Kyffhäuser Pass

Bildschirmfoto 2015-08-24 um 22.29.28Yet another motorcycle video today. During my trip to watch the Perseid meteor swarm I also took some footage of me and my buddy going up and down the Kyffhäuser pass. The Kyffhäuser is a huge monument in the middle of Thuringa (Germany), a few hours from Hanover. There is also a former race track by the same name (now a public road) with 36 curves winding up the hill.
We attached the GoPro to our bikes subsequently and raced along. And by that I mean that my buddy grinded down his footpeg while leaning into the curves while I slowly approached every corner (As of today I have only clocked 3.600 km on a bike in total. Yes, I’m a noob). Therefore the footage from my buddy is much faster than the footage from my bike.
I pondered speeding up my clips but opted against it. A German saying goes “Es ist noch kein Meister vom Himmel gefallen” (direct translation: “No master has fallen out of the sky yet” => “No one is born a master”). I would like to append this saying by the phrase “But many wannabe masters have fallen off their bike”. Hence no sped up footage.

I chose a funny, yet kickass song to be the soundtrack – “Pirate Shout” by audio fedility. The song is a remix of the Monkey Island theme song (yes, the LucasArts computer game). I would classify the music as “pirate metal”. Cutting went a little easier this time – practice makes perfect. I ditched all original audio channels and let the music speak for itself. Also I tried to match the cuts with the rhythm of the music, which can be a little tricky, as you have to hit the exact frame to get a perfect match. But again – practice makes perfect.

Driving the Nienstedt Pass

Nienstedt-Header

In the recent weeks I blogged about motorcycle photography (part 1, part 2) and how to position a GoPro camera on a motorcycle. In today’s post I will show you a video I made on the Nienstedt pass, which is a popular track among cyclists in the Hanover region. In this video I am driving the pass down and up again, filmed in six different camera angles. Since I own only one GoPro, I had to drive the track six times to obtain all the footage.

Cutting the video was strennous. It is far more complex than editing photos since the images are moving (D’UH…), also I am not experienced in video editing and lack even the most basic knowledge about an efficient video editing workflow. Here is how I managed the task.

Let’s start from the end. What you see below is the final cut of the video. Bildschirmfoto 2015-08-16 um 16.22.12

I created six video channels and named them after the respective camera position. Then I chose one audio track to be the master audio and ditched all other audio channels. This ensures consistency in the final video. In the next step I aligned the videos in such a way, that they were more or less synchronized. Since I drove the same track six times, I chose a certain tree at the beginning of the track and aligned all videos in such a way, that all camera angles passed the respective tree at the same moment. From that on I divided the video into 5-6 second clips and switched to another camera as I saw it fit. By “switching to another camera” I mean that I cut all six channels into the respective strips and deleted five of them. This way only the snippet which I wanted to show was visible. As you can see from circa one third into the edit I got lazy and only deleted all snippets above the snippet I wanted to show (note: All video channels in Premiere Pro are stacked from top to bottom. What is in the uppermost channel will be visible. If you remove the upper layer, the content of the next layer becomes visible.

That way I worked through the video piece by piece. After I had cut about one third I had to re-align certain clips a little. All clips start at the same spot of the track, but since I drove a little bit differently every time some offset slowly occured. Let’s say the current camera position was handlebar, facing forward and I wanted to make a cut to chassis side mount, facing forward. In the first clip a certain tree was around 50 m away, but in the other clip the tree was only 10 m away since I drove a little but quicker when I took the footage with the side mounted camera. In such a case I re-aligned the two clips, until the cut matched.

There were some “errors” which I could not correct. For example, if a car is approaching you from the opposite direction and then you make a cut to a backward facing view, the car won’t pass you (since it was not there in the other run).

To make it short – You could perfect the video and make editing much more easier if you attached six GoPros to your bike and took all the footage in one go. Then everything will be perfectly synchronized. But let’s stay real – who buys and attaches six GoPros to you bike ? Right, nobody.

