I produced 3 video blogs during my trip to Norway to shoot the northern lights. These blogs are now on youtube for you to watch. In the first video I take a look at some of the equipment that I took to Norway for the trip. I also look at how I like to lay everything out before I pack it and give some insight into some of the accessories that I like to take.
The second video looks back at the first week of the trip. You will see examples of the weather we had to deal with as well as some information on how some of the time lapse sequences of the aurora were shot.
The third video is about shooting a sunrise with 3 different cameras. The Sony a6300, FDR-AX3000 Action Cam and the PXW-FS5.
Packing for the shoot.
At the bottom of the page you’ll find a quick cut of a small selection of some of the Aurora footage shot on this trip.
I will be running a one week, limited numbers, intensive workshop in Arizona between August 21st and August 28th.
This workshop is timed to coincide with the Arizona monsoon season which will should give us some really exciting opportunities to put into practice many of the things that will be taught during the week.
Each day will begin with a 2 to 3 hour workshop on different aspects of modern video production including such things as log, raw and high dynamic range. We will also cover timelapse photography, lightning photography and include some basic motion control methods. So the workshop will be suitable for both still photographers as well as video camera operators. Below is an idea of the topics that will be covered:
Sunday 21st: Arrival day. Social evening, time to meet everyone.
Day 1: An introduction to lightning photography and video, including basic time lapse and slow motion techniques.
Day 2: An introduction to scene files, picture profiles, log and raw.
Day 3: CineEI, exposure index, gain and ISO and offsetting your exposure for the best results.
Day 4: Post production grading with DaVinci Resolve including the use and creation of LUT’s. How to use ACES to streamline your workflow.
Day 5: HDR, high dynamic range and Rec 2020.
Saturday 27th: Putting it all together, editing, grading and viewing your footage before social evening and diner.
Sunday 28th: departure day.
This schedule is subject to change as we will want to maximise opportunities to get out and shoot any interesting weather and storms. Most afternoons and evenings we will be out and about putting the things taught in the workshops into practice. For one half of the week we will likely be based in Tucson, Arizona and the other half Flagstaff. This will give us opportunities to shoot the incredible lighting storms that are common at this time of year as well as spectacular scenery such as the Grand Canyon or old western towns such as Tombstone (the location of the OK Coral). We will shoot conventional video clips as well as time lapse, so expect some early starts or late finishes as we shoot sunsets and possibly sunrises.
The minimum number of participants for this workshop is 4 and the maximum is 8. Ideally you should bring your own camera equipment and a laptop to edit with, but this is not a requirement.
The course fee is $1,500 USD per person. This does not include accommodation, food or your transport to Tucson, Arizona. It does include transportation each day of the course. We will be staying in a mid-priced motel (Holiday Inn Express, Hilton, Hampton Inn or similar), and you should budget around $110-$150 per night for accommodation.
Please use the contact form if you are interested in joining this exciting workshop.
I have one spot still open on my storm chasing photo and video trip.
This is NOT a trip where we will try to get as close to a tornado as possible. The aim of this trip is to capture some of the incredible beauty of mother nature when she is angry. So we will be trying to capture incredible stormscapes, lightning, supercell storms and maybe tornadoes from a safe distance (at least 1 mile). Full details are here: http://www.xdcam-user.com/tornado-chasing/
You will get to spend 10 days between June 6th and June 16th with me as your guide and mentor. I will help you get the very best images. There is no guarantee that the weather will play ball and there will be long hours in the car travelling. But if you spend a week in “tornado alley” in June and are prepared to travel, then it would be very unusual not to see some incredible weather and storms. If that happens then we will make good use of the time shooting some of the spectacular scenery that states like Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Montana, Wyoming and the Dakotas have to offer. Use the contact form if you are interested in joining me.
Unbelievably I still have two places left for my Northern Lights trip in February. Normally these tours sell out well in advance, but I’ve had a number of cancellations, re-bookings and other changes that mean that there are still 2 places left. These trips really are a big, exciting adventure. We stay in at an amazing location miles from the nearest town and only accessible by snow scooter. We go ice fishing, cook out in a Sami tent, go dog sledding, snowmobiling and enjoy traditional saunas. The sun is still very active and the Aurora has been amazing this winter. It probably won’t be this good in 2017 and then we will go into the low side of the 11 year sunspot cycle, so it could be a long wait for the next big show. Full details are here: http://www.xdcam-user.com/northern-lights-expeditions-to-norway/
With the UK set to see a couple of days of strong and severe thunderstorms I thought I would put together a very quick guide to shooting lightning with both stills cameras and video cameras. Your first issue will be finding somewhere dry to shoot from, you don’t want rain on your camera or lens. You also do need to consider safety. Lightning is dangerous, it can strike many miles from a thunderstorm. If you can hear thunder you are in the strike risk area, so do take care. One of the safest places to be in a thunderstorm is inside a car. If the car is struck the electricity will pass through the body of the car and not through the occupants, before jumping from the underside of the car to the ground. If you are shooting from a car stay inside the car, don’t sit with your feet out of the door or any part of you touching the ground. Don’t sit in the car while holding on to a camera on a tripod outside the car. Don’t stand under trees, they can explode when struck by lightning, don’t stand on the very top of a hill. Use your common sense.
