Time lapse is possibly the best way to show change over time, be it the construction of a skyscraper or an otherwise unnoticeable change that occurs over a long period of time.
The problem with this popular technique is that it usually requires careful planning, a single photographer or a dedicated team and a decent amount of editing. However, a team of researchers from the University of Washington and Google seems to have overcome these difficulties.
The method used by the researchers takes advantage of the endless amount of photos found online, automatically detects popular subjects and edits them into seamless time lapse videos.
Ricardo Martin Brualla of UW provides a brief explanation of how time lapse mining works:
“First, we cluster 86 million photos into landmarks and popular viewpoints. Then, we sort the photos by date and warp each photo onto a common viewpoint. Finally, we stabilize the appearance of the sequence to compensate for lighting effects and minimize flicker”.
After scanning the 86 million photos, the system discovered 20,672 time lapse from photos taken all over the world! Not bad for an automatic system, huh?
The video below includes examples of these time lapses, as well as several failed attempts. It also compares previous methods with the new one and the difference is incredible. As you will see, the final results make it hard to believe the photos were not taken as part of a dedicated long-term time lapse project.
Two things to keep in mind when watching the video:
- The video includes audio explanations, but the volume is ridiculously soft. You’ll want to turn it WAY up.
- Don’t forget to turn the volume back down after you’ve watched the video. Seriously, you’ll need to make the volume so loud that forgetting to lower it later could be very unpleasant.
This method and the resulting videos are absolutely incredible in my opinion, and just think that as time goes by and more people upload photos online, the system will get even better and will be able to create even longer time lapses.
I can see this method having commercial potential, but while the researchers’ use might have allowed them to use the photos they found online, I can’t imagine a business obtaining 86 million release forms.
On the other hand, chances are you’d never know if one of your photos was being used in one of these videos.
The time lapse mining method will be presented at SIGGARPH later this year, which is the same computer graphics research and interactive techniques conference where Microsoft presented it Hyperlapse software.