How I became a professional hyperlapse photographer

The story of how I turned my hobby of hyperlapse photography into my career.

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A hyperlapse is a special timelapse photography technique where the camera physically moves along a certain path while staying focused on a single element in the frame. The path can be straight or curved, long or short. A hyperlapse is an evolution of the timelapse technique, in which you shoot a series of still photographs with a fixed interval to create a high resolution video file in which time goes by faster than we experience it. Hyperlapse photography gives you a sense of flying through time and space.

Hyperlapse photography didn’t exist a few years ago. Today you can download several apps on your smartphone, some phones even have a hyperlapse function built in as a stock camera mode, how convenient! A well executed hyperlapse takes experience, time and effort. Over the last few years I’ve been hired as a hyperlapse shooter on a large number of projects around the world. Let’s take a trip down memory lane and see how I made hyperlapse photography my job.

In 2012 – already very much involved with timelapse photography – I was first exposed to hyperlapse photography in a video by Russian filmmaker ZweiZwei. What I saw in his edit made my jaw drop, literally. Watching ZweiZwei’s video reminded me of what I felt like upon discovering The Mountain by TSO Photography, one of the first timelapse videos I saw. I couldn’t figure out how he had created certain shots. Yes, there were standard timelapses in there, but some of them were different. They were so different that I couldn’t make sense of it at all. I started translating his video description and comments from Russian to English which sadly gave me very little info. He kept his cards close, really close. Fun fact: I remember translating the comments using Babelfish.com, as Google Translate hadn’t been properly developed yet. I downloaded his video and played it back frame by frame to analyse what was going on. I noticed that the interval and framing was consistent but that the camera position and perspective changed, which meant that the camera couldn’t be on a static tripod or rail as the movement was way too big for a motion control system. It seemed like a ton of work to get a shot like this but then again, the end result would surely be worth it.

I set out to try and shoot my own hyperlapse sequence. Mind you, at this time, the word hyperlapse did not exist yet. Myself and a few others on the Timescapes forums would exchange our experiences and techniques for shooting this moving timelapse footage and afterwards decided to call it hyperlapse. Other suggestions were walklapse, movelapse and a few more. Walklapse would have made sense because from the first trial shoot I did it holding the camera manually (no tripod) and then proceeded to simply.. walk. After Effects would be used in postproduction to stabilise and render the footage. If my memory serves me correctly the Warp Stabiliser effect had only just launched (AE CS5.5 in April 2011). It was far from perfect but did what it had to do (although it was slow and quite often had a ton of errors in it). Quite the contrast with today where it is so much faster and more accurate to analyse footage you’re working on. It’s also built in to Premiere Pro now.

The following clip is one of my first hyperlapse shots that I shared publicly. At the time Vimeo was the place to be when it came to sharing videos in the creative community. Seeing ‘6 years ago’ as the upload date is a bit surreal to be honest. This was shot on a Canon Rebel T3i or 600D with a Tokina 11-16 lens on a tripod. I believe it took me about an hour to shoot.

After a few days of experimenting and sharing knowledge and tips on the forums with other shooters I got the hang of it quite well. I had plenty of time to play around with it as I was a student at the time (I graduated at the RITS film school in Brussels, Belgium as a film and documentary editor in 2012). During an internship at Stijn Verlinde‘s Epic Cinema (the company behind the enormous Tomorrowland aftermovies) I showed my latest experiments to Stijn, who told me to join their crew at the upcoming festival to produce timelapse and hyperlapse sequences for his edit. Even though only a few shots made it to the final cut, I was extremely proud and stoked to have been involved in a project like this. The video got a monstrous amount of views (over 150 million and counting) and to this day people still reference it when talking about festival videos.

After I graduated mid 2012 I became a video editor for an online educational company. On the side of that stable but unchallenging 9 to 5 job I would keep shooting and experimenting, getting better and more efficient at every aspect of the workflow. I made a little showreel of my best shots at the time, knowing that I would meet more people who would be interested in seeing this type of new footage. I kept the edit on my phone and would whip it out whenever I’d see fit.

Mid 2013 I went through some personal struggles; a bad relationship breakup led me to book a trip to Australia to visit a friend, clear my mind and embark on a two week roadtrip from Brisbane to Cairns. Upon return to Belgium in May I lost one of my closest friends in a motor vehicle accident. Confronted with trauma and huge personal loss I became depressed, although at the time I didn’t realise or properly acknowledge it at all. In the meantime I had started talking to a girl I met in Australia. Turns out we got along well. Like really well. Armed with a ‘nothing to lose’ attitude I decided to travel back to Australia. Around June 2013 I let my employer know I’d be finishing up soon and booked flights to Sydney for September.

Summer 2013 is in full swing and Stijn invited me back on his crew for the Tomorrowland 2013 festival aftermovie. Because the previous year’s video did so well, naturally expectations were high. Armed with a better camera and lens, more experience and an enormous appetite to shoot as much footage as possible I shot dozens of sequences. Hyperlapse photography is a niche or specialty effect, it is not something you would use consistently in an event film, which meant that only a handful of shots would be used in the aftermovie. Very happy with what was used in the once again enormously successful aftermovie I had a look at my hard drive and felt I could make something of an edit myself with all the footage I shot. August came to a close and I started editing something together. Inspired by the EDM festival scene and their aftermovies I went with an electronic/glitch track. Distracted by summer in Belgium I put the edit on pause for a bit.

