Posts Tagged ‘aerial photography’

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

Little critters on Herschel Island

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

[by Fritz] If you ever have the opportunity to visit Herschel Island off the Yukon’s north coastline, jump at the chance. The first time I went there I was a 21-year-old university student and I spent a month in a tent all over the island assisting Swedish researcher Anders Angerbjörn on his study of Arctic foxes. I’ve been back several times since, most recently with my friend and colleague Don Reid, a researcher with the Wildlife Conservation Society, who is involved in a study of Arctic food webs and how a changing climate is affecting wildlife populations. Lemmings and voles are key prey for a number of predators on Herschel, and their abundance affects the population dynamics of many wildlife species. I photographed this collared lemming in the tundra meadows of Herschel nibbling on one of its favourite foods, Dryas flowers. They’re important to the food web, and they’re also really cute. Contrary to the myths fabricated by Disney, lemmings don’t commit mass suicide or jump over cliffs. The shorebird is a semi-palmated plover nesting and feeding on the beaches on Herschel.

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.

Cold weather, warm edit

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

[by Fritz] It’s definitely easier to edit photos from a tropical trip when it’s -35° C outside. For the last few days I’ve finally gotten around to editing and processing photos from a family camping adventure to Hawaii last year. I don’t know how other photographers keep up with the processing backlog, but I find that months can go by before I get time to process my personal shoots. Here’s a portfolio of images from Big Island, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Mauna Kea and Honolulu, Oahu.  

Winter photography: My favourite fingerless gloves

Monday, December 6th, 2010

[by Fritz] Shooting in the cold is hard on your hands. Most gloves are thick and bulky and don’t allow the finger dexterity to adjust small dials on camera equipment. And bare hands quickly become useless when holding cold metal equipment in freezing temperatures.

A couple of years ago Andrea Rodger introduced me to her technical glove that quickly became my favourite for cold weather shooting. I was spending a morning at Andrea’s Sportees Activewear in Whitehorse doing a photo shoot profiling successful Yukon businesses. I’d just finished a week of shooting in minus 30 and I was probably whining about my hands. I was pawing through baskets of gloves when Andrea quickly produced a pair of her Michie Dog Musher Gloves and told me I had to try them.

They’re as good as Andrea said they would be. They’re definitely warmer than regular fingerless gloves, and the design provides lots of flexibility for someone who needs to use their fingers. The glove is made of neoprene and has a little pocket over the wrist where you insert a hand warmer, those chemical heat packs sold by Canadian Tire, MEC and others (in cold weather I sometimes tape heat packs to my camera, to batteries etc). The pocket holds the heat pack right over the inside of your wrist, so it warms the blood as it moves into your hand. I use the Sportees gloves in winter, and I also use them for aerial shooting – when the door is off it can be really cold in the back of an airplane or helicopter.

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.  

Kluane’s Surging Glacier

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

[by Fritz] A couple of weeks ago I joined a team from Parks Canada and Yukon Geological Survey going to Lowell Glacier in Kluane National Park. The Lowell is a stunningly photogenic glacier that spills into the Alsek River, and it’s currently surging. Normally glaciers move at a “glacial pace,” but occasionally some glaciers surge. Scientists are following its movements using time lapse cameras and webcams, and they were installing a monitoring station. Apparently the Lowell has advanced 1.5 km since last October. If a glacier can gallop, this one certainly is.

Teresa and I first visited the Lowell in 2001. It was gorgeous, and we stayed a few extra days. One day we got a surprise from the other side of the world. At the time we attributed the pink glow in the sky to forest fires but we found out later that global wind currents had carried clouds of dust to northern Canada from a desert storm in Mongolia. The Lowell was bathed in desert dust—a photographer’s dream. Mountain Goats and Glaciers won the Landscape category in the Banff Mountain Photography Competition in 2003. We also made a poster of Kluane National Park featuring this photograph.

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.