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Learning to shoot video with a gimbal: a frustrating, yet highly rewarding experience

14 Feb

A new Panasonic GH-series camera always seems to mean having to learn more about video, but that also tends to mean getting experience behind a video camera. I’d like to think I’m getting better as a videographer. Hell, I even remember to record some background audio most of the time, but the GH5S review meant having to learn about a whole new piece of kit.

The GH5S’s oversized sensor means there’s little scope for any kind of sensor-shift stabilization, which means it’s best suited to shooting with external forms of stabilization*. This meant that, in addition to borrowing a nice video lens, I needed to rent (and learn to use) a gimbal.

Gimbaling around

In just a few years, external stabilization has gone from being the preserve of Hollywood movies (most famously by Steadicam) to something that can be provided by sub-$ 1000 equipment. It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that DJI, best known as a maker of drones, also sells the technology required to mount and control aerial cameras as stand-alone stabilization rigs.

The DJI Ronin M is essentially a scaled-up version of the gimbals DJI mounts its drone cameras on. It provides a cradle that can move in all three axes, with motors to correct for (or provide) movement in each of these directions. At its most simple, it provides a platform that tries to keep the camera steady, regardless of the movements you make while holding the handles. This is both its fundamental role and the thing that makes it tricky to get used to.

The GH5S with Metabones Speedboost Ultra and Sigma 18-35mm T2.0, mounted in a DJI Ronin M: a powerful combination but one that’s not particularly easy to hold at shoulder-height for any length of time.

Initial setup is pretty easy: you connect the camera cradle to a top handle, screw some lateral arms and handles on, then clip a large rechargeable battery pack on the back. You then have to carefully adjust the position of the cradle so that the camera and lens are neutrally balanced (that way the gimbal isn’t having to constantly fight against the camera’s weight to keep the it level).

To make the most of the GH5S I borrowed a couple of nice pieces of kit: a Sigma 18-35mm T2.0 CINE lens and a Speedbooster Ultra 0.71. The problem is that this is a pretty substantial combination, something that would come back to haunt me later.

Lens choice

A Speedbooster is essentially an equivalence machine, condensing the lens’s projected light down onto a smaller sensor, shortening the focal length and lowering the F-number (since you have the same entrance pupil but with a shorter focal length lens). The upshot is that the 18-35mm T2.0 ends up giving essentially the same angle of view and depth-of-field it was designed to provide on APS-C/Super 35 format.

The result is something along the lines of a constant F1.4 lens. And, while it’s not really sensible to start mixing F and T-stops**, it quickly becomes irrelevant. Because, to shoot in daylight, the camera’s base ISO setting (320 in Log mode) meant I had to use a variable ND filter to prevent over-exposure, which meant I could use the aperture primarily to control depth-of-field, without necessarily having an impact on exposure.

Only the realization that I really can’t think in Imperial took the shine off one of my favorite lenses

Coming from a photography background it still feels somehow wrong to throw away light like this, but if your minimum ISO is 320 and you need to keep the shutter speed somewhere around 1/50th of a second, you’re going to have to do something to prevent constant overexposure. Sacrificing it to an ND filter is preferable to stopping down, since you then lose control over depth-of-field and smooth your footage with the power of diffraction.

It was a lovely combination to shoot with, though, offering a really useful zoom range, more than enough control over depth-of-field and beautifully damped controls for everything. Only the realization that this version had its distance scale in feet, and that I really can’t think in Imperial, took the shine off this version of one of my favorite lenses.

In practice

There’s a difference, of course, between knowing the theory and putting it into practice. I knew in principle what 10-bit capture should mean and I knew how a gimbal was supposed to work, but that’s not the same as seeing it out in the field. Or, in this case, in one of Seattle’s public parks.

I’d tested the gimbal the night before. Checked it was level and, via an app on my phone, configured it to move the way I wanted it to. Because while the basic function of a gimbal is to correct for the operator’s movement, the Ronin can also be configured so that a large movement of the handles is treated as an instruction to move the camera. You can configure which axes it’ll move in, how sensitive the system is to your inputs and how quickly it moves the camera in response. It’s all really clever.

It’s also a bit of a handful, at first. I quickly found myself trying to operate the focus and exposure on a camera that was constantly trying to move away from my attempts to grab it. Between this, the sheer weight of the setup and the inability to see the camera’s screen, it was incredibly difficult to make or assess any changes on the camera: a deeply frustrating experience. Then the rain we’d timed our shoot to avoid started. And then turned to hail.

1’9? So that’s, what, about 1/6th my height, plus about one and a half of those 15cm rulers we used at school? I’m not very good at thinking in Imperial measurements.

I was feeling pretty defeated. I’d shot maybe 10 seconds of footage, couldn’t work out how to operate the camera and was beginning to think I was wasting everyone’s time. The rain hammered down and I desperately cast around for a Plan B.

But you know what they say about silver linings? Mine was that the enforced rain break gave me more time to learn to handle the gimbal. In the end I developed a technique that involved powering it down, reaching for the camera with my right hand and letting the carrying frame collapse into the crook of my arms. I could then hold and operate the camera comparatively normally before finally making a grab for the carry handle with my left hand, letting the camera hang, then powering it all back up again.

The Ronin M went from nearly bringing me to tears to being one of the most fun pieces of equipment I’ve ever used

It also became apparent that some of the difficulty I was having was the result of the combined weight of the camera and lens, rather than just user error. The quick-release lever that locked the cameras fore/aft movement wasn’t tightened quite enough to withstand the weight of my setup. So as soon as I let the camera hang on the gimbal to change settings, it was slipping forwards or backwards on its plate, throwing off the balance I’d so carefully set up. Hence its refusal to then work properly afterwards.

