8 MONTHS – 3 CAMERAS – 100,000+ PHOTOS – 1 TIMELAPSE
Every once in a while a fun side project comes along that makes you try new things and really push you. This was it for me. Branagh Development approached me about creating a timelapse of one of their homes being built. I’ve always wanted to do something like this but I had to figure out how to have a camera taking constant pictures over the course of 8 months. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Here are some of my considerations:
- How do I keep the camera powered for months at a time?
- How do I keep the camera stationary the entire time? Once it’s up I can’t touch the camera so the framing stays the same.
- How do I download the photos without disturbing the camera?
- How do I keep it safe from the weather and theft?
There were a lot of things that had to be addressed to make this work. I ended up finding a great tutorial online about a similar project created to shoot long term timelapses of watersheds. I took his basic approach and made some modifications to fit my needs.
Here are some photos of the process.
I started by making the hole for the lens in the pelican case.
I then epoxied an ABS coupler on the hole to house the lens. I siliconed in a UV filter on the end to seal it. I used silicon over epoxy because it’s flexible and the I didn’t want the varying temperatures to crack the filter. Also this left my options open later to replace the filter if need be.
Then I made the camera mount. I used cheap quick release plate attached to a piece of hardwood with two small L brackets.
I used two rubber washers on the exterior to make sure it was water tight
Next is the camera. I used a 60D with a Tokina 11-16 f/2.8
The next part involved powering the camera. I opted to use a deep cycle marine battery because it will last longer on one charge than a normal car battery. Let’s start at the camera. First there is a dummy battery in the camera to power it with AC, but I wanted to power it with a DC source so I needed to add in a selectable voltage converter. This takes the voltage of the battery from 12 volts to 7.5 volts (the camera operates at 7.5 volts). Then we need to make sure the camera gets the correct amperage. The normal canon LP-E6 battery provides 1800mAh (milli amps) so I needed to make sure the marine battery didn’t fry the camera. I put a fuse in line at the battery that would break at anything over 1800mAh. Better to pop a fuse than a camera.
All time lapses need an intervalometer, I used this knock off one. I wanted the intervalometer on the ground so I could access it during the 8 month shoot. I bought a male and female 2.5mm audio jack from Fry’s and soldered some speaker wire in for an extension. It didn’t look pretty, but it worked great.
I also wanted USB access on the ground so I could download photos in progress and control the camera via EOS utility so I could change any settings if need be. All I had to do was use an active USB extension that ran out of the case, down to the battery. Here are all the parts in the pelican case.
This is my setup mounted on a fence for the first angle in the video. All the wires come out one hole on the bottom of the case. I used silicone to seal the hole. The piece of plywood is there just to keep the sun off and provide some protection from the rain.
Here I’m running EOS utility to see through the camera and control the settings. I set the intervalometer to take a shot every 10 minutes. I set the camera to aperture priority mode at f/5.6 at ISO 200.
This the second angle in the video that shows the front of the house. Same mounting concept as before. I figured the camera was secure because I used plenty of screws to mount this thing to keep it secure. It would definitely take someone a while to take it down. I also had a small lock on the case. But someone could have just cut the post and taken the whole thing. I’m glad no one did!
This whole setup worked great! It went for about 5 months on one charge. I took the battery home one night to give it a charge. Here it is 8 months later.
The UV filter was definitely dirty but everything inside looked as good as new!
For the interior and backyard camera I used two GoPro Hero 3 Blacks. For power I had to convert the marine battery to power the camera via USB. I enclosed that custom connection in a waterproof case. The GoPro comes with a waterproof case which was nice. All I did was drill a hole in the case for the cable and then silicone it to seal it. The GoPros had to take photos every minute, which was way more than I needed but it worked.
Any USB car charger will work for that connection. I picked one up at Fry’s for a dollar. Here is a similar one.
Above: I can plug right into the camera to download. Below: I was able to control the camera with GoPro’s app.
This is the outside camera that I strapped to a tree:
In order to create the edited timelapse sequence I had to cut out a lot of photos. Because the camera was taking pictures all night and all day, I had to go through each day and take out all the shots at nighttime and on the weekends where nothing was happening. I used After Effects to edit it all together because you can easily import an image sequence. I also included a lot of speed changes in the video and it just depended on how exciting the action was.
So that’s it! It was a ton of fun to make this happen and I’m just glad no one stole the cameras!
Here is the final product: