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 How to charge for time-lapse services? 
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Joined: Tue Jan 11, 2011 8:12 pm
Posts: 121
Post How to charge for time-lapse services?
I was asked an interesting question today from someone on linked-in.

As a media company – how much should we charge to provide a time-lapse service for a construction project?

This has always been one of the more challenging aspects of providing time-lapse services... determining how much to charge! I've been asked this question many times, and have never gotten enough feedback from customers to develop any specific advice on dollar amounts. However, I can outline some of the considerations.

Understanding the customer's goal is crucial. A quick video to show online at low resolution is very different than one to show investors in a board room, which is different again from a video loop playing in the lobby of their new building. Quality, video length, narration / titling are major considerations. Talk to them, show them examples from a laptop via you-tube and then on a high quality monitor directly from your computer. Keep in mind the extra work to maintain high image quality, if it's required.

1) Equipment & Installation
The customer could purchase the time-lapse camera system hardware outright. They could also contract to any of the proprietary service providers to do the whole job, but that would obviate the need for this discussion!

Alternatively, you could purchase the time-lapse camera system yourself, and include the 'rental' of the hardware as part of your invoice package. The great advantage to this is that you will then own the equipment for your next contract. Some time-lapse system hardware companies only rent their hardware, so there is a one-time fee as well as a monthly rate. While you may think you know the duration of the project, it will very likely take longer than anticipated. Monthly fees can be a real drag if work slows down, so you may want to pass those fees along.

Depending on the labor rules on site, you will perform or contract the installation, occasionally wipe off the window and perform any needed service. Then there is the cost on many sites to rent a bucket-truck for any work. Reliability of the equipment becomes a significant factor on cost!

If there is an available structure at a great natural location to install a camera, you are blessed! This is unfortunately rare. You may need to rent space on a roof-top across the street, or have a pole erected on site. Scaffolds, antenna masts, guyed pipe, you name it... it's been used to hold a camera system! Have a look at the Harbortronics website for the legacy Time-Lapse Package, and for the Cyclapse systems; there are lots of site installation examples.

Solar power is hugely preferred over mains power, as it costs so much to install dedicated power. You can't simply use an extension cord as people are going to unplug your cable for 'just a minute', or someone on a crew will intentionally disable the system. If the system is efficient (Harbortronics shines here!), you can use a small solar panel, and save cost again.

How many cameras do you need? I've seen so many time-lapse movies of construction sites taken from a single vantage point, and after 30 seconds its pretty deadly! With any SLR camera, there is so much resolution and image quality that you can use pan & zoom techniques in-frame, to zoom in on details and move around. This technique doesn't require actual motion… its done in post processing, starting with high quality, high resolution still images. I can't over-emphasize how useful this is, particularly if you can only afford one camera installation.

For the best results, you really want to edit from multiple camera points-of-view. Multiply the installation and hardware costs...

A technique that may be underused is to use multiple cameras of varying quality. For instance, when you have that great vantage point overlooking the site, install the best equipment you can. As you can gather from the above discussion, the cost of the installation can easily outweigh the cost of the hardware, so the hardware cost isn't as significant of a factor. Get the best hardware for the best vantage points. The Cyclapse system for instance can accommodate any SLR camera, and even medium format cameras for un-rivaled image quality. Zoom way in and pan about in post to show off details. For other areas of the site, sprinkle some lower quality time-lapse systems. This can be action (GoPro) camera systems, or even trail/game/garden cameras. These lower cost systems will naturally produce significantly lower quality images. Their rated resolution may be high but they don't look very good on a big screen, and forget about zooming in. All the same, you can edit a few images here and there from these lower cost cameras to show details you wouldn't normally have collected. You will naturally have issues trying to find places to install multiple cameras, and vandalism becomes a problem when cameras are more accessible. Having a few high quality cameras at various high or inaccessible locations can reduce this issue, particularly when you can pan& zoom in post with these cameras.

2) Image collection
Images are naturally retained on the memory card of SLR cameras. You will periodically need to move those images to your preferred computer storage media. Realistically, this means a hard-drive attached to your computer. Even with the best internet connection, image processing is going to be vastly faster with the images right at your computer. High quality images have correspondingly large file sizes, and moving thousands of these files back and forth from the 'cloud' is not realistic.

There are several ways to get those images from the camera to your computer. The first is the oldest, and least equipment intensive, swapping memory cards at the camera itself. Surprisingly, this is still a perfectly viable approach for cameras with decent access. For most projects, you are going to be on site periodically to take beauty shots, shooting video clips of major pieces of the project, and capturing footage from different perspectives. This is a natural time to check on your camera system, and swap memory cards.

Another great, low power, low cost method is to connect your laptop to the camera, and download the images. Harbortronics provides a USB extension cable for their systems, which can easily be extended to any reasonable distance. The camera could be on a pole with a cable routed to a locked box at the base. Open the box, connect to your laptop, wander around taking beauty pics, and collect your laptop in a short while.

