Image Selection Workflow After Winter Wildlife Tour #2 (Podcast 514)

Image Selection Workflow After Winter Wildlife Tour #2 (Podcast 514)

Having just completed my second Japan Winter Wildlife tour for 2016, and taking way too long to whittle down my final selection of images, today I’m going to talk a little about some of the techniques I use during this editing process.

Despite 2016 being an el niño year, resulting in us having much less snow than usual on both of my Japan winter tours, this turned out to be just as productive a trip as any year, if not more so. The more we have taken away, the more we seem to receive in other opportunities.

I shot about 500 more images on this trip compared to the first, giving me a total of 7,500, and after my initial run through these images to find the ones that I thought were good enough to show people, I similarly had 750 images, compared to around 800 from the first trip for this year.

As with the first tour, I decided to leave my 7D Mark II at home, and worked exclusively with my two Canon EOS 5Ds R bodies, despite this being a wildlife tour. I touched on this a lot during my four travelogue episodes for the first tour, so I won’t keep going on about this, but I have continued to be amazed at how well the 5Ds R coped with the fast paced shooting.

The autofocus worked incredibly well. Much better than the 5D Mark III in similar conditions, and I actually found the reduced frame rate liberating. It had me thinking much more about the critical timing at which I would release the shutter, especially for the eagle shots that we’ll look at later in the series of travelogues that we’ll follow up with. I also had less than half the images to look through, which saved me time, and that’s always a welcome benefit from any new shooting style.

Whittling my Final Selects

With so many images that I was happy with from this trip, I found the selection process even more challenging than usual, and I used a few different techniques for whittling down my images from this trip that I thought might be useful to talk about, so before we get into the travelogue series, I’m going to walk you through some of these processes.

As I travel, I try to look through my images from each shoot, and when other activities such as sleep get in the way, I make a note of which days I’ve looked through, and which one’s I haven’t. For this trip, I managed to look through 9 of the 12 days, so I went through the other three days over the last week, after getting back from the tour.

During my first pass I generally just give anything that I want to look at again 3 stars. This is my “worth a crap” rating. It means that I’d be happy to show people the image, although might not proactively do so. After tour #2 I had 750 of these initial selects which I then needed to reduce to a more appropriate number, which is as few as possible, as usual.

Using Lightroom Smart Collections

To make it easy to review images I generally create a Smart Collection for three star images and above for any multi-day trip that I do. This helps me to quickly view all images that I have rated by going to that Collection, rather than selecting all folders from the dates of the trip, then filtering on three stars or higher.

To create the Smart Collection I just go to the Collections panel in Lightroom’s Library Module and click the + symbol to the right of the Collections label, then select Create Smart Collection… As you can see in this screenshot (below), I then select three stars for the Rating field, and this is set by default to “is greater than or equal to”, so anything with three or more stars will be included in this Smart Collection.

Smart Collection Settings

Lightroom Smart Collection Settings

I then click the + button to the right of the Rating line to add more criteria, and select Capture Date, then “is in the range” and enter the start and end dates for my tour, which was Feb 22 to March 4, 2016. Now, I can see all images with 3 stars or above for the entire trip, just by clicking on this Smart Collection folder.

To reduce my 750 initial select images, I started to look at groups of similar images and reduce them to as few as possible. After my second pass, I was down to 348, so I was able to remove just over half of my original selection. I still had 151 images of the Steller’s Sea Eagles and White Tailed Eagles, so I did a third pass just through these images, and removed an additional 25 images, but then I was stuck again. I really felt as though the 125 eagle shots that I had left were quite strong images, so I guess this is a nice problem to have, but I really wanted to reduce my overall number of selected images even further.

Lightroom Slideshow Functionality Change

With a total of 323 images left in my Smart Collection for the trip, I tried using my slideshow and coffee process. I’d been through the entire set a number of times at this point, but having hit a wall, it was time to simply feel my reaction to the images as the slideshow progressed.

I start a Lightroom slideshow, and if I am happy to see the next image come up, it stays, but if I get even the slightest sinking feeling as the next image comes up, I hit the 1 key on my keyboard to demote the image out of my selection. 1 star is my “once great” rating. It means I once thought enough of it to promote it above the others, but then decided otherwise. I just like to keep this star on there as a reference.

Anyway, it was this point in time when I realized that Lightroom no longer works as it used to, so the keyboard is not recognized during slideshows. This is actually quite huge for me, as I use this process a lot. It’s even more annoying because the slideshows in Lightroom are being nicely enhanced with features like “Pan and Zoom” and better synching with music being added, but now I have to click through each image in full screen mode, which I don’t like so much. I like to remove anything that disrupts how I “feel” about each image, so the slideshow was perfect for me.

So, while manually going through the images, even after doing this a few times, I was still at 311 images. I’d only managed to remove another 12 from my gut reaction to the images. At this point, I decided to go the other way, and promote the ones that I really liked.

Using Raw Emotion to Select Images

When traveling these days, I generally create a Lightroom Collection that I set to sync with Lightroom Mobile, so when I drop images into that Collection they automatically sync with my iPad and iPhone. I just set that Collection to be the Target Collection, which means that I can add images easily by hitting the B key while browsing or editing images. This gives me an easy way to show the tour participants what I’ve been capturing as we travel, and also my wife can follow along with my progress from home.

Lightroom Mobile Screenshot

Lightroom Mobile Screenshot

The thing with this process is that I obviously don’t just drop all of my selects into this synced Collection. Unlike my initial selection which I give three stars simply to indicate that I want to look at these images again, for my Lightroom Mobile Collection I only add images that I feel are good enough that I want to show people. I make this decision as I work through my initial selection process, so there’s a lot of gut feeling involved. It’s a raw emotional response to the images, and I think that is worth working with.

By the time I’d been through all images from the tour I had around 180 images in my Lightroom Mobile Collection for the trip, so these are images that I already knew that at some point I’d felt strongly about. More strongly than the superset of 750 initial selects in the Smart Collection, so I decided to do some further comparisons of the larger group against this subset of images.

I went into my Lightroom Mobile Collection and labeled all of the 180 images in there with a blue label, then went back into my Smart Collection, and in the grid view I could now easily see all of the images that I had added to my gut feeling favorite images Lightroom Mobile Collection. More importantly, this blue label also enabled me to filter out all images that did not have a color label assigned, so I could look at only the images that I had not yet added to this subset. Theoretically these should be the less-good images.

By this point, I’d been back from the tour for over a week, and the emotion of each shoot was pretty gone, so when I looked through these images, I was able to simply feel my reaction to them a fresh, and add anything else that I thought was good enough to want to show people to the Lightroom Mobile Collection.

After doing this, with the memory of the last pass through my lesser images still fresh in my mind, I went back into the Lightroom Mobile Collection, and did another pass, this time with the newly added images included, and removed everything that I didn’t feel was up to scratch. Some of them were from my initial Lightroom Mobile selection, and some were added for the first time. I could see this because of the blue labels, which I thought was useful.

This process enabled me to reduce my overall 3 star image count to 251, which is a closer number to what I like to work with, but by this point I’ve been pretty ruthless, and felt uncomfortable removing anything more at this point. These base three star images will probably remain in the collection, and I’ll present these to Offset, my stock photography agency, for their consideration as well.

My Lightroom Mobile Collection, which contained images that I would more proactively like to show people, had increased a little at 214 images. At this point, I promoted all of these images to 4 stars, and removed the blue label. I don’t like to leave color labels on images, and it was no longer necessary. My 4 star rating is, as I say, for images that I proactively want to share, and I give 5 stars only to images that I feel are portfolio worthy, or actually in a portfolio.

Selecting the Absolute Best to Show You!