For either stills or video you’re really going to want to use a tripod to get the very best results. As you often get strong winds around thunderstorms you want a good stable tripod. If it is windy keep a close eye on the camera and tripod, you don’t want it blown over by a strong gust of wind.
A wide angle lens will increase your chances of getting a lightning bolt in your shot, but the wider the shot the less detail you will see in the lightning bolt. You can always crop in to a wide shot a bit if it’s too wide. I like to have something in the foreground to give some interest to the image, but try to avoid too many obstructions to the skyline as these will block your view of the lightning.
This is probably the easiest for still photos, but it has many challenges. One is focus as it’s hard to focus on a brief flash of lightning. You will need to use manual focus, autofocus will not work. Start by focussing on a very distant object, perhaps lights on the horizon, the moon, stars or any other VERY distant object, preferably a mile or more away. Then check and double check your focus. Lightning is very fine and if it’s out of focus it will ruin the shot. If you don’t have anything to focus on set the lens to infinity, the sideways “8” symbol is infinity and there will normally be a line to mark the point of infinity focus. Infinity is often NOT at the very end of the lenses focus travel so check for the proper infinity mark. By the way, take a torch/flashlight if your going out in the dark!
STILL PHOTO’s or DSLR AT NIGHT:
You will need to use a tripod. If you have a cable release or other electronic shutter release use it to trigger the camera to prevent shaking the camera as you will need to use a long exposure. As you will be using a long exposure you want to use a low ISO. I typically use 200ISO with an exposure of between 10 and 30 seconds depending on the frequency of the lightning and how bright the surrounding area is. If you are in a town or city with lots of street light you will probably need to use a shorter exposure, maybe 10 to 15 seconds. Out in the countryside you might be able to use 20 to 30 seconds. For the aperture you don’t want super shallow depth of field as this will show up any focus errors, so don’t use your lens wide open. I normally use somewhere around f4 to f8, so f5.6 is probably a good starting point. Take some test shots and check that you are not over exposed.
As a starting point try: 200ISO, f5.6, 10 second exposures, manual focus.
Once the camera is set, it simply a case of snapping away taking pictures until you get lucky and capture one in the frame. It takes a bit of luck and patience, but don’t give up too soon, just keep snapping away. You can just delete all the no good shots later.
DAY and NIGHT VIDEO:
If your camcorder has a CMOS sensor (as most do these days) you want to use the slowest shutter speed that you can get away with. If you can control the shutter manually turn it off or reduce it to 1/25 or 1/30. This will reduce the likelihood of you getting lightning bolts that only go half way down the screen, an effect know as “rolling shutter” or “flash band”. If shooting after dark, if you have a camera with full manual control then instead of shooting at the usual 24, 25 or 30 frames per second, consider shooting at half of this, perhaps at 12, 12.5 or 15 frames per second (S&Q motion, slow shutter etc), again with the shutter set to OFF. While this does mean that the motion in your final video will be sped up it almost guarantees that you won’t get any rolling shutter issues. You will need to have the camera on a tripod if doing this to prevent excessive image blur from movement of the camera. The slightly sped up video can also give the pleasing (but fake) impression that the lightning is more frequent than it really is making your shots more dramtic. If you don’t want this simply play the video back at half speed.
STILL PHOTOS DURING THE DAY:
This is really tough unless you have special equipment. You can’t use a long exposure as you would at night because the bright daytime light will wash out the lightning bolts.
