Outdoor Photography and Videography

Tobi Wulff Photography

Photoshoot Experience: KiwiPyCon Conference

A few weeks ago I shot my first event which was KiwiPyCon 2015 at the university campus in Christchurch, New Zealand. KiwiPyCon is an annual programming and software development conference organised by the New Zealand Python User Group (NZPUG). It consisted of talks and tutorials on Friday, and talks (plus many morning tea, lunch, and afternoon tea breaks) on Saturday and Sunday. All photos can be found on the Flickr page I created for the event.

I came to the event with two cameras and two lenses: my Olympus OM-D E-M1 (de) with the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 (de), and a borrowed Panasonic G5 with my Olympus 45mm f/1.8 (de) prime. The lecture theatres were fairly dark so I expected to use the prime lens quite often during the talks.

The first challenge which, much to my frustration, didn't even have to do anything with photography itself, was to get photos up onto the Internet as fast as possible, ideally while a talk or conference segment was happening. New photos and updates could be announced on the official @NZPUG Twitter feed. I tried the Olympus OI Share app on my phone because I figured it would be easiest to select files from my camera via Wifi and share them directly to a Twitter app. This didn't work at all: loading photos from the camera was very slow and my phone often switched back to using the conference Wifi and therefore loosing connectivity with my camera. When I finally managed to load a full photo from the camera, I had problems sharing it to Twitter due to connection timeouts which was probably due to the slow university Wifi or Internet on the "visitor" network we were assigned. After trying for half an hour while all sorts of activity with people streaming in, signing up, chatting and getting ready for talks was happening around me, I gave up and tried using a tablet which can read SD cards from the camera, and the Android Flickr app.

The Flickr app wasn't working either: I couldn't use my existing account (Yahoo said something about inactive account even though it works fine from a PC) and creating a new account and logging in also failed. So while it looked like reading SD cards directly and uploading to Flickr was the way to go, I wouldn't be able to use my tablet (with the long battery life) and eventually had to resort to using my old trusty Thinkpad laptop (with its 40 minute battery life). Finally, after deciding to use a proper computer, everything worked as expected: I pulled the photos from the SD card to the laptop, put them into a folder for each day and camera, and uploaded them to Flickr via the website. No apps, no camera Wifi, no sharing or APIs: just memory cards and HTTP. I still decided to not shoot RAW and I also downsized the images to around 5 Megapixels in camera so that the slow and sometimes unreliable visitor Wifi network would be able to handle all the uploads in a timely manner.

One big problem I ran into with the silent electronic shutter of the Panasonic G5 was with the florescent lights: while not a problem with the normal shutter, the slower readout (technically the readout is the same but the exposure across the whole frame happens much faster with a mechanical shutter) caused horizontal line artefacts to appear in the final photo:

I'm not sure why it wasn't a problem with some of the other portraits of presenters before this one since I've used the electronic shutter quite a lot on the first day but after this experience I quickly changed back to using the mechanical shutter. While a little bit more annoying for the audience, as an event photographer you aren't completely invisible anyway while running around the stage, and luckily neither the E-M1 nor the G5 have a loud shutter.

A similar technical issue was around camera settings, specifically white balance. Being primarily a landscape photographer I like to use manual mode with manual ISO and manual white balance. However, I quickly learned to use a more automatic mode like A priority, and set ISO and WB to auto. There are still a few photos were the white balance is way off which was before I put the camera into a more automatic mode. After I learned and switched, most photos came out really well. The E-M1, despite being a m4/3 camera and therefore not a very good low-light performer, looks great up to ISO 1600, and together with the f/1.8 prime it was enough to capture action and speakers unless they waved their hands around really furiously. In this case I just had to wait a few seconds for them to calm down and then quickly get the shots.

Over the three days I extensively used my Peak Design camera clip (de) I talked about last week, attached to my belt, in order to carry and work with two cameras, or during breaks grab some food and have conversations without having to hold a camera in my hands all the time. It performed flawlessly and kept even the fairly heavy (for a m4/3 camera) E-M1 + 12-40mm zoom lens secure on my hip. The built-in lock functionality was good to have because the opening of the clip is to the side when worn on a belt so in theory bumping the spring-loaded unlock button and nudging the camera could result in dropping it from hip height onto a potentially very hard floor.