With these problems overcome and the sun starting to strike out from behind the clouds, I found myself getting more and more confident with every shot I took. And in a matter of hours, the Ronin M went from nearly bringing me to tears to being one of the most fun pieces of equipment I’ve ever used.

Back at the computer

Even after dragging all the camera gear back up the hill from the beach, the emotional peaks and troughs weren’t complete, though. As with every other video project I’ve undertaken, there’s a moment back at the editing machine where I wished I’d done almost everything differently, if given the chance to do it again. Obviously I was missing the necessary audio for a key part of the video (again) but I also found myself wishing I’d shot using a different color mode.

The moment I applied Nick Driftwood’s LUT to my sole HLG clip, I wish I’d shot the whole thing that way

As I wrote up my review, I speculated whether it’d be better to shoot using the HDR-video-made-easy ‘Hybrid Log Gamma’ (HLG) mode, rather than the V-Log L workflow designed for professionals. I had reason to believe the simpler mode might make better use of the GH5S’s 10-bit video capability. However, the knowledge that I already had the look-up table (LUT) to convert V-Log L footage into something that more usable was enough to tip the balance in that direction, so I shot everything but the closing shot that way.

The moment I applied Nick Driftwood’s LUT (found via Google) to my solitary HLG clip, I wish I’d shot the whole thing that way. It may not prove to be the professional choice but it immediately got me closer to the end point I was hoping for.

I’m acutely aware of the risks of over-using the effect that that gimbal gives

That said, for all that I’d do the whole thing differently, I’m pretty pleased by the way the video turned out. No, my gimbal work isn’t particularly polished and there are a thousand little tweaks and changes I wish I’d made (including, as always, the need to shoot more little ‘B-roll’ clips to cut away to), but I think the results look better than my previous efforts, and that’s how learning works.

I’m also acutely aware of the risks of over-using the effect that that gimbal gives. But I’m itching to get a chance to use one again, hone my skills and bring a little bit of drifty magic to my next project. Once my shoulders have stopped aching.


*Panasonic would say I’ve got cause and effect confused. The outcome is similar though: I needed a gimbal.

**Since these same optics sold for stills use as an F1.8, you could argue that, with a 0.71x focal length reducer it ends up being an F1.3 lens. Certainly it can’t be said to be a T1.4, since the additional glass in the SpeedBooster will inevitably reduce the light transmission a smidge. But, as I say, the numbers don’t matter so much as the effect.

Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

 
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How to shoot Log video using DJI’s D-Log color profile

09 Feb

One of the challenges of shooting video with a drone is dealing with high dynamic range lighting situations. Fortunately, many of DJI’s drones offer a useful picture profile called D-Log. It’s DJI’s implementation of a Log gamma curve, designed to capture as much tonal information as possible.

DJI’s standard picture profiles can be vivid and punchy, but similar to shooting JPEG format on a stills camera, using them can make it impossible to recover highlights or shadows if clipping occurs in high contrast scenes.

If you don’t need to shoot Log to capture the dynamic range of a scene, it may not be
the best choice

Using D-Log can give you more flexibility in your post-production by retaining a wider tonal range, allowing you more latitude to apply your color and style choices during editing. However, there’s no such thing as a free lunch; shooting in Log can reduce image quality by trying to compress too much tonal information into a limited number of bits in the file. If you’re shooting a high dynamic range scene that tradeoff may result in a net benefit. But if you don’t need to shoot Log to capture the dynamic range of a scene, it may not be the best choice.

In this article, I’ll show you how to set up the D-Log profile, how to expose for it, and provide some examples of what you can achieve by shooting in D-Log and using color lookup tables, or LUTS, to color grade the final footage.

Set up your DJI drone to shoot in D-Log

To set your Mavic Pro, Phantom, or Inspire to shoot in D-Log, make sure you’re in video mode and navigate to your camera settings. You’ll find D-Log under the ‘Color’ settings, along with all the other color profiles. Once selected, you’re ready to shoot in D-Log.

To set up D-Log using the DJI GO app, simply navigate to the Color settings in video mode and select the D-Log profile. I also recommend going to the Style settings and creating a custom style with sharpness, contrast, and saturation set to -3 to give yourself more flexibility in editing.

I also recommend going to the ‘Style’ settings and creating a custom style with contrast, sharpness, and saturation all dialed back to -3. This can give you a bit more flexibility in post-processing since you’re not baking things such as the default sharpness level into the file.

Your drone should now be set up and ready to record footage in the D-Log profile. Keep in mind that the image above is from the DJI GO 4 app using the Phantom 4 Pro; menus may look slightly different on different models, but it should be the same basic procedure.

Setting exposure in D-Log

Now that your drone is set to shoot in D-Log, let’s discuss some best practices and tips for properly exposing your footage. We’ll be using my screenshot below to point out some key settings.

When shooting D-Log, I’ve had good experience using the expose to the right (ETTR) technique in order to get more shadow detail while preserving highlights.

There are different schools of thought on how to best expose when shooting in Log, but I’ll share what has worked consistently for me.

In the image above, note that my histogram is exposed as far to the right side of the scale as possible without clipping my highlights. This is a technique called expose to the right, or ETTR. Exposing this way for D-Log allows for less noise in the shadows while maintaining highlights as much as possible. For the way I shoot, it’s the ‘sweet spot’ for maximum dynamic range retention.