In the last step I searched for some music at jamendo. I chose a hardrock track, as it goes well with the motorcycle atmosphere. Note that all songs from jamendo can be used for free, if they are for private, non-commercial use ! If you intend to monetarize the video on Youtube or use the video for your commercial photography business, you will have to buy a license. But since I am a hobbyist-one-man-show, I won’t have to pay.

Bottom line: Editing is strennous. Align all the footage accordingly and then cut your way through the video jungle. Pay attention to be consistent when making a cut and also stay in sync with the audio track. If you can see you are shifting a gear you should hear that (and vice versa). If that is not an option, choose a camera angle which does not show the shifting operation.

Photographing the Perseid metor shower

20150813-Milky-Way-title001

The earth is flying through the Perseid meteor swarm again and the night sky is showered with falling stars. Since the heavy light pollution in cities makes it next to impossible to observe this event, I chose to go to a more remote location. I made a two-day trip with my bike to the Harz in Thuringa. There at the Kyffhäuser pass, which is a place of pilgrimage for bikers due to the 36 curves which wind up the hill, I hoped to get a better look on this spectacular event. Mother nature was very kind to bless us with a nearly cloud-free sky and a 20°C+ warm summer night.

Photographing falling stars is a gamble, just like photographing lightning strikes.  You are faced with a dilemma. Since you don’t know where the next falling star will fall, you have to point your camera at a random spot in the sky and wait, making one exposure after the other . If you choose a wide-angle lens, the chance is high that you will catch a falling star. But the falling star will be very small on the image. If you choose a longer focal length, your field of view is narrower, which rapidly decreases your chances that a falling star will occur in exactly that part of sky you are pointing your camera at.

I chose to take my Nikon D800, a MeFoto tripod and the Samyang 12 mm f2.8 lens (I wrote a review of that lens for NikonRumors a while ago, see here). We (my bike-buddy and I) set up “camp” at a small parking area aside the road which runs through the woods near the Kyffhäuser. I set the camera to 30s, f2.8 and ISO 1.250-2.000 (played with that a little). The camera was set to manual focus (well, the lens only offers manual anyway) with focus set to infinity. I pointed the camera towards the sky, triggered the exposure, moved the camera after a few exposures and fired wildly into the night sky.

Photography actually went a little in the background. The camera was set and after pressing the shutter you had 30 seconds to admire the stars before having to press the shutter again.

Enough talk, here are some images, scroll down for the description of the post processing… er… process.

I captured quite a few falling stars, but they are all small and a mere gimmick to the rest of the image. So I concentrated on working out the milky way. I found a helpful video on youtube by photographer Michael Shainblum where he describes his edit process in Lightroom for a milky way image. I applied heaps of changes to the images. Here are the most important ones:

  • increased the exposure
  • added contrast and clarity, adjusted the blacks
  • moved the white balance so that the images come out more blu-ish
  • decreased the orange saturation due to the light pollution
  • applied several brushes to further dampen the light pollution
  • also applied some radial filters to give the milky way more contrast and clarity.

Although we went to a very sparsely populated area of Germany there was still heavy light pollution shining over the horizon. The in-camera preview showed such intense orange light pollution, that I suspected Middle-Earth’s mount doom over the horizon. That is something one has to reduce in Lightroom with the above mentioned methods (watch the video, Michael explains the process very well, which is why I won’t repeat it here).

Bottom Line: I am very happy with the images, although they came out to be photos of the milky way as the main subject instead of the Perseid meteor shower. The bike trip was very refreshing and I enjoyed the warm night and watching the spectacular night sky. It was an enriching experience. Never forget to see the wonders of this world with your own eyes instead of always peeking through the viewfinder.

Nine ways to position a GoPro on a motorcycle

Chesty-View

The attentive reader of my blog will have noticed that I got a motorcycle recently. I made several photo sessions with motorcycles (part 1, part 2), and the transition from photo to video was just a question of time. And since I am that geeky kind of gear-loving photographer, I got myself a GoPro Hero4 silver. I won’t go into detail on the camera itself, this has been done on other websites by the thousand.

