We'll help you set your camera to the perfect settings to shoot construction time-lapse
It's a terrible feeling when you review video that was shot over a few weeks or months and it is unusable. We specialize in preventing that from happening to your project. Before you dive into the best settings for construction time-lapse, you should consider the following:
- how to ensure the settings you've put in place will stay in place
- how to ensure the captured footage is saved safely
- how to provide continuous power to the camera and prevent interruptions / power failure
- how to protect your camera from the elements
Not only do you need to make sure your construction time-lapse settings are correct, you need a system that will take care of the issues described above automatically and ensure the settings stay set.
After you've read the great information we've put together below, be sure to review our time-lapse equipment options. You may be especially interested in the scheduling and cloud storage options we offer.
Best Time-lapse Settings for Construction
(HINT: under no circumstances use auto-focus!)
Using the right time-lapse camera settings is essential to get consistency across your photos.
Choosing the wrong camera or intervalometer time-lapse settings will give you troublesome variations in colour and lighting across photos.
Using automatic settings allows the camera to adjust to changing light automatically, resulting in heavy flicker.
This inconsistency can massively increase your post-production workload and cause a lot of frustration in the editing suite.
But, we’ll cover everything you need to know about camera and intervalometer settings so you can be confident you’ll get consistent results.
These time-lapse settings will work regardless of which DSLR you use; Canon, Nikon, or Sony.
Watch the video below and read on for the best camera settings for long-term construction timelapse.
Here are some of the most important things to keep in mind, when adjusting your long term construction time-lapse settings:
Which Are the Best Construction Time lapse Settings?
When shooting long term time-lapse you’ll experience every lighting condition possible over the lifespan of your project.
And because of this huge variance in lighting, aperture priority is the only viable camera mode to shoot in. It’s a must.
Specifically, aperture priority gives you consistent depth of field, but keeps the shutter speed appropriate to the lighting.
Even when shooting in aperture priority, the flicker in your long term time-lapse sequence is going to be terrible.
Sadly, there’s no way around this completely, but aperture priority will at least mitigate it.
With long term time-lapse, flicker is something you have to deal with in post-production (with frame blending and other techniques), rather than during shooting.
Best Aperture for Long Term Time lapse
Commonly in construction time-lapse, the camera is mounted close to the worksite, and the area of activity is relatively deep.
So, a narrower aperture for a longer depth of field is usually most suitable.
As a guiding principle, standard landscape photography advice is solid: Choose an aperture between f/8 and f/11.
If you go narrower than f/11, you start to run the risk of bringing your depth of field too close to the camera...
...and picking up dust spots that might appear on the window of the timelapse housing.
Manual Focus, Manual Focus, Manual Focus
If you ignore all other time-lapse settings recommendations in this article, do this one at least:
Set focus to manual.
If your camera and lens set-up has both a focus switch on the lens and an in-camera focus mode, ensure both are set to manual.
Then double and triple check that you have set focus to manual.
Then check again.
Because nothing will ruin construction time-lapse like bad settings: auto-focus.
Most of the other time-lapse settings we’ve covered can be compensated for in post-production if they are set wrong.
But there is no way to fix shifting focal lengths.
As well as shifting focal length, with auto-focus there’s also the risk you will miss photos completely.
To explain, sometimes the intervalometer won’t hold down the trigger long enough to both focus-hunt and take the photo.
Use a Manual Focus Ring
While it’s not a camera setting, it’s also worth mentioning that you should use a manual focus ring if possible.
Manual, mechanical focus rings can be secured with tape in a set focus position, never to move.
By contrast, an electronic switch focus ring (identified by the fact it has no hard stop when you spin it), can change focus unexpectedly.
To learn more about focus rings, go read our article on the Best Camera and Lens for Construction Time-lapse.
Construction Time-lapse: Best Shooting Intervals
This is your go-to guide for the best shooting intervals for construction time-lapse.
Setting intervals poorly can make post-production a nightmare or spike your data costs.
Before settling on shooting intervals, you’ll need to think about:
- What are my client’s expectations?
- How many photos do I need in post-production? (You’ll want to overshoot)
- What type of service will I provide? Real-time monitoring, a final time-lapse video, or both?
- Will I need to change intervals for periods of low or high activity on the site?
- What are my cellular data restrictions?
- What power options will I have on the site? AC? Solar?
We’ve broken it down for you step-by-step, so read on for the best intervalometer time-lapse settings for construction projects!
Your number one consideration should be the service and value you’re providing to your client.