Alternatively, you can optimize exposure for the mid-tones when shooting in D-Log. However, note that D-Log footage can get very noisy if underexposed. If exposing for the mid-tones means using a lower exposure than the ETTR method, it will result in more noise in the shadows in exchange for better highlight retention in the brighter regions of your image. I suggest trying both methods to see what works best for you.

The other key thing to note about my settings is the fact that ISO is set to 500. It’s the lowest ISO that DJI D-Log can be shot in on the current Phantom 4 Pro firmware. That means you can go higher than ISO 500 if you’d like, but never below ISO 500. I recommend leaving your ISO at 500 to get the best results.

Using LUTs to color grade D-Log footage

Recording your footage in D-Log offers many benefits, but one of the things that you have to do in order to reap those benefits is to devote more time to post-processing. Straight out of the camera, Log footage looks very flat since it’s designed to cram as many tonal values into the available space as possible.

The first step in grading your D-Log footage will be to make it look like something more recognizable. To do this we’ll use a LUT, or lookup table, to apply a different gamma curve (tone curve) to our footage using our video editing software.

A LUT is essentially a matrix of numerical data that describes how to modify our footage from the profile it was shot in, to a profile we want to work with.

All of this work with LUTs typically takes place in your video editing software. I use DaVinci Resolve, but the same basic process can be performed in other editors like Final Cut Pro X or Premiere Pro. Once your footage has been imported, you can apply a D-Log to Rec.709 LUT, which converts our D-Log footage to the standard color and tone response for HD video. At this point, our footage should more closely conform to the standard color output we’re used to seeing.

Having the flexibility to push and pull colors and exposure in editing is worth
the added effort for me

DJI used to provide a LUT for this conversion but has stopped offering it since the Phantom 4. I like to use Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve because it has a D-Log to Rec.709 LUT built in, but other third-party plugins like Filmconvert also offer them with their color grading tools as well.

From here it’s possible to finish color grading manually if you wish. Alternatively, you can use another LUT to apply a new ‘look’ to your Rec.709 footage, such as one that emulates a film stock or provides a specific cinematic look, to achieve the output you’re going for.

When editing in DaVinci Resolve it’s easy to apply a D-Log to Rec.709 LUT to convert my footage. The general workflow is similar in programs like Final Cut Pro X or Premiere Pro, though you may have to add a D-Log to Rec.709 LUT to your software.

One of my workflows is to use the ‘D-Log to Rec.709’ LUT in DaVinci Resolve, followed by a cinematic LUT from the Elektra series from Polar Pro.

To be clear, Elektra LUTs are intended to convert your D-Log footage directly to a cinematic look, and they absolutely work in that respect. However, after some experimentation I’ve found the results can sometimes be more pleasing – to me, at least – when I apply these LUTs to footage after applying a D-Log to Rec.709 LUT. Both methods work, and it’s really a matter of personal taste and the look you want to achieve.

There are other sources of LUTs designed for DJI drones as well, including collections from Ground Control, and even D-Log LUTs created by the user community (just do a bit of searching online).

I like to go through my library of available LUTs and try them until I find the one that suits the project. I’ve put together a short sample reel of some D-Log footage from a flight at Seattle’s Gasworks Park, so take a peek at the video for some examples of different looks.

This video shows a number of looks I was able to create from the same shoot using different LUTs.

Keep in mind that LUTs don’t eliminate the need to do manual color grading; they’re a starting point that allows you to apply a consistent look across your footage, but you’ll likely still need to do a bit more work to get the precise result you seek.

Conclusion

Now that you know how to set up your DJI drone to shoot in D-Log, expose it for maximum dynamic range, and color grade it using LUTs, you’re ready to create your own cinematic aerial films. I’ve found that the additional workflow required to shoot in D-Log has given me enough benefit in post-production to continue using it. Having the flexibility to push and pull colors and exposure in editing is worth the added effort for me.

Granted, I probably wouldn’t employ this process for casual shooting, but for important productions where use of a high contrast color profile would risk clipping a lot of highlights or crushing shadows straight out of the camera , shooting in D-Log is definitely a must. DJI has even created a handy guide to getting started with setting up and shooting in D-Log as well, so if you’d like more information on the process, take a look at that guide here.

Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

 
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The 4MP Phantom v2640 can shoot 6,600fps at full resolution, 11,750fps at 1920×1080

02 Feb

If you thought you had a pretty good high-speed photography set-up, the new Phantom v2640 from Vision Research might make you think again. Using a 4-million-pixel sensor and a shortest ‘shutter speed’ of 142 nanoseconds, this new model from the scientific and industrial manufacturer can reach speeds of up to 6,600fps at full resolution, and can go even faster when the pixel-count is reduced.

The latest in a line of high-speed cameras aimed at researchers and engineers, the v2640 comes in color and monochrome versions, and with internal memory of up to 288GB to store the data collected. Vision Research claims the camera has a dynamic range of 64dB (over 10 stops) and that the monochrome model has ISO settings of 16,000, so it can work in very low light.

The black and white model can be switched to 1-million-pixel mode and will then record at up to 25,030fps, while the color model can ‘only’ manage a best of 11,750fps when dropped to 1920×1080 2MP quality. We’ve reached out to the company for a price, and are waiting for a reply, but don’t expect this puppy to come cheap.

In the meantime, if you fancy one yourself you’ll find more information and instructions for ordering on the Vision Research website.

Press Release

New Phantom v2640 Ultrahigh-Speed Camera Achieves Unmatched 4-Mpx Resolution

Vision Research, a leading manufacturer of digital high-speed imaging systems, has introduced the Phantom® v2640, the fastest 4-Megapixel (MPx) camera available. It features a new proprietary 4-Megapixel (Mpx) CMOS image sensor (2048 x 1952) that delivers unprecedented image quality at up to 26 Gpx/sec, while reaching 6,600 frames per second (fps) at full 2048 x 1952 resolution, and 11,750 fps at 1920 x 1080.

