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Using Photoshop to deshake images into a timelapse

Timelapse sequences aren't something I do frequently but it's always fun to experiment with. This process involves taking still images at a regular frequency and stitching them together to make a movie. The interval between images can be anything from seconds to minutes (or years, as in this documentary) and can produce some exciting videos. Typically, films are shot at 24 frames/second, 30fps, or even higher. Calculating the number of photos needed for a given clip length is quite simple. Let's say a 15-second video is desired, and with 24 frames/second that works out to...

15 seconds x 24 frames/second = 360 frames

Some cameras have the ability to shoot at regular intervals built into their menus (an intervalometer as it's known) but if yours doesn't, pick up a cheap controller like the Neewer Intervalometer - basically a knockoff of the OEM version. This device allows you to specify the desired interval between images, the number of images, a startup delay, and even the exposure time (in seconds).

The number one tip for shooting a timelapse is to have a stable camera platform. Plain and simple, without this the resulting video will be garbage. Unfortunately for me, during my last attempt it was quite windy and the results are far from perfect. Click the sample video below to view the nauseating results...

Shown in the video are the frames stitched together with no deshake applied. During each 30-second exposure, some of the frames show the stars streaking because of the camera shake and the movement of the camera itself is very obvious from how the house shifts with each frame.

There are various pieces of software that will apply a deshake for you, but seeing as how I don't have that software... I wanted to show you how to use Photoshop to do the work. The process shown below describes my outdated CS5 version but I am sure the process for other versions is very similar, and maybe even easier.


1.) Load the files into the stack

Loading the files into Photoshop's stack will put each file into a new layer on a single document. Navigate to File > Scripts > Load Files into Stack

2.) Choose the images you wish to animate

Use Photoshop's Browse... button and select the files you wish to animate. The ones I am using have the prefix "fire_ " to indicate those are the ones I intended on animating into a fire timelapse.

Be sure to select the box indicating you would like to Attempt to Automatically Align Source Images

3.) Go do something

Check back in 10-20 minutes. Depending on your processor, this can take some time... Go enjoy a beer and bask in the glory of computerized multitasking.

4.) Activate Animation window

Once Photoshop completes the attempt to align everything, you should see the individual files comprising the layers. Click Window > Animation to activate the animation timeline.

5.) Make Frames From Layers

Using the flyout menu (the top right button of the Animation window), select the option to Make Frames From Layers

6.) Convert to Frame Animation

Using the flyout menu again, select the option to Convert to Frame Animation.

7.) Define frame duration

You might notice that Photoshop chose a duration for each frame, and maybe even made one of them longer than the rest. To fix this, highlight all of the frames within the viewer and click on the time displayed below the frame. Click on Other... and input a value for the frame duration:

For 24 frames /sec, input 1/24 or 0.042

For 30 frames/sec, input 1/30 or 0.333

8.) Reverse frames

You may have clicked play and noticed that your movie runs backwards. This is because the loading into stack created layers with the last photo being the top layer. To fix this, click on the flyout menu and select Reverse Frames.


Throughout these steps, you might have noticed that there's a border of empty space around some of the photos (like the screenshot above), and the layers look cropped or something. This is the result of Photoshop's auto align feature. If your photos were as badly aligned as mine were, your video should look something like this:

After clicking the play button on the bottom, you can see that the shake is drastically reduced, but unfortunately some of the frames still have some stars that look a little streaked - take a look at the top right of the frame. This is unfortunately not fixable in post production because this streak was because during the 30s exposure was 30s, the camera moved slightly.


9.) Crop the movie to remove the excess canvas space

Next, we'll want to crop the canvas down to remove any of that extra space. Simply use Photoshop's crop tool and select the portion you'd like to keep - keeping in mind that you should crop to the desired video resolution you'd like! Also, now would be a great time to crop square if you'd like to post to Instagram's 1080px x 1080px

10.) Export your timelapse

The next and final step is to export your movie. Click File > Export > Render Video...

11.) Choose rendering options

Finally, a myriad of options awaits you at the export stage. Keep in mind that the Size: box will stretch the video to fit that resolution, which is why you should crop your frame before this step. Feel free to poke around here and explore the options - exporting a video won't close your Photoshop document, and you can always export a few to compare quality.


Finally - the results:

I hope this tutorial was helpful. If anyone has any further tips or suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments!

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