One might think that the options for placing a camera on a motorcycle are few, but far from that. In the video I am going to show you now I have positioned the camera in nine different ways, and there are many more ways to do so.

For the impatient viewer here is a list of camera positions in the video:

  • handlebar, facing forward (filming the dashboard and the road ahead)
  • handlebar, facing backwards (filming the rider)
  • crash bar (=wheel level) (right side filming forward)
  • crash bar (left side filming forward and backwards)
  • chest harness facing forward
  • helmet, facing forward
  • helmet, facing backwards
  • chassis (right below seat level), facing forward
  • chassis, facing backwards.

Some notes and thoughts.

The Tarion clamp shown in the video at 0:15 is no good for action filming. The clamp and the part where the camera is attached to is held together by a spring and a toothed ring. This means that the upper part of the clamp with the camera can wobble when vibrations are induced during the ride. I made a short video to explain this:

The original GoPro mount is much more stable. All connections are made with the interlocking mechanism (three blades interconnect with two blades) and everything is tightened by a screw. This generates a lot of friction, which secures the joint. Hell, people jump out if airplanes with mounts like these and the joint doesn’t move !

When wearing the camera on your helmet an assistant comes in handy to adjust the alignment of the camera.

The adhesive pads are, well, very sticky. I was anxious if they would fall off during high speeds. They did not and note my jumping-from-airplane-comment above.

Filming generates a lot of data. That’s a no-brainer but takes to get used to if you don’t film on a daily basis like I do. A clip of 17min 43s is exactly 4 GB. After that the GoPro stops and starts a new file. I am not sure yet why it stops – I use one of the recommended 64 GB Sandisk Extreme cards for recording. Anyhow – I used to complain about the size of my RAW files from the Nikon D800 (around 50 MB per image), the GoPro puts thisinto a new perspective. Don’t get me wrong – Video files from a DSLR would have a comparable size I suggest, but since the GoPro is so small and handy one tends to just let it record (while you would have put away the DSLR quickly due to the weight).

I hate video editing. I am used to a photo editing workflow and am not experienced in managing all these clips and how to cut them into nice and aethetic pieces. Need to find a good tutorial on that… something like “video editing for dummies”.

Encase your HDD in a Peli Protector 1120 case

20150617-Pelicase-HDD-012

I have written a more than healthy amount of posts about backups, archiving and data storage. If you have followed my blog you already learned about my backup strategy (Link 1, Link 2). There are three copies of my archive: On my NAS and a carbon copy on two separate 4 TB drives. One of those two drives is not deposited in our house. This “external” drive is sheltered in a plastic case, which I put into a cardboard box with some bubble wrap. The cardboard solution was bothering me for quite a while and I decided to get the best protection I can think of – a Peli case.

Peli cases are rugged, watertight boxes which come in all sizes. The smallest one is big enough for a harddrive, the biggest one can hold military equipment like shoulder-mounted rocket launchers or rifles. I decided to go for a Peli Protector 1120 case with pre-cut foam. It came at a price of 40 € – not cheap for storing your HDD but I wanted one of those indestructible, stylish cases very badly.

20150617-Pelicase-HDD-001

20150617-Pelicase-HDD-002

As you can see the box is completely filled with foam. At first I placed the encased HDD on the box to see where foam had to be removed.

20150617-Pelicase-HDD-003

You can mark the corners with toothpicks if you like, but in my case most of the foam had to be taken out, so there was no need for special marking. The foam is pre-cut and can be ripped apart easily. The foam is not cut into cubes as I thought, but into long stripes. The border of the foam is not pre-cut. Since the hinges of the plastic box are larger than the cutout, I had to carefully saw away some material with a sharp kitchen knife. Cutting the foam can be made with high precision, I was surprised as I though it would be more complicated.

20150617-Pelicase-HDD-004

Since the cut-out was too deep for the HDD I took some of the foam which I removed in step one and placed two layers on the floor of the box.20150617-Pelicase-HDD-005

20150617-Pelicase-HDD-006

The encased HDD fits snugly into the foam. Once the lid is closed the drive is protected against moisture, water and physical impact.

