Mini Tutorials

Dolly Zoom (AKA Vertigo Effect) hyper-lapse tutorial

Feat. Img. by Dylan Luder - All Photos Courtesy: Tomasz Walczak

Learn what the “Vertigo Effect” is, and how to create a hyper-lapse video which features this fascinating effect with the help of professional photographer Tomasz Walczak, the creator of the flow motion hyperlapse “Bielsko-Biała”.

This post was originally written by Tomasz Walczak on his beyondthetime.net.

Let’s start!

In this article I’d like to show you how to accomplish vertigo effect with hyperlapse technique.
Using frame by frame shooting you can create really dramatic effects, which is super difficult in standard dolly zoom filming. This kind of shot can diversify your timelapse video.

If you’re not familiar with hyperlapse, check out the Hyperlapse Tutorial: how to create a time-lapse in motion or on my blog (of course it’s best to read both, then you’ve got information from two different points of view).

What is the dolly zoom AKA vertigo effect?

This technique has various names: dolly zoom, vertigo effect, push-pull, zolly etc.

It was firstly shown in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “Vertigo” in 1958. Later this effect was used by many directors. You can find it among others in Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” or Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas”.

To accomplish this effect you’ve got to use the zoom lens.

Basically what you have to do is moving forward (getting closer to your object) and zooming out the lens in the same time or moving backward and zooming in. Simple, right? 😉

FilmmakersIQ made a nice video about dolly zoom. If after this short introduction you’re still not sure you understand what’s the vertigo effect, check out their video below.

Finding the right location

In my opinion, it’s not easy to find a really good location. It’s easier when we’re talking about medium quality spots, but you’re not here to learn how to make average hyperlapses 😉

For this kind of shot you need to find an object that won’t move or resize during your shot.

Basically, it’s not necessary, but let’s discuss only this case as the easiest way to get how vertigo effect works. However, you should remember, that long corridors are also good for that, as the staircase in the ‘Vertigo’ movie.

If you want to use as wide range of focal lengths as possible and get the most dramatic effect you can get, the ideal location is where the object is surrounded by a lot of space in front and behind it.

It has to be a straight road or a sidewalk; any curves, especially on the side you are shooting (in front of the object), could make it harder to make.

Space in front of the subject lets you move far away with your long focal length and still see the object.

Some space behind your theme maximizes the effect because far oriented background gets really close when you use a telephoto lens and extremely far with the wide angle. When the background is close to your theme, this change wouldn’t be that huge.

Look at the gif below: it was taken with 14mm (28mm for 35mm equivalent) at the night (darker pictures, background far away), and on the brighter side (background close to the object) focal length was 140mm (280mm for 35 eq.).

Look how dramatic is the background change between them, while the main theme is the same size (that’s basically how the vertigo effect works ;)).

I find my locations by walking around with my lens set to the longest focal length. I found out that it’s easier to get close to the object than move far away and still have a good view.

There is always something that covers up your theme.Then it’s good to check how your theme looks like with the shortest focal length you have.

TIP: to find a good location use your longest focal length.

I also like to be on the same height that my object is. It minimizes perspective changes on that object and maximizes the effect on the background because you don’t have to tilt your camera.

To be clear, it doesn’t mean that when you’re shooting 6m/20’ tall monument you’ll get a crappy result.

These tips show you how to get the strongest effect possible, if you stick to the steps in the shooting section, for sure you’ll get the dolly zoom effect 🙂

Of course if you can’t find a perfect location, you can create it yourself.

Find a long, straight road, sidewalk or just some big square and put there an object. It could be anything, even your friend, which can stand still for an hour 😉 As you see in the gif, I used a teddy bear on a chair in the park next to my house.

Another important thing is a line on your path. In zolly shot, if there isn’t any line to follow on the ground and you can’t create the line by yourself I suggest avoiding this location.

It’s extremely hard to create a perfect shot like that without any line to follow, because when you’re using long focal length every centimeter (or inch ;)) of sideway movement will cause noticeable background shift.

In a simple hyperlapse, I sometimes shoot without obvious path on the ground, but in vertigo I wouldn’t try that. If I have to, I am as precise as possible.

In the gif below you can see the effect accomplished on very uneven sidewalk, you can see the corridor sideways movement in the distance.

This location also shows you, that you don’t have to search for an object in the center of the frame. Drawing on the “Vertigo” movie, every corridor also gives great results, but it’s harder to shoot.