The v2640 features very high dynamic range (64 dB) and the lowest noise floor of any Phantom camera (7.2 e-)—making it an excellent tool for researchers, scientists and engineers who need to capture clean, high-resolution images at ultra-high speeds. The high dynamic range shows significant detail, especially in high-contrast environments, while the low noise is particularly beneficial when analyzing the dark regions of an image. It also has exceptional light sensitivity, with an ISO measurement of 16,000D for monochrome cameras and 3,200D for color cameras.

“We’re excited to bring this extremely high image quality to the high-speed camera market,” says Jay Stepleton, Vice President and General Manager of Vision Research. “In designing this new, cutting-edge sensor, we focused on capturing the best image in addition to meeting the speed and sensitivity requirements of the market. The 4-Mpx design significantly increases the information contained in an image allowing researchers to better understand and quantify the phenomena they are observing.”

The v2640 has multiple operating modes for increased flexibility. Standard mode uses correlated double sampling for the clearest image, while high-speed (HS) mode provides 34% higher throughput to achieve 6,600 fps. Monochrome cameras can incorporate “binning,” which converts the v2640 into a 1-Mpx camera that can reach 25,030 fps at full resolution, with very high sensitivity. “The various operating modes also allow users to have just one camera to cover multiple applications,” adds Doreen Clark, Product Manager for the Phantom Ultrahigh-Speed family.

To help users manage the amount of data inherent in high-speed imaging, the v2640 is available with up to 288GB of memory, and is compatible with Phantom 1TB and 2TB CineMags® for fast data saves. Alternatively, 10Gb Ethernet is standard, saving significant download time.

Key Specifications of the Phantom v2640

  • 4-Mpx sensor (2048 x 1952), 26Gpx/sec throughput
  • Dynamic range: 64 dB
  • Noise level: 7.2 e-
  • ISO measurement: 16,000D (Mono), 3,200D (Color)
  • 1 µs minimum exposure standard, 499ns / 142ns minimum exposure with export-controlled FAST option
  • 4 available modes: Standard, HS and Binning (in Standard and HS)
  • Standard modes feature Correlated Double Sampling (CDS) performed directly on the sensor to provide the lowest noise possible
  • Up to 288 GB of memory
  • 10-Gb Ethernet standard
  • Compatible with CineMag® IV (up to 2 TB)

Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

 
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Samsung’s new smartphone sensors can shoot 480fps in Full HD

22 Jan

Samsung has just announced a new mobile image sensor that may just reveal what’s in store for the rumored Galaxy S9 smartphone—specifically in the slow-motion capture department.

Announced earlier today, Samsung’s new ISOCELL Fast imager chips feature a 3-stack Fast Readout design that Samsung claims will shoot Full HD 1080p video at a whopping 480fps. That’s not quite as fast as the eye-watering 960fps in Sony’s high-end Xperia models, but the Sony mode can only capture for a fracture of a second—Samsung’s super-slow-motion could potentially offer longer capture times.

According to Samsung’s product page, the ISOCELL fast sensors also come with advanced autofocus technologies—such as Dual-Pixel or Super-PD—built into the chip, allowing for very fast focusing in all light conditions. ISOCELL Fast sensors with the aforementioned technologies are currently available with 12 and 16MP resolutions and sizes ranging from 1/2.8″ to 1/2.56″.

As usual, there is no way of knowing for certain if either of these sensor variants will make it into the Galaxy S9, but it’s safe to assume we’ll see the new 480fps Full HD mode in a Samsung mobile device in the near future.

Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

 
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How to Find the Best Possible Time to Shoot Cityscapes at Blue Hour

19 Jan

Blue hour, especially the one in the evening (yes it happens before sunrise too!), is probably the most popular time of day to take cityscape photography with dazzling city lights illuminated. But exactly when is the prime time of blue hour that could result in you getting the best possible shots?

Singapore - How to Find the Best Possible Time to Shoot Cityscapes at Blue Hour

Singapore skyline at blue hour.

Hong Kong - How to Find the Best Possible Time to Shoot Cityscapes at Blue Hour

Hong Kong skyline at blue hour.

Blue Hour Photography Requires a Tripod

One note before we get started. Although you could shoot handheld at blue hour by bumping the ISO up, it’s always advisable to use a tripod in order to shoot clean (noise-free) photos with low ISO (e.g. 100). It also comes with an added bonus of letting you do long exposure photography with smoothed-out water, etc.

For your information, sample photos shown in this post are all shot using my trusty Manfrotto MT190CXPRO3 carbon-fibre tripod.

Tripod - How to Find the Best Possible Time to Shoot Cityscapes at Blue Hour

Setting a tripod up and getting ready for blue hour.

Finding out Your Local Sunset and Dusk Time

Let’s get down to business. In terms of timeline, SUNSET comes first, followed by DUSK 20+ minutes later. The time between sunset and dusk is called TWILIGHT, and NIGHT falls once dusk is over.

To find out your local sunset and dusk time, simply go to timeanddate.com and search for your city (e.g. sunset and dusk time in Singapore on January 26th, 2018 will be 19:18 and 19:40 respectively). Or alternatively, search Google using “dusk date city” format (e.g. dusk January 24th, 2018 Singapore). Then, Google returns a dusk time even before the first result. Checking a dusk time has become a second nature to me whenever I’m shooting at blue hour, locally as well as traveling abroad on holidays.

