Time lapse photography can be spectacular, allowing you to capture many hours or even years into a couple of minutes of video. But to get it right there are a number of key issues that need to be considered in planning your shoot. Don’t be afraid, it’s all common sense, we just want to help maximise your chances of time lapse success!
To assist in planning your shoot, we have compiled the following information to help guide you through your setup and the gear that you might need. Please also sign up to our newsletter to receive your free Time Lapse Whitepaper. Sign-up here.
This article is centred around GoPro cameras but the issues are translatable across other camera models.
Here is some footage from one of our customers.
CamDo equipment has been used to capture cost effective and professional looking time lapse footage using GoPro cameras over periods of weeks, months and years. We have learnt from the many hours of footage taken and the feedback provided to finesse and improve our systems over the years. Some of the benefits of our system are:
There are a number of key issues in planning your shoot. These can be summarised as follows:
Composition is key to making your final time lapse impressive and compulsory viewing. You can get all the technical stuff right but if your camera is pointing the wrong way or poorly framed, the results will speak for themselves!
So make sure you scope out your location and take some test shots to see how it will frame up at the end. If using the GoPro camera, the camera’s WiFi can be used with the GoPro App to preview the angle and field of view for each image on your phone/tablet. Whilst you are at it, check what the average size of the photos are to help in checking your memory storage requirements (discussed further below).
There are a number of variables that need to considered in planning out your shoot. This includes:
To help make this a bit simpler, CamDo has a simple but powerful time lapse calculator to guide you through it. We highly recommend reading through the information below and using the calculator in parallel.
This is self explanatory but is the number one thing to get right. Monitoring a construction site over many months or years is very different to capturing the growth or movement of plants over a few hours or days to capturing the weather roll in one afternoon and star movement over night. This then plays into how long to set your interval between shots.
Different scenes or activities require different intervals to capture the action to the required detail for your photographic project. Ultimately capturing as tight an interval as your SD card and power budget will allow gives you the greatest flexibility at the end in post production. If the spacing between shots is too long, you can also get jumping - where an object in one shot has completely disappeared in the next. Not a big deal, just something to to consider.
Please don’t just take these for granted, think about your scene and what’s going on (or about to go on!). There is plenty of variation to this that will still look good. And of course there is plenty of subject matter not covered here - melting ice, rotting fruit, rising bread...
1 second intervals:
Slightly longer - up to 3 second intervals:
15 – 30 second intervals:
CamDo continue to publish a series of blog posts on time lapse shoots in different locations with varied subject matter. Check out the list here to give you an idea of the different settings we have used and the results.
This comes down to what you intend to use your time lapse footage for. If it is to create a marketing campaign, then you probably have a target video clip length. If you are trying to capture an event or series of events such as construction time lapse, then you might be more interested in the interval between shots to make sure you are catching the appropriate footage rather than the final clip length. This might be similar if you are capturing the growth of plants or seedlings - you need to set a tight enough interval to capture the changes occurring. The frame rate can always be increased/decreased at a later time and the video clipped in post production.
Either way, you should think about how long the video clip might be to make sure you capture enough frames. Remember standard frame rates are 24fps or 30fps. So a five minute clip at 30 fps would require 300 seconds x 30 fps = 9000 photos! On a construction site taking a photo once an hour, this equates to 9000 working hours. If a typical construction site is working from 7am to 4pm, that’s 9 hours a day. So 9000 working hours equates to 1000 working days which is almost 4 years! If you decided to take one photo every 15 mins then we are back to 1 year. That’s the beauty of using a tool like the CamDo time lapse calculator.
There are also other tricks like bringing down the frame rate that we discuss later when you build your images into a video so that you need less shots but you still get the length. You can see though from this example the importance of planning it out as numbers can multiply our dramatically.
Again using our example above, 9000 images at an average of 5 - 6MB per photo (fairly typical for a GoPro HERO4), we are looking at 54 GB of storage. So a 64 GB card would be good. We always recommend checking in more frequently to make sure all is well and to take images off the card as an insurance policy, especially for long term projects.
Take some test shots and check the average image size for your camera and your scene as it can vary dramatically. Again the CamDo time lapse calculator helps you out with this.
Depending on the length of your shoot (one afternoon vs weeks, months or even years), you need to carefully consider your power source.
You have 4 x basic options.
For GoPro cameras, we have measured and compiled the power consumption of the various different camera models and compiled it here.
To make life simpler, we have also built this into the CamDo time lapse calculator which takes into account your shoot length, type of intervalometer and whether the camera is being turned off between intervals. We discuss the advantages of using an intervalometer like the CamDo Blink below, which will turn your camera off between intervals (again depending on interval required) which can save significant amounts of power.
