How I Shot a Viral Timelapse Film with a DSLR

How I Shot a Viral Timelapse Film with a DSLR

I SHOT THIS TIMELAPSE MOVIE OF PHILADELPHIA CHECK OUT HOW! | I’ll walk you through my process to create this film from pre-production through the distribution and sale/licensing of clips and footage from my film.

Check out this “draw my life” style video where I’ll explain how I came up with the idea of this timelapse film, how I planned it, scheduled the shoots, set the cameras, managed the files, did the post processing on each frame, made the video clips from the sequences of images, did the video editing, created the movie, and tracked down television producers, magazine editors, radio people, and used email and social media to spread the film far and wide and amassed over 100,000 views organically within the first couple months. I hope you guys love this video and the story!

Brushes used in this video:

Tags: how to, timelapse, timelapse film, viral video, how to make a timelapse, how to make timelapse video, shoot a timelapse, shoot a movie, shoot a video DSLR, edit DSLR video, how to make a viral video, how to shoot a viral video, draw my life, premiere pro, after effects, tutvid, nathaniel dodson, LSID

Site Exclusive Tutorial Recording Notes:

Disclaimer: these are the actual notes I used to record this video and are written in a language you may or may not understand. Hopefully, you find them useful or cool.

See all the gear and behind the scenes information here!

One of my personal projects that I am most proud of is a timelapse film I shot called “Philly is Ugly” that I produced in the summer of 2013. If you want to check it out, it’s only 5 minutes long, you can see it at

I had the idea to shoot a timelapse, but I wanted to create something that would both appeal to people in and outside of the city. I also had this lingering idea that maybe I could create a timelapse film that combined scenes in Philadelphia that I really liked and were also shots that a Hollywood location scout would be interested in seeing as well. The thought being, get more film or TV shows shot around Philadelphia and maybe, just maybe, people in the general public would begin viewing the city in a more positive light.

I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into so I started looking around on YouTube and Vimeo for timelapse films to get an idea of what other folks were doing and give myself an idea of what would pass for something acceptable. I was also looking for what others were doing to see if I could figure a creative angle that would help make my film stand out a little bit.

One actionable tip I could give you when beginning a project like this that I remember catching myself doing was counting the number of scenes in each timelapse film to see if the films I liked better had more scenes, or exactly how the scenes told some kind of story. I had a notebook where I would jot note while I watched other people’s timelapse films.

The concept for my timelapse film that I settled on was shoot the most beautiful scenes in the city I could find and shoot them in such a may that I could build a film that started at sunrise and moved through the day into the sunset and then  

After I looked at timelapse films, I started looking for the most beautiful landscape photography I could find, stuff that was really stunning and had great color, depth, and just generally beautiful scenes overall.

After getting a loose idea of what I wanted in my own mind, I built a Google map and started mapping locations around the city that I wanted to target. After I had all my locations in place I started color coding them based on how I wanted to frame my shots. If I knew there would be a particular building in the shot and I wanted the sun to be lighting it from the left or right, I would choose whether I wanted to shoot that scene at sunrise or sunset. I coded all the locations in this map based on whether I would shoot at sunrise, afternoon, sunset, and nighttime. Using this info, I started scheduling each location so I knew where to go and shoot every morning and evening.

This map was an essential element in giving me a game plan and ensuring that I always knew what I was going to shoot today, tomorrow, and the day after.

The project took about three months to shoot. I would get up at 4am, drive to a location, set up my cameras and shoot. Head home, work all day and then head back into the city for the sunset or night time shots. I was shooting this from May-August so I had maximum hours of daylight here on the east coast of the U.S.

The key to getting the shots with my DSLR was basically showing up, having a sturdy tripod, framing the shot how I wanted it, and having a decent intervalometer. Oh, I also shot everything in RAW for max dynamic range and editability later on.

The intervalometer is key and it is what I used to automate my camera shooting a photo every six seconds. I choose to shoot every six seconds because I knew I wanted to output a 24fps movie so for every one minute I had the camera taking photos, I’d get ten frames and to shoot sequences that would be ten second clips so I’d have a decent amount to choose from, I’d be shooting a particular scene for 25 minutes. This would net me 250 frames which net me close to 10 & a half seconds of finished footage.

After shooting, I transferred my RAW photos to an external hard drive where they would live until I was ready to edit. Each series of photos was organized in its own folder so I could keep track of the sheer number of photos. I shot over 67,000 frames for this project.

I opened the RAW photos in the Camera RAW editor and adjusted white balance, tweaked the tones and contrast and made sure I sharpened each image exactly the same.

I would then import the RAW photos from each folder into After Effects and export the series of RAW photos on a timeline as a .MOV clip that I could then pop into Premiere and do the actual editing.

Once I was in Premiere, it was a simple matter of adjusting the timing of the clips and choosing what I wanted and clip together the scenes to build the actual timelapse film. This is also where I added my soundtrack and clipped and trimmed and snipped the video to change with the beat of the music.

After I finished and exported the video, I got to work sending it to any and all magazine publications I could find that would repost or share the video or really do any kind of write up to share the film. I also created a behind the scenes page and posted a few tutorials on how I did some of the techniques on this YouTube channel, but I only ever posted the timelapse film over on vimeo–dramatic zoom in–don’t ask me why. I also reached out to every local TV station and media outlet I could around here (I found producers who worked for the stations on twitter and LinkedIn, hehe) and was invited onto a number of shows and a bunch of media outlets, TV stations, and blogs put together posts and articles sharing the film. Within a couple months the video reached over 100k views and honestly got bigger than I ever expected.

I’ve also licensed the footage to a number of different events that have passed through Philadelphia, worked with the City of Philadelphia from this project, and landed a number of clients directly from this project. There was also a business call I was on with a business group from San Francisco one day and they referenced the film without realizing I was the guy who made it. Needless to say, it was a fun moment revealing that I was the photographer that made the film they were referencing for this project. I got the job.

Say something about working on personal projects and diving in and spending money to make something you’re passionate about and even if nothing comes of it, you still will have undertaken a project which will teach you very much and you’ll have a piece of artwork that you’ll be proud of for a very long time. And maybe, just maybe somebody will see it and love it and buy it, or hire you to make something similar for them at a premium price. I spent about $2,500 on the project and have made somewhere between $50-$60,000 on it. I never imagined that I’d make any money at all from this project, I just wanted to make a film that made film scouts look at Philly and say… hmmm… maybe?

Watch the film! –

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