One of the bigger challenges was to capture the moment during prize-givings when a book, voucher or other gadget was handed to the lucky winner. Because the lecture theatre was fairly big and the prize-giving was happening so fast I wasn't always close enough or didn't have enough time to get a good focus. Ideally as a photographer you would want more time and a bit of a pose, and the person bringing the prize to the winner shouldn't stand between the camera and the person receiving the prize. I'm not sure what would work better in the future apart from having more than one photographer so that we can spread out in the theatre.

Please head over to Google+ or Twitter @tobiaswulff to discuss this article and let me know how you handle event shoots like these. I ran into a few problems and challenges so any tips for the future are greatly appreciated. My Flickr and Vimeo pages also provide some space to leave comments and keep up to date with my portfolio. Lastly, if you want to get updates on future blog posts, please subscribe to my RSS feed. I plan to publish a new article every Wednesday.

Peak Design Camera Clips and Straps for the Outdoors

Ever since I started using my first piece of Peak Design camera accessory, I have become a big fan, and it's getting better and more useful every time I take it with me to an event or on a trip outdoors. It keeps your hands free and your gear secure.

Obvious disclaimer that I'm not affiliated with Peak Design (I wish my blog was that successful) - I just love those products ever since I got them, and a few people have asked me about them so I decided to write it all up. Some links to products in this blog post are Amazon Affiliate links that earn me a few cents or dollars if a reader buys any product on Amazon through this link. The price of the product does not increase so it is a free way to support this site by using the links provided. The main product link goes to Amazon.com and the "(de)" leads to Amazon.de.


Peak Design started making the Capture Camera Clip (de) pictured above in 2010 and has been expanding their product range with new, exciting products ever since. This is a great article on SmugMug that goes over the idea, the history, the people and the Kickstarter campaign behind the clip. I used to have my old camera, an Olympus OM-D E-M5 with kit zoom lens, strapped onto the shoulder strap of my backpack using a Maxpedition Janus. This worked reasonably well as long as I didn't have to jump off boulders or duck under trees that had fallen over onto the track. Given the wrong angle or too much force, the camera and lens could fall out of the bungee cord strap that held it in place. For a small compact camera or a light camera with a fairly long lens I still think that this is a very good and cheap system.

I saw a friend use the Capture Camera clip and decided that it would fit my use case perfectly. It became a necessity when I upgraded to an Olympus OM-D E-M1 since it is bulkier and the zoom lens would no longer fit into the strap I had been using previously. One great feature is that the plate that attaches to the camera's tripod mount can slide into the clip in any 90 degree orientation so you can have the camera facing down, sideways or even up, for instance to change lenses. One thing I don't like so much is that you need a hex key to fasten and loosen the plate. It can be done by rotating the whole plate which is what I do most of the time but after a few times it gets to the skin on your fingers ...

I went for the standard version which is constructed from aluminium as well as "glass-reinforced nylon". So far it seems to be built to last a long time, although I can see how the Pro version that is all metal could have the edge after many years of abuse. The plate that screws onto the camera as well as the parts that hold the plate in place are mostly metal so I'm confident it will always hold the camera securely. The main weak points made out of nylon are the screw holes on either side which maybe could snap one day if I screw it on too tightly to a thick strap or belt. Furthermore, the Pro version comes with a plate that can act as a quick release plate for Arca-style and RC2 tripods.

The Capture clip works great on a backpack shoulder strap (sliding the camera in from above), on a belt at events (sliding the camera in sideways), or the shoulder strap of a messenger bag (works either from the top or the side).

My next purchases from Peak Design were the Cuff (de) wrist strap to secure my camera to my arm or my backpack via a carabiner, and the Anchor Links (de) to convert my original Olympus neck strap into a more useful detachable strap. Right away I have to say what's great about a lot (but not necessarily all) of their accessories is that you get quite a few spare parts: I've only attached one anchor link to the PD plate and one to the right-hand side of my camera, and now I've got 4 (!) anchor links left that can be used once the first two wear out. I'm not sure how fast this will happen but I'm sure it will last me quite a long time.