There are so many different DSLR and action cam options out there today, spoiling the consumer for choice. CamDo’s equipment is centred around GoPro cameras as they are small in form factor, making them ideal for housing in external enclosures for long term time lapse, and are programmable beyond their own internal settings. GoPro’s also come at a reasonable price point between cost, capability and image quality.
DSLR’s have more settings and have better image quality due to the sensor size and availability of lens systems. But they can cost significantly more and due to their size make it much more challenging and expensive to deploy longer term.
Ultimately you have to make a choice based on your budget and final output requirements. CamDo believe the GoPro represents a great mid point to achieve long term time lapse - they are not the best, but they are pretty great for the price point.
Both the GoPro HERO4 Silver and Black models take stills at 4K resolution so you can create full 4K high resolution time lapse videos at the conclusion if you want.
The right settings for the right scenario is key. Our blog outlines some time lapse shoots for different scenarios that might help you out in determining the settings for your shoot.
Time lapse flicker occurs when due to exposure changes, adjacent images look brighter or dimmer than the general average. This however can be combated via appropriate camera settings. The new GoPro Hero4 firmware update (V4.00) has introduced some new settings which definitely help with taking higher quality time lapse footage with less effort to post-process. Specifically in ProTune mode, the new firmware:
Flicker can also be dealt with in post production but avoiding it in the first place is the goal.
For a GoPro, if lighting is relatively constant over the shoot, go for ProTune mode and set the ISO range and white balance. Basically we want as much control over the camera as we can. It as close to manual mode you can get to on a GoPro.
If lighting is likely to change significantly, then you are better off leaving ISO in auto mode. If you were using a DSLR you would leave it in aperture priority mode and let the camera shutter speed adjust. A GoPro is essentially always in aperture priority mode as it has a fixed lens.
If you are just not sure, leave it in complete auto mode!
The following focuses on what CamDo gear best addresses the needs of a successful shoot as outlined above, with some information on each component of our long term time lapse systems.
Our most common time lapse setup comprises:
Further detail on each product is explained in further detail by clicking on the link to the product page for each particular item.
The GoPro camera has a standard time lapse function, however, the largest interval available is 1 image per minute. When shooting over a long term time lapse project, this can produce a lot of images, many of which are not needed or unusable due to low light - shooting at 1 image per minute 24 hours a day would produce 1440 frames a day. When converted to a video at 30 frames per second, each day would be a clip of 48 seconds. So how do you use a GoPro to take a photo only every 15 minutes or once an hour? How about scheduling it to only take photos on weekdays, from 8:00am to 6:00pm.
Enter Blink by CamDo - our newest time lapse controller (note that this supersedes our previous Time Lapse Intervalometer (TL-003/4 series) and our Programmable Scheduler (PS series)). Blink solves these problems and allows you to program up to 10 separate weekly schedules via simple web app on your smartphone or tablet. eg simply weekly shooting schedule such as Monday to Friday 8:00am to 6:00pm every 15 minutes (or whatever interval you desire). Blink also allows for the and the use of a time lapse interval that is longer than the maximum that GoPro cameras can do which is only 60 seconds. This is achieved by turning the camera off between shots to only have the camera powered on when each the image is needed which also reduces power consumption and extends the battery life of your GoPro significantly.
If capturing time lapse 24 hours a day, Blink can be programmed to adjust the shooting mode of the time lapse from photo mode during the day to night photo mode for a longer exposure time at night. Blink has an onboard mini-USB input that allows you to power the GoPro from Blink through the HERO Port to avoid the battery charging circuit which reduces heat. If the GoPro battery is removed from the camera, it allows Blink to hard reset the camera in the case of an unexpected crash.
Our Blink controller board for the HERO3+ and HERO4 has a WiFi chip that enables the user to quickly and easily change the programmed weekly schedule settings through a web based user interface from a smartphone/tablet (or any other wireless device). Blink can also be used to trigger footage on motion detection.
For short term time lapse, you can get away with just the camera internal battery and perhaps a single external battery. But for long term time lapse, your power solution needs to be both long term and reliable, requiring minimal to zero user intervention.
There are 4 main options:
Only really suitable for short term projects.
Can supplement the internal battery for shorter term projects (eg one afternoon or overnight). Depending on your interval though a decent external battery like a V44 may be all you need. This can be placed in our external DRY enclosure so you can leave the camera out in the weather for the day or overnight (our Outdoor Enclosures can fit up to two V44 batteries or three V15 batteries).
Please note that not all batteries are created equal. There are cheaper alternate batteries out there but 99% of them do not support ‘Always On Mode’ like the batteries from CamDo.
Modern batteries often have automatic turn-off circuitry that detects when no power is being drawn and automatically turns off the internal battery circuitry to save power. They, however, do NOT turn back on automatically and require user intervention. This feature is great for other use cases but for long term time lapse this NOT GOOD! This auto-off ‘feature’ might be as short as 10 minutes so if the camera is off for more than 10 mins your external battery will shutdown and never supply your setup with the required power! Always On mode is CRITICAL to prevent a battery from automatically turning off when not constantly supplying power to a device since the camera is powered off between triggers by Blink. The V15 and V44 batteries support both Always On mode and Automatic Off mode.
The 15 Wh, 4,000 mAH V15 Lithium Polymer battery has the Always On operating mode required for long term time lapse using Blink as well as the standard Auto Off mode. The V15 outputs 5 volts at up to 1A. The V15 battery lengthens the GoPro battery life by approximately 4x (over and above the standard GoPro internal battery).
The 44Wh, 12,000mAh, Lithium Polymer battery has the Always On operating mode required for long term time lapse using Blink as well as the standard Auto Off mode. The V44 features two USB output ports: a high power 2A port and a 1A port. The V44 battery lengthens the GoPro battery life by approximately 11x (over and above the standard GoPro internal battery).
CamDo has a battery eliminator for both HERO3+ series and HERO4 series of cameras that allows you to plug the camera directly into an AC permanent power source to power your camera indefinitely.
When a couple of external batteries are not going to cut it and permanent power is not available, you’ll most likely need to look at a solar setup. With the battery saving feature of Blink (ie turning the camera off between photo intervals), our solar powered enclosures are able to keep the camera continuously powered. As discussed above our Time Lapse Calculator can be used to help determine your ideal shooting interval and how long your battery should theoretically last using our controller boards with and without a solar panel. Most customer supplement their system with at least 1 x extra V44 battery for some extra capacity and assurance to provide power through cloudy days. Our solar setup guide is here to give you a more intimate look at the kit.
Blink is typically used with our Outdoor Enclosures. As noted above, it all depends on your time of deployment. CamDo offers some alternatives focused at different use cases which are discussed below.
Both our ‘DRY’ and ‘SOLAR’ outdoor enclosure mounting brackets feature multiple 1/4"-20 threaded holes on the top, back, and bottom for use with standard tripod screws. It also has 2 slots at the back for using straps to attach the enclosure to a post or pole (using pipe clamps or similar). This can be combined with some lok-tite for security.
The enclosures also have two 1/4" padlock holes to secure the contents of the housing. Our enclosures have an integrated auto-pressure valve that equalizes the atmospheric pressure difference between in the interior and exterior of the enclosure to reduce condensation. If weatherproofing or housing external batteries is not an issue, Blink can be used with the GoPro Frame Mount or used with the extended backdoors included in the GoPro Back Door Kit that are designed to fit GoPro BacPac accessories.
The DRY enclosure Typically used when you can return regularly to recharge the batteries, or when AC power is available. There is a removable plug at the bottom for AC or another cable to enter the enclosure. If you have AC power but would like more power reliability in the event incase of power outages, the DRY enclosure has space to house our V15 or V44 batteries that can be used as an Uninterruptible Power Supply because they can be used in an "Always On" mode.
Our outdoor solar enclosure that includes a V15 (15 Wh, 4,000 mAH Lithium Polymer battery) battery kept charged by a 6 Watt solar panel. The solar panel is removable and attached to the top of the enclosure using a sturdy dual ball socket arm. The rubberized ball mount is screwed into one of the 1/4"-20 threaded hole on the top of the mounting bracket. In direct sun, the V15 will fully charge in approximately 5.5 hours using the 6 Watt solar panel.
Our outdoor solar enclosure that includes a V44 (44 Wh, 12,000 mAH Lithium Polymer battery) battery kept charged by a larger 9 Watt solar panel. If your installation is in an area where weather is frequently cloudy, raining or less than approximately 5.5 hours of solid sunshine is present each day, we recommend the 9 Watt solar panel option which provides 50% greater capacity in harnessing the sun's energy.
If housing external batteries is not an issue, the GoPro Backdoor Kit is designed to fit a BacPac sized accessory such as Blink. The kit includes the extended Touch, Standard, and Skeleton BacPac Backdoors that attach to the Standard GoPro Housing. The GoPro Standard BacPac backdoor is waterproof to 40m. The GoPro Skeleton BacPac backdoor allows for access the Blink’s USB port for providing power.
We are approved GoPro resellers in the US and Canada and can supply the camera for your project. If you do not have a US or Canadian address or cannot handle the logistics for a US or Canadian address and forwarding to your location, then you'll have to purchase the camera locally, and we'll ship our own products to you directly.
