Shooting time lapse video can be an expensive but rewarding endeavor. Even if you already have a DSLR camera and an intervalometer you still have to consider the wear and tear on your equipment from the multiple shutter activations as well as the physical security of the items. Physical security tends to be an issue when you want to make a time lapse of something note worthy but don’t necessarily have a secure place to put your setup.
I alluded to the use of DLSRs for time lapse in the opening and they will result in a very good quality final product if used correctly. You can also use smart phones, webcams, and certain point and shoot cameras. Read my article on CHDK for Canon PowerShot cameras here.
Each of these methods have some drawbacks to consider. DLSRs are generally a big investment. They are bulky and without custom enclosures you would not want them exposed to the elements for any period of time. This can limit the creativity of your shots and add anxiety over the security of your equipment. External intervalometers for many types of cameras are reasonably priced on Amazon and can be found here.
Point and Shoot cameras
Interval shooting seems to be a feature that is being removed from point and shoot cameras. Some Pentax models may still support this natively and other cameras can make use of external timers/intervalometers found at the link above. Your best bet for this method is using the custom firmware CHDK for Canon PowerShot Cameras. With this method you are still limited to battery life or having AC power near by.
Having worked with all of the above this is my preferred method. Webcams have come a long way since the huge globe shaped Logitech camera that sat on your monitor in the 90s.
This camera has a lot going for it when it comes to Time Lapse photography. It shoots in full HD, is powered by USB, has a standard tripod mount, and it’s only $49.35 at the link above.
Although $49.35 is not a trivial amount of money it is a far cry less than what you may spend on other setups. There are also some other advantages to using this camera. The form factor is very small. In fact making an outdoor enclosure for this camera is relatively easy as it fits almost perfectly in a 2” piece of PVC. With the addition of this 20 meter (64 Feet) active USB cable you can actually place the camera far away from the laptop that is controlling it.
This is one frame of a Time Lapse shot I’m currently taking of Ghost Peppers ripening on the vine. This is 10 days in after several bad storms. The laptop is located in the garage 40 feet away.
Enough about gear let’s look at the software and the actual work flow. All of the software I use is freely available. First you will need to download Yawcam. This bit of software does so much I couldn’t possibly cover it here. Let’s just say with the equipment above you also have everything you would need to setup your own streaming webcam if you wanted.
1. After your webcam is connected run Yawcam go to Settings –Device – Change To – USB Video Device
2. Navigate to Settings – Device – Format Control… and Change your output size to 1920×1080
3. On the main window click on Settings – Edit Setting then on the left output – file
This is where you will change the location of your still images, the interval, type, and Image Quality.
4. There are a couple of other notable features that you can change in these settings that are applicable to time lapse. The Overlay – Text is where you can set the time stamp to display on your images as well as watermarks or logos. The scheduler is useful if you are recording multiple days and do not wish to capture hours and hours of dark images at night.
5. Finally back in the main screen click enable on the button next to “File”. If should turn from a red circle to a colored Globe. You will now see the output folder you chose populating with images at the interval you chose.
Time Lapse video can suffer from a flickering affect when assembled due to the change of automatic exposure and white balance under conditions of changing light. It is generally recommended that you do not use automatic white balance and exposure in the camera while shooting. Under Settings – Device – Device Properties there are two tabs where you can change this. Open up the preview window by clicking on the Window menu and selecting preview. With this open you can manually change these setting to what you would like and visually see the changes. If shooting for multiple days a fixed exposure can quickly wash out your image so this may not be an option. In this case you may leave it on automatic and attempt to fix with software as I will explain later on. You can also choose a schedule to capture your images during a time of the day that normally has fairly even light.
I have 2000 frames now what?
Although Yawcam has built in functionality to combine your images into a video I find it unreliable and lacking features. Instead we will use a program called virtualdub.
1. Download and extract virtualdub into a folder.
2. Download Deflicker filter version 1.3 and place the files in the “plugins” folder in your virtualdub directory.
3. Run virtualdub.exe and click on file – open video file. Select the first picture in your series of time lapse photos and make sure the box for “Automatically load linked segments” is checked. Click Open.
4. Right click the image and change zoom to 25%. You should now see two frames side by side. The left in input and the right is output. You can change a lot of options and apply filters with Vdub and this is where you can judge how the final video will turn out.
5. Click Video – filters and choose “Add…” Next click “Load..”. This will take you to the plugins folder where you placed deflick.vdf. Choose it and select open. In the next screen choose deflicker (1.3) and hit OK. I generally use the default settings for Deflick but feel free to play around.
6. Next click Video – compression and choose what compression codec you would like to use. There are some built in but if you don’t see what your looking for you may need to add it. I generally use Xvid MPEG-4 Codec that was installed separately to keep the file size down.
7. Finally go to File – Save as AVI and choose your output name and folder.
The default Frame Rate is 10fps which looks fine but if you want the standard 30 or some other custom setting they are all located under the Video menu.
Well it’s a bit wordy but we covered a lot of information. If you follow these steps you should be making your own HD time lapse videos in no time. If you have any questions or get stuck just drop a comment and I’ll do my best to help out. If you found this helpful I’m always happy to hear about that too.
Here are three example videos I created with this setup. The long pepper growing video should be up in a couple of weeks when they ripen.