Archives For National Geographic Expeditions

DW in snow with slider

David shooting lynx tracks for the BBC series “Secrets of Our Living Planet” using his homemade camera dolly and ladder for track

There are a lot of camera sliders and dollies on the market but we were happy to try out a new offering from  www.trostmotion.com

Before our Trost review, I must say I was a little skeptical when I first saw the units. I have been using a small camera dolly running on a ladder or plastic pipes (2″ white poly pipe) and have enjoyed the flexibility and ease of setting such a system in unusual places. It also lends itself to long runs (6′-16′)

The smaller size of the two Trost units seemed less useful at either one metre or 1/2 metre lenghts. Then I got to try them out in the field and my opinion changed dramatically.

Rather than retasking skate board wheels like many sliders / dollies manufacturers, Trost have decided to go with a soild rail that can either mounted on a hihat, straight onto a tripod head, or even vertically.

The rails are on the heavy side, but this is required in order to make them sturdy enough and also means camera moves are smooth and positive. The cart that travels down the rail wraps around the unit, meaning that you can tilt and pan the fluid head as usual and don’t get any unwanted motion in the slider, other that the required left/right motion used to create great reveal shots. Systems that rely on a cart running on rails, and based on a wheel system, mostly have to be kept level.

David shooting in Wales Alaska

David shooting in Wales Alaska

We have tested the units in far north Alaska in the early spring when temperatures only reach minus 20 degrees C, as well as in the tropics of Brazil while shooting a recent music video with recording artist Luisa Maita, represented by Cumbancha Music.

David and Cotton working with recording artist Luisa Maita

David and Cotton working with recording artist Luisa Maita

We both love the versatility of having a short slider directly mounted on the fluid head. Not only can you do great reveal shots by combining a pan with a slider move to come out from behind an object to reveal a subject, but if an actor / performer does not quite hit their mark, you can subtly slide the camera to make sure framing works well. Then being able to add a tilt without fear of any unwanted movement or the system falling off the rails, is the a great way to keep the camera moving. The rig can then be picked up and thrown over the shoulder, in order to move to the next location.

Cotton and David working at Fernando de Noronha, Brazil

Cotton and David working at Fernando de Noronha, Brazil

There are still times when I will definitely use the long rail system I have but the new Trost sliders are a very welcome addition the travel kit. We have already strapped one to my backpack and dragged it on a 6400 mile journey through South America and are departing today with it for the Antarctic. We both agree that we are VERY impressed with the build quality and reliability, ease of transport and we are still discovering exciting new ways to use a slider that can be combined with a fluid head to create three axis of camera movement. We would recommend it to anyone in the business or anyone just shooting for fun.

Can’t wait to see what other new products Trost come up with in the future!

Now off to the airport, first stop the Falklands, then South Georgia and the Antarctic on board the NG / Lindblad Explorer to teach another digital storytelling workshop.

Here is a better view of the 100cm version for our Trost review.

trost-bottom trost-side trost-top

Technical specs for the sliders

1 rail (100cm)
1 carriage with folding 3/8″ stud
Adjustable drag speed control
2 rotating baseplates
3 quick release collars
total dimensions     40.3 x 3 x 1″
024 x 76 x 25 mm
max carriage travel     31″
79cm
weight    15 lbs     6.8kg
temperature of operation    -31°F-212°F     -35°C-100C°
head compatibility     carries any tripod head with female 3/8″ hole or another Trost slider with Trost quick release collar
support compatibility     mounts on top of any 3/8″ or 1/4″ male screw or C-Stand end, or on tabletop.