Very often a lightning bolt is made up of several flashes in rapid succession. If you do have fast enough reactions and a fast enough camera, you can get the secondary flashes. You will need to use manual focus and manual exposure so there isn’t a delay while the camera thinks about focus and exposure which delays the release of the shutter. Use a tripod with a cable release or remote shutter and use a longish exposure, 1/30th or 1/15th as there can be up to 1/10th of a second delay between flashes and there could be multiple flashes, you don’t want too fast a shutter speed. Set your focus on a very distant object, use a low ISO, again I typically use 100 or 200 ISO. Shoot a couple of test images and set the aperture so that you have a very slightly underexposed shot, may -1EV to -1.5EV, the slightly darker overall image will help the bright lightning show up better. Then it’s just a case of pointing the camera at the storm on a tripod, with your finger on the trigger and try to hit that shutter release as soon as you see any lightning. I find it’s better to not look through the viewfinder, just look in the direction the camera is pointed. You may be lucky, maybe not, a lot will depend on the type of lightning in the storm and your reaction speed. A better way is to use a dedicated lightning trigger such as a Patchmaster: http://www.fotokonijnenberg.nl/patchmaster. This will trigger the camera electronically if it detects any lightning. It’s MUCH faster and can react much quicker than any human, but it still has some lag time so even a lightning trigger won’t capture every bolt.
A final daytime method is to use an adaptation of the night time DSLR method. If you add a strong ND filter a small aperture around f16 and use a low ISO you may be able to get an acceptable long exposure during daytime, perhaps a couple of seconds. Then set the camera to take photo’s continuously (so when you hold the shutter button down the camera will take one photo after another). By locking down a remote shutter release the camera will take a continuous stream of photos with only a very minimal gap between each picture taken. So you have a high likely hood of capturing any lightning bolts, but you will also end up with a lot of pictures that don’t have any lightning in them. You can either discard these empty frames or use all the frames to create a time-lapse video of the storm.
Have fun, stay safe.
If you find the guide useful, please consider buying me a beer or a coffee.
With winter well upon us I thought it would be good to share some of my arctic shooting experience. I’ve shot in temperatures down to -40c in the arctic in winter.
Overall modern tapeless cameras do OK well in extreme cold. The most reliable cameras are larger solid state cameras. Larger cameras cool slower than small ones and larger cameras will hold on to heat generated internally better than small ones.
Condensation is the big deal breaker. When you take the very cold camera inside into a house/hotel/car/tent you will get condensation. If the camera is very cold this can then freeze on the body of camera including the glass of the lens. If there is condensation on the outside of the camera, there will almost certainly also be condensation inside and this can kill your camera.
To prevent or at least reduce the condensation you can place the camera in a large ziplock bag BEFORE taking it inside, take the camera inside in the bag. Then allow the camera to warm up to the ambient temperature before removing it from the bag. Peli cases are another option, but the large volume of the pelicase means there will be more moisture inside the case to condense and the insulating properties of the case mean that it could take many, many hours to warm up.
I don’t recommend storing a cold or damp camera in a Pelicase (or any other similar waterproof case) as there is nowhere for the moisture to go, so the camera will remain damp until the pelicase is opened and everything dried out properly.
Rather than moving a camera repeatedly from outside to inside and repeatedly generating risky condensation you should consider leaving the camera outside. You can leave the camera outside provided it does not get below -25c. Below -25c you risk the LCD panel freezing and cracking. LCD panels freeze at between -30 to -40c. If you are using a camera in very cold conditions and you notice the edges of the LCD screen going blue or dark you should start thinking about warming up that LCD panel as it may be close to freezing.
LCD displays will become slow and sluggish to respond in the cold. Your pictures may look blurry and smeary because of this. It doesn’t affect the recording, only what you see on the LCD.
Very often in cold regions houses will have an unheated reception room or porch. This is a good place to store your camera rather than taking it inside into the warm. Repeatedly taking a camera from cold to warm without taking precautions against condensation will shorten the life of your camera.
If you can, leave the camera on between shots. The camera generates some heat internally and this will prevent many issues.
Li-Ion batteries are effected by the cold but they are not nearly as bad as Nicads or NiMh batteries which are all but useless below freezing. li-Ion battery life gets reduced by between 25 and 50% depending on how cold it is. Down to about -10c there is only a very marginal loss of capacity. Down to -25c you will loose about 20%-30% below -25c the capacity will fall away further.
Keep your spare batteries in a pocket inside your coat or jacket until you need them. After use let the battery warm up before you charge it if you can. Charging a very cold battery will reduce the lifespan of the battery and it won’t fully charge. One top tip for shooting outside for extended periods is to get a cool box. Get some chemical hand warmers and place them in the cool box with your batteries to keep them warm. If you don’t have hand warmers you can also use a hot water bottle.
Watch your breath
If your lens has and snow or ice on it, don’t be tempted to breath or blow on the lens to blow the ice off. Also try not to breath on the lens when cleaning it as your warm breath will condense on the cold glass and freeze. Also try to avoid breathing out close to the viewfinder. A small soft paint brush is good for keeping your lens clean as in very cold conditions you’ll simply be able to brush and snow or ice off. Otherwise a large lens cloth.
