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Posts Tagged ‘Kiholo Bay’

Whales, Waves, and Unexpected Urination

Posted by Tom Benedict on 12/12/2016

“See any whales?”

I’d been recording at Kiholo Bay for several hours before the man spoke to me, but the first hour had been plagued by technical issues. For some reason my DR-70D kept reporting a write timeout error – something usually attributed to using a slow memory card – but I knew the card was good. Helicopters and airplanes had ruined the rest of the first hour.

At that point I was almost done with my first completely clean hour of waves on my SASS and Mid-Side setup. My other recorder, a DR-05, was positioned at a small beach to the south of me, recording waves receding off of loose pebbles.

I turned around to see who’d spoken to me. He was an older man who’d been hiking along the coast and had stopped to talk. I knew his words would show up on the recording, so I figured if I’m editing I’m editing. I might as well be civil about it.

“No, not from here.”

He nodded and walked on. I turned back to my gear, but out of the corner of my eye I saw him turn and head down to the little pebble beach.

People here are, on the whole, really nice about other people’s stuff. At one point years ago I left some kites at Hapuna Beach, one of the busiest beaches on the Big Island. It wasn’t until I was unloading my car at home that I realized my kite bag was missing. I jumped back into my car, headed back to the beach, and found that someone had brought my kites up off of the sand and left them for me at the showers. People here really are great.

But still… Strange guy hiking down to a beach where I’d left gear… I didn’t want him knocking my gear over inadvertently or anything. So I kept an eye on him as he made his way down to the beach and… proceeded to relieve himself not four feet from where I’d left my gear. Recording sound. All sound. Beach sound. And now his sound. His very personal sound. He kept glancing up at me like I was being rude. I did turn away while he was occupied with his… task. But eventually I knew he’d finish and realize I’d been recording him. Which he eventually did.

One of my more awkward sessions.

(But I got a lot of really good winter wave on rock sounds!)

Anyway, I think I’ve finally answered some open-ended questions about microphones. The Alice microphones I’ve been building are beautiful, crisp, and punchy, but not all that great for recording outdoor sounds. They’re very bright, which works great for a number of subjects. Waves, streams, and wind in the trees just don’t happen to be any of those subjects. Unfortunately those are the subjects I’m interested in.

I also don’t think I’m a huge fan of mid-side recording for creating big spacious soundscapes. No matter how much I play with the balance of mid to side, I just can’t get as much of a sense of space as I do with the SASS. I find myself firmly in the camp of the partially baffled microphone array. So for now I’ll save the mid-side and LDC Alice mics for indoor recording and go back to my Primo-based mics for nature. (Though I still intend to convert my Behringer C-2 mics to surface-mount Alice electronics. They’ll make good instrument mics, if nothing else.)

There’s one last test I want to repeat, though. Early on I built an Olson Wing – a baffled double-boundary array invented by Curt Olson. This pre-dated my SASS. I remember I liked the sound, but that I liked the sound of my SASS better. Now that I’ve had a chance to try a number of other stereo recording techniques (X-Y, A-B, ORTF, M-S, and SASS), I’d like to resurrect my Olson Wing and try it and the SASS side-by-side. I’ve still got all the bits, so it’s just a matter of rigging everything back up and getting out with the gear.

It’s something of a pressing question because of something else that happened. Earlier today my wife bought me an early present: a pair of ammo boxes.

I joked with the kids that they’re for the Zombie Apocalypse. They just rolled their eyes. They know me too well. She got me the ammo boxes for a recording project.

One of the problems with unattended recording is that conditions change, weather turns, and gear gets rained on. My first unattended overnight session wound up that way. I set up to record the dawn chorus in the Upper Waiakea Forest Reserve on International Dawn Chorus Day, but during the night the clouds came in and rained on my gear. The evening chorus was spectacular, but with the rain on the leaf mast making a staccato drumming sound, the dawn chorus part of the recording was practically useless.

My gear survived, but the weather proofing was tentative at best. I’ve been looking for a good way to build a completely watertight, rain proof recording setup. Enter the ammo box.

