I like using new technology to make pictures. For a story I am working on for NGM I needed low level aerials of an archaeological site on South Africa's southern coast. The site gets decent light for about 3 minutes in the morning and is a long way from the nearest airport. It seemed like the perfect time to try a remote aerial vehicle.
Much like you don't want to fly your own helicopter to shoot photos, you don't want to operate your own drone either. Skylab Productions from Cape Town agreed to come out and try flying their octacopter out over the ocean if I was willing to risk my camera on the bottom of it.
A 5D MK III is a big camera to lift on an octacopter and you don't get a lot of flight time. We'd hoped to get 6 minutes on a set of batteries, but battling the wind like we were on the coast we got more like 5. That means there is no looking around for the picture like you usual do in aerial photos. There were some tense moments on the first flight fighting a headwind to get the aircraft back before the battery ran out.
above, stars and clouds over the Tellico River Valley on 12-12-12 from Big Junction, NC
This photo is certainly the most popular one I ever put on the NG Instagram feed and a lot of people have asked me how I shot it.
I've wanted to shoot a time lapse sequence of stars moving over the North Carolina mountains for a long time but my time and the right weather haven't lined up the right way until this week. The generally cloudy, warm weather we've been having in the South was supposed to clear the night before the new moon. That combination of changing weather often leads to dramatic landscapes.
One of my favorite features of Adobe Lightroom 4 is the map module. What a great way to organize information. Many new model cameras have built in gps receivers so the images are automatically geo tagged. But how do you find locations if you have a camera (like the 5D MK III that I use) without the gps chip?
My solution is to shoot a picture with my camera phone after I am done shooting with the MK III. It doesn't have to be a good picture. I am just trying to record the location. Any phone with a camera will have a built in gps receiver that tags the photograph. I then email that photo to myself. When I download the days shoot I'll drop those emailed photos into the same folder on my computer that I am downloading my raw files into.
Then when I import the day's folder into lightroom the phone pictures will appear on the lightroom map. From there it is a simple matter of dragging the raw files onto the right place on the map. Lightroom will even fill in the correct city, state and country.
By doing that to the raw files at import any files I then export will have the correct information in them.
Of course there are add on gps receivers for cameras (here is one for the MK III). But you have to remember to put them on the camera, and often I need something else to go into the hot shoe (like a flash). Plus it is one more thing to buy and carry when I almost always have a phone on me.
I've spent the last couple weeks going through some older coverages looking for specific photos that for some reason never made it into file. Sometimes I'd find the photos I was looking for and sometimes I'd find something unexpected. Here is a small series of photos I made waiting for a ferry to cross the Tsiribihina River in Madagascar.
The wait was long, the light was nice so I shot pictures of workmen hauling bags of rice from a small river boat to waiting trucks.
The photos have nothing to do with the story I was on. Honestly I had forgotten that I made them until I went back through the coverage earlier this week.
above, the milky way seen last month over KwaZulu-Natal, SA Canon 5D MK III iso 1600 8 seconds @ f1.8
Winter always gets me thinking about the night sky. Winter nights are long and give us some of the clearest skies. I simply love being outside at night shooting the stars. Like so many things in photography the newer generations of cameras make photographing the night much easier than it used to be. When I made my first night sky images for National Geographic my cameras only operated well up to iso 200. So to make this image I needed a 6 minute exposure. It took a special telescope head that tracks the earth's movement to keep the milky way sharp. The image below took a ten minute exposure on a custom built equatorial mount.
above, the milky way near Flagstaff, AZ iso 200 10 minutes @ f 2.0 on an equatorial telescope mount