Long-Term Timelapse: The Complete Guide | 2020 Edition
New to long-term timelapse? Spending ten minutes reading this guide will teach you the basics from 15 years of industry knowledge… Not a bad time investment!
This is your number one place to start for learning how to run a profitable long-term timelapse business.
This guide will give you an overview of everything you need to know.
It will also point you to other resources that will further teach you how to maximize your income and run a professional service.
It will cover both the creative and business aspects of long-term timelapse in detail.
Let’s get straight to it!
The Differences Between Short and Long-Term Timelapse
If you have a short-term timelapse background, you will be happy to know some of the skills involved are transferable.
But there are four major differences between short and long-term timelapse.
You NEED to take note of these differences, or you’ll run into all sorts of problems.
We’re going to break them down one-by-one.
Specialized equipment is required for long-term and construction timelapse.
There are generally six pieces of equipment needed.
This equipment includes: a controller, a power source, the protective housing, the local hard drive, and of course, both the camera and lens themselves.
Number one is the controller. This is the brain of a long-term timelapse unit.
The controller is what turns the camera on and off at set intervals to take photos, for years at a time.
The controller is also what connects your timelapse system to the cloud. This allows it to be configured remotely, report status, and upload photos.
The Power Source
Number two is the power source.
A long-term timelapse unit will need steady power during the whole lifespan of a project, whether that’s AC or solar power.
For difficult conditions, an external battery box can also be used as a temporary power source.
The Local Hard Drive
A large local hard drive is invaluable for photographers who want to also shoot RAW, or who don’t want to upload every single photo the system takes.
photoSentinel offers a 500gb on-board SSD with the Mach II premium bundle.
Camera and Lens
And of course, a camera and lens are needed to shoot the actual timelapse.
A high-end, $4,000 full-frame camera might seem like a good idea for your project at first.
But do you really want to trap a piece of equipment like that up a pole for 3+ years when you could be using it on other projects?
In 90% of cases, a crop sensor is a better choice for long-term timelapse.
It’s a fraction of the cost and will still let you work with high-quality photos.
We wrote a whole article on choosing the best camera and lens for your project; go here to read it!
Why You Shouldn’t Go DIY for Your Long-Term Timelapse
While the idea of saving money through the DIY-route may be tempting, we advise against that.
Because long-term timelapse projects can run for one, two, three, four years…
…there’s no way for you to be certain your self-made equipment is 100% reliable unless you’ve tested it that long!
Professional, industry-grade equipment like the photoSentinel Mach II has years of experience behind it.
You can be confident that your equipment is reliable.
(For a detailed breakdown on choosing a long-term timelapse system, check out our article here)
Production of a long-term timelapse has many moving parts.
You’ll need to set shooting intervals, camera settings and manage cellular data costs.
There’s also scouting out a location and installing your unit.
And of course, the final timelapse video needs to be engaging and exciting.
(Skip to the section on Post-Production for the technical aspects of shooting a timelapse video)
Interval Settings for Shooting
In short-term timelapse, intervals are only a few minutes apart.
This is necessary to document rapid change so that you don’t miss any of the action.
This is sometimes appropriate for construction timelapse when energetic activities are happening on-site.
Concrete pours, swarms of workers, cranes moving, and so on, are all fast-paced events.
You’ll want to be aware of these events well in advance so you can prepare short intervals for them, perhaps as small as 1-3 minutes apart.
However, 95% of the time on a construction site, change between photos will happen extremely slowly.
This is because you’ll document the change in the construction itself.
For this ‘business-as-usual’ pace on a construction site, we recommend intervals between 10 and 30 minutes.
If you constantly shoot at short intervals, you risk blowing up your cellular data costs.
(Check out an in-depth article we wrote on setting intervals here)
)Which Camera Settings Are Best?
The three golden rules of setting a camera for long-term timelapse are:
- Shoot in Aperture Priority.
- Lock every other setting down to manual (especially focus).
- Turn the camera off and back on to save the settings.
Aperture priority allows you to keep a consistent depth of field between shots, while letting the camera choose a suitable shutter speed shot-to-shot.
Locking focus and other settings to manual is crucial.
Auto-focus will completely ruin a long-term timelapse.
For other settings, the exact setting is not important but picking a manual setting will ensure consistency across photos.
And don’t forget to save the camera settings by turning it off and back on again.
(If you want to learn more about camera settings, like whether or not you should use an ND filter, go here.
Cellular Data Costs
A long-term timelapse system with web connectivity and cloud services will require cellular data.
Photographers new to long-term timelapse often approximate their data costs.
This is a huge mistake, and one that we see too often.
No photographer wants the shock of opening a cellular data bill to find massive charges.
Always calculate your data costs; you can do it in less than ten minutes.
(Go here to read our article on how to calculate cellular data usage.)
Scouting and Installation
Your long-term timelapse unit will remain in the same spot for years.
Therefore, it’s critical you pick the best spot possible!
There are several questions to ask when choosing where to install your unit:
- Will I need to purchase a pole for mounting?
- Is this part of the site easy to access?
- Will it be easy to access for the entire project for when maintenance is needed?
- Where will the sun’s position be during the different times of the year?