David Wright’s independent feature Blind Pass

FILMMAKER DAVID WRIGHT TRUSTS ANTON/BAUER TO POWER INDEPENDENT FEATURE FILM BLIND PASS
Chooses DIONIC 90 Batteries and Other Anton/Bauer Gear for First
Turn as Director of Photography

David Wright

SHELTON, CT, JULY 30, 2013-After spending several years as an award-winning documentary filmmaker, David Wright recently took on the role of director of photography for Blind Pass, a new independent feature film. Shooting primarily in Ireland with additional scenes filmed on location in Florida, Wright faced unpredictable weather and a rigorous daily production schedule. To help him maintain power throughout each shoot, he chose a variety of portable power solutions from Anton/Bauer®, part of Vitec Videocom, a Vitec Group company and a premier global provider of batteries, chargers, lighting and other mobile power systems for the professional broadcast, video, film and healthcare technology industries, to help keep him powered up through the long 16 hour, tough days of shooting.The dark thriller Blind Pass follows Carrie, a young woman facing the fact that she will soon go blind. She and her therapist travel through Ireland to fulfil her wish of experiencing the country while she still has sight. The story also explores Carrie’s troubled relationship with her father, played by award-winning actor Armand Assante. In order to deliver high quality imagery on such a tight budget and without the funds for expensive grip and lighting packages to complement the RED MX camera selected for the project, economy of scale was needed. As a solution, Wright turned to the trusted, go-to gear he had employed for his documentaries, which included several Anton/Bauer DIONIC® 90 batteries, various Gold Mount® solutions, a TWQ charger and a back-up Tandem 150 charger.

For U.S.-based Wright, a major challenge was powering all of the equipment while overseas in Ireland. The schedule was made up of 16-hour days, often taking place at three different locations a day.

To read the full article, click here.

For more of the latest A/B news, click here.

Check out David’s blog post for Nikon on their Nikon Cinema site for advise on this and many other topics

Read below for a full reproduction of the piece

 

David Wright is a 20-year Nikon camera veteran and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker. Working as a regular contributor in the roles of cameraman and producer for National Geographic television and the BBC, his work has taken him around the globe to film both wildlife and human interest stories. David employs the latest imaging technologies, including high-speed HD and ultra high-definition cameras, plus gyro-stabilized units for filming from helicopters.

David started out as a stills photographer but was soon well on his way as a cinematographer. At the age of 21, David was offered a job as an apprentice cameraman at world-renowned documentary production company Oxford Scientific Films. He was a regular contributor to their stock library. Through his work, David quickly mastered the craft of shooting television documentaries, and within two years become a cinematographer working for major broadcast clients.

“I learnt the trade using 16mm and 35mm film cameras,” he shares. “Today we shoot using the latest high definition (HD) cinema cameras that capture exclusively in video.” While the majority of his work is motion, David keeps a Nikon camera by his side to capture stills, time-lapses for his television productions, and for the camera’s video capabilities for which he applies to both personal and professional projects.

Adapting Cinematography Techniques
David recently led a workshop specifically for photojournalists that focused on best practices for HD-SLR video shoots. Preparation for this workshop made him consider the lessons he has learned as a cinematographer, and how best to adapt those techniques when shooting video with his latest camera, a Nikon D800.

Single lens reflex cameras (SLRs) have a long design history with a primary objective to capture still images, not motion work. David tactfully points out that shooting video with a D-SLR camera requires a different way of working the device, and that this process can be at odds with how a still photographer works. He further adds that producing video requires gear not likely found in a traditional photographer’s bag.

A Look Inside National Geographic Cinematographer/Producer David Wright’s Bag
In David’s own words, read more about his choice of gear, plus a few valuable lessons he’s picked up while on the job. These are all things you may wish to consider for your own video workflow.

DW & Mic

David Wright with D800 & ME-1 Microphone
Photo by: David Wright
Mic Check
The unsung hero of every video shoot is the sound-recordist. Whether shooting live action, an interview or other subjects in-between, I am often reminded that great capture with bad audio is unusable. On the other hand, good audio, even if accompanied by inferior imagery, is almost always useful; if your visual capture was not up to snuff you can usually shoot it again!

“Great capture with bad audio is unusable… on the other hand, good audio, even if accompanied by inferior imagery, is almost always useful”

Lesson number one for your HD-SLR shoot: use a good microphone. Compact and well designed for the job, I’m convinced the Nikon ME-1 is a great way to equip your camera for video work. The ME-1 has impressive specifications and is compact. It is powerful and will pick-up the smallest of sounds. Unfortunately even the sound of your hands operating the camera will be captured; this is known as “handling noise.” I like that the ME-1 has a built-in shock mount that assists in reducing this problem. Adding an ME-1 is an important component to consider as you start building-out your videography bag.

Also consider an add-on for improved sound—some sort of wind protection to shield the microphone. If you venture out into the wilds to shoot you’ll benefit from a windjammer (windscreen).

DSLR_crops

Capture different crops in camera without compromising output quality by using the DX crop mode (or 2.7x crop mode if available) – this will give you flexibility in editing the video together.
Photo by: David Wright
Choices, Choices: Magnification and Camera Angle
Unlike shooting photo stills and the “decisive moment,” filmmaking requires you to capture a series of moving images that best narrate an unfolding story or sequence. Sounds obvious, but understanding this key concept—both in terms of obtaining the shots that best piece together the story plus incorporation of the best lens(es)—can make or break your effort.

“I recommend watching a small part of a favorite movie… turn down the sound and pay attention to how the shots were produced”

To better understand the concept of shooting a sequence, I recommend watching a small part of a favorite movie. When you watch, turn down the sound and pay attention to how the shots were produced, how the film flows from one frame to the next, and how long each frame runs. You’ll likely start noticing that the editor is using rather basic techniques.

The two most important techniques are: changing magnification or size of subject and camera angle. Shoot with these notions in mind and you’ll give yourself ample editing options once you’re prepping the footage. During the edit, cutting between shots will be easier and you can pace your finished sequence in any way you choose. If someone else is cutting for you, creating more choices by following these techniques will make you a popular cameraman!

Three Favorite Lenses
I rotate between three favorite NIKKOR lenses when shooting video:

AF-S Zoom-NIKKOR 17-35mm f/2.8D ED-IF
This lens is ideal when hand holding the camera or using a monopod. The 17-35mm lens allows you to establish the scene with a great wide angle view. This lens is also more forgiving of camera shake—something far more noticeable than when taking stills. With stills you’re concerned about holding a camera steady for a brief moment in time. With video you may need to hold the camera still for several minutes.

For example, if you like shooting candid street shots and want to blend in with the background by not using a tripod, the wide angle is a great way to go. Plus, with a f/2.8 lens you’ll get great capture in low light.

AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR
One photographer at a recent workshop referred to this as the ‘Swiss army knife’ of his preferred lens selections when traveling. The 24-120mm f/4G is fast enough to work well in low light, and it has a range that enables the different shot size requirements mentioned above that go into constructing a solid sequence.

As a tip, I like to start a sequence with a wide establishing shot (24mm). I then move in for a medium shot (50mm). And finally, I go to close-up (120mm). Of course you can also achieve the three different focal lengths by moving the camera closer to the subject, but for ease and speed this lens handles all the footwork.

AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR
When I need to travel light, this is the lens I tend to use most. Its compact size and amazing zoom range permit me to quickly capture a wide range of shot sizes; I don’t miss any action by relocating the camera. At the long end of its zoom capability this lens is best paired with a tripod. The results are astounding.

DSLR-video-Ronnie

The larger sensor in HD-SLR cameras paired with a fast lens enables shallow depth of field in your video, allowing a great cinematic look to be achieved.
Photo by: David Wright
Cinematic Sensor Size
Of course one of the big attractions for using an HD-SLR for video is the large sensor size—and the resulting shallow depth of field it yields. You bring a great look to your footage, and the technology allows improved separation of subject from background.

As a tip, for occasions where even more distinct separation of subject from the background is desired, I suggest a prime lens with fast aperture. The AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G is great for recording interviews or when you wish to shoot a portrait photograph.

Techniques to Imitate a Filmic Look
Another joy of using an HD-SLR to shoot video, compared to cameras with smaller sensors, is the ability to recreate that filmic look I saw from my trusty old 16mm and 35mm film cameras. To achieve the look, I mimic some of the older camera settings, which means either using a frame rate of 24 fps or 25 fps (depending on whether you are in an NTSC or PAL country; the USA uses NTSC).

Want to make the most of this look? Calculate your exposure time as if it were the 180-degree spinning shutter in the film camera. In other words, a 1/50 sec. exposure should be used when shooting at 25 fps. This allows just the right amount of motion capture in the image to yield a smooth and pleasant playback because it mimics the way the human eye sees things in motion. In other words, with just enough blur.

