• Category Archives Photography
  • Hand held astrophotos

    Camera tech is constantly improving. At some stage, you just have to buy in and lock yourself to that year/months tech level and go with it.
    This is what I did some 7 years ago with the Canon 5D Mk2. In good light it’s still more camera than I can manage, but is really starting to show its age in others.

    One of my (many – shut up all of you!) interests is astrophotography. Specifically landscape star shots.
    (I have been down the rabbit hole of telescope based astrophotography and found my pockets are just not deep enough for that thread – besides, when it came to sharing, I found my circle to be more receptive to seeing land and stars rather than just deep stars and fuzzy blobs).

    All this came to front again with the Grand Canyon raft trip. Its been years (and years and years) since I have been under such dark skies.
    It was a real joy to walk around camp at 2am by nothing more than starlight.

    I digress.

    The latest cameras have such good image stabilization tech that it seems possible to take photos of the Milky Way with no tripod.

    https://petapixel.com/2017/05/19/can-shoot-milky-way-hand-held-olympus-e-m1-mark-ii/

    When it comes to optical image stabilization, it seems like nothing comes close to touching Olympus’ OM-D E-M1 Mark II. As one photographer recently discovered, the 5-axis optical stabilization is so good, you can actually shoot the Milky Way hand-held with this monster

    The Mitakon lens is manual focus, so I set up to focus using the viewfinder zoom on the brightest object in the sky. I calculated the settings to be best at ISO 12800, f/0.95, with 4 seconds.

    Nice. But I really need to spend some money on a better drone camera than a GoPro.



  • Milky Way from the cockpit

    Here is a different view you don’t see very often.

    Amazing what the new low light cameras can do.
    I’m actually looking at one of these cameras for some astro photography and double use in that they are pretty light and I should be able to mount one to my drone.
    Just a thought at this stage.



  • Drone flying is better when there is a purpose

    We have done a little more drone flying since the last blog. Not a lot. Just the one ‘work’ related batch and a bit of practice at home with the nano.
    What we have been doing is looking at other pilots drone video to learn what works and what does not…… There is a ton of it out there. Hundreds of 2-10 minute boring as paint drying videos.
    What’s interesting is that they are (for the most part) just gushing with excitement about how amazing the flight and video is…… Umm… It’s a sunset….. It’s a beach…. It’s a park….
    It has no meaning to the viewer. None.
    To them and their friends/family, sure, I bet it is a cool memory video, but to me and you, not so much.
    We don’t know what the holiday was about, we don’t know just how amazing the sunset was (yeah, ok, it looks pretty from 200 feet up, but we really don’t need a full eight minutes of hovering to enjoy it).

    Storytelling

    Video is about storytelling. Did Hitchcock or Spielberg or Cameron have a drone? No, they made great movies because they could direct people to tell a great story.
    I personally think that drone flying is amazing when it is told as part of a story.
    Here is our first attempt.

    To be clear, we are all finding our way with the drone. But, that said, I think it helps tell the story.
    (Looking forward to sharing with you all the next video that our team is editing at the moment, it has some more drone footage in it).
    If you are super interested we can share what bits are drone and what’s not (it might surprise you which shots are from the drone), otherwise, have fun guessing…..

    Drone Based Data Gathering

    What I am looking into more and more is using the drone as a tool. The ability to quickly and cheaply get video and data from a different viewpoint is something that is going to come into play more and more as time goes by.
    Check out these websites; (Not in any order, just a bookmark dump)
    https://www.mapsmadeeasy.com/drone_mapping
    https://www.dronedeploy.com/
    https://pix4d.com/
    http://www.3dflow.net/3df-zephyr-pro-3d-models-from-photos/
    http://www.agisoft.com/
    And this (but you need to sign in to read it); https://www.researchgate.net/publication/303559305_A_Statistical_Examination_of_Image_Stitching_Software_Packages_For_Use_With_Unmanned_Aerial_Systems

    To-Do List

    I guess my point is this, drones are cool, yeah, sure, but if you just upload a home video it has very little impact.
    Tell a story and use your drone as part of that story and you will get some traction.
    But, for me, the real power of the drone I suspect is science. I am super looking forward to getting my hands on some footage and software.

    Watch this space.



  • Drones, multirotor, quadcopters

    Events have conspired to push us back into flying radio control aircraft. Specifically, drones, multirotor or quadcopters… They all the same thing, but people call them different names. Here is a quick recap of how this all came about.

    We shoot video case studies at work to highlight how companies use our gear to automate a process. It’s good for them and it’s good for us, it helps their future customers understand how that company can help them, and it helps our future customers hear and see how others have used our gear.
    So, a few weeks back, we had a case study video shoot to do in Northern California, cold storage of fruit.

