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.
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.
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.
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.
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 know a lot of people, many of them photographers. I’ve lost count of the times a conversation went along the lines of “I couldn’t take the photo because <insert perfectly valid reason here>”.
I understand the frustration. Been there. Done that. There is always a reason to not take the photo. But on the other hand, there is always a reason to take it. It may be the only chance to get that particular memory. You, or circumstance, may never pass that way again.
“Someone was always in the way”
To me, better an imperfect photo than no photo at all. First day at school. Elderly parents. Military postings. Pets. Photo albums are as full of bad photos as they are of empty pages stared at wistfully where a photo should be. Take the photo. Missed memories, never captured, fade or are forgotten.
“Those pylons and power lines killed that sunrise for me”
Purists and perfectionists are driven to ‘get it right in camera’, and I respect that. They can wait for hours to press the shutter button on a landscape. I’ve heard tales of a return home without a single image. They drove, hiked, carried gear and… nothing. They didn’t take the photo. I think that’s nuts.
“Beautiful setting, except for that dumpster”
Beyond that, it isn’t always possible to get it right in camera. It just isn’t. See Tin Man. Also, I want to say that photography is as much art as science. Even the legendary Ansel Adams (look him up if you need to) acknowledged that. In the darkroom he would dodge and burn and create multiple exposure composites until he got the image he wanted. He pushed the boundaries of the art using the technology of his time. He experimented. He always took the shot. Not all of them came out as intended, but he always took the shot. His secret? He only released the good stuff.
“Beautiful couple, but he had a lamp post growing out of his head”.
Good or bad, I plan all my shots. Not just for composition, balance, light, etc., but edits. If I see something I want to shoot and it’s clear this will be my best (or only) chance, I scan the scene to work out what edits will be needed. And I take the shot.
This lets me shoot for the image I see in my head, not what is in front of me. That allows a lot of freedom. In this scenario, there are no dumpsters. I see no power lines or extraneous people. Just a clean, final image I can be happy with.
In short: For gathering an imperfect memory, there are cameras. For everything else, there is Photoshop.
I’m going to cite a couple of actual, real-world examples, starting with Tin Man here.
My wife is a big fan of the Wizard of Oz. On one of our regular exploration trips around the region we passed a unique photo opportunity as we drove by a farm. They had lovingly recreated the woodcutter complete with axe, standing guard just behind a chicken wire fence. The operative word here is ‘fence’. No amount of waiting was going to remove that fence. Photoshop was.
Tin Man was on my wife’s side. I backed up, pulled alongside, and told her to take the photo on her cell. She did. Never even left the car. And on we drove. Memory stored. It’s that simple.
Back home, I spent 15 minutes in Photoshop with the Clone Stamp, Patch, Healing Brush and a couple other tools to remove the fence. Done. An image that couldn’t ever have been ‘get it right in camera’ was made. The original looked good. It looks better now. We think so, and hey, it’s our memory.
Here is another example that shows that you don’t always have to wait for a perfect moment.
I loved the time of day and framing of this shot. This, I thought, is ideal for a stock photo. So I walked over to check it out. When I got in position, another photographer was already there. We exchanged pleasantries and he told me he had been waiting for the man on the bridge to leave for over ten minutes. That man showed no signs of leaving. He was clearly taking a moment to enjoy the view. This was beginning to frustrate my temporary companion, who kindly pointed out with a poorly-concealed smirk that I was casting a shadow across the water; clearly, I was new at this.
I smiled politely, framed my shot, and took the photo. Smiling again, I left. Ten seconds.
In Photoshop, over a coffee, I used the same tools used on Tin Man to remove two lampposts, the man, their reflections, my own shadow, and (in case you missed it) the overhead moon.
The resulting final image is cleaner, more pleasing to the eye, and served my needs perfectly. It’s on the Adobe Stock web site now, earning money. I smile once more when I imagine my camera companion still waiting impatiently by the bridge, in rapidly fading light, for that man on the bridge to move, long after I had returned home and finished my edits. I got some Photoshop practice today and had fun doing it. I don’t smirk at others. But I am still smiling.
The Photo Finish
What does this all mean? Some think editing photos at all is cheating. That it is impure, degrades photography and the creative arts. I respect their views. I do not fully share them.
Creativity goes beyond the click of the camera. If you shoot JPG the camera makes it’s own image optimizations to every shot you take. You can’t turn that off. RAW shooters like myself get images into the computer and heavily edit to taste: White balance. Exposure. Contrast. Saturation. Dodge and Burn. Light leaks, vignettes, Instagram looks… Nothing. Nothing, is ‘straight out of camera’.
Photoshop or any other editing tool are simply practical creative ways to get the results you need, without having to hang around a bridge for several hours having a thoroughly miserable time. You can take out (or add) whatever you don’t want. Fix things, if they need to be fixed. Get the shot.
How deep you go down that rabbit hole is limited only by patience and available time, and at least for me, the satisfaction when it is done often far exceeds the joy of getting even a great photo. I didn’t just point and click. I made this. The world is now as it should be. I made that happen.
Photos are tricky. Some are great. Some terrible. Not every shot can be saved, nor should they be. You can’t always shoot to a plan. Sometimes, a quick snap will always stay a quick snap. That’s fine.
Whatever the situation at the very least you will have have that memory to share. Even if you can’t fix it, whether it’s blurry, or someone jumped into the photograph thinking it was funny… don’t let perfection get in the way.
An image doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be.
The important thing to remember, in every circumstance, is this: Take the shot, already.
In 2013, Pierrette died. Each year a few of us get together for a celebration of life. This year, we did something special. We went and said hi.
As the event photographer I captured the whole day in images. Link below. Being a fully licensed drone pilot, I multi-tasked, putting my piloting skills, experience, and equipment to use to capture the emotion of this special private moment with friends and family.
It’s under three minutes long. I cut to a backing track that I’ve been wanting to use for years. Multiple shots, single takes. This was a live event with a lot of moving parts (that’s funny, you’ll see why when you watch), so there was zero chance of ‘do-overs’. One chance to get each shot.
Side note: A surprising amount of work goes into making difficult things look easy. As the sporting quote goes, ‘You say I’m lucky. It’s funny, the more I practice, the luckier I get’.
As with any event, planning is everything. Not knowing the route until we started, I scouted possible approaches and locations ahead of time for safety, legality, and suitable filming angles. Accordingly, I was able to be in the right places at the right times to get the shots I needed to pull this off.
I brought the footage in to Adobe Premiere Pro for assembly and editing. I had far more than I needed, intentionally. That gives freedom to make editing choices. I added some stills I took down on the ground. No fancy effects. Fade to black. Simple, effective. I am very happy with the result. I hope the video speaks for itself: Love survives.
Originally released in 1080P for a fast turn around for the attendees, last night I finally got around to re-cutting it for release in the 4K goodness it was originally filmed in. I wanted to make a few tweaks, which I made. And I think it looks great. I like to think Pierrette would have approved.
As mentioned above, when not piloting my drone to create this short film, I was also the photographer for this event. I captured the far less sombre spirit of the day in this album HERE. Please check it out.
A related article…
This is not the first post I have written about this year’s event. Ahead of it, I created a collage poster, proceeds from which went to charity. That is another story, and an inspiring one. You may like to read it. It’s HERE.