Biolapse History Part 1

Here is the content from my last blog on this, Ill cram everything in a single page and you can read it or not, i would like to show you the past stuff in better detail, but im really looking to the future.


Unlike the rest of this blog which im sure will present backwards, this part here will just go in chronological order.


First off, thank you for checking out my project!

I have been wanting to get into Plant Timelapse Photography for quite some time now. I have been shooting time lapse photography for years now, and one of my most rewarding projects was a Hyacinth that I recorded in early 2013.

Ever since that I had wanted to do some more, but time just had not permitted. Now it is November 2013 as I write this introduction and I have been shooting plants for about a month now. Some turned out good, some turned out bad, the original plan was to put together a short time lapse film and then add a Behind the Scenes video to supplement the footage.

I still plan to do both, but I have decided to go ahead and release the project and keep a living project document that shows everything I have been doing, it will document my successes and failures as well. I had started this as sort of a blog, but I had decided that is probably not the best way to do it. It was important for me to offer a linear approach so somebody can read through this from beginning to end and see the whole story, but still allows me to update and correct mistakes, add on to various topics, and expand as I progress.

It was also important to me to provide this in a way that is easy to reference, so i have decided to sort of index everything out into various pages.

I really hope you enjoy all of this, and with any luck you will be able to learn from my own triumphs and disasters.

Original Nov 20 2013.
Last edited Nov 20 2013


Hyacinth Feb 2013

Early this year before the end of last winter I was tired of waiting for winter to end and decided to buy a grow light, a flower, and built a light controller to coordinate a time lapse of a flower. I set it all up in a room in my basement, shot for about 1 week, and ended up getting some pretty killer results.

The entire setup was pretty hokey though, luckily i have the spare room with no windows, and an old air hokey table that nobody has used in years… well.. ever really…

I purchased a 4 foot long Jumpstart grow-light off of Amazon, and spend a few hours bread-boarding out a controller. The entire thing was pretty rickety but the results were what mattered.



The controller (the jumbled mess of wires on the breadboard) was fairly straight forward. It consisted of an LCD display, 4 buttons, a relay, and two 3.5mm audio jacks which are the same style I use on the ChronoTimers.

Pretty straight forward!

Every day i would pull the memory card, dump the data, change the position of the camera and hyacinth, and start it back up.


After 4 days of shooting I decided I wanted to kill the plant, I thought showing it bloom then die would be sort of a neat timelapse. So I got some ground-kill from my shed and poured it in the plants water. it was about 50% ground-kill 50% water.

Day 5, the plant still looked good. So I added bleach to the solution.

Day 6 the plant still looked fine. I added salt.

Day 7 the plant still looked fine. So I wrapped up the shoot, turned out the lights, and started working on rendering the timelapse.

Day 8 i retrieved the plant from the room, and it still looked fine, in fact, it looked fantastic.. I took it upstairs, washed off the bulb, gave it fresh water and put it by the kitchen window to get some light. I figured after all that abuse I could just keep the flower.
Day 9 the plant limp, pale, and dead.

I really did not run into any problems, on one of the clips I was shooting at 1/320s shutter speed and got a bunch of flicker, and I did try to connect my Chronos rail up but was having difficulties getting it to trigger, i had assumed because of the breadboarded controller had a wiring problem. So i just “Ken Burns”-ed it out in post.

This was the end of my first foray into the world of Plant timelapse. It was a rewarding experience, and I really looked forward to doing it again sometime.


Getting back on the Horse
October 2013

I had been awful busy this last year, we introduced Chronos Lite earlier this year, and ran a kickstarter campaign for the Lens Apparatus. Unfortunately i couldn’t dedicate any of my cameras for a long term time lapse. After we launched the Kickstart campaign I was determined to get back into plant growth. This is also nice because I can do this from my home and I’m not really a big fan of hiking around in the cold. 😉

I figure this would be the perfect time to get back into Plant Timelapse Photography. I had recently re-carpeted my basement and that room in the basement was empty and ready for the taking. I knew I wanted to go bigger and better, the Hyacinth was a great test and learning experience, but it was a far cry from what i wanted to do. Rather than a single plant, I wanted to create entire scenes. I wanted to take this further than what anybody else has done in the past. Of course this would require baby steps. I don’t just want to jump in head first, but of course, that is exactly what I did. I had seen some beautiful plant timelapses online, there are not many of them, some of them were very well done, some looked like they were done with a low res webcam and are almost unbearable to watch due to all the flicker. I had also seen some shockingly good timelapses done by the BBC on their Life documentaries.

That is what i wanted to do, but not just that, i want to take it further, much further.

I pulled the air hockey table back out, fetched the grow lights, and this time instead of having some very fragile setup of wires on a breadboard I used a DFRobot 12×6 LCD/Button shield, a protoshield, and an Arduino micro-controller. About 6-7 hours of programming over the course of a week and i had a fairly decent little light controller. More on the controller in the next segment.

I did not simply want the black background, so i picked up some fake plants from hobby lobby and some sky blue seamless paper and worked out a little set with a mix of life and fake plants with the blue background.


The first tests were successful technically. I picked up an Orchid and some lilies, however it became readily apparent that the single 4 foot long grow light just was not enough. I replaced it with 4 foot fixture that held 4 grow light tubes. In the end, the Orchids still did not want to do squat. However that was unimportant, it was the first test run of the new controller and things worked out just fine.

So I moved the Orchids to my kitchen (where they are putting on a far better fight of survival than the Hyacinth) and went to the store and picked up some Oriental Lilies


Just a mental note, be careful if these things die. I had planned to try to change their color as I have seen others do before with food coloring in the water. Instead it just killed the flowers, but it was fun watching them wilt. The problem is after a few days they started to smell bad, and I smelled them up close and felt like I was going to vomit for the next several hours.