If you are only taking still images, we would suggest using the HERO4 Silver since it generally takes the same quality images as the HERO4 Black but cost $100 less. The HERO4 Black does have better low light performance, so if you are undertaking night-lapse projects, the Black might be more suitable. The HERO4 Black can also capture high quality video at 4K resolution at 30fps while the HERO4 Silver can only achieve 15fps at 4K quality. Video performance is less of an issue generally for time lapse but you may have other requirements for 4K video.
The GoPro HERO4 Black and Silver models take 4K stills, so your final time lapse video can be rendered in full 4K if you want.
Features 12MP photos to create 4K time lapse videos. Ultra-sharp image quality and ultra- wide angle (adjustable) maximise your captured field of view (FOV). Also capable of 4K/30, 2.7K/60 and 1080p/120 video, built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth®, and Protune™ for photos and video.
Features 12MP photos to create 4K time lapse videos. Ultra-sharp image quality and ultra- wide angle (adjustable) maximise your captured field of view (FOV). Also capable of 4K/15, 1080p/60 and 720p/120 video, built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth®, and Protune™ for photos and video.
This is one of the most important items as it is responsible for storing your precious footage. But not all SD cards are created equal - there are many cheap SD cards out there so . Please make sure to use a GoPro recommended SD card. Always use minimum U1 rating and preferably U3.
There has been significant price reduction in recent times - the differences between cards relates to the read and write speed - if your write speed is too slow, the camera can’t write to the card quickly enough - super important for close or burst intervals.
Please use our SD card tester here to check your SD card speed.
If you are using a tripod for your shoot, there are a couple of measures to improve stability and reduce any ‘swaying’ or vibration turning up in your footage:
To retrieve the footage from the GoPro, you have a few options:
The SD card can be retrieved from the camera for downloading the images. With our Outdoor Enclosures, it is possible to access the SD card without removing the camera, just by opening the front of the enclosure. If the camera needs to be removed and replaced/re-inserted for some reason, do not despair - the fit is very snug, guaranteeing that the camera will be in the exact same position as before. Just be careful to not move the tripod (if you are using one).
If the camera is not easily accessible to manually retrieve the SD card, refer wireless options below.
You can plug into the side USB port of the camera and download to an external device. It is however generally faster to just transfer the files directly off the SD card.
The GoPro camera's WiFi can remain active when using Blink for downloading the pictures using the GoPro App. However, leaving the camera's WiFi always active will consume more power and is better suited for AC powered operation or when only taking a few photos per day with our solar enclosures.
An alternative to leaving the camera WiFi on all the time is to use the CamDo Custom Camera Firmware and Scripting (Pro and Cloud editions).
When a Pro Firmware script is used with Blink for time lapse images, you can schedule a set time each day or week for WiFi to remain active for downloading and clearing the SD card using the GoPro App before the camera and WiFi are turned off to conserve battery. Script only works with images and does not work if also taking videos. Check out our Pro Firmware page here for further information.
We have also been testing 2x exciting enhancements we can offer in the very near future if WiFi connectivity is available where the GoPro is deployed:
Blink will send a daily or weekly email with the current time lapse status including camera stats such as images taken each day, battery capacity, SD card capacity, etc. This is one of the most asked features from our customers - many people do not need to see the images, they just need to know the system is still online and working to provide that peace of mind. Coming soon (Q3 2016)! Sign-up to our newsletter if you are interested in being notified on release.
CamDo has developed custom firmware to enable automatic Dropbox upload so you can remotely view the images and download. The GoPro's WiFi is activated for only the duration of the file transfer to DropBox before WiFi is turned off with the camera to conserve the battery. The latest firmware for our Blink controller is required along with our custom firmware. Check out the Dropbox page here!
Post production can be as simple or as complicated as you want to make it!
There are some amazing tools and as with most things depends on how much time, how much money and what sort of output you are trying to achieve.
If you want to make a quick and simple time lapse video (or even just quickly preview your footage), you can use any of the following free tools:
Paid tools include:
If you are a scripting guru you can also use:
Check out our blog post on FFMPEG here. These tools allow very quick compilation with some powerful options all from the command line. Once you know your settings, it is the quickest way to do an initial cut to check your footage.
For deflickering in post production:
If you want to edit the final output in a non-linear editor then again there is plenty of choice (free and paid).
We hope this has helped demystify some of the important elements to produce successful time lapse videos. Like most things in this world, practice makes perfect! Not every shoot will be perfect but by being a little bit scientific and using the right equipment, you are maximising your chances of success.
We continue to publish blog posts of various time lapses on our blog here, where you can learn about the specific settings we used for a particular scenario.
As always, we are keen to see your footage. Remember if we feature your footage on the CamDo blog, you will get 10% on your next order.