By this time, it was 2:30 on Monday afternoon, and I am supposed to be releasing the first travelogue episode for Tour #2 today! At this point I started the process of selecting my final 30 or a maximum of 40 images to talk about. We already now that I wasn’t able to get to the travelogue episodes. The process just took too long. I made Lightroom’s Quick Collection the target Collection again, and then sat through the entire set again, hitting the B key when an image that I thought I’d like to talk about came up on my screen.

Well, as you might imagine, I ended up with a new shortlist of 112 images. I’d added just over half of my 4 star images to my Quick Collection. Aargh!

So, I had to go back and start to select similar images again. I had 46 sea eagle shots, so that was an obvious place to start. For example, I had five shots of White-Tailed Eagles with their talons forward, coming in to catch a fish, so I removed four of them. I had six shots of White-Tailed Eagles side-on actually catching the fish, so I removed five of these, leaving just the one with the most dramatic splash.

I repeated this process for the various types of eagle shots, but the most difficult group to reduce was these four images of a Steller’s Sea Eagle coming in to land on harbor wall at Rausu (below). These four images are already a subset of a series where the light reflecting from the snow on the wall, back up onto the eagle, was absolutely stunning.

Four Stellers Sea Eagles

Four Steller’s Sea Eagles

I love each one of these shots with a passion, so I was disappointed to see that on closer inspection, the third image was a little bit blurred as the eagle lunged forwards. That did make removing one more image a no-brainer though of course, and the other three were absolutely tack sharp.

In fact, as we are not going to have time now to actually start the travelogue this week, let’s take a look at just how sharp these images are. Keeping in mind that the image is already cropped slightly, here is a 100% crop of the fourth of these images (below). I can’t tell you enough how much I have fallen in love with shooting wildlife with the Canon EOS 5Ds R.

Steller's Sea Eagle 100% Crop

Steller’s Sea Eagle 100% Crop

All I’ve done to this image in post is increase the Shadows slider in Lightroom to +18 and increased the Clarity to +12. Apart from that, and the crop of course, this is straight out of the camera, so hopefully you’ll see why I’m so excited about the resolution and image quality of this camera. The shutter speed was 1/1000 of a second at f/10, ISO 400, at 234mm.

In a desperate bid to reduce the number of images down futher, I actually removed the last shot of the White-Tailed Eagle snatching a fish from the water as well, as the Steller’s Sea Eagle shot was better, and this enabled me to get the eagles down to just 12 images for now, so I went through the rest of the remaining 75 images in a similar way, trying to remove more.

The next difficult set was trying to reduce the number of Whooper Swan images. We had two amazing mornings at Sunayu, at Lake Kussharo, with a number of beautiful fly-ins and incredible light. I found it really difficult to reduce the images I will talk about, much past this selection (below). I ended up removing some of my favorite images simply because I didn’t think their true beauty would come through in the limited Web size that we have to use here.

Last 16 Swan Fly-in Shots

Last 16 Swan Fly-in Shots

As you can see, we had very different conditions each day, which made it even more difficult to reduce the number. Especially the second of our two days there, the swans looked as though they were just sitting in a huge soft-box with stunning light, and such a tiny subtle difference between the birds and their white background.

So, finally, after a few more heartbreaking decisions, I arrived at the 40 images that you can see in this screenshot (below) that I will talk about over the next four episodes.

Final 40 Images from 2016 Tour#2

Final 40 Images from 2016 Tour#2

If time allows, I’ll try to start recording the travelogue series early, and release the next episode before the end of the week, so that we don’t spend much longer on these travelogue series. I also have some other exciting stuff coming up as well, that I don’t want to delay any longer than necessary, but it really depends on how much time I can assign to these tasks in the coming weeks. Either way, let’s wrap it up there for today.

2018 Winter Wonderland Tours

Before we finish, I’d like to remind you that we are now taking bookings for the 2018 Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tours. For details and to book your place, visit the tour page at https://mbp.ac/ww2018. Our 2017 tours are already sold out, but if you’d like to be put on the wait list, please contact us.

Winter Wonderland Tours 2018


Show Notes

Details of the 2018 Tours: https://mbp.ac/ww2018

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

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Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido 2015 Tour #2 Part 2 (Podcast 462)

Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido 2015 Tour #2 Part 2 (Podcast 462)

This week is the last of a two part series to walk you through a selection of photos from my second Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tour for 2015. We pick up the trail on day seven, with one last Whooper Swan photo, before the majestic sea eagles, and a surprise visit from a beautiful Northern Fox.

Towards the end of last week’s episode, when I walked you through the first 12 photos from Tour #2, I mentioned that the swans often run along the water in front of the frozen lake as they take off. This is the photo I was thinking of, and the unsteadiness of the water often gives the swans an ungainly look as they splash along the water gaining speed to take flight (below).

Whooper Swan Dash

Whooper Swan Dash

Man in the Mist

Men in the Mist

Also, as I mentioned last week, I generally shoot panning shots like this between 1/25 and 1/40 of a second exposure. 1/25 has a much higher failure rate for sharp heads, but can result in more aesthetically pleasing blurred shots. 1/40 of a second has a high success rate, but less wing movement. This particular image was shot at 1/30 of a second, so the head is slightly less sharp on close inspection, but beautiful wing movement is recorded, so it can be a good if somewhat risky balance.

Next is a fun shot that I made after breakfast on day seven, as we visited Sulphur Mountain, for what is usually an apocalyptic scene with the volcanic fumaroles spewing sulphuric steam into the atmosphere. As it was so warm in Hokkaido for pretty much most of this winter though, it was too misty to any more than a few close-up grab shots of the fumaroles, but I quite like this fun shot of two of our tour participants in the mist (right).

I have a couple of frames in which the subject to the right is more prominent, but I like the minimalism here, and just a hint of the figure looking quite sinister to the left of the image.

As we drove over to the fishing town of Rausu, where we would spend three days, going out each morning to photograph the sea eagles, we took a look at a couple of locations where I know there to be Ural Owls, but they were not on their nests this day, so we continued on after lunch to the Notsuke Peninsula.

As warm as it has been, with temperatures floating around freezing point most days, I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised to see this, but it seemed very strange to be able to see the dried grasses and patches of dirt showing through what is usually just pure white snow plains (below).

Ezo Deer at Notsuke Peninsula

Ezo Deer at Notsuke Peninsula

The Ezo Deer are happy enough with the situation, as they can start their spring eating a little early this year, and were often so busy with their feast that they wouldn’t even look up for a photograph as we stalked them from the bus on the road that runs along the thin fishhook shaped strip of land that juts out into the sea on the east coast of Hokkaido.

We went out to photograph the sea eagles at dawn on all three mornings that we were in Rausu, and although the sea ice was very close to the shore on the first morning, high winds drove it out from our base in Rausu towards the Kunashiri Island on the other side of the Nemuro Strait from the second day. Still, we had three great mornings, with the middle shoot being a bit slow.

I’ll share a few eagle shots from the second morning in a moment, but after our first morning, we headed back out to the Notsuke Peninsula, but shortly after we got there, I received a phone call from a friend to tell me that one of the Ural Owls that we’d gone to photograph the day before, was currently on its perch, so we headed over there to photograph this adorable avian (below).

Ural Owl

Ural Owl

I often switch to portrait mode for these owls, because that enables me to fill the frame with the tree trunk, but for this shot, I used the landscape orientation, and showed the edges of the tree to give the owl a little more context, and I thought that worked pretty well here, and more than anything, I was happy that I’d been able to provide the group with an owl photo, following a couple of no-shows the previous day.

