Long-Term Construction Timelapse: Eight Essential Project Planning Tips
Poor planning can really mess up a construction timelapse project.
If you miss the concrete pour, you don’t get a second chance.
But, plan right, and you’ll avoid a whole lot of headache and awkward conversations with your client.
To help you nail it first time, we’ve put together eight critical questions to ask when planning your project.
1. Evaluate How Many Photos Your Construction Timelapse Needs
The best way to get started is to sit down with your client and discuss their expectations.
What are they after? What benefits are they trying to get from a long-term construction timelapse?
Some clients want constant site monitoring. For these clients, your online web gallery of photos is a treasure trove. It gives them constant access to new marketing resources, as well as peace of mind.
For projects like this, it makes sense to have shorter intervals, perhaps as short as 5 or 10 minutes apart.
Other clients might just be looking forward to one final, spectacular timelapse video. Something they can really wow their investors and stakeholders with.
In that case, your intervals are left more to your creative discretion.
Your client’s expectations aren’t the only things to consider; you’ll also need to set your intervals based on the level of site activity (or inactivity!).
Day-to-day progress on construction sites typically happens slowly. For this standard level of activity (the majority of the project), 10 to 30-minute intervals are sufficient.
During periods of energy and activity (such as concrete pours), you’ll want to shoot much faster to capture all of the action. Clients and stakeholders often enjoy watching these activities in timelapse.
Another consideration in setting intervals is how they’ll impact your data costs, which brings us to question two.
2. Calculate How Much Cellular Data You Need
No one wants to open a bill to find the charges are an extra digit or two longer than they expected.
Sit down before your project and calculate your data requirements to avoid trouble later.
Work out your file size, how many photos you’ll take each month, and how many you’ll be uploading.
We’ve made it super easy for you to calculate your long-term timelapse project data costs.
3. Figure Out Your Storage Requirements
Your storage needs will look dramatically different depending on whether your unit is shooting in JPEG, or both RAW and JPEG.
If you’re just producing JPEGs, you’ll only need on-board storage for back-ups.
However, if you’re planning on producing RAW and JPEG, large on-board storage is a must for saving and collecting.
A photoSentinel Mach II can easily work with both RAW and JPEG simultaneously. JPEGs can be uploaded to the photoSentinel web gallery, while RAW can be stored on the large capacity SSD and collected at your discretion.
4. Decide Carefully Where to Install Your Timelapse Camera
Once installed, your unit is going to live in its spot for… a very long, long time.
Unless you’re planning to relocate your camera mid-project, you need to nail your location choice on the first try. Otherwise, you could run into issues.
Start by thinking about your shot of the site. Ideally, what you want is a front-on view, or at a 45° degree angle.
As a general rule, you’ll want your camera positioned high, looking down slightly at the construction site or scene. This often looks best in construction timelapse.
Keep in mind the final height of the construction once it’s finished; your timelapse will be ruined if you find a tall building inching its way out of the top of the photos.
Another consideration is the sun, both your friend and foe in long-term timelapse.
Friend: It can provide helpful solar-power for your long-term timelapse unit (see Question #6 – Power Requirements).
Foe: The sun’s position won’t remain the same at different times of the year, and you’ll need to take that into consideration when choosing a spot.
When scouting, think about a spot where you can effectively harness solar-power, and the sun will be at your desired positions.
One more thing to think about when you install your unit: How easy is this to access?
Throughout your project, you and other personnel will need to access your unit, whether to do maintenance or collect photos from the on-board storage.
Remember, if you put your long-term timelapse unit in a location which is hard to get to or can’t be accessed without hiring special equipment (such as a scissor lift), it can make your project more difficult and increase the costs of visits.
Wherever possible, position your unit somewhere with good framing and solar power, and that’s easy to access.
5. Plan for Maintenance
It’s a hard truth that planning and budgeting for maintenance visits is a must.
While we all dream of a magical ‘set-and-forget’ long-term timelapse unit which brings in huge revenue streams with little effort, the reality is that units will need maintenance from time to time.
Spiders making webs over the glass…
Dusty winds dirtying the glass…
Or dislodged concrete smacking the unit…
When a unit is left out in the elements for years, sooner or later Murphy’s law catches up with it.
Don’t be an optimist; plan and budget for maintenance visits.
Otherwise, you can be caught off guard by technical difficulties.
We recommend visits every two-three months to keep yourself covered.
A great way to cut down maintenance troubles is to ask your client to provide you with an on-site contact.
This contact can perform simple maintenance like cleaning the glass or collecting photos, saving you from visits.
6. Evaluate Your Power Input Needs
With a bit of luck, you’ll hopefully have access to a spot where you can utilise solar power for your unit. For the majority of projects, a 20-watt solar panel with the photoSentinel Mach II will suffice.
But if you’re taking photos frequently or your unit is somewhere with little sunlight, you may need a stronger power source.
In that case, your options are AC or an external battery box.
photoSentinel offers a custom battery box, a helpful alternative if sunlight and AC aren’t readily available in your long-term timelapse location.
7. Thoroughly Test Your Equipment
Make sure you thoroughly test your timelapse equipment before installing it.
Test your unit configuration for at least 48-hours before installing it on-site.
Imagine yourself, stuck up a very high pole, unit half-installed, your eyes bulging as you suddenly realise it’s not working as intended and you’re not sure why.
Save yourself a headache and test, test, test it before installing it in your location.
8. Make Your Construction Timelapse Video POP!
A long-term timelapse video can be a bit dull if it’s simply two minutes straight footage of the construction site.
From the beginning, think about how you’ll incorporate B-roll or other elements into your film. You could intercut your long-term timelapse with:
- Motion graphics about the project, or its benefits to stakeholders and the community
- Close-up, slow-motion of welding, concrete pours, or other interesting events
- Discussion between the client, stakeholders, and investors
- Aerial footage
- Short-term timelapse of vehicles or cranes
- Chief personnel discussing the project
- One-liners from animated workers
Your choice of music shouldn’t be an afterthought, either; it’s worth finding a track which matches the aesthetic of the project, especially if it has a strong cultural or historical element tied to it.
Remember, what you’re creating is the story of this project, and that’s a story your client is excited to pass on to their investors and stakeholders.
It’s also your story in a way. Your timelapse content will bear your creative hallmarks as a photographer. It’s your chance to produce something both professional and beautiful.
Sharing that with your client can be thrilling.
Planning Like A Pro
By asking the right questions and planning ahead, you’ll be able to mitigate risk, dodge curve balls, and help your project to run smoothly.
Learn more about the art and business of long-term construction timelapse with these further resources: