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 Long-duration time-lapse issues 
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Joined: Tue Dec 03, 2013 10:43 am
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Post Long-duration time-lapse issues
I've got several very long duration (several months to about 5 years) time-lapse data sets that I'm trying to make into TL movies using AfterEffects. As you can probably imagine, with such a long-duration, the lighting conditions vary wildly across my images. The landscape actually changes quite a bit too, with snow in the winter vs. dense vegetation in the summer.

Using the raw images results in a video results in extreme flicker...to the point that it is nearly unwatchable. I've used lightroom to try to balance out the exposures and white balance a bit and it has helped considerably, but I feel like there must be other things I could do to try to smooth out the video a little bit. I realize that given this set of circumstances, producing a really-high quality video will be impossible but I was just wondering if anyone here has any tips and tricks to smooth out really-long duration time-lapse videos where exposure differences go beyond your typical "flicker".

Thanks!


Tue Dec 03, 2013 10:50 am
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Post Re: Long-duration time-lapse issues
Congratulations on becoming one of the worlds fastest timelapsers. Very few people have even attempted what you've accomplished. You now have more experience with seasons timelapse than almost anyone.

Of course, the source of the wicked flicker is clear. Different days, very different illumination. The worst is a series of overcast and clear days interspersed. No flicker removal scheme can compensate for the fact that the sunny days have sharp, high contrast shadows and overcast days have soft, diffused light with no shadows.

The shadows are by far the worst of it, but if you didn't have the shadow problem, you'd be worrying about the hectic, vibrating effect in the leaves and branches caused by wind.

All of this reality is conspicuously absent in timelapses shown in documentaries, which, instead of showing the actual forests they want us to believe these plants are growing in, show us similar plants grown indoors under completely controlled, artificial conditions. Since the goal is to entertain more than it is to educate, the sweeter eye candy produced indoors is almost always used.

In some sense, the effects you're complaining about are data. You can visually see the shadows moving north-south with the seasons instead of east-west with the day. More overcast and wind in spring and fall, more stability in winter and summer. That said, it does make the video pretty hard to watch. My first attempt shot several times per day, resulting in wildly moving shadows and was impossible to see what happened without replaying it a dozen times. Hacking cheap alarm clocks to control shooting one frame per day at the exact same time each day, had the effect of holding the sun in place. Then the north-south movement of the sun became really obvious. That was cool, but there were still the sunny vs cloudy days.

In order to collect enough video to be worthwhile, I felt I needed many cameras, so I used really cheap digital cameras. Later, I discovered DSLR image quality, which made everything I'd done look like crap. I couldn't afford to deploy so many DSLRs and got distracted by motion control and other stuff which is more popular because you get results so much quicker. I do like attempting the really hard stuff though. I'd start up again if enough people were willing to do the same and combine the footage into a larger film. It would be awesome to coordinate such a project through the forum because members live all over the world. Each could shoot in their own backyard so to speak, and the combined result would look like we had an amazing travel budget. Something dedicated to seasons timelapse would be a first, and I like those. Might make a real impression at a film festival.

If some members are willing to give it a go, I could possibly make it a little easier. Three printed circuit boards were manufactured for my attempt. The original alarm clock circuit which used a microcontroller to sense the alarm, cancel it until the next day, close a relay to turn the camera on, delayed a bit, then closed another relay to fire the shutter. Another board was similar, except it had seven sets of relays to control up to seven cameras with one alarm clock. This could work as master, or as slave, where one of the outputs of the master board controlled seven others without involving another alarm clock. I found the cameras could be placed farther from the control board if the relays controlled a voltage that drove other relays at the camera. Another little board was made to hold those relays. The PC boards made much more reliable circuits compared to the point to point wiring I started with. There are a few boards here. I could also have more fabricated if we get enough people interested.

There are ways to fight the flicker from different days and still shoot outdoors. One way would be to shoot at night using big studio strobes in weatherproof housings. Cheap housings can be improvised from plastic mailboxes like this.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/sciencelookers/4474824656/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/sciencelookers/4217075294/

Another way would be to shoot once a day, just before dawn, using a photocell to trigger the shot as soon as the light reached some preset threshold. The light would always be diffused because the sun would not be up yet. Winds are usually lowest around dawn as well. The exposure would be the same because it shoots when the sensor says its the right brightness instead of shooting at some preset time. Shooting would deactivate it for 20 hours so it doesn't shoot twice, and is reset for the next day.

How many people would be willing to build and deploy at least a few cameras and share credit for the project if these circuits were made available? There is still the power problem, but there are lots of different ways to handle that and the best will depend on each shooter's situation. Mains power should go through a UPS, solar works some places, I even used a car battery and changed it every 2 weeks the first time.


Wed Dec 04, 2013 11:01 am
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Post Re: Long-duration time-lapse issues
Science lookers
where is the like button? for your comments.


Fri Dec 06, 2013 9:41 am
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Post Re: Long-duration time-lapse issues
Could be a great project :)
But I think it would need to keep it quite cheap.
This dust time idea is simple but cool.
Strobes could be great except on large scenes.