20150617-Pelicase-HDD-007

20150617-Pelicase-HDD-010

20150617-Pelicase-HDD-011

Bottom Line. A Peli case is not the cheapest, but one of the best ways to protect your gear. The cases are virtually indesctructible and can endure a lot of abuse while the content is still safe and unharmed.

Photographing Motorbikes (Part 2/2)

20150603-Moto-Morini-Header-001 This is part 2 of the big motorbike photography series. If you haven’t read part 1, click here. Last week I showed Japanese motorbikes, this week belongs to the Italians. The following images depict a Moto Morini Granpasso 1200 and a Ducati 748 S Biposto. In contrast to the motorcycles in the last post the italian bikes were shot in an environment with no street lamps, so I had to make everything with flashes. First, let’s go through the three key elements for this shoot. Location. The Moto Morini Granpasso is a travel enduro with 1200 ccm. That means it is built for rough terrain and going cross country. Therefore I chose not to photograph it on a paved road but on a small dirt track next to a field of wheat in the countryside. The dirt track attributes to the character of the bike, the open field provides a nice backdrop with little distraction. Lighting. The shooting took place after sunset, with some residual light gleaming over the horizon. This provided a nice atmosphere, but also meant that the shooting had to take place late in the evening (way beyond 10 pm). The foreground was lightpainted with handheld flashes, set to manual mode and also trigered manually. The flash power was set using the famous trial and error method, aka chimping. Perspective. I wrote about that in the first post of the series, nothing new here. Camera at roughly the height of the bike’s tank, bike at an angle of 30, 45 or 90° towards the camera axis. How the shoot took place. The camera was set to 30 sec exposure and the aperture closed to the max to achieve the nice “beam”-effect at the bike lights. After starting the exposure (exposure delay mode again activated to avoid disturbance from the pressing of the shutter button) I moved around the bike in a half circle behind the camera, firing my flash several times to light the bike. That is the basic recipe, the rest is playing with the flash power, flash zoom, number of flash impulses and where to point the flash.20150603-Moto-Morini-Granpasso-004 20150603-Moto-Morini-Granpasso-002 20150603-Moto-Morini-Granpasso-003 After lightpainting some action on the Kawasaki I wanted to knock it up a notch. So I made another 30 sec exposure and started lightpainting the exhaust fume cloud, wheels and the driver. All had been done in one take, no composition in Photoshop. You have to work fast, but it is absolutely feasable as 30 sec last longer than one would think. 20150603-Moto-Morini-Granpasso-001 I am totally in love with the next two images. It was quite late already and the moon began to rise behind the treeline in the opposite direction where we were shooting. So we rotated our setup by 180° and made some exposures with the moon in the background. In order not to overexpose the moon I dialed the camera settings to 2 sec exposure @f/6.3. Longer exposure modes would have lead to a non-circular moon as he moves a noticeable way in 30 sec. The bike and the surroundings were then lightpainted as described above. Since the aperture had been opened a great deal the flash power could be reduced significantly. 20150603-Moto-Morini-Granpasso-006 20150603-Moto-Morini-Granpasso-005 Second italian stallion. A Ducati 748 S Biposto. It’s a yellow crotch rocket (“Rennsemmel” in German, which translates to a “Racing breadroll”. Us Germans are weird, I know). Let’s break down the shots for the last time: Location. The road is the extension of the northern runway of Hanover airport. The road with the signal lights is outside the airport perimeter and therefore totally legal to enter. We chose the location because a.) there is little distraction in the background and b.) the signal lights are an unusual sight and therefore interesting. Lighting. Besides the signal lights no other light source was present. We shot way after sunset with only a small residue of daylight gleaming over the horizon. The bike itself was illuminated by lightpainting with a handheld flash set to manual mode as described earlier. Perspective. Facing west the sky is a deep blue (magic hour). The bike was positioned in the classic 30/45° or 90° perspective. 20150611-Ducati-748-001While the deep blue is nice let’s take a look into the opposite direction… as you see the residual light over the horizon adds to the atmosphere. The path before the bike was also lightpainted with the flash. 20150611-Ducati-748-008 20150611-Ducati-748-007 Suddenly the airport guiding lights were shut off. To achieve another lighting mood I opened the aperture to f8 and adjusted the flash power accordingly. While the photo has been shot in the same direction and at roughly the same time as the image before, the altered exposure makes the image look more dusk-ish and less night-ish. 20150611-Ducati-748-006 20150611-Ducati-748-004 20150611-Ducati-748-002 20150611-Ducati-748-003 Bottom line. Choose a good location. Be there when the light is good for your shoot. In my case I chose dusk, the magic hour and beyond. Position the bike in such a way that its character is reflected accordingly. Play with the exposure, use a flash and/or lightpaint the scene.

