Experimenting with time lapse photography

I was inspired by a podcast I heard this week to set up a simple time lapse photography experiment. I had two ancient pieces of equipment I could combine to get started: an Apple Powerbook from late 2004 with a dead screen (but which otherwise works fine) and an Apple iSight camera from the same era – this was about 6 months before Apple starting putting cameras in all their computers. Here they are, ready for action:

I found iSightCapture, an old command-line program that would take a picture when called and wrote a simple Python program to call iSightCapture once every minute to take a picture. I periodically copy those files from the PowerBook to my desktop computer for backup and later analysis.

The iSight camera captures a 640×480 image and it doesn’t look all that great. Sometimes the images captured are extra dark and I don’t know why that happens. There are other anomalies, too. And sometimes the camera just stops working, so I unplug it, plug it in again and it starts right up.

But it does mostly work and the combined images are interesting, especially the cloud formations. Other things that are interesting are the shadows on the buildings and the ripples on the water.

After about 5 days of collecting data, I’m enjoying this enough to want to continue with it. There are a number of standalone timelapse cameras where you can choose various intervals and offer image sizes similar to or larger than what I currently have. There are also fancier solutions with more expensive cameras, but I think I’ll stick with a less expensive solution for now. Reviews of these standalone cameras are all over the map, from excellent to horrible, so it’s hard to know what to choose. In the meantime, I am at least gathering data to play with.

Here is a video put together from images taken on August 31, from about 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. You’ll see a number of the anomalies I’ve mentioned, but the west-to-east cloud movement is fun to watch. It’s about 18mb. I specified 24 frames per second, so it’s approximately 24 minutes of real time every second. I’m still experimenting with what the best frame rate is for something like this.

Click this link to view the video.



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