Like many of you, I anxiously await the arrival of the D4 in my office. I have not been fortunate to hold or see one of the IP models that is in the states. I have received no less then just shy of 2000 emails asking me various questions about the D4. I truly wish I had all the answers right now, I really, really, really do but I don’t. I can answer some of the more general ones though like, “Did you sell your D3s (2 of them) in anticipation of the D4?” That’s a duh, having 5 camera bodies is a bit overkill. So that’s a yes, D3s out (all but 1) and D4s in. “What feature in the D4 makes you want to buy one?” It’s new! Sorry, cheap shot. I have a critter project where high ISO video would make the difference between getting the data the researchers need. So that’s a done deal for me. And a personal note, having the metering switch removed from the prism to me is worth the $6k, it drives me nuts on the D3 series! “Will the investment in the D4 make you money?” I don’t know but if it get’s the answers the researchers need for the critter then it’s worth its price 100 fold! “Are you going to get rid of your D3x?” Probably not, it’s what we use for all our cockpit panos. “Do you recommend the D4 to other photographers?” While I understand where this question is coming from, how can I recommend something not in my hands yet. “Do you know when it will be released?” I do not have that information but B&H is saying sometime mid to late February. You can preorder your D4 now and if you want it sooner rather then later, preorder now! Another common question is if I will create a D4 website like I did for the D3? Right now, I doubt it and the main reason is because there are so many other great resources now for that so I can put my time into other educational, informational resources for you in regards to the photographic problems the D4 can solve. After today’s Google+ live broadcast from Scott Kelby and the NPS guys, it is obvious there is a TON of features in the D4 that were left out of the brochure and spec sheet. I can honestly say that now, two weeks after the announcement of the D4, I am excited and anxious to get one. Come on Mr Ups…drop one off soon!
When multiple storms blow through the Sierra, winds plays a big part of the whole process. We typically know a storm is coming because winds proceed it. When we have multiple storms, the wind still comes but as it goes over the Sierra crest, it tends to create windows in the clouds. And these are just great subjects for B&W photography. I’m incredibly fortunate that I can, just like I did here, watch out the windows and when I see the light happening, step out and shoot. How do I know when to step out and shoot?
I look first for some blue sky and then a pattern between that blue and the clouds. I do this because I know this pattern when I do to B&W is what brings the eye into the frame. The Structure slider in Silver Efex Pro pulls out amazing texture and I’ve come to rely on that in these types of images. I first use the blue slider under the Luminance Tab in ACR to darken the blue sky which sets up the contrast with the white. This brings the drama to the B&W. It’s pretty much that simple.
“The driest winter since 1933.” That’s what was said about our winter here in the Sierra until Friday. We started off with rain which turned to a brief freezing rain then snow we call Sierra Cement. It gets called that because its moisture content is so great that other then looking like snow, you’d think it was water. It’s a horribly heavy slush that’s just murder to move. But photographically it works wonders. Sierra cement sticks like glue to trees and stays stuck until we have a real warm day. Snow on trees is critical in my book when photographing “winter.” Looking out the office window, the view is so calming it makes it hard to work. Photographically, it’s a real simple click that is then brought into ACR where I clean up the whites that are then finished in Silver Efex Pro (which was just updated). mtc
Our Cockpit Panos have become quite popular. We posted two new ones over the weekend, once from a Stinson V-77 Gullwing and another from Super Corsair #74. I really love the “steering wheels” in the Gullwing and truly appreciate the history in #74. I’ve been flooded with one question, “How did I light these cockpits?” It’s all done with one SB-900. Prior to actually making the pano, I determine the lighting for the entire cockpit using just the one flash. Why just one flash? Since I’m using a 16Fish, any type of lighting system would be seen in the frame. At the same time, most cockpits don’t have a whole bunch of space for much more then one flash. Some have asked for a behind the scene video which would be a great idea. That’s if I had a recipe to offer you but at this time I don’t. My original post lists what I suggest you can use to get started if this intrigues you. I was surprised how many emails I received asking about the gear used to create these. That’s listed below again. Thanks for all the love notes. Don’t fret, there are a lot more coming!