Greenthumb Prototype 2



I want to spend a little time going over the design and functions of the first real GreenThumb Prototype. What it is, how it works, etc.

1 Arduino Microcontroller
1 DFRobot LCD Keypad shield
1 DS1307 RTC clock module with battery
1 Relay module
1 Arduino Protoshield
1 small prototyping board
2 3.5mm jacks
1 Six pin header.
1 Optoisolator


The basic architecture is pretty easy. For simplicity sake I decided to use the DFRobot Keypad LCD shield as an interface. Im not really a big fan of the little buttons, I prefer knobs and dials, but just to make my life easier this off the shelf solution was a good fit.

The Arduino is a micro-controller. If you have never used one, it is basically a small computer that uses a variant of C programming language encased in a friendly wrapper. It has various Input/Output pins that can be used as triggers to turn things on or off, or sense weather a signal has gone high or low, or various stages in between.

The RTC Clock module is just a small clock that uses a battery to keep it on keeping track of time. It uses i2c protocol to communicate to the Arduino so the Arduino is capable of tracking time, even after being reset or a loss of power.

The Protoshield sits sandwiched between the Arduino and the DFRobot LCD keypad shield. This gives you solder connection points and access to the pins not used by the LCD shield.

The Prototyping board is soldered onto the protoshield and extends out to the side, providing a convenient spot to solder on the optoisolator, the 3.5mm jacks, and the pins for the relay.

The optoisolator is used to keep keep the 5V provided by the cameras shutter port separated from the circuitry in the GreenThumb Prototype.

The 3.5mm Jacks provide an input and output used to sync up with the ChronoTimer for motion.
The Program and Functions.

The first step was to add the proper libraries so I could use the DFRobot LCD shield, and the DS1307 RTC module. These libraries are basically a small set of routines, functions, and program that you can load onto the arduino which can save you a ton of time trying to set them all up yourself.

Next I wrote out a basic script to understand the buttons, and to build out a basic menu system, and some functions to translate milliseconds to a readable time, as well as RUN routine mode to start the program

The controller will fetch the time automatically anytime it is connected to a computer via USB.

The adjustable parameters include

1) Day time (turns on the grow lights for day cycle)
2) Night time (turns off the grow lights for night cycle)
3) Pre-shot delay (shuts off the lights before the camera is triggered during day cycle)
4) Post-shot delay (turns the lights back on after camera is triggered during day cycle)
5) Interval (amount of time between frames)

A basic routine would be as such.

Triggers camera every 10 minutes (with 10 min interval)
At 7am the grow lights turn on for the day cycle.
9 min and 58 seconds later the lights shut off (1 second preshot delay)
1 second later the camera triggers
1 second later the lights turn back on (1 second postshot delay)
9 min and 58 seconds later the lights shut off (1 second preshot delay)
1 second later the camera triggers
1 second later the lights turn back on (1 second postshot delay)
—REPEAT until 8PM–
at 8PM the grow lights shut off.
The camera is triggered every 10 minutes.

This means every time the camera takes an image, the room is pitch black. The camera uses a Hot shot PC adapter to connect to (and trigger) the Elinchrom strobe and to illuminate the subject.
There is a secondary Elinchrom strobe that triggers when it sees a flash, which is aimed up at the back wall to illuminate the backdrop.

An alternate way would be to trigger the grow-light to turn on during the Day Cycle, and off at the night cycle, but to turn ON before the camera triggers during the night cycle. I have not tried this though.

This is just the first Prototype, and I have already ordered parts for a more robust system that offers more functionality, but for what it is, it works pretty darn well.



Playing in the Dirt!
November 2013.

So the blooming Oriental Lillie was fun, but that was not my goal. The flowers were just a stepping stone into more complicated things. Small steps.


I added a few things to the setup. First off, I wanted some ground to grow on. I picked up some thick plastic to cover the table, used some old cedar posts i had to raise the trays off the table, then added four 21 by 11 inch trays. A friend of mine loaned the water pump, and i added a drip watering system that was set on a timer to feed water 3 times a day.

The first wheat grass trial was a success, now I am waiting for some things to arrive in the mail, in the meantime I am having a little bit more fun with the grass.


Running into problems

Unfortunately things do not always go according to plan, and often problems like to bring friends.

I came home yesterday and checked on the timelapse progress, only to find the water return line had skipped from its clamp and instead of dumping the excess water into the water bucket, it was dumping it on the carpet.

Luckily it appears that i only dumped a gallon or so of water onto the carpet. I shut off the watering system, used towels to absorb as much water as I could then put out a high powered fan to dry the remaining water.

I had a bowl of wheat grass seeds soaking the last few days and set the camera up to take some images of the wheat grass growing from seedling to sprout.

I checked on it few hours later to see FLASH FLASH FLASH coming from the room. Somehow the camera was just triggering every second or so as its buffer cleared. I spent some time troubleshooting, but i had to basically put everything on hold for a little while.

Plugged in Chronocontroller

-half press results in metering. camera only triggers on full press.

Plugged in Greenthumb

-Camera triggers with half press.

Plugged in Greenthumb plus hotshoe adapter with PC sync to the Strobe and plugged into the strobe it triggers non stop.

So what does all this mean? It seems I have a wiring issue on Geenthumb. If i put the chronocontroller between greenthumb and the camera i do not have this problem.

I will be building another Greenthumb controller this weekend so i can use one while i develop more capability on the other, and hopefully i will be able to clear this problem.

This is sort of how things go… sometimes everything works flawlessly, other times you rack up 3,000 shutter actuations and a gallon of water in your carpet.

Here is one of the clips that i just finished before the problems started. no audio, very raw.