How to Shoot a Long Time Lapse with a GoPro HERO4 Silver or Black

There are multiple options for doing long-term timelapse with a GoPro HERO4 Silver or Black. Here's a rundown of the options--each has its own pros and cons.

If you’re looking to do long-term time lapse with a GoPro HERO 4 Silver or Black, there are two big issues you’re going to have to contend with.

One is storage space. This one is pretty easy to solve. Both the Silver and Black are officially supported with memory cards up to 64GB. I’ve found in my own use that 128GB cards work just fine as well so long as they’re fast enough. How much storage space you need depends on the settings you’re using—especially how many frames you plan to shoot and at what resolution. You can fit roughly 9,000 still images from a GoPro HERO 4 on a 64GB, give or take, and double that on a 128GB card. If you’re going to compile your video at 30fps, that’s going to give you about 5 minutes of end-result footage, which is quite a lot for a single shot.

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The much bigger challenge with shooting long-duration time lapse with a GoPro is keeping the camera powered on. If you’re shooting indoors and have access to AC power, it’s really easy just to run the camera from AC. But if the camera is going to be exposed to the elements or away from a power outlet, you’ll need another solution.

Battery life isn’t a GoPro strong point. So unless the action you’re shooting is under a couple of hours, you’re going to need to find another solution other than relying on the standard internal battery.

The problem is that the camera doesn’t switch off between individual shots. A single shot is over in a fraction of a second, but GoPros stay on until the next shot. So it chews through battery power at a pretty constant rate shooting time lapse whether you’re using a time lapse interval of 1 second or 60 seconds. If you’re lucky, you might get about 2 hours out of the internal battery, perhaps less.

So here are some options if you’re looking to shoot time lapse for longer than a couple of hours. All of these assume you don’t have easy access to AC power and/or need weatherproof protection for the camera. It’s hard to give absolute times for how long these battery solutions will provide because it depends on several things—the camera settings you’re using, the quality and health of the battery, and even the weather conditions (lithium batteries don’t perform well in very cold conditions).

Time Lapse Under 24 Hours with a GoPro HERO 4

If your time lapse shoot spans more than a couple of hours by less than 24 hours or so, there are a few different options. Not all of these will run a full 24 hours, and some can run longer depending on the choice of settings you use.

GoPro Battery BacPac. This is a 1260 mAh extended battery that plugs directly into the back of the camera. It’s simple to attach—it just slots on the back—and it fits inside a regular GoPro housing when you switch out the back door for the deeper version (you should have had the extra doors included in your original GoPro box, or you can buy them separately). The pluses of this setup are that it’s self-contained, waterproof, and not much larger than the standard GoPro setup. The downside is that at 1260 mAh you’re only going to double the built-in battery time.

Brunton All Day 2.0 Extended Battery. For some extra oomph, the Brunton All Day 2.0 battery pack is waterproof/weatherproof. It’s a 5000 mAh battery, so you get about 4 times the capacity of the GoPro Battery BacPac. I’ve gotten up about 17 hours of time lapse shooting out of a single charge. Like the BacPac it creates a highly mobile, self-contained, waterproof package. The battery clips on to the back of the camera with a small ribbon cable and then replaces the entire back door of the GoPro housing. I have a detailed review of the Brunton All Day 2.0 Extended Battery here.

External Intervalometer. GoPro has recently started opening up its products to third-party developers, but for now it’s still a basically closed system. That includes the intervalometer, the internal controller that looks after time lapse. But that’s not to say others haven’t been able to hack workarounds.

A company called CamDo offers a small external intervalometer that takes quite a different approach. Rather than adding extra power, it conserves the power of the internal battery by switching the camera off between shots. With a fully charged internal battery you should get roughly 2000 or so shots, spaced at whatever schedule you like, whether that’s a few hours or, conceivably, weeks. It’s small enough to fit inside the GoPro housing using the extended backdoor (the same one you’d use for a BacPac LCD or battery). You can find out more information on it here.

There’s also a different version that adds more scheduling flexibility: a scheduling programmer. But it doesn’t work with the standard GoPro housing, so if you need weatherproofing you’ll need to put it in something else. Cam-Do has their own DRY Enclosure that’s a good off-the-shelf option, or you can try your hand at a cheaper DIY solution by modifying something like a Pelican case. You can find out more information on the scheduler here.

With both, there’s an important catch: using them requires running a modified firmware in your camera. That means replacing the official GoPro firmware with a third-party one (and accepting the risks that that involves) as well as choosing or modifying a script to control the intervals. More information on that is on the CamDo website.