Some clients want an impressive time-lapse video of their construction project that they can show to stakeholders and future investors.
In this instance, where only the final video is important, you may not need to shoot as often to get enough photos.
Other clients want a steady stream of photos for up-to-date site monitoring which may require uploading photos more frequently.
Many clients want both – beautiful time-lapse content and the benefits of site monitoring.
In that case, you’ll need a shooting regime which achieves both of those purposes.
The key takeaway here is to make sure you take the time to understand your clients' expectations, so you can deliver on them.
In long term time-lapse, you’ll capture lots of photos you can’t use in your final sequence.
There will be long periods of rain, and times when something blocks your camera (be it fog, a crane or a spider web).
Some photos in the early morning and late afternoon will have yellow or blue tints, and long shadows with high contrast will make other photos unusable.
For these reasons and more, you’ll need to cull lots of photos in post-production.
With construction time-lapse settings, you’re looking for the lowest common denominator: good average lighting, steady colours, and some activity change from photo to photo.
And the best chance of getting a sequence of good photos is to have lots of photos to choose from.
In one of our sponsorship projects, we found that from over four minutes of photos, we only got 60 seconds of video.
So, when in doubt, it’s always better to err on the side of caution, and overshoot rather than undershoot.
Then, with a large pool of photos to draw from, it’s not a big deal if a few photos are strange or unworkable.
If you undershoot, you may find you don’t have enough photos come post-production, especially after you discard the unworkable photos.
More photos will add more work in post-production, but that’s a whole lot better than not having enough photos to create your content at all.
That said, the principle of overshooting needs to also be balanced with data usage, power options, and client expectations.
Image courtesy of Lily and Moon.
Restrictions: Data Costs and Power Usage
Two big restrictions prevent shooting at lightning-fast intervals: Cellular data usage and power limitations.
Data usage costs can be a killer. If you upload at quick intervals, it may send your data costs through the roof.
We’ve made calculating your expected data usage simple with this easy-to-use Time-lapse Data Calculator.
With regard to power, the faster your unit is shooting and the more you are uploading, the higher your power requirements.
If AC is unavailable for your construction time-lapse unit, that leaves either solar power or our external battery box .
Both options force you to be more conservative with shooting than you need to be with AC.
Actual power limitations depend on a range of factors (amount of sun, strength of cellular reception), so run some on-site tests to work out how fast you can push the system.
If you shoot short-term time-lapse, you’ll know that faster intervals make for a smooth video.
But because, most of the time, construction happens at a snail’s pace, shooting doesn’t need to be so frequent.
Movement of workers and site vehicles are interesting but secondary to the main story of the site: the construction itself.
That’s why it’s best to pick slower intervals which show the building’s gradual change over time.
If electrical work is being done or there’s a workers’ strike, nothing will change for weeks!
As a general rule (and making sure you consider the other factors), an interval of between 10 and 30 minutes works well for business-as-usual on a construction site.
Visualize a concrete pour with workers swarming like ants, or a crane carefully placing beams.
These types of events are exciting to watch, and you’ll want to catch all the action.
Here, your intervals will be closer to those in short-term time-lapse; they could be as quick as every 60 seconds.
So, remember to speed up your shooting regime for high-activity and special events.
Upload Only Some Photos
Consider that the number of photos you upload can be different from the number of photos you take.
With the photoSentinel Tempo you can shoot and upload on different regimes, allowing you to selectively upload some photos while saving others to local storage.
This way, you could upload at a frequency that will make your client happy but cut down on data costs by saving extra photos to the local storage
This gives you the creative freedom of lots of photos, while your client gets real-time monitoring on the cheap.
You will need to collect the extra photos from the hard drive in-person. But if that’s not an issue, it’s an excellent way to keep costs down.
Setting the Right Intervals
To recap, when choosing your intervals, consider the following:
- What does my client want?
- How much overshooting can I get away with?
- What cellular data costs can I handle?
- What power options are available on the site?
- What’s the level of site activity?
Other Camera Time-lapse Settings
Other than setting shutter speed to automatic with aperture priority, you’ll want to lock all other settings down to manual.
The goal here is to make sure that the camera is not automatically processing one image differently from another.
Thereby, you’ll ensure consistency across your whole sequence.
The important thing is that you set White Balance to a manual option, so that colour balance remains the same across all photos.
Because the light hue will change all the time, the specific manual option doesn’t matter. The choice is yours.
Your picture profile (or picture style) settings will be largely determined by whether you’re providing an online gallery service, or just the final time-lapse movie.
For an online gallery, you’ll want to leave your picture profile on a setting that looks good straight out of the camera.
However, if your client won’t see individual images and is only concerned about the final time-lapse video…
…then you’ll want to flatten the profile to get a greater dynamic range.
The simple option for flattening the image is to select the Neutral picture profile.
Alternatively, for greater control, you can tweak each parameter individually to your own preference.
For daytime shooting, setting ISO to auto is usually fine.
But, if your project could involve nighttime shooting, then you should set it to manual.
If you set ISO to auto for night shots, the camera will prioritize increasing ISO rather than shutter time.
And this can result in noisy, high-ISO images that are unusable.
There’s no need for a high ISO if shooting during the day, and shutter drag can be nice at night.
So, stick with something in the 100-400 range for best results.
Your specific subject and scene will determine if and how you adjust the Exposure Compensation.
If shooting into the sun, there’s lots of sky in the scene, and the subject is in shadow, you may need to lift Exposure Compensation.
Conversely, if your subject is a bright spot among a group of dark high-rise towers, you may need to drop Exposure Compensation.
The key is to meter for the subject (the construction), and not necessarily for the whole scene.
You will also need to account for not just what the scene is like at the beginning of the project, when you’re setting up your camera…
…but also, what it will be like at later stages of the project.
For example, a vacant lot might have sunlight across the whole scene at the start of the project.
But once built, the façade of the building may be in shadow during the day and would benefit from lifted Exposure Compensation.
Other Image Processing Settings
To maintain consistency across photos in a sequence, turn off or set to manual any other image processing functions.
These include things like Active D-Lighting, low light noise reduction, and in-camera HDR.
There are plenty of camera features that aren’t necessary when you’re adjusting your construction time-lapse settings.
To save power, reduce screen brightness and turn off non-essential settings like GPS, Wi-Fi, and image review.
On newer cameras, the easiest way to ensure all connectivity functions are off is to switch the camera into Airplane Mode.
Miscellaneous Time-lapse Settings
Below are some other time-lapse settings you’ll want to change.
File Number Sequence
Set this to auto-reset on Canon cameras, and off on Nikon Cameras.
Turning this on can sometimes result in numerous folders being created; when the max file limit is reached, it will cause the camera to stop taking photos.
Use Evaluative, Pattern, or Matrix Metering, unless your subject is quite small compared to the rest of the scene.
If this is the case, use one of the other metering settings.
Enable auto-orientation to set the orientation flag in photos, so that photos have the correct orientation by default.
Disable auto-power off (sometimes called “camera sleep”) so that the camera remains awake during power-on.
How to Save Your DSLR Settings
To save changes to camera settings, a camera needs to go through its ordinary shutdown process.
But if you just cut power by pulling the battery out, it will lose those changes.
Once your camera is set up, make sure you save all your time-lapse settings by turning the camera off and back on using the ordinary power switch.
Only after that should you set the construction time-lapse intervalometer settings to control the power to the camera.
The concise takeaways to remember when setting up a time-lapse camera is to remember the following three things:
- Shoot in Aperture Priority.
- Lock every other setting down to manual (especially focus).
- Turn the camera off and back on to save the settings.
BONUS: Should You Use an ND Filter for Construction Time-lapse?
While not strictly a camera setting, ND filters are related to exposure settings, so it made sense to include it here.
It’s common in short term time-lapse to drag the shutter with an ND filter.
This blurs fast moving objects that are in only one or two images, and so reduces the staccato effect of object flicker.
Many photographers reasonably assume that an ND filter will be useful in construction time-lapse because of the amount of activity and movement on-site.
But, in practice, two things work against the usefulness of an ND filter and shutter drag in long term time-lapse.
First, most things on a construction site don’t actually move very fast at all, so a really long shutter won’t result in much motion blur.
(An exception to this is when your scene includes a busy motorway running next to the construction site.)
Second, there is so much change between photos taken even ten minutes apart that a little motion blur on each photo really makes no difference to the overall object flicker.
Using an ND filter also runs the risk of missing night-time photos.
In aperture priority, the longest shutter time the camera will use is 30-seconds.
And if your ND filter is too dark, this may not be long enough to get the night-time shots you need.
For long term time-lapse, object and lighting flicker are best dealt with in post-production using frame-blend and other techniques.
When adjusting the time-lapse settings for any construction project, it’s important to be prepared and well-resourced. We have a huge library of articles, answering all your time-lapse settings questions.