This is the first in an occasional mini series of “Going Back” images in which I’ve revisited locations from the 365 with just the Samyang 12mm lens and a ND graduated filter.
I’ve shot this scene once before for the 365 but to be fair when the light/weather is right I shoot it regularly so see no issue with a return visit for the 365 Challenge. I woke up and as soon as I looked outside knew this would be my image for the day.
It went down well with the 365 Group too, one commenting that ” I … prefer your angle on this one, it’s much more dynamic especially with that sky, and the fact that you have retained the top of the building this time really helps the composition IMHO.” A view I agreed with. I shot this from a few metres further to the left of where I usually shoot the scene and as I’ve already mentioned I used a 12mm lens rather than the 18mm-55mm I normally have on the camera.
Agreeing with the first comment another viewer said that “this is an atmospheric and dynamic image. I can see why you like to shoot it so often.” The comment though that inspired this occasional series of return visits, Going Back, was: “always good to return to a place; the light is never the same twice.” Which I felt kind of legitamised my approach.
It is an absolute age since I produced a video from one of my recces. Indeed, it’s a while since I did anything relating to video at all. So, this is overdue and no doubt suffering a little from lack of practice. Perhaps this should be called the “rusty” cut!
I have been aware of Elland Park Woods for many years and drive past them regularly but despite them being very close to home had not paid them a visit until last weekend. I haven’t yet full worked out the access points for the woods, but this time last year I saw an advertisement for a bluebell walk through the woods and noted that the meeting place was the crematorium car park. I was too late for that year but made a mental note which is why I was parking in the crematorium car park at 8.20 on a Sunday morning.
As you will see the bluebells are not yet out in force but [spoiler alert] the woods offer a lot of potential for me over the year in all sorts of weather.
I’ve been experimenting with the Fuji X-T1 which was recently converted for full spectrum photography using three IR filters. The Fotga variable IR filter is adjustable from 530nm through to 750nm. The first image here was shot with the filter set to 750nm. The resulting RAW file is blue as can be seen on the left hand side of the first image below. In the past, when I was using an 720nm infrared converted camera, I have channel-swapped the reddy/brown RAW files which created a blueish file and I wondered whether it was necessary to do so with these. The right hand side of the first image below shows the effect of channel-swapping.
I then converted the image to mono using Silver Efex Pro. In the image below the left hand side of the frame was converted to mono using the RAW (blue) file whereas the right hand side was converted to mono using the channel swapped (red) version of the RAW file. I can see no real differences between the two.
But what of an image shot at 530nm? In the image below the RAW file is again on the left and note how different the tones are as more visible light is allowed to hit the sensor.
Now, whilst there is a definite difference in the tonal values of the image shot at 530nm once again there is no appreciable difference between the mono conversions directly from the RAW file compared to the channel-swapped version.
Now it has to be acknowledged that I didn’t chose the “best” conditions for this type of test, most people reckon on a bright sunny day for the best from infrared photography, but this non-scientific test nevertheless suggests that channel-swapping may not always be necessary for mono conversions.
The next comparison is from an image shot with a 950nm filter. I have carried out exactly the same process but this time the split runs diagonally from top right to bottom left.
Around Elland Lock on the Calder & Hebble
Around Elland Lock on the Calder & Hebble
Again, there is virtually no difference, the conversion from RAW being arguably a tiny bit darker but we are talking about fractions here. Incidentally, this was shot in bright but cloudy conditions.
The final image below has been treated exactly the same (the split running top to bottom middle) as the other two above. This was taken on a bright sunny day with the Fotga variable infrared filter at 530nm.
Again, there is virtually no difference. There is a slight tonal variation, particularly in the water, circled, but even that is not a major variation.
The upshot of this experiment is that I’m not certain I need to channel-swap for monochrome conversions going forward. I will probably continue to do so for a while until I’m confident of the process though. False-colour infrared is a totally different kettle of fish though and one which doesn’t interest me quite so much although I’m sure I will be having a play at some point.
A quick follow-up to the Drone update blog post where I reflected on almost a year of drone ownership. I mentioned that the area that needs the most work now is video footage but promised to share some simply to put a marker down to assess progress in twelve months time.
Firstly, a very short sequence from Anglesey on a short break over there in November 2017.
I haven’t done anything with the Newborough footage as yet, mainly through lack of time, but put this very short sequence together for Richard who accompanied me on the walk that morning.
On most of my trips out with the drone I tend to focus on capturing still images, it was what I purchased the drone for after all. Video footage seems to be mainly an afterthought which means that I sometimes collect some interesting snippets but they don’t work together as a coherent whole.
This was certainly the case earlier this month when I had a couple of early morning trips to the beach at Hunstanton.
I think one of the reasons for this lack of focus is that I tend to see the shooting of video as something to occupy myself whilst flying the drone into position for the next still image rather than as part of a broader narrative. I used some drone footage within various blogs (should that be Vlogs?) last year but each sequence was part of an larger overall piece rather than a standalone drone video and these inserts worked much better. The recce at Ringstone Reservoir in July 2017, produced not long after I got the drone, is a good example of this.
