Time lapse questions

We just bought three time lapse cameras to capture our gardens.

Since this is a four- or five-month long project (and then I have to wait a year to start again), I thought to get some advice or site suggestions for settings and software.

The camera’s fastest speed is a picture every ten seconds. Played around a bit and yowza, watch those clouds roll by. But waitasecond.

If I figure a 12-hour days -> 720 minutes per day -> 42,200 seconds per day divided by 10 I get 4,320 images. At 30 fps one day will be 144 seconds, and each 30-day month will be 72 minutes. Maybe nice for a background screen saver in the middle of winter, but not quite what we had in mind.

In the other extreme things get light, dark, jiggly, and frantic. Nice if I want to induce an epileptic seizure, but again not what I had in mind.

Then there’s software. The cameras come out of the box with an anaemic little program that is wholly unusable for the project. I have no idea what to look for out there or what features are important. One feature I’d like is to combine the three camera’s images into one movie. I don’t necessarily need to make a seamless panorama, but since each camera captures a different slice of the garden (e.g. the linked pic is just the middle), it would be nice to see all three views at the same time.
Any guidelines, guides or guidance you can share?

You could try some of the users on Vimeo. This guy Anthony Powell has done some great time lapse videos and may be able to help.

I’m considering doing time lapse myself now, and I thought it’s better to take pictures more often (maybe as often as storage space you have), since you can speed it up later if necessary, but you can’t slow it down more. Not sure if it’s true.

I’ve done a little timelapse work (mine was with fairly basic equipment - results here - I do intend to revisit this fun pastime with better resources in the future).

There are two main considerations:

Fidelity of capture
Aesthetics of finished output

When you watch something like David Attenborough’s Private Life Of Plants, you’re looking at timelapse video that was captured in a studio setting (even though it looks wild) with very highly controlled lighting setups - most often, all natural light is excluded for the moment of frame capture, and the scene is illuminated by flash.
Obviously if you’re capturing the outside world, you won’t have the luxury of controlling the lighting - so the best you can do is to capture well-focused shots, free from obstruction, and other interference. AaronX is right - it’s better to capture more frequent frames than less, as you can always discard what you don’t need, but never recreate what was never photographed.

As to the aesthetics of the output - lighting of a natural scene will vary from one moment to the next (for example, when a cloud obscures the sun), as well more obviously varying as the day progresses, and also across many days as the weather changes, and the seasons progress.

If you want a smoothed output, you have to make some design choices - here are a few example scenarios (for the sake of simplicity, let’s assume the output video will be 25 frames per second):
A day in ten seconds: You want to compress a 24 hour period into ten seconds - that’s 250 frames in total - you could just capture one frame every 5 minutes and 46 seconds, then string them together, but as you observe, you’ll end up with something jiggly and frantic, so you could instead do something like capturing only 50 frames for the period (one every 29 minutes or so), then composing them into a video where each image notionally occupies 5 frames, but with smoothed transitions between them - instead of switching abruptly from one image to the next, the images flow or fade into one another

A year in a minute: You want to show a years’ worth of change in a screen minute - that’s 1500 frames of video - and each day will occupy about 1/6th of a second - clearly you probably can’t bother with day and night, or the screen will just be flashing at 12Hz, so you could:
Capture one frame per day and use the same transition method as above.
Capture a collection of frames each day (say, ten frames over the course of the same minute each day), then compose an averaged image for each day (which will help to eliminate things like people and animals flicking in and out of frames), then compose the 365 averaged images into a film (using transitions again to smooth between days)
Capture a series of images at intervals of 24 hours plus 4 minutes (compose video as above) - when you view these in sequence, you’ll be progressing through the year and the day at the same time (that is, the sun will appear to rise and set, across the course of a whole year’s change). Make sure that the capture process is ignorant of any daylight saving clock changes, or you’ll get an abrupt blip somewhere.

I think grabbing the highest resolution and highest frame count I can handle is a pretty easy decision.

If I need to cut down from 50,000 to 10,000 pictures that shouldn’t be too hard, I think. I imagine that there’s a command-line or software solution to deleting or moving every other/third/whatever picture.

Software remains a mystery. Something that has the flexibility to change FPS to suit needs, etc.

Virtualdub will string together a collection of images into a movie file and you can get it to perform temporal smoothing and other useful effects…

What is “temporal smoothing” and how do you do it? I’ve been using virtualdub to put together my time lapses (like this for example) but it’s a little bit stuttery and not completely smooth like professional time lapses are. I figured that was possibly just a function of frame rate (I usually set them to play back around 15 FPS), but is that something temporal smoothing helps with?