How To Make a Time Lapse Video of Plants Growing

Biology, Time Lapse, Plants
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Time Lapse Videos of Plants for STEM

Biology is a fascinating arm of science, however, when you do any projects or activities with plants, children don't really get to see all the cool action as it happens over a long period of time.

This is why creating time-lapse videos of plants growing is so cool. Kids (and adults) get to see the action unfold right before their eyes. In this post, we give you our advice and examples of creating time lapse videos of plants.

Time Lapse Video of Plants Growing

Here is a recent time lapse video we took of wheatgrass sprouting. It was part of the Grass Heads Activity for Kids.


General Timelapse Creation Overview

Creating a time lapse video of plants sprouting will take many many days. The trick to a great timelapse is Not to move the camera and to maintain consistent lighting for the whole duration. If you can do those two things well, you will have the foundations for a great time lapse.

Also, many cameras and phones these days have a 'time-lapse' setting. You do NOT want to use these settings. You need to simply take a photo at intervals. Read below to find out more about calculating intervals.

Don't Move the Camera!

This is the most important part of shooting any time lapse, not just biology time lapses. Do Not move the camera, not a single millimetre throughout the entire shoot.

Now you know you can't move the camera, this means you can't touch the camera. Here is what you need to do to ensure the camera doesn't move:

A Sturdy Tripod or Mount: You will need to mount your camera in a way that ensures it won't move. We use a sturdy tripod, but depending on your shoot, you could just use a bench.

AC Power Supply: Not moving the camera means you can't change the battery. You will need to get yourself a dedicated power supply for your camera. We use Canon and use a DC coupler DR-E6.

Fixed Focus: Do not use autofocus. You can use autofocus to set up the original frame, but switch it to manual focus for the shoot. Just in case something happens in the time lapse that wants your camera to refocus. If you refocus, the image alignment will be different between shots and make your time lapse jumpy.

Focus Locking: Something you may not be aware of is Focus Creeping/Lens Creeping. This is devastating to time lapses. You spend time setting the focus and setting it to manual focus... Then, every time your camera takes a photo the vibration changes the focus by a micron. No big deal for 10 photos, but after 1,000 photos, you are totally out of focus and your time lapse is ruined. The solution is pretty easy... We just use a large fast rubberband around the lens, half on the focus ring, and half off. This stops the ring turning, and maintains focus.

Large Memory Card: No camera movement means no touching the camera, which means no changing memory cards. Get yourself a large card that can store all of your required photos. If needed, reduce the resolution of the photos so you can fit more on a card.

Maintain Consistent Lighting

Awesome time lapse videos need consistent lighting. Especially when creating a plant time lapse that lasts days.

When setting up your time lapse, you need to shut it off from any sunlight, and only use dedicated, artificial lighting. Even if your room has closed blinds, if the room gets any additional light from the sun, your timelapse will be off. Photos taken during the day will be brighter than those taken through the night. A cupboard is great for creating plant time lapses. Think of your space like this... If you are in the space in the middle of the day, and the artificial lights are off, you should not be able to see a single thing. It can only lit by your dedicated, artificial lighting.

Lock All Camera Settings

You need to ensure you use your camera in 'Manual Mode'. You can't let the camera adjust between shots at all. This included ISO, Exposure, Aperture and Focus. You need to set all of these manually, and they can Not change during the entire shoot.

With this in mind, you need to consider your exposure carefully. EG, dirt is very dark, and sprouts are very light. If you set your camera exposed for dirt, when the sprouts appear, you might blow them out of exposure. I like to place a similar item in the shot when setting the camera up. Maybe an existing plant or sprouts.

Calculating Time Lapse Intervals

When it comes time to calculate your time lapse intervals, the information below might help. You can also look online for some applications for calculating time lapses.

Step 1: Visual Calculations

Before you start punching numbers into the time lapse calculating app that you just downloaded, you need to think about your scene and your project.

The Scene: How long will the scene take for the action or effect to take shape. For example, we recently shot a 10 day sprouting timelapse. The reason it was 10 days was because that's how long the packet said it would take for the plant to go from seed to sprout. Yours might be 5 Days or 30 Days.

No matter what you are shooting, you need to have an understanding of how long it will take and when to start the process. For the example below, let's just use 5 days.

Your Project: How long do I want the finished timelapse to go for? Its all up to you, but keep your viewer in mind. You will find most time-lapses go for a very short amount of time. Maybe 5 seconds to 20 seconds. You need to come up with a finished product time. For the example below, let's just say we want a 20 second video at the end.

Step 2: Interval Calculating

By now, we have 2 numbers:

Total Event Duration: 5 Days
Finished Video Time: 20 Seconds

The next number we need is the frames per second that you want for the finished video. I use 50fps, but you can use any number you like that suits your video editor. Now we have another number:

Frames Per Second: 50

Now for the calculation, which is actually quite logical. Once you get the above 3 numbers it all becomes easy.

You want a video that has 50 frames per second, that goes for 20 seconds. So if you multiply those, you get 1,000 frames. Which is 1,000 photos.

Now we know how many photos we need to make the video, so all we have to do is spread out 1,000 photos over the total event time, 5 Days.

Convers Days to Seconds: 5 Days = 432,000 Seconds Seconds in 5 Days

432,000 divided by 1,000 photos = 432 Seconds Between Photos

This time lapse calculation says that if we take one photo every 432 seconds for 5 Days we will have enough photos to make a 20 second video at 50 frames per second.

Canon AC Power Shutoff Problem

After our recent time lapse, we discovered a little known fact about the Canon 80D. If you use a third party DC coupler, even though the camera is getting power, it will shut off after around 8 or 9 hours. Beware of this.

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