Another bonus of the clip/unclip system as opposed to a fixed neck strap or something like Blackrapid shoulder strap is that I can quickly change from wrist cuff to safety leash to shoulder strap. When I use my original E-M1 as a shoulder strap with anchor links on the bottom and right-hand side of the camera, I find it sits much more securely and comfortably than if I use a Blackrapid (clone) where the strap only goes through the bottom of the camera. The only disadvantage is that you loose the sliding action up and down the strap but I haven't found that to be a problem yet. I've also heard great things about the slide shoulder strap, however I'm quite happy with the original Olympus strap. From what I can see the Peak Design Slide offers much quicker length adjustments but I can't say that I needed to change the length of my neck or shoulder strap on the fly very much.

Now, they are diving into the realms of camera bags with the Everday Messenger Bag which has been designed together with New Zealands Mr. HDR Landscapes: Trey Ratcliff. While I'm in no need to purchase any more shoulder bags or backpacks at the moment, I'll keep an eye on their developments because I'm sure it will be exciting, functional and very well made.

Photo Management Workflow in Linux

Ever since I started taking RAW photographs and developing them on my computer, I put a lot of thought ("obsessing over") into how I want to organize my workflow and in particular how to structure my files.

Many photographers might start by simply dumping all their pictures into a folder for each trip or shoot, hopefully ordered by date. If your folder names do not start with YYYY-MM-DD you're going to have a hard time quickly finding and grabbing your photos with a file manager - on the other hand, photo management software can simply use the date and time in the EXIF data to sort and find digital assets. However, what can happen if you take that approach is that you lock yourself into one specific workflow with one specific application.

Apart from that, one folder sounds fine, after all, different files for different purposes have different file extensions: RAW as the original ("digital negative") that never gets modified, XMP sidecar files that store additional metadata and RAW processing steps, XCF/PSD work-in-progress editing files, and finally JPEGs. Nevertheless, I keep my JPEGs and my RAWs in different folders so that I can quickly copy all the JPEGs to an external device to show them to other people. Having to go through the export functionality of a photo management tool would complicate this process unnecessarily.

A great video to watch is Chase Jarvis' TECH blog post and video on his company's workflow, and if you've got some extra time to kill: Chase Jarvis LIVE Q&A on workflow which goes into much more useful detail (but also rambles on about less important stuff from time to time). There is a lot of solid advice from highly successful professionals in there but it can easily be applied to your personal needs by scaling it down a notch. After all, most of what they do still applies to one-man-bands and enthusiasts:

  • Use redundant hardware to prevent data loss due to technical failures
  • Backup regularly and off-site to prevent data loss due to theft or human error
  • Have a standardized workflow so that all your folders are organized consistently
  • Tag and rate to find photos once you've accumulated thousands

Requirements

Availability

I want to be able to quickly get to my photos and show them to someone or copy them to a USB flash drive without having to go through my photo management software. By having separate folders for each photo shoot sorted by date and within those separate folders for each file type ("digital negative", 'developed photos", "project files"), I can always use the CLI or a file manager to get exactly the files I want without reading their EXIF etc data.

Interoperability

Interoperability might not be very important if you know that you will always use one specific program and that you can rely on this program being available, up-to-date and meeting your needs for many years to come (we are talking potentially decades here). Personally, I wouldn't put that much trust into it, and while proprietary photography applications have a slightly better track record than something like MS Office, keep in mind that things might still change very suddenly and your favorite program might not meet your requirements anymore or work in a very different, non-backwards compatible way (like when FCPX came out).

My photo management program of choice, digikam, relies on my own file system structure of my albums, and displays them basically exactly like they are stored on disk. However, it can also browse all photos by date, tag, rating, etc. This way, I can quickly search and filter for specific criteria, or just browse my albums as they are stored in folders. For much, much more information on digikam I highly recommend the eBook digikam recipes which is easily worth the little money it costs if you're looking into using Linux for your photography workflow.

