Thursday, January 28, 2010

Presentation at Melbourne Camera Club, 4th Feb

Just a quick note that next Thursday (the 4th of Feb 2010) I'll be giving a presentation at Melbourne Camera Club in South Melbourne titled "Photography in an Arctic Winter". As you may guess, I'll be showing lots of images from my recent Norwegian sojourn...

Husky pad, Tromsø
EOS 5DmkII, ISO 12800, 50mm/1.8 (A2_026116)

The club's building is on the corner of Ferrars & Dorcas St in South Melbourne (the entrance is on Dorcas St and the meeting is upstairs). The club's meeting starts at 8pm, and you don't have to be a member to turn up.
Maybe I'll see you there?
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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Want to go to Antarctica?

Last year I wrote about the possibility of an Antarctic photo workshop this coming November. It looks like this is going to happen, with myself and another photographer leading a group of photography nuts to South Georgia and Antarctica!

No further details are available right now, but the final details (and registration!) should be available in early February. If you would like to be informed by email when the details are announced (to give you a head-start on the main marketing push) just send an email to be added to the notification list. I'm glad to say this list has been growing already!

On a related note, my new 2010 Australian photo workshop schedule will also be announced shortly.
Continue reading "Want to go to Antarctica?"...

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Geotagging photos in Norway

Christmas morning approach to Risøyhamn
EOS 7D, ISO 1600, 24-105mm @ 55mm (A2_029710)
As you may by now know, I spent 5 weeks at the end of 2009 aboard a Hurtigruten ship, travelling up and down the Norwegian coast. At regular intervals during this time I had to post collections of photos and video on DVD back to a client, who needed relevant metadata attached to the images. I use Adobe Lightroom to manage and process my photos (with some images being round-tripped out to programs such as Photoshop) and use the metadata fields heavily. When working on a mobile assignment such as this, getting accurate location information (e.g. names of mountains, fjords, towns, etc) attached can be tricky: when you sit down at the end of the day to download hundreds of photos (RAW files from EOS 7D and 5DmkII cameras: about 25 MB each) you then need to process and rate them, and grab a few hours sleep before starting the next day all over again. Attaching detailed place names to hundreds of individual photos is something you simply don't have time for. To help with this I try to "geotag" all my photos. I use a GPS unit to record a "tracklog" of times and locations, and use Jeffrey Friedl's Lightroom GPS Support plugin to attach relevant locations to photos based on their timestamps.

As I have for a few years now, I carry a Garmin eTrex Legend HCx GPS in my pocket. This has worldwide maps loaded up, so provides a useful resource when out on deck (e.g. "How far away from our next stop are we?", and "How fast are we going?"). It also records tracklogs in GPX format (one per day) with enough storage on its microSD card for months of data. It's a simple job to connect the GPS to the computer where it appears as a simple USB drive, and copy the GPX files. The eTrex runs off two AA batteries, and I would drop in a freshly-charged pair each day.

Clouds lit by aurora
EOS 7D, ISO 3200, 17-40mm @ 19mm (A2_029035)
However, on a trip like this there are always gaps in the eTrex's data. If I'm too far inside the ship the GPS can't lock on to the satellites, and no location is recorded. So what I like to do is have a second set of GPS data, associated with the ship. That way when I don't have specific data as to where I was, I can fall back to where the ship was.

On my 2009 Antarctic voyage the ship's navigator supplied us with a data log at the end of the trip, and this filled in my data gaps nicely. On my 2009 Norway trip I wasn't sure this was going to be possible (for a start there's no "open bridge" policy as there is on many expedition ships, so getting chummy with the navigator would be complicated). So I took my own second GPS unit. But it didn't need to be a fancy unit with a screen: it just needed to record tracklogs, have lots of storage, and good battery life. In the end I settled on the Qstarz BT-1000.

This tiny unit has enough battery for more than a day's operation, and can be charged via USB. I took an external AA battery pack so that I could regularly swap batteries and keep it running. I could have taken a second Li-Ion internal battery for it and a charger (the BT-1000 uses a fairly common Nokia battery) but didn't on this trip.
I didn't know where on the ship I was going to be able to place it: I was pretty sure my cabin wouldn't have decent GPS reception. Ideally I'd be able to put it near a power point and keep it charged via a USB AC adapter, but it needed to be somewhere secure (there are constantly people getting on and off these ships as they stop in several ports each day). In the end it turned out that I had access to an office location on the top deck of the ship (still with steel decking above, but not enough to worry this GPS receiver) and did manage to keep it charged and running for the entire trip! I did go through several cycles of swapping AA batteries (and recharging the internal battery during downloads: more on this in a tic) but leaving it plugged into power was definitely simpler.

The choice of location for the BT-1000 was simplified by the sensitivity of the unit: at times inside the steel ship it easily locked onto the satellites when my eTrex was still searching (and the Legend HCx has fairly impressive reception already!).

The BT-1000 comes with some Windows software for configuration and downloading, but I use a MacBook Pro running OS X. This is where the opensource BT747 software comes in. In fact its support of the BT-1000 was a deciding factor behind my selection of the unit. Once I'd configured things like how frequently data points were recorded, and which fields were saved (which together can make a big difference on how many days of data can be saved) the unit "Just Ran". With the configuration I chose it had enough space for over a week of data, so every few days I would hook up the unit to the MacBook, download the entire dataset, and process that to a huge GPX file. Mind you, the BT747 download is not efficient, chewing a fair bit of CPU power as well as logging lots of communication errors (which simply cause retries: no data is lost). It could take 20-30 minutes to finish the download, but I was usually also doing other work on the computer at the same time so it wasn't a waste. I put the eTrex in place of the BT-1000 during the downloads in order to avoid any gaps in my data.

No dawn today
EOS 7D, ISO