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Problem Solving “On-the-Fly” or With a Plan:

A Few Real World Examples, Tips, and Solutions.

Snow Bound Sedan

I posted this photo in my January 3rd entry of the January 2015 Daily Updates and Photos page.  It is an “artsy” (textured) image of an old rusty automobile along High School Road here in Jackson. I’ve lived here 28 years and never stopped to take a photo of it. During the summer, the old car is somewhat lost in the high grass. During the winter, the deep snow simplifies the composition and isolates the dark object. Evening light adds interest and texture to the snow. The problem is the tall fence between the road and the vehicle. The other side is private property. The land owner grazes cattle in the field, so getting permission to be on the property would probably be tough. Some shots offer “challenges” needing solutions!

On this page, I will go through a few of the possible solutions.

You’ll likely run into a similar situation at some point!

Winter Fence

I spend a fair amount of my time and attention looking for something interesting to photograph. I call it “reconnaissance mode”. I was heading home from taking photos of the Swans at Boyle’s Hill and saw this snow covered old rusting vehicle. As I mentioned earlier, I had seen it hundreds of other times. I pulled over and parked next to the fence, then surveyed the situation and decided it was something worth photographing. I went back to the vehicle and pulled out a camera. It turned out to be quite a challenge! The top of the posts and barbed wire is roughly six feet from the ground. The wire mesh at the bottom is too tight to get a camera through and the angle is wrong to simply shoot from under the barbed wire.

1st Option: Get What You Can On the Fly

This subject happens to be only a couple of miles from my house. I know I can go back over and over until I get the shot I want. There are subjects that are only available one time, like some of the subjects on my Maui trip. If this was my one and only opportunity, here are a few options I might have tried:

  • Shoot from just over the mesh wire, but open the aperture all the way to attempt to blur out distant distractions. Some of them might need to be removed in post production.
  • I knew I couldn’t look through the viewfinder if the camera is well above my head, so I used LiveView to help compose the scene. I focused first, then put it in Manual focus mode, so I knew I would only be relying on LiveView for composition. I rested the camera on the top of one of the posts with VR turned on. This actually worked fairly well, but I really needed to get the camera higher. For anyone not familiar with LiveView, you just flip a lever to LV on the back of the camera body. Instead of viewing the scene through the normal viewfinder, the image is displayed on the back of the camera’s LCD—much like an inexpensive point-and-shoot camera. LiveView is not a great option if the sun is directly behind you and washing out the LCD image.
  • Spray and PrayA similar option would be to use my 35 megapixel D800 body and shoot “wide” or “loose”. I call it “spray and pray”.  I pre-focus, change to manual focus, then simply hold the camera as high as I could and as still as I could and “point in the general direction” for a few dozen shots. I’d hope one of them was good enough to crop and process. It’s actually harder to do than you might think, but at least you have a chance!

One of the above options should have given me a useable photo.

2nd Option: Plan It Out. Gear Up and Go Back!

Tripod and Ladder

The first time I took any photos of that vehicle was during unappealing mid-day light. I knew at the time the shots I took were not going to be the ones I would eventually want. Again, I was in reconnaissance mode. Those first images gave me something to think about and let me develop a series of options. My original “on the fly” solution was to use LiveView. Good call! It worked out well. By my second trip, I had considered a few more options.

