Instructables
loading
loading
Picture of How to make a long term time-lapse
LTTL_camera_hillside.jpg
Fearghal_finds_LTTL_Cam.jpg
A single, standard battery in a DSLR camera will suffice for making most time lapses- but, what if you want to capture a time lapse for a week, a month, or an entire season while being far removed from any source of power?

Well, for a recent documentary called Watershed, produced by Kontent Films, I did just that.  I built 4 time-lapse camera rigs that ran, unassisted, for up to 4 months. 

I made this at Techshop in San Francisco where there were lots of tools available.  But really, it can be built at home no problem.   

Check out the video and then take a look at how I did it.

 
Remove these adsRemove these ads by Signing Up

Step 1: Gather Materials

Materials  (links are to possible options, not necessarily the items I used- please be smart and make measurements, look at reviews etc…)

Camera.  We chose to purchase used Canon 20D cameras through KEH.  You want something solid and high quality, and remember, megapixel count isn't  super essential because the likely final output is HD video.   

Lens.  As with all pictures, the better the glass the better the time-lapse.  But, like the cameras, I'd recommend not going too crazy- balance your risk and benefit.  We chose cheap zoom lens from KEH so we could change the shot as needed from where we were able to place the cameras. If you know what your shot is before hand, a prime lens in this situation might be appropriate.    

- Media card.  Get a big one because you don't want to run out of space!  

Intervalometer.  Depends on what model of camera you choose.  I'd definitely recommend not skimping out here; just get the one made by Canon so you don't have to worry about it (my knock off failed on me)   

- Battery.  How long do you want this time-lapse to be?  We used a car battery (really, a slightly larger RV battery) for our rigs.  They didn't run out of juice, so we don't really know how long they would have lasted.  Probably a lot longer.  Try to find a battery that isn't built to deliver massive amounts of power all at once (starter battery), but rather one thats used to releasing a small charge (like a battery used for RV appliances or what they call a marine battery)  We were able to get one for cheap at a place that recycles old batteries:   

- Battery Case.  Plastic shell for the car battery that can be purchased at West Marine or other places.  Its not technically water proof, but it does help keep the rain off the electrical components while still allowing it to off gas in extreme weather.  It's also helpful for attaching various components.  Make sure its the right dimensions for the battery you get.  

- Dummy battery.  Goes in your camera in the battery slot and has a cord the extends out.  You can make your own if you know how (read all of my instructions before you build that), or you can do what I did and buy a cheap AC adapter for the camera. 

Voltage converter.  Your camera operates on around 7 volts of DC power, where as a car battery runs at an average of 12v DC.  (household power is 120v AC)  Look for a variable DC converter that takes 12v power and makes it something close to 7v (7.5 works fine).  Again, higher quality here is better.  The linked to item is fairly low quality...

OR a Voltage converter, dummy battery combo.  This guy in England makes really high quality ones for about the same price.  I only found out about them after I had placed our cameras.  If I were doing this project again I'd use these.

Pelican case.  This is a standard water/weatherproof case for your camera.   You don't need the foam if it makes it cheaper.

- Mounting plate.  Not essential, but it certainly does make mounting your camera easier.

- 20 Amp fuse

- Electrical connectors of the appropriate size (terminal ends, butt splices etc)

- Large diameter PVC pipe.  For the Lens snout; I purchased at Home Depot.  The interior diameter needs to be bigger than the diameter of your lens.

- Clear, UV lens Filter.  This covers the opening in the PVC pipe making it weather proof.  It can be purchased at a camera store; bring in the pipe to make sure it fits… 

- Epoxy.   some sort of really strong, really gooey substance to fill up holes and hold some things together

- Silicone moisture packets 

- Mounting hardware (screws, bolts, nuts, washers, rubber washers, brackets etc) and misc scrap wood

- Velcro

Tools:
Wire cutting and splicing tools.
Multimeter
Large diameter circle cutter (slightly smaller diameter as exterior of  PVC pipe)
Drill
Wrench
File
1-40 of 85Next »
starphire3 months ago

Nicely done and written instructable. I do have a comment about the choice of battery type, however. Lead-acid batteries do have a couple of potential drawbacks for this kind of use, which you have overcome by brute force (including carrying it to the site - ha!) by using a battery that stores much more energy than you would ultimately need for the camera. They have a fairly high "self-discharge rate", and they lose output at low temperatures. If one were doing a very long time-lapse or leaving it in a very cold environment such a battery might not be sufficient, just as a car battery that has sat for a long time or in very cold weather will not have enough energy to start the car.