Photographing Motorbikes (Part 1/2)

20150610-Yamaha-Header-001

Introduction.
I have a driver’s license for motorbikes as long as I own a driver’s license for cars. But since the day of my driving test I did not ride a bike since I never owned one. When I was younger I did not have the money, during my studies I had other things to focus on and over time the wish for a motorbike went dormant. But it was always there, slumbering in the back of my mind.
Fast forward many years.
It was time. The desire awoke and powerfully forced its way out. On a Friday I decided to buy a motorbike, and a few days later I was fully clothed and geared and called myself the owner of a second hand Yamaha FZ6 Fazer. And with this “newly found” hobby, what would lie closer than combining it with my other hobby – photography ?

That’s why this and the next post is about motorbike photography. I will feature four different bikes, one being my own and three others from friends and colleagues. In this post I will present a Yamaha FZ6 Fazer and a Kawasaki Z750 Streetfighter (and one image of a bike I made in 2011, presented as a case study).

20150610-Yamaha-FZ6-Fazer-009

Basic thoughts on bike photography.
Keep in mind what I am showing in this and the next post is just one of many possible “recipes” for creating good motorbike images. I am not claiming that this is the only valid way. Disclaimer end.

There are three key elements for good motorcycle images:

  • Location
  • Lighting
  • Perspective / positioning the bike.

Location.
The bike is supposed to be the main subject of the image. Choose an environment which fits the bike and that is not too distracting. Examples include wide open fields, long roads, empty parking spaces, industrial areas or, in the unlikely event you happen to have access to one, a hangar or an airport runway.

The images I am showing you today were shot in two different locations (three if you count the single image from the case study below). One is a pedestrian walkway (= no parking cars that disturb the image) and the other one is an underpass beneath a railway track. Both locations have their own appeal.

Lighting.
All images were shot when it was dark outside, so the street lamps illuminated the scenery. Strobes were used to lightpaint the rest. Keep in mind to use filters to match the light of the strobe the light of the street lamps. Flourescent light demands a green filter on your flash, incandascent light sources require an orange filter.

But also working with available light can produce stunning results. If the parameters match, using a flash is not necessary. Refer to the case study below to see what I mean.

Perspective.
I found it appealing to photograph the bikes at “eye-level” or a tad above (but not too much). During my photo sessions the camera was mounted on a tripod at roughly the level of the bike’s tank. I positioned the bikes in such a way that the street lamps illuminated them.

There are basically two standard ways to position the bike relatively to the camera: side view (bike at 90° to the camera) or a diagonal positioning (bike at 30-45° to the camera, either the front or the back facing the camera). A full frontal shot (bike axis in line with the camera) was not to my liking, as the bike’s charakter did not come through in these images. Again – my taste, must not match yours.

Pay attention to the position of the handlebar. Tilting the handlebar to the left or right can make the shot more interesting.

Case study from 2011.
To illustrate how these three elements play together let me show you an image I made in 2011.

Motorbike

The image was taken on the fly. The bike was parked at the yacht harbour in Nice, France. We were on the way to a restaurant when this scene caught my eyes. It was magic hour, the street lamps illuminated the empty parking space. No people near the bike. Pause – click – that was it. I especially like the colours in the image.