Conventional rain covers become brittle below about -15c and can even shatter like glass below -20c. Special insulated cold weather covers often called “polar bears” can be used and these often have pockets inside for chemical heat packs. These are well worth getting if you are going to be doing a lot of arctic shooting and will help keep the camera warm. As an alternative wrap the camera in a scarf or cut the sleeves of an old sweater to make a tube you can slide over the camera. If you have a sewing machine you could make a simple cover out of some fleece type material.
Your lens will get cold and in some conditions you will get frost on the front element. To help combat this wrap some insulating fabric around the body of the lens. Wrist sweat bands are quite good for this or an old sock with the toes cut off.
Plastics get brittle at low temperatures so be very gentle with anything plastic, especially things made from very hard, cheap plastic. The plastic Sony use appears to be pretty tough even at low temps. Wires and cables may become ridged. Be gentle, bend then too much and the insulation may split.
Other considerations are tripods. If outside in very low temps for more than 30mins or so the grease in the tripod will become very thick and may even freeze, so your fluid damping will become either very stiff or freeze up all together. Contact your tripod manufacturer to see what temperatures their greases can be used over. Vinten and some of the other tripod companies can winterise the tripod and replace the normal grease with arctic grease.
Looking after yourself.
I find that the best way to operate the camera is by wearing a pair of large top quality mittens (gloves are next to useless below -15c), consider getting a pair of Army surplus arctic mittens, they are very cheap on ebay and will normally have an additional “trigger finger”. This extra finger makes it easier to press the record button and things like that. If you can get Swedish or Finnish military winter mittens, these are amongst the best. I wear a pair of thin “thinsulate” gloves that will fit inside the mittens, i can then slip my hands in and out of the mittens to operate the camera.
I keep a chemical hand warmer inside the mittens to warm my fingers back up after using the camera. The hardest thing to keep warm is your feet. If you’ll be standing in snow or standing on ice then conventional hiking boots etc will not keep your feet warm. A Scandinavian trick if standing outside for long periods is to get some small twigs and tree branches to stand on and help insulate your feet from the cold ground. If your feet get cold then you are at risk of frostbite or frost nip. Invest in or hire some decent snow boots like Sorel’s or Baffin’s. I have an arctic clothing guide here; Arctic Clothing Guide |
As winter rapidly approaches, with all the talk in the news papers of mini-iceages, cold spells and the knowledge that winter generally means rain here in the UK I thought it would be a good time to take a look at a rain cover.
Rain covers for the PMW-F3 are few and far between at the moment, so when Rene at CamRade told me that they were producing a tailored rain cover for the F3 I had to get my hands on one to take a look.
The cover arrived in a nice compact pouch made from the same high quality waterproof fabric as the cover itself. This fabric is some kind of soft rubberised material that feels very tough, yet is very flexible and soft to the touch, which is important if you have the camera up against your face. According to CamRade this soft material helps reduce the noise that rain drops falling on the can camera make. The cover is a tailored loose fit with velcro straps and fastenings that can be used to take up any excessive slack.
There are clear panels on the left side, more about them in minute. There’s an elasticated opening for a gun microphone at the front as well as a velcro protected opening on the right side for cable access to the XLR connectors. This opens up into a small tube so keeps the cable entry well protected from the weather. Along the top of the camera handle there is a long velcro opening to give access to the carry handle and top of the camera. This opening folds over to one side and is secured by a small velcro pad so that should not collect and rain when not in use.
The main clear panel on the left side of the cover can be opened out and expanded so the the F3’s LCD panel can be used in the open position. the clever design allows the LCD to be viewed from above, from in front as well as from the rear, so you can continue to use the LCD panel in the rain. However in practice rain falling on the cover itself will tend to obscure or distort the images on the LCD to some extent. Ahh… the joy of shooting in the rain!!
You can of course use the rear VF if you wish as this sticks out through a hole in the back of the rain cover. The rear of the cover opens up via velcro for easy battery access and will easily accommodate oversize batteries. I think the rear end of this cover is it weakest area and personally I’d like a cover that completely encloses the rear viewfinder, but that’s just me.
Another feature on the left side of the cover is a clear window that allows you to see the lenses focus and iris rings and markings. If your using a long lens the cover comes with a clear extension that attaches to the front of the main cover and makes it long enough to to protect much longer lenses including lenses like the Optimo 16-24 zoom. This extension piece comes with a strip of self adhesive velcro that can be attached to the lens to stop it flapping around in the wind.
