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The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Long-Term Timelapse

Updated: Apr 13, 2023

This is a beginner's guide to long-term time-lapses. Perhaps you just committed your client to a 3-year time-lapse and are freaking out.

In this article, we will briefly introduce you to long-term time lapses. First of all, what is a long-term time-lapse? We describe long-term time-lapse as a filming project that requires the camera to be unmanned, in a special housing, needing an external power source, and lasting for several days, months, or years.

1. Specialized Timelapse Camera

Long-Term time-lapse requires specialized time-lapse camera equipment. There are several options available in the market, like the Brinno, a custom-built CCTV camera, and Titan X.

We have done a comparison video on these 3 options. The link is available below.

The basic functions are the same, they will trigger the camera at regular intervals. They can be powered by a power source that can last for months & years. However,

more advanced timelapse systems like the Titan X will allow you to view your images online on a secured server. And it alerts you if the system is down. That’s the beauty of Titan X. These 2 features remove every photographer's biggest fear of long-term timelapse – losing your images.

Whatever system you choose, we will advise against the DIY route. This is because once the timelapse camera is fixed, any camera movement will change picture framing and affect the timelapse video. So, there is no turning back if your DIY camera is not working. Therefore, we highly recommend using the Tbox Titan X. The Titan series has gone through many years of refinement by our team. We have completed 100s of timelapse projects that last for years with this system, and our users all over the world have benefited from it too. So, you know you are getting reliability, which is the most important factor in a successful long-term timelapse project.

Titan X works with various DSLR & mirrorless models, but an entry level camera is all you really need.

2. Entry-level DSLR camera

Many photographers assume that shooting with a high-end DSLR and lens will provide the best picture quality. Yes, that is true, but do you really want to lock up a $4000 DSLR in a timelapse system lasting several years? From our experience, an entry-level DSLR camera will do the trick.

3. Shooting Format

Many photographers make the mistake of filming long-term timelapse in RAW format. Although RAW gives you the best-quality images, it is overkill. You will need lots of data storage space to store many terabytes of data, not to mention the heavy post-production work that will be needed. So, to keep the project manageable, our recommendation will be 16 to 24 mega-pixels at fine jpeg settings. This will keep the file size around 4MP per image.

4. Setting the interval

The first thing to remember is that 25 photographs, when compiled, will make 1 second of time-lapse video. So knowing the duration of your project and understanding the needs of the client will determine the interval setting. Most clients will want to have monthly reports where the stakeholders watch, say, 1 minute of timelapse video. For 95% of the building construction projects, a shooting interval of 10 to 15 minutes per shot is recommended. This is the sweet spot when you consider 2 opposing factors; data space management and the smooth transition. Shooting closer intervals will give you a smoother transition from frame to frame but produce lots of data. Conversely, having wider intervals beyond 15 minutes per shot will create a choppy timelapse caused by flickering. This is largely due to changes in lighting conditions caused by cloud cover and the sun moving across from east to west during the day.

Find a location with plenty of sunlight if you are installing solar panels to power your time-lapse camera.

5. Where to install the camera

Here are some things to consider when installing a camera

- Is it site easy to access

- Where is the power source

- Where is the sun's direction if you are installing a solar panel? Is there enough sunlight at the location

- There are other risks like high winds and lightning strikes as well. Not to mention working at height and other safety considerations

A secure mounting will ensure a smooth time-lapse video

6. Securing the timelapse camera & Solar panel

A stable mounting ensures a smooth time-lapse movie. Most timelapse cameras are placed on higher ground to get a vantage view of the project site. It is imperative that the mounting is stable to counter the elements like high wind and rain. If you are using a solar panel to power the camera, it is good practice to mount the panel away from the camera with a separate mount. This is because solar panels have big surface areas acting like wind sails. They will cause the camera to shake if it shares the same mounting in close proximity to the camera.

7. Plan for regular site visits

If your time-lapse camera does not have remote monitoring options, ensure you have budgeted for regular site visits. For long-term timelapse lasting several years for building construction, we visit our cameras every 2 weeks to a month. This will ensure that if your camera fails, the amount of data lost is insignificant compared to the actual progress on site. Our titan X has a remote monitoring function that allows you to see the most updated images online. It also has an alert function if the system is down. For these reasons, we don’t need to make site visits monthly. That is the beauty of Titan X.

8. Dealing with Timelapse Flicker

For long-term time-lapse, photos are taken at regular intervals throughout the day, across different lighting conditions and human activities on site. In one photo, a large crane is on-site. In the next photo, taken 15 minutes later, the crane has moved to another location. There are considerable changes in every photo. So when all the images are stitched together, and the timeline is compressed, it is like watching a strobe light, or what we photographers will call – a timelapse flicker.

As mentioned earlier, one way to deal with flickering is to reduce the timelapse interval to 10 to 15 mins. Having the camera exposure metering set to center-weight or evaluative will also help to reduce the flickering as the camera takes an exposure reading from a large area, reducing the chance of a wrong exposure reading that you can get from a spot metering. For more information on camera settings, please check out our video on the best camera settings for long-term timelapse.

However, most of the flickering reduction will have to be done in post-production. There are several software available in the market specially designed for creating time-lapse. We use LR Timelapse. It provides the most comprehensive solution for time-lapse editing, key-framing, grading, and rendering.

We hope that this information has been helpful to you. Please get in touch with Tbox time-lapse if you need assistance with your time-lapse project. Our professional team has many years of experience in long-term time-lapse production, setting up hundreds of time-lapse cameras in the last 10 years.

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