Note: Apps like PhotoPills are also really helpful for planning shooting times and figuring out the sunrise, sunset and dusk times daily in any location worldwide.

Timeline - How to Find the Best Possible Time to Shoot Cityscapes at Blue Hour

Sunset to dusk in timeline. Towards the end of dusk is the best time to shoot blue hour photos with beautiful bluish hue in the sky.

Aim for Shooting the Last 10 Minutes of Dusk

In this 20 or so minutes between sunset and dusk, the first 10 minutes are still not quite “ripe”, as city buildings are not yet fully lit up, and the sky hasn’t yet taken on the beautiful bluish hue that appears towards the end of dusk. Use this time to decide on your composition, do some test shots, etc.

Singapore - How to Find the Best Possible Time to Shoot Cityscapes at Blue Hour

This Singapore skyline was shot 15 minutes before the end of dusk (six minutes after sunset) at f/13, 1.6 seconds, ISO 100. The stage isn’t quite set yet, as the sky is still bright and not many of the city lights are illuminated.

When there are about 10 minutes left before dusk, more city buildings will be lit, and bluish hue starts to appear in the sky, getting deeper and deeper with every single passing minute. It’s these last 10 minutes of dusk that are undoubtedly the prime time to shoot blue hour photography.

In addition, the limited available light at blue hour allows for your shutter speed to naturally get longer, especially with the use of a small aperture. Shoot in Aperture Priority mode and use a bigger f-stop number such as f/13, which helps create smoothed-out water and rushing clouds effects (provided that you’re shooting with a tripod).

ND filter - How to Find the Best Possible Time to Shoot Cityscapes at Blue Hour

A neutral density (ND) filter is an item that will enrich your blue hour photography experience and images.

Add an ND Filter

To enhance such effects, try shooting with a neutral density (ND) filter attached. ND filters help reduce the light that is coming through the lens, allowing you to use much slower shutter speeds.

For example, with a 3-stop ND filter attached, a base shutter speed of 2-seconds is extended to 15 seconds. For a greater effect, use 6-stop ND filter to extend a base shutter speed of 2-seconds to 128 seconds (just over two minutes), which gives your photo a surreal and dreamy feel that is typically seen in long exposure photography, like Marina Bay (Singapore) photo below.

Singapore - How to Find the Best Possible Time to Shoot Cityscapes at Blue Hour

This Marina Bay photo was shot three minutes before the end of dusk (f/13, 135 seconds, ISO 100). The blue hour sky looks just right – not too light, not too dark, not overly vibrant. Also, an exposure of 135 seconds (with a 6-stop ND filter attached) helped create a silky smooth water effect.

Blue Hour Suddenly Ends after Dusk

Blue hour photography is sometimes mixed up with night photography, which starts once dusk is over. You might be surprised to find out that night falls almost suddenly after dusk. It doesn’t even take 10 minutes for the blue hour sky at dusk to turn into pitch-black night.

Personally, I never shoot after dusk. Photos shot after dusk tend to come out very dark and colors look muddy as there is little bluish hue left in the sky. Your photos will look considerably different if you miss this prime time of blue hour even by a mere few minutes.

Hong Kong - How to Find the Best Possible Time to Shoot Cityscapes at Blue Hour

This Hong Kong skyline was shot 8 minutes after the end of dusk. The bluish hue in the sky quickly disappeared, and the scene turned into the dark night rather abruptly.

Conclusion

In fact, what we call blue “hour” seems to last only approximately 10 minutes towards the end of dusk (depending on where you are located relative to the equator).

Blue hour photography is quite a time-sensitive genre, as this prime time of blue hour sky ends in the blink of an eye. So, stay focused, otherwise, you could suddenly miss it passing you by under the fast-changing dusk sky. I really wish blue hour could literally last for an hour!

Editor’s note: it does in some parts of the world, at certain times of the year. If you want more blue hour time – travel farther away from the equator! Where I live in Canada blue hour is almost a full hour in the summer, versus 20 minutes where the author lives in Singapore.

The post How to Find the Best Possible Time to Shoot Cityscapes at Blue Hour by Joey J appeared first on Digital Photography School.


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2018 Shoot & Share Photo Contest opens for entries on January 8th

30 Dec

Wanna pit your skills against tens of thousands of other photographers… for free? You’ll soon have your chance. The 2018 Photo Contest by Shoot & Share—which bills itself as the world’s only free & fair photo contest—will start accepting entries on January 8th.

What sets this particular contest apart is the voting process. No hoity-toity group of judges sifting through your entries, the whole system is democratic.

Every entrant is allowed to submit up to 50 photos in a total of 25 categories, and those photos are voted on by everyone else (including you). Photos are shown to you at random, and you vote for your favorites. As Shoot & Share explains it, “No one knows who took the photos, but everyone votes for the winners. The photos with the most votes win!”

Here’s a fun intro video Shoot & Share put together:

The democratic draw of this contest as summed up best, perhaps, by DPReview Editorial Manager Wenmei Hill:

“It’s huge, it’s free, and it’s a big ego boost (or destroyer, depending on how good a photographer you are) for tons of photographers.”

Prizes for the 2018 contest haven’t been revealed yet, but all 25 categories will have 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners, in addition to a Grand Prize Winner for the contest as a whole. According to the contest site, “Last year, there was over $ 1,200,000 in free memberships, software, credit, gifts, workshops, and more,” given away.

Not bad for a totally free and extremely democratic contest.

To learn more about the 2018 Photo Contest or see last year’s winners, head over to the contest website. And if you plan to participate, you have just over a week to curate your best shots for submission.