Back to the sea eagles now though, and here’s a photo of a Steller’s Sea Eagle from our second dawn shoot with them (below). Here he’s coming in to land on the sea ice, and I just love the detail in his feathers, and those crazily cool talons, and pensive stare as he concentrates on his approach.

Steller's Sea Eagle Coming in to Land

Steller’s Sea Eagle Coming in to Land

The following morning, having found a good perch in the foreground for the eagles to sit on as the sun came up, we waited for the sun and eagles to do just that, as we can see in this photo (below). The eagles generally just sit on these high perches of ice, and seem to just enjoy the sunrise as we do, but sometimes, as we see here, they jostle for position on these perches, and I was able to capture this particular jostle while the sun was still close to the horizon.

Jostling for Position

Jostling for Position

One tip to keep in mind when shooting things like this, is that once the birds are in front of the sun, auto-focus gets all flustered, and generally doesn’t work until you see a more distinct silhouette, like in this photograph. If you are working from a boat like this, it’s a good idea if you use the back AF button to focus, to get focus while the birds are away from the sun, and assuming you don’t move closer to or further away from the subject, just don’t press the AF button again as the bird moves in front of the sun. If you do that, the focus can start to search and you’ll miss your shot.

Of course, you have to disable the focus from the shutter button as well, and this is a common way to set up a camera for wildlife and sports photographers. I won’t go into detail on this now, but if you are interested, let me know and I’ll do an episode on this, and go through the merits and demerits of focusing in this way.

Another thing to remember at times like this too, is to try not to look at the sun through the lens too long. You’ll end up doing it for a few seconds to get your image all lined up and composed nicely, but once you have your composition set and the lens focussed, move your eye up slightly, so that the sun is obscured, at least partially, by the top of the viewfinder.

This way you can still see enough to maintain focus and your composition without frying your eyeballs. Note too that this is only possible while the sun is very low in the sky. Once the sun rises much more than you see in this shot, it’s very dangerous to look at it directly through your camera, especially with a long lens, and even when it’s obscured slightly.

OK, so here’s my messy sea ice shot. It’s nice when we have sea ice, especially when it creates a nice an uniform background as it did in the earlier eagle shot. It can be quite messy though, as you can see in this next photograph, of a White-Tailed Eagle taking a fish from the sea (below).

The Catch

The Catch

I can live with the messy sea ice in this shot though, as I just love the wavy shapes and lines in this image. The wave formed by the lower line of the neck of this eagle is almost mirrored by the arch of the water that the bird has kicked up as he drew the fish from the water.

Of course, it’s easier to get a much cleaner background by shooting the eagles in flight, as I did with this next image (below). We have the mountains behind Rausu in the background here, and I went in really tight with the new 100-400mm lens from Canon at 271mm. I could have pulled out further of course, but sometimes I just like to really crop in tightly to capture the incredible detail in the magnificent raptors.

Pensive Flight

Pensive Flight

Here’s one last fun shot of the Steller’s Sea Eagles before we move on (below). This is not a multiple exposure or anything like that. These three stooges had been sitting on a bit of ice, just chewing the fat, as they do of a morning, and decided it would be fun to walk across this little chunk of ice to a larger piece, and I was lucky enough to capture the comical moment.

Not a Multiple Exposure

Not a Multiple Exposure

After our third dawn sea eagle shoot, we had some tough decisions to make, as the weather was closing in on us again. If you remember from the previous episodes, on Tour #1, there had been major road closures across eastern Hokkaido forcing us to stay in one hotel and extra night, and preventing us from getting to Rausu for two days. We brought the situation around by positioning ourselves to get in early enough on our second day to shoot the eagles, and then we shot twice more on our last day there, but it had been a difficult couple of days.

Well, although we’d finished three great eagle shoots on Tour #2, if we’d moved on to Utoro, where we do some finishing landscape work and have a great last dinner, there was a good chance that we would not be able to leave Utoro on our last morning, forcing us to miss our flight. There was also a good chance that our flight on this side of the island would be cancelled, so it was decision time.

We decided to change our plans, and abandon our last day in Utoro, in favour of traveling across the island to a different airport, so we changed our flights as well as our hotel for the last night. We did have enough good weather and time left to go through to the pass to Shari, at the base of the Shiretoko Peninsula for lunch though, and that also took us past the spot where we usually stop to do some intentional camera movement shots of the birch trees, as we see here (below).

Birch Trees in Snow

Birch Trees in Snow

We had a lot of ground to cover through the afternoon though, to get to Kushiro, and our new hotel, and to be in position for our newly arranged flight. Not wanting to spend the entire afternoon on the bus though, we headed for the Mashuu Lake, where we would have 45 minutes or so to shoot before heading on, but then just as we reached the area, we found this incredibly cute young Northern Fox (below) just sitting at the side of the road, and he posed for us for about 15 minutes before we had to leave.

Fox's Yawn

Fox’s Yawn

We all got lots of great photos of this young guy, but after we’d been there for a while, and I was shooting over the head of one of our participants, he got up and moved away, giving me his seat. Just as he did, the fox did this huge yawn, and although I wasn’t quite lined up properly, I was already focussed, and got what was probably my favourite photo from the entire tour.

I was a little annoyed that I’d got so much space above this little guys head, but this is a perfect space for the time and date on my iPhone lock screen, and it will also be great for adding copy on an ad or magazine cover for example, so I’m looking forward to getting this uploaded to OFFSET the stock agency that represents my work. I’ll share more of this little guy later, but I hope you like this shot. It’s definitely one of my favourites.

The last photography stop of the tour turned out to be Mashuu Lake, as you see here (below). This is a beautiful spot, but now with only thirty minutes left, as we spent 15 minutes shooting the fox, we only had time for a bit of a flying visit before we had to continue on to Kushiro.

Mashuu Lake

Mashuu Lake

We had some great local food in a quaint old bar that night, and then woke the next morning to a cancelled flight, as the weather had closed in even earlier than expected. Yukiko our tour conductor worked her magic, and after around 90 minutes of phone calls and planning discussions with me, we decided to change our flights again, and take a risk on driving over to yet another airport that still had some free seats on the next three flights, and had not yet cancelled their first flight of the day, which was a good sign, as all other airports were cancelling their flights as quickly as we could check on availability.

To cut a long story short-ish, our plans panned out, and although we lost our afternoon on day eleven and the morning on day twelve, we were repaid with a some wonderful fox photographs, a bonus landscape shoot at Mashuu Lake, and we still ended up back in Tokyo an hour earlier than planned, much to the relief of our guests who mostly had international flights to catch the following day.

As usual, at the end of the trip, I went around the bus with my iPhone and recorded a brief message from each member of the group, which I’ll play you now.

[Listen to the audio to hear what the group had to say.]

Also, one of the participants Rich Dyson, a very talented UK photographer based in Edinburgh, Scotland, has posted a detailed recount of our tour on his blog here, if you’d like to see the tour from a participants perspective. I am also going to be chatting with a few people from the tours in a Google Hangout at some point soon, so look out for those upcoming episodes.

2016 Japan Winter Wonderland Tours

OK, so that finishes my travelogue of our second Japan Winter Wildlife Tour for 2015. Note that we have been taking bookings for the 2016 tours for a while now, and both tours are already almost full, so if you would like to join us, check out the 2016 Tour page, and sign up sooner rather than later, to secure your place on a Japan Winter Wildlife Tour of a lifetime.

 


Show Notes

See Details of 2016 Tours here: https://mbp.ac/ww2016

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes for Enhanced Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

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Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido 2015 Tour #2 Part 1 (Podcast 461)

Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido 2015 Tour #2 Part 1 (Podcast 461)

This week is the first of a two part series to walk you through a selection of photos from my second Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tour for 2015. These tours are in many ways the highlight of my year, so I’m sad to see them finished, but the resulting photos will keep me going for a while as I now start to work into my year.