Taking a cue from scientific instruments that sit unattended for very long periods of time in remote places and even underwater, they often use a surprisingly mundane battery type when failure would be a catastrophe: lots of alkaline D batteries! They are very reliable at providing a steady low power draw in all kinds of extreme environments with little self-discharge loss over a few years' time. Using fresh batteries of the same age you can connect as many series-connected strings of 8 as you need together in parallel to multiply the total capacity in Amp-hours. One project I know of used over 400 D batteries in series/parallel for an underwater station in the Arctic Ocean!

Just a thought, if you ever take on an even longer or more frigid time lapse project.

fpound (author)  starphire3 months ago

Thanks for that tip Starphire! I really like the idea of the durability / reliability of the D-Cell batteries, I had not considered that.

The next iteration of this project might just use those.

cheers!

SamK51 month ago

What Kind of Cheap Dummy Battery did you Buy? I'm concerned about making my own but am almost more concerned with buying one of the off brand AC adapters on amazon and ebay. Everyone I look at seems to have at least one if not many bad reviews claiming it didn't work at all or that it will not work for long-term time-lapse

david.pro.5642 months ago

very nice article! really helpful stuff here.. thanks a lot.. Im planning to cature a buildproject above the water.. for 7 months. so the placement is gonna be a pain in the ass..

GreendeaHydro3 months ago

My time lapse not so long ...https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YwBdnMJMaaY

Hello,

I have a client who asked me a TIME-LAPSE project to build an industry. On site there is no electricity, and the customer need 1 photo every 30 seconds, 24 hours a day. And more ... Need to access remotely photos of another state. What do you suggest?

fpound (author)  rodrigo.meirelles.563 months ago

hmm. Well, Starphire made a great suggestion about using D-Cell batteries instead of the car battery, if that is of any use / interest to you...

Otherwise, if you need to access the images remotely, I know there are various mechanisms to do that - EyeFi memory cards for instance might work if you can find a wireless internet signal.

But other than that, I can only suggest copious research and trial and error.

Good luck!

dominik.aebli8 months ago

Hi, nice how-to! What do you recommend for a 7-day-timelaps of an house construction regarding Shutter Speed and Aperture? I want do work in M modus, maybe 1/30 – 1/50 (smoother timelaps results) and around F 8-11, ISO 200. I do not want to work in P or Av mode to prevent 30 second exposures nightime. The nightly sequences I plan to not show in the final film. Thank you for you advice! Dominik

Speka11 months ago

Hey fpound

It is a great diy! thank you for sharing. I have a question - what temperatures can your kit stand? I need to place kit like this in extreme conditions of ~ -20C. Will it survive? any ideas if not?

gcerezo1 year ago

Hello Fpound, very thanks for your instructive. Really help me. I'm trying to develop a system like this for industry timelapse photography. The idea is to take photos to a huge plant construction (around one every 10 minutes over 2 years). The box will be up to 50 mts over a post, i need to deal with the remote access and vibrations. Many thanks!.

epokoo1 year ago

Hi there! Great instructable. I'm looking into doing something very similar for a documentary project depicting the progress of a large housing development over a 6 month period or so. Im curious about the intervalometer - it appears to be running off its own batteries. Did you have any issues or concerns with the intervalometer battery life?

thanks!

BanjoBear1 year ago

Hi,

Thank you for this article. It is exactly what I've been looking for. There are some time lapse cameras like the Brinno or GoPro, but I think the quality is not very good. May I ask, roughly how much did you spend on the camera, lens, materials, etc…

Thanks Again

fpound (author)  BanjoBear1 year ago

And we spent roughly $700 in parts on each camera.

fpound (author)  BanjoBear1 year ago

I'd love to claim that we set up a motorized dolly that moved a millimeter every day like the BBC has done in some amazing long term time lapses - but alas, that pan in the video above was not a true time-lapse shot. It was just a normal pan with a cross dissolve. We spent a lot of time perfecting the motion of the pan and set up stones to remember the exact location we shot in the spring and in the summer.

