Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Time Lapse Photography, Part 2 - The Basics

As explained in part 1 of this introduction, slow motion and time lapse are effectively opposite premises. Slow motion captures action at an extremely HIGH FRAME RATE, while stop motion in turn captures action occurring at much SLOWER FRAME RATE. If you wanted to capture motion that happens much faster than you can see, you're going to need a faster frame rate. If you want to capture motion that occurs much slower than we can see, then you're going to need a slower frame rate.

Frame rates in the instance of time lapse photography can refer to two things: 1. The rate at which we are capturing images, or 2. The rate at which our images are being played back for an audience.

For example, if we are displaying a video for people to watch, they're most likely going to be watching this video in 24 or 30 frames per second. This is roughly the rate at which the human eye “refreshes”, allowing us to infer smooth motion. When we get into post production of images, and how to compose time lapse images, we will go over frame rates for final processing and how they work. For now, just know that 30 fps is a good rate for people to see motion and make smooth productions.

In the other instance, we use frame rates to explain how frequently we are going to be capturing images. The science behind time lapse can be as specific or as vague as you really want. If you're in a hurry and want to capture a few minutes of some action, you can throw a set up, start your intervalometer and let it run, and you may get a decent result. However, if you're looking to create videos that capture motion appropriately and get you the best results, you're going to want to do some more reading.

Imagine these few different scenarios:
  1. You're laying in the grass watching the clouds roll by while you read a book or have a picnic. The clouds are your focus here.
  2. It's 10pm, its dark out, and you're on top of a building overlooking a city skyline with lots of cars and pedestrians passing in the foreground. The lights are your focus here.
  3. You work in a tall building in NYC, that has a perfect view of the #1 WTC construction. You want to shoot a lapse lasting 10 years.

Now again, for some of these scenarios, you can hook up a cheap intervalometer, press go, and maybe come up with some decent work. But the issue that stands here is that all of these types of motion are going to be take significantly different amounts of time. Let's break down the reasons behind planning for these scenarios.

  1. Clouds move fairly quick. If you're patient, you can sit and watch one move from one end of your vision to the other. Other clouds move much slower, or not at all. Because of this, this kind of motion can be captured within a few minutes. Something like 10 minutes worth of shooting will get you decent results. What's most important though is that you are shooting frames rapidly enough, so that when you put them together they are going to translate the motion.
    So for example, lets say you have 10 minutes to spare and the clouds are moving quick and the scene is just right. As a reference point, I'll just let you know roughly 5 – 6 seconds between shots is an acceptable amount of time for this kind of motion. So, some quick math:
      10 minutes * 60 seconds = 600 seconds
      600 seconds / 6 = 100 frames
      100 frames / 24 fps = roughly 4 seconds of footage.

  1. Ok, scenario 2 begins to get more complicated. Because of it being nighttime, we need to ensure we have a fast enough shutter speed so as to avoid motion blur. The basic laws of photography still stand even though we're shooting lapses. So do your homework and make sure you have everything you need before you run out at night trying to do this. Aside from a fast shutter, we're going to have a very short interval as well. For a scene that involves cars driving by, or pedestrians moving in and out of frame, it would be beneficial to utilize a faster interval. Something along the lines of 3-4 seconds in between shots should help keep the motion smooth and allow the viewer to follow the action.

  1. Finally for this last scenario, we are looking at a much much LONGER interval. If we're doing 10 years worth of action, and progress, we have a lot of factors to consider. First, it would be wise to get an estimate of how often visible progress will actually be made in construction. For something like this, you might look out your window ever single day and never see any visible changes for a week or two. On the other hand, the workers might hit a patch of work that flies by in comparison to something that might take weeks or months, and may produce no visible change. It's a situation such as this that we are going to use an interval probably somewhere in the range of 1x per day or 1x every 2 days. Lets look at the math:

      10 years * 365 a year = 3650 days
      1 shot * 3650 days = 3650 frames
      3650 / 30 fps = 121 seconds = 2 minutes of footage

So, of course, in this instance, for 10 years worth of work, we are going to want longer than a 2 minute clip. At the very least, we're going to want something close to a 5 minute video. Let's figure it out backwards.

5 minutes = 300 seconds
300 * 30 fps = 9000 frames total
9000 / 3650 days = 2.5 shots a day

When you look at it on paper, it's not a difficult concept. But pack all your bags, plan your trip, haul your gear out to location, get set up, and then come to realize you have no calculations prepared, or any idea of how to estimate the shoot, and you'll be kicking yourself. Understand the relationship between frame rates, and how this affects your timing between shots, and you should be able to do the simple math in your head any time. For those of you looking to take all of the guess work out of this, there are a handful of interval calculators available for android and iPhone.

With those examples, you should have a stronger idea of how frame rates play a major part in planning your shoots. With this knowledge, you should also be starting to see the need for tools that most camera's don't come with off the shelf. While some newer digital point and shoots are starting to come with an interval mode, the fact is, most don't have them, and on top of this, any out-of-the-box mode is never going to comparable to a strong understanding of the principles.

In parts 3 & 4 of this project, I'm going to go over my build and share all the things I learned along the way. My ideas weren't perfect, but they were unique and hadn't been attempted before. Some things worked great, while others failed miserably. Regardless, my goal for this project was to save a few bucks and have a working dolly for time lapse projects. In my attempt, I got a working DSLR dolly for roughly half the cost of major distributors. The next two posts will be mostly hardware related, outlining my build including a parts list and a lot of good resources for those of you working on these dolly projects.

