Defining “Time-Lapse” (or timelapse)

One of the services we’ve had an increasing call for is longterm timelapse for the construction industry.  And by “long term”, we mean a camera that is up for six months or more.  This presents a unique set of challenges.

Timelapse Camera Placement

time lapseFirst, the placement of the long term time lapse camera.  The best spots are usually elevated, as high as possible.  When we get the call, we look for a building overlooking the construction site.  Ideally, a camera placed inside looking out a clean window mitigates the necessity to weather proof the camera.  When we have placed indoors, we come prepared to battle glare issues off the window in front.  If we are placing on the roof, we have to weatherproof the camera.

If a building is not available, we’ve had clients install a pole.  We are OSHA certified to operate moving scaffolds (lifts) and will place the camera on top of the pole.  One issue to be aware of is “sway” in any pole you set the camera on.

Timelapse Camera Types

We also consult with the client to determine the best type of camera.  A “timelapse video” is actually not created as a “video.”  Timelapse is a series of still images, that later are combined together to form a video clip.  We’ve had clients that have had us take over timelapses from large companies who install timelapse simply because the large company doesn’t get it– they put a low quality video camera up.  They then deliver to their client a “timelapse” of a few seconds of video all stitched together.  And the quality can be horrendous.  (One client’s footage from a large national “timelapse” company was 640×420 video– very low quality).

If a timelapse vendor keeps pushing a “video” camera on you, find out what the maximum size of an image will be if you take a screen capture.  640×420 is really low quality.  A high end DSLR might be 3,000×2000 (ish).  For high def video, you want an image at least 1920×1080 in size.  Professionally, I like the larger than 1920×1080 because it provides options to zoom in or make animated moves in editing.  Remember, this is not a security camera situation.  If you need that, do a separate system.

The best quality is a DSLR camera taking still photographs. But accessibility can be an issue.  You can get high quality “surveillance” type cameras, but they need to have a feature where still images can be grabbed (like one every 15 or 20 minutes). These cameras can be set to send images over radio or cell, thus giving instant access.

Other Timelapse Considerations

After picking the location, then power has to be determined.  First choice is a dependable AC outlet nearby.  When that’s not available, we set up solar panels and batteries to power the camera.

The interval between the “pictures” is a factor as well.  If you are doing a three year time-lapse, a once a day picture might be okay.  We’ve found one picture every 20 minutes to be pretty good– but you will have shadow issues as the sun moves across during the day.

Timelapse cameras can fail.  We highly recommend backup cameras on important timelapse setups.  Often, we’ll put a radio/cell controlled camera as the primary, and a DSLR as a backup.  At 20 minute intervals, a DSLR can take many, many months to fill up a large SD card inside the unit.  If the primaray fails, we access the DSLR and pull the images off the internal SD card.

There are many different variables with long term time-lapses, so the cost can vary as well.  Call us at S-Films to find out more about your timelapse need.


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