To maintain that shallow depth of field in your video work, not only should you shoot at 1/50 sec., but also set a large aperture (set between f/1.4 and f/4 depending on the lens you are using). The challenge here is that, particularly in bright situations, you can’t help but be overexposed.

Combat overexposure by using a variable neutral density (ND) filter. The filter knocks back exposure by two stops, and you can dial it down by as much as nine stops. I recommend not pushing too far; the corners of the image will start to become dark and you may see a slight color shift. The variable ND also provides the ability to smoothly adjust the amount of light entering the lens while you shoot.

ND Filter Makes For a Smooth Operator
An interesting point about a “traditional” cinema lens is that the aperture ring does not have click stops. Most new photography lenses don’t have an aperture ring; all adjustments are made via a dial on the camera body.

The cinema lens aperture ring is great because you can make adjustments without the viewer becoming aware of the change. I frequently run into a situation where I am hand-holding the camera and walking behind a subject; for example, when filming the person as he or she moves from indoors to outdoors. For continuous footage in this scenario you’d have to reduce exposure on-the-fly by stopping down the lens.

The solution? Use that filter for easy on-the-fly exposure control. Practice with the variable ND filter and gain expertise in maintaining correct exposure by merely spinning the front element. With practice you can take the motion of your subject, combined with your own movement, to hide in-camera adjustments. No one will even be aware that changes have been made.

My second camera is a D600 – for this camera the aperture locks once I hit the record button in Video Mode. I’ve learned that by setting the lens and ND filter to the right combination I am more precise in adjusting exposure. I can let more light in or decrease the light during a shot—and I do not have to restart the camera.

External Monitor Gives a Second Look
One of the most important things I have to remember, after years of working with traditional movie cameras, is that HD-SLRs don’t have a viewfinder that can be oriented to different angles. For my work I often need to look down into a finder instead of the backside of a camera where the LCD screen is. My solution is to add an external electronic viewfinder. These monitors provide extra features such as focus assist modes, histograms for checking exposure and much more. These added tools will likely help boost your confidence in what you are capturing.

Two Last Best Bets
Two last items in my kit, that have not changed much since my film days, include a good fluid head and a sturdy set of tripod legs. The tripod is not only essential for steady telephoto shots, but the better the head, the smoother the movement during video pan or tilt. There are a lot of brands on the market, but my choice for best build quality, design and price is the Miller range of products. For times when I am on foot and/or need to keep a low profile, I’ll also carry a monopod to help steady the capture.

Ultimately, what you end up adding to your videography bag will be dictated by what you shoot and what you prefer. My work takes me all around the planet. I capture everything from animals to people to nature. I shoot in all ranges of light and environmental conditions. So for me, my personal favorites include:

Nikon D800 and D600 bodies (view)
NIKKOR 17-35mm zoom (view)
NIKKOR 28-300mm zoom (view)
NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4mm prime (view)
Plenty of spare batteries and memory cards (view)
A variable ND filter
External electronic viewfinder (EVF)
A good tripod and monopod
You have an amazing film-making tool in your hands. To ease into motion, consider the video-making capability of your Nikon HD-SLR combined with time-lapse image capture in stills mode. You can create some amazing looks. When you are ready to dive into 100 percent motion work, know that with a little camera practice the rest comes down to your imagination.

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

David Wright
David Wright is an award winning filmmaker and photographer. Originally from the U.K., he has worked in more than 35 countries and now makes his home on the coast of Maine in the U.S.A. Upcoming travels will take him to South Africa, Brazil, South Georgia and the Antarctic. A long time Nikon user, David started out in the business at Oxford Scientific Films. He then went freelance and now shoots for clients including National Geographic, the BBC and Discovery Channel. Recent projects have included landmark series like Nat Geo’s “Untamed Americas,” which just earned him an Emmy nomination for cinematography. Previously he received an Emmy for achievement in documentary filmmaking, and a nomination for cinematography for his National Geographic special on polar bears. Throughout his career David has used Nikon photography equipment, as well as NIKKOR lenses, to shoot everything from television productions to commercials and feature films. Along with his work as a cinematographer and producer, David also runs workshops for the expedition company Lindblad, a National Geographic partner. David shoots with a Nikon D800 and will also be using the COOLPIX AW110 in his upcoming adventures.
To learn more about David’s work visit http://www.planetearthpictures.com/

We had the pleasure of working on National Geographic’s recent landmark series “Untamed Americas“. We are excited to announce that it was just nominated for an Emmy for “Outstanding Cinematography”.

