Construction Time Lapse Camera Settings
A Practical Guide
With many variables at play, there are no one-size-fits-all settings for a time-lapse camera system. Fortunately, our industry-leading experts have set up cameras across the country in a variety of challenging environments, capturing everything from small residential builds, to large scale infrastructure and development projects.
For many of our clients, we handle the installation and set-up of the camera for them as part of our service. However, we understand that sometimes our clients want to tinker with their camera settings or will need to adjust in rare situations. Other than the composition of the image, getting the settings right for your time-lapse camera is crucial in getting the most out of the images from your system.
The following will aim to provide you with the most essential considerations when choosing an interval for your system, an introduction to camera settings, and our overall recommendations for setting up a camera.
As opposed to a video that is continuous recording, a time-lapse camera takes a photo at a set interval on a schedule. These still images are then put together in sequence to create a video.
Over our 10 years in supplying time-lapse cameras across the country, we’ve learned that the final video isn’t the sole reason our cameras are employed, especially given the ability to remotely view the images in real-time. You may want to consider adjusting to a shorter interval to monitor the site for project management, monitoring or security reasons. You may also need to cover a significant event such as a heavy lift or operation to view in real-time remotely, or to produce a more detailed time-lapse video of such event.
As a rule of thumb, we typically recommend ‘overshoot’ as there is always an opportunity to cut back in post. Most of our time-lapse systems on construction projects are set to take photos at intervals of 10-30 minutes – this mostly depends on the length of the project and the requirements of our client.
For those employing a time-lapse camera focusing on the end-of-project video, we can calculate what interval to set the camera at.
In summary, the shorter the interval = more images = a longer video. In Australia, we view videos at 25 frames per second (fps), which means that there will be 25 still images for every second of video.
Below is an example of a typical interval schedule we have set up for many of our clients:
Interval set to every 20 mins, from 7 am to 4 pm (5 days per week). This equates to 3 photos per hour, 27 per day and 135 per week. For a 12 month project we will have taken 7020 individual photos. At 25fps, we will have 280 seconds, or just over a 4 and a half minute final video.
Fortunately, our post-production experts are well experienced and can manipulate the images to create just about whatever you would like after your project is finished, whether that be a full-length or slowed version for the engineering department or a 15 second cut for social media and marketing. We take care and pride with our videos and utilise the full-size images which allows greater capacity to colour correct, make more accurate adjustments and gives a pin-sharp quality.
Getting the camera settings right is crucial to getting sharp, well-exposed images with great colour. Our wide range of time-lapse cameras have a variety of different available settings. Our lower range of digital cameras are generally set to ‘Auto’ at the highest attainable image quality within that camera. Our higher priced systems, which utilise professional DSLR cameras, have a greater range of control with how the cameras can be set up.
There are three aspects to a camera image that controls how much light the sensor receives: the ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. ISO is how sensitive the sensor is, aperture is how much light is let in through a lens, and the shutter speed is how quickly the shutter opens and closes.
Most of our cameras are set to shoot on the aperture priority setting, which means the aperture will always stay the same, with a fixed ISO. This allows us to maintain control of the depth of field with a fixed aperture (typically set at mid-range at f8-f9) and maintains the detail sensitivity on the ISO (typically set to ISO 400). The camera will then adjust the shutter speed automatically depending on how bright the subject is (i.e. a fast shutter speed for a bright environment or a slow shutter speed in low-light environments).
The only case in which we might change this would be in the case of shooting at night, where a long shutter speed (eg, 1-2 seconds, as opposed to 1/250 of a second) may result in blurry subjects as they move whilst the shutter opens.
Over the years, we have found these settings to have worked excellently in daytime situations, in a diverse set of environments by fixing the depth of field and most of the lighting elements. Our higher range of DSLR cameras provides us with a great bandwidth to adjust in post-production and produce great stand-alone images for marketing material (check out the sunrise shot at PACT’s Arthouse project).