On the right side of the cover there is an opening under a flap that allows you to insert your hand into the cover so you can grip the camera via the hand grip without having to open up the rain cover. I really liked this feature. The bottom of the cover has small side flaps that will prevent rain from running off under the camera or onto the very top of your tripod. A nice touch.
I’ve had many small camera rain covers over the years. Very often they are so stiff and ridged that they are a complete nuisance to use. The material used in this cover is really nice and makes the camera reasonably easy to use even when trussed up inside the cover. The fold out clear cover for the LCD means that rain should not prevent you from being able to carry on shooting due to the camera becoming wet.
I give this cover 7/10. It would be 9/10 if the rear end was a little neater and there was a way to cover the EVF, but as small camera rain covers go, it’s a good one.
I was asked by my good friend Rene of Camrade to take a look at some of their new products. So over the next couple of weeks I’ll be looking at the CB Single III camera bag, the PMW F3 rain cover and a new PL lens adapter for the Sony FS100. First I’m going to take a look at the camera bag.
I’ve had Camrade bags before and they have always lasted well, standing up to the knocks and bumps that go along with lugging kit all over the place. I was in the market for a new bag for one of my PMW-F3’s, so I was sent the CB Single III bag. From the outside this is a functional looking bag with a large mesh pocket on one side and further external pockets on the other side and at one end. It has a nice well padded chunky carry strap that is comfortable to use.
The top of the bag opens up with a dual zipper system that gives you completely un hindered access to the bags interior. This is great for run and gun where you may need to quickly grab the camera from the bag and you don’t want to have to squeeze it out through a small opening. The interior of the bag has various dividers that are secured by velcro, so you can customise the layout to suit your needs. One of the dividers forms a clever storage box to one side of the bag. I’ve found this particularly useful with the F3 as I can safely store my Genus 4×4 Matte Box and a couple of DSLR lenses in here.
Then my batteries, other bits and bobs and the rain cover fit comfortably in the end compartments. This bag really works well with the F3 alloying you to get a complete basic shooting kit into one bag without the bag being too big or bulky.
It’s not perhaps the most fancy or sophisticated of bags, but in terms of practicality and functionality it works very well indeed. There is a strap in the main compartment to hold the camera secure if your really going to be bouncing it around. The base and sides of the bag are all semi ridged and have a good layer of shock absorbing foam in them. With one of these bags typically costing a very affordable $200 it really does represent good value for money.
I’m currently in Singapore staying at Clarke Quay. Most evenings a group of radio control kite flyers from a local store (goflykite.com) bring out their illuminated kites and fly them in the local park. It’s very pretty and seemed an interesting thing to try and shoot with my F3. As I’m travelling light, trying (and failing) to keep within a 20kg baggage allowance, I don’t have a tripod and I’ve only got a couple of lenses, my trusty 50mm Nikon f1.8 and my Tokina 28-70mm f2.6 zoom. Most of this was shot with the Nikon lens at +6db. I really wish I had a tripod and a longer lens! I did a little bit of grading work here and there to balance out the very orange street lights a little.
OK, OK, they have a job to do, to keep us travellers safe, but come on. When you spend an age packing camera kit so that it won’t get damaged in transit while it is hurled about by airline baggage handlers only to arrive at your destination, to find your careful packing was a waste of time as a TSA inspector has unwrapped your valuable cameras from their bubble wrap and padded bags and just tossed them back in the case, then piled all the now loose accessories on top of the cameras in a big heap. It just pisses me off.
No major damage on this occasion, just some scratches and dings to the camera body, but there should be some accountability. I recently had a flight case inspected by German security officials in Berlin. Inside the case was a detailed letter explaining what was done during the search. It told me that items had been removed and then replaced, it was signed by the inspector with his ID number and then countersigned by his manager. Everything was correctly packed and I have no issue with that inspection. But the TSA inspectors remain anonymous, so who do you complain about? It should be mandatory that each inspector should have to leave a card with his/her ID on it so that those that can’t be bothered to replace items as they found them can be held accountable for any resulting damage. I don’t have an issue with my luggage being searched, provided reasonable care is taken in the process. I try to pack the kit so that it’s easy to open and see what it is, I even give instructions on how to open and re-pack some items so they are not damaged. My luggage is often TSA inspected. Sometimes you’d never know except for the little white anonymous notification card, but this time my case looked like it had been gone though by a starving gorilla looking for a banana.
Camera setup, reviews, tutorials and information for pro camcorder users from Alister Chapman.