Archive for the ‘Equipment and Gear’ Category

Drones and Aurora

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015

[by Fritz]  Here in the North we’ve been enjoying an auroral peak over the past few years. From September to April, if skies are clear and geomagnetic activity is good, there’s a decent chance of seeing the northern lights. Over the past four winters I’ve been shooting the aurora around the circumpolar north, from Alaska to Norway, which is why I got an unusual call last March from a colleague in Vancouver.

Gyronimo Aerials is a production company that specializes in low level aerials. But this crew stands apart from all the drone upstarts out there – almost everyone on the Gyronimo team has a background in film production and cinematography. They’ve been around for awhile and they do beautiful work. Patrick had pitched an idea to their partners at DJI (the multinational drone manufacturer), and the company bought in.

They wanted to come north with some new technology and a Sony A7s to shoot aerials of the northern lights. This is the first time the aurora has been filmed in real-time from a UAV. Patrick used to live in the Yukon, and he knows you don’t just show up and decide to shoot the aurora. There are lots of variables, and it can be quite a chase. They also wanted to tell a story, so he also brought along a director to craft something more than a reel.

They scrambled north and we crisscrossed the Yukon – from the Dempster to Kluane to the South Klondike Highway – in search of dramatic locations and aurora pulses. I worked on this production as an assistant producer, but being in front of the camera was new for me. They were a great crew to work with, and I believe they nicely captured some of the experiences that I’ve had over the past few winters. You can also read about this shoot on the DJI blog

Watch the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zTYn7vQmM8&feature=youtu.be

MōVI DEMO: Over Whitehorse

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

[Fritz] Testing our new MōVI gimbal for helicopter aerials. We used our MōVI in both single and dual operator modes and tested with two different helicopters: the Bell 206 and Robinson R44. We ended up flying on a very windy day – see flapping flags at 1:12. Aerial footage was shot in 4K with a Canon 1D C and a Canon CN-E 24mm lens using a Freefly MōVI M10 stabilizer. We haven’t done any post-stabilization of the footage but because it’s 4K warp stabilizer has lots of potential.

We learned a ton. Of course, after our flights I discovered the MoVI’s aerial setting – we shot in handheld. The safety line to the rig was crude, we need to work on that – appreciate any suggestions. We found that shooting aerials with the MōVI takes some practice but we’re excited about the potential. This rig makes it possible to get clean aerial footage at a fraction of the cost of other high-end setups.

A big thanks to Sam, Tyler and Delmar.

Camera + MōVI – Fritz Mueller Assistant Camera + MōVI – Tyler Kuhn, Sam Reimer and Teresa Earle Editor – Teresa Earle Music – ‘Here’ by Shadows on Stars under license from Audiosocket Pilot – Delmar Washington, Capital Helicopters

Filmed in Whitehorse, Yukon. Copyright Fritz Mueller Visuals, 2013

First test of our new MōVI

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

[Teresa] We recently added some incredible new technology to our motion kit. The MōVI M10 from Freefly Systems is a handheld 3-axis digital stabilized camera gimbal that is changing the world of filmmaking. This weekend we took it out to put it through its paces. Chasing kids around in the forest was a pretty good test – here are the results.

This demo, The Berry Patch, was shot entirely handheld using a Freefly Systems MōVI M10 with a Canon 1DX and a Zeiss 14mm distagon lens.

Camera and MōVI – Fritz Mueller
Editing – Teresa Earle
Music – Serena Ryder Mary Go Round under license from Universal Music Canada

Filmed in Whitehorse, Yukon. Copyright Fritz Mueller Visuals 2013

Gigapixels at Kluane National Park Visitor Centre

Saturday, June 8th, 2013

[by Fritz] Last weekend I attended the official opening of the new Kluane National Park visitor centre in Haines Junction, Yukon where I got to see the results of a commercial shoot I worked on over the past two years. The client was Parks Canada, and they first called me in 2010 about commissioning a series of gigapixel images for their new exhibit hall. Read an earlier blog post about Gigpan Epic Pro and Mars Rover technology.

My job was to follow the exhibit designer’s creative direction to create half a dozen wall-sized gigapixel images to be incorporated into interpretive installations. This wasn’t a photographer-driven beauty shoot – they provided detailed concepts and image sizes, and I scouted locations and completed the shoots to their specs. It was very time consuming and involved lots of technical challenges and computer time. We all had to stay flexible as the project evolved, and the results are impressive. Lots of photographers are creating gigapixel images, but few are fortunate to have them printed at their full size.