In this article I’ll skip this case, because if you’ll learn the basics of the hyper-dolly-zoom, I think you’ll know what to do to get this kind of shot 😉

If you want another article, about only the corridor version of this effect, let me know in the comments.

Lens(es)

The goal is to get as wide range of focal lengths as possible. Of course, prime lenses won’t work here (however, it’s possible, later I’ll mention what you can do with prime lenses). You’ve got to have a zoom lens.

It’s easier to shoot vertigo effects with a manual zoom ring (some mirrorless cameras have some kit lenses with electronic zooming).

Furthermore, I recommend a lens, that gives you both wide and standard (or better telephoto) focal lengths. The effect will be noticeable using any zoom lens, but noticeable is not what we’re looking for. We want it to be supreme! 🙂

If you’re using single lens, you’ll probably notice bigger perspective changes (so better vertigo effect) with wide angle zoom (for example I use Sigma 10-20mm F3.5 APS-C lens) than with a telephoto zoom lens (any 70-200mm etc.).

There are bigger image changes between 10 and 20mm than for example 100 and 110mm.

Now let’s talk about the best thing in hyperlapse vertigo effect.

You don’t have to limit yourself to only one lens! When you reach your final focal length with one lens, you can just simply change for a different lens, set the same focal length & shoot again.

I think that the most popular set of lenses is 24-70 & 70-200mm, no matter what brand. With these two, you can start at 200mm, when you reach 70mm just take the 24-70 lens also set to 70mm.

This simple clue can get you 24-200mm ‘lens’, with the best quality you can get (there are no really good quality lenses this long). If the transition wouldn’t be perfect, you gonna fix it in post 😉 Or Warp Stabilizer will do that for you.

An interesting solution is to use a teleconverter. With set of lenses mentioned above, you can use for example 2x teleconverter and get 24-400mm focal length range.

You can use even more than two lenses. I’ve got set for my APS-C Canon 550D (that’s a low budget set):

  • Sigma 10-20mm F3.5
  • kit lens Canon 18-55mm F3.5-5.6
  • Tamron 55-200mm F4-5.6

You can see the effect of using these three lenses in the teddy bear shot 🙂

Tips for beginners

If you’re just starting as a timelapser, you can even use just your kit lens. It has quite a good zoom range for this effect, generally from 18-55mm, so it’s wide angle to standard.

TIP: Don’t forget about your compact camera!

But that’s not everything you can do. Maybe you’ve got a good quality compact camera with manual exposure setting? Use it!

Compact cameras due to smaller sensor sizes have usually wider zoom range than DSLR or mirrorless cameras (lenses).

For example, Nikon P900 has incredibly 83x optical magnification (I don’t know anything about this camera actually, but there was a viral video on youtube showing its zoom capabilities). For the record, my set of three lenses gives me 10-200mm, that’s 20x zoom.

Using a compact camera could be a little harder because it has usually electronic zooming from camera body. That solution is not as accurate as manual zoom ring on the lens. But it’s better than nothing 🙂

Camera settings and composing shot

Focus

As always, set your camera to manual mode. In the hyperlapse dolly zoom there is one exception: autofocus may be useful here. I believe a lot of lenses, especially for photography, lose focus while changing the focal length.

The main object that should be in focus stays in the same place in a frame during a shot, so it’s easy to choose autofocus points to match this object. Just watch out for anything that can cover up this object, because it can ruin the focus in some frames.

Aperture

The second topic I want to mention here is the aperture. I would use an example here. I’ve got 14-140mm F3.5-5.6 Panasonic lens. As you probably know, these numbers mean that at 14mm I can set maximum aperture F3.5, and at 140mm it’s F5.6. The same situation is with my set of three lenses for Canon I mentioned earlier. I set the higher minimum value, that’s also 5.6.

These are very common values for that long lenses. Best thing to do here is to fix aperture at 5.6 or higher. When you’ll be changing focal length, aperture won’t change automatically for the smallest value available, which would cause really annoying exposure changes.

Set your lens to the shortest focal length available and set the aperture to 5.6.  Then you’ll be sure it won’t change (if you’re at M mode of course, but you should be if you’re taking seriously my words 😉 ).

If your lenses are all 2.8 (24-70 2.8, 70-200 2.8 etc) you don’t have to worry about that you lucky man. Or lady 😉

There are a few ways for placing the fixed object in the frame. As you can read in my hyper-lapse tutorialyou can use grid inside your camera.