Ammo boxes are made out of steel. They’re tough. And they have a rubber weather seal that’ll keep out a hurricane. Perfect for cramming recording gear into! My plan is to use the larger of the two boxes to house my gear, and either build an Olson Wing or an SASS around the box, depending on which one I like better. The microphones would be the only thing poking out. Everything else goes inside the box, which can then be latched shut. The whole unit can then be left overnight without any chance of rain getting inside and killing my gear.

Or pee, for that matter.

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Nokia N8 PUSH

Posted by Tom Benedict on 24/11/2010

Some months ago Nokia put out a call for proposals for how to use a KAP rig based around a pair of N8 phones.  At the time I’d been doing some KAP with a photographer in Kona with the goal of photographing whales in the ocean.  So I had whales at the front of my mind.  It wasn’t too much of a stretch to come up with an idea that involved doing KAP of whales.  I sent the idea in, but didn’t really expect to move forward with it.

Turns out I was wrong.  My idea was selected, and not long ago I was contacted by the N8 PUSH team to let me know.

??!  !!!  COOL!

There were some questions to answer and some details to be worked out, but everything came out ok and in the end I was given the timeline and was told to expect a package in the mail.  There’s no curbside delivery where I live, so I’ve been swinging by the post office to check out my PO box ever since.  Nothing yet, but it’s getting clooose!

The package should contain two Nokia N8 cameras, each sporting a 12MP camera with a fixed focal length Carl Zeiss lens, along with a KAP rig designed specifically for the N8, and a kite.  The two phones come loaded with the N8 KAP application, which allows the KAP rig to be controlled from the phone on the ground, and for the aerial phone to stream its video signal to the ground phone.  All in all a seriously cool setup!  I was a little skeptical of the camera at first, but hearing the Zeiss name and seeing a video clip of the camera focusing (yes, it actually focuses) went a long way toward laying those concerns to rest.  What finally did my concerns in was seeing a set of KAP images made by Ricardo Ferreira with the N8 phone.  The image quality was better than most point and shoot cameras, and worlds better than any phone camera I’d ever seen.  (For anyone who’s not familiar with KAP and with the KAP-Nokia connection in particular, Ricardo is an excellent KAPer, and developed the first Nokia KAP rig, based around the N900 phones.)

Operationally, this will be a significant change from the way I’m used to working in the field.  I don’t have a video downlink on my current rig.  The N8 rig does.  I can do movies with my current rig, but I tend not to.  In any case 640×480 is as good as I can get with my current camera.  The N8 does 720p HD video. Right now I don’t have any way to get GPS information for where my camera is in space.  Yeah, I can add a GPS photo tracker to my rig, and probably will in the not so distant future.  But the N8 phone has GPS built in, of course.  I just hope the EXIF headers on the files include the GPS information.  Even the rig itself is different.  I’m used to plugging in cables, screwing down cameras, attaching safety lanyards, and the like.  To use the N8 rig, you snap the phone into the rig and you’re done.  From what I’ve gathered, the aerial phone controls the rig via a Bluetooth connection.  No wires, no screws, no nothing.  And no legs!  The rig has no legs.  But the way it’s shaped, it really doesn’t need them.

So in addition to the PUSH project itself, I’m interested in seeing how the N8 rig behaves in the field.  I’m planning to give it a thorough shake-down and post a review here and on the KAP forums.  Luckily, there’s still some time before the whales come through the Hawaiian Islands.  So I’ve been picking out some likely flying spots where I can put it through its paces and see what it’s got under the hood.  High on the list are Kiholo Bay and Puako.  I’d love to give it a try at the summit of Mauna Kea, but cell phone signals really do mess with the radio telescopes up there.  So it’s a no-no.  Waipio Valley and Pololu Valley are also high on the list since they offer some of the more challenging wind conditions for doing KAP on the Big Island.  (Besides, on the drive back from Pololu there’s a fantastic deli in Hawi called Lighthouse Delicatessen.  Can’t beat a KAP session that ends with a great lunch!)

