DIY Intervalometer for Time-lapse videos

(See edit below regarding DSLRBot. A slightly more expensive solution, but quite a bit better…)

Recently I was awe-struck by a Time-lapse video by Terje Sorgjerd I saw which was shot around El Teide on Gran Canaria early in 2011. Looking around on the internet, I saw various solutions for time-lapse, including some very fancy rigs for moving the camera as it’s shooting the images. What I needed was something that could trigger my dSLR camera to take an image at regular intervals over a few minutes up to a few hours. The camera already has a port for a remote switch, so I needed some way to trigger that at regular intervals. There are solutions available as cheap as ā‚¬50 on e-bay, so I wanted to see if I could do it a lot cheaper than that.

I came up with the idea of using my smartphone’s camera flash to trigger an optical switch, and hook the optical switch into the remote trigger port on the camera. I could then write an app on the phone that would trigger the flash at intervals, thus triggering the dSLR to take an image. I happened to have an optical sensor for triggering flash heads (I use these sometimes for strobist work). This did not work. Maybe it needed a small voltage to operate. Anyway, I headed out to my local Maplin store, and got myself a phototransistor (SFH300-2) at about ā‚¬2.49. I had a spare shutter release cable lying around that I got off ebay for about ā‚¬5, so I took the switch off the end and replaced it with the photo-transistor. Nothing else, just the photo transistor directly wired to the shutter release port of the camera.


So, I plugged the phototransistor cable into the camera, and tried taking a picture with the smartphone while holding the phototransistor up to the flash of the phone, and it successfully triggered the dSLR. Yay!

So, the theory worked. One photo-transistor connected to the shutter release port of the dSLR was the hardware side sorted. Now for the software side.

Before investing in a few dozen hours getting the development kit for the iPhone, I took a quick look at any apps already out there for the iPhone that might do the job. Sure enough, there were a couple of apps that do just what I was looking for, and they were free. The one that I settled on was “Canopy Camera Tools” app, that had an intervalometer built in. It would take a picture at pre-defined intervals, and if I set the flash to be always on, this would trigger the dSLR, and I could then throw away the images taken on the iPhone, using the dSLR images for my time-lapse video.

So, with Canopy installed on the iPhone, I duck-taped the phototransistor in place on the back of the iphone, and took my very first time-lapse video.


I set the phone to take 160 images at intervals of 3 seconds. Because the flash duration on the phone would cause several shots to be taken for one shot on the iPhone, I set the dSLR to 2 second timer. Once I’d taken the shots, I loaded them onto my PC, re-sized them down, and used a free application called “PhotoLapse” to stitch them together into a video. The result is here. Very rough, long lens pointing out a dirty window. But you get the idea. šŸ™‚

Once I proved that it all worked, I made an enclosure that would fit around the top of the iPhone, and hold the photo-transistor in the best position to be triggered by the phone’s flash.


So, I guess I could stretch the truth and say that this is an intervalometer solution for ā‚¬2.49, but that’s assuming you have a dSLR shutter release cable that you can hack and a smart phone with suitable software. Even then, the shutter release will only cost you about ā‚¬5. I believe it’s the cheapest solution around for time-lapse videos with a dSLR. šŸ™‚


Here’s another slightly longer timelapse test video…

So, I found DSLR bot has a very similar solution, except that it uses a couple of IR-LEDs driven from the audio-out port of the iPhone. I found an old TV remote control and ripped out the two IR-LEDs from it, put them onto a 3.5mm stereo jac plug, and bought the DSLRBot app at ā‚¬3.99. So, I’m sure you’ve got some old tv remote controls, and a stereo jac plug lying around, that’s all you need. For build instructions, check out the DSLRbot web page.

This entry was posted in Photography, Tutorial.


  1. Neville Gawley May 10, 2011 at 1:16 pm #

    gphoto2 -I 3 -F 160 –capture-image-and-download, so much less hassle

  2. daveh May 11, 2011 at 3:44 pm #

    Thanks for the Tweet,! šŸ™‚