It’s very exciting to have more and more folks contacting me with questions about aviation photography. There are a lot of you out there and that’s great. While it’s not as many questions as I get about wildlife, but plane sightings are a little more reliable then birds since birds tend to just keep on going. So the exchange of information is two way and enjoyable. With my air to air photography getting more and more attention, more are asking what equipment is required to successfully pull one off. Keep in mind I’m a newbie to this, my first air to air was just two years ago this month, a T6 shoot over the Sierra on the cover of the current issue of Trade-a-Plane. I’ve done 26 photo missions now and I still am learning but I want to answer this common question. What gear is needed? This is my basic shooting gear is D3x w/70-200VR2 and TC-17e and D3s w/24-70 both on Sun Sniper straps.
Here’s the reasons for my selection because it’s not what you have to use. The D3x with the 70-200VR2 & TC-17e are my primary shooting system. The reason is because of the amazing amount of detail the D3x captures. Seeing every rivet is important to me so if I make a sharp capture, then they are all there. A drawback to the D3x I truly appreciate and think of as an asset shooting air to air and that’s the slow FPS. That because it forces me to slow down and make the shot. I get way to excited and it’s real easy for me to just hit the hammer with the thrill of the whole adventure and fill the buffer. Even with my selective “sniper” shooting, I still fill the buffer. It’s at those times or, when doing a move that I know will go fast like dragging a plane down the runway like this F2G-2 Super Corsair, I pull out the D3s with it’s 9FPS. The lens choices are pretty simple. The 70-200 w/TC-17e permit me to have the subject aircraft a little further away from the photo platform. That extra space provides a little more safety and at the same time more flexibility in the subject aircraft to perform other maneuvers. The 24-70 is just a pretty standard air to air lens permitting you to photograph the whole aircraft. Both rigs are strapped which are strapped to me so nothing goes out the door. That includes me who has his ass safety harnessed to the floor.
There are many other options you can use with great success, you don’t have to use these bodies or lenses. That’s one of the cool things about aviation photography, camera gear wise you can have pretty minimal gear and still capture killer results. There is one other piece of gear that’s must and that’s where the budget takes a hit. That’s the shooting platform. The one I use the most is a A36 Bonanza owned and flown by my bud and PIC “Flydaddy.” One thing I do differently is I actually have two PICs in that the second seat is another great pilot Scottie (who just piloted the first test flight of the new Cessna Ten, congrats!) who’s job is to choreograph both aircraft to maneuver according to the shot list Scottie and I went over prior to the flight. The plane and pilots just isn’t something you can order from B&H and take with you in your carry on. I hope this answers your questions and gets you more excited about getting involved is this amazing photography. If you want an idea where to start, you might take a gander at the Kelby Training class is did on aviation photography. Hope to see you on the flight line!
We’ve posted all our dates for our 2012 Air2Air Workshop season. They are:
17-19 Feb, AZ – AZ CAF Wing – B-25, fighters and GA formations
16-18 Mar, FL – Stallion 51 – Fighters, Jets, GA formations
19-21 Oct, TX – Lone Star Flight Museum – B-17G, P-47, Corsair, Skyraider
09-11 Nov, AZ – AZ CAF Wing – B-17G/B-25 and lots of little buddies
What you see above are just a couple of samples I took from the back of the planes over the heads of the participants shooting in front of me fall 2011. It’s just hints of what this workshop has to offer you! We were able to lower the price of the workshops for 2012. So at the moment we only have a couple of openings for the year (lots of repeats because there is nothing on the planet like this). If you’re interested, sure hope you can join us. Call 760.924.8632 or 661.204.1506 and talk with Sharon.
For better or worse, my whole photographic career has been based on taking the viewer into a world I am so damn fortunate to explore with my camera. The last 6 months my son Brent & I took this quest to a whole new level. VR Panos are not new, I surely didn’t invent them but when I got this idea I sure did feel like I had. The goal was real simple, put YOU in the cockpit of an aircraft! You walk around an airshow, a museum and typically you’re staring up at the plane. Those that you get to walk through have huge lines and the vast majority of the time, it’s just to see the cockpit. So the question hit me, how can I as a photographer bring that cockpit experience to you? In the beginning, I wish I hadn’t asked that question of myself.
