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!
When your eye looks into the shadows of a mangrove swamp, this is what you see. Since our eyes and brain are so sophisticated and sensitive, we see into the shadows in the background and the business of the roots which scream out at you so you don’t take the photo. But if you train your mind’s eye to see light and understand light like the camera, then looking at this same scene you would see this….
Since the camera can only record five stops, the white of the Snowy Egret makes the background shadow information disappear. I saw lots of photographers pass up these shots today and it saddened me. Nice click that only required seeing like the camera. Simple lesson, hard to learn.
Video is a part of most of my shooting the past couple of years. Usually I mumble at it because I find it a pain in the arse when it comes to editing. But there are times when I am so glad I’ve taken the time to become somewhat familiar with it. This is just one such occasion. The Moose Cam was running as we experienced this piece of aviation history. The video tells just part of the story. The rest will appear in three articles I have coming out. There is that much when it comes to the people and the aircraft making this day happen. The only piece of trivia is the little white plane on the left you see as the Super Corsair taxis out is the A36 Bonanza where we sitting, waiting our turn to taxi out to run up area.
When it comes to creation of the video, I’m using now the Coolpix S9100 because it shoots 1080p but has no way of connecting a mic. It rides in the hotshoe of the D3x via a miniball head. I hope you enjoy!
We have a whole lot of bird feeders on our property. They serve a couple of purposes, one of them being bringing in species that otherwise wouldn’t stick around long enough to get any glass on them. One popular food source we put out is commercial suet. It brings in all sorts of birds, most being nuthatches and woodpeckers. Red-shafted Flicker are real common at our feeders though you rarely seem them about in the forest. We love these guys, especially in the spring when the males go to attracting mates. The males attract a mate by drumming on choice branches and trunks, those that are hollow and resonate really loudly. Well the males that visit our feeders have found that the aluminum chimneys on our homes make a really loud should when they drum on them. Our neighbors don’t take kindly to them, but it makes me laugh. I normally don’t photograph the birds directly on the feeder but rather perches beside them. I really focus on this during the winter and in the spring when the birds are in their finest. But here’s the problem…
We’ve got nothin but dirt! We have not one stitch of snow on our property where we should have a minimum of ten vertical feet. This presents a whole bunch of problems but for my photography, two kind of big ones. The first being with no snow cover, there is a ton of food available for critters. There is no need to gather at our feeders for food when the critters can range near and far for food. At the same time, photos like this one above of a Flicker waiting its turn for the suet with the snow falling during a break in a storm aren’t possible. It’s so bad, I don’t even have my 600mm set up by my desk (where it was when I took these two photos) because there ain’t no snow! Can you say bummer in the sierra?
Can you see the difference between the two Flickers? One is a male and the other a female. On our property, the females are really scarce so whenever they appear, I try to make clicks. The bottom photo is the female, you can tell by the lack of the red mustache. If you look at the bottom of the perch or her breast, you’ll notice lots of white light. That’s not flash fill, that’s natural fill…snow! That’s the other reason why I’m bummed right now because even if I had birds, without the snow I would have to work harder because I would need flash fill. As it is though, we’ve got nothin but dirt!
It would seem 2011 was my year to become immersed in corsairs. This is the famous F2G-1D Super Corsair #57 which first appeared as a raced back in 1948. It was last seen in public in 2008 at Reno Air Races and right now for the first time since 1949, it has been reunited with fellow racer #74 F2F-2 Super Corsair. I was invited to come down and photograph the reunion so Jake and I are here for three days of bigtime fun. We started off with a sunset shoot in the desert twilight and continue with a sunrise shoot and then some cockpit time and finish off tomorrow with a bunch of air time. Couldn’t think of a better way to finish off my year of working with corsairs!
Photographically, this is a pretty simple click. Dialed in -1.7 to squeeze some color out of the dusk while trying to not have the candle apple red of #57 burn a hole in the sensor. Finishing is no more then a little slider action in ACR. I like simple, I can do simple.
The question of the day, “Will I be teaching a class on printing?” The answer is, I already am! Photoshop for Shooters is all about creating the best possible image/file for printing. The picture taking process is directly related to the printing process. The photo finishing process is directly related to the printing process. The act of hitting P and setting the printer to work is just the proof that everything you’ve done prior to that moment was correct. Just understanding that the statement “You profile your monitor so your prints match” is a myth which we talk about in class might solve all of your printing problems. You print to match your heart, not your monitor and we talk a lot about that. We spend two days talking printing!
This wintery scene I wish was taken recently but we have no snow. Ba Humbug!!!! This scene was taken earlier this year at the Firehole River. I knew I was going to print this B&W so the challenge was getting the clean black while keeping the clean graphic nature of the photo. This is a graphic so the lines of white (blurred water) had to be in harmony with the black of the rocks, logs and shadows. Since the water has this funky yellowish-green cast to it because it is an active hot spring, B&W was another way of dealing with that color cast. After that, it was a simple processing in ACR and then Silver Efex Pro 2. Then, a little tweaking on the file to print and understanding the right paper to print on and one of my best selling B&W gallery prints was born. Wanna learn how to do that, come to Photoshop for Shooters, I’ll give you all I know!
I’ve had a couple of emails asking if HDR really has the image quality to be valid. It’s a question that kind of took me by surprise. I realize some think of HDR as a fad, some think even worse or it. But a photographer who makes a living from their images, if they put out an image that is of lesser quality, they are simply going to be out of business. My personal standard in determining image quality for a body, lens or technique is the 24×30 print. It’s gotta stand up to that for me to incorporate any tool or technique in my approach to photography. The above is a perfect example. This is a HDR shot of Kermit Week’s P-51C that is in the current issue of Flight Journal. It’s a double truck, two page spread in which the image quality along with content were worthy enough to be used as the opener to a marvelous piece on a courageous group of aviators from WWII. I was honored to have my image selected and so prominently for this piece. I don’t think of HDR as a gimmick or fad but a valid tool when wanting to express photographically what my eyes and mind communicate to my heart and the camera can’t in one click.