Bridge 21, Welland Canal, Port Colborne.

Port Colborne: I love this town.

At a loose end on Sunday after dropping my beloved at work, I sent up the drone. And got this.

It took a few minutes of positioning to get the angle right. That was not helped by strong cross winds buffeting the little guy around the sky, so I kept him low, as the wind near ground level was far less.

Being sensibly cautious, I wanted him out of the sky before the sub zero temperature froze the rapidly discharging batteries and he fell. That, by the way, is a thing. It’s also why I kept him over land, just in case. I didn’t want to try and recover him from a semi-frozen canal. That would not be fun.

I set the shutter speed and other settings manually, and that paid off. Exposure was perfect, the image pin sharp, despite fighting the wind. This flying camera is a marvel.

This is a drone, not a big boy camera, so I won’t be printing this for the office wall. That said, I was happy when I got the raw image (my guy shoots DNG format) into the computer. With a little processing in Adobe Camera Raw, I was able to bring this image to life.

After doing some basic corrections to texture, white balance and so forth, it was time to tweak. Bringing up the shadows lifted the dark areas, revealing a lot of detail. I dropped the highlights a fraction to bring out those lovely clouds while keeping them light and fluffy, and lowered the overall saturation. After that I used the HSL controls to compensate, boosting the saturation just in the blues, reds, and yellows.

Moving the dehaze slider to the left brought everything together nicely, and here’s the final result. Hand crafted to my taste.

I love the clouds scudding across that birdless sky. The leading lines of the canal take my eye right along West Street out to the lighthouse, and when it comes back down the other side of the canal I’m drawn to those boats along the East wall. That ice road looks awesome.

Too much editing? Not enough? I’d be interested in any comments, let me know your thoughts. Ultimately, it’s all subjective. Next week I may try something different. Or not. With a little more love this could be even better. That’s the beauty and the flexibility of shooting raw. Can’t beat it. For now, this edit works for me. I like it.

I hope you like it too.

Looking South from above Bridge 21 at Port Colborne.
Bridge 21, Port Colborne

Not A Music Video

As a licensed drone pilot I am able to do things others can’t. Case in point, producing this unique video of a local band.

When the band started their sound check, I thought it would be fun to get a different perspective.

So I put my working head on, broke out the gear, and up went the bird.

Options are good

This was a personal project, not for a paying client, so I could work any way that I chose. For what I had in mind, I shot in 4K slow motion. I like to do this, as it gives buttery smooth output and adds flexibility when the footage is brought into the computer. Among other options, I can speed it up to normal speed, zoom or crop in, and edit clips into ‘multiple cameras’.

Speaking of options, I later recorded a separate audio track of the band playing, in case I decided to make a regular music video of this. Once I got everything into the computer and reviewed it, that didn’t work for me. I still felt slow motion was the way to go: That was the look I wanted.

With the music track option nixed, I went with my original concept and added a foley track of a Summer’s day in the garden. With birds singing. Wind in the trees. All is right with the world. Peaceful.

Anyone that knows the band will know that ‘peaceful’ contrasts heavily with their hard rock writing style. Anyone that doesn’t know them may be teased into checking them out. I liked that idea.

After adding the band logo and some text, I threw in a few simple animations, and finished with an end card ‘Call To Action’. The resulting video gives the band something unique to share online.

Back down to earth

This is a quirky idea, something I came up with on the spot and wanted to try. It is intentionally and literally ‘Not A Music Video’. Like the concept or not, it’s different. I gifted it to the band and if it helps them generate interest or even get bookings, great. They’re nice guys, play good music, and I was happy to spend my own time putting this together.

The idea has found an unlikely fan base. Feedback from the band and the fans suggest they like this concept. I may sometime rework with a different audio track but I think not. I really like this.

It’s nice to do something non-commercial, unscripted. Recharges the batteries. Video production involves a lot of planning. From concept meetings to shot lists to story boarding, actual filming, assembly, editing, post production audio and motion graphics, it’s a rewarding but lengthy process.

Here, I was free to do my own thing, and have fun. Unpolished. Raw. Assembled from rough footage. I just sent up the drone and used what it came back down with. One take. Done. Imperfect? Sure.