I’ve used both of these options and have had pretty good results. But I’ve also found that there are parts of combination that can cause problems so have learned not to rely on it for mission-critical or client shoots. It is, after all, making a workaround to make the camera to do something that it’s not designed to do.

Up to Indefinite (with Regular Access to Swap External Battery)

You an also run a GoPro with an external battery or external power brick. GoPro now has its own GoPro-branded external battery, but there’s no reason you have to stick with that one. I’ve found Anker batteries to be good combinations of performance and value, but there are any number of other good ones available.

There are many different capacity external batteries, and how long each lasts depends on its rated capacity, its quality, and whether its real-world capacity matches the manufacturer’s claimed capacity.

There are two things to contend with in this approach for outdoor time lapse shooting. One is that if your shoot spans a longer time than your battery lasts, you’ll need regular access to swap out the battery. But the good news is that you should be be able to swap out the external battery without disturbing or bumping the camera and risking misalignment. So long as you have regular access to the battery pack and can swap out the memory card when it fills up, there’s no real reason that you can keep this running for weeks or months, at least.

The other thing to contend with is that you’ll need factor in waterproofing both the camera and the battery. The GoPro waterproof housing isn’t designed to allow external connections. In one of my housings I’ve drilled a hole in the side to allow a USB cable to be inserted into the camera. When I’ve installed the camera and inserted the cable I still need to waterproof that hole with silicon sealant gel and duct tape. If you plan for a serious drenching or to be submersible, you’ll have to take extra measures here. There’s at least one off-the-shelf option available, but I haven’t personally tried it.

You’ll also need to provide waterproof protection for the external battery. There are a small number of “waterproof” battery packs, but most of them are waterproof by themselves only when they’re sealed up and not being used. Plugging in a cable exposes the connections to the elements. I use a small Pelican case, again with a small modification of drilling a hole in the side to allow a cable to enter and sealing it up again with a combination of silicon sealant gel and duct tape.

Here’s an example take from some footage I shot of the blizzard that hit the Washington DC area in January 2016. It spans roughly 50 hours, with the camera mounted about 10 feet up a telephone pole and the 20000 mAh battery in a separate Pelican case with a whole drilled through the side for the cable access. I swapped out the external batteries about every 24 hours (the cold weather didn’t help with battery life).

Up to Indefinite (Solar Power) Time Lapse Duration

There’s also a solar-power option for off-the-grid long-term time lapse shooting that can last weeks, months, or, conceivably even years. CamDo makes a solar powered time lapse package that includes a hard enclosure, solar panels, battery, and the cables. It’s really designed to be used with their new Blink time lapse controller.

And with that combination—and sunshine, of course—you can run time lapse shoots that last weeks or months without ever having to touch the camera. So it’s a great option if you’re shooting in remote places or won’t have easy access to the camera. I’ve used these hundreds of feet up in the lights at football stadiums where they aren’t easy to get to without mechanical lifts, climbing safety gear, and a hefty insurance policy but where I can let a camera sit for months at a time.

This is a high-end solution that costs as much or more than the camera itself, although it’s still a lot cheaper than DSLR equivalents or remote monitoring cameras. And while installing the GoPro camera in the housing is straightforward, there is some setup involved, and to use the Programmable Scheduler you’ll need to use a custom firmware script. So it’s not quite a plug-it-in-and-go solution. I’ve used it for client shoots at construction sites, and it works well. It’s a much smaller and lighter option than the Harbortronics solar rigs I typically use, but it does come at some cost to peace of mind because, again, it’s a workaround to get a GoPro camera to do something it wasn’t designed to do, and if you’ve used GoPro cameras much you will have found that sometimes they have a nasty habit of locking up. So for client shoots I tend not to rely on the GoPro setup as the primary. And while it’s a strong setup, it’s not quite as bulletproof as the Harbortronics setups, which I have quite run through the eye of a hurricane and in blizzards.

Which Method is Best for Shooting Long-Term Time Lapse with a GoPro HERO 4?

Long-term time lapse is definitely possible with a GoPro, and it’s a smaller, lighter, more mobile, and potentially less expensive option than using a DSLR. But there are multiple different approaches, each with its own pros and cons, so it really depends how long you want to shoot for and how much complexity and cost you’re willing to deal with.

More GoPro Tips & Tricks:

This post was last modified on September 4, 2019 10:59 am

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  • I will be shooting a construction time lapse and power is not the issue in my case. The issue that I will have for shooting over a period of many months is this. Swapping the SD card will mean the camera position may shift slightly and I want to avoid this. Any suggestions for making this as stable as possible?

    • My two preferred options. Both of these allow you to get the images off the card and then format it without touching the camera at all.