The final short sequence here was created for this blog. Unfortunately, I didn’t choose the best conditions for shooting video so poor light combined with mediocre skills hasn’t made the most exciting footage. However, as the purpose of this blog post is to put a marker in the sand then for good or bad here it is.
I need to work on collecting footage to tell a story but more importantly I need to up my processing skills considerably to get the best from my drone.
Well, eleven months to be precise but it’s close enough. So, how have I got on?
The answer is: “surprisingly well” to my delight and, well, surprise!
So, what has gone well and what still needs work or thought?
Well, let’s start with what for me makes the whole process workable – the viewing screen. The Mavic Pro doesn’t have a screen supplied with the controller so I purchased an Android smartphone to fulfil this function. Not my smartest choice as the minute I plugged the “smartphone” into the Mavic controller it went “Oh, goody! A power bank!” and proceeded to draw power from the controller. Unsure as to whether this was normal or not, or indeed if it was expected, I decided to change and use an iPad mini instead. I figured the bigger screen would make it easier to read the display so parted with a few more hard-earned pennies to buy the small iPad and a sunshade to keep the glare off the screen. This worked much better apart from one niggle, it kept sending out a warning message that it was running low on memory even though I was only running the DJI app. Nervous that this might cause me to lose sight and/or control of the drone I switched to using my iPhone whilst I investigated.
Long story short – I never did get around to investigating and now simply use my iPhone. The only compromise is that if I’m going to be out all day I take a power bank to top the phone up for normal use if required after flying the drone although to date I haven’t needed to use it. I put the phone in Airplane mode whilst using the drone to prevent calls or messages interfering with the flight. I need to wear my reading glasses AND my distance glasses simultaneously however; the former on the end of my nose to view the screen and controller and the latter above them so I can maintain line of sight with the drone. I must look slightly odd, but such is old age.
Incidentally, all the images here were taken a couple of mornings ago especially for this blog.
Flying the drone and keeping it safe in the air was always going to be my biggest concern and I have to say I’m very glad I opted for a premium model as I quickly got to grips with the basics and whilst I was in no hurry to step out of beginner mode when I did take the plunge I was pleasantly surprised. If in doubt, I can let go of the joysticks and the drone will hover where it is until I get myself sorted! The requirement to maintain line of sight means that under my control the drone never gets remotely close to the maximum heights or distances it can technically achieve but I cannot see why people want to fly their expensive kit in places where they cannot see it. For the images I take, and it is mainly stills, I rarely need to exceed two hundred feet and usually shoot from an altitude of between eighty and a hundred feet.
I have crashed the drone once, in Snowdonia, on the first occasion when I had someone with me whilst I flew the drone. Thankfully it was less than twenty feet off the ground and the branches I flew it into helped cushion the fall. I had the drone pointing towards me which means that right on the controller means go left as far as the drone is concerned. A mistake I make rarely now and on that occasion I was very unlucky; I realised it was heading sideways towards the tree and “corrected” its movement forgetting which way round it was. Still, no harm done apart from a few scratches to the drone and a dent to my pride.
I have not yet tried any of the flight modes but that is something on my to-do list for after I’ve improved image quality which is my main goal – consistently good files with which to work.
So, whilst flying the drone is still an adrenalin-fuelled experience I do now feel confident in flying the machine and am starting to produce some pleasing results, particularly with still images which I capture using the DNG raw mode and process in Photoshop. I have found that I need to apply sharpening and clarity a little more aggressively than I am used to and that I have to be extra careful with regards to noise in the image. I usually take the drone out early in the day and have not yet shot extensively in the brighter part of the day but when I have I have found the files a lot cleaner, especially with the sun behind the drone.
I experimented this week with the bracketing facility on the drone and these lined up very well and therefore blended well in Photoshop. This is probably the only preset I have used as I have the drone set up for manual operation in still image mode; with greater confidence in flying the craft comes more time to study the screen and adjust other factors such as image settings.
The still files convert well for black and white too and even a potentially aggressive mono converter such as Silver Efex Pro can produce some very striking results (see above and below). I usually try to frame an image so as to use all of the file (its “only” 12mp and I try to use them all) but these images above Woodside Mill locks were ones where the crop made more sense.
So, I have made good progress with flying, settled on a screen and am starting to get some good still images from the drone. Whilst there is still some work to do with still image quality, or perhaps more accurately consistency, I am now producing usable and pleasing images from every flight.
What about the areas which have not gone so well?
You will note there is no video in this blog post. Not because I didn’t take any but because I’m not happy yet with the quality of the video I am capturing. One look at YouTube however will confirm that the Mavic Pro is capable of stunning video footage so I am under no illusions – the weak link is me! I will post a minute or twos video in a separate post at some point just for reference.
