Archive for the ‘Technique’ 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!

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.

Feeling the shakes over Mount Logan

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

[by Fritz] The thermometer is dipping down, so I’m finding excuses to stay inside and edit photos. I’m working on a collection of images from some collaborative aerial photography shoots I did this summer with Parks Canada. It took a couple of years for the timing and conditions to come together, but in the end we managed to do some pretty extensive shooting of the Kluane icefields.

It’s one thing to get the right weather and light, but it’s another to make a sharp, high-quality photograph while you’re hanging out of a doorless old bush plane over the north face of 19,551-ft Mount Logan. Despite 14 layers of long underwear, I’m still freezing cold. It’s way too early and I’ve probably had too much coffee, and the plane is bucking all over the place. So it’s fair to say that the shakes are a problem. What do you do?

For many years I’ve used an external stabilizing gyroscope to improve sharpness on aerial shoots, but this year I built a new rig that reduces camera shake even more. I use two KenLab KS-8 gyroscopes connected at right angles to each other to stabilize the camera on all three axes, clamped to a Really Right Stuff rail with Arca-Swiss-style clamps to attach the whole beast to the bottom of the camera. It’s crazy heavy, and I should work out more to strengthen my arms, but it significantly reduces camera shake for the first hour or two (before I get tired and my arms give out). Watch for future blog discussions about shooting sharp aerials at night.  

Evoking experiences

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

[by Fritz] Last year I was fortunate to land several shoots for Parks Canada and the Canadian Tourism Commission. My edge was delivering a new look they’re bringing into their marketing campaigns. Scenic pictures of mountains and wildlife used to be the currency, but those images are a dime a dozen (I know because I shoot a lot of scenery and wildlife). They’ve found that pretty photographs of nature only go so far in luring people to visit parks.

Instead, the marketing experts say that the key to attracting visitors to these special places is to show people experiencing it through their own eyes. The main thrust of these campaigns is to evoke feelings and experiences. For example, instead of showing a vast landscape with a distant red canoe, you might show the visitor’s point-of-view from inside the canoe. This means getting in close, playing with angles and trying some fun photography techniques.

As the population becomes more urban, national parks and historic sites are having a tough time attracting visitors. Most people grow up in the city, and an image of a big empty landscape feels inaccessible and perhaps even scary to them. If they see an image that captures a compelling moment, with people having fun and experiencing a place rather than just looking at it, they’re more inclined to want to visit.

Hopefully this new strategy succeeds in building visitor interest, because our parks can always use more friends.

Aerial Photography

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

[by Fritz] Some stories can only be told by getting into the air. A good example is the Alberta tar sands. If you only work with what you see from the ground, you’d guess there’s not much going on. It’s only when you get up high that you realize the vast scale and impact of all of the open pit mining.

I like the fresh perspective from up high. You get the big picture, and often it’s an uncommon view of something that’s commonplace. Aerials can be really helpful telling stories about complex systems. You can describe concepts like connectivity, habitat fragmentation or urban sprawl better with photographs.

Aircraft are expensive to charter, they move fast and often you only get one chance to get a specific shot. For a helicopter, you’re paying around $1,500 per hour, so to justify that kind of money you need a clear idea of what you want to get from the flight. Here are some aerial photography tips:

  • Thorough research and planning. I try to pre-visualize my images. I used to pore over topographical maps, and now Google Earth is an amazing tool to help with this. You can even frame your photographs in advance and get 3D coordinates to plot your flight path. I save a flight path and imagine images from perspectives that I think are interesting. Then I share those ideas with the pilots, and I work closely with them to plan the route. I want to make sure they’re comfortable with what I’m asking for.
  • Getting the right conditions. I spend a lot of time watching the weather, and thinking about light and air quality. Dusty or grubby air can have an interesting effect, but it also makes images look soft. Air turbulence is also a concern – often the air is calmer in the morning.
  • Preparing my equipment and the aircraft. I try to visit the aircraft the day before to check things over. Having my gear well organized reduces surprises during the shoot and results in better images. I make sure I have access to a large slider window or can have the door removed from the aircraft for a wide unobstructed view. You can’t shoot through Plexiglas.
  • I also spend a lot of time planning my safety gear. If you’re leaning out of the aircraft with the door off, you need to have a harness in addition to your seatbelt. I tape the lenses at focus infinity, so I have one less variable to think about in the air.
  • Getting sharp images. Shooting with the new digital cameras has revolutionized aerial photography. You no longer have to change film constantly, and you can get very clean images at high ISO settings that even just a few years ago were science fiction. I set the ISO as high as possible, but not so high that noise degrades image quality. During the flight I attach the camera to an external gyroscope to reduce vibrations. I handhold the camera, and I’m very careful not to lean any part of my upper body against the aircraft. Good pilots also work with you to minimize aircraft vibration for short periods when you have an important shot coming up.