Hacklet 86 – Time-lapse Projects

“If I could save time in a bottle…” it’s not just an old song, it’s a passion for many photography hackers. Time-lapse photography is a way to show the movement of time through still images. These images are animated into what essentially is a video recorded at a super low frame rate. We’re talking one frame per minute or slower in some cases! The camera doesn’t have to be still for all this, but any motion must be carefully controlled. This has led hackers, makers, and engineers to create a myriad of time-lapse rigs. This week’s Hacklet is all about some of the best time lapse projects on Hackaday.io!

rig-1We start with [Swisswilson] and the simply named Timelapse rig. To say this rig is beefy would be an understatement. All the aluminum parts, with the exception of the gears, were machined by [Swisswilson]. Two Nema-23 motors are controlled by Sparkfun Easy Stepper Drive boards, while an Arduino Micro serves as the controller. The electronics are all housed in a sturdy box which also serves as a remote control. A joystick allows pan and tilt to be manually controlled. The bombproof construction is definitely a help here, as [Swisswilson] is using this rig with DSLR cameras. Combined with a lens, these setups can reach a pound or two.


pilapseNext up is [minWi], who put their script-foo to work with raspilapse. Raspilapse automates the entire process of taking photos, assembling them into a movie, and uploading to YouTube. The hardware is a Raspberry Pi Model B, with a RasPi Camera. The Pi shoots images then uploads them to a Virtual Private Server (VPS). [minWi] used an external server to save wear and tear on the Pi’s SD storage card. At the end of the day, the VPS uses ffmpeg to assemble the images into a video, then uploads the whole thing to YouTube. We’re betting that with a few script mods, this entire process could be run on a Raspberry Pi 2. If you’re really worried about the SD card, a USB flash drive could be used.


SunriseSunsetRig[Andyhull] takes us down to one frame per day with Sunset and Sunrise camera controller. [Andy] wanted to get shots of the sunrise every day. Once converted to a video, these shots are great for documenting the passing of the seasons. He used a Canon point and shoot camera along with the Canon Hack Devleoper’s Kit (CHDK) for his camera. The camera has its own real-time clock, and with CHDK, it can be programmed to shoot images at sunrise. The problem is power. Leaving the camera on all the time would quickly drain the batteries. Arduino to the rescue! [Andy] programmed an Arduino Pro Mini to turn the camera on just before sunrise, then shut it back down. The standby power of a sleeping ATmega328 is much lower than the camera’s, leading to battery life measured in weeks.


podFinally, we have [caramellcube] who added data to their time-lapse photos with Portable Observation Device (POD). POD was conceived as a device to aid paranormal investigators. The idea was to have a device that could take images and record data at a set interval from within a locked room. Sounds like a job for a Raspberry Pi! [caramellcube] started with Adafruit’s Raspberry Pi-based touchscreen camera kit. From there they added a second board controlled by an Arduino Nano. The Nano reads just about every sensor [caramellcube] could fit, including humidity, air pressure, magnetic field strength, acceleration, light (4 bands), sound, and static charge. The Nano allows [caramellcube] to connect all those sensors with a single USB port on the Pi. We’re not sure if [caramellcube] has found any ghosts, but we’re sure our readers can think of plenty of uses for a device like this!

If you want to see more time-lapse projects, check out our new time-lapse projects list! If I missed your project, don’t be shy, just drop me a message on Hackaday.io. That’s it for this week’s Hacklet. As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

If We Were All Astronomers There’d Be No More War

We recently reported on the amateur scientific work of Forrest Mims. Forrest is somewhat unique in being an amateur scientist who has consistently published his work in leading scientific journals. One area of scientific investigation has however attracted amateur scientific contributions of the highest quality almost since its inception, amateur astronomy.

Will Hay – Amateur Astronomer

You’ve likely heard of amateur astronomers like David Levy co-discoverer of the Comet Shoemaker–Levy 9 comet, and citizen science projects like galaxy zoo. But the history of amateur astronomy goes back far further than this, in fact as far back as 1781 William Herschel discovered the planet Uranus while employed as a Musician. Another entertainer of sorts, 1930s British comic actor, Will Hay, also made significant contributions discovering a “Great White Spot” on Saturn in-between films roles. Will was an avid amateur astronomer who regularly published his observations.

His belief that astronomy allows us to see humanity’s place in the universe in its true proportion led him to claim “If we were all astronomers there’d be no more war”.

While Will recorded his observations, hand drawn, in a log book. Modern astronomers digitally image the night sky. Digital cameras are of course optimized around the human visual system (as we recently discussed) making them less than ideal for astrophotography. Hackers have therefore made a number of innovations, one of the more audacious being the removal of the Bayer filter:

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Robot on Rails for Time Lapse Photography

What do you get when you cross a photographer with an Arduino hacker? If the cross in question is [nukevoid], you wind up with a clever camera rail that can smoothly move with both shift and rotation capability. The impressive build uses an Arduino Pro Mini board and two stepper motors. One stepper moves the device on rails using some Delrin pulleys as wheels that roll on an extruded aluminum track. The other stepper rotates the camera platform.