I have not yet had the confidence or indeed understanding to move the video mode out of automatic and I think I need to do some serious research on this aspect and start to experiment. Moving the stills capture to manual was a no-brainer as I’ve been shooting cameras in manual mode for over forty years (my first camera was fully manual). I need to transfer some of these skills to shooting video footage with the drone. I am able to capture reasonable video footage, manually, with my Fuji X-T20 camera so I do have some skills to draw on there too.
The other key skill I need to develop is grading the footage. It may be because I rarely shoot in great light with the drone but I find the footage is not as usable out-of-the box as footage from my Fuji X-T20. So far I have had mixed success with some footage turning out very nicely and some very disappointingly. Along with learning to capture the footage manually I need to learn how to properly process it if I am to be more confident about sharing video footage from the drone.
So, in conclusion, I have learnt masses in the past eleven months. I have achieved a reasonable level of competency with the flying element, a good level of competency with regards to still imagery and am still learning how to capture good video footage.
But, great progress and a purchase I have never regretted for a single moment.
I’ve taken several thousand images in the last month or so and looking back, if we exclude drone shots, all but around thirty were shot with one of my Fuji cameras. This morning then, when I decided to go and visit the bluebells, I consciously took the Nikon DSLR. I have to confess I almost popped the Fuji bag into the car as well but was strong and went out sans-Fuji.
I took the Nikon body, three lenses (14-24, 24-70 and 70-200), spare battery and a couple of filters. The first thing I noticed was the bag I needed was three times bigger than the one I’ve been using (with two Fuji bodies, four lenses and filters etc) and the second was the weight. Arriving at the car park and walking the short distance uphill to the woods I really noticed the weight. Now to be fair I would usually use a backpack with the Nikon gear so the large shoulder bag was always going to feel slightly less comfortable.
The lack of use showed very quickly once I’d got the camera on a tripod but happily muscle memory returned very quickly and I was soon shooting happily and intuitively. I even got the 14-24 f2.8 lens out for a spin too, something I haven’t done for a very long time it seems. After those first five fumbling minutes I settled quickly into the old rhythm and it’s fair to say thoroughly enjoyed the hour in the woods with just the Nikon and its “Holy Trinity” of lenses.
The 70-200 is probably my favourite of these three lenses especially for landscapes. Indeed, the 14-24, which I bought for landscape work, rarely gets used for those purposes these days as I’ve slowly adopted a more intimate approach to landscape shooting. I still shoot wider scenes but generally the wider end of the 24-70 lens gives me everything I need. When I sold my Canon gear, accumulated over twenty years or more, and moved to Nikon I was not in a position to replicate the system item for item. I needed therefore to carefully consider my purchases and ended up buying the three lenses already mentioned along with the D800E and D7100 bodies and a Sigma 105mm macro lens. To be fair this has proved to be more than adequate and although I have added a 300mm f4 to the mix I generally only travel with the two bodies and four lenses I originally purchased.
Looking at the images I took with the 14-24 this morning, apart from the ones of the tree canopy all the others are at 24mm which perhaps illustrates the point very well. For a day out I could manage nicely with just the 24-70 and 70-200 lenses in the bag. Where I use the 14-24 mostly I think is for urban shoots; but not street photography as it’s rather an eye-catching piece of glass.
Incidentally, you may have noticed that there is just a hint of the titular bluebells in these images. Two reasons, partly I was late going out so the sun was higher in the sky than I’d have liked but mainly because the bluebells themselves are only just starting to appear. It seems that the weather has put everything back a bit and it may be another week or so before the bluebells appear in the dense patches I enjoyed last year. When they do the macro lens will join the kit bag in place of the 14-24 as I have a few more creative ideas I want to try when the conditions are right.
One thing that always surprises me almost is when I get the D800E files up on my computer screen. At 36mp from a full frame sensor they are much bigger than the 24mp files from the Fuji X-T20 or the 16mp files from the X100t and X-T1 crop-sensor cameras. The detail is immense and each time I look at a well-exposed, properly focused and sharp image its as if I am seeing the detail for the first time all over again. It’s one of the reasons why I cannot yet relinquish my Nikon system despite the huge weight difference compared to my Fuji kit. For example, I can carry the 24mp Fuji X-T20 with three lenses covering 12mm-200mm (18mm-300mm in full-frame terms) along with the infrared-converted X-T1, spare batteries and filters and fit all these in my smallest backpack, a Camlink sling bag measuring just 40 x 24 x 23.5cm. Despite this, for as long as I am physically able to carry the Nikon gear I shall be keeping it!
As for the bluebells, I will return to this spot regularly over the coming weeks. For an overcast or misty day the perfect time will be around sunrise or just after at this time of the year, which means leaving the house at 5:45am. On a bright day I suspect that later in the day, around teatime or even towards sunset, will work best but I’ve yet to test this theory. The only issue with an evening shoot is a practical one; I park in the carpark of a local restaurant and whilst they have no objections first thing in the morning I can see them being less happy when I’m taking up a space that could be used by a paying diner! I shall take a drive down one evening though to test this theory out properly and investigate alternative parking.