The itinerary for this tour is identical to Tour #1 that we discussed in the previous two episodes, but of course it was a different group, and different photographs, and the weather presented its challenges again, although it was slightly more manageable than the first wildlife tour for this year.

We started the tour on February 16, a Monday morning, as always, and headed out on our chartered bus to Nagano for the first three days, to photograph the adorable snow monkeys. This first photograph that I want to take a look at (below), is pretty much a regular scene at the snow monkeys, as they bathe and groom each other, while sitting in the hot spring bath that has been made their own.

Grooming Snow Monkeys

Grooming Snow Monkeys

I’ve selected this photograph to start with for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I just like the relaxed atmosphere, with the youngsters sitting close to mum on the right, and the older of the two grooming her. Then there’s the two adults on the left grooming too.

The other reason I chose this photo is to talk you through a point about the mist on the pool, that can often ruin your photos if you aren’t careful. As you photograph the snow monkeys, quite often, there is a lot of steam coming off the hot water in the pool, and that can greatly reduce the contrast in your images, but it often comes in waves, and can be used to good effect with a little bit of attention as well as luck.

For this shot, you can see that there is mist in the background, that reduces the visibility of the background, and cleans it up to a degree. Not quite so easy to see if a little mist in the foreground too. Essentially you need to compose your shots, and wait for pockets of clarity, and hope that your subjects don’t move before you are able to get your shots. In this case, the clearing in the steam that lasted literally less than a second, is almost like a portal through to the snow monkeys, and it opened up just enough to see the groups of monkeys clearly, but making the surrounding image bright and minimal, almost like a lightened vignette, which I thought works well.

After an afternoon in the Monkey Park on the first day, we spend the first of two nights in a beautiful traditional Japanese hotel in the area, with great food, and wonderful warm staff, and then make our way back into the park for a full day on day two. The park can get very crowded, but most people go to the pool, especially the thirty minute tourist groups, and then they leave. This leaves certain areas like down by the river and the snow covered sides of the valley for us photographers, and I’m happy to shoot there, with scenes such as this one (below) to be photographed.

Family Unit

Family Unit

Again, here we have a family group, with mum and two kids, possibly even the same family. The young monkeys always look like boys to me, but there’s no telling, at least when they’re sitting down. This feels like mum grooming the little brother or sister though, and the older brother sitting by, as they do, quietly, getting less attention than their younger sibling.

As we see in this next shot from the second day (below), the monkeys aren’t always just sitting around getting groomed. Here I caught a youngster at full pelt as he raced through the snow on the valley wall. I have shot both of these tours almost exclusively with the new 7D Mark II camera, to try to get the most out of it’s auto-focus system, and although it has one major weakness, which I’ve just about overcome now, it has held up very well indeed, even compared to the Canon EOS 1D X, which is four times the price. I’ll be reporting on this again in a few weeks, so stay tuned if you’re interested.

Flying Monkey

Flying Monkey

I shot this at 200mm with the new 100-400mm lens from Canon, and was cutting it pretty fine here as I gradually zoomed out while tracking this little monkey along the snow. This is un-cropped, but you can see I almost lost his hand out of the bottom of the frame, so I’m pleased to have got this particular shot.

On the last of our three days with the snow monkeys, we were lucky enough to get a bit of falling snow, which always makes a big difference. In this photograph for example (below), the snow settling on the monkey had mostly melted, but left little beads of water on the monkey’s fur, as it relaxed in the pool.

The Philosopher

The Philosopher

Of course, the way I’ve framed this, I wanted to make this guy look like a philosopher, deep in thought. I have a few different angles of this monkey, from the left and right sides as well, but I like this one that is straight on. Had the eyes been open, I’d have focused on them, but then, if the eyes had been open, I may not have even shot this. I just like the deep thoughtful expression here, and this is probably one of my favourite photos from the trip.

After the snow monkeys, on day four of the tour, we fly up to Hokkaido, the northern-most island of Japan, for our first two days with the most elegant birds on the planet, in my opinion, the Japanese Red-Crowned Crane. Here we see two cranes doing their mating song, as they strut through the snow (below). These birds grow up to 158cm tall, which is only a bit shorter than my wife, so they’re big birds, and as you can see here, the female is generally a little shorter than the male.

Snow Song

Snow Song

There are so many cranes, that it’s often quite difficult to get a good clear shot of just two cranes when they dance or call like this. For this photograph, I had zoomed my 200-400mm with the 1.4X Extender engaged, right out to 560mm, which on the 7D Mark II is the equivalent of almost 900mm, but still, I had to crop this down a little to remove a third crane on the right of the frame.

Another tip here though, is to not forget to flip your camera into portrait mode for shots like this. Not only is that more aesthetically pleasing, with the tall birds and plenty of room above their heads to see the falling snow, but it also helps to remove other birds either side, due to the narrower aspect.

At the end of the fourth day, we visited a different location where I know there are often a lot of cranes that fly out to their roost at the end of the day as the light drops. This is great for getting slow shutter panning shots, like this one (below). For panning shots, sometimes I like to get the head sharp, as we’ll see later, but sometimes, just getting everything blurred in this way can also work, as I believe it does here.

Crane Entering Warp Speed

Crane Entering Warp Speed

I won’t pretend that I have a magic formula to get one style of photograph over the other. Honestly, I generally just slow my shutter speed down to between 1/25 of a second and 1/40, and try my best to pan smoothly with the birds as they fly. When taking off though, the speed of the bird is somewhat erratic, as is the up and down motion, so most of the time it comes down to just shooting a lot, and then picking out the best shots from your bursts.

The following morning we went to the bridge where we have a view of the cranes roosting in the river, but it wasn’t cold enough for the hoar frost to form on the trees, so although we got a few fly-outs, I don’t really have anything to show you here.

We went back to the crane centre after breakfast though, and as usual were treated with the White-Tailed Eagles and Black Kites at 2pm when they feed fish to the cranes, but again, I’ve showed you shots of that so many times, I’m going to skip that for today.

The great thing about this tour, is that we had snow falling on and off for much of the scheduled two days with the cranes. In this next photo the snow was lighter than the first crane shot for today, but still adds a beautiful sense of atmosphere to images like this (below).

Cranes' Dance

Cranes’ Dance

I’ve select this shot to show you, again, because I like it, but also to point out that the cranes’ tails are white. When you see photos like the first one of the cranes calling together, it’s easy to think that their tails are black, but it’s actually a line of black feathers along the back edge of their wings, which they fluff up and use for decoration when they call like that. As you can see though, when they lift their wings, their tails are totally white.

Quite often, after the cranes are fed their fish, and the eagles and kites steal most of them, we move on to another location, like the one for panning on the previous day. Because we’d not had much blue sky during our two days though, I decided to keep the group in the Akan Crane Centre for a few more hours on this second day there, and it paid off, as we see here (below).

Cranes' Flight

Cranes’ Flight

We had a number of beautiful fly-outs, but it’s always nice when we can get one with a nice textured sky in the background, like this. I’ve said before, I’m not a fan of blue skies, especially in landscape photography, but as a backdrop for a pair of beautiful birds like this, I can put up with it. 🙂

On days six and seven, we spend time with the Whooper Swans over at Kussharo Lake, as well as do an afternoon workshop session at the hotel, before going back out to do more panning, with the swans this time, as we see in this photograph (below).

Neck and Neck Whooper Swans

Neck and Neck Whooper Swans

As I mentioned earlier, I like to do panning shots between 1/25 and 1/40 of a second shutter speed. At 1/40, my percentage of sharp heads goes up dramatically, as in this shot. I love it when I can get two birds, both with sharp heads, and different wing positions, like this. The frozen lake makes for a nice background too.