Any idea on which camera ? I guess this contrôler wouldn't work on all.

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Thu Feb 27, 2014 3:35 pm
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Post Re: Long-duration time-lapse issues
interesting project! I´m doing a longtime TL in Berlin with old equipment I don´t use anymore otherwise.

My balcony setup: Canon Ixus 430 in an underwater housing, connected to an old notebook, which does the triggering and downloads the files. Camera is facing south.

The script thats triggering the camera takes a series of pictures at 11am, and about 4-10pm, (depending on the season). I´m shooting now for 9 months, so almost through, but unfortunately we didn´t have any snow this year. Well we had for about 3 days, in which the script crashed. This happens regularly, couldn´t find out why or a pattern so far. I just have to restart and then it works again for another 1-2 weeks.

I´ve encountered the same problems, mentionend above.

Here´s a little test sample. Because of the lighting differences I´ve selected about 30 frames from the time period may - nov. , that are all overcast with similar lighting and did a rough aligning, CC and simply blended it together.



Fri Feb 28, 2014 5:41 am
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Joined: Fri Mar 21, 2014 12:46 pm
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Location: Cumbria, UK
Post Re: Long-duration time-lapse issues
How do - I'm probably a bit of a jumbly here, so forgive any ignorance.

I've shot several .jpg time lapses with my Canon 550d (Rebel T2i) with manual lenses and manual settings. Generally, it seems to work out OK: https://vimeo.com/61947293

So far, so good. But I'm now taking on a longer time lapse of four months, filming the growing season of a hay meadow in Cumbria, UK. I could use a little advice if anyone has the time to give it.

In many ways, it's a perfect first long-term time lapse. The location is a north-facing barn, overlooking the hay meadow, but out of the prevailing weather. I have access to mains electricity, so power is not an issue. My main concern, backed up by what you're talking about here, is such variety in the shooting days that the images become unusable in a sequence. I've decided to shoot RAW so there's more information to recover, so that's part of the answer. But I usually shoot in full Manual with vintage lenses (fixed aperture, ISO, shutter speed). Speaking to a filmmaker friend, he advises shooting Aperture Priority for a job of this sort. I've been trying a few AV mode time lapses, but there it is - flicker. I can shake the worst of it with LRTimelapse, but I don't get flicker the same way in Manual.

I figure on shooting two shots an hour and cutting the night-time shots - so I should get roughly 25 usable shots a day x100 days = 2500 shots at 25fps (PAL) = 100 seconds of footage, which is more than enough to bring into Premiere and play with the speed.

I figure as well that I'm going to have a massive job of grading the shots in LRTimelapse.

What do you think? Can I get away with Manual, or is AV the only way to go, or am I being a muppet and missing a trick? Any advice/ideas appreciated.


Fri Mar 21, 2014 1:15 pm
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Location: Merritt Island, Florida, Estates Unitas
Post Re: Long-duration time-lapse issues
There is going to be some flicker because you don't control the sun or sky the way these things are controlled in a studio. Aside form the things already mentioned in this thread, some other Timescapes members have tried the following;

Shooting frequently throughout the day (as you are planning to do), then picking one or a few frames from each day that have similar lighting. The movie is made only from the shots with similar lighting. You'll probably get the best results by picking frames where the entire landscape is in shade from clouds. There will be some days which are completely overcast, so some will have to be this way anyway. This will reduce the "shadow flicker" where shadows are present sunny days and absent on overcast days. Shooting frequently throughout the day will give you some cloud shaded shots on partly cloudy days which can be the ones for your movie. On days with clear skies, you can pick frames shot when the sun was directly behind the camera, minimizing shadows. Hand picking one or two good shots from each day is a lot of work, but will minimize a lot of the problems encountered by others who have tried this before.

If your camera has a setting that makes it shoot a series of bracketed exposures each time its activated, you could try using it. If you do this, you'll have to do the same hand picking of frames to include or exclude from the final movie.

The bracketed exposures also leaves open the possibility of making an HDR timelapse of it. Given all the comments about exposure, HDR might be the way to go. The post processing would actually be easier than hand picking exposures because a script handles much of the work. HDR of deep timelapse might look totally awesome. As far as I know, nobody has tried it yet.

Although you have mains power, use a large uninterruptable power supply. The larger it is, the longer it will sustain your setup through a power interruption.

[flickr]http://www.flickr.com/photos/40869569@N06/3764029855/in/photolist-6JBCWt-6XshY5-7294WW-7294X9-783cwv-78FSQ1-7boumH-7pM8No-9NGYu8-8zSiyv-9NGabs-9NGKrb-9NJKMw-avRr9a-9NGgUK-9NC9uz-9NEYMC-8dAFBt-da9jAN-9NC7mF-9bojCy-hBU6C4-9Nz3As-i77Mqw-7KWRNN-bBpw5P-bgPm3V-9NE2qX-9NE8ht-9NE4ke-9NHcFm-91sgkV-91shzT-91sfYt-91shjx-91vq1f-91sgJi-91seKp-91sf9i-91vqSw-91vr8m-91sfBZ-8wf51F-9nFxqH-8CYvHU-8aLNhu-9bojxf-aNWKqM-hi7Bej-9bR4a5-9NJ1xj[/flickr]


Sat Mar 22, 2014 7:44 am
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Post Re: Long-duration time-lapse issues
realslyshady

IMO you will struggle to get flicker free footage using the full 25 shots a day method. Played back at 25fps I think it will be very flickery as the days pass a second at a time the lighting will be all over the place and shooting manual or AV won't help either way.