BanjoBear1 year ago

Just watched the full trailer for Watershed…Nice! What kind of camera did you use for the regular video?

fpound (author)  BanjoBear1 year ago

Thanks- We shot Watershed mostly with the 5Dmkii and the 7D, though GoPros and an HF11 were also used from some of the special photography.

ltangy1 year ago

I am building this camera and found that the exact same camera ended up taking blank and black photos due to the aperture settings. Could you tell me the camera settings you used to take these photos? Also if I were to take these photos on the manual setting, what aperture should I use?

fpound (author)  ltangy1 year ago

Not knowing the time of day we would end up using, we actually set the camera on full auto so that it could fine tune the exposure the best itself. Theres nothing about this rig thats any different from regular time lapse though - exposure wise. Theres a chance that the voltage is off for the camera you're using and that could be messing with the camera's ability to take photos. With out knowing your exact set up though, I'm sorry, I can't be much help.

BanjoBear1 year ago

How did you get the panning effect if the camera is stationary? Thank you for your help. I'm a real nature lover and want to use time lapse to explain some horticultural principles.

MadeByMatt1 year ago
This Instructable is featured at http://bit.ly/1blxafX along with more discussion about capturing and editing long term time-lapse. Great to see people getting into it!
otto761 year ago
Hey, nice article - cheers
Just wondering whether with the Canon intervalometer you used, you have advanced settings options such as having the camera only take pics during daylight hours etc so as to save on card space?
Or did you just have it clicking around the clock and then cut out the dark frames in post?
fpound (author)  otto761 year ago
No, my intervalometer was standard so that means I shot photos round the clock. I researched the possibility of having it only shoot during daylight, but I got dissuaded by the complexity it added (and complexity adds to the number of things that could go wrong).
Take Chasing Ice for example- I just saw the movie recently (I know, I was late to the party), but my understanding is that their big equipment failure in the first 6 months of the cameras being out there was in the device that would program the camera not to take images all the time- essentially an advanced, special built intervalometer.
I also did the math and realized that, using the cameras I did, I wouldn't fill up a 32gb CF card for a long while. They also make 128GB CF cards these days- they're not cheap, but if it means you don't waste 6 months of shooting and lots of money flying out to remote places- I'd say its worth it...
Good luck!
moeburn fpound1 year ago
They also make wifi CF and SD cards these days, so you can go out and check your camera once a month or so, wirelessly download all the photos to your laptop or smartphone WITHOUT having to physically remove the card and bump/move your camera, that way you can check and make sure its working once a month, instead of waiting the entire 6 months to find out that it was broken.
ksail1 year ago
Awesome - have the perfect spot where I'd love to set up a long term time lapse
donkeyknee1 year ago
Its good
Many, many thanks.
I'll try to get the proper converter.
I promise to send you the link of our timelapse so that you can see it!
good luck for you to
Hi fpound
Thanks for your help. Now you can see my system. If I buy that converter (Astronomizer version) I dont need the canon ac power adpter, right?
Sorry my poor knowledge.
I have a EOS revel Xsi. The batterie is similar to the canon 500. In the Astronomizer site he only have the canon 500 converter.

This big 12 v batterie is a new one.
If the problem is really my converter, how long do you think my timelapse will last with the astronomizer converter? 1 month? shooting a 2 in 2 minutes.
I do not know how long this battery will last.

Thanks
AD014907.jpgAD014909.jpgAD014910.jpg
fpound (author)  delmar123451 year ago
We didn't really know how long our batteries would last either when we set out. When we went back to pick them up, they still had plenty of juice... It all depends on the amp/hours in your battery. Ours was somewhere around 90 I think because it was a big ol' RV battery. The very rough calculation that I made (which I have no idea if it was accurate) said that the battery would last about a year...

In any case, I think your set up will last MUCH longer without the inverter you have. You're correct, with the astronimizer set up, you wont need the camera's AC adapter. You have to make sure and get the astronimizer rig with the correct 'dummy battery' for you camera though.

Good luck!
Hello,
Thank you for your post to create a long duration timelapse.
Before creating my system I analyzed yours.
I´m having a problem. My battery only lasts 6 days. I'm shooting an image at 1m and 30 seconds to 1m and 30 seconds.
I need the battery to last 30 days.
I'm using a canon 500, a Ritar battery with an inverter passing 12v to 7.5 v.
Before using the battery I recharged it for 3 days.
Can you help me?
Does the battery is damaged or addicted?
Thanks
_MG_4169.jpg_MG_4170.jpg_MG_4171.jpg_MG_4172.jpg_MG_4174.jpg_MG_4176.jpg
fpound (author)  delmar123451 year ago
Hi there-
I cant quite tell from the pictures, but it looks like the inverter you're using is taking the 12v from the battery, changing that to 120v and then the camera brick is changing that back down to 7v. You loose a LOT of power doing it like that- I think most 12v > 120v inverters even run a fan the whole time... If I were you, I'd really get a simple (small) voltage converter that takes it directly from 12v to 7v. That should make a big difference. In the instructable I have a link to the Astronomizer version...
Of course, your battery could by old too...
/F
fpound, along these lines do you find any intervals better then for a multi-season (i.e. multi-month) timelapse?  I'm shooting with a wall powered raspberry pi rig using motion that will look out a window on to an Ice Shelf.  The tough part is that it's in a polar region so matching sunrise and sunset right will be an obstacle.  I want to make something along the lines of the Extreme Ice Survey in terms of time.  Do you know how often they shoot?