The story we shot was based in Jasper NP , in beautiful Alberta, Canada. Our mission was to shoot the big horn sheep rut.

the team

The team- David Wright, Hayes Baxley & Wes Bradford

Jasper NP

Jasper NP

The weather was unusually cold but with the help of producer Hayes Baxley and local guide Wes Bradford we finally triumphed and returned home with a great story. Jasper has to be one of the best wildlife destinations I have ever visited. The landscape is incredible and while there we saw wolves make a kill, deer, moose, grizzly and golden eagles… But the stars of the show were definitely the big horn sheep. The knock down fights went on for hours, although we would then wait hours in -30 degee temperatures for the next bout.

BH cu

Big Horn Ram

 

The high speed sequences were shot with a Phantom camera from Vision Research recording to a Nanoflash from Convergent Design. The cold presented a huge challenge to us and the gear. Cables became so brittle that they would snap if not handled with extreme care. Luckily after two weeks of waiting, the weather became ideal and we got the sequence just in time to return home for the Thanksgiving holidays

DW & HB

Hayes Baxley & David Wright

DW shooting

David in Jasper NP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is a clip from the show which can be seen on National Geographic... check their site for times. We will be on board the NG Explorer the night of the Emmy Awards Ceremony, sailing off the coast of Brazil on the Epic South America expedition, but fingers crossed for the big night.

 

 

 

Author- David Wright

In addition to the new digital video workshops I am leading with David Wright, in partnership with National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions, Sisse Brimberg (my wife) and I also often lead city based photo workshops, most recently in Paris, France. The other day we responded to a couple of questions from National Geographic Expeditions about our workshop series.

Q: What makes Paris a great subject for photographers?

A: Paris is one of our favorite city locations to shoot in, most because of the variety of subjects and light. The city offers lots of opportunities to refine your skills with street (people) photography, architecture, and food. Paris is an elegant and refined city capital, every time you walk around a corner, there is always a new tableaux or scene that unfolds in front of your camera. The light is very special as well. Its ever changing and dramatic. One of our favorite activities is shooting photos at the local markets, where we enjoy seeing and tasting the produce from France. Of course the food is displayed in in fresh and colorful ways that lends itself to strong photos. Sometimes we will focus just on the textures of the food. Over the years, Parians have become more and more open to having visitors come to their city and photograph life in the streets.

Q: What is the most important thing a participant should bring to this workshop?

A: The most important thing the participant should bring to the workshop is an open mind to new ways of shooting, as well as formulating some sense of how he/she wants to improve their photography. We really stress the importance of understanding “light” and how this impacts your photography and how you can utilize it to your advantage.

It’s also important to bring a laptop and software that you are familiar with using, we do not spend oodles of time discussing photo processing e.g. Photoshop, but you should be comfortable and quick with your editing workflow. The great advantage of this workshop is that we allow time for constructive critiques and feedback which really helps the students understand light, composition and other photographic concepts.

Q: Tell us about a favorite photo you took in Paris.

Expeditionworkshops2

A: One of the favorite photos we recently took in Paris was this simple reflection shot taken into a window on Place de la Madeleine. Here the photograph of the model in the window display seems to be looking out into the square. Paris provides ample opportunities to shoot reflections and play with the light, and the juxtaposition of the photo and the location make for a fresh new angle.

SisseCotton_20070904_011

Finding the right camera bag seems to be an ongoing struggle. It constantly reminds me the Goldielocks and the three bears…. I am always trying to find just the right on.

The parameters are protecting the camera gear, having a bag that is  light, but strong and also comfortable. To my wife’s dismay, I think I have every shape and size on the shelves of my office. Then I discovered Gura Gear. They produce a line of camera packs that are to be the ideal combination of quality, strength and are still light weight. Perfect for a trek in the mountains or a day photographing in the city. With weight restrictions also being a concern at airport check-ins, this bag is also a great solution for plane travel.