    At first, the boss said that he would be flying the drone… It is after all, HIS drone. He has flown it a few times and he also doubles as the director for the film crew, so it makes sense for him to be there.
    Events built to the point where he was not going to be able to make it, so that left me to pick up the drone (I also do camera B and audio duties).
    Long story short, I had around 3 days to learn how to set it up and fly it.

    Phantom 3 Pro Drones

    dji phantom 3 pro drone
    dji phantom 3 pro drone

    The DJI Phantom 3 Professional is no longer their top of the line drone, but it is still a lot of drone. Costing something north of 1500 bucks, it is also out of my price range.
    The really interesting thing for me is that flying the thing is as much about the software as it is about flying.

    The system uses a tablet, in this case an iPad something (Sorry, I don’t know anything about Apple products – it just works with the drone is all I know), it gets the feed from the remote. Both video and data show up. Both are required to fly the drone.

    Quick practice

    I was not going to learn how to fly on the job, so we did a few quick flights the Sunday before we left.

    Rusty, but the drone has GPS, altitude lock and active stabilization electronics to help. The thing that really weirds me out is that you pretty much fly it from the video feed 99% of the time. Only during takeoff and landing do I look it (and even then I’m sure there are guys that do the whole thing from the video feed).
    This is very different to how I have flown fix wing stuff in the past!

    drone prop ballance

    We also had to brush up on old skills like propeller balancing.

    On location

    To say I was nervous is a MASSIVE understatement.
    If we get some time, I plan to rough edit some of the video shots we got and share them here.
    orchard shoot

    Here is a photo that our video guy got of me, I had no idea that he took this photo.

    calca cool room

    Here is one that I took of me from the drone.
    At this point, I am flying inside the massive cool room that they store grapes in.

    Nano practice drone

    The good news is two fold. Firstly, I did not crash. Secondly, I get to do more flying latter this week at another video case study.
    In the middle of the two weeks Freddy and Terry asked me what I wanted for a Father’s day present (apparently I am hard to buy presents for… and my name is not even Gary…).
    The answer was pretty simple…. I needed a small practice drone.

    practice nano drone

    So. There we are.
    I am flying for work and pleasure.
    Right now the FAA are between rules, so we are looking at whats required to keep this up moving forward.
    At the moment it is still the bosses drone. Not sure whats going to happen there as he has been using it less and less (that was happening long before this shoot – just to be clear). It’s the sort of thing that if you don’t keep it up, you get rusty…. As I can attest to.

    You might read or hear more about drones moving forward. Radio control aircraft seem to be making a comeback into my life. Amazing how stuff like this works out.



  • Solo in the Grand Canyon

    Super busy at work.
    Busy at home getting our water filter/softener sorted.
    How busy? I forget the last time I had a nice cool refreshing glass of Vodka.
    Yeah, I know, woe is me.

    But, there is a light at the end of the tunnel…. In a few days I take off 4 days for hiking in the Grand Canyon!
    Super excited.
    Back on Jan 1st, I was up at midnight faxing my hiking application to the National Parks Service.
    Broken hearted when it was rejected…. No space they said… I had applied for 2 people in the usual (aka popular) campsites.
    Not to be deterred, I had 2 weeks to reapply, so I grabbed a map and planned out a solo trip….. Since I was on my own, I could go a little further, a little deeper and forgo a few comforts…. No staying on the beaten path, no staying at the usual camp ground….. So I did.
    Yah! I was accepted this time around.

    So. We have the usual training at Opto today, which I teach. Then tomorrow is a half day for me. Around lunch time I will head off and drive 7.5 hours to the small town Tusayan just outside of the Canyon. We have a motel room reserved.

    Up at o’dark thirty the next morning and hike in. In my (slightly) overweight backpack I have everything that we will need (hopefully) to keep myself alive for the next 4 days…. Oh, and some camera gear… of course….
    It will be very different going solo this year, my first time doing this. It means that I have to have everything in the one pack. Last year, we could split it all three ways.
    Oh, and I will have you all know that I have been watching the weather for the correct location like a hawk. Super excited (and VERY relieved) to say that the weather is looking almost perfect. Hot and clear (there might be some clouds some days – hope they clear as I want to take some astro photos).

    Anyway, sorry the blog has been bumping along the bottom for a while now. Got a head full of stuff that I just can’t figure out myself, so really can’t blog about any of it…. It is so full it is just crowding out everything else. Hopefully 4 days in the Canyon will bring some peace and quiet.

    [And yeah Matt W. I hear ya, I will do my best to blog about said adventure in less than a year this time around!].