As we’ll see in the first shot that we’ll look at in the next episode, the last shot of the Whooper Swans, most of the time they actually take off on water in front of this ice, and that can give some interesting effects to a panning shot too.

Although the weather stopped us from going to Bihoro Pass for a landscape shoot on this second tour again, we were able to go back to Kussharo Lake for their fly-in just after dawn on day seven of the tour. I have a handful of quite dramatic shots with the frozen lake in the foreground, but preferring the minimalist approach, my favourite is probably this shot, with the swans and just the tips of the mountains on the other side of the lake just showing through the low cloud (below).

Whooper Swans with Misty Mountains

Whooper Swans with Misty Mountains

As we walked back to the bus across from where we’d held our dawn shoot, I heard a knocking coming from the woods behind the carpark, and found this fellow doing his thing, stripping the bark off a tree and looking for breakfast (below).

White-Backed Woodpecker

White-Backed Woodpecker

I shot this with the 200-400mm and internal 1.4X Extender, at ISO 1600. I was shooting hand-held, because we had to get back to the hotel to get our breakfast before they stopped serving it, but it was lovely to see this little White-Backed Woodpecker, as I haven’t seen one with the group for a few years now.

After breakfast, we came back to the lake at a different spot, and did some studies of the swans as they just hung out on the snow covered frozen lake. I have a whole series of these, mostly pairs of birds, but this is one of my favourites (below). I love the way this Whooper Swan was all fluffed up as they preened themselves, and you’ve just got to love those big goofy feet and short legs on these otherwise amazingly beautiful birds.

Whooper Swan Preening

Whooper Swan Preening

There was a layer of mist behind the birds here, giving the light a beautiful soft quality that really lent itself to this kind of study. I’ll probably share a few more shots in a portfolio or other publications, but we’ll leave it there for today, as we’re up to our 12 photos for this episode.

2016 Japan Winter Wonderland Tours

Note that we have been taking bookings for the 2016 tours for a little while now, and both tours are already almost full, so if you would like to join us, check out the 2016 Tour page, and sign up sooner rather than later, to secure your place on a Japan Winter Wildlife Tour of a lifetime.

Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tours


Show Notes

See Details of 2016 Tours here: https://mbp.ac/ww2016

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido 2015 Tour #1 Part 1 (Podcast 459)

Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido 2015 Tour #1 Part 1 (Podcast 459)

This week we start a two part series to walk through 24 photos from the first of my two Japan Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido winter wonderland wildlife tours for 2015. As you’ll hear next week, the weather gave us some unique challenges on this tour, but as usual we had an amazing time, and came away with some pretty cool photos.

We started our tour with a three day visit to the adorable Snow Monkeys, which are a three hour drive north-west of Tokyo, in our chartered bus. Although it was unseasonably warm, with temperatures floating around freezing point, there was still a good covering of recent snow on the hillside beside the hot spring bath in which the monkeys bath.

Snow Monkeys

Here is one of my favourite shots from this visit (below), with this snow monkey just sitting, in a wonderfully human pose, and also with what I consider a great expression on their face. I just love the wrinkles on this older monkey’s face, and that distant gaze which makes me feel that they’re deep in thought about whatever it is that monkeys think about.

Sitting Easy

Sitting Easy

I also  really like how it’s difficult to figure out what’s going off with the monkey’s right hand. At first glance, it’s as though the monkey has their right hand resting on their leg, but with the angle of their right arm, unless the have a severely broken arm, their actual hand has to be tucked down between their legs. What we can see here must be their left foot, sitting on top of their right leg.

The next shot shows two young monkeys playing boisterously, as they bite each others mouthes, in the hot spring pool (below). Between answering questions and otherwise looking out for my group, I love picking out moments like this as the youngsters play with each other.

The Bity Game

The Bity Game

I also spent some time photographing the monkeys advancing towards me again, still testing the 7D Mark II, now also with the new 100-400mm lens from Canon, but I’m going to save my findings for a later podcast episode, in which I’ll concentrate on updating my 7D Mark II review, so please stay tuned for that. I am very impressed with both the 7D2 and the 100-400mm though, and will add a few comments in this episode, but need a little more time to collate my thoughts on some of the shortcomings of the 7D Mark II, which I touched on earlier in my first impressions review and have not yet entirely overcome.

Eagles and Cranes

After the Snow Monkeys, we travel up to Hokkaido, the northern-most island of Japan for a further nine days shooting the incredible wildlife up there. Our first location is two days with the Red-Crowned Cranes, and the other wildlife that visit them, such as this White-Tailed Eagle (below).

Honing In on Prey

Honing In on Prey

At 2pm each day, they throw fish out for the cranes, which attracts these White-Tailed Eagles and Black Kites, which swoop down to steal the fish, making for a 20 minute photography frenzy, which is incredibly exciting. Although I still enjoy shooting my straight eagle-in-flight shots, I’m really trying now to capture poses that are a little different to my current range of shots, such as this look as the eagle hones in on his prey.

At the cranes, I ended up shooting most of the time with my 7D Mark II on the 200-400mm 1.4X EXT lens. This shot (above) was captured at 490mm, so the 1.4X Extender was engaged, but not at the full zoom of the lens. Of course though, because the 7D Mark II has a 1.6X crop factor, the effective focal length of this shot was 784mm, so much greater than I could get with my 1D X on the same lens.

I of course also have many photos of the cranes from the first day, but in trying to keep the number of photos I include down to 12 per episode, we’ll jump now to a photograph from the end of the fourth day, the first day in Hokkaido, when we visited a spot where the cranes sometimes fly to roost. For this photo (below) of cranes flying over the lighter part of the sky as we looked towards the sun, I actually brightened the sky to almost white and darkened the cranes down to full black silhouettes to really emphasise the form of the cranes.

Cranes Silhouette

Cranes Silhouette

While in the Kushiro area, we have two mornings where we visit the river at Otowabashi, which directly translates as the “Sound-of-wings Bridge”. Here we are hoping to be lucky enough for the temperature to be cold enough for hoar frost to form on the trees along the river, and for some mist over the water. Unfortunately on the two days we visited it wasn’t cold enough this time for the entire riverside to go white, but there was a patch at the side of the river where some beautiful hoar frost formed, as we see in this photograph (below).

Frosty Morning Cranes

Frosty Morning Cranes

We waited for some of the cranes to walk down the river to these trees, to capture this surreal scene. It’s always so magical to see, even if it’s only a small part of the river, especially when you single this out with the frame of the camera, when we can basically make everything else go away.

With the new Mark II 100-400mm lens from Canon on my 1D X, I had walked along the enclosure at the Akan Crane Center later in the day, and noticed a pair of cranes taking off coming directly towards me, so I selected one of the two, and tracked with it for the entire take off, until they went right overhead. With the lens zoomed right out to 100mm, here is one of the last frames before the crane got too big to fit in the photograph (below).

Red-Crowned Crane Flyover

Red-Crowned Crane Flyover

I have to tell you, I absolutely love this new 100-400mm lens. It is incredibly sharp, and having that kind of reach in a hand-holdable lens for the first time in almost 10 years is almost as much of a revelation as going back to a telephoto zoom with the 200-400mm last year, after shooting with telephoto primes for such a long time. The only thing that is taking a bit of getting used to is the twist zoom action on this lens.

In my opinion it should zoom faster through it’s range than it actually does. A number of times I found myself having to re-position my hand and lost a shot or two because I couldn’t zoom quickly enough through the range, although it did get easier as I used the lens, so it’s certainly something that you can get used to, and so not a huge issue.