  • CamRanger: The CamRanger was an option worth considering. I could get the camera well above my head, either on a bean bag on a post or on the top of my extended tripod, then compose and focus via the screen on my iPhone or Android pad. I chose to photograph the image with a D800 and a 200-400mm lens. A 70-200 might have worked well enough, too, but I felt I wanted to zoom in fairly tight on some shots. The CamRanger could have done the job, but I would have needed to zoom around, view and focus at the pad. If you go to their web site, you can see other options, including adding a motorized unit to tilt and pan when on top of an extended post. Wonderpole and Wonderpole
  • My Solution: A few years ago, I purchased a heavy duty, carbon fiber Manfrotto tripod capable of extending out to roughly 7′. I have a smaller, lighter Gitzo carbon fiber tripod I use most of the time. The big one can get heavy especially when I use the Manfrotto 504 Video Head on it, so I have it ready for specific kinds of shooting and for oddball needs like this one. When the legs are extended and the head is attached, the camera’s viewfinder is a good 7′ off the ground. I recently purchased a 4′ fiberglass stepladder to use for just such occasions. The ladder lets me have full access to the viewfinder, focus and zoom features on the camera. This stuff fits easily in the van. I waited until late in the evening and prepared to get the shot.
  • Alternative Solution: Back at home, I have an 8′ and 10′ fiberglass stepladder. These also work to help me get higher. My lighter Gitzo tripod can straddle the top of the ladder and I can climb to a comfortable step on the ladder. Normally, when I know I need either of these two ladders, I strap them to the ladder rack on my truck and I take it to the shoot. In other words, I don’t have them with me on most days, while it is fairly easy to keep the taller tripod and small stepladder in the van.
  • “Cost Is No Factor” Solutions: I already have a tall tripod and the 4′ stepladder was relatively inexpensive. If the shot merited the expense,  someone could rent scaffolding, a GradAll or cherry picker. There are also “booms arms” to get cameras into unique positions.

Evening Vehicle

I don’t know if this is an award winning image or not? Was it worth all the effort? Probably…even if only for the mental exercises it took to get the shot. I’m also working on a Feature Post called something like: Good Light / Bad Light (Aka…It’s All About that Light…’Bout that Light). I have been collecting shots showing how important the good light is to a shot. A few minutes after the image above, the sun dropped below the mountains and the scene dulled dramatically.   It has also occurred to me to go back some late evening and “light paint” it. I’ve solved most of the rest of the issues, so adding some artificial light wouldn’t be too difficult.

Oxbow Crowd

I’ve also considered taking the little stepladder and this tripod to Oxbow Bend during the peak foliage period. There would be an elbow to elbow row of photographers guarding their spots they had been holding since around 4:30am. I thought it might be fun to set it up right behind them and shoot over their heads, but of course, I could sleep an extra hour or two. I wouldn’t need to get there until a couple of minutes before the best light. Maybe next fall! I’ve used this tripod and even the longer stepladders at Cunningham Cabin. It allows me to get a little higher to eliminate an issue caused by the roof line hitting a distant horizon line.

A while back, I created this post: Get Down—and sometimes dirty!  The idea is to change from the normal “pedestrian” view (about 5 feet off the ground) to a vantage point just above the ground. In this case, I’d be changing the vantage point to above what most people are used to seeing.

CamRanger in Action

This image is on CamRanger’s site: Wireless Control With the CamRanger PT Hub, MP-360, and Pole  Also: Wonderpole

Note: I didn’t take this shot! It shows how changing the vantage point can be memorable and dramatic. Somewhere out in the pool is a drowned hoover craft someone used for a similar shot. After losing control of it, he now has some big fines to pay. As far as I know, extended poles are currently not illegal in the parks for normal still photography.

Chevy Truck

Chevy Truck: This is an old dump truck well off the road on private land taken in November of 2012. I took this shot with the camera very close to the ground to hide some irrigation ditches and clutter. There are a couple of textures applied over the top of the original JPG image.

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Updates and Comments January 9, 2015

LadderTowards the top of this page, I included a link to CamRanger’s site where they show examples using their controller and hub—sometimes mounted on a pole.

