Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Kayak Shoot: Lewis River Falls

I just got done with a recent kayaking shoot for my recent project with VholdR cameras. For this shoot, we headed down to the Lewis River in Southern Washington to hit up the falls with kayakers Lizzy English and Adam Craig.

Due to high water levels, we weren't able to run everything that we had wanted, but we were still able to knock off the Middle Falls and Taitnapum Falls.

The weather was just about perfect though... we even got a little sun. And the location worked out great, with plenty of vantage points that would allow us to get unique angles on the rapids.

Big thanks to Lizzy and Adam for their hard work throughout the day of shooting. And thanks to my assistant Pat Snapp for all his help hiking around heavy camera packs through the woods.

And just in case you've ever looked at my photos and thought to yourself, "I wonder what it looks like from the athletes perspective?" Well, this parts for you. With the VholdR Contour HD cameras strapped to the helmets of Adam and Lizzy, we had them roll footage while they were running everything. The video that follows is Adam's helmet cam footage from the image below. Enjoy!!!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Shooting HD-Video on D-SLR's: Sensor Over-Heating Issue

I've just started dabbling in shooting HD video with the new HD-DSLR cameras. On a recent kayaking shoot, I grabbed a Nikon D300s to shoot some behind the scenes footage and to start familiarizing myself with the nuances of the video functions on a DSLR.

While I won't go into everything I learned over the course of the day, I will bring up one VERY IMPORTANT note I discovered about the limitations of shooting with these cameras. Due to the small sensor size and a lack of any internal cooling system, it is possible to fry your sensor due to overuse. This is something that I was unaware of myself. Even upon returning home, a quick google search didn't return a lot about this phenomena.

In short, long video clips or even leaving the camera in live view mode for an extended period of time will begin to heat up the image sensor. Once that sensor gets hot, it will start corrupting files. Keep shooting and you can actually damage the sensor beyond repair. Fortunately for me, I only corrupted a handful of files at the end of the day without doing any irrevocable damage to the sensor.

I talked to my camera guys at Glazers Camera in Seattle and talked to them about this. Apparently, this is something common to all the HD DSLR's. The small sensor just wasn't built to shoot for extended periods of time. Given the newness of the technology, it is something that the manufacturers haven't yet addressed. I've since heard of some people wrapping their body with gel cold packs to try and stem this issue, but this seems like a horrible idea to me as the condensation will probably do more damage in the long run.

Apparently I'm the first person to come into Glazers with this problem, but they are expecting a rash of similar stories as this new technology is taken out into the field during the hot summer months.

So, I have no answers or sure fire solutions to provide here... just a warning to all the shooters out there. If you're in desperate need of shooting longer video clips, I'd suggest the RED cameras. Their larger sensor isn't prone to overheating apparently.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Photoshop, Retouching, Digital Art and the Debate of "What is Too Much?"

There's been some controversy in the photo world lately, with the spotlight most recently being aimed at National Geographic... more specifically at the winner of one of their monthly photo contests. Their "Your Shot" photo contest was recently awarded to photographer William Lascelles for the shot below. After numerous complaints from readers, Lascelles finally admitted to the photo being a digital composite.

Had the photo contest been open to digital art, there wouldn't have even been an issue and I wouldn't be making a blog post about it. However, clearly stated in the contest rules is the statement that any digitally manipulated images will be disqualified. To the credit of National Geographic, they originally had doubted the photos authenticity and asked Lascelles for some sort of proof. Lascelles offered them a separate photo he had also composited, claiming it was the next frame in the sequence, and hence furthering his deception.

Manipulating images is going to happen. It's been happening for decades. Even the great Ansel Adams manipulated images by dodging and burning in the highlights and shadows of his photos to create more mood and detail. And yours truly does a fair amount of photoshopping too. I routinely adjust color density, shadow and highlights and clone stamp away blemishes. I'll even do some moderate photoshopping if the image or the client calls for it. I think photoshop is an incredibly valuable tool that allows us to make changes to photos that wouldn't even be possible to create under real lighting conditions.

To showcase a drastic example of this, I'll turn my attention to photographer Ed Freeman and his surfing photography (pictured below). Freeman, who has never surfed a day in his life, went about creating a series of surfing photos that related to how surfing "feels to him". Freeman readily admits that his images are photoshopped to hell. On his site is the disclamier "This is not reportage photography, it's meant as fine art and I've taken all liberties in editing and retouching..."

I first saw Freeman's work in PDN last year and I was really impressed with it, but something didn't feel right. (At the time, I wasn't aware that his images were composited, but now that I know, it makes more sense.) There was something about the body positioning of the surfers that didn't seem natural. Personally, I would never do something like this, as I think there's more value to an image that has been created in camera. But, that aside, his work is still impressive. It might not be photography in my book, but it's still beautiful.

Personally, I think there's a time and a place for digital manipulation. To me, basic color correcting, dust removal as well as dodging and burning are essential manipulations that every image should undergo. It just cleans things up and makes the photo look closer to how things looked when the photo was taken. For editorial, I believe that's the extent of manipulation that should occur... nothing more.

