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Making a Building Construction Time-Lapse Video

June 11th, 2018

Larry in Virginia asks:

One of my commercial clients manages multi-unit apartment buildings all around the DC area. Recently, I was asked if I could do a 30 second time-lapse for their marketing of a new building. I think technically, I can do it, but I have no idea what to charge for this.

They want to compress about 3-4 hours of images into the 30-second video. In addition to those hours, plus the 1 hour travel time to/from the site, I’m looking for input as to how long it would take to process the images into the 30-second time-lapse video to get an idea of the total labor hours for the project. Then I’m also looking for any advice as to an appropriate fee. The client only needs the raw video. They will add titles and whatever else they want to polish it up.

First, you should understand there are two very different approaches to making a timelapse:

  1. You can capture each frame as a RAW file, then process each RAW file in Lightroom and use something like LRtimelapse to render the final video. This approach will result in the best possible video even with day to night transitions but is a big time investment.
  2. Use a DSLR, Mirrorless, or Smartphone to capture an in-camera time-lapse. This approach can result in remarkably good results with very little time spent post-processing. The time-lapse above is an example of this technique done with an iPhone 6 Plus.

The labor hours for #1 are way more than #2, so a first step is to decide which level of quality is required. Technique #1 removes flicker and most clients will want to pay for the better quality of #1.

As for what to charge, I think this is a matter of just applying your hourly rate to make sure you are getting paid for your time. Don’t quote a price for #1 without trying it first to make sure you know what you are getting in to!

Don’t forget someone has to be on site to turn the camera on and off. In my example above, when the construction workers arrive, my 11-year-old grandson can turn on the iPhone time-lapse app and at the end of the day, the video automatically appears in my Apple Photos app (across town) when he turns it off. These logistics are probably the toughest part of getting the video.

 

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7 Responses to “Making a Building Construction Time-Lapse Video”

  • A 30 Second video is going to need 900 frames. Over 4 hours that works out to 225 frames per hour / or roughly one frame every 15 seconds. I wouldn’t shoot any more than I need to end up with the resultant video they want.
    If it will be either all day or all night, I would set my camera on Aperture priority and deal with flickering in post if it turns out to be bad. Most cameras now have basic intervalometers built in now, and there are solutions out there like Pico that are cheap and get the job done without any frills if your camera doesn’t have an intervalometer.

    Batch edit in Lightroom, export a photo series and then assemble in Premiere.

    If you need something more long term, go check out https://cam-do.com/collections/all/products/shootx-time-lapse-camera

  • Don’t forget that power is going to be an issue. Even with the LCD preview turned off, the camera is going to be on all day long. This is likely longer than even a battery grip set up can supply so you will need another way to keep the camera powered up. Do a test to make sure your camera is going to stay on.

    Security is an issue. The camera needs to be somewhere that isn’t easily accessible. It also needs to be someplace that isn’t going to be blocked for however you are going to get to it. The location should also be weather tight to keep dust and water out.

    Make sure that your view isn’t going to be block by trucks. It would not be a good thing to retrieve your images only to find that a semi was parked in front of the camera for a couple of hours.

    Be sure to research where the sun is going to be throughout the time period. If you have your camera in an enclosure with a glass window, you may want add a lens hood for that window. Sunlight across the glass can kill your view.

    Check out LRTimelapse. It works with Lightroom and has a ton of features.

    You may also want to check the building maintenance schedule unless the customer wants gardeners, contractors or other activities in the video. If it’s a multi-tenant building, it will be good to check if anybody will be moving in or out on that day. Again, having trucks parked in the frame for long periods will not look good.

  • Thanks Larry and others. Good tips.

    I should have been clearer about the requirement. The video will be from the rooftop of the completed building overlooking the US Capitol building. The client sent a sample from a rooftop on one of their buildings in Seattle overlooking the harbor, with boats moving around. I won’t have that. My view is likely to be clouds moving, day to night, and traffic on the streets below. Larry, maybe you can change the title of the post to “Making a Time-Lapse Video from a Commercial Building rooftop.”

  • @Larry – It doesn’t make that much difference where the time-lapse is taken from the main issue is that you are trying to include day to night transitions and have them look good you must use the technique #1. That is, shoot frames in RAW, adjust in Lightroom and then use LRTimelapse to render the video. And this technique takes more hours to process. If you’ve never used LRTimelapse before you should get a copy learn it and try it out before estimating the post-processing time.

  • I shoot a lot of time lapse, for run and for clients. I recommend going the high quality route and charging appropriately for it. Not only will your client be pleased with the results, it will provide you with an excellent portfolio piece to help acquire future business. Shooting with an iPhone will jeopardize both outcomes. I recommend also visiting the camera multiple times throughout the day, to insure everything is in order. In doing so, you may need to charge for a day’s worth of work (day rate if you have one) or be strategic with timing/scheduling other work so that you can re-visit the property periodically.

  • One other note, if you have a few backup cameras or the budget to rent 2-3 more DSLRs, setting up multiple cameras from different perspectives can really add some great value to a time lapse. Even renting a few Canon t5i’s on the cheap will be suffice.

  • @Larry (OP), Well, it looks like some of my advice goes out the window for this particular shoot so here’s some more: Leave some schedule flexibility if you can. If you are overlooking the Capitol building you will likely want a day with reasonably good weather and some clouds to give motion to the timelapse. A plain overcast or blue sky is not going to be worth much. Darren’s tip about renting a couple of pro-sumer cameras to have a backup is a great idea. How good is the location? Should you get some other views from that rooftop while you have access? You may even want a tighter frame of the Capitol building so you aren’t throwing away pixels by cropping.

    As an aside, I’ve been keeping my dead batteries so I can hollow them out and attach leads to connect an external battery to the camera. I have in mind getting some cheap chargers off of eBay and gutting those as well just as a mechanism to connect several standard camera batteries and have the ability to swap batteries out without shutting down the camera. I might build a large 7.4v battery pack (that’s what the Canon batteries are for my 50D), but I’m thinking that if I can use batteries that fit in the camera, I can use them all of the time for regular stuff.

    As for a time estimate, that’s going to depend on how fast your computer is, the software you use and how much you are asking the software to do. A light to dark sequence can be more intensive and if you apply adjustments to the sequence, those have to be applied to every frame. 24fps * 30 seconds is 720 frames of RAW images. You may also want to start early and run later to bracket the time of day you think you will want to capture to make sure you get that 30 second clip you need to deliver leading to even more frames to process (you might as well do them all so you have a longer stock clip if you aren’t doing the job as a Work Made for Hire). Make a 200 frame test and extrapolate from there.

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