When it comes to wacky stuff, I’m very fortunate to have the perfect expert to ask, Russell Brown. He never fails to amaze me because while he had done one VR Pano, he said he was by no means an expert but he knew who is. He sent me to Scott Highton, a very smart and very generous photographer who literally wrote the book on the topic. Scott was incredibly kind and encouraged me to go for it and provided a couple of ideas so I went for it. His book really laid out the path, the challenge was to follow it. It started in a Cessna 172RG one weekend in Wichita with my shooting bud Kevin. It actually turned out which was encouraging enough to continue.
What you see above is a screen capture of a finished VR Pano of a T-50 Bamboo Bomber. I’ve now posted a number of our cockpit panos on my Warbirdimages.com site for your enjoyment. What you’re seeing on the site (requires Qtime 7.0 or higher) are the low res versions. What we deliver to clients is a 155MB .mov and what you’re seeing is about a 5MB version.
The creation of these panos the first time out seems worse then pulling teeth. The first one took hours to photograph and then over 26hrs to assemble (we’ve got both down to a little bit less time now). That’s because 136 images are required (they way we do it) to create the Pano. I shoot with a D3x so you can zoom in and read the smallest print in the High Res version. It’s all shot with a 16fish, yeap, this is a Fisheye photo and it’s assembled in a program called PTGui (not making that name up, really).
Here’s the one big issue with this process, I have not figured out a way to teach it. It’s just not cut and dry and every time I do one, I learn something new that makes it just a little bit easier. I can tell you that I use the D3x, 16Fish with The Box shooting 5 image HDR, flash fill and that Brent (not me) assembles the finished pano in PTGui. But after that….yikes! For example the T-50 pano above, the first thing I hope you notice is the lighting on the dash (not bad for a wildlife shooter). That took me about 45min to dial in because between lighting the panel, the seats, not seeing the flash in the windscreen and matching it up to the sunset I knew we’d be placing on the outside, it took some time. Oh yeah, none of the lighting gear doing all of this can be seen in the photograph. Doing that in the tight space of a cockpit (the plane was in its hangar) is just something I can’t provide a recipe for. But I sure can at the very least entertain you with the finished results and at most hopefully encourage you to push your photography a little further. Have fun playing with the panos!
Yeap, the D4 is no longer rumor, it’s here! Many of you knew about the announcement before I did, learning about it from text coming across my iPhone as I worked in a hangar. With each text and email came the essential question, “Are you buying a D4?” Cutting to the chase, I have no doubt I’ll end up with them. My name is Moose, I’m addicted to new camera gear! But the question has to be. Why?
My first pro body introduction was the F3 so I’ve done this soul searching thing a few times. I’ve written about this many times before but for those who are new to the site, here it is in a nutshell. What problems will the $6k investment solve making that investment viable? Now if you just want it because it’s new, this discussion is mute because you have the perfect reason to buy the D4. I have two needs I foresee in just two projects in 2012. I need faster writing buffer in my still captures and 1080p high ISO video recording. Now will solving those two needs bring in the income justifying the expense of the D4? And that’s how I look at it, simple money out, money in proposition. Now the money out is a given when you buy the new piece of gear, the money in isn’t. And that’s how the photography biz goes.
As of the writing of this, I have not seen or shot with a D4. I have read the specs, thought through what the D4 has versus what the D3x & D3s have. You can’t argue with the numbers, the D4 on paper is a better machine then the D3s. You can’t argue with the videos Corey Rich & Bill Frakes have created, they are gorgeous! But the one question I’ve been flooded with all week I simply can’t answer for folks. Should you buy a D4?
My fear is pretty simple, being on those two projects without buying the D4 and then needing its unique attributes that I know are available and not having them and missing the photo! So, I will have a D4 and will be selling my D3s. When I have images I can share, I will ASAP. In the meantime, many of you who already know you want and/or need the D4, you can Preorder your D4 right here. Whatever you do, keep your photography fun and you can never go wrong with what you own!
I want to encourage you to push your photography and not settle just because you got close to a critter or you have a sharp image of it. Keep pushing, get picky!
You have a simple clean shot in the top frame. OK, go click and bank that shot and then think about how you can improve on it. What’s one thing not so great, the rock the Dunlin is perched on. How can it get better, by being wet (dry rocks suck!). Waves come in sets of 7 so just wait, watch the waves and when the big one comes in, be ready to click off a couple of the wave cresting the rock.
