The Path   4 comments

The Grand Tetons, Wyoming.

The Grand Tetons, Wyoming.

A worthy theme for this week, Photo Challenge: Path, so here goes.  Paths can be literal or figurative.  Each time I find myself on nature’s path the figurative comes to mind.  It is easiest to be present on the path I’m on and not elsewhere, possibly on another’s path.  It’s easiest to stay in this time and place for long enough to appreciate it before charging off to another place.  The constant need to move forward is not something that is easily avoidable, being human after all.  But I tire of the race sooner than many others do.  I don’t relish it as some do.  What I do relish is the feeling of climbing upward and outward into the world, and the contrasts of the descent off the mountain, and of the path home.

Have a happy New Year!

A path through the tall trees: Humboldt Redwoods, California.

A path through the tall trees: Humboldt Redwoods, California.

 

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Guadalupe Mtns., TX

 

The path down to Gokyo Ri, Nepal.

The path home:  Gokyo Ri, Nepal.

Wordless Wednesday: The Birds   2 comments

Merry Christmas!   10 comments

This is my most Christmasy image from the past year.  Since I haven’t yet gone out in winter to some forest to find a small fir tree in a meadow, decorated it (including lights), waited for a gentle snowfall, then returned with a small generator to photograph it, this one will have to do!

Merry Christmas to one and all!  (P.S. Friday Foto Talk returns next week)

Wind and snow create spindrift after a rare snowfall at Joshua Tree National Park, California.

Wind and snow create spindrift after a rare snowfall at Joshua Tree National Park, California.

Wordless Wednesday: Happy Winter Solstice!   8 comments

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Friday Foto Talk: Video in the Field   1 comment

I’d love to know how much you all are getting out of this little series on video basics for still photographers.  Are you getting excited about shooting a video or two to go along with your stills?  Have you been pressing that red button more often lately?  Or at least thinking about it?

Last time we left off with some gear-oriented tips on panning and moving your camera while shooting video.  Let’s continue with the nuts and bolts on moving the camera through the scene.  If you’d like to view the videos I’ve posted, resist the temptation to click the play button right off; it won’t work.  Instead click the title at top left.  You’ll go to my Vimeo, where you can press the play button.

A Word about Gear

Last week I mentioned tripod heads designed (at least in part) for video.  But I don’t want to make it about buying specialty gear.  This series is for you who are just getting into video or thinking about it.  If you start getting serious and video becomes a big focus of your shoots, then it’s worth spending money on accessories.  For an intermediate level of enthusiasm, I’d limit purchases to an external shotgun microphone plus a fluid video head.

In terms of camera movement and shooting video on the fly, one of the more useful pieces of gear is one I already mentioned: a stabilizer rig.  Many times I’ve wished I had one, but it is another piece of gear to haul along.  For the following clip I had to hike up a rugged Utah canyon to get there.  So I’m not sure I would have brought a stabilizer along even if I owned one.  Despite the rock hopping, I think it turned out pretty smooth.  To see that video go to Canyon Hike

Another piece of gear (or two) to consider, if and when you get serious about video, is a rail and/or cart.  They both allow you to swing the camera through a smooth path or arc like you see in professional shoots.  The technique is used most often in portrait & event shooting, but landscape videographers sometimes use rails.  If you’re handy you can make them yourself.

Video Tips On Location

Now let’s go somewhere cool and see how to get started making moving pictures.  The advice below doesn’t include some major issues of sound.  Those are worth saving for a coming post devoted to audio.  A few tips is all you need to get started:

  • Focal length matters.  I talked about this last week but it’s worth expanding on.  The shorter your focal length and wider your angle of view, the easier it is to move the camera without shaky frame edges.  This applies whether you’re doing it by hand or on a support.  And it means that when you zoom in to long focal lengths it can be next to impossible to avoid a jittery look.  That’s what happened in the clip below.  In the excitement of being so close to Everest and its neighbours, I used a relatively long focal length and panned by hand, ending up with a jumpy video.

But before you slap that 16 mm. lens on, there is another effect when you’re shooting at very wide angles.  It depends on how close you are to scene elements (especially the foreground), and also how fast you pan the camera, but the frame edges can move in a rather distracting way.  Try it yourself and see: shoot a few panning video clips at a focal length of 16 or 17 mm.  It may be best to use a focal length near 50 mm. when panning, at least when you’re just starting out.