If we dissect this shot all three elements mentioned above can be found. The location is great. The bike is alone on a empty space, the elements in the background make the scene more vivid and interesting, but don’t distract the viewer. The bike is the main subject of the image. Lighting could not be any better. Magic hour – blue sky, the green of the bike stands out very nicely. Perspective – also here the owner of the bike (whose acquaintance I did not make by the way) parked the bike at an angle of about 30° against the road in the background. The handlebar of the bike is slightly tilted, which makes the shot more interesting. Again – the shot was not planned and a lucky superposition of all three mentioned elements led to the nice outcome.

Back to the recent shootings.

The shooting procedure in detail.
The camera was mounted on a tripod at roughly the level of the bike’s tank or a little above that (see previous paragraph). I took long exposures (up to 30s) and brutally closed the aperture (most images @f/22). I activated exposure delay mode (1 sec) to eliminate vibration from pressing the shutter. Once the exposure started I used the (handheld) flash (in manual mode) to lightpaint the bike. Flash power was determined by trial and error. I am not afraid to confess that I use chimping as a method to achieve a good exposure.

Pay attention to the direct surroundings of the bike. Remove leaves, sticks, stones or debris. Pro tip: bring an old rag to the shoot and, after positioning the bike, wipe the tires with it. Play with the lights of the bike. Make an image with the lights off, one with the lights on to see what looks more interesting in your eyes.

Post processing in Lightroom involved the repair stamp tool to remove unwanted objects from the foreground (any leaves, stones, sticks, cigarette butts I missed earlier). Gradient filters, vignetting and the brush tool were employed to direct the focus on the bike. I darkened the corners and borders of the images and, if necessary, used the brush tool to brighten the details on the bike a little. Photoshop was used only to scramble the numberplate.

20150610-Yamaha-FZ6-Fazer-007

20150610-Yamaha-FZ6-Fazer-008

The blurred background in the images with the blue Kawasaki is a natural effect of a long exposure – it was a windy evening and the leaves were in constant motion.

20150531-Kawasaki-Z750-004

Note the three extra light sources in the following two images. That was achieved by simply walking behind the bike during the exposure und fire the flash in direction of the camera. I am not in the image because I wore a black jacket and did not reflect enough light back to camera to leave an impression on the sensor. Remember – 30s exposure !

20150531-Kawasaki-Z750-003

20150531-Kawasaki-Z750-002

Finally I took out an LED flashlight and started fooling around:

20150531-Kawasaki-Z750-001

The shapes were drawn during the 30 sec exposure duration. I pressed the shutter button, fired three bursts with the flash to illuminate the bike and then ran behind the bike. At first I painted the exhaust fume cloud (flashlight on – paint cloud – flashlight off). Then I moved down and painted the “fly-away”-lightstrips behind the rear tire. Flashlight on, painting, flashlight off.

When lightpainting remember to switch the lightsource off when moving it from one element to the next, otherwise that movement will leave a lightstrip, too. By the way, the header image of this post was created using the same technique. It was especially tricky, as “lumenatic.com” contains many letters. The flashlight had to be switched on and off in sync with the painting and the letter spacing had to be roughly equal. Took me ten takes (which included three “keepers”).

The following images of the Yamaha were shot in an underpass. It is a more sterile, restricted evironment than the open walkway with its trees and bushes. I applied the same rules (location-lighting-positioning). The bike stood in the light cone of the ceiling-mounted flourescent lamps. I used a flash (with a green filter) to brighten the bike even more. To be honest – the impact of the flash was quite modest as the bike is black. I made comparison shots, one without flash one with. The difference was minute (due to the small aperture).

In the following image I used the flash mainly to illuminate the exit of the underpass, so that the viewer is not guided towards a “black hole”.

20150607-Yamaha-FZ6-Fazer-006

20150607-Yamaha-FZ6-Fazer-005

20150607-Yamaha-FZ6-Fazer-004

20150607-Yamaha-FZ6-Fazer-003

20150607-Yamaha-FZ6-Fazer-002

20150607-Yamaha-FZ6-Fazer-001

Stay tuned for the next post, in which I will present a Moto Morini Granpasso 1200 and a Ducati 748 S Biposto.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 282 other followers