And then after the spray goes past, the birds have to shake to get dry and that too is a photo opp. So push your photography by waiting an extra moment, look at what can be improved and then if you can, go about making it just a little bit better.
So when shooting gets slow, slow being a nice word in wildlife photography for sucks, you have two options as I see it. You go get ice cream or find some place new to shoot. When the sun is high in the sky, ice cream might seem the logical option unless you have sand or water you can shoot at. What do those two things change with the sun is high? They are natural reflectors filling in shadows and bringing the light ratio back into play. That’s what I did, I left Ding Darling and headed over to the causeway where I can always find a shorebird.
I took the top photo to show you the one thing you avoid, the mass confused shot. I was shooting out of a Mustang, not the best vehicle to be shooting wildlife from but in this case, being so close to the ground worked in my favor. I’m shooting out the window using my vest as a pad for the D3x/600 w/2x. There are times when the mass flock might make a cool pattern but more often then not, it’s just compositionally awkward. The one big issue with the mass flock is you have so much rock. It’s just not a nice background for little puff balls. So I start looking for pairs or single birds that I can focus on.
Then once I have the single Dunlin in the viewfinder, I watch for when I get the pose that is the most pleasing and squeeze off a frame. Shooting so long, 1200mm, handheld, smooth is essential for a sharp image. Shooting with both eyes open I feel is really important at times like this because so much activity is going on that you might loose a great opportunity if you’re just staring through the viewfinder the whole time. Now is this better then ice cream? That’s up for debate!
There are times, no matter what you do, how you planned, how early you arrive that there is simply no wildlife to photograph. I really hate those times but they just go with the territory. It’s not like you can find a gate keeper, give them some money and the wildlife is let out to photograph. You just simply gotta suck it up and wait. And even then, you might simply get skunked. When this happens, I tend not to hang it up but start looking for possibilities if critters show up. One possibility I always look for are great backgrounds. While there is nothing to put with them, I look through my long lens for what I think might be a great background if something appears. Here’s a classic example from Ding Darling this past weekend. The water ripels are killer! Once I saw them, I waited probably about 40-45min before the Snowy Egret showed up. Then lucky for me, a Tri-colored shows up. It doesn’t always work out that way but when it does, it makes waiting worth while.
Wildlife photographers seem to spend a lot of time and a lot of money to capture eyeballs. The upclose and tight shot is very popular. I personally have no problem with that style and every so often, indulge in it myself. When photographers ask me to comment on their images though of “eyeballs” I ask them why they shot it that way. To date, I’ve never gotten an answer that really was meaningful. Many think that that’s just what you need to do. While getting the upclose and personal shot might seem like a challenge because you do need to own big glass and you do need to get close physically, I’ve always felt it was the easiest form of wildlife photography. What I’ve always found to be a challenge is making the shot when the subject is really small in the frame.
When you fill the frame with the head of a critter, the rest of the image is taken care of because, there is no room for any other element. There is nothing that can take the mind’s eye from the subject. When the subject doesn’t fill the frame and in this example of a Great Egret, doesn’t even come close, making sure you see that subject and then move the eye around the frame and back to the subject I think is a gargantuan hurdle to the great image. I find that a long lens is still essential to do the dance, include wanted elements while excluding unwanted. But you have to go beyond that and become a great story teller! So when it comes to the question, do you need to fill the frame? You don’t have to fill it with the subject but you do have to fill it with elements that take the mind’s eye and imagination back to the subject. That’s just plane old hard!
There are two options when it comes to capturing action, blast away (truly the funniest thing to do in photography) or sniper mode, the single shot. Both methods are totally valid, both methods can capture the exact same image. And there is no shame in using either method. Since I shoot with the D3x, the first method isn’t really an option so I am forced to use the sniper mode but I could always attach the D3s and go the fun way. So why don’t I do that? I was asked that and the only answer I can really come up with is, I like the challenge. Watching through the lens, looking at the biology and the hints my knowledge provides while moving the lens waiting to hit the button to me is fun. Of course the number of images I capture will be less but when I do get them, I feel a little pat on my back occur. One side benefit I do find though in playing this game is keeping reflexes sharp and I think that in the long run is a good thing. Oh, and in case you don’t understand sniper mode, let me put it this way. One shot does the job.