 

  • Go Manual.  Although there is nothing wrong with automatic mode when you want a quick video, I recommend getting used to shooting manually right off the bat.  Manual exposure and manual focus.  For example, in a nature scene where you want everything in focus, go about it this way:  While you’re in aperture priority mode, pick a smallish aperture (f/8 – f/11) for good depth of field.  Then point the camera at a place in the scene that represents the (approximate) average brightness of everything you’ll be panning through.  Note the settings (aperture, shutter speed and ISO).  Then go to manual mode and switch to those settings.  Autofocus on something about 1/2 to 2/3 into the scene.  Then switch to manual focus and leave it there for the duration of the clip.
  • Plan your clip.  Figure out ahead of time where to start and stop your video, then do a quick dry run before you press play.  Of course if you’re shooting live subjects you may decide to continue the clip or cut it short.  Still, getting an outline of the clip in your head ahead of time is a good idea.  Adjust your position to get the smoothest and quietest (if you’re recording ambient sound) motion.  While panning I generally try to avoid moving my feet.  Even if on a tripod, how you change position through a pan will affect the final product.
  • Slow down.  The most common beginner mistake is to pan and move the camera too quickly through the scene.  As always with camera movement during video, focal length is a factor.  The longer your focal length the slower you need to pan.  When you pan too quickly the scene appears to race by.  A further influence is how far away you are from whatever you’re filming.  When fairly close to the subject, go more slowly.  But don’t go to the other extreme.  A super-slow pan will bore your viewers, leading them to not finish the clip.  The best way to know the right speed for different lenses and various kinds of scenes is to experiment and play the clips back on your LCD.
  • Review & Repeat!  When you first start out shooting video, just like when you started still photography, you’ll shoot a lot of junk.  The key is to review the shot before moving on.  You’l likely find that it requires a number of takes to get it right.  For the waterfall at bottom, I did 3 or 4 takes before I got one I liked.  As you gain more experience you’ll more often get it right the first time.  This is a worthy goal.  You want to catch the most interesting goings-on, not to mention the most interesting light.

That’s it for this week’s Foto Talk!  Please don’t hesitate to share your own experiences with video.  Or ask a question about anything at all.  Have a wonderful weekend and happy shooting!

Mountain Monday: The Mogollons   20 comments

This post is one day late for International Mountain Day.  But right on time for Mountain Monday!  It highlights a relatively remote place in western New Mexico.  I’d been wanting to go to this part of the southern Rockies for a long time, and earlier this year I finally made it.  I drove up a dirt road that ended at a gate marking the boundary of the Gila Wilderness.  The road continued beyond the gate, growing worse and clinging to the side of a mountain.

I parked and began to hike along the rough jeep track, recognizing it as an old mining route.  I followed it toward the head of a canyon.  Poking around I found some weathered shacks, a couple adits and other remnants of the gold & silver boom of the late 1800s.  There is a ghost town not far from here called Mogollon.  On the way back, as the sun sank lower, the air cooled and fog began to form over the mountains to the west.  It made for a mystical scene.  The sunset that followed was nice, but this shot was my favorite because of its mysterious feel.

The Mogollon Mountains of New Mexico's Gila Wilderness march off into the distance.

The Mogollon Mountains of New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness march off into the distance.

Friday Foto Talk: Video on the Move   5 comments

This is the 3rd part of my mini-series on video for the unrepentant still photographer.  The over-arching premise is that, no matter how in love with still photography you happen to be, there is always a enough time to add in a bit of videography.  If you need real reasons to press that play button, check out Part I.  For tips on things to watch out for when getting started, check out Part II.

Note that in order to watch the videos here you have to click the title at top left.  That will take you to my Vimeo page, where you simply press play to watch them.  There’s a full-screen option.  By the way, they haven’t been edited, even for length.  On my to-do list.  Now let’s get into it!

Video & Focal Length

Last time I recommended starting out simple, by placing your camera on a tripod and recording without moving the camera.  You can also keep things still while hand-holding the camera.  But choose a fairly wide-angle lens for this.  If you zoom in beyond, say, 70 mm., it will be next to impossible to hold the camera still enough.  Even with focal lengths around 50 mm. it’s hard.  Use a tripod.

There is another issue with focal length when recording video.  When you use a medium focal length, on the order of 50 mm., you are replicating the approximate field of view for human vision.  It means that the viewer will not be distracted by either an unusually wide angle, with its distortion, or by any unsteadiness and jittering of the frame that may happen when you zoom in to longer focal lengths.  This doesn’t mean you should avoid those different focal lengths; that’s one big advantage of shooting video with a DSLR.  It’s just that as a rule of thumb 35-60 mm. is a good baseline, or default, focal length.

Camera Movement:  Panning

If you do follow my advice from last post and start out by locking the camera down on a tripod while recording (and in that case you’ll be choosing moving subjects that are interesting in some way), it won’t be long before you get bored and start moving the camera.  The most basic kind of camera movement is panning.  If you shoot a lot of landscapes like me, panning will show you the whole area.  It’s sort of the video equivalent of an establishing shot in still photography.