      1. Use the GoPro mobile app to download the images and then use it to format the card. The advantage of this method is that there's no special setup or modification needed. Since power isn't an issue, you don't have to factor in the extra battery drain from leaving the wifi on. The disadvantage is that you'll need enough space on your phone (or tablet) to store the downloaded images or connect an external drive to your phone. This is also a good option if the camera is mounted out of normal reach.
      2. Jury rig a housing that allows for the USB cable to stay connected on the camera's end. You can then connect a laptop to the USB cable and use the desktop version of the Quik app to import the photos to your laptop or an external drive connected to it. While there's no "format" function in Quik, you can go into Quik > Camera Settings and check the box for "Automatically delete files from camera after importing." If the camera is mounted somewhere fairly inaccessible, you can use a long USB cable--but if it's exposed to the elements make sure to protect the bare end from water as well.
  • Hi,

    Looking to do an indoor timelapse of a restaurant build. I have a question about image quality because I have used Brinno TLC cameras before but the resolution wasn't great and also indoor construction can be quite dark.

    Using the GoPro option looks like a better solution image quality wise but it is a real shame that it sounds like the battery life sucks! The Brinno uses an internal low power timer that only turns the device on to take a picture when it is needed. 4AA batteries lasted for over an entire months shoot and would have probably done about 3, possibly more. Would be nice to see a device designed that would perhaps do the same for the GoPro but I have no idea if that would be possible.

    Back to image quality though, The GoPros image sensor is 12mp at a possible 4K (the Brinno only 1.3mp @ 720p) but would I be right in thinking that shooting the GoPro at 4K the noise attenuation wouldn't be that great in low light so if you looked to shoot lower at 2.7k or even 1080p would that help the potential noise issue do you think?

    Many thanks

    Toby

    • I would think the quality will be sufficient. I've had no problem using them as B cameras for commercial timelapse projects. Their low-light performance isn't as good as a DSLR or good mirrorless, but I don't find that much of an issue when compiled for timelapse.

      There are a couple of ways to tackle the battery issue. One is to use AC power if available. The other is to use a third-party intervalometer that can turn the camera on and off between shots. The ones I use are from Cam-Do (that page also includes some low-light footage that might be useful). You wouldn't need their full solar package, obviously--they sell the individual components separately. Probably some combination of external power and an external intervalometer might work best to keep it powered and not waste memory card space during construction downtime.

      I have some other ideas in a post on long-term timelapse with GoPros that might be of interest.

  • BE WARNED. I don't know where to find the information again and came on this article while looking for it but apparently you MUST take out the internal battery while using ac power.
    I didn't and my hero4 toasted itself. I had the correct ac and everything but leaving the battery in apparently is no go. Looking for confirmation, but why find out like I did?

    • Um I literally use my gopro itself to charge my batteries...
      I suspect that was an issue with the gopro or battery itself, not necessarily the process.

    • I've not run into that issue and pretty routinely use external power, including AC power and external powerbricks. It will eventually degrade the battery since it creates a constant charging-discharging cycle, and it doesn't stop the battery from heating up. There are battery eliminators available, like this one. Were you using an original GoPro AC charger or one with a stronger current? And when you say toasted, was that related to overheating?

  • hi all. thanks for the info, we want to time lapse months of construction also with our hero 5 black. our problem is what to put it in to make it less likely to be stolen during the process. any ideas?

    • Yes, that's an issue. Mounting them up high helps. Another option is an enclosure like this. They're not foolproof, but it gives you more ways to secure it to something solid. It also makes it less obvious what it is.

    • Hey I'm trying to do something very similar, can I ask how you managed data storage? thanks!

      • For the long-term, multi-month projects I work on, I use a combination of large memory cards, calculated intervals, and swapping out memory cards when appropriate.

        • Can I just download and remove pictures via wifi? It would be the definitive solution for storage space.

          • That can also work. Still have to be close to the camera, of course (many of my client projects are on other ends of the country). It also depends what your interval is and how crucial interruptions are. Downloading a full card via wifi can be pretty slow, and the connection will take over the camera during that time. High-end timelapse rigs often have cell network connectivity that can be used to download photos remotely, but I'm not aware of any practical way to do that with GoPros that doesn't involve some complicated DIY.

  • Hey there! Thank you for these articles (I've read about 6, in regards to GoPro Hero 4, battery life, sd cards). I benefited greatly from them!!! I decided to recently purchase the GoPro Hero 4 black, to mainly use for time lapse video. I would like to video between 8-10hrs a day for 5-6weeks. Doing this length of video, what size sd card do I get and how many? Also, what kind of computer would you suggest for editing this length of video?

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