By the end of the land-based sessions, I should have a better feel for how the rig handles, I’ll have some seat time with it on a couple of different kites, and I’ll be ready to trust myself to launch it off the back of a boat.

Now all we need is whales!

– Tom

Posted in Hawaii, Kite Aerial Photography, N8 Push, Photography | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Join the Club

Posted by Tom Benedict on 03/10/2009

A few weeks ago, my wife and I took the kids to the county fair.  (Yes, even islands in the middle of the Pacific get to have county fairs!)  It was a great day, full of rides, surprisingly good food, and a stop at a booth where the Hilo Photography Club was showing some of their member photography.  Seeing other people’s prints on the wall got me to thinking about how isolated I am with the photography I do.  I trade notes with two of my co-workers who are into photography, but for the most part that’s it.  Every other interaction I have is online through Flickr, or through various forums for aerial and kite aerial photography. It’s strange, because for the most part I really am a loner.  But I found I really wanted to join a photography club.  Bad.

But driving to Hilo, especially on a weekday night, really didn’t hold much appeal.  I work during the week, and it’s an hour and a half to Hilo.  This would be like driving from Sealy, Texas, to the middle of Houston and back.  On a Wednesday.  So I looked around and found there is a second photography club on the island, based in Kona.   It’s not exactly in town, but forty-five minutes is still better than an hour and a half!  I liked the photography I saw on their web site, so I figured I should give it a try.

Still, things are never that easy.  The first person I had to convince was my wife.  It may be my idea to join the club, but our time belongs to the both of us.  Once I told her it was one night a month, though, she was ok with the idea.  As it turns out the club met the following evening, so with my camera bag in hand and an address written on a scrap of paper, I jumped in my Jeep after work and headed out.

One problem with addresses on this island is that they assume you know the roads.  Despite its being a fairly small island, there are still a lot of roads!  I didn’t exactly get lost, but I didn’t know where I was, either.  It took a while, but I finally got there.  The meeting was low-key, the folks were pretty friendly on the whole, but I was surprised how little interest there was in talking to a newcomer.  I literally sat in the corner, and despite working up the courage to speak up during the critique session, no one showed much interest in me, or even asked what kind of photography I was into.

Nonetheless, I liked what I saw.  The critiques were constructive, but they were also pretty direct.  No bubbles there!  If someone didn’t like a thing, they said so.  But they also said why, which is the real point of a critique.  At the end of the meeting I was determined to come to a second one, and to bring pictures to show and get feedback on.  The president of the club took down my name and email address, and invited me to the next meeting.

Choosing which pictures to bring took some work.  I didn’t necessarily want to show my flashiest images, but I did want a representative sample.  I also didn’t want to have to wade through the opinions that KAP was just a cheap alternative to helicopter aerial photography, so I tried to include images that showed things that helicopters can’t do.  I intend to bring my KAP bag to the next meeting as well, when I’ll be able to show these pictures, so I also tried to include images that demonstrate the portability of KAP.  This is the set I came up with:

Here There Be Dragons

Here There Be Dragons – I wanted to open with this one, mostly to show that KAP can be used around people, and at an altitude that could also be done using a ladder.  This is a common technique on the ground when a little more height is called for, so it’s a situation I hope enough of the photographers have found themselves in to have a feel for the angle I was after.  But a ladder would’ve cast a shadow here, whereas my KAP rig did not.  So even inside the scope of vantage points available to a photographer on the ground, KAP can offer possibilities.  (Plus making that dragon was fun!)

Flying in a Blue Dream

Flying in a Blue Dream – Most aerials I’ve seen are obliques, typically taken out of the side of a helicopter or airplane.  I wanted to include an ortho image, not as an example of remote sensing or mapping, but as an example of an artistic image.  I really liked the feel of this when it came off my camera.  It felt more like a 4×5 ground glass composition than a digital camera composition.  The honu in the upper center are almost secondary to the sweeps of color in other parts of the frame.