But, so what? I wanted to have fun and… I had fun. For an off the cuff seat of the pants concept project I think it came out very well. The result is, to me, a success. I’m happy. Therefore.

Happy dance.

A New York Minute: Central Park carousel

I am dropping a short series of snippets in to Youtube from our 2019 road trip vacation to New York, where among other things we went up the Empire State building, visited Lady Liberty, rode the NY subway, took in a Broadway show and met my friend from high school, that I had not seen in over 20 years, in Central Park.

Here’s the first New York Minute.
Enjoy, and if you like, comment. Subscribe. Like.

You know the deal.

Sometimes, it really isn’t the software.

For the last month my home computer has randomly frozen up. Everything seems to be working OK but the screens just go blank. Everything else was OK. I just couldn’t see anything. Very odd.

Browsing and basic daily use, no problem. I leave my machine on for days, even weeks at a time. This issue only happened when I asked the machine do something graphically intensive, like motion tracking drone footage or rendering 3D. I figured it may be a graphics card issue, probably drivers. Many times, I tweaked and tried again, recreating the same video sequences at least a dozen times and rebooting just as many.

Anyone that has spent time working with a customer service team over the phone to resolve issues is all too familiar with being told there is nothing wrong. Usually after several frustrating hours of checking the basics you already checked before calling them. I chose not to follow this path.

Being an old hand at computers, I didn’t worry, just persevered. In my head I blamed Windows, or Adobe software updates, and waited for bug fix and compatibility releases to come along. Many did. None resolved the issue.

I did notice that this only happened on the oldest of my machines – a fact I put down to this 8 year old machine starting to show its age. Like me.

Bite The Bullet

Today I decided enough was enough. Saving every five minutes was not proving practical, and reboots take time. A lot of time. I’ve been fighting this for too long. So I put my tech head on (I used to build and fix computers for money, ironically) and started going through error logs and troubleshooting and reboots and uninstalling drivers and… well, all the usual stuff. Everything an I.T. guy would normally do. After several head scratching hours I gave up. I could find no clear reason for this. Plan B.

Until I could figure this out I needed a machine I could rely on. I went downstairs to the living room and tried to reconfigure that machine as my main unit. For a couple practical reasons, that didn’t work. So, an hour later, I was back upstairs reconnecting monitors and cables.

I was quite… fraught, by now.

The Fix Is In

As I reconnected cables, one of the video connectors didn’t seem to sit properly. I thought a daughter board may have moved, which could cause the issue. I decided to check the graphics card was still properly seated on the motherboard. Sometimes thermal creep (it’s not a band, it’s a thing, look it up) causes things to move and weird things happen. I popped the side off the computer. And saw the two fans on the graphic card weren’t turning.

I had not noticed their silence, as these friction less fans had not made a noise in more than four years – my computer is almost completely silent. Puzzled, I blew them out with compressed air and started them turning with a flick. All good, they kept running. They weren’t seized.

Then I noticed a drooping cable had somehow come to rest on the dual fans, stopping them turning. A simple cause, with a simple fix: A cable tie. Another blast of compressed air, and I put the side back on.

I am pleased to report everything is working as it should. No further blank screens (yet). I recreated one of those test video sequences and piled on some extra effects just for good measure, and the system stayed stable. I was finally able to complete the project and export. Excellent.

Post Analysis

I believe the graphics card was intermittently overheating when tasked with heavy GPU processing, and like a good graphics card should, it turned itself off before it burned out. Hence, blank screens. This explains the intermittent issue. It happened only when working with graphics apps configured to exclusively use the GPU. And why the rest of the computer continued to chug along happily, even though the screens were blank. Only GPU graphics were affected. Well, those and my sanity.

I will spend tonight stress testing the card to see if it holds up, and whether any permanent damage has been done. Along the way I’m starting to clear the backlog of personal video projects I’ve put off due to this. So far, I’m three projects in and not a problem. Fingers crossed it stays that way.

Why is a self proclaimed tech guy confessing to not fixing this sooner?

Because I know many others go through similar issues, and those issues are often blamed on faulty software. First, I want those people to know: You are not alone. Computers are hard. I’ve been doing this for centuries, and was still caught out by what, in 20/20 hindsight, should have been obvious.

I also want you to know that sometimes it really isn’t the software. Those customer service teams may be right. Sometimes it really is an ID 10T issue.