- Where will you put the solar panel?
- Will it give me the best field-of-view and framing of the site?
- Will this spot still give good framing as the construction grows taller and expands?
The takeaway here is make sure you take the time to do your scouting and planning properly.
The photoSentinel project planner is invaluable for preparing your first project.
Making an Incredible Timelapse Video
Technical considerations aside, the final timelapse video itself needs to hold interest and engage viewers.
As much as we love long-term timelapse, we’re the first to admit that a straight three-minute timelapse video of a building gets boring quickly.
That’s why it’s important to intercut your timelapse with B-roll.
Plan for B-roll in advance so you have plenty to play around with.
Slow-motion of welding, interviewing key personnel, aerial shots, and others, will make your final video much more captivating.
Motion graphics are also a great way to make a video that’s compelling and educational.
But we’re the equipment professionals, you’re the creative professional; we’ll leave it to you to work out the nitty-gritty of B-roll.
A Final Point About Production: Murphy’s Law
In a perfect world, nothing ever goes wrong.
In reality with long-term timelapse, you need to plan for maintenance visits.
Because the last thing you want to do is to not budget for them and lose money instead of gaining it.
We recommend budgeting for maintenance visits at least every three months.
So, don’t be an optimist; factor Murphy’s Law into your budgeting and planning.
(Post-production is a complex topic, so if you want an in-depth breakdown, go here to read 10 Post-Production Tips)
The main post-production challenge with long-term timelapse is dealing with huge variations from photo to photo.
Or as photographers generally call it, flicker.
Lighting flicker and object flicker are the two greatest perpetrators.
Lighting varies hugely hour to hour, day to day, and season to season.
These big variations cause an undesirable strobing effect.
Object flicker is similar but involves personnel and vehicles popping in and out between frames.
There may be truck in one photo, but not in the next photo, for example.
Stitching these photos together unedited creates an unwatchable disco-ball effect.
We’ll look at two ways you can approach these flicker issues in post-production.
But let’s first look at a general principle which will make editing your timelapse video/s easier.
Life will be much easier in post-production if you overshoot during production.
You’re going to be culling lots of photos due to lighting variations and other issues.
While editing software can help, some photos just have too much variation and will need to be scrapped.
So regardless of your post-production methods, shooting more photos than you think you might need is recommended.
Just make sure to balance overshooting with your cellular data budget.
Now, back to the two ways you can approach post-production.
Manual Post-Production Editing
The first is to edit all of the footage yourself. For this, we recommend LRTimelapse*.
LRTimelapse is the undisputed king of timelapse editing software. The latest version has a dedicated workflow for long-term timelapse.
Gunter, it’s creator, has also done a full tutorial on how to edit long-term timelapse in LRTimelapse and Lightroom.
Automation of Timelapse Movie Generation
The second approach so that you don’t have to do it yourself is automation.
The photoSentinel Timelapse Generator does all of the post-production work for you with the click of a button.
You read that right; it does all of the post-production processing automatically and delivers a fully edited timelapse movie.
Beginners might not have the skills, time, or facilities to completely edit a timelapse movie from scratch.
So, it’s perfect for photographers who are just starting out in long-term timelapse.
Let’s cover two big aspects of the business side of long-term timelapse.
One, how should you pitch your service to clients so that you can win jobs?
Two, what should you charge your clients for your services so that you can maximize your income?
Pitching to Clients
A common mistake during a pitch is to explain features, not benefits.
Features are factual information about what your service does.
Benefits are how those features make life better.
Benefits resonate more strongly with clients because they speak to needs and fears.
So, if you can identify their needs and fears and tailor the benefits to those, your pitch will make a strong impact.
The needs and fears of clients will depend on who you’re talking to.
A pitch to the marketing department will look different from a pitch to the project manager.
But this is a complex topic; go here to read a detailed article we wrote on pitching to clients.
What Should You Charge for Your Services?
Sometimes, long-term timelapse beginners will charge a client a one-time fee for their service.
But we strongly caution against that.
What if the client’s project goes way overtime, for example?
Long-term timelapse doesn’t have to be a single video you’re providing to your client.
It can be a powerful monthly service, offering clients marketing resources and utilities.
Thinking about it this way completely changes how you charge and add value to your service.
You can offer up-to-date site monitoring so they can make key decisions about their project.
Historical photo logs can be used for security, to resolve legal disputes, and keep contractors accountable.
A web gallery is also an endless supply of instant marketing assets.
Pitch your service like an on-going monthly subscription.
That way, the project will be a constant revenue stream for you.
Construction Timelapse: The Basics
This guide was your primer to long-term timelapse, but your education doesn’t have to stop there.
There are dozens of moving parts in long-term timelapse; we’ve created resources to teach you about all of them (LEARN).
Want quick answers to common questions? Check out the FAQ page!
And if you still have questions, call or email our team of experts any time.
- The 10 rookie mistakes you MUST avoid when shooting construction timelapse.
- WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW to choose the right camera and lens for construction timelapse.
- Avoid bill shock with this Timelapse Data Calculator.
- Follow these 8 ESSENTIAL project planning tips to get started right.
- Download Your Free Ebook: How to Make Money With Construction Timelapse