My next time lapse experiment – any good advice?

Canon PowerShot S50

This experiment was a manual, “poor mans” time-lapse. Time to do something more advanced.

Time for a true time-lapse. I now have a Canon PowerShot S50 that I can play with. I can mount it in a window and connect it to a computer. Through such a set-up I can program the camera to snap a picture every hour for one whole year. I also have a couple of potential locations with a more interesting view than my own. (More than 100 000 people have seen the view from my living room anyway! My last experiment was popular way beyond expectations…)

A camera, a computer and a nice view is not enough. That’s where you come in. The utterly intelligent readers of These are my main questions:

1. Software
There are several programs that can control the S50. I have found these:

Canon’s own remote capture
Cam4You Remote
inPhoto Canon Camera Control Software

Do you have any experience with any of these? Can you recommend other software? I have a dedicated computer for this project, so I can choose to run Linux if that helps…

2. Timing
Every hour for one year? Every half hour? etc… At some point I have to be able to discard the pictures that are taken during dark hours. In Norway this vary a lot. There are two possible solutions:

a) A table that controls the software so that it only takes pictures when the sun’s up

b) Software to extract only the pictures with a certain level of light during post production

All good advice appreciated! Preferably through comments on this post, but also through mail.

My next time lapse experiment – any good advice?

15 thoughts on “My next time lapse experiment – any good advice?

  1. I’ve done a lot of timelapse recording in my previous life as a filmmaker. The biggest problem you will face is the extreme changes in lighting, even during daylight hours. You can solve this partially by using something like After Effects to balance shifts in lighting during daylight hours (there is a specific filter for this).

    But if you record every hour, there will also be huge jumps in shadows that will detract from the longer-term changes throughout the year.

    I think the best strategy would be to record quite frequently, something like every 5-10 minutes, and then do some creative editing to make a less mathematical, but more expressive piece. See this article about A Year along the Abandoned Road for more about their timelapse process.

    You could then even try to do something that they managed really successfully, which was to go from morning in the spring, to evening in the winter, by sampling the stream of photographs at a later time each day…

  2. Moving in timelapse

    Outdoor time-lapse scenes often seem flickering and unpleasant to look at because of all the weather changes. We had a theory that a smooth camera movement would “outweigh” all these small disturbances. So we shot a primitive test film back in 1982 to see if this theory was right. It was! – Even large changes that would otherwise seem ugly turned out nice and smooth with the camera moving.

    I’m not going to move the camera, so I guess I’ll need a bit of filtering in After Effects…

    But in general you would recomment the “take a huge amount of pictures and do some clever post production”-approach?

    I guess I need some powerful and flexible programs that can help me with automatic sorting of the pictures. My friend Øyvind Strømme suggests some sort of histogram analysis to sort out the pictures that are too dark.

    What kind of software would be able to do such sorting?

  3. Beautiful images from Tromsø. I’ll try to contact them. They have taken pictures quite often and have several 24 hour time lapse scenes. I want to make one time-lapse from one whole year, but I guess they’ll have some advice.

    And by the way, the software called PSRemote comes with a command line option. Sounds interesting, since I am going to do several tasks for each picture taken:
    – Take picture
    – FTP to server
    – Upload to Flickr(?)
    – Save backup


  4. You could try iView Mediapro for sorting pictures, it has some powerful naming and sorting tools, but won’t do any automated analysis of the images…

    Something else you will have to consider is exposure and white balance. I would recommend you stick to a daylight or cloudy white balance otherwise there might be weird, un-correctable shifts.

    Also the exposure of the camera should be set manually, so that you get a proper sense of changes in light throughout the year. This might be quite difficult to decide upon, given the different brightness between winter/summer.

  5. Using a fixed exposure sounds difficult… I guess I’ll have to do a couple of test runs. The setup will be available to me through VNC so I have the possibility to adjust and find the best timing and exposure before I start the big one year project…

  6. i’ve been using my own hand-rolled software and (purchased) PSRemote for quite some time now, a bit over a year and i usually do 1024×768 @ 5s intervals or 1600×1200 @ 8-10s and then just speed things up to be how i want them to be in Premiere. That way you dont lose any details and the end product looks a look more “smooth” instead of jerkily jumping frames…

    Problem is, Canon SDK seems to have some issues where it sends errors and crashes the camera occassionally.. of which myself and several friends have all experienced with 5 different Powershot cameras (new and used) my own software, Canon’s software and PSRemote all seem to have this problem. Olympus’ own SDK + Pinetree software doesn’t seem to have this problem.

    Anyways i would recommend leaving auto-exposure on if you’re planning on capturing night-day transitions or if the weather turns to crap, unless you dont mind changing time-lapse parameters manually the whole time haha noooo fun! Auto white-balance on Canon’s is pretty damn good i’ve never had any probs with it yet.. and i always convert the finished images using MovieSalsa to generate compressed-lossless HUFFY 2.1.1 .AVIs which i then import into Premiere and work with as necessary, usually changing the levels a wee bit to compensate for white-balance adjustment. Alternately you could just set the WB to something that looks good and then adjust the WB afterwards using Premiere or whatever video tool.

    As for ‘too dark’ pictures, if you leave it on a auto-exp. and theres some sort of light nearby, the canon will shoot up to 4s which would still capture some light and possibly movement or whatever.. which is also a nice effect i find.

    anyways i got a bunch of timelapse movies on if you wanna check em out… i too am always learning new stuff 🙂

  7. Very nice! Had a quick look at some of your videos. Beautiful work. I’ll have to go back there and download some more of them.

    I’ll check out the programs you recommend.

    I have now done a quick test. About 24 hours and one picture every third minute. A BAT-file controls PSRemote, IrfanView for resize and AbsoluteFTP to upload the pictures after each shot. You find the pictures here:

    And the 17 second video here:

  8. So far I think I’ll go for a “take too many pictures and do some clever post production” approach…

    One picture every 10th minute on full auto…? With some scripting I’ll be able to try different videos of the footage. One short one with a picture at noon every day for a year. One longer with a picture every hour etc…

    I’ll do some more experiments at home before I send the system to a nice place with a fantastic view at the western coast of Norway.

    I’ll set up the computer with UltraVNC so I will be able to control it remotely.

  9. I would recomend fixing the focal legnth if you can. If you don’t you will see the image enlarging and shrinking from frame to frame depending on the exposure and light.

  10. Yes. Good idea. Avoiding changes in the framing is the most important issue. A change of focus will change the magnification. I’ll have to see what the software supports when I run it in command line mode.

  11. I managed to set up the camera and the software to snap pictures at any given interval. I still don’t know how to make it snap pictures only when it’s daylight.

    I must admit that the project has been on status quo for the last couple of months. Maybe I should pick it up again. Here are two experimental videos I made with the system:

    …guess it’s time to find that window and put up the camera…

  12. I was looking for an outdoor time lapse system that I could set and forget for the duration of my house being built. (ok – I would replace batteries for camera and change card). I was wanting to make a film of the construction in progress.
    I do not think I can do it as cheap as I want (or wife allow), but I saw the site, and they make equipment that I think will control many aspects of the camera. This may help with exposure, focal length, and time of day. I think it relies on the camera’s clock for time of exposure.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s