Gemini North

Gemini North – This is one of those “KAP is portable!” pictures.  It also indicates a place where doing the photography from a full sized helicopter would be difficult.  This is at 14,000′ above sea level.  There are only a handful of helicopters on the island that can hit this altitude, and none of them are available for photography.  It could’ve been done with an airplane, but not easily, and not without violating FAA airspace regulations.  As an added benefit, this also shows how RC helicopter photography and KAP don’t necessarily overlap, either.  I doubt many RC helicopters can fly at 14,000′ altitude, either.  For KAP, I just used a bigger kite to compensate for the thinner air.

Kauhola Pt. Lighthouse

Kauhola Pt. Lighthouse – I wanted at least one picture where the camera was suspended over the water.  This is that picture.  I don’t know of any vehicle-mounted mast photographers on the island, but I’ve run into enough online to know that there is a misconception with some of them that a mast answers all needs.  Many of the places I fly don’t have roads, much less solid ground directly underneath the camera, so shots like this really couldn’t be done with a mast.  An RC helicopter or RC airplane could’ve done it, but the air was pretty heavy that day, and unfortunately fairly rough as well.  Even with a kite it was a tough day.  With an RC helicopter or airplane it would’ve been pretty nasty.  My hope with sharing this photograph is that this is a lighthouse that the club has visited in the past.  I wanted a subject at least some of the people in the club were familiar with so they could contrast this one against pictures they had done and see some of the vantage point possibilities KAP can open up.

Green Sand Beach

Green Sand Beach – I know the club did a trip to South Point.  I don’t know if they made it all the way out to Green Sand Beach, but most of the residents on the island have been there at one point or another.  It’s a fantastic place to do photography, but 99% of the photos are done to the left of where this one was made, so none of them show the backside of the cindercone that forms the beach.  Even when helicopters overfly the beach, they tend to come in from the same angle every time.  So far as I know this is the only photo of Green Sand taken from this location.  It’s well below 500′, so KAP or an RC aircraft are the only ways to get there.  Add to that, it’s pretty far off the beaten path.  A kite really is the easiest way to get this angle.

Kiholo Bay

Kiholo Bay – I included this one for a couple of reasons:  It’s recent, so it’s more or less “what did you shoot in the last month?”  I’m not cheating here by going back to the archives.  It really is a recent photo.  It’s also a good poster shot for portability since there are no roads out here.  It’s a half hour walk across the lava, or you don’t get to see it at all.  This is also one of my more planned images, so it makes a good conversation starter for the idea of planning a KAP session, or any photography session for that matter.  KAP isn’t random by any stretch of the imagination, any more than any other form of photography is.  This photo does a good job of demonstrating it.

I cropped and sized the images to work with the 1920×1080 format of the projector the club uses, and packed them off in email to await the next meeting.  The date is set for October 15th, so I hope I have good things to write about afterward.

– Tom

Posted in Kite Aerial Photography, Photography | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Return to Kiholo Bay

Posted by Tom Benedict on 08/09/2009

I’ve flown a camera at Kiholo Bay a number of times now, but for some reason I’ve never been all that overwhelmed by the sweeping landscape pictures I’ve come back with.  They’re either too long and narrow, or don’t really capture the sense of the place, or are just plain awkward.  In a way this may explain why I keep going back.  But when I do go back, I tend to photograph it the same way.  Photography is one of those things where living in a rut just doesn’t work out in the end.

Rather than repeat what I’d done before (ok, rather than repeat my mistakes) I decided to take a fresh look at the problem:

Kiholo Bay is a gorgeous stretch of water just south of Anaehoomalu Bay.  It’s got a fantastic reef, a really good view of Hualalai, and the inlet is one of the most striking features on that entire stretch of coast.  It’s one of the few spots along the Kona coast of the Big Island that has a scenic lookout.  So what was missing?  I realized I’d been focusing on the inlet at the expense of everything else!  Once I decided what I wanted to include in the frame, it was a matter of figuring out how to do it.