It’s exciting to see how veteran exhibit designer David Jenson and his team created an immersive space where you can experience being in the park. When entering Parks Canada’s exhibit hall, you first approach a ceiling-high mountain structure in the centre of the room draped with a gigapixel photograph of King’s Throne at Kathleen Lake. Hiding beyond King’s Throne is a 10-foot high photo of a wall of glacial ice: the toe of Donjek Glacier, with lighting that creates the feeling of clouds and changing sunlight. Other stitched gigapan images anchor habitat exhibits on the surrounding walls.

In the end we made 7 giant photographs, and many of my images from other shoots for Parks Canada are used elsewhere throughout the exhibits. Below you can explore and zoom into five of these gigapixel images of Kluane – click on bottom-left button for full-screen mode. Or better yet, visit the new interpretive centre in Haines Junction!

Gear update: Cold cameras, warm fingers

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

[by Fritz] I’m a big fan of a fingerless glove made by Sportees that I depend on for winter photography – so much so that I blogged about it. Over the past year I’ve been doing lots of wintertime night photography. Cold hands have prompted me to further refine my glove system and I’m tickled with the results.

In deep cold I used to wear polypro liner gloves underneath the Sportees gloves, but polypro seems to transmit the cold, is slippery with lenses, gets smelly and hooks dry skin. Last winter I tried a pair of merino wool finger gloves made by Icebreaker, and they’re amazing. They don’t catch on dry skin, and they’re actually warm and pleasant to wear. I wouldn’t have thought that such a small item of clothing could make such a difference to my work, but photography is impossible without happy hands.

For anyone who spends a lot of time shooting in the cold, I strongly recommend this system: Icebreaker’s merino wool Glove Liners under Sportees’ Michie Dog Musher Gloves with chemical hand warmers tucked into the wrist pockets.

Making gigapixel murals with Mars rover technology

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

[by Fritz] In 2010 I got a call from Parks Canada asking if I could make 65-foot long photo-murals for their new visitor centre in Kluane National Park. I boldly said yes, having just a month earlier read about the new GigaPan Epic Pro robotic camera mount. This device incorporates technology developed by researchers at NASA and Carnegie Mellon University for the Mars rover missions to make detailed stitched panoramas of the red planet.

I was keen to use this technology to photograph Kluane’s oversize landscapes, so I scrambled to buy the device, which had been available for less than a year. I’d never made an image this size before, and I was fortunate to have a client who was open to exploring this with me. The 1,704 megapixel image below of alpine waterfalls in White Pass was a test shot in preparation for Parks Canada’s mural project. It was stitched from 196 photos taken with the 21-megapixel Canon 1DS Mark III. This photo isn’t particularly special, but it becomes much more interesting when you zoom in and explore the water, rocks and plants at full resolution. If you want to view it on an iOS device or the full-screen version go to the link at GigaPan.

In the end we made 7 photographs for Parks Canada – the largest mural will be 46-feet long and 16-feet high and is being printed from a 2,400 megapixel file. The exhibits are being installed this winter – check back in the new year when I’ll share these gigapixel images from Kluane.

Anatomy of a portrait shoot on a blindingly bright day

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

[by Fritz] This summer I got a call from Shell Canada and Canadian Geographic to shoot the Kitchen-Kuiack family of Marsh Lake, Yukon. They’re one of six Canadian families competing in The Energy Diet Challenge. For three months Brian, Marguerite, Simone and Marika have been reducing every aspect of their energy consumption in a battle to win a 2012 Toyota Prius.

The busy Kitchen-Kuiack family were only available for two hours and the Shell Canada client was flying in for the shoot. The day before, I drove out to the house to quickly scout the location and meet Brian Kitchen. That day, the light conditions were perfect: overcast with bright open shadows.

Next morning it’s a brilliant, cloudless sunny day and by 8 am it already feels like high noon. When we arrive at 8:45 everyone cheerily points out that the weather is perfect. Not exactly! This kind of light is a photographer’s nightmare, with contrast so high that it exceeds the camera’s dynamic range. We have a long list of shots to cover in less than two hours so we get right to work. My mind is scrambling trying to figure out how to reduce the contrast with the location options we have.

We start with interior shots because it’s easier to manage the light by tacking black fabric over the windows to create an instant studio. I’ve brought my Einstein strobes and Paul C. Buff modifiers – Rob Galbraith has good reviews of this gear. We work through a series of individual and family portraits in the Kitchen’s cozy living room, including Thomas, the agreeable family cat. Because the energy challenge will be in the fall and winter, we light a fire in the fireplace, even though it’s July. I’m already sweating, and within 20 minutes everyone else is too.