UPDATE: Several readers have expressed concern about some of Shoot & Share’s terms and conditions for this contest: specifically, the part that says you allow them to use your images with photo credit.

To clear up any misconceptions, we reached out to Heather Keys, the company’s head of Marketing and Business Development, to ask how contestants’ photos have been used in the past. Here’s what she said:

In the past, the photos from the contest have been used to promote various community activities as well as used to promote future contests (always with photo credit included).

At times, we have reached out to those photographers that submitted images during the contest to request to use certain submitted photos in promotion of some of the products we offer (PASS.us and Agree.com ). With that said, we’ve always requested permission and offered compensation if we ever used submitted photos for promotion of our software tools.

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Video: Travel Photography Tips – Shoot with a Purpose

15 Dec

The challenge with travel photography is that you may not get back to a location again anytime soon. So many photographers try and squeeze out as many photos as possible. The issue is lack of attention to detail and having any intentions or purpose before shooting.

What do you want your image to show?

Waiting for the right gesture, or even right subject to enter your scene is critical.

In this image shot in Trinidad, Cuba I found some amazing light skimming across the cobblestone streets. But it lacked something.

By waiting for a subject, the couple, to enter the scene it is more of a complete story.

In this video, photographer Mitchell gives you some great examples of how to shoot lots of images but end up with better results than just rapid-fire shooting.

The key points mentioned in the video are:

  • It’s not about shooting as many images as possible, but to shoot as many as possible with a purpose and intent.
  • Don’t settle for one or two shots from each scene. Get out of the mindset of needing to get the perfect shot in as few frames as possible. It’s not a contest.
  • Don’t spray and pray. Have an idea of what you want to capture.
  • Explore different framings and camera settings.
  • See how the light changes from different angles.
  • Experiment with different perspectives.

Another example

Here you can see some shots I took of two men deep in conversation in Cienfuegos, Cuba. But it still wasn’t quite what I wanted. The first (upper left) was too busy. The second (right) was more focused on the med but lacked context of the busy street scene. The third (lower left) shot from across is getting closer. 

Finally with the addition of the cyclist I had the shot I had envisioned. It shows context, has layers of activity, and interest. To me, it really speaks about daily life in a Cuban city. 

Do you photograph with purpose? Slow down and think about each frame you shoot. Be intentional.

And come home with great photos!

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Photo story of the week: A spectacular wedding shoot in Norway

19 Nov

The bride and groom, Tim and Kylie, were married two years ago in Long Beach and between all the formalities and rainy weather they were left feeling a little empty handed and did not get the photos they imagined. They wanted to remarry and to be intentional about making their day about everything they could ever imagine.

They are both very into fitness and outdoorsy people and love hiking locally around Laguna Beach, CA. They were intrigued about writing their own vows and going to one of the most magical places on earth that has recently become very popular: the Trolltunga in Norway.

None of us had been to Norway prior. We were worried about there being crowds at the Trolltunga or the visibility upon arriving to the top. We checked the weather every day for a week before arriving and every day it said it would be sunny. But on the day of their wedding, heavy rains were in the forecast. Although it rained throughout the hike, we miraculously had somewhat of clear skies with epic clouds that added a little bit of drama to the composition of the photos.

The hike took us a little longer than it typically would: 14 hours total. We all had backpacks weighing around 35lbs. We also had rogue weather… it would be windy, raining and then just stop. Although it was definitely physically difficult, your brain is so stimulated from being surrounded by such beauty that it makes it enjoyable. There is some out of this world scenery and half the time you can’t even believe what’s around you.

It is our instruct as humans to want to capture what is around us to make it last and sink in. So as you can imagine being in an unbelievable place with something around every corner you want to snap every second. But on this particular hike the main goal was to be intentional in capturing the story of what was happening, really zoning in on the dialog between the couple and place.

For me, this particular wedding and photos represent one of the biggest challenges I’ve come across in shooting photography: the mental game. I literally had to jump over obstacle after obstacle, but pushing through always pays off. There’s nothing like being at the top of an immense landscape or mountain, literally or figuratively, looking into your viewfinder, and knowing that everything that came before was so worth it.


Nick Falangas is a professional photographer, half of the husband and wife duo that make up Priscila Valentina Photography. He is constantly striving to push the boundaries and create exceptional photography.

He has shot hundreds of events all over the world. You can follow along on Instagram @PriscilaValentina_Photography, Facebook, Website and Blog.

Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

 
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How to Shoot Engaging Travel Portraits from Start to Finish

19 Nov

I love travel portraits. Not only do they test your photography skills but also challenge you to interact with people in unfamiliar environments. The end result directly reflects your subject’s personality along with your ability to make them feel at ease, read the light, select optimal settings, and compose a great shot.

How to Shoot Engaging Travel Portraits from Start to Finish:

A boy named Ashim and his father at Dasaswamedh Ghat – Varanasi, India.

Every photographer has a slightly different approach, which evolves with every new person you meet and country you visit. Join me as I walk you through an encounter from start to finish and share tips on how to shoot engaging travel portraits.

1 – Approach the person and get permission

As a photographer, it’s up to you to develop your own code of ethics. However, I implore you to seek permission and not just stick a camera in someone’s face. The initial approach can often be the hardest part; taking the shot is comparatively easy.

Aim for a consensual, mutually enjoyable exchange from which you can both walk away with a happy story to tell. Be open, smile, and pay people compliments.