Next up, here I’m still looking for more exciting poses, as this White-Tailed Eagle starts a dive to steel the cranes’ fish again (below). There’s just something so special about being out in the cold in front of a field full of cranes, and then having these magnificent raptors come and visit just for that 20 minutes or so each day, and perform their acrobatics for us. Although it’s a crane center, it’s hardly surprising that it fills up with locals shortly before 2pm each day, as everyone tries to photograph this spectacle.

The Swoop

The Swoop

Here also is a shot of one of the Black Kites which also visit at this time (below). Compared to the eagles these are smaller, and are often ignored by people here in favour of the eagles, but I probably shoot these just as much, because I think they are also incredibly beautiful birds. If you look closely at this photo you can also see that this kite has a fish in his talons, which I think adds a nice additional element to compliment this awesome creature.

Black Kite with Fish

Black Kite with Fish

A Bit of Panning

Each day, when we head over to the location where we photograph the cranes as they fly to their roost, I first swing by another location where there are sometimes many cranes that are about to set off on that flight. On our second day in this area there were lots of cranes, so I had the group do a bit of panning, with longer exposure than we usually use to capture the action during the day.

We set our shutter speeds to 1/25 of a second to record the movement in the wings of these beautiful birds as they took off and flew out of the reserve (below). In this first shot the sun was almost on the horizon bathing everything in beautiful warm light, as you can see from the wings of the birds here.

Cranes in Motion

Cranes in Motion

The cranes’ heads move up and down slightly as they fly, so it’s virtually impossible to get a totally steady head at these shutter speeds, but I’m still pretty happy with the results, and have selected quite a few of these in my final selection of images from this tour.

Here’s another photo which I made at 1/20 of a second this time, now at ISO4000 as it was almost dark, but this helped the background to go much darker now, so the cranes really stand out against the background (below). For most of the tour we shoot in Manual exposure mode and use the ISO to adjust the exposure more than aperture or shutter speed. For these panning shots, we selected the shutter speed first, because it’s important to get it down nice and slow, but generally we choose the aperture first for depth of field, then shutter speed to freeze or blur the action, then adjust the exposure with the ISO.

Cranes' Flight

Cranes’ Flight

It Snowed!

The following morning, we awoke to snow, so instead of moving on to the Whooper Swans according to our itinerary, I took the group back to the cranes for a third day, as they are so special when it snows. It just totally changes the scene, although it does offer it’s own challenges. On this particular day, the wind was blowing directly towards us, so we had to continuously use an air blower to blow the water droplets off the front of our lenses every time we shot, and then ensure that we turned the camera down and away from the snow when we weren’t shooting.

The results were worth it though of course. The cranes just look so much better when it snows, and they tend to get more excited too. Here there were multiple groups of cranes singing in unison (below). I generally try to avoid or remove parts of birds poking into the frame like the one on the right of this shot, but for some reason I actually quite like this one. It’s almost as though he’s sticking his head in the door to see what all the ruckus is all about.

Uhmm?

Uhmm?

I also really like the way the crane’s ruffle their wings up like that, as we can see from the left-most crane. When their wings are folded down, as in the next photo (below), it often looks as though they have black tails, but you can see from the photo above that their tails are actually pure white. It’s the line of black feathers along the back edge of their wings that they seem to use as decoration.

We’ll finish on this photo for today, as I hope this can help you to understand why I really do love to get some falling snow while we’re with the cranes. It not only cleans up the surface of the snow, but the snow in the air adds another dimension that you just don’t get with clear air.

Love Call

Love Call

Before we do finish, I’d like to let you know that we’ve just had a last minute cancellation for the tour that starts literally in just seven days, and although it may well be backfilled or too late by the time you read/listen to this, if you are interested in joining us, you can book your place here or see details on our 2015 Winter Wonderland Tour page. Note that our site manages inventory for these tour bookings, so if you take a look and the tour is marked as sold out, it means that someone else beat you too this open spot.

[UPDATE: This 2015 tour #2 cancellation slot has now been filled.]

2016 Japan Winter Wonderland Tours

Also, note that we have already been taking bookings for the 2016 tours for a little while now, and each is already over half full, so if you would like to join us, check out the Tours & Workshops page, and sign up sooner rather than later, as these tours are now selling out quite quickly.

 


Show Notes

See Details of 2016 Tours here: https://mbp.ac/ww2016

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

Subscribe in iTunesSubscribe in iTunes for Enhanced Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

Download this Podcast in Enhanced Podcast M4A format. This requires Apple iTunes or Quicktime to view/listen.


Shooting for Stitched Panoramas & Avoiding Parallax Shift (Podcast 452)

Shooting for Stitched Panoramas & Avoiding Parallax Shift (Podcast 452)

Today I’m going to walk you through a few tips for shooting images to later stitch together to create high resolution panorama photographs. We’re going to cover two methods for finding the No Parallax Point which helps with avoiding parallax shift, as well as looking at some easier methods of shooting that also work great.

Today’s episode is actually an adapted version of a topic I cover in detail in my Striking Landscapes eBook from Craft & Vision. Although I’ll try to cover the actual process of stitching the images together on the computer at a later date, if you would like this information sooner rather than later, perhaps consider picking up a copy of this eBook and following along with that, if you don’t already have a copy that is. Otherwise, we’ll get to that in a future episode.

Multiple Ways to Shoot Base Images

For panorama photographs comprised of multiple images stitched together, there are multiple ways to shoot your base images, and infinite levels of intricacy depending on how much work you are prepared to do for the end product. I use a number of methods depending on the situation.

On rare occasions I simply crop a single frame down to create a panoramic aspect ratio image, but that results in a small image, which won’t be optimal for large prints. I have printed single frame crops at 40″ wide though, having blown the image up with onOne Software’s Perfect Resize, so if there are reasons for shooting a single frame and cropping, such as having a lot of moving elements in the scene that would make sticking virtually impossible, then I’ll do that, but like to avoid it when possible.

Hand-Held Panoramas

If I’m running and gunning I will sometimes simply find my scene, flip the camera vertically, and shoot a series of hand-held images. With the stitching software being so good these days, this method is generally fine, and although we’ll go on to talk about much more complicated methods today, depending on the situation, I really don’t mind when this is my only option.

This method also works well when photographing from a rocking ship, like this photograph (below), which was stitched together from a series of frames shot hand-held from the stern of a rocking ship heading down the Beagle Channel in Argentina, on my way to Antarctica. There’s little point in using a tripod from a moving base, and our bodies actually compensate for the rocking quite well as we automatically try to stop ourselves from falling over.

Beagle Channel 2012

Beagle Channel 2012

Lock Down Exposure

One important thing to remember when shooting for panoramas is that if you shoot in an automatic exposure mode such as Program or Aperture Priority, your resulting images will have various exposure levels, and this makes it very difficult to create a consistent look across the stitched image. For example, the sky might have bands of varying brightness, which obviously looks terrible. To overcome this, it’s generally better to lock your exposure down in Manual mode. If you prefer an automatic exposure mode for your general shooting, get your exposure where you want it to be with your typical shooting style, but then make a mental note of your settings, then go to Manual, and set your camera to those settings.

Take a look at the entire scene you intend to shoot when you do this, and set your exposure for the brightest part of the scene. Although it’s possible to deal with dark shadows later, to give your image the best chance, use the ETTR (Expose to the Right) technique discussed in Episode 381. If you have any specular highlights, you might choose to allow them to overexpose a little, but try not to overexpose much of the image or you will lose detail in those areas.