The rotating platform is very cool. It’s a plastic disk with a GT2 motion belt affixed to the edge. The stepper motor has a matching pulley and can rotate the platform easily. The GT2 belt only goes around half of the disk, and presumably the software knows when to stop on either edge based on step counts. There’s even a support to steady the camera’s lens when in operation.

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Smile for the Raspberry Pi Powered Photo Booth

[Roo] was tasked with finding a better way to take corporate employee photos. The standard method was for a human resources employee to use a point and shoot camera to take a photo of the new recruits. The problem with this method is many people feel awkward trying to force a smile in front of other people. Plus, if the photo turns out poorly many people won’t ask to have it retaken so as not to feel vain or inconvenience the photographer. [Roo’s] Raspberry Pi powered photo booth solves this problem in a novel way.

The new system has the employee use their own mobile phone to connect to a website running on the Pi. When the employee tells the Pi to snap a photo, the system uses the Raspberry Pi camera module to capture an image. [Roo] actually 3D printed a custom adapter allowing him to replace the standard camera lens if desired. The photo can be displayed on an LCD screen so the user can re-take the photo if they wish.

The system is built into a custom case made from both 3D printed and laser cut parts. The front plate is a frosted white color. [Roo] placed bright white lights behind the front panel in order to act as a flash. The frosted plastic diffuses the light just enough to provide a soft white light for each photo taken. Once the photo is selected, it can then be uploaded to the company database for use with emails, badges, or whatever else.

[Roo] also mentions that the system can easily be changed to send photos via Twitter or other web applications. With that in mind, this system could be a great addition to any hackerspace or event. The code for an older version of the project can be found on the project’s github page.

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Spin DIY Photography Turntable System

A motorised turntable is very handy when taking product pictures, or creating animated GIF’s or walk around views. [Tiffany Tseng] built Spin, a DIY photography turntable system for capturing how DIY Projects come together over time. It is designed to help people share their projects in an engaging way through creating GIF’s and videos which will be easy to post on social networks like Twitter and Facebook.

The device is a lazy susan driven by a stepper motor controlled via an Arduino and an Easy Driver motor driver shield. The Spin system utilizes the Soft Modem library to send signals from an iPhone to the Arduino. This connects the Arduino to the iPhone via the audio socket on the phone. The Spin iOS app is currently in Beta and is invite only. After you’ve built your own Spin turntable, take a picture of it and request the app. Of course, there are many different ways of controlling the motor so if you are handy, you can build your own controller. But [Tiffany]’s iOS app provides a way to stitch the various images to form an animated GIF and then share them easily. Building the turntable should be straightforward if you grab the design files from the github repo, follow the detailed instructions on the build page, and have access to a laser cutter and a 3D printer.

Check out a few similar turntable hacks we’ve featured in the past, such as one that uses the motor from a scanner, an attempt that just didn’t end up working smoothly, and one that uses a belt-drive system. There’s a video of the turntable in action after the break.

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Incredibly Simple Stage For Product Photos

If you’ve ever tried to take nice photos of small objects in your home, you might have found that it can be more difficult than it seems. One way to really boost the quality of your photos is to get proper lighting with a good background. The problem is setting up a stage for photos can be expensive and time-consuming. [Spafouxx] shows that you don’t need to sink a lot of money or energy into a setup to get some high quality photos.

His lighting setup is very simple. Two wooden frames are built from scraps of wood. The frames stand upright and have two LED strips mounted horizontally. The LEDs face inwards toward the object of the photos. The light is diffused using ordinary parchment paper that you might use when baking.

The frames are angled to face the backdrop. In this case, the backdrop is made of a piece of A4 printer paper propped up against a plastic drink bottle. The paper is curved in such a way to prevent shadows. For being so simple, the example photo shows how clean the images look in the end.

Automated Weatherproof Timelapse System with DSLR and Raspberry Pi

[madis] has been working on time lapse rigs for a while now, and has gotten to the point where he has very specific requirements to fill that can’t be done with just any hardware. Recently, he was asked to take time lapse footage of a construction site and, due to the specifics of this project, used a Raspberry Pi and a DSLR camera to take high quality time lapse photography of a construction site during very specific times.

One of his earlier rigs involved using a GoPro, but he found that while the weatherproofing built into the camera was nice, the picture quality wasn’t very good and the GoPro had a wide-angle lens that wouldn’t suit him for this project. Luckily he had a DSLR sitting around, so he was able to wire it up to a Raspberry Pi and put it all into a weatherproof case.

thumbOnce the Pi was outfitted with a 3G modem, [madis] can log in and change the camera settings from anywhere. It’s normally set up to take a picture once every fifteen minutes, but ONLY during working hours. Presumably this saves a bunch of video editing later whereas a normal timelapse camera would require cutting out a bunch of nights and weekends.

The project is very well constructed as well, and [madis] goes into great detail on his project site about how he was able to build everything and configure the software, and even goes as far as to linking to the sites that helped him figure out how to do everything. If you’ve ever wanted to build a time lapse rig, this is probably the guide to follow. It might even be a good start for building a year-long time lapse video. If you want to take it a step further and add motion to it, check out this time lapse motion rig too!