Long-term timelapse of construction: choosing the most appropriate settings for camera.
(Advice: do not ever use auto-focus!)
For getting a sequence between photos when shooting timelapse of construction it is extremely important to choose the correct camera settings.
If you adjust incorrect camera settings for timelapse, you will probably see unpleasant vibrations of color and lighting on the photographs and this makes them unusable.
This discrepancy can significantly add a huge amount of work in post-production and leave you unsatisfied in the editing process.
In this article we will consider everything what is needed to be known about camera settings so that you can be sure that you will get the expected results in the end.
(The article covers camera settings such as focus and white balance. To figure out recommendations on the best settings for the intervalometer, follow the link.)
These settings are relevant independently of which camera you use: Canon or Nikon.
Check the video below and read on to learn more about the most suitable camera settings for long-term construction timelapse.
What camera mode is required for construction timelapse?
You will gain experience in working with all possible lighting conditions throughout the project of timelapse shooting.
And for the reason of this impressive difference in lighting, aperture priority is the only efficient camera mode for shooting. Moreover, it is absolutely necessary.
First of all, aperture priority provides a sequential depth of field, but retains the shutter speed corresponding to the lighting.
Even when shooting in aperture priority, the flicker when assembling long-term timelapse will be tangible.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to avoid this thing completely, but aperture priority will at least mitigate this effect.
In a long-term timelapse the flicker is usually being worked on in post-production (using frame-blending and other methods), not in the shooting process.
Greatest aperture for long-term timelapse.
Usually in the construction timelapse, the camera is installed nearby the building site so that area of action is comparatively deep.
That’s why a narrower aperture for greater of field is often the most convenient.
As a guideline, use the standard landscape photography tip: choose aperture from f / 8 to f / 11.
If the aperture is narrower than f / 11, you risk bringing your depth of field too close to the camera…
…and collect in the frame all the dust spots that may appear on the window of the equipment housing.
If all the other recommendations for setting up a timelapse camera in this article seem unsuitable for you, it is important to follow the tips listed below:
Set the focus to manual mode.
If the camera and lens settings have a focus switch on the lens and a focus mode in the camera, make sure that both of them are set to manual.
Then twice and thrice check that you have set the focus to manual mode.
And check again.
Because autofocus can disrupt the long-term construction timelapse like no other.
Most of the other camera settings we’ve reviewed can be worked out in post-production if they were set incorrectly.
But you can’t fix the shifting focal lengths.
Apart from the displacement of the focal length, with autofocus you risk missing photographs.
This can happen because sometimes the intervalometer doesn’t hold the shutter long enough to focus and take a picture at the same time.
Other camera settings for long-term timelapse footage.
Besides setting automatic shutter speed with aperture priority, you should set all other settings to manual mode.
The aim is to make sure that the camera doesn’t automatically make one image different from another.
By following these rules you will ensure that the entire sequence of photos is consistent.
It is relevant to set the white balance to auto mode as well, so that the color balance remains the same in all photos.
Since the light hue will constantly change, the specific manual option does not really matter. It’s your choice.
The image profile (or image style) settings will highly depend on whether the online gallery service is provided, or whether your client needs just the finished timelapse video.
For an online gallery, you will need to leave your image profile on settings that look good right from the camera.
In case if the client doesn’t care about individual images and just interested in a timelapse video, you will want to align the profile to get a larger dynamic range.
A simple way to flatten the picture is to choose a Neutral image profile.
In addition, for more control, you can configure each parameter individually at your own discretion.
ISO (Light sensitivity)
For daytime footage setting ISO to auto is the best option.
However, if the project includes shooting at night, you need to set the ISO to manual mode.
If you set light sensitivity to auto for night shots, the camera will give priority to increasing the ISO, rather than shutter time.
This may cause digital noise on images and with a high ISO level pictures are unusable.
There is no special need for a high ISO if the project goes during the daytime and the shutter drag will work as needed at night.
Therefore, stick to setting this parameter in the range of 100-400 in order to have good results.
Usually your subject and scene determine how the exposure will be adjusted.
If you are shooting in the sun, there is a lot of sky in the frame, and the subject is in shadow, you may need the usage of exposure compensation.
On the contrary, if the subject is a bright spot among a group of dark high-rise towers, you may have to refuse the exposure compensation.
The point is to measure for the object (construction), not necessarily for the entire scene.
You will also need to consider not only what the scene looks like at the beginning of the project when you set up your camera…
…but also what it will look like in the later stages of the project.
For example, at the beginning of a project, there may be sunlight passing through the entire scene on a vacant lot.
But after construction, the facade of the building may be in shadow during the day, and the image will look better when using exposure compensation.
Other image processing parameters.
To keep the photos consistent in a specific sequence, deactivate or change to manual mode any other image processing functions.
These functions are active D-lighting, low-light noise reduction, in-camera HDR and etc.
There are many camera features that will not be needed when you are working under your long-term timelapse project.
For saving unit energy, reduce screen brightness and disable non-core settings such as GPS, Wi-Fi, and image viewing.
On new cameras, you can make sure that all connection functions are disabled by setting the camera to flight mode.
How to save camera settings.
To save changes to camera settings, you just need to turn it off in a usual way and then turn on.
But if you turn off the power by removing the battery, the changes will not be saved.
Once the camera is ready to use, make sure that you have saved all your settings by turning the camera off and on again using the power button.
Only then you need to set the timelapse intervalometer to monitor the camera operation.
A brief conclusion is that when adjusting the settings of camera for long-term timelapse, you need to remember the following three things:
- Shoot in aperture priority.
- Switch all other settings to manual mode (especially focus).
- Turn the camera off and on again to save the settings.
Bonus: is the ND filter usable for the construction timelapse?
Although this is not really a camera setting, ND filters are referred to exposure settings, so it makes sense to mention them in this article.
Usually, in a short-term timelapse, the shutter operates using an ND filter.
It blurs fast-moving objects that are only in one or two images, and so that reduces the flickering effect of the object.
Many photographers reasonably consider the ND filter will be convenient in the construction timelapse due to the amount of activity and movement on the construction site.
However, in reality two things work against the usefulness of the ND filter and the shutter drag in timelapse footage.
First of all, most things on a construction site don’t move very fast, so a very long shutter won’t be workable in a lot of motion blur.
(The exception to this rule is when your scene includes a lively road running next to a construction site.)
Second, there are so many changes between photos taken even at ten-minute intervals that a slight motion blur on each photo really won’t make any difference to the general flicker of the subject.
Using an ND filter can also result in missing night photos.
With aperture priority, the longest shutter time is 30 seconds.
And if your ND filter is too dark, it may be difficult to get good quality night images.
In a long-term timelapse, the flickering of an object and lighting is best handled in post-production using frame-blend and other methods.