Wireless Control With the CamRanger PT Hub, MP-360, and Pole  A friend wrote a note after viewing their site, saying she couldn’t find information on the pole. I believe this is it: Wonderpole. The MP-360 can handle up to 6 pounds, rotating a full 360° and tilting up or down up to 15°. My camera and 200-400mm I used for this shot weighs considerably more than that. A D810 (no grip) and a 70-200mm lens weighs just over 5.5 lbs not counting an L-Bracket and I am not sure if the battery is figured in the weight. I would be right at the limit. Another option might be a D800/D810  or a D4/D4s with a Nikon 28-300mm lens. That lens is quite light (1.76 lbs). I think the weight with any of those combinations would be well under the maximum. (I am not quite as happy with the sharpness using my D800 with the lens).  I used my D4 and the 28-300mm VR lens on most of my shots in Maui. With the Wonderpole, PT Hub, MP-360, and CamRanger setup, I could have easily strapped the post to one of the wooden fence posts, then raised it to any height (up to about 20 feet) and controlled the shooting from the ground. The height might be limited somewhat by the maximum 15° tilt. Wind could also be an issue. On some shoots, a second person might be needed to hold the post while another person controlled the camera and shooting. Currently, I only have the CamRanger unit and not all of the other gadgets, but maybe this addition will highlight how planning and a few of the right pieces of equipment might “get the shot”.

More on Wonderpole: This link takes you to their site showing two different sizes. The 21 foot version is 59″ tall when collapsed. The 30 foot version is 96″ when collapsed. Initially, you might think the only option is to hoist a camera and lens to some extreme height. It would be even easier to put a lightweight strobe on the top and raise it to a considerable height if that helped pull off a shot. For example, for a night shot, I might consider adding a strobe to put a spot just on the old Ford by getting the strobe high above. I could set a Nikon SB910 to 200mm zoom with a “snoot”.  I’d control the off camera strobe with either a Nikon SU800 or another strobe mounted on the camera. To make life easier and more foolproof, I’d add my RadioPoppers to make sure I had positive communications with the camera and strobe(s).  I could try using a painters extension pole I already have out in the garage. Again…just thinking of various ways of solving problems—which is what this Feature Post is about!

One More Follow-Up January 27, 2015

8 Foot Step Ladder

8 Foot Stepladder: After an overnight frost, I took my eight foot stepladder to the same spot. In the middle of the original post, I offered this as an alternative solution:

Alternative Solution: Back at home, I have an 8′ and 10′ fiberglass stepladder. These also work to help me get higher. My lighter Gitzo tripod can straddle the top of the ladder and I can climb to a comfortable step on the ladder. Normally, when I know I need either of these two ladders, I strap them to the ladder rack on my truck and I take it to the shoot. In other words, I don’t have them with me on most days, while it is fairly easy to keep the taller tripod and small stepladder in the van.

The photo above shows how I can straddle my tripod over the ladder. I use a dog leash to strap the tripod and camera to the ladder for the safety of the equipment. On most days, that leash is used to make sure my body and lens don’t crash to the ground if they slip out of the clamps.  This option lets me stand comfortably and get the camera to about nine feet off the ground.

Ford in Frost

Ford in Frost: This is a shot from today taken while standing on the 8′ stepladder. I removed a few distractions on the left side.

Abandoned Ford

Abandoned Ford: With the frosty white trees in the background, I took one more shot at the same place I started…at eye level and just above the fence. I opened the Aperture to F/2.8. I used a couple of remote strobes today, but I don’t think they affected the scene too much. After it was all said and done, I think the extra trips paid off.

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Comments (4)

  1. Mike:

    We met at the Boyles Hill Road pond last winter. I was shooting with a D600 and a Sigma 150-600. Got a couple of good shots (which you can see in my website above: michaeldimen.zenfolio.com). The opening photo in the website is an old truck on the Moose-Wilson Road about halfway to JHMR from 22, shot also last winter. I had similar issues with the land, but finally was able to include just the strand of barbed wire in the shot, and I think it worked. Take a look….

    Michael

  2. Hi Michael,
    Yes, I know of that truck. You did a great job on it, along with the rest of your car shots. It looks like we share quite a few interests. Take care! Mike Jackson

  3. Lowell Schechter

    Hi Mike
    I really enjoyed looking at these photos and the way you shot them. I know you put in a lot of time getting images like this besides animals and I can put your tips to good use .
    Thanks Lowell

  4. Lowell, As always, I appreciate your comments. And as always, I am happy to hear some of what I add to these post might of help to the readers. Best Wishes for 2015!

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