How to Shoot Engaging Travel Portraits from Start to Finish:

Boy monks at Rumtek Monastery – Sikkim, India. I kept my camera at my side, introduced myself, and asked their names. Their answers made me regret leaving my notebook in the car (Sikkimese names are notoriously long). They wanted to talk about soccer. When I asked for a photo, the boy on the right jumped and said “I know a good place. Follow me!” It was a fun encounter and their personalities shone through in the pictures because they’d had a chance to chat about their favorite topic.

If it’s a firm no, you can smile warmly, tell them it’s absolutely fine, and ask them if they would like to see photos you’ve taken of the local area. This way, you can both still walk away having had a pleasant experience, and sometimes, they even change their mind.

2 – Communicate for a meaningful experience

Your challenge now is to make your subject feel at ease. The best portraits come when people are relaxed and open to you. Most crucially, don’t rush the photo, say goodbye, and walk away. Show genuine interest in their lives.

Ask questions if you can speak a mutual language. If not, remember that much of your intentions and warmth can be communicated through body language, facial expressions, and gestures.

How to Shoot Engaging Travel Portraits from Start to Finish:

Ba-An, an 81-year-old lady, in front of the Banaue rice terraces – Luzon, Philippines. I will remember Ba-An because I had the longest and most interesting conversation I’ve had with anyone before taking their portrait. “These? They’re chicken feathers,” she said when I asked about her headdress. “Sometimes I tell people it is tradition, but really, we just started doing it a few years ago!”

3 – Read the light and use it to your advantage

With permission granted and your subject warming to you, the next step is reading the light. Whether it’s day or night, look at the lighting conditions around you. Consider asking your subject to turn their body or move completely to seek the best light.

How to Shoot Engaging Travel Portraits from Start to Finish:

While waiting for a Hindu ceremony to begin, this gentleman wobbled his head enthusiastically and motioned towards my camera – Varanasi, India. Sometimes, as in this situation, when people see you photographing others in a respectful manner, they may prompt you to take their portrait. I asked him to turn so that the light from a spotlight would be cast across his face at a less harsh angle.

4 – Select your settings

Ideally, you have a fixed focal length (prime) lens with a wide aperture attached to your camera body. However, if you’re traveling, you may have an all-purpose zoom lens attached. I like portraits that I’ve taken with both types.

With my fixed focal lens, I often shoot portraits at f/2.8 or slightly above. If you shoot any wider, the focal plane can be so thin that you risk your subject’s eyes being in focus but having their nose out of focus. For a zoom lens, I recommend selecting your widest aperture but standing further away from your subject. Zooming in on their face will accentuate the shallow depth of field effect that works so well for portraits.

How to Shoot Engaging Travel Portraits from Start to Finish

A Muslim traveler at Haji Ali Dargah, an Islamic shrine off the coast of Mumbai – India. My settings and lens for this portrait were f/2.8 | 1/1600th | ISO 160 | Sigma 35mm 1.4 Art lens. The fast shutter speed allowed by using f/2.8 picked out fine details on the man’s face. Such a fast shutter wasn’t necessary for this level of sharpness but it was an extremely bright day in Mumbai.

For engaging portraits, the most important element requiring sharp focus is the eyes. I suggest setting your camera to spot focus on the center AF point. Next, aim the center point at one of your subject’s eyes. Use the focus and recompose method or even better – the back button focus method to lock in on the eyes. This will ensure they’re in sharp focus in the finished photo.

5 – Choose a strong composition

Numerous compositions can work for portraits. The rule of thirds can work incredibly well but try not to wear it out or all your travel portraits will look the same.

Another one to try is placing one of your subject’s eyes directly in the center of the frame; a study proved that portraits composed this way appeal to viewers on a subconscious level. I promise I’m not making that up. This can be applied in portrait or landscape orientation.

A general rule exists in travel portraiture that you shouldn’t place your subject directly in the center of the frame; however, rules are made to be broken sometimes.

How to Shoot Engaging Travel Portraits from Start to Finish

As I stood taking pictures of the Banaue rice terraces, I heard a frail voice saying “Photo? Who is taking a photo?” It belonged to a 96-year-old woman named Bah Gu-An. She was completely blind. I wasn’t sure how to communicate as I normally would for a portrait so took her hands in mine to let her know I was there. Her friends translated back and forth for us. I decided on a rule of thirds composition because I felt the blue umbrella added extra visual interest and balance to the frame.

6 – Come down to their eye level

Try not to stand above your subject if they are sitting. This is intimidating and works against your goal to relax them. Positive psychological things happen when you come down to someone’s eye level. Take a look at the example below.

How to Shoot Engaging Travel Portraits from Start to Finish

A Hindu holy man on a tiny island in the Brahmaputra River – Assam, India. This is not a touristy location in India so he is the real deal. I sat down on the step to receive a blessing. Accompanied by mystical chanting, I drank some lukewarm tea of unknown provenance, had air blown all over my face, and ash spread across my forehead. We chatted after and I felt in no rush to suggest a portrait. It was a fascinating experience. What do you think when you look at his facial expression – Is the time spent together palpable?

7 – Shoot different styles of portrait

Posed versus candid portraits

Posed refers to approaching a person and asking them to sit for a portrait, whereas candid portraits refer to catching a person in an unguarded moment. This doesn’t have to mean without permission.

For the image below, I’d already gained this lady’s trust and permission but waited until she’d forgotten that I was there to continue shooting. Later, I showed her all of the photos, which she seemed happy with.

How to Shoot Engaging Travel Portraits from Start to Finish

A devotee watches the nightly Ganga Aarti ceremony – Varanasi, India. This image could be called a candid environmental portrait.

Headshot versus environmental portraits

A headshot refers to filling the frame with your subject’s face. The background is not important for setting the scene, although you might consider finding one of a complementary color to your subject’s clothing, skin tone, or eye color. Environmental portraits are zoomed out to allow your subject’s surroundings into the frame to add to their story.

