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Using Digital Cameras
by Keith Lightbody - last updated 5 March 2007

Quick Start
Definition: Time lapse photography is where a camera in a fixed position automatically takes a sequence or series of photos with a set amount of time between each image. You can then look at individual images, or you might want to combine all of the photos to produce a movie that shows the action faster (or slower) than in real life. A digital camera is ideal for this since the images can quickly and easily be assembled on a computer and saved in a variety of movie formats.

When starting off, do a trial run (for 1 - 2 hours) with an easy subject. Examples of easy subjects are: a fast opening flower (such as when a hibiscus opens in the morning), clouds moving across the sky (but avoid looking in the direction of the sun), a caterpillar or a snail. Set the camera up carefully so that all parts of the subject are easily seen and there is no distracting background.

To use the digital camera you will need to plug it into its mains power adapter, set it up rigidly on a tripod (so the camera can't move around or fall off) with the subject well within the view of the camera. Also, check that the lighting is suitable (not too dark, the sun isn't shining into your eyes, etc). It is worthwhile to take a few test shots and view them in the LCD screen on your camera. Once you have checked the image quality then adjust the interval setting (amount of time between when each photo is taken) to a suitable amount. Typically, times range from 30 seconds to many hours. Press the shutter release for the first photo and then wait your chosen time to check that the second photo is taken on schedule. Finally, relax while the camera does all the work! For more detailed instructions see time lapse tips.

Possible Uses of Time Lapse
Many projects that can be completed within a day:
- movement of animals in a paddock
- see how people use public spaces
- record changes in clouds
- observe the chemical dissolution of different metals in acids over time
- watch living cells in time-lapse movies (attach camera to a microscope)
- observe a piece of art as it is being created (e.g. painting, sculpture)
- record erosion of soil by stream flow experiments
- movements of stars (such as their rotation around the celestial pole)
- observe ants feeding or tunnelling in an ant farm

Some longer term projects include:
- compare mould growing on damp versus dry bread.
- watching the growth of plants or germination of seeds
- monitoring revegetation after a bushfire
- observe fungi or fruiting plants grow and decay
- record seasonal changes in water levels, plant life,
- observe the growth of crystals under different conditions

Available Models
Although some digital cameras have had time lapse features for a number of years, there are now many models under $2000 available in Australia (currently at least 20). Some locally available digital cameras with time lapse include: Canon PowerShot S30, S40, G3, G5, Casio QV-2000UX, Casio QV-7000SX, FujiFilm FinePix S1 Pro, PhotoSmart 618, Kodak DC265, Kodak DC290, Minolta DiMAGE 5, Minolta DiMAGE 7, Olympus E-10, Olympus E-20, Panasonic ipalm, Ricoh i500, Ricoh RDC-5000, Ricoh RR1, Toshiba PDR-M60

Time Lapse Equipment
What you will need:
Digital camera with a time lapse feature.
Sufficient image storage capacity.
Tripod with lockable swivel head.
Simple lights (e.g. fluorescent desk lamps or low power incandescent bulbs).
Background cloths or sheets.
Mains power adapter (allows unlimited time and greater reliability).
[batteries are usually not suitable except for short duration sequences]
A remote release (infrared or cable) is handy to avoid bumping the camera.