I can see the nauseating issues of day night day night being an issue, but do you find that you go with wroger-wroger's 4-6 day light hour shots? (i.e. get about 90secs of 24fps video per 365 days)

How about shooting a series of shots every day, i.e. 10 continuous shots every 24 hours?

I've done a fair amount of short-interval timelapses with DSLRs & gopros, but am interested in the long term runs.
joelkh2 years ago
@fpound - Would you have any interest in creating and selling one of these rigs to me ready to use? I'm an avid timelapse photog with extra DSLRs and I've always wanted to setup a long term TL shot like this. Unfortunately, I lack the technical ability to build it. So if you would build it and sell it to me, I am interested!
kjones52 years ago
While I don't use them, have you considered EyeFi cards?  (Might need an SD to CF card adapter.)  I know they are expensive and will drain the battery faster, but might be a viable option in some cases: very long term shoot, cameras way up a tree or otherwise inaccessible, etc.  You should need to only get close for it to work.

Additionally, you might be able to get away with a smaller battery or have much longer term projects by modifying an solar electric fence adapter.  These work great for long term remote projects.
fpound (author)  kjones52 years ago
Hmm... tell me more about the solar electric fence adapter- why wouldn't you use a "regular" solar panel?
I like the idea of being able to go into the vicinity of the camera and download without disturbing the rig and potentially slightly changing the shot.
In an area thats off the grid, but with cell service, you might be able to use the EyeFi card in the camera and link it with an in-box cell phone to upload the photos remotely... If I understand it correctly, it could offer a simpler, more consumer level alternative to francoisg's suggested hack... No idea which is a better solution, AND It would take a lot of juice as you say, but it could potentially work...
kjones5 fpound2 years ago
You'd have to Google what you need. Here we have Tractor Supply Company, a "big box" seed and feed store. They have a sort of "plug and play" system of electric fencing. The solar panels already have the charging circuitry built in for charging 6v lead acid or gel cell batteries. It's a lot easier than trying to build something yourself, plus it's already weather proofed.

(After checking the TSC website they no longer have the same set up as before. A solar automotive, RV. or marine charger might be better to look at so you could charge your 12v battery directly.)

As for the EyeFi card, I would think you only need to get close to the box for the card to download it's payload. It's seems to me that dedicating a cellphone to the project to "call home" would greatly increase the complexity and cost.
francoisg2 years ago
Nice instructable, the enclosure is really well done.

If you are interested in adding remote monitoring to your long-term timelapse projects, you could check out Webcampak project on sourceforge: https://sourceforge.net/projects/webcampak/

As you might expect it increases complexity, constraints & costs of the overall setup but it also greatly expands its capabilities (livecam, redundancy, remote monitoring, ...).
fpound (author)  francoisg2 years ago
I love the idea of remote monitoring and redundant storage... Definitely increases complexity, but for certain applications, it'd be perfect. thanks for sending along...
bpfrocket2 years ago
There are HD trail cameras available from most hunting retailers that will run for 6-12 months. Mine will run for a year on 8 AA batteries. It would be pretty easy to hack a lens change.
Just a thought for a cheaper, easier alternative
fpound (author)  bpfrocket2 years ago
hmm... perhaps, though I'd be suspicious about the quality of image that comes out of one of those cameras- worth a look though....
GonzoCooper2 years ago
A small change in the mounting of the rig to the tree may go a long way toward less impact and less negative attention. Instead of using nails or screws to mount the box to a tree, use sturdy straps or rubber bungie cords. As for a disguise, maybe a rough wooden box enclosing the entire Pelican box, that looks like a bird house, complete with a perch in front of the lens opening). Make sure the bird house looks like some sort of serious bird breeding structure, not something you would find in an urban back yard.
1-40 of 85Next »