If you are into time-lapse (and if you don’t know what time-lapse actually is, I suggest you check out the “time-lapse” post), like me, you have stopped when it comes to making a studio shot. You can improvise, as I did, but the results are commensurate. What usually goes wrong? Most often, the problem is the following:
– The scene is not completely isolated from ambient light, so you get flickering in the image
– The timer is not optimised, so the recording is not smooth
– The battery in the timer or camera runs out before it’s over
– Difficult to coordinate the switching on of different lights (for growth, if you have a plant, lighting and vegetation in the scene)
After some hopeless attempts and improvisations, I decided to approach it a little more systematically and professionally.
To start with, I have created an indoor environment so that the effects of ambient light are kept to a minimum or practically non-existent. I achieved this by using a closed mini studio, which is made by many manufacturers. Chinese products are leading the way, with very good prices. I chose a studio from Godox. Their products are very robust and well made, despite their low price. I have chosen a 60 x 60 x 60 cm model, which is perfectly adequate for my projects. This is a system where a rod frame is assembled and then zipped into the attached “skin”. This envelope is semi-transparent and has a silver interior for better light efficiency and diffusion. There are also cleverly designed openings on the casing, through which the camera can see inside or wires can be pulled through for illumination. The openings shall also be closed if necessary. The kit also includes a set of 3 elongated panels on which high-brightness LEDs are mounted. These luminaires can be placed in the studio in any position and are fixed to the frame/frame itself. Each light panel can be set separately via a potentiometer via the supplied controller to set the lighting you want.
In previous more improvised set-ups I used a handheld intervalometer, which turned out to be a bit stubby. As it is basically a portable device and powered by 2 AAA batteries, it needed its own power supply to ensure continuous operation throughout the recording. This entailed finding a suitable source, as the intervalometer operates in a narrow range of 3-4 V DC. Plus I had to rework it and re-solder the contacts inside… The second problem was with the power supply of the camera itself, which also needs an uninterruptible power source. I solved this with a “dummy” battery powered by a USB plug that simply plugs into a sufficiently powerful mobile charger. The third problem is the control of the LED panel, which is equipped with special diodes and provides the right light for the plants to grow (if you are filming something like that). The fourth challenge is to set the backlight to be active only when the camera is triggered, as I didn’t want the lights to burn all the time, as this affects the power consumption and the lifetime of the LED panel.
All of this then needs to be integrated into a system that will (chronologically) carry out the succession task:
1. Switch on the plant grow light.
2. after a certain period of time, switch off the grow light (so that the purple colour emitted by the grow light is not visible in the image).
3. Turn on the scene lighting.
4. Trigger the camera to take a picture.
5. Turn off the scene lighting.
6. Switch back on the growth light.
7. This cycle repeats for 12 hours (the vegetative cycle for the plant).
8. Disable the growth light at night (or for the next 12 hours) and extend the interval between shots for this period (because growth is slower).
All of this is difficult to do with standard intervalometers and existing technology, so I came up with a new solution and that is – Arduino. For those of you who don’t know what an Arduino is, let me briefly describe it. It is a small printed circuit board containing a microcontroller and a number of outputs (pins) that can be connected to different devices and, using short and simple C++ code, we can define what they will do. Arduino is widely used by electronics, robotics and process engineering enthusiasts. It’s cheap, simple and can be used to control lights, measure voltage, temperature, humidity, servo motors, create a system for automated watering of flowers, etc… The controller acts like a tiny brain, doing what we tell it to do and sending electrical signals to the pin (output). You can download a free code editor online, which can then be downloaded to the device itself via USB. It’s all very simple and fun. For learning without “hardware”, there is also a free graphical simulator on TinkerCad.
Since the Arduino alone cannot control high voltage devices such as 220 V light fittings, I ordered a board containing 4 relays controlled by a microcontroller over a wired connection for a few euros from Amazon.
I then connected everything together in a network that used 3 of the 4 available relays. The first relay switches on the grow light, the second on the backlight and the third on the camera. Once everything was properly wired up, I bought a suitable plastic housing to put it all in. I also attached a chinch output to the housing for the cable that will power the camera, and then drilled a hole to access the USB connector that serves as a power and service input for uploading code.
That’s all there is to it as far as the physical structure is concerned, and then we need to program what we want the system to do. In the code, in the “setup” section, we define the connectors and the places where they are connected. We also set the time-lag constants (in milliseconds). Then, in the “loop” section, we specify what the program should do with it. Here is the code I used. Unfortunately, I am not an expert in C++ programming and the solutions will seem a bit “home-made” to some. But the fact is that now I can change the settings whenever I like, just enter different numbers for the values of time delays, switch-ons, etc….
LIST OF EQUIPMENT
Here’s a list of the equipment I’ve used and a link to buy it if you’re tempted:
– Godox Mini Studio
– Arduino UNO
– Mains voltage connection cable (220 V)
– 2 x cable for connecting the lighting and the grow light
– USB cable to connect the Arduiono and the computer (power supply and code upload)
– Uninterruptible power supply for cameras via USB
– Wired connections between Arduino and relays
– Clips for cable connection (Wago)
You also need a cheap soldering iron to connect the wires to the various connectors (for Arduino, just wire connections that you insert into the pins without soldering will do).
This is a graphical diagram of how it all ties together: