 2s means the drone takes photos at two-second intervals.

I always think it’s wise to stick to 2 or 3 second intervals for more than one reason:

  1. It takes significantly longer to record, for example, a 10-second hyperlapse clip at 6s intervals. Where 2s could take you as little as 10 minutes, a 6-second interval could take up to 30 minutes. It might make sense to have the drone up in the air for that long (a Mavic Air 2 maxes out at 34 minutes of battery life while a Mavic 2 Pro has around 31 minutes, tops) if you’re documenting a sunset. Otherwise it’s tedious.
  2. When you’re recording a hyperlapse at 2 or 3-second intervals, you’re capturing a wider range of motion. If you wanted, you could always speed up a clip and retain the fluidity of your main subjects. Slowing it down, with gaps in coverage, on the other hand, could make for some awkward looking clips.

DG: What types of images work best for drone hyperlapse?

KM: When it comes to creating an interesting hyperlapse, you want moving subjects such as cars, boats, clouds, and people in the frame. With a hyperlapse, the key is to create motion blur, especially if it’s toward dusk and cars have their lights on.

DG: Where should the drone be positioned for a hyperlapse?

KM: If you happen to be focusing on a particular subject, such as a bridge or building, don’t fly close to it. You want to start off a bit further off. That way, you can include the skyline and more moving elements for enhanced, interesting footage.

I honed in on a chapel and one subject, close up, wasn’t fun to view in fast motion – even with a few moving cars in the background.

DG: What are your tips for creating motion blur, especially when it’s at dawn or dusk?

KM: You need to slow the shutter down to ideally 1/4 of a second. If you’re shooting in Manual, and you should be, you’ll need a neutral density (ND) filter to cut down on the light coming into the lens so other parts of your moving imagery aren’t blown out. 

DG: What should people know about getting neutral density filters for hyperlapses?

KM: I don’t want to sound like a living, breathing advertisement for DJI but I really appreciate the selection of ND filters they included with their Mavic Air 2 Fly More combo. When it comes to shooting hyperlapses, an ND256 is ideal for a bright, sunny afternoon while an ND16 is still useful for slowing down the shutter and obtaining that smooth motion blur at either dawn or dusk. I typically use the Waypoint mode when it comes to recording these clips and it takes some trial and error to figure out where to start and end your sequences. Overall, it’s a fun challenge.

DG: What about DJI’s hyperlapse features stand out?

KM: I think it’s cool that DJI allows you to designate up to 50 waypoints, allowing you to automate the process of a slow reveal or similar shot that’s unique to drones.

DG: Let’s talk about you! What got you so entranced by hyperlapse images?

KM: Hyperlapse clips can make mundane events more exciting. We’re in an era of short attention spans so it makes sense to speed some scenes up at times, it also breathes life into any video sequence.

DG: When did you first get into hyperlapse photography?

KM: When the Mavic Air 2 was introduced, one notable feature was its ability to capture hyperlapse clips — pretty impressive for a drone that retails for under $1,000. The photos are automatically stitched together in the drone which adds to the convenience factor. Incidentally, a client asked for some hyperlapse footage about a week later. Since I had a Mavic Air 2 on loan, I decided to start learning how to create a decent clip.

DG: Do you have any examples of your recent hyperlapse work?

KM: I can’t really share what I create for clients or DPReview but here’s an outtake (paragraph below). There’s still a lot more hours I need to log to get to the level of some others I know who are doing it well.

DG: What about examples of hyperlapses from others that you love?

KM: I’m a huge fan of Better Call Saul and this video by an artist named Lyric appeared in my YouTube feed after I watched a clip. Since the show takes place in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and I also watch a lot of drone-related content, YouTube’s algorithm suggested it. It’s mostly hyperlapse and is engaging from beginning to end. I aspire to create something of this caliber.

DG: What are some classic mistakes you see when shooting a drone hyperlapse and/or timelapse?

KM: The only thing I would say is don’t try to capture a hyperlapse in windy conditions. No amount of post-processing can help. Also, I’ve seen a few where Auto settings were on and Anti-flicker tech wasn’t activated. It looked a bit strange. Still, I feel like we’re all learning so I don’t want to be overly critical.

DG: So we’ve been talking about the Mavic Air 2 a lot today, but what’s your go-to drone right now?

KM: To this day, I still love my Phantom 4 Pro the most.

I have a Mavic 2 Pro as well, and for the work I mostly do, which is photography and videography, it has the Hasselblad color profile which really gives the colors a distinct boost and vibrancy. That being said, the photos and video clips I capture with the P4 Pro are sharper and I admire how well it holds up in varying weather conditions

 I’ve been holding out for a Phantom 5 series but it looks unlikely as there have been rumors, every month, for the past 2 years that haven’t come to fruition. Hopefully I’m wrong, though. 

I’ve toyed with the idea of getting an Inspire 2 but it’s not as easy or practical to travel with most of the time. Also, it doesn’t have the same connectivity and range as a P4 or M2 Pro. I would never dream of flying it near tall structures in an urban or congested environment.

DG: Where can readers find you?

I recently relaunched Aerial Print Shop. Selling art is a lot of fun and I’m hoping to grow this part of my business and teach others to do the same. There are some incredible drone photographers out there and I’m always looking to fill my own walls with art other than mine, haha.

My Cyber Week sale wrapped recently and was a success. That being said, I would love to extend a discount through the end of the year, for 25% off any print with the coupon code “dronegirl“.

Finally, some friends and I are working on Aerial Photography Network. The overall objective is to build up a community of aerial photographers, both established and new, that support and encourage each other. I’ve discovered so many incredibly talented people I would have otherwise not known about. I would like to eventually make Aerial Print Shop a store that sells prints from a lot of these folks. Right now I’m working on my own but there’s always room for growth.

DG: There’s always room for growth!  We’ll be back next week with more from Kara Murphy, but for now, check out her Aerial Print Shop and use “dronegirl” to get an extra discount on top!

Happy flying!

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