Onward.

Central Park street performer jumps crowd

Hello 2020

January 1st 2020 was spent working through some of my photos from 2019. It brought smiles as I looked back at some amazing memories of the things we did.

Including the trip to New York. It was a whistle-stop tour. We did many things including visiting Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, Bubba Gump at Times Square, taking in a Broadway show, and much more. We also missed many things on our list, and for those will have to go back sometime.

One unplanned experience happened while walking through Central Park. A troupe of street performers appeared from nowhere and started breakdancing right in front of us. A crowd gathered. We found ourselves in the front row of a sizeable audience. They were very slick and very good at what they do, working the crowd, and treating us to quite a show.

As part of the show they leaped over a young boy from the audience, while flirting with his mother and making jokes. They had a good schtick, very entertaining. There was much laughter.

Ready…
Set…

Go!

The finale saw crowd participation as they pulled people into the centre of the circle and lined them up, ready to be barrel jumped by the smallest member of the team. At this point, they joked about his size and passed around their baseball caps for donations, saying it would cover the medical bills if this trick went wrong. A nice touch.

Setting up the shot

I did not want to miss this, especially as I threw $20 into the hat myself. Knowing what was coming I used the warm up time to set up for the shot I had in mind: A multiple exposure freezing the audience but showing the jumper in motion.

Putting the camera into high speed continuous mode I focused on the jumpees (go with it) and locked focus by dropping to manual. That stops the camera ‘helpfully’ trying to refocus when the button is pressed, and missing, because everything is moving so fast. It also stops the camera hunting focus for that split second when you press, which as any parent of an active child can confirm is more than enough to make the difference between getting a shot and missing a magic moment.

I set my aperture to give a sufficient depth of field to catch the main scene sharply while blurring the backround a little, to fix attention on the action and not the crowd. I set shutter speed low to freeze the crowd but blur the jumper, since nothing kills an action shot like freezing it totally.

I was ready. I waited.

The moment of truth

He starts his run. Hold breath, lock stance, aim, click and hold…
Seven shots per second. It took one second from leaving the ground to landing. Seven shots.

I nailed the launch, and the landing, perfectly. Credit to the jumper, he nailed them too. The jumpees didn’t get a single hair ruffled and all went home with smiles. No medical bills were incurred.

The audience cheered and applauded. We enjoyed this performance so much we let them keep the money. The troupe thanked everybody, picked up their gear and left, with a parting announcement they would be back in two hours. They make a pretty good living during the summer, it seems.

The crowd went on their way, as did we. Within two minutes it was just another empty park with random couples walking around with nothing to show that this had ever happened.

Except this.

Central Park street performer jumps over crowd
Click to open full screen in a new window

To say that this was not a scheduled shot, I’m pleased it came out so well. I was in tourist mode so only had tourist gear: One camera, one lens. No lights, flashes, or grip. I made it work. All those seven shots needed was a little post processing in Adobe Lightoom, then stacking and masking in Photoshop.

I love being able to do things like this. 🙂

Gallery Update

We near the end of 2019. It has been a busy year for me, with visits to New York, several State Parks, some filmmaking, and of course, work. Lots of work. 2020 looks set to be hectic as well.

Taking a few days out to be with friends and family, I’m also working through the backlog of photos I’ve accumulated this year. I think I got some diamonds in there, including some neat Winter landscapes and crashing waves coming off Lake Erie during a storm surge. I hope you will agree.

I’ve added some of them to the Gyst Photo Shop for visitors to browse and buy, and will be adding more over the holidays as I work through them. I also revamped the interface and the shopping cart to make the site more intuitive and easier to navigate. I even added some new product options to give visitors more choices. We now offer everything from digital downloads to framed metal prints for your wall. Something for everyone.

Ker-ching!

While I was at it, I succumbed to the Holiday Spirit and created a 15% discount across the board, valid from now until January 3rd 2020. Enter code ‘Gystmas2019‘ during checkout to make your wallet happy. You’re welcome.

Please check out the site. Leave a comment below, or at the site. All feedback is appreciated. And of course, if you choose to buy any images we will be duly grateful. Remember to enjoy your discount!

Signing off for 2019. There are presents to deliver and family to visit. See you in 2020.

Peace.