We’re cruising down Periwinkle coming up to the fishing pier when I looked up and saw an Osprey with a great fish. I’m picky, I only stop when the dead fish looks really cool because otherwise, it’s just a dead guppy. Risking a parking ticket, we jumped out and went over to make the shot. What you see above is the first click and as you can see, it has issues! The background makes you wanna puke so I picked up the camera and moved left and closer. With that big mackerel and since it was still basically whole, I knew it had just landed with the fish so the Osprey wasn’t going to go anywhere if I moved and I needed to move.
First I moved left and backwards up a little knoll to get a better angle (I hate shooting up the ass) but it just made the background worse. So I moved left as far as I could (big bush). Doing as much as I could by moving, I then started to refine the elements in the viewfinder. I still wasn’t pleased with the background so went to vertical and while I liked it better, the background got worse (the bottom of the frame). I went back to horizontal because it was the best option of them all but it wasn’t the best in a perfect world. With that, I watched the munching and then made the click when the action and posture were the most pleasing. Yes, it was shot at highnoon and the background is still a little busy but it was the best that could be captured and that’s how it is sometimes with wildlife photography. So with all of that, you have two options. Click or don’t click, it really comes down to that simple of an option and since its your photograph, it’s up to you. In this case, I liked the fish so I clicked.
I love shooting the splash! Shooting with the D3x though, it’s a challenge that I really like going for. Since the D3x shoots at 1.8fps, you really only get one chance at catching the splash. The game I play with myself to get the shot is watching the eye of the heron/egret. Just a nanosecond before it plunges into the water, the nictomebrane that covers the eye starts to close. When I see that happening, I click the camera. Now it’s not 100% accurate in timing since I don’t know if the bird is going to plunge straight down or out a ways but that’s part of the game. You can see the water splash is going straight in this photo of the Little Blue so that means the head went straight down. If you look at the photo for a moment, you’ll realize the light is a little hard. Why? To freeze the water you need a fast shutter speed. When do you get a fast shutter speed? When the sun is higher in the sky. One of the trade offs in getting the shot.
It’s pretty well known I’m not a ISO pusher. I do it once a year just to make sure the ISO button on the camera works, but otherwise I don’t do it to extend shooting time. I get asked why this is a lot, a lot and there are many answers. But the main one that comes to the heart of my photography is, a day should come to an end. No matter what occurred that day, when the sun has gone down below the horizon and it was in these two images, there is simply a natural order to life and it’s time to stop. The shutter speed was down to 1/5 when I made these clicks and that’s when I turned the camera off and just watched the world say good night. That moment to watch, that minute to stop and reflect is often the best part of the day. A favorite quote I love to share is this. “It was exposed forever on the thin emulsion of my mind” to which I add, “and a beat of the heart.” There is simply no ISO that can capture that.
I have this well earned reputation of kinda wishing up the photo I want. Like in this situation at Ding Darling when I spot the Belted Kingfisher. I see and I say out loud, “I wish that kingfisher would land on that perch and check things out.” And there is lands…
Then I focus my lens on this closer perch and say out loud, “Now I wish it would land on this perch” and there it lands. At this point those around me start looking for a remote control as if I have a robotic kingfisher (which would be cool). Of course, folks ask me how I know that, how’d I do that? I give them the Moose smile and sunder off. Then I turn to my friend and tell him the secret. I’ve been to this spot a whole lot and I’ve watched the kingfisher for a long time in this spot and I knew it as a 50/50 probability it would land on those perches if it landed on another perch first. And it was this knowledge that permitted me to have the teleconverter on and the lens in the right place to make the clicks. Because background is everything in this photo! Any sky and it will pull your eye right from the little white breast. And if that happens, I loose your attention. In wanting to tell the story, all these little subtleties must be dealt with and the best formula I can give you for doing that is to combine biology with technology.
You know, these are a lot easier then aircraft to photograph. They go so much slower! I simply love osprey, comes from my days of shooting with Roger Tory Peterson who fought so hard to bring them back from extinction. They really took it in the short from DDT. These are like great photos and they are more then just panning practice. They are simply good fun that brings back great times shooting with Roger. That’s what this wildlife photography thing is really all about, simple pleasures!