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How Do You Do a Long Term Time-Lapse?

Published: 09/06/2017

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Adam in VA asked:

A client approached me recently about filming time lapse videos of various construction projects he was undertaking around town. I quickly researched the available cameras online. They seem to be very affordable and easy to run. I leaped at the opportunity. It seems like a great way to make passive income while I am out running and gunning. I don't think I've ever seen this covered on your site before. I was curious if any of your other readers had experience with this.

Adam is right, we've never talked about long-term construction time lapse videos. If you are not familiar with long term time-lapse here is an example. These types of time-lapse videos have a bunch of special problems because they may take weeks, months, or years to shoot.

The kinds of problems that come up when shooting a time-lapse this long are:

  1. What kind of camera and controller should I get for a time lapse?
  2. How to power the camera for this length of time?
  3. How to collect the frames or video?
  4. Keeping the camera dry, safe, and out of the way

The list goes on. So if you plan to shoot this kind of time-lapse you need to do some detailed planning or you could have difficulties.

I've not done a long term time-lapse but I found which provides add-on devices for GoPro cameras. In particular, their blink controller can be used to shoot long-term time-lapse.

I think Adam is right. Once you get setup and get some practice at shooting construction time-lapse this could be a good service to provide.

Larry Lohrman

9 comments on “How Do You Do a Long Term Time-Lapse?”

  1. Hi Adam and Larry,

    The only comment I would make here is that it's not 'passive income' at the least. In my opinion at least. The reason I will list as follows...

    -You still have to go and set up the camera. The camera you use for timelapse will no longer be available in your inventory as long as it's setup
    -Highly recommend you return and visit your camera. Just in case of movement, battery, SD...or any other reason you can think of. If you do not, After waiting 3 months and you realize the construction site generator went no longer have 3 months worth of timelapse.

    So the question is...
    How long can you go without that one camera? If there is another timelapse client, you have to purchase another camera.
    How many times will you check on your camera?
    And don't forget about post-production.

    Not passive - IMHO

  2. The nice thing about time lapse sequences is that you don't need a top of the line camera although a GoPro is likely too cheap (quality, not price). The GoPro may also have too wide of a lens depending on where you can place your camera. Usually, the camera is mounted in a box on a pole that can remain in place throughout the construction and it accessible to change cards and clean the window.

    A camera along the lines of a Canon 30D/40D/50D with a kit lens or a short telephoto should work fine. I have a battery eliminator that goes in my Canon so I can run from a jack on my Canon battery charger. Gutting out a dead battery and wiring it up to use the same way will work too. Having some electronic experience will go a long way towards being able to DIY some controller circuitry that will not only take an image every so often, but will operate only during the day and will take weekends off if no work will be done. The first step might be to find such a controller and buy the camera that will work with it.

    Keep sun angles in mind when choosing a vantage point if you have any say so and/or work out how to rig a shade to keep direct sunlight off of the front of the camera. A correctly sized solar panel with some battery back up could keep the system running for days, but memory card capacity might turn out to be the limiting factor as well as it being a good idea to check the camera daily. Losing several days of footage could be a deal breaker.

    The above project assumes that you are familiar with the Arduino micro-controller and electronic circuits. It won't take days off, but it looks like it can be set to only run during daylight hours.

  3. I was principal cameraman for a year long Grand Designs NZ shoot here in my local area. The production company got a contractor to setup a long term timelapse to capture construction of the new house. It consisted of a pole driven into the ground and a small solar panel driving a gopro taking very infrequent frames, I'm not sure what the actual interval rate was. All good in theory but I remember going to look at it about 8 months in and it had switched itself off and the lens was smeared and fogged over! I don't believe any of the footage made it to the final television episode!

  4. I have had multiple time lapse projects for a landscape company. They required 2 separate camera angles. I run 2 GoPro Silver 4's in Time-lapse video mode (4K) enclosed in an all weather external power case and use a portable external power bank. Each project runs about 9 days. The hardest part after finding safe and secure camera locations is getting up early enough to beat the workers to the site to put the cameras back into the housings then picking them up at the end of the day. The power banks were just enough to run the cameras for 12 hours plus. I shoot at 1 frame per minute. Every night the power banks have to recharge and I download the time lapse already in an a mp4 video file.

  5. The go-to company for this kind of this in the UK seems to be Lobster Pictures. They are not cheap, but their packages are reliable and the quality excellent. Re how they achieve this, I'm not really sure but it might be worth a look at their website.

  6. I just produced a little time-lapse piece for a contractor friend. It was a first for me. This was not a paying gig necessarily, but rather an experiment / favor for a friend. I researched construction time-lapse cameras and found the Brinno TLC200. This project was going last for several months as many construction projects do so I looked for a camera that I would not have to check on daily, weekly or even monthly. I also looked for a camera that I could afford to lose. (like being stolen from a construction site) A GoPro didn't seem right due to the poor battery life and they are easily recognized and likely to be taken if they're within reach. I know there are power solutions for the GoPro but it seemed expensive and cumbersome. The Brinno TLC200 worked great. It runs on 4 AA batteries, is easily programmed to shoot at whatever interval you decide and at what times of day to shoot. It was clearly designed to shoot long term timeless.

    I set it to shoot 1 photo every 5 minutes from 6am - 630pm Monday through Friday. This would give me 150 frames / or = 5 seconds of footage per day to use in my edit. The bonus is that the batteries lasted as long as 6 weeks. Quality is pretty good, 720p only ( I would prefer 1080P at least but I made it work) At first, I checked on the camera every two weeks to make sure it was running and to check the battery status. Eventually, I trusted it for up to 6 weeks.

    Here's the video:

    The camera on Amazon:

    Looking forward, and depending on the quality required by a client, I would use this camera again but I would add a few more cameras for varied angles. I would also ask the contractor to put in a camera post if possible so the camera is not disturbed by wind etc. My camera was mounted on a temporary dust fence in the weatherproof housing then eventually moved to another fence post on an adjacent property. Not ideal, but it still worked. Considering that had to check on this camera every 5-6 weeks to download footage and replace the batteries, I would never consider this passive income. Passive shooting? Sorta, but presumably you'll have to manage all the footage and polish it into a useable marketing piece for your client before any income is seen. If you're used to shooting a project in a day and delivering it shortly after, this will be a major change of pace both creatively and practically. Even though it seems like less work at first, it's really a long term commitment to pull it off. Consider that when determining your fees. Projects that take longer to complete usually cost more. Hope that helps. Good luck

  7. @Larry - Thanks for posting my question! I have purchased and set up the Brinno TLC200 and TLC200 HDR at the project site. They have been running for 2 days now. The TLC200 HDR has a 19mm equivalent focal length. I'm using it to cover the whole job site and will remain stationary for the length of the project. The TLC200 has a 36mm equivalent focal length and will be moved around to focus on details of the project. The two angles will then be edited together in post. I will be running a similar setup on a second site, with an additional third camera capturing various phases of the interior work.

    @Jun Tang - I didn't mean to imply that it would be completely passive income, but perhaps as passive as we may find in the photography / videography business. As Travis points out there are cameras made specifically for this purpose that are less expensive than even a goPro. I would not be tying up any of my main camera gear in this project. My contract with the client also includes an upfront payment that will cover all the necessary equipment.

    @Travis Great video! I noticed there was some shake in the time-lapse. What did you have the camera mounted on? For one of the project sites I will be filming, we are planning on sinking 12' posts into the ground and mounting the cameras onto them. Hopefully 4" conduit will give us enough rigidity to avoid any shake in the footage.

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