8 – Shoot a series with the same subject

When you have someone’s permission and have bonded with them, consider staying with them a while and shooting a series of images. This is what I did when I met one man in the Philippines recently. I directed him gently for a series of shots after telling him how interested people would be to learn about his culture. He was happy to oblige.

How to Shoot Engaging Travel Portraits from Start to Finish

I would have kicked myself if I’d walked away without getting a side profile shot of this man and his headdress that featured the real heads of a long-dead bird and monkey.

How to Shoot Engaging Travel Portraits from Start to Finish

I decided to fill the frame here to draw attention to his excellent smile, patterned clothes, and monkey headdress.

9 – Always remember aftercare

Aftercare means bringing the encounter to a close in the best possible manner. I believe an extra layer exists as to why the verb is to “take” a portrait. You are taking something from them, but what are you giving in return?

Make sure you show the person their image on the back of your camera, pay them a compliment, and thank them sincerely. So much joy can come from this simple act.

How to Shoot Engaging Travel Portraits from Start to Finish

A man named Ibrahim at the Haji Ali Dargah, Mumbai. As we sat together cross-legged on the ground enthusiastically shaking hands at the side of a busy walkway, I could tell from his reaction and those of passersby that this wasn’t a common occurrence. The overall encounter lingered with me for the rest of the day, and I sincerely hope that Ibrahim remembers it fondly too.

Conclusion

I want to know your best advice for shooting travel portraits and see the images you’re most proud of. Be sure to share them in the comments section below.

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How to Shoot High-Traffic Locations Creatively

17 Nov

The experience of the hustle and bustle that comes from shooting in high-traffic, highly photographed areas is a pain that most photographers know all too well. People can be packed into overlooks and pull-offs with hardly even room to stand let alone set up a tripod.

It seems as if everyone is trying to get the same shot. Not that there’s something incredibly wrong with making photographs just like the person standing next to you. If you are simply after a snapshot to record where you’ve been then a quick capture or two taken from the herd will do just fine.

How to Shoot High-Traffic Locations Creatively

However, if you’re like me, you probably want more from a location than just a cookie cutter photo. When I visit a well-known photo spot that is crowded with people all shooting the exact same thing, I feel a need to produce something that is more of an artistic expression of how I view the scene.

While recently shooting in Yosemite National Park, I observed this situation in full force. But how can you shoot in these high-traffic areas creatively? Believe it or not, in some cases it doesn’t require too much effort in order to breathe new life into a stale or overshot scene. In this article, we’re going to talk about three ways that can help you break the monotony and guide you toward making your photos of well-known areas less ordinary.

#1 – Get High…Get Low

Changing from the common perspective to one that is either more or less elevated can have a huge impact on the final interest of your photographs. Often times, the majority of photographers shoot from the same plane of view each and every time which often produces literal “photocopies” of the same location.

This changeup doesn’t have to be anything drastic, either. It can be as simple as holding your camera at waist level or even above your head.

How to Shoot High-Traffic Locations Creatively

If you’re able to be more adventurous, then search for even more unique vantage points. Ones which can show people a well-known place from a different angle than what they’re used to seeing. This is the key to setting yourself apart as a photographer.

How to Shoot High-Traffic Locations Creatively

This was just up the road from the famous Tunnel View in Yosemite. While it’s virtually the same landscape, the higher elevation adds a different feel to the scene.

#2 – Shoot at Night

This is likely the easiest and most powerful methods of creatively photographing popular locations. There’s almost always less crowding (unless it’s a spot popular exclusively at night) which will give you much more room and creates a more relaxed experience.

However, the most obvious benefit that comes from shooting at night is the instant change in the visual appeal of the landscape.

How to Shoot High-Traffic Locations Creatively

The inclusion of stars and moonlight or even bright city lights and cars can add so much to a scene that has been completely worn out during the day. If it can be done safely, I urge you try out shooting a popular destination at night during your next photo excursion. You just might get hooked.

#3 – Ignore the Popular Subject

Yeah I know, this is one idea that is difficult for some people to get a handle on initially. Please don’t misunderstand me here, I’m not talking about completely disregarding the main attraction. Rather, place the popular subject within your photograph in such a way that is still recognizable but doesn’t consume the composition.

How to Shoot High-Traffic Locations Creatively

Just remember that if you want to produce something truly unique you will have to learn how to think critically and creatively about what you’re shooting and why. This means coming up with new ways to display the subject in a way that might not have been considered by many others.

How to Shoot High-Traffic Locations Creatively

This image was made while standing shoulder to shoulder with about 25 other folks. I happened to notice the reflection of Half Dome in the water and decided to approach the scene in a more surreal, abstract way.

Some Final Thoughts

There will be times when a location becomes almost too popular for its own good. Even beautifully majestic locations can become artistically depleted. This is when we as photographers have to stretch our creative legs to produce more unique images.

While there’s nothing wrong with shooting alongside the masses, the overall power of an image can be lessened if every photo of a place looks exactly the same as the next 50 images. Here’s a recap of some ways you can shoot a little more creatively:

  • Change your perspective. Try shooting from a higher or lower vantage point than is usually seen.
  • Try the nighttime. Popular locations are often deserted at night. Night photography will also give you the opportunity to present the scene in a way that might not be common.
  • Move the primary subject to the back burner. Try setting the commonly shot subject matter as the secondary subject.

Adding a little spice to your images taken in such high-traffic places can be a lot easier than you might think and can work wonders for your photography. A little effort truly goes a long way.

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