Shooting from a Tripod

When shooting for stitched panoramas with a little more time, I try to use a tripod. I often use the 70-200 mm lens with a tripod foot, and rotate the camera and lens in the tripod ring to keep the centre of gravity over the rotation axis of the tripod for better balance and to stop the camera from moving sideways as I rotate the camera.

I generally use a Really Right Stuff L-bracket on my cameras, so when I shoot panoramas with a shorter focal length lens like the 24-70mm, I can easily flip the camera on its side as shown in this photo (below). The centre of the lens remains over the rotation axis of the tripod to help stabilise and stop the camera from moving to the side as I rotate the camera.

RRS L-Bracket Orientations

RRS L-Bracket Orientations

With the camera flipped over as in the right-most example here, it swings a lot as you move the camera for each frame, causing parallax issues that we really want to avoid. Even the first two example can cause parallax issue, but we’ll look at how to overcome that shortly. Of course, the reason that we flip the camera in the first place is because that helps us to avoid the lens distortion that generally creeps in more on the edges of the frame, which become the top and bottom of the images in the vertical orientation, and some of that will be cropped away later anyway. Plus, if you leave your camera in the landscape orientation, your panoramas end up very long and thin, and lower resolution than when you flip the camera vertically and zoom in a little bit.

Levelling the Tripod

To prevent your camera from creeping up or down too much as you pan, try to get your tripod as level as possible. Many tripods have a spirit level at the top of one of the legs, or the platform onto which you attached your tripod head. You can use this to get the tripod level by adjusting the length of each of the legs to compensate for any unevenness in the ground.

To save time when levelling my tripod, I use what’s called a levelling base. These come with a locking mechanism that you can unscrew to loosen the platform at the base of the tripod head, and you can then move it up to 15 degrees in any direction. This enables me to level the tripod head without having the tripod on even ground or painstakingly adjusting the height of each leg.

RRS Leveling Base Tilted Over

RRS Leveling Base Tilted Over

Panoramas Using a Ball Head

Since ball heads allow the camera to be moved around freely, you will also need to level your camera before you begin to shoot your series of photographs. Many modern cameras have a digital level built in, which makes it a breeze to level the camera. You don’t need to level the camera on the vertical axis, but ensuring that the camera is horizontally level will stop it from drifting too far up or down as you pan. If you don’t have a digital level built in to your camera, you can also use the small, inexpensive plastic spirit levels that fit into the flash hot shoe.

Errors Due to Parallax

OK, so shooting with a ball head from a levelled tripod will give great results most of the time. This is how I shoot the vast majority of my panorama photographs. But, it can introduce errors when stitching your frames together due to slight shifts in parallax because you are rotating the camera in front of the rotation axis of the tripod.

In this example (below) the images on the left were shot with the camera on a tripod using a ball head. I’ve merged the photos together for the sake of the illustration, but they are two sets of three photos shot with the crane ornaments on the far left, centre and far right of the frame as I rotated the camera. In the three images to the left, you can see that the relationship between the two cranes and the small plaque changes as I pan left to right, with the foreground elements drifting outwards. The set of three images on the right here were shot with a pano-gimbal head and the camera in a position to avoid parallax, and there is no parallax shift as the camera is rotated.

Parallax Examples

Parallax Examples

The No-Parallax Point

To understand why this happens, hold a finger up and look at it with one eye, then close that eye and open the other, and the finger will move in relation to the background. This is the parallax between our two eyes (and a well-understood phenomenon), but our camera only has one eye, so why is this such a big deal?

Really Right Stuff Pano-Gimbal Head

Really Right Stuff Pano-Gimbal Head

Next, hold up a finger and look at it with one eye closed, then move your head from side to side while looking at your finger. As you rotate your head one way, your finger will shift in the opposite direction in relation to the background. This is because your eye, or you lens in this example, is in front of the rotation axis, which right now is your neck.

Now try looking at your finger with one eye closed once again, but this time rotate your head around your eye, instead of from the neck. Your finger and the background will remain stationary as your head rotates around your eye. You just found your eye’s no-parallax point, which is actually the pupil. Your camera is the same. To remove the parallax, you have to rotate the camera around what’s called the no-parallax point, or NPP.

Really Right Stuff Pano-Gimbal Head

To rotate the camera around the NPP, consider something like the PG-02 pano-gimbal from Really Right Stuff. (Note: You also need a Nodal Slide, which is not part of the PG-02 package.) You might recall that this is what I use as my gimbal head when shooting wildlife with long lenses, and with the addition of a Nodal Slide that you can see in this example photo (right) it works very well as a pano-gimbal head to help me to avoid parallax.

It doesn’t remove parallax automatically of course. There are some precise setup steps that you have to follow each time you use it, which include sliding the camera back and forth in the nodal slide to an exact point for each focal length, based on the following tests, which we’ll look at now.

Setting up the Pano-Gimbal

First we need to set up the gimbal head. I’ll use the process for my RRS PG-02 Pano-Gimbal as an example, but this will of course vary depending on the gear you use.

It’s quite large when assembled, so I generally keep it broken down in a LensCoat Really Right Stuff Gimbal Pouch (below) while traveling to a location. The instructions are the same for either setting up the pano-gimbal in the field and setting it up to carry out your tests to find your key no-parallax points.

LensCoat PG02 Pouch

LensCoat PG-02 Pouch

Before we start, we need the tripod level, using some of the methods we mentioned earlier, then fit the Horizontal Arm of the PG-02 pano-gimbal, and check that it’s level with the built-in spirit-level.

RRS PG-02 with Horizontal Arm

RRS PG-02 with Horizontal Arm

Next, fit the vertical arm and nodal slide that we saw in the earlier example photo. If you have a battery grip on your camera, fit the vertical arm hanging slightly over the end of the horizontal base: there’s enough room for this configuration. Ensure that the camera is aligned with the registration marks on the L-bracket so that you know your camera is horizontally in the middle of the setup.

RRS L-Bracket Registration Marks

RRS L-Bracket Registration Marks

The next step is to ensure that the camera is aligned with the rotation axis of the tripod. Point the camera straight down, and looking either through the viewfinder or using Live View zoomed in, focus the lens at the minimum focus distance, then stop the lens down to f/16 or f/22 and press the depth of field preview button. This is usually enough for you to be able to see the registration crosshair in the center of the horizontal panning base. Now adjust the position of the vertical bar on the horizontal bar until the crosshair is in the center of the frame, as you see in this photo (below).

Aligning with the Cross-Hair

Aligning with the Cross-Hair

Camera Aligned with Cross-Hair

Camera Aligned with Cross-Hair

In this photo (above), the white square, digital level and red line are in the camera via Live View, and the white cross and white circle around the digital level’s black circle are the registration crosshair on the pano-gimbal’s horizontal panning base, being viewed via Live View.

To help you to visualise this, here’s a photo of the camera in the Pano-Gimbal head while pointing straight down at the cross-hair in the centre of the horizontal base (right).

Next, we’ll look at two methods for finding the No Parallax Point (NPP) for the key focal lengths of your lens, which will be at certain distances on the nodal slide, which is how we move the camera back and forth. There are two commonly discussed ways to do this: one is more fun, but, in my experience, not quite as accurate as the second method we’ll look at. Let’s do the more fun one first though.

Finding the No-Parallax Point – Method #1

The first method involves looking into your lens with the aperture stopped down, with a bright light (like a window) behind the camera, shining back through the viewfinder and aperture. Basically, when you have the camera at the correct point on the nodal slide, the bright spot that you see in the lens will remain perfectly stationary as you move the camera around.

A Bit of DIY

To check for movement in the bright spot of light, I recommend using a sight if you don’t have a second camera, but if you do have a second camera, set it up on a sturdy tripod pointing at your first camera, and we’ll use photographs of the bright dot to find your no-parallax point. If you have to make a DIY sight, it can be as simple as a rectangle of cardboard with a “V” and a groove cut into it as we see in this photo (below).