I have been testing out their Bataflae model (see above), which even my very discerning wife doesn’t mind wearing when we are out for a hike. The pack is well designed and very versatile in terms of fitting the straps to ensure a comfortable fit what ever size you are.

The other challenge we face in traveling is packing gear in shipping cases so that airport security guards don’t damage items when they place things back where they may not have started out. Gura Gear have the solution for that too. They have a great line of pouches they have branded the Et Cetera line. As there website suggests “a great way to handle your extra stuff and organize the chaos”. The pouches each contain items like my radio microphone kit or video monitor. Not only can I quickly find locate each of those kits, but they are safe inside the larger shipping case, even with the roughest treatment the baggage handlers can throw at it. With transparent lids so you can see the contents,  strong enough sides to afford extra protection and a place to label the gear, more pouches the Et Cetera line will be on my Christmas list.

We have two exciting trips coming up with National Geographic / Lindblad, Epic South America & South Georgia/Antarctica.While on board we will be teaching two film-making workshops, please let the reservations folks at Lindblad know if you would like to attend, as spaces are limited. As fun as these trips will be, they will demanding in terms of protecting gear in the rigors of climates that range from the tropical heat of the Amazon, to the frigid temperatures of king penguin colony. The Gura Gear pack and their Et Cetera pouches will be traveling with me to meet the challenge. If you are getting ready to join us on these adventures or heading off on your own, Gura Gear is a great option to carry you gear. Excellent build quality, design and so light that it will really help you stay within airport weight limits for carry-on bags.

Traveling to some of the world’s remotest locations is perhaps the best part of being a documentary filmmaker or photographer. The downside is staying in contact with loved ones and also staying in contact with social media networks that many of us rely on. Secretly I have to admit being off the grid is something I enjoy, but it is easy to be the one traveling to somewhere exotic while leaving family and friends at home. On some well funded shoots we started to carry an early satellite phone, but even they can be frustrating as they were bulky and often lost connection. Still, it was an improvement from the old days of HF radio. My wife still cringes when we think back to me calling her via a radio from remote corners of the Arctic. With nothing else for entertainment, everyone else across the Svalbard and perhaps most of Europe could listen in to our conversations. You either made the choice not to care what people overheard or tempered the exchange and kept it business like…. There was simply no privacy and sometimes the conversation made being homesick even worse thanks to all the things that were unsaid.

Fortunately satellite technology has moved on. I have become a big fan of the SPOT Messenger system. We initially started using it when I was shooting a story on black bears in northern Minnesota. I would spend all day walking with habituated animals and never knew where I would end up. The SPOT would send out a position every ten minutes to a Google map and enable my wife to monitor my progress anywhere she had internet or 3G service. Quite incredible and soon the researchers working with the bears realized that my walking with the animals all day gave them an incredibly accurate plot of everywhere the bears moved. Much better information than was being transmitted but much more sophisticated tracking collars.

I shouldn’t ignore perhaps the most important feature of the SPOT messenger, the HELP and SOS/EMERGENCY buttons. Walking in the remote woods of Minnesota, anything could have gone wrong and the help button would first allow me to send a call for help to predetermined people giving my exact position, the message arriving as a text or email, and then if something really bad happened, the SOS/EMERGENCY button would alert the appropriate rescue squad (police, fire, game wardens etc). A great insurance policy when you are alone in the woods or away from cell phone coverage. In fact over and over again these devices have proved to be life savers across the world whether someone has crashed a vehicle in a remote place or been hurt on an expedition. The testimonials on their website speak for themselves.

Soon after this SPOT brought out their next generation of beacons, the Connect,  that enabled the user to send a brief text message, tweet or Facebook unpdate. This is all done by the unit connecting to a mobile phone from which you type in your message via an app. Combine this with the tracking service and a map that you can share, suddenly the world can follow your adventures. For limited time the Connect is available with a $50 rebate

But today arks another milestone as SPOT have launched the affordable SPOT Global Phone, a satellite communication device we can all use. With low per minute cost it provides an excel;lent way to stay in touch from the remotest of locations.  So happy travels and now their is no excuse for not calling your mother!