Backups

I don't want to rely solely on my photo management program to do the backups. This is another reason why I started this blog post and my workflow considerations with a sane and well organized file system structure: any backup program will be able to grab those files (all of them or a subset) and copy them somewhere else doing full, incremental and differential backups. Restoring them is also easier if the photo or photo shoot in question can be found quickly.

I will talk more about my backup strategy and how I've implemented it (including tools around rsync and btrfs) in a future blog post.

Personal Workflow

My personal directory structure which reflects most of the workflow:

  • It starts with a folder for the YEAR (e.g. 2014),
  • within each year I have a sub folder DATE_PROJECT/TRIP (e.g. 2015-09-30_Trip_Location),
  • if there are a lot of photos: DAY (full date) or other categorization (e.g. by camera, sub-project, etc)
  • Further sub folders based on workflow (see below)
  • File names are usually DATE_TIMESTAMP (with suffix _1, _2 etc if multiple photos have the same timestamp). I've also seen many people keep the camera's original file name but add date and time at the front. Personally, I don't see any point in keeping the camera's numbering scheme - it doesn't convey any useful information apart from avoiding duplicates if date/time are the same.
These are the sub folders that I use to organize the files within each shoot:
  • jpg: final JPEGs, often straight from camera and the ones developed by myself; I want all the final pictures in one folder so I can browse them easily
  • orf: my current camera's (Olympus) RAW files
  • liveworks: contains RAW files and their XMP sidecars

This covers 95% of my usual projects which are trips or events with lots of out-of-camera JPEGs and a few jewels I want to work on from RAW. These are the ones you see show up in my portfolio. I usually don't have HDR, panorama or other composite shots but if I need a place for them I would put them in a new folder in liveworks. JPEGs that get a final touch-up in GIMP also go into a new "edit" folder.

There is also a discussion to be had about whether to keep developed files or not. While it should always be possible and easy to get to any photo - if developed: from RAW plus sidecar, if edited: from GIMP's XCF- it also makes it quite difficult to quickly access the final image, or the one I uploaded to my website because I also want to publish it somewhere else, or the one I adjusted for printing. Therefore, I keep all the final images around in the "jpg" folder and name them using a flexible system of suffixes. Basically, there is no strict system as long as it is clear what the image and its intention are. It is nice to have the final image appear first in alphanumerical sorting order. Here are some examples:

  • DATE_TIMESTAMP_final_no_wm.jpg: final image (this is usually the final photo, the way I like it most, no watermark therefore not directly for publishing,
  • DATE_TIMESTAMP_final_wm.jpg: same as above but with a watermark/signature and therefore suitable for publishing,
  • DATE_TIMESTAMP_bw.jpg: a black and white version of the photo if I feel like both versions, color and monochrome, work well,
  • DATE_TIMESTAMP_Ax.jpg: image in A format for printing on A4, A3, etc,
  • DATE_TIMESTAMP_dark.jpg or _bright.jpg: different exposures from the final image if they are worth keeping, for instance if it gives the image a different atmosphere,
  • no suffix at all usually means the jpg comes straight out of the camera.

Digikam and most other photo management software can group images. When I keep all developed and processed JPEGs in one folder, I can group them under the "_final_no_wm" version so that all the different varieties won't clutter the album but I can still quickly access all versions by expanding the group.

Conclusion

It's been 1.5 years since I started doing photography with RAW files and this workflow has worked really well for me. I have hardly modified it apart from renaming a few folders. I could see myself dividing my files even more in the future, say, between outdoor trips and events, but for now the quantity of photos is perfectly manageable as described in this blog post. I might look again into digikam's import functionality and what it can do for me but it didn't convince me the first time I tried so I stuck with using the CLI to create sub directories and copying the files from the camera's SD card to their respective folders.

Please head over to Google+ or Twitter @tobiaswulff to discuss this article or any of my photography and videography work. My Flickr and Vimeo pages also provide some space to leave comments and keep up to date with my portfolio. Lastly, if you want to get updates on future blog posts, please subscribe to my RSS feed. I plan to publish a new article every Wednesday.

Backcountry Time-lapse

A slightly too short moon-rise time-lapse video made at Manuka Hut in the Hakatere Conservation Park.

3 of 3
  1. 1 2 3