Best of the Tetons

Mt Moran Fly Fish

Fly Fisherman Self Portraits:

Working Through A Tough Shooting Scenario

Mt Moran Fly Fish

Morning Solitude: This is a self portrait taken on a side channel of the Snake River a couple of years ago with Mount Moran in the background. I triggered the shot using a Pocket Wizard with the camera on a tripod set up just above water level. The haze in the shot was from the fires that year. This shot was a pain in the rear! I got it, but it was difficult to pull off. I told my wife and a few of my friends it would have been a “piece of cake” if I was photographing someone else from behind the camera. Photographing myself in this kind of setting is always a challenge.

It is difficult to convince a friend to get up long before daylight to pose for a shot like this! Worse yet, I never know a day before if the weather will cooperate. It is bad enough to ask them to get up on a good day and meet me somewhere, but when they get up and the shoot is lousy because of bad light, it gets even tougher to convince them another day.  There is a long list of variables that can spoil a planned shot like this. Clouds could cover the range. It could be foggy all morning. Most water shots look better with calm water, but I can’t predict if there will be wind. Weather reports are usually only a general guide. You never know, but someone else might already be at the pre-scouted spot. Well, you get the idea!

Issues: If I get a good shot on any of these outings, I feel like I earned it! That means I worked through a lot of “issues” and maybe even got a little lucky along the way. I have to be at least somewhat prepared to take the shot. I need both sets of gear in the truck with me. That’s a lot of stuff! I have to carry the gear out to the location—sometimes taking two or more trips to the water. But, those are the easy issues to solve. There are two issues that plagued me originally. The biggest issue I had to work through was putting myself in the right spot in the scene and focusing somewhere near the spot. The second issue I had to work out was the remote trigger.

Pocket WizardRemote Trigger: I mentioned using Pocket Wizards to trigger my Nikon camera. Those things were expensive for what you get (or got). And, they were bulky! I had one in my right hand in the shots above. It was hard to hide the fact something was in my hand, but I needed it to trigger the camera. I had a lot of problems with the device going to sleep while I was in the water. I had to focus and frame the shot, do a couple of test shots, then walk out to may place in the river and start casting and triggering the images. Sometimes, it didn’t work. Back and forth—over and over! Light was either getting brighter or going away. This was so frustrating. A friend of mine recommended a RFN-4s . I checked them out and bought one! Problem solved, and the trigger is much, much smaller. The receiver screws into the 10 pin connector on the camera. It has 16 channels and works almost flawlessly and at long distances. I leave it on the camera all the time and use it as a remote shutter release anytime others might use their cabled shutter release. The shot on the left is my old Pocket Wizard Plus II Transceiver. The much smaller one on the right is the palm sized remote trigger for the RFN-4s.


Subject Placement: As I mentioned earlier, it would be a piece of cake if I were taking the photos of someone else. Instead, I had to “frame the shot” of a “ghost” fisherman standing somewhere in the water while kneeling in the water behind the camera. I had to go find my spot and shoot a few dozen photos, then go check the exposure and shots on the back of the camera. There were quite a few times I wasn’t in the shot at all.  Other times, my fly rod was getting cut off. Time’s a wastin’! (Light was changing!). For placement, I tried turning over a big rock in the water where I could go back to each time. That worked okay, but focusing was difficult.  Later, it made a target and fastened it to a light stand. The shot above was an intermediate solution with a white rag tied to a light stand. I put the stand in the water where I thought I would want to be for the shot, then go back to the camera and focus on the target. When I went back to the spot, I’d just move the light stand out of the frame. This solution worked, but it added weight and more stuff to carry.

Pacific Creek

April on the Snake: This is a shot taken after locating my spot in the scene with the light stand.

CamRanger to the Rescue: I’ll still have to try it on a fishing shot like this, but I believe the new CamRanger, in conjunction with my iPhone, will help solve some of the “Subject Placement” issues, just like the RFN-4s solved the trigger problems. It has numerous features tailor made for this scenario. The CamRanger creates a Wi-Fi connection between the camera and my iPhone. With the cable connected between the CamRanger and my Nikon camera, I can see what my camera is seeing, and I can control just about everything but the zoom on the lens. I see the LiveView image on the iPhone. If I don’t like my position, just like yelling out to a model, I can move a foot or two in any direction. From the phone, I can click on the subject (me) on the screen and let the camera focus on me. I can move forward, backwards, or left or right in the scene and click the screen to refocus. I can also adjust the EV compensation, Mode, White Balance, and almost all essential adjustments either while standing out in the stream or if standing right over the camera. In the example image at the top of the page, the camera was only a few inches above the water line at the riffle. Once a shot is triggered by the RFN-4s, the image is available for viewing on the iPhone (or Android device). I can download a JPG version to the phone, then zoom in to check for exposure and critical focus. This works on a pad, but for the fishing shots, I will have the phone in my pocket or vest while taking the shots. I spent the extra money for a LifeProof for my iPhone case. It’s supposed to be waterproof to a depth of six feet.

Fishing Buffalo Fork

Buffalo Fork: I took this shot last April near the highway bridge on the Buffalo Fork River. This shot would have been much easier with a CamRanger. By that time last year, I had solved the triggering issues. There is a light stand and target just out of the frame on the right and a large white rock under the spot I was standing in for this image. Once I moved the stand out of the way, I went back to the spot for the photograph. This shot was lit with a set of four Nikon SB900 or SB910 strobes on a tripod triggered with a SU800 controller. With the daylight conditions and long distance, I also used a Radio Popper trigger and receivers. A “lit” shot like this adds another layer of time, energy, and equipment. I don’t believe the CamRanger will help me with controlling the light output from the strobes, but I will still be able to control the EV, ISO, and Aperture settings. So, other than adjusting the zoom and the strobe output levels, I will be able to view and control a shot as though I am behind the camera. I didn’t buy one (yet), but there is an optional motor unit that can pan the camera and tilt is 15° up or down, also controlled by the iPhone, iPad, or Android device.

The range on the CamRanger is supposed to be up to 150′ with the built in Wi-Fi. I tested it yesterday in the back yard and was able to control the camera from distances similar to the fishing shots above with no problem. It went out of range when I walked to the front of the house. Maybe I will find “holes” in the system as I use it, but with all the positive reviews and “product of the year” awards, I am feeling comfortable with the decision to buy it. Besides helping with the “Down and Dirty” shots when shooting from very low vantage points, I can see how it can help me when I want to be my own model. The CamRanger also has “Image Stacking” and “HDR” options, along with a built in Intervalometer. The price for the CamRanger is $299 US.

March 12 Addition: I forgot to mention this when I wrote it, but the iPhone “could” trigger the camera remotely through the CamRanger. In some scenarios, I might actually use it that way, but this kind of shot, the phone is too large and the trigger isn’t exactly in a great place. The thin, small trigger for the RFN-4s is much better for the job!

For a Gadget Hound like myself, the CamRanger and RFN-4s hits the mark—especially when teamed with an iPhone or similar device. I am positive I will be finding many additional uses for it. It is relatively small and easy to set up.

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Comments (2)

  1. LaGail West

    Amazing! Love this blog!

  2. Lowell Schechter

    Hi Mike
    just read your latest blog and I can see the trials and tribulations of trying to do self portraits in this kind of environment. But with new technology you were able to make it easier for yourself and got pretty good images . When we were there in 2012, we had the same problem with the smoke from the fires that ruined a lot of morning photo opportunities . I do like the Wi fi feature on the phones where you can connect it to your camera.

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