Friday, October 19, 2012

I can control time!

No really.  I can control time.  You can too.  It's awesome and fun!

I do it with my camera.  You see, I've started to make time lapse movies.  I'm just starting, so the results aren't stellar yet, but they are a lot of fun.  The really cool thing is that when your movie shows time at a different scale than we perceive on a daily basis, you see things you might otherwise miss.  I'd love to make slow motion movies like this one, but those slow motion cameras are still very expensive.  Maybe some day.  Until then, instead of slowing time down, I'll just speed it up.  It's much easier.  I'll tell you most of what you need to get started below, but if you aren't interested in trying for yourself, you can just jump to the bottom and see the results I've gotten so far.

Fancy DSLR timed shutter release remote

Normal video cameras take a series of pictures at somewhere between 24 and 30 frames per second.  Then we play that series of photos back at the same speed and you see a movie.  If you take those pictures at once every 3 seconds instead of 30 times per second, and then play them back at 30 frames per second, you effectively play back at 90 times real time.  So to make a time lapse film all you need to do is take a series of pictures at a constant rate and then stitch them together into a movie.  Pressing the shutter every three seconds for several days straight can get tiring.   Fortunately there are tools that can help with this.

I have two set-ups that let me shoot a sequence of timed photos that I can later stitch together into a movie.  First is an timed shutter release remote control for the DSLR.  On the remote I can program the number of seconds between photos.

The second system is an old Canon point and shoot camera.  It is important that it is a canon, because that means that I can load the Canon Hack Development Kit (CHDK) onto it.  This ingenious little system makes that camera think that it has a software upgrade but when it hands control over to what it thinks is a software upgrade, it really is handing control over to CHDK.  One great thing about CHDK is that it is temporary.  The system lives on the flash card.  Put in a different flash card and you are back to the vanilla camera you had before you started hacking.
Canon SD800 IS running CHDK with external power supply

The CHDK software enhances and extends the functions of even simple little cameras to allow them to take RAW images, use manual controls or even run scripts.  It is this last feature that allows us to run a script that takes pictures on a time schedule, thus time lapse photographs.  I use a script called counter.bas that seems to work just fine.

BTW, older cameras are great for this making time lapse movies because they don't need to be super high resolution in order to make good quality movies.  A 1080p movie is about two megapixels per frame.

One extra item that I did invest in is a power supply for the camera.  I was able to get one relatively inexpensively from Amazon and it allows me to plug the camera in so that I can create time lapses that go for days.  I never have to worry about the battery dying.

The outcome of running this script or using the timed shutter release is a flash card full of pictures.  To make a movie of them you need a program that can assemble all those individual images into a moving picture.  I use a free one on the Mac called Time Lapse Assembler.  It is very straight forward.  It just takes a folder full of images and turns them into a movie that you can view and edit just like any other movie.

The great news is that lots of thing look interesting when they are sped up; clouds, boats; plants.  Get out there and try it for yourself!  If you get into it, you can learn a lot more advanced stuff from this website:

You can see my first results below.  Enjoy!


  1. Nice SunSPOT in the middle of the plants! Do they still make those?

    1. Good eye! They do, in fact, still sell Sun SPOTs ( I have quite a few different platforms that I use these days, but I still find that I pull out the Sun SPOTs when I need a quick way to monitor something. In this case, it's using the SHT-15 to measure temp and humidity. Now I've got to figure out how to overlay that sensor info onto my time lapse.