However, if we're talking commercial work, then I think there's more room for leniency with retouching. You're trying to represent a brand with the BEST possible image. If that means some digital manipulation, then so be it, but I think that such manipulation should have bounds and should not go beyond what is realistic or possible. I could photoshop an image of a skier dropping an unskied line on Everest, but I won't, it's not realistic. However, photoshopping a models blemished skin, over saturating of the sky, playing with the sharpness or high pass filter... I'm all game for it in the commercial realm.

With the most recent National Geographic contest hoax, has come the resurgence of the ongoing debate about how photos are creating false expectations of what's real. Rob Haggart made a comment about the phenomenon of overly manipulated photos and the implications that has on the photo industry and society as a whole. "They devalue the work of photographers with the skills and patience to capture awing images in real time. Even worse, modern photo manipulation is seriously screwing up our concept of reality and our willingness to believe what we see in magazines". And I think Rob makes a good point. Our society has some seriously warped ideas of "beauty" in large part because of the fashion and beauty magazines and the extreme leniency they take with photoshopping and retouching.

I don't know that there are any answers to the retouching debate. I don't think that it's a black and white issue. It's a case specific issue in which everyone will have differing opinions on.

Big thanks to Steve Casmiro for originally making me aware of this story. And additional thanks to Rob Haggart for his related article in September's Outside Magazine.

PS. As I'm finishing up this post, this news just dropped about the doctoring of a photo of Lance Armstrong for Outside Magazine's latest cover. Apparently the art department at Outside took some liberties with Armstrongs T-shirt and added the "38 BFD" to make more of a story out of the photo. Unfortunately for them, Armstrong doesn't approve and responded with the following Tweet: "Just saw the cover of the new Outside mag w/ yours truly on it. Nice photoshop on a plain t-shirt guys. That's some lame bullshit. #weak"

To see Outside Magazine response, check out the ARTICLE.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Atlas Snowshoes Catalog: Kids

After a lot of work, planning, scouting, emailing, traveling, weather checking and a variety of other tasks, I just wrapped up the last day of shooting for the Atlas Snowshoes 2011 Catalog.

And for the final day of shooting, we saved the most challenging day for last... kids! If you've been following me for any time what-so-ever, you'll now that I don't shoot kids. Put someone on a sketchy Alaskan face, or about to air a massive jump, and I'm right at home snapping photos and directing activity. But put me in front of a bunch of kids, and we're talking about an entirely different ball game. The first couple of minutes of the shoot must have been comical to any outsider as I cowered in fear of having to direct the kids. I was sure I would have at least one of them yell at me for telling them what to do.

But I always love a good challenge, and kids are usually funny as hell, so I went into it with an optimistic attitude. And in case my positive attitude didn't work, I stopped off at the store on the way up and grabbed several huge bags of candy... worst case scenario, I thought I could at least bribe them to act cute and happy.

Regardless of any fears I may have had, the shoot could not have gone any better. The kids were all incredible and in great spirits (the candy may have helped with that) and the weather was perfect. Lots of snowball fights, snow angels and smiles.

Don't worry, I'm not changing careers or my subject matter anytime soon. I'm not going to become the next Anne Geddes and start putting kids in flower pots or anything like that. I'll always continue to shoot sports and outdoors lifestyle. But it's nice to know that I've got the added ability of working with the miniature adults now too.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Arne Backstrom - A Life Cut Short

I got a phone call Friday morning... the kind of phone call you absolutely hate to get. As soon as I picked up the line, I knew something was wrong. My friends voice wasn't right and I knew that whatever I was about to hear would not be good. Through tear choked words, my friend Tiana told me that our friend Arne Backstrom had just passed away in a skiing accident in South America.

Arne was an incredible person. Always stoked with whatever was happening around him, he always had a smile on his face. You could see his face light up when he was out in the mountains. He truly looked like he was at home. I unfortunately didn't get the chance to spend a lot of time with Arne. I had the privilege of shooting with him last winter for 8 days on a Warren Miller shoot at our home mountain of Crystal Mountain. He was a pleasure to shoot with and I'm sorry that this was the only chance I would get to work with him.

It seems like this has been an all too common occurrence recently. Arne is now the third friend I've lost this winter alone in skiing accidents. I don't want to take anything away from Arne's tragic passing, but his untimely death has definitely rocked me to the core and it's got me questioning why I (and so many other friends) are still drawn to such a dangerous sport. What is it that pushes us in the pursuit of flying downhill on skis.

I don't think I will ever be able answer that question. Skiing has been a huge part of my life for as long as I can remember and I can't ever see myself abandoning the sport... it's too much a part of who I am. However, in the wake of events like this, it definitely makes me question my motives and is giving me cause to second guess things I would have previously jumped into without hesitation.

Before I finish, I'd like to take a moment to thank the entire ski community for their outpouring of support. Within a matter of minutes of the news breaking, the internet was ablaze with thoughts, well wishes and prayers to Arne and the entire Backstrom family. We've got a solid family of people out there in the ski and snowboard community that genuinely care for those close to them. It was incredible to see such an outpouring of support from so many people.

And to the Backstrom family, my sincerest sympathies on your loss. Arne was an incredible person and we're all going to miss him dearly.

If you'd like to learn more about Arne or about the events surrounding his passing, please check out the attached LINK to Powder Magazine.