The View Up Here

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Posts Tagged ‘WWKW2009’

A KAP Outing that Wasn’t

Posted by Tom Benedict on 22/11/2009

Since finishing the Worldwide KAP Week 2009 Book, I’ve had more time to do photography, and to at least attempt to do KAP.  Last weekend I got out of the house for a few hours to do some KAP up on Mana Road, a dirt track that runs from Waimea to Mauna Kea’s Summit Road on the south side of the mountain.  The weather in Waimea was rainy, and my plan was to keep driving up Mana Road until I came out above the clouds.  This worked out better than I thought, and I eventually got to do some KAP at a large water shed.

The Water Shed

The photo received some positive comments when I posted it on Flickr, including one from someone who said how much they enjoyed seeing pictures of Hawaii that don’t appear in the tourist literature.  In looking through the photography I’ve done, I realized a good percentage of it has been done at beaches, or in places that are stereotypically tropical Hawaii.  I hate getting stuck in a rut, so the comment on the water shed photo was timely.  Exactly the kind of direction I need!

Yesterday my wife took my daughters to dance, so my son and I threw our stuff in my Jeep and headed out.  My plan was to hike out to some remote kipukas on the slopes of Mauna Loa and try my hand at KAP there.  The wind was favorable, but as it turns out the weather wasn’t.

A kipuka is a forested cinder cone that has been surrounded by fresh lava.  This cuts off the kipuka from the surrounding area, making it a pocket ecology.  Kipukas are common wherever there are cinder cones out on a relatively flat area near an active volcano.  The saddle between Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea has dozens of kipukas that host native Hawaiian flora, and numerous endemic Hawaiian birds.  My son packed binoculars to do some bird watching, and I packed my KAP gear.

By the time we got to the turn off to Mauna Kea Summit Road, it was obvious our plans had to change.  A line of clouds was blowing through the saddle between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, and already the area we were planning to hike was covered by clouds.  Rather than turn around and call it a loss, we pulled in at Puu Huluhulu, a large kipuka situated at the turn off to Summit Road.  My son and I have hiked this area frequently, and it’s a favorite of ours.  I had some level of hope that we could reach the top before the clouds rolled through, and that I could get a kite and camera airborne before things socked in.  But the clouds moved faster than we did.  By the time we got to the top everything was an opaque mass of white.  My kites stayed in my bag, but my camera didn’t.  A day that’s bad for kite aerial photography is often a good day for ground photography.  The most obvious subject to work with was the twisted trees that grow on Puu Huluhulu.  It’s trees like this that originally inspired the art of bonsai.

Misty Trees

But there were a number of other subjects that also drew my eye.  Completely overcast skies often make for poor landscapes, but they make for great macro photography.  This plant is about as big as my palm, though the adult plants grow much larger.

Fuzzy Plant

When the clouds and the wet and the cold finally got to be too much, my son and I hiked back to my Jeep.  The misty photography and macro photography felt good, but I was still disappointed that we were packing it in and turning around.  But then I remembered just how close the far end of Mana Road was.  Even better, Mana Road does lead back to Waimea.  It’s not the smoothest ride home, but it was a chance to keep the day from ending before it had really started.  I asked, my son said yes, so we headed out Mana Road.

Stream Bed Panorama

Not too far in we ran across a really picturesque stream bed.  The water wasn’t running, which was a little surprising given the amount of rain the area had received recently, but we were fairly high up so things had probably drained well before we got there.  The clouds that had made KAP at Puu Huluhulu impossible had cleared the air between Mauna Kea and Puu Oo, one of the two active vents on Kilauea.  The two steam plumes from Puu Oo and from the lava flow entering the sea near Kalapana were both clearly visible.  I set up my tripod and lined things up to make a panorama.  When I metered the sky and the ground, however, I found I couldn’t get both the foreground and the steam plumes in the same shot.  The sky was just too bright, and the overcast sky made the foreground too dark.  So I wound up shooting it as an HDR panorama.  It wasn’t quite the look I was after, but it served to balance the two strongest elements in the frame.

Pools

By the time I’d finished the panorama, my son had hiked up slope to a really pretty tree.  Rather than follow, I hiked down the stream bed until I reached the pools I’d spotted while photographing the panorama.  The overcast sky made for nice reflections, so I arranged things for a low angle shot that would pick that up.

Lichen

The same soft light that made for good close-up photography on Puu Huluhulu also made for nice macro photography here.  Some recent experiments at work using CombineZP made me want to try the technique in the field.  The idea is to take pictures at a range of focuses, and use CombineZP to take the sharpest part of each shot and combine them into a single image with infinite apparent depth of field.  I don’t know how enamored I would be of this if I didn’t have CHDK running on my A650.  One of my favorite scripts is a bracketing script that will bracket whatever your last control setting was.  I use it to do HDR photography, but it can also be used for CombineZP.  The A650 can be set to do manual focus, so once MF is selected, the bracketing script can be set up to rack focus through a nice wide range, taking pictures along the way.  I set this to do 37 focus positions, shifting by 3 clicks in focus each time.  (The A650 has well over a hundred focus positions, so techniques like this are quite straightforward.)  When I got home I put the files into CombineZP, and got this in return.

Nene

A few miles down the road my son spotted nene off to one side.  I stopped and got out, with some faint hope of photographing them.  Unfortunately the A650 doesn’t have much in the way of long focal length in its zoom range.  I’ve tried several times to photograph nene with my 20D, but light, weather, or the patience of the birds has always thwarted my attempts.  I was overjoyed to find these geese to be very patient with me.  They let me get quite close without reacting much at all.  I was happy to walk away with a couple of good photographs of them.