I pretty much agree with the above post. My thoughts are that it may work better to take just one still from the same time every day and sequence those. I think Charles's Season Timelapse Test posted above is a good approach. Each still seems to be on for a second and is constantly transitioning to the next one.

I've not done a long duration timelapse like this myself but I'm going to have some building work done on my house that will take several weeks and have been thinking of the best approach to timelapsing it.

Good luck with it.

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Sun Mar 23, 2014 1:03 am
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Location: Merritt Island, Florida, Estates Unitas
Post Re: Long-duration time-lapse issues
Thats the cheezy way everyone deals with the flicker if they need to please their producer or if someone says "you'll have to find a way to fix this or cut it". If you're giving up, and go that route, whats wrong with taking one picture at the beginning and one picture at the end, and cross dissolving between the two? I didn't suggest that because it looks so bad. Maybe producers are afraid of lawsuits if the flicker causes epileptic seizures in viewers or something. Maybe they didn't want to tie up a valuable camera for the time needed to make the timelapse.

The whole point of timelapse is that it takes movement which is below our motion detection threshold and speeds it up until it is above threshold. Take some time to view some of the spectacular growing plants timelapse that was shot indoors under controlled conditions where the photographer is not fighting wind and lighting. What makes the video amazing is that you can actually see the growth as motion. You actually see the end of the branches moving and stretching. You see the branches gradually bend down under the weight of growing fruit. You see unexpected things in the background which no one has ever seen before and wouldn't have guessed were happening. Its both beautiful and amazing.

Compare that with the outdoor shots they are willing to broadcast. They take a picture in summer, spring, fall, winter and summer again and cross dissolve from one to the other. Yes, you can see that the seasons changed, and the flicker is gone. The beauty and 90 percent of the interest in the shot has been lost as well. Some use more pictures and more frequent cross dissolves. Some use a video clip from each season so there is movement, but its not the same as "real" timelapse. Its nowhere near as good as the shots taken indoors where each frame is onscreen for its proper 1/30 sec.

It depends on what you need to do with the timelapse and how much risk you are willing to take with it. Since most discussions on this forum are about pushing the limit, getting advice from the best of our peers and trying to do great things, I would encourage you to at least make an attempt to deal with the flicker in a new way, whatever that may be, and try to produce a true timelapse movie without resorting to the cross dissolve trick. One relatively safe strategy would be to shoot throughout the day as mentioned above, then look for one or two frames from each day that has diffused lighting and hand pick those for the final movie. If you let it shoot before sunrise, you also have the possibility of hand picking shots from just before dawn when the light should always be diffused. Either way, You will have so many extra frames that you can always go back and make one of the cross dissolve versions later if the original plan doesn't satisfy your producer.


Sun Mar 23, 2014 5:13 am
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Post Re: Long-duration time-lapse issues
Thanks for this, sciencelookers and StayFrosty.

I know there's going to be unavoidable flicker in day-to-day conditions; my hope is that taking 2 shots an hour = 48 shots a day = a handful of useable shots a day = enough to string into a ~10-15 second final sequence. That means I need ~250 usable shots from ~5000 total shots. After the night shots have been discounted, I need ~10% to be usable. I'm hoping those are good odds. If I'm VERY lucky, I'll move from shade to sun over the course of the time lapse, but that's a dream.

I think I'm settled on using Av mode; I've done another couple of trials since posting, and it's getting better results than Manual. I'm pretty sure the poor results from my tests are because I'm getting the post process wrong, rather than it being inherently unworkable. I've warned my client there's a strong chance this won't work at all, and I'm going to start and end the time lapse by shooting 30 seconds of straight HD - that way I've the cross-dissolve as a back-up option if the time lapse fails. But as sciencelookers says, full time lapse is what I'm after.

HDR time lapse is an interesting idea - I think there's something in Ryan Chylinski's book about that; I'll go back and check it out. Going to be a lot more work for my poor i5 to handle, though - and I guess it needs 3x the storage? Maybe once the HDR sequence has been conformed (without deflicker, animation, keyframed effects etc.) it's the same sort of process...

I'm planning on using a 16-point garbage matte to cut out the sky (I have a great skyline of hills at the top of the shot) and adding in sky in post. Again, that's an option, and not fundamental to the end sequence.

Thanks again, sensei! I'll keep you updated. I'm probably going to set it up this afternoon, and shoot a week trial, then transfer the first batch of images on site.


Mon Mar 24, 2014 12:32 am
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