How to Shoot Long-Term Time-lapse: Take Many Photos!

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Once you've found a great construction time-lapse camera, are you good to go? Or is there more?

In this article we'll walk you through the steps and insider tips on how to shoot long-term time-lapse video. Before you dive into that information you need to think about how you'll use the camera.

Getting the best video of your long term time-lapse video project isn't just about setting up a camera and hitting the record button - you have to think about things like:

  • how to protect your camera from the elements
  • how to provide continuous power to the camera
  • how to ensure the captured footage is saved safely

You don't just need to buy a great camera, you need a system that will take care of the issues described above automatically.

After you've read the great information we've put together below - and maybe even decided which camera you will buy - be sure to review our time-lapse equipment options.

How to Shoot Long-Term Construction Time-lapse: Take Too Many Photos!

Want more tips on shooting long-term time-lapse? Check out 10 Mistakes Photographers Must Avoid when Shooting Long-term Time-lapse.

One of the most common long-term time-lapse questions we get asked is how often to take photos.

The answer depends on a range of factors:

  • Style of time-lapse movie: Are you going for regular intervals throughout the whole project (like this video), or a series of shorter time-lapses cross-faded over each other (like this video)?
  • Data storage and transfer: Are you wanting to save photos only locally or are you wanting to upload each photo as it is taken? How big is your onboard storage and how much 3G data will you use to upload photos?
  • Length of project: If the project is just three weeks long, you probably don't want just one photo per hour. Conversely, if the project is 3 years long, taking one photo every five minutes will give you 75000 photos and a 50 minute time-lapse movie!


A photographer prepares a Canon as a construction time-lapse camera

There are pros and cons to each way of doing long-term time-lapse, which I'll discuss in a later post (for example, it may not be such a bad thing to have 50 minutes worth of footage to choose from!).

For now, it will suffice to say that the key guiding principle for long-term time-lapse is: the more the better.


Take lots of photos

With long-term time-lapse, 'less is more' doesn't count. With long-term time-lapse, more is more. Take lots of photos. Take too many photos. And then take some more.

Here are the reasons why you should take as many photos as you can:

Some photos will be unusable

The primary reason for taking lots of photos is that some, even many, of them are going to be unusable. With short term time-lapse, conditions will generally remain the same photo-to-photo. When shooting long-term time-lapse over weeks, months or years, conditions are going to change. This means some photos will simply be rubbish, some will be boring, some will be too blue or yellow and some will have way too much shadow and contrast.

Just last week we set up a photoSentinel to capture the re-roofing of Monash University's Doug Ellis swimming pool. Here are some of the unusable photos from just the last four days:

Other issues can include spider webs/bird poop on the window, machinery up-close blocking your frame and really blue/yellow tint in the early morning/late afternoon.

In some instances you may choose to use some of these photos. For example, a few frames of no activity might accentuate the frames of activity, a short rain sequence can add variety and a full day of creeping shadows can look great.

Generally though, in long-term time-lapse you're looking for the lowest common denominator: photos with good average lighting and colour, with no obstructions and some activity.T he more photos you have that are similar, the less editing you have to do to get a smooth time-lapse; there's only so much that contrast reduction, colour matching, de-flickering

and frame blending can do to match a photo taken on an foggy winter morning with one taken in the summer noon-day sun.

Some photos will be great

On the flip side of the coin, having a camera shoot continuously means that sometimes it will capture a great photo with just the right lighting. These photos can be edited up as great stills and presented to the client as an add-on or up-sell.

Put simply, the more photos you take, the more likely you are to end up with some great photos. And you didn't even have to be there to take them!

Check out these photos captured using the photoSentinel:

Sunset over Aspen, CO, USA © Toby Harriman
Trailfinders Australian Garden presented by Fleming's at the Chelsea Flower Show © Relive It
Blakes Crossing, Adelaide, Australia © Orange Lane Studios

More site monitoring,  marketing and liability protection for your client

If you're using a web-connected system (and you should be, both for yourself and for your clients) then you can upload your photos and offer clients a number of other services in addition to time-lapse video:

web galleries for project monitoring and stakeholder engagement, and latest photo updates to embed on client websites.

For project management, more photos are better for a number of reasons:

  • While project management doesn't require a live stream of footage, the more photos a project manager has to search through for a particular incident, the more likely they are to find what they're looking for.
  • Along the same lines, more photos mean great liability protection should accusations start being thrown around.


A photographer prepares a Canon as a construction time-lapse camera

You still need to take great photos

Of course, it doesn't matter how many photos you take if your focus is blurry or your exposure is too hot. More important than having plenty of photos to choose from is having good photos to choose from! So however many photos you take, always prioritise quality equipment and the right camera settings.

Chat to one of our team for expert advice or to receive a free, no-obligation quote for your time-lapse project.