I decided I wanted the inlet as a diagonal slash across the bottom of the frame, with the reef getting plenty of space.  I wanted a horizon line that included Hualalai, the volcano above Kailua-Kona, a really clean sky, and the whole stretch of shoreline along Kiholo Bay.  With that in mind I pulled up Google Earth and started fishing.  In the end I also wound up going back to some of my earlier photography there, but in the form of a Photosynth.  This combination of tools and ideas gave me what I wanted: a vantage point.

There’s a spot about five hundred feet north of the inlet, about four hundred feet inland, and roughly three hundred and fifty feet above the ground that would give me the angle I wanted.  You could do it from a helicopter with FAA clearance to fly at that altitude over what is admittedly not a populous area, but it’s a lot easier to do this sort of thing from a kite.

The mornings have been sparklingly clear, but by mid afternoon the volcanic gases coming out of Kilauea creep north of Kailua-Kona and cover the Kona coast in a thick haze.  It can make going to the beach less than pleasant.  But it makes photography downright impossible.  The ideal time of day for the picture I wanted was about an hour before sunset.  But waiting for the light meant losing the atmosphere, so I opted to go early in the day.

Monday was a holiday, so I checked the local weather conditions.  By 10am the wind around Kiholo Bay was supposed to be four knots onshore with little to no turbulence.  Perfect for slack-line flying, and ideal for a picture of this kind.  I grabbed my gear and headed out.  It’s a half hour drive to Kiholo Bay, and another half hour hike across the lava.  By the time I reached the water I realized something was terribly wrong.  My four knot steady onshore wind was more like a two to ten knot gusty down-shore mess.  It was with some trepidation that I pulled out my rokkaku and got my camera airborne.

It wasn’t the steadiest flight in the world, and at one point my rig came down and landed hard on the lava.  Some recent modifications to my rig made for a safer landing, but my heart was still in my throat when I saw it sink behind a ridge and felt the line go slack.  But seconds later it was airborne again, and I was able to reel it back in and check it out.  Everything worked perfectly.  I didn’t even bend the leg brackets on my rig.  It’s a testament to the good design work and engineering Brooks Leffler puts into his KAP rig products.

I knew the field of view I needed for the picture, and knew my camera didn’t have a wide enough field to pull it off.  So I planned to use stitching software right from the start.  This was important to know, because the methodology is different when going for individual frames and composites.  This time I wanted a composite.  Rather than use the tried and true Gigapan style pattern that most KAP panoramas are made with, I used a modified version of one pioneered by Vertigo, one of the French KAPers: burst KAP.

In traditional KAP panorama work, the rig is pointed in one direction, stopped, and a picture is taken.  The rig is then tilted down slightly and a second picture is taken.  This process is repeated until the camera is pointed vertically.  At that point the rig pans to a new “slice” location and the process starts over.  With a good camera and rig, this takes roughly five seconds per shot.  For a ten shot composite, it’s almost a minute of photography.  A KAP rig can move a lot in a minute.

In burst KAP panorama work, the rig is set to spin on its pan axis, and frames are fired off as fast as the camera can take them.  A combination of high shutter speeds and carefully calculated pan speeds makes for very fast, but still quite sharp work.  In this case I needed more height than my camera could give me, so I did the burst in two passes.  To be more accurate I did it in four passes, starting with the camera horizontal and ending with it near vertical, making a single pass with the pan axis for each tilt angle.  In post-processing I only used the first two tilts, however.

Rather than waste a trip, I photographed Kiholo Bay this way over and over as the kite and camera moved around the sky because of the shifting wind.  The end result is that I made numerous burst KAP sets with the camera at a variety of altitudes.  When I got home it was a matter of choosing the set that gave me the angle I wanted.  Nine images, taken over roughly fifteen seconds, supplied the imagery necessary to build the composite I had imagined.

Kiholo Bay

The final image came out at 9057×4800 pixels with no stitch errors during compositing.  This is sufficient to print it 60×32″ with no visible pixelation.

I truly enjoy the serendipitous moments that happen when doing photography in general, and KAP in particular.  There’s a particular smile I’m sure every photographer wears when they go through their pictures at the end of the day and find something they really weren’t expecting.  But there is a great deal of satisfaction to be had from thinking through a photograph, planning the composition, and then pulling it off despite not having things go quite as expected.

– Tom

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More Fun With False Color

Posted by Tom Benedict on 06/07/2009

Most of the time I’m doing kite aerial photography, it is to create a picture I like; that I would want to hang on my wall.  But on occasion I’ve done KAP strictly as a method of remote sensing.  The pictures are data rather than an attempt at art.  I’ve flown at Kiholo Bay several times now, usually in the former category of creating pleasing images.  This most recent trip was strictly in the latter sense: to take data.  But any time I’m out in the field doing KAP, I try to have fun and to stretch what I can do with what I’ve got.  This outing was no exception.

The requirements for the flight strictly called for oblique angles.  I settled on 45 degrees for most of them, though occasionally I used a steeper or a shallower angle as best suited the subject.  But I took some ortho images anyway.  It’s always fun to compare against what Google Earth shows for a particular region, and ortho can be useful when I’m going through the pictures later to judge distance and height.  The field of view of my camera is such that the horizontal width of the frame corresponds to the height of the camera to within 5%.  By taking the occasional orthogonal image, I can typically go back through the images with a map or Google Earth to figure out how high the camera was.  Besides, it’s always fun to compare the KAP image to the Google Earth image, if for no other reason than to point out that comparing satellite imagery and low altitude aerial imagery is seriously comparing apples and oranges.

Kiholo Bay - Google Earth Imagery

Ever since doing some work for an archaeologist from Oahu, I’ve been trying various false color techniques to try to get information out of my images.  Most of the time this has been done with orthogonal pictures, though as you can see from my previous post, the same tricks can be used on practically any picture.  But it works well with the orthos:

Kiholo Bay Ortho Composite

There are a number of features in this picture that are worth trying to isolate.  There are kiawe trees, a patch of fountain grass, pahoehoe lava from a Mauna Loa lava flow, aa lava from a Hualalai lava flow, water, coral rock, and even a swimmer in the water.

Kiholo Bay Ortho Composite - False Color

The first approach I tried was to use ImageJ with the DStretch plug-in.  It’s a really good false color filter that can be used to boost any manner of color combinations in an image.  In this case I used the YDS setting with a 315 degree rotation in hue, and managed to isolate most of the features listed above:  Kiawe trees are rendered as a combination of yellowish green in the upper branches, and red for the dead undergrowth.  The fountain grass is rendered as a bright red.  Pahoehoe lava is rendered as a blackish purple, and the aa is rendered as a reddish purple, as are the cracks in the pahoehoe lava.  Coral shows up as  a very light blueish purple, almost white, and the water is rendered as antifreeze green.  Lurid though the colors may be, it makes picking out individal elements in the image quite easy.

Another approach that has worked well in the past is to separate the R, G, and B channels in the image, and treat them as components in a mathematical expression.  This is a tried and true technique that’s been used in astronomy for ages.  B-V (or in the RGB world, B-G) images can be used to judge the temperature of a star, for example.  I wasn’t taking pictures of stars, but there’s still validity in the idea.  Let’s say I want to find the redder aa lava, but don’t want to get a false positive from the coral rock in the frame.  Subtracting the blue channel from the red channel picks up primarily red objects, in this case aa lava and cracks in the darker pahoehoe lava, though this catches the green vegetation as well:

Kiholo Bay Ortho Composite - Red minus Blue

Similarly, green vegetation can be isolated by subtracting red or blue from the green component, and in this case it doesn’t do such a good job of picking up the rocks:

Kiholo Bay Ortho Composite - Green minus Blue

Slightly more complicated expressions can be used to isolate other colors in the image, or to further separate colors.  And likewise, this trick can be used on false color images that have been produced through some other tool, such as DStretch.

Despite having resources like Google Earth available to us, kite aerial photography still offers a great deal of utility as a remote sensing platform.  But I still like making pretty pictures best of all.  The next time I grab my bag and head out the door, it’ll be to go somewhere nice and take pictures I like: the kind I want to hang on my wall.

— Tom

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