Next we move outside, and though it’s a hot sunny day the Kitchens gamely wear jeans and sweatshirts. The locations I scouted yesterday don’t work today in the bright sun, so we change the plan. I’ve decided on a couple of distinctive backdrops where we can hide from the sun behind their sheds so I have more control over the light. I’m underexposing the camera and pumping in light with the Einsteins with 1 CTO gels to create a warm low-sun feel. Whew… less than two hours after we arrived, we’re packing up our gear and saying good-bye.

Searching for our Yukon Top 200

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

[by Fritz] I’m selecting and preparing 200 Yukon images for a project we started ten years ago. We’re scrolling through tens of terabytes of images archived on raw hard drives and poring over filing cabinets stuffed with 35mm and medium format slides looking for top images representing a decade of work. We started in the world of film, and our business is now fully digital, so this project spans huge shifts in technology – definitely one of the challenges of building a business in an industry that has experienced enormous change. Scanning, final edit and processing in Lightroom. Tight deadlines and lots to do. More to follow soon.

Anatomy of an aerial shoot over Yukon’s Mount Logan

Friday, April 1st, 2011

[by Fritz] After two years of false starts, an aerial photography project to shoot the St. Elias Icefields finally came together last summer. See the Mount Logan and St. Elias Icefields aerial portfolio here.   Below, an account of one day’s aerial shoot over Canada’s highest peak.

6:30 pm – For the first time in weeks, the weather looks promising and there’s no wildfire smoke in the air. The Internet connection from Kluane Lake Research Station is sporadic but I manage to preview a couple of weather sites and some satellite imagery. Forecasts for the St. Elias Range are coarse and the mountains create their own weather, so in the end the decision to fly is a guess. Weather has been plowing into the Yukon from the Pacific Ocean for a week, but a small window of high pressure seems to be building over the range, which is why I’ve driven out from Whitehorse again. I’ve lost track how many times I’ve come out only to be turned around by weather or smoke.

7:30 pm – I spread my gear out in the empty mess hall and start packing. I clean my lenses and sensors, charge batteries, check CF cards, arrange my pack and sort through a pile of winter clothing. And then I check everything again.

9:15 pm – I can’t find Donjek Upton (the pilot) and he doesn’t have a phone, so I walk to his house to set things up for the morning. He’s exhausted from a long day of shuttling researchers out of the range and not so keen to hear that I want to fly early tomorrow. This is probably the tenth time I’ve tried to line things up and everyone is getting a little frustrated. I’m pretty sure they think that I don’t know what I want, and to some extent they’re right. Lining up good light and reasonable flying conditions in the St. Elias is a crapshoot.

9:45 pm – I call Lloyd Freese (Parks Canada) at home in the Junction to tell him that we’re on for the morning. I’ve teamed up with Parks Canada to do this shoot. We set up a check-in routine: I will phone by 3:15 am if I’m calling it off, otherwise he’ll head out for the half-hour drive to the base at Kluane Lake.

10:30 pm – I walk over to the Wood Building to log onto the weather sites again. Things look about the same. I stand outside watching the weather. I spend awhile looking at maps and walking through the shoot again before going to bed.

3:00 am – My watch alarm goes off. Though it’s July, I put on long underwear and dress like it’s winter. I splash water on my face, trying to wake up. I check the satellite images again and I’m disappointed to see the high pressure system started to break down overnight, but there may still be a hole over Mount Logan. If we don’t go today it could be weeks before we try again. Should I cancel, or do I mobilize everyone and spend the money?  

3:30 am – Donjek is out wiring his GoPro Hero to the wing because he’s excited about alpenglow on Logan. He never has to fly this early and he doesn’t say much. The plane didn’t get refuelled last night and now the fuel pump isn’t working, but we sort it out. I’m already anxious about being late. It takes 45 minutes just to get to where I want to start shooting, and last time we arrived too late for alpenglow.

3:50 am – Donjek takes the rear door off. I’m wearing a harness and I also tie my cameras, gyros and bags to the plane. Lloyd arrives, we load into the plane, and I start spinning up my gyroscopes. Sunrise is less than an hour away.

4:05 am – We finally take off and head up the shadowy Slims. The Helio Courier labours to gain altitude all the way to Mount Logan.