You have two basic choices.  You can just pan like most people do with their phones, pivoting around while pointing the lens at what you want to include.  Or you can pan while on the tripod.  An in-between option is a monopod set up for video.  In the first case, just winging it by hand, you should realize that a camera phone has a very wide-angle lens.  Any deviations from a smooth pan (short of tripping over your own feet!) are masked by the wide angle of view.  Speaking of hand-holding for video, there are stabilizer rigs that you hold/wear that will make it much easier to keep things smooth while panning and otherwise moving the camera.

For the video below, I bushwacked to a very beautiful & secluded spot in Olympic National Park.  I climbed onto a rock beside a lovely falls and panned through the scene by hand.  Even though I used a wide-angle, you’ll see a couple small errors toward the end.  If I had used a stabilizer rig it would have been smoother.

Panning on the Tripod ~ Which Head?

If you pan on a tripod, which is what I’d try first for longer focal lengths, you have another choice to make.  Do you buy a so-called fluid panning head?  And how nice/expensive?  You can literally spend thousands on a super-smooth fluid head for video.  You’re thinking why can’t I just use my regular ballhead?  Sure. But if you go this route you will have to develop quite the steady technique.  You’ll also need to limit how long a focal length you use and probably accept small hitches in the final product.

‘But’, I hear you saying, ‘my ballhead has separate panning movement.’  Yes it does.  But it’s there for shooting a series of still shots on a plane (a panorama, for e.g.).  It’s movement isn’t really smooth enough for video panning.  That said, I have used my ballhead (not the panning base) to pan through shots.  I use the ballhead itself though, not the pan.  And I don’t do it with particularly long focal lengths.

Panning Heads:  What to Buy

If you go for a panning head, and if you’re not yet a serious videographer, I would buy an intro. model.  But intro. doesn’t mean cheapest.  Cheap fluid heads are like cheap tripods.  You’ll soon regret your purchase.  Get one a bit further up the scale, one with some good reviews by practiced videographers on a budget.  Figure on spending at least $100 and probably closer to $150 or even a bit more.  Look at the Manfrotto fluid heads in that range.

EXTRA ~ FOR OWNERS OF LONG TELEPHOTO LENSES ONLY

If you have a long telephoto or zoom, and especially if you plan on shooting wildlife, you’ll probably want a Gimbal head.  Wimberley is a popular brand but there are others just as good.  Gimbals aren’t cheap.  But when using big lenses they are more stable, balanced and move more easily than on a ballhead.  As a bonus Gimbals allow smooth panning and other movement during video recording.  So with big lenses it is your go-to head, whether you are doing still photography (following a bird in flight, for e.g.) or video.  There are partial Gimbals that clamp onto your ballhead.  Cheaper than a full Gimbal, these are better than using just the ballhead but not as good as the full version that replaces your ballhead.

Next time, more video on the move: tips for when you’re in the field and want to shoot a video or two to go along with your still shots.  Have a fantastic weekend and happy shooting!

 

Wordless Wednesday: Coquina Shore   Leave a comment

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Foto Talk: Video Basics   4 comments

Let’s continue the series on video.  Check out the introductory post if you have a minute.  My goal in this series is to convince those of you who’ve been happily capturing still photos to give video a try.  If you’re already doing it, good for you!  Either way, read on for some tips on composing videos and making the transition as seamless as possible.  The main theme of this post is that the two share more similarities than differences.  For the videos, click the title at top first, not the play button.  You’ll go to my Vimeo page.

Videos:  What’s the Use?

I’m a still photographer first and foremost.  Even so, I’ve been capturing videos almost from the beginning.  It’s not because I love video.  To be perfectly honest part of it is the mere fact that video was available on my DSLR.   But that’s not a good enough reason is it?  I think in the very near future video will be part of every professional photographer’s portfolio.  I wish I’d been more committed from the beginning, but I have to admit that it’s been an “if I’m in the mood” kind of thing.  I shoot video to mix things up and have a little fun.  That’s more than enough reason for you too

Here are a few ways you can use videos:

  • If you are putting on a slide show, having nothing but still pictures is, let’s be honest, a little boring.  Mix in some video clips, short and impactful, and you’ll have more attention given to those still photos.  The point is that any presentation of still pictures is made more interesting by just a couple-three short video clips.  As long as they are relevant to the general theme and not totally jumpy and bad, they can only add something.
  • Telling a story.  Although a series of pictures can do the same, a single video can tell the whole story more completely.  A combination may be ideal.
  • Capturing and creating integrated audio.  This is a very important aspect of videos, one that sets them apart from still images.  You can add music to a video and fade it out to the soundscape that’s native to the video.  And then back to music if you want.

