6 January 2009

Low-cost HD time-lapse photography using DSLR's: a quick HOWTO

After pushing my trusty FZ-50 as far as it could go, I ended up investing in a DSLR which has treated me very well. What's most impressive is the level of low-cost, DIY hackability that becomes available once you move on to an SLR.

As an example: high definition video. A few months ago I put together a pair of time-lapse, 'tilt-shifted' videos using a DSLR, a linux laptop and some post-processing. The results:

Dawn and Dusk in mini San Francisco was posted to laughingsquid, and from there I was privileged to be asked by George Lever to add the video to the Citypulse collection. It's currently on show at Citypulse at the tower in Santiago, Chile right now:

The recipe needed for making the videos was actually relatively simple:

  • Canon EOS 450D (Rebel XSi)
  • USB cable to connect 450D to laptop
  • Netbook (Aspire One) running Mandriva 2009 (any laptop will suffice)
  • gphoto 2.4.3 installed on laptop
  • tripod (sturdier the better)
  • Photoshop (or gimp)
  • Quicktime (or mencoder)
  • You'll need to pick a subject - get as high up as you can. I've found that people don't work all that well in time-lapse videos, but traffic and slow moving things (especially boats, clouds) are awesome
  • Set up the camera on the tripod; use spot metering and aperture priority to reduce flicker, and turn auto-focus off
  • Connect the laptop to the camera, and use this command line for gphoto: gphoto2 --set-config capture=on --capture-image-and-download -I 5
  • You could probably also use the bundled Canon software, but I've never tried it
  • I capture an image every 4-5 seconds, but you can crank this up or down depending on what you're capturing
  • You'll end up with a long sequence of images
  • These can either be fed directly into Quicktime to make a movie, or you can run them through gimp or photoshop first to tweak/post-process them
  • I added a fake 'tilt-shift' effect on a few of the sequences (I'll try to post a guide on how to do it for real soon) using photoshop - see tutorial here.
It's a relatively simple technique, and if you have a DSLR chances are you probably already have all the equipment and software needed already, making it a low-cost hack.


Anonymous said...

Nice work. Who's the artist / song you used in your second post?

Bhautik Joshi said...

I believe its 'Golden Age', by Beck (from the album Sea Change).

Anonymous said...

Wow dude awesome work. thanks for all the neat ideas. keep them coming.

Anonymous said...

you are so awesome.. i just found your site and all i can say is.. im pretty amazed! thanks for this whole project! cheers from germany

stendec said...

I run windows 7 on my Laptop, do I still use gphoto for this? I take it that the images go directly to the computer instead of memory card?
Thanks for posting this, its awesome.

Bhautik Joshi said...

@stendec: I'm not sure if gphoto is supported on windows 7, unfortunately :( However, you should be able to use the software that comes with most recent canon DSLR's to control the camera on windows.