4:40 am – We’ve crossed Divide and Logan looms in front of us. One of the challenges is to show that this is one of the largest landscapes in the world. Light plays all kind of tricks in the icefields, and Logan is huge with no references for scale. And there’s no sign of humans anywhere. It turns out our timing is good and the weather is perfect. Sometimes it’s really bumpy, but this morning it’s not too bad and that bodes well for sharpness.

4:55 am – Now I’m reframing and shooting pretty much continuously. The morning sun rakes across the peaks, and it’s exquisite. I line up a great composition and have Donjek circle around and then around again. Lloyd has a tougher stomach than the Parks staffer on the last flight, who was keen to be there but was airsick with all the circling.

5:30 am – The light is gorgeous this morning with layers of fog swirling around. It’s all coming together: after two years, the magic moment is here. I keep working more compositions, each time asking Donjek to circle around, banking to get the wing out of the way. Logan is so big we don’t even get a quarter of the way across before we start to run out of time. Donjek is starting to fuss about fuel. I keep ignoring him, lining up new shots. Eventually he swings away from the mountain to head home.

5:50 am – I keep shooting even though it’s clear the magic is gone. My arms and neck hurt, the rattle of the plane is wearing, and I’m feeling fried. In the end I had less than 20 minutes with Mount Logan.

6:05 am – We fly down through the Front Range. I prefer being over the snow because you have the option of landing on skis. Once we’re below the firn line I’m always reminded there’s nowhere to get down safely.

6:20 am – We land at the research base. People are just starting to stir. Now we have way too many layers on and I’m dripping with sweat. We peel clothes off and head to the mess hall for coffee.

See the Mount Logan and St. Elias Icefields aerial portfolio here.

Mama, please take my Kodachrome away

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

[by Fritz] Last week online forums were bursting with sentiments about the end of Kodachrome and the shuttering of the last processing facility. Since 2009 Kodak stopped making their signature slide film. Yet, there was still a crush of exposed film arriving for a guy named Dwayne in Parsons, Kansas, before he closed the world’s last Kodachrome processor.

I don’t mourn the passage of Kodachrome and I definitely don’t miss film. However, reading about Kodachrome did send me digging in my archive for a favourite photo from Africa. In the summer of 1989 I was a wide-eyed zoology grad student working in Tanzania’s Serengeti. I had my own Land Rover and was free to explore the national park. Dreamy stuff. One of my most memorable experiences was following a pride of lions and photographing a resplendent male that we later darted and radio-tagged. He was a magnificent animal with a massive face and mane. I recall being struck by the size and weight of his tail, which I could barely circle with my two hands and had trouble lifting. My photos from the Serengeti evoke all kinds of memories: the smell of wildebeest dung, the night sounds of lions, strange encounters with army ants and porcupines. I had a Nikon F3 HP in Africa, and I happened to be shooting with Kodachrome.

Lion on the Serengeti.

Are people sentimental about Kodachrome, or are we sentimental about the experiences we photographed? I think we’re sad about the passage of time, and this is also a retrospective time of year. Images evoke memories, and we just happened to capture them on Kodachrome, then Fujichrome, and now the latest CMOS sensors. I think many people who are sentimental about Kodachome never used the stuff in a serious way. Professional photographers don’t seem to be filling online forums with Kodachrome nostalgia. The advantages of today’s professional digital cameras, compared to all of the constraints of the film world, are too numerous to count. We have almost grainless images at ISO 12,000, essentially unlimited number of frames, and instant feedback so we can learn from our mistakes as we go. We don’t have to worry about film damage or storage and can almost instantaneously distribute images to anyone anywhere through the Internet. Stills cameras make movies and movie cameras make stills. And we can emulate the look of Kodachrome with a few simple moves in Photoshop or the latest iPhone app. Why hang on to Kodachrome?

Kodachrome reigned during an era when good photographers were revered. They’d mastered a complex craft that was a culmination of 100 years of chemistry, mechanical apparatus and the unpredictability of light and art. Viewers still thought that photos represented the truth. But it never was: photographers and labs and editors were always capable of great manipulation. Digital technology broke that belief and people became wise to it, but images are no more or less truthful than they ever were. Back then there were relatively few photographers, and the images they made felt more precious. Today, everyone is a photographer and we’re awash in a sea of low-grade imagery. Still, profound images and memories are being made every day with digital cameras. The creative possibilities with today’s high-end cameras and the latest software are almost unlimited and we can also be more accurate with our photos than ever before.  I think there has never been a more exciting and challenging time to be a photographer.