For those of you looking for more a in depth code break down, well....we're not there yet. The controller I ended up using was an MX2 dollyengine, which already has a great deal of documentation on it. Dynamic Perception has been great about embracing open source projects, and already gives great insight in to how their product works. Perhaps one day in the future, we'll see what sorts of tinkering we can do with this thing.

Virtual Reality, Nausea, and preparing for the Oculus Rift.

I wrote this post like 6 months ago but neglected to ever post it. Have spent a good amount of time with the Oculus Rift and will do a new post with my thoughts.

The countdown has begun! Technically the countdown started on Jan 16th when I ordered the rift...but after last night it really started when I received the following email: Your Oculus Rift has shipped.

I've been distracted with the news ever since scouring the internet for articles, threads, blogs, subreddits, and websites dedicated to Oculus Rift news and information in an attempt to be completely prepared for when it arrives. Similar to my entries about the Raspberry Pi and other micro computers, I'll be using this blog to chronicle my misadventures.


The Oculus Rift is a new hardware peripheral allowing premiere virtual reality experiences at consumer level pricing.  Last year a Kickstarter campaign was started to provide funding for development and manufacturing of the device, they well exceeded their Kickstarter goal and in the past 6 weeks have begun shipping the development version of the product. 

The hardware advancements of today have made a believable virtual reality experience possible for relatively low cost. Mobile phones have really been the forefront of the push for small high density displays, pushing the cost of the parts needed significantly lower. 

RoadToVr is maintaining a well put together page for currently supported and in development games. 


I'm excited to explore again in the worlds I discovered years ago.  A...lot...of....people who already received their development kit seem to comment on the sense of scale. You feel how tall (or small) you are supposed to be in the game world. The tunnel vision our brain tries to build for immersion is no longer working harder than necessary. You are there.

below: my roommate trying 'Alone in the Rift'

Some people have experienced sickness from this sensation or a feeling of uneasiness...of your brain making movements your body isn't physically feeling. Imagine rolling in an plane but instead of moving with the plane, your body remains completely still, and just your eyes move. It's a hard concept to visualize and even more difficult to experience.


Now that I've had the Oculus Rift for about 5 months I've had some time to reflect. Next post will cover my first time reaction and other reactions I've witnessed. Games that I've played and enjoyed using the Rift and exploring some of my own ideas for using this technology.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Time Lapse Photography, Part 1 - An Introduction

Photography has been around a long time. The basic ideas and science behind photography hasn't changed significantly unless you consider ideas such as rolling shutters, and the huge amount of small, cheap digital cameras that have popped up in the past 15 or so years.
The basic premise is the same across all formats though, you have a shutter(or a combination thereof), a lens, and a small set of circuitry that opens these shutters, flips mirrors, and times everything down to thousands, or sometimes millions of seconds. 
Film is simply an extrapolation thereof, old film strips are just long lines of images, played at a fast frame rate (24 or 30 fps), or an extremely fast frame rate (1000+) for modern high speed cameras.

Time lapse photography is a method utilized by a variety of filmmakers over generations. Time lapse, and slow motion are effectively opposite ideas. Things that you see in slow motion such as this one are images captured at a rate much FASTER than the human eye can see.

The opposite end of this spectrum is time lapse. Video that produce a time lapsing effect is captured a much SLOWER rate than the eye can see.
Work here property of

Time lapse photography is the focus of our current project and will ultimately be the focus of many future posts regarding such. In the video above, you will notice a motion from the camera where it moves on a plane either on a diagonal, or panning from left to right. It is the production of this motion, in conjunction with telling the camera when to fire, that will be the main focus of this project. 

There are many high end professional camera dollies on the market: 
Many that are used in high end film production and film sets. These cost thousands or tens of thousands and can carry a camera man, and a 200 lb camera. 

There are also small production dollies that carry either a small 1080p camera, a RED camera, or a beefy SLR. 
There are also smaller production dollies made specifically for DSLRs. This is going to be the type of dolly that we are working on. It seems many DSLR owners have already been seeking a cheap solution to adding motion to their work, so as such a great community of photographers has already formed, many of whom are extra supportive of open source projects and often support reproductions, and sharing of ideas. One resource that immediately shows it's wealth is This community of photographers, programmers and problems solvers have been sharing ideas for years and many of them have started their own businesses providing motion control to other photographers. 

In part 2 of this introduction I will further explain the mechanics behind time lapse, motion control, and how the two come together to make great video compositions. In the posts following this, we will be building a motion controlled camera dolly to carry a DSLR. To build it, we're going to use many open source parts, both hardware, and software wise. The heart of the project contains an Arduino, an LCD shield, motor shield, and camera controller. As such, all of the programming is almost entirely going to be related to the Arduino. 

If you're interested in more reading, check out, or for more videos

If you're interested in purchasing a ready-built dolly, that you can hook up to a DSLR camera and go, then I can't recommend a company any higher than Dynamic Perception highly supports open source design, and is a major inspiration for the build that follows. They make amazing products that is backed up by amazing customer support. For those of us that like to tinker though, stay tuned! We're going to go over a variety of options and things to consider when building your own dolly.