Automated image transfer to the internet is possible, and sounds wonderful! This simplifies one aspect of the project, and provides for constant monitoring of the hardware performance. With commercial long-term time-lapse systems, reliability is very high so monitoring isn't really that much of a concern. There are other costs to consider associated with networking, such as cellular data plans, Ethernet cable burial and connection to someones network, establishing an FTP server with it's monthly fee, or at the highest level of cost - an image hosting service. While this simplifies data collection, don't forget that you still need to be on site periodically! Once the images are on the 'cloud', you will still need to take the time to transfer them to your working computer. Having them on a remote server does provide a remote backup of the data, which is great.

Some customers think they want daily progress stills or video clips. I'd suggest trying to talk them out of this, as they will tire very quickly of looking at photos that show very little change from one to the next! It sounds great, but isn't often useful. Collecting images every week or two and compiling a short time-lapse is often a much better use of your / their time. While automated image transfer could allow your customer instant views of collected images, this doesn't show off your image processing skills, nor any protection from the customer collecting all of the images to bypass your post processing. If you want to provide 'dailys', I'd suggest pushing selected images to them, rather than allowing them to pull them from a stack of images on the cloud.

With any approach, you should charge accordingly for your travel and on-site time, as well as the time and fees required to collect the images.

3) Post Production
Factor in the cost of some new computer hardware. You will be wanting to use the latest multi-core processors and large high resolution monitors for a major project, as well as loads of fast image storage. If this project will take a couple years, you may well replace your computer hardware in that time.

Editing tens or hundreds of thousands of images into a time-lapse video is not a task to taken lightly. As you already know, editing is where a project is made or lost. It take a huge amount of time in a dark room staring at the screen to sort through the images, create clips with virtual motion-control, and combine them with narration, titles, and music, and then compress to the final size and quality. Here is where your creative abilities can shine... don't sell yourself short!

As an experienced designer I've come to realize that most projects seem much more manageable at the outset, and all sorts of complications and distractions make the task much longer than expected. Adding time-lapse projects to your list of services can be great for your company image, and the projects themselves can be quite interesting. Take the time to really understand the client's desires, the implications of the particular site, and the time it will take to achieve their goals.

The Harbortronics Cyclapse time-lapse camera systems are perfectly suited for long-term time-lapse projects. They use SLR and Medium Format cameras for the highest image quality, are compact, relatively low cost, power efficient, and include mounts for all applications. Harbortronics has been making time-lapse equipment for over 18 years, and our 5000+ time-lapse systems have demonstrated reliability in the field, in all environments on the planet from pole to pole. If you are thinking about adding time-lapse services, I know we can help!

Thu Feb 02, 2017 10:29 am
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Joined: Wed Nov 11, 2009 10:45 am
Posts: 1685
Location: Merritt Island, Florida, Estates Unitas
Post Re: How to charge for time-lapse services?
Thanks for the very informative post. This is the kind of professional advice Timescapes is so good at providing to so many readers who are just starting out, or advanced amateurs looking to move to the next level. Your advice about editing and using multiple cameras is especially helpful. Timelapse presents some very specialized challenges when it comes to editing. Like almost everyone, my first timelapse movies were a static tripod shot which went on and on and on waaaaaay too long. The experience of making, then watching the video is truly exhilarating. I could hardly believe I had made this cool movie myself, which showed the world in a completely new way. It was fascinating, and I wanted to show my audience every little new detail that I had discovered with it. This was even taken to the extreme of showing it multiple times in one sitting so I could point out various things happening in both foreground and background.

I really wish that someone had given your advice about editing back then. The advice about using high res on the camera, then doing zoom and pan-tilt in post processing is great. A lot can be done with that. Adding a few cheaper cameras viewing things not seen by the main ones is also great advice which is especially useful where a longer presentation is desired. Many subjects are enhanced by actually visiting the site for a full day from time to time to shoot some full-motion video as well as deploy a bunch more smaller cameras to timelapse things happening on the days you're there.

The part about the editing being a critical step, and very time consuming is especially true of timelapse projects. In most cases it involves a lot more work than just throwing clips into the editor one after the other and then adding narration and music. Editing can become a much more creative process if the advice about the shoot is followed because you now have multiple camera views and the decisions about when to zoom and pan the footage from the main cameras. High resolution footage from the cameras used during the day visits can be especially effective if the post processing is taken into consideration when setting up the shots. Construction projects frequently involve some guys working their way along a wall or other structure from one side to the other. Anyplace where movement of the action like this can be anticipated and then a wide shot captured so you can zoom and pan it in post is an opportunity you don't want to miss. I would also add that bringing multiple cheap camcorders along and then just speeding their footage up in post is a very effective tool. Its especially helpful in situations where you are unsure as to how long an event is going to take. Used handycam type camcorders are really cheap on ebay and they don't weigh much or take up a lot of room when packing them. They can sit on a table or other natural support or be placed on really small, light, cheapo tripods.

I would like to add that this stuff makes the project a lot more interesting to do as well. Now you're actually film-making as opposed to basically setting up a still photograph and adding some tech to make it lapse some time.

Fri Feb 03, 2017 9:19 am
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