For example, I used the rule of thirds grid in the shot from Cracow (the ‘shield’ with K). Vertically I want to aim the object to the center of the frame, it was quite easy.

Horizontally I positioned it using two horizontal lines in that grid. You can see this example in the picture below.

Hyper-Zoom-Tutorial-rule of thirds grid

You can also use focus box, any cropmarks (inside Magic Lantern) or put a transparent tape on your LCD and draw lines with marker.

I didn’t try the last method, I read that a few people use it 😉 Personally, I could use it on my 550D, especially that I’ve got there a screen protector foil, but I wouldn’t try that on the touchscreen in my GH4.

If you’ve got a Canon camera, you probably heard about Magic Lantern. As a timelapser, you can use a lot of great features in this software.

In this case, you should check out the ghost image function. In the live view mode, it displays semi-transparent picture of your choice.

Hyper-Zoom-Tutorial-dolly-zoom-path-01

You can choose the first picture of your shot and position your camera to match your object placement. It’s quite an accurate,  but slow method. It took some time to get perfect match when another image covers up your live view. Make sure you’ve got unchecked ‘auto update’ in menu using this feature. To be more precise, you always want to reference to the first picture, not to the last taken picture.

I suggest using a tripod in this technique. It’s really hard to place your subject in the correct place when you’re shooting handheld, especially with long focal length. It’s possible, but why make your shooting harder? 😉

Finally, use your intervalometer or just take pictures manually. I like to release the shutter manually if there aren’t any slow moving objects in the frame, like clouds for example. Different intervals could make the clouds movement jerky, however, the clouds probably will be visible only in the wide angle frames. So I’ll leave this decision to you 🙂

If you’re shooting a small object in the location with a lot of people, intervalometer could also ruin the shot. Especially when you’re far away from the object, on telephoto focal length, your theme could be covered by people, cars etc. This can screw up the stabilization, but also the effect will be less visible.

In my Cracow hyper-dolly-zoom shot, while shooting with long focal length, I’ve got to wait for a few minutes to get the clear view for one picture, because of the walking tourist. The whole few seconds shot took me 1,5 hours.

Shooting

Now let’s discuss how to shoot a push-pull effect using a hyperlapse.

In the previous paragraphs, I gave you a lot of information so this part wouldn’t be as long as you expect. If you found your perfect location, composed your shot, it’s time to shoot.

Just take the first picture, move your tripod a little bit (I hope you’re using a tripod), change your focal length: zoom out when moving forward or zoom in when moving backward, and take another picture.

Repeat until you run out of your zoom range.

?

It’s not necessary to rotate the zoom ring every time you move forward.

When I’m using 55-200mm lens, at longer focal lengths it’s almost impossible to see any change in the picture when I move 20cm/8”.

Even if you’re zooming only every 3-5 shots you make, Stabilizer will handle it 🙂 I always try to zoom as often as possible to get the best result.

Another tip in this paragraph would be to change the distance that you move your tripod depending on the focal length.

Long focal length requires longer distances and short focal length (wide angle) requires shorter distances.

You can of course move equal distances every time. But the same distance, for example 10cm/4” on 200mm wouldn’t be noticeable at all, while on 14mm this movement would be quite big.

I always start with longer distances using telephoto, then shorten them while getting close to wide angle.

Hyper Zoom Tutorial - misiek-dolly-zoom-01

Post-production

If you know hyper-lapse post-production workflow, you know what to do here. Stabilize your footage in software of your choice, for example using After Effects Warp Stabilizer. Additional step could be adding digital zoom, if you shot your footage this way. I described that process in the prime lens section.

If you were using more than one lens, check out the transition between them. Sometimes it’s necessary to delete some frames. Unfortunately, 50mm doesn’t look the same on every lens. There is some tolerance in the optics, that lets producers call 50mm something that actually could be a little different focal length. Of course, 50mm is only an example, it could happen with any focal length.

Read more about hyperlapse post production: check out my previous Hyperlapse Tutorial, where I described it in details.

We got to the end of this tutorial. I hope you feel motivated to try this technique 🙂 As always, I’d love to see your work. Let me know in the comments here or on my fanpage if you’ve tried dolly zoom. Also, please like my page on Facebook, it’s great when I see that you appreciate my work, that motivates me to write more tutorials 🙂

Bonus Tips

If you want more, you can head over to my HYPERLAPSE DOLLY ZOOM [TUTORIAL] to know more on:

  • How to improve the effect
  • How to accomplish this effect with a prime lens

TL Video Showreel

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