Getting Started:  Cautions

So how to get started?  Most DSLRs are very easy to switch to video mode.  You simply throw a switch to go into video mode, and press a toggle button to start & stop recording.  I recommend starting out on a tripod and composing things just as you would a still image.  And then don’t move it, recording a shortish clip designed to capture interesting sounds and/or motions within the frame.  You may have to keep trying in order to catch just the right sound and movement.  Later on you can pan the camera, zoom, and change compositions.

Here are a few things to be aware of and guard against when starting out:

  • Compose carefully.  You should do this with stills as well, but with videos it’s easier to forget.  Check out the corners and edges, watching out for a tripod leg or some other distracting element.  Recompose so that your subject is clearly delineated.  And speaking of subject, find something both interesting and easy to spot.  You don’t want it to get lost in the background.  If either subject movement or the soundscape (or both) is able to hold your interest then others are likely to find the video interesting.
  • Watch out for exposure problems.  For example if you place your subject against a bright sky, you might end up with a silhouette.  That’s fine if it’s what you want.  Just realize that you might have a smaller range of editing options, especially if you’re planning to learn the major video editing software later on.  I recommend simply metering the scene as you would with a still image and going with those settings.  If you’re not moving the camera around then whatever mode you normally shoot stills in is fine for video.
  • Don’t move around or touch the camera unnecessarily.  Every time you touch the camera the microphone, which is built in, will record the sound of that.  Every time you move you run the risk of the mic capturing the shuffle of your feet.  And of course don’t move into the frame yourself unless you are a subject.

That’s it for this week.  Stay tuned for more on video.  I really feel with video that it’s important to start off simply.  You don’t want to bite off too much initially.  Have fun out there and happy shooting!

Posted December 4, 2016 by MJF Images in Friday Foto Talk, Photo How-To

Friday Foto Talk: Why Video?   4 comments

Nearly every digital camera sold nowadays has video.  In fact, I can only think of one DSLR without video that I would shoot with.  It’s the excellent Canon 50D, a camera that I used to own (I even took it to Africa).  Camera makers are building video in for a reason.  I don’t have to tell you that videos are very popular on the web.  But even for those of us who buy a camera thinking only of still photography, to have the option of shooting high quality video through high quality glass (lenses) is very tempting.  So it’s usually not long after that shiny new digital camera arrives that we switch to video mode and start winging it.

I say winging it because, while there are important similarities, video is quite different than still photography.  Mistakes are inevitable and can easily make our videos look amateurish.  This series is designed not to make you an expert videographer.  I can’t claim to be, after all.  It’s meant to get you thinking about capturing motion and sound rather than still scenes.  It’s also to give you a baseline from which to start your journey into videography.  This is the first time I’ve posted videos on this blog, and so it’s a bit of an experiment.  I’m inserting them from my Vimeo page.  They’re unedited but not too lengthy.

So why shoot videos at all?  Other than the novelty of capturing motion through a variety of lenses, videos are good for…

  • Mixing things up.  Anything you can do that’s different will help to keep you from slipping into a shooting rut.
  • Adding value to a shoot.  Even if you are shooting a portrait, where the goal is clearly to get a great still shot of your subject, a video is the kind of bonus that’s guaranteed to make him or her very happy.  Only video can show the laughs, changes of expression, and all the interactions that happen on a typical shoot.
  • Showing context.  If you put in a lot of work and money to get someplace great to photograph, you’ll want to bring home something that, while perhaps not your best stuff, is nonetheless critical for documenting your visit.  A wide-angle, so-called establishing shot or two that shows the wider area is one thing.   A video that pans through the area can show even more.  Plus it includes sound!
  • Showing movement.  I know, duh!  While it’s often interesting to show movement in a still photo, only a video can show movement as it actually is.
  • Including the sound-scape.  For me this is one of the most valuable (and challenging) aspects of video.  Still pictures have a huge shortcoming: lack of sound.  A motion picture overcomes that.
  • Profit.  If you are thinking of going pro at some point, there is another major advantage to capturing video.  You’re getting practice for that (inevitable?) moment when you make the transition.  If you follow a number of pro photographers you may have noticed that many if not most of them eventually make the jump to video.  They are doing this not because they like it better than still photography.  Most of them would much prefer to stick with what they love.  No, they’re doing it for money.  For reasons I don’t completely understand, it’s much easier to make a good living being a videographer than a photographer.

Next time we’ll dive into the nuts and bolts of shooting video.  Have a fun weekend everyone, and press play!

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