Here are some clips from the 2013 Tomorrowland festival where Phil Arntz and myself were in charge of the timelapse and hyperlapse sequences. Other notable names in that crew were Wissam Abdallah and Kevin Gansemans (co founder of Epic Cinema).

August came to an end, I packed my bags and got on a plane to Sydney, Australia. Flying from Belgium to Australia is a lengthy trip. It’s a 7 hour flight to the UAE, followed by a 14 hour flight to Australia. Facing the reality of what was happening – quitting my job and chasing love on the other side of the world – I couldn’t sleep so I decided to finish the Tomorrowland 2013 hyperlapse reel that I had started editing earlier. I finished it before landing, uploaded it to both Vimeo and Youtube (as much as Vimeo was the right place to be for creatives, I couldn’t ignore the sheer number of people on Google’s platform) and managed to get a decent amount of views.

Turns out making videos about trending topics is a great growth strategy. Check out this Google Trends graph for the search term ‘Tomorrowland’ over the last decade. The video got a decent amount of views and couple of writeups on websites such as Cinema5D.com and more.

September 4th, 2013. I landed and settled down in Sydney, with not too much happening aside of shooting and editing new timelapse videos. I met up with one of the fellow Tomorrowland crew members – Wissam Abdallah – who happened to live in Sydney at the time. We got along really well and he introduced me to Abraham Joffe, founder of Untitled Film Works. I showed Abraham some of my work and he went on to hire me on a few small and big shoots here and there. Sometime in October 2013 I decided it was time for a big showreel. An edit that would have all my best clips from the past year in it. I had been to Belgium, Italy and Australia and figured I could make something really fun and captivating. Once again I went with a glitchy, electronic track (they’re really fun and easy to edit to). I was proud of the edit, I suspected people would like it, however I never expected what would follow after I hit the publish button on Youtube.

I posted the newly launched video on Reddit.com; a website where users vote on posts. The more people like your post the more people see it. Within two hours my video was on the front page of the website, getting thousands and thousands of views. I was shooting a wedding reception with Wissam in Sydney at the time it blew up. I remember checking my phone between shots and seeing the views skyrocket. Within a day the video had amassed over a quarter of a million views. At the end of the week it neared 900000 views. My mind was absolutely blown. Thousands of new subscribers on my youtube channel and dozens of media inquiries from all over the world. I experienced my first proper viral video!

Hyperlapse photographer Matthew Vandeputte on reddit front page
Reddit post

Time passed and I kept getting involved in more and more video projects in and around Sydney. I was on a Working Holiday visa at the time, which allows you to travel and work in Australia for up to one year. Australia is notoriously hard to permanently migrate to. Luckily, in my research on how to stay for more than a year I stumbled on the Distinguished Talent Permanent Residency visa, a visa that would allow me to stay indefinitely. You need to tick a LOT of boxes to be able to apply for this visa, which is usually reserved for actors, athletes and artists. Luckily, with prior mainstream media appearances in Belgium and a fair amount of online articles about my work I managed to successfully apply for the visa. A big thanks to Abraham Joffe for vouching for me on this visa, I am forever grateful!

With an expanding network of people in the audiovisual industry and an ever growing body of work and media appearances it became easier and easier to network and show people how I could add value to their production. What started out as a few test shots in my parents backyard turned into being part of an epic crew at the world’s biggest EDM festival which led to shoots at other festivals, weddings, events, constructions sites etc. I never set out to be a professional hyperlapse photographer but as it turned out that’s where I ended up. Over all this time I also got hired to do ‘normal’ timelapses of course but it really was quite special to see how far I could bring this ‘niche within a niche’ that is hyperlapse.

One of the questions I get asked the most is how to turn a hobby into a career? I don’t feel qualified to answer that as I’ve only ever done it once but I believe the following three tips are what it came down to for me:

  • Become an expert in a niche (specialise in something and be great at it)
  • Always have your work on you (even a 30 second reel on your phone will do)
  • Show your work to the right people (networking is absolutely crucial, I never leave my house without having a few business cards on me)

In short: have great work to show to the right people. These simple tips have helped me turn my hobby into my job. They’ve allowed me to see the world on a huge range of commercial projects (from festivals in Miami to searching for snow leopards in the Himalayas) which – combined with sharing knowledge and behind the scenes footage of my adventures – managed to get me a following on social media as well which opens up doors to the ‘influencer’ world. The influencing thing is a story for a future article.

I hope you enjoyed reading this brief history of my career as a hyperlapse photographer. If you’d like to follow along on future projects, you can subscribe to my Youtube channel where I share production videos, tutorials and other knowledge.

Oh and in case you were wondering: That girl I started talking to online, the one that triggered my return to Sydney is still very much around. If it weren’t for her I wouldn’t have flown back to Australia and none of this would have happened. She changed my life forever and I couldn’t be more grateful. Thank you, Amelia for being the most supportive life partner I could have ever asked for.

Check out the following video if you’d like to shoot your own hyperlapse. You don’t need a fancy DSLR, any camera will do, even your phone. You can also check out the blog post. I’ve also got another tutorial on gimbal hyperlapse photography.

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