NPP Testing With Sight

NPP Testing With Sight

Just bend the cardboard around, tape it at roughly 90 degrees on either end, and then fix it to the top of a stand such as an old tripod or light stand.

With your camera facing you with the bright light source behind it, set your aperture to f/16 (if it isn’t already there), and for the test, hold down the depth of field preview button while rotating the camera on the pano-gimbal. This can be somewhat difficult to do, here’s a bit of a secret to help with this test. With most DSLR cameras, while holding the depth of field preview button, if you push your lens release button and turn the lens slightly, when you let go, the aperture will stay stopped down, where it needs to be for these tests. Just be sure to click your lens back into place when you’ve finished the tests. If you forget to do this, the lens could work loose and fall out of the mount later, and we don’t want that to happen.

Now to actually find the NPP, rotate the camera to the right then left, and while looking through your sight or shooting test shots with a second camera, check to see if the spot moves left or right. This photo (below) shows what you’ll see if the camera is too far forwards, and needs to be moved backwards in the nodal slide. As a guide, if the spot moves outwards as you swing it to the left or right, the camera is too far forward and needs to be moved backwards on the nodal slide until the spot stays in the exact same place when the camera is swing sideways.

NPP Testing - Camera Too Far Forward

NPP Testing – Camera Too Far Forward

Conversely, if the spot moves inwards, in the opposite direction to these examples as you rotate the camera, the camera is too far back and needs to be moved forwards in the nodal slide.

As we can see in this diagram (below) the spot of light moves this way because it needs to be directly over the rotation axis of the tripod for your camera to be set at the no-parallax point. If your camera is too far forward, the spot is in front of the axis and so it swings outwards, and if the camera is too far back, it’s behind the axis, and so moves inwards with the rotation of the camera.

No Parallax Point Adjustment Diagram

No Parallax Point Adjustment Diagram

It might take a few adjustments, but you can gradually move the camera back and forth on the nodal slide until the spot of light remains stationary as you rotate the camera from side to side. If fact, once you have the camera at the correct point on the slide, you should be able to move it in any direction, up and down as well as side to side, and the spot of light will remain stationary, as we can see in this animated GIF that I created from nine photographs of the camera in various positions.

Finding the NPP with a Bright Window

Finding the NPP with a Bright Window

You can find your no parallax points relatively easily using the sight method, but I found that photographing the camera as in the examples shown here, and then zoom in on the image in playback mode on the camera’s LCD, then switching between images to check for movement of the bright spot works the best. It’s just easier to see if the spot is moving than when using a sight.

Finding the No-Parallax Point – Method #2

The other method I use to locate my NPP is to put an object like a tripod or a studio light stand about three or four feet in front of my camera. Then, with the camera focused on something in the distance and the aperture stopped down to f/16 or f/22, I shoot two photos. In the first photo, I rotate the camera to the right so the light stand is close to the left edge of the frame, and in the second photo I rotate the camera left with the light stand near the right edge of the frame.

I do my rough alignment, with the camera in Live View mode so that I can see the foreground object moving as I rotate the camera, but then when I think I’m close, I shoot an image at each extreme and then zoom in and check by moving back and forth between the two images on the LCD.

NPP Light Stand Tests

NPP Light Stand Tests

RRS Nodal Slide at 160mm

RRS Nodal Slide at 160mm

You might find that you have to adjust and reshoot a few times, but it’s pretty easy to find your no-parallax point after two or three adjustments once you get used to this. This photo (above) is a 100% crop from two test shots.

See how the light stand remained almost completely stationary as I rotated the camera right to left. So this is actually a photograph with the light-stand on the far left of the frame, when the camera is rotated to the right, and on the far right of the frame, when the camera is rotated to the left, and we can see that the camera is at the no parallax point, because there is no parallax shift in these resulting photographs.

Record and Repeat

Of course, you have to record the position at which you have your camera in the Nodal Slide for each focal length, so that you can set your camera at the NPP easily in the field as you shoot for your stitched panoramas.

How you record your measurements will depend on your nodal slide, and although there have been attempts to standardise these measurements to enable easy sharing of data, I generally find it easier to just test myself and note my results, as shared below. Firstly, I always set my camera clamp at 160 mm on my nodal slide, and leave it there (right).

This means that all of my NPP measurements can be jotted down with easy value pairs such as 24 mm = 45.5 mm, 28 mm = 47 mm, 35 mm = 51.5 mm, etc. The first value is the lens focal length, and the second value is the point at which I have the nodal slide attached to the quick release clamp on my vertical arm (below).

RRS Nodal Slide at 48mm

RRS Nodal Slide at 48mm

Knowing these measurements means that I don’t have to find my NPP afresh every time I set up the pano-gimbal in the field. I just have to ensure that my camera is directly over the rotation axis of the tripod by pointing it straight down and adjusting, and then set the camera to these measurements on the nodal slide, and I’m good to go.

Keep Your Notes Handy

I find and note the NPP for all focal lengths etched on the lens, as they are easy to return to in the field. I then add my measurements as a note on my computer, which automatically synchs to my iPhone. You could also write it on the back page of a shooting journal, or whatever you have with you in the field. The important thing is to have something like this list with you when you need it.

  • 24-70 mm f/2.8L II @ 24 mm: 160-48 mm on nodal slide
  • 24-70 mm f/2.8L II @ 28 mm: 160-50 mm on nodal slide
  • 24-70 mm f/2.8L II @ 35 mm: 160-55 mm on nodal slide
  • 24-70 mm f/2.8L II @ 50 mm: 160-67 mm on nodal slide
  • 24-70 mm f/2.8L II @ 70 mm: 160-78 mm on nodal slide

Shoot Your Series of Frames

Whether you are shooting hand-held, on a tripod with a ball head or with a full pano-gimbal setup, once you are ready to shoot, it’s generally best to start at one extreme of your scene, include a little more than you think you’ll need in your final photograph, and start to shoot a series photos moving a half to two thirds of a frame at a time. The overlap is necessary to help Photoshop or other stitching software to line up the images. If you shoot multiple rows of images, ensure that you also have at least a third of the bottom of your image overlapping the top of the previous row, or vice versa.

There are techniques for using the degree engravings on the pano-gimbal or tripod heads when shooting for stitched panoramas, and I’m sure there are benefits to doing this, but I do this by eye most of the time. Note though that it does help to lock down the vertical movement of the tripod head as you move the camera horizontally to stop your frames from drifting up or down.

To finish, here is a series of photos which we used in my example workflow in my Striking Landscapes eBook. The scene captured here is Ashino Lake with a Shinto Gate (Torii) and Mount Fuji in the distance, and was shot with a single line series of images at 135 mm. The edges of each overlapping photograph is highlighted in Photoshop. You can see here too that although I was really careful getting everything level, the images did drift up slightly as I made my series of exposures.

Pano of Mt. Fuji with Photo Edges

Pano of Mt. Fuji with Photo Edges

In Striking Landscapes we go on to walk you through how to actually stitch these images together in Photoshop, but we won’t get into that today. As I said earlier though, at some point we’ll touch on this, and I’ll probably introduce a new piece of software that I’m using now, as well as recapping on Photoshop as well possibly. Either way, I need a little more time to prepare for that, so we’ll finish here for today, with the techniques necessary for finding your no parallax points, and actually capturing your images for stitched panoramas.


Show Notes

Pick up Martin’s Striking Landscapes eBook here: https://mbp.ac/cvsl

Find Really Right Stuff here: http://www.reallyrightstuff.com

Music by Martin Bailey


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