Time Lapse Tips
Choose a safe location that does not interfere with other people's rights or property.
Keep the environment consistent (the same)- this includes temperature, humidity and lighting.
Plan to avoid or prevent vibration or wind. Set up the equipment out of any wind or drafts (e.g. from weather outdoors, from nearby windows or air conditioning indoors). It should be in a rigid location free from vibration (e.g. due to machines, traffic, student activities).
Try to maintain humidity where it affects the subject (e.g. young plants)
Protect the equipment from theft, rain, lightning, snail slime, animal licks, etc.
Keep the lighting uniform and consistent - do not generate too much heat or intensity with fixed lamps - consider fluorescent desk lamps, low power incandescent bulbs or maybe microscope lamps.
If using a flash, consider a softer setting for any close-up work.
Make sure that the digital camera is rigidly clamped on a suitable size tripod. In some circumstances it can be taped very securely in unusual positions with duct tape (but only via the legs of a miniature tripod or on parts of the camera that will not be affected by the sticky gum on the back of the tape).
In areas used by other people put up a sign explaining the equipments purpose. Ask people not to touch, bump, block the view, steal the camera, etc.
Take care to compose the image so that all parts of the subject show clearly and there is no distracting background. Composition is critical if the images are going to be assembled into a movie. Clear images are required if a movie is viewed at quarter screen size or a movie file is saved in a highly compressed format.
Do not place the digital camera too close to the subject. Otherwise after expansion or change the subject may not still be completely in the field of view (e.g. as a flower bud opens it becomes much larger). It is possible to batch process all images later if necessary to crop to a closer view.
Take a few test shots and review them in the LCD viewfinder. Make any necessary adjustments. Carry out final checks of the power, camera settings and subject composition.
Start the sequence before any activity happens and leave the camera taking photos for a short while after the main event (this allows more scope for editing and assembling the sequence).
Press the shutter release to start recording the image sequence. The first photo is usually taken immediately, then wait your chosen time to check that the second photo is taken on schedule.
For action that takes place over a long time check the equipment and subject at regular intervals.
When the action has clearly finished turn off the digital camera and transfer the images to a computer.

Making a Time Lapse Movie
To combine the photos into time lapse movies, choose the best set of images that clearly show the change over time (occasionally a few images in a sequence can be poorly lit or out of focus so these should not be used). Place all the good images in a folder on the hard drive of your computer. DO NOT RENAME ANY TIME LAPSE FILES - THEY MUST ALL REMAIN SEQUENTIALLY NUMBERED.
Instructions for Quicktime Pro software: Mac and Windows
One easy way of assembling the series of photos into a movie (e.g. lapse.mov) is to use Quicktime Pro software. Load Quicktime Pro (the free Quicktime Player software does not have the feature to create a movie from a series of photos). Choose File - Open Image Sequence..., select the appropriate folder, select the first image in the series, click on Open, choose a suitable number of frames per second (or seconds per frame), click Okay, adjust the movie window size if necessary (e.g. Movie - Fill Screen) and click on the Play button.
Voila - a time lapse movie! The final step is to save it in a file format suitable for your friends. Choose File - Save - Make movie self-contained to make a Quicktime movie file (mov) or File - Export and select a suitable format (e.g. avi). Detailed help for Quicktime Player and Pro is only available online but it is very useful to learn more about the software.

No matter what software you use the final file size will depend on your choices when saving but remember that large file sizes are slower to email to others. Your friends need only a suitable media viewer or player to watch the movie - these are freely available for download from the Internet.

Time Lapse Samples
Time Lapse Samples (some samples very large - best on a fast connection)
Plants-In-Motion - online source of time-lapse plant movies
Daffodil flower opening - start/stop controls, notes on time lapse technique used
*** http://www.breezesys.f9.co.uk/g1/timelapse/

Cicada hatching, crystal growth
Aging bananas, baking cookies, clouds, ... (can be slow to load)
*** http://callisto.si.usherb.ca/~aerostar/
Marine life - fish eye view (slow to load - click on link for time lapse movie)
*** http://www.fisheyeview.com/Movies.html
Brain tissue loss in Alzheimer's disease
*** http://www.loni.ucla.edu/~thompson/AD_4D/dynamic.html
Young stars belch fiery gas in Hubble space telescope time-lapse movies.
** http://www.cnn.com/2000/TECH/space/09/21/hubble.stars/

Approach to Jupiter (lower part of page)
** http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/science/jupiter.html
Spots, Flares and Coronal Mass Ejections
** http://sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov/hotshots/2001_03_29/
Commercial Samples (view in MOVIE THEATRE section)
**** http://www.timelapse.com/content.php?name=stock
Corning Community College Open Day
Plain, canal, clouds

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This site is to help the 80% of people who just want information and communication technology to be easy to use and reliable. Art, graphics and site layout for both the student and teacher versions was produced by Jade. Craig, Neil, Ian, Peter, David, Eddie and Bryn have helped with the site. Please take the trouble to offer ideas or suggestions - you will be acknowledged and others can benefit. Currently up to 300 people per week visit the time lapse section of my site.

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