Nene

Mana Road is miles and miles of beautiful scenery that changes every time you go around a bend.  I’ve been out on it several times, and each time there is something different to photograph.  I still haven’t figured out quite how I’d like to photograph the koa forest the road winds through, so that’s still one I have to return to once I have a clear idea in mind.  Just past the koa forest, though, the road became quite muddy.  At one point the road dropped away entirely, and I was looking out past my Jeep’s hood into space.

I’m sure there are those who would give a loud “WHOOP!” and hit the gas, but I’m not one of those.  I hit my brakes, turned off the engine, and got out to look.  I saw a muddy slope with about a 25% grade, maybe 40′ high, and covered in skid marks.  I wasn’t keen on the idea of driving it, but of course I had to photograph it!

Whoops!

The wind was too gusty to get a stable kite shot, so I opted for my 20′ carbon fiber pole.  This is a converted breem pole I picked up for $20 and stuck a ball head on for photographic work.  Setting up the shot took about as much time as setting up a tripod, and the CHDK intervalometer script meant I didn’t need to remotely trigger the camera.  All that was required was a little patience waiting for the “click!” sounds coming from the camera, and lining things up between shots.

The Watershed

After photographing my Jeep and the slippery slope, I wound up backing out and going down the lower road.  This avoided the inevitable skid, and got us back on track.  A little further down the road we came across a water shed.  This is smaller than the water shed I’d photographed the previous week, but being closer to the road it offered more opportunities for close photography.  These water sheds are essentially large catchment systems used to collect rainwater for the cattle that graze in the surrounding fields.  The roof of the shed has gutters that are piped into the tanks.  When it rains (which it does quite frequently) the rainwater runs off the roof, through the pipes, and into the tanks.  The water in the tanks is then diverted to troughs for the cattle to use.

The Watershed

I’ve driven past this water shed several times, and have made numerous attempts to photograph it.  But I’ve been disappointed with the results.  I know the picture I’m after, but I just never managed to get it.  This time I got close.

Ideally I’d have liked to be about five to six feet to the right, and aimed the camera more to the left.  Unfortunately there’s a barbed wire fence in the way that makes that angle painful, if not impossible.  I’m still working out how to get the shot I’m after, but this one worked out better than the others I’ve tried.

I did finally get a kite airborne once.  I was on the leeward side of a stand of trees, so the air was minimal and tossy at the ground, and blowing like a freight train higher up.  Kite handling was rough, heavy, and not fun at all.  I clipped on my KAP rig and tried to do some photography of a water tank that’s managed by the water department.  With the wind through the trees and the altitude of the rig, I couldn’t hear the shutter whenever I told it to take a picture.  So it was no surprise when I got home and saw that the only picture I had from the one KAP session of the day was a picture of my feet when I tested the shutter on the ground.

Ah well…

So it was the KAP outing that wasn’t, but I still had a good time.

– Tom

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Why Take Pictures From A Kite?

Posted by Tom Benedict on 28/05/2009

“Why take pictures from a kite?”

It’s a question I hear fairly often when I try to describe kite aerial photography to someone who’s never seen me at work.  Oddly enough I never get this question when I’m out in the field.  The reason for this, I’m pretty sure, is that once you see it being done the answer is fairly obvious.

Lighthouse from Up High

In short, because I can.  And because it works so very very well.

The related questions, “Why not do it from an airplane?” or “… a helicopter?” or “… a UFO?” also have a pretty short answer:  Because I can’t.  Or at least I choose not to.  For starters, I don’t have access to a UFO (though as it turns out I do.)  By the same token, I don’t have access to an airplane or a helicopter, either.  Sure, I could rent one, but I’m not a pilot.  I could rent a pilot, too, but they cost a lot.  In Hawaii where I live, an hour in a Robinson helicopter that’s had its doors removed, but not its pilot, costs roughly $350.  Not too expensive on the face of it, but it comes with some restrictions.  First, it’s only for one hour.  I regularly leave my KAP rig in the air for hours at a stretch, waiting for just the right light or just the right action.  Next, helicopters and airplanes all have to stay over 1000′ above ground level.  A KAP rig stays less than 500′ above ground level.  The views really are different.  And finally, three hours in a Robinson would pay off all of my KAP gear with change left over for making prints.

Top of the Lighthouse II

The second point in the previous paragraph, the one about viewpoint, is often lost on people.  If some altitude is good, wouldn’t more altitude be better?  If your goal is to look for camouflaged rocket batteries or some other secret military facility, sure.  This is why a great deal of the military’s reconnaisance is done from satellites.  But if the goal is to produce an intriguing photograph, more altitude often spoils the view.  If greater subject distance was always preferable, landscape photographers wouldn’t need wide angle lenses, would they?

Top of the Lighthouse I

Besides, the camera equipment necessary to render fine details from even a thousand feet away is not the most affordable, or even the most portable thing in the world.  I would argue that the previous photograph could not have been produced with a long lens and a longer subject distance.  But even if it could, without a stabilized camera platform and a truly remarkable camera and lens, the level of detail avaialble from such a photograph would not be all that impressive.

Too Close for Comfort!

It’s one thing to stand at the base of a lighthouse and wonder what it looks like on top, and only be able to satisfy your curiosity by driving to an airport, renting a helicopter, convincing the pilot to fly to the lighthouse, and only then find out the answer.  It’s quite another to reach into your backpack, pull out a kite, line, and rig, and by golly find out right then, right there.

Why take pictures from a kite?  Because I can.

Green Sand I

— Tom

The photos used in this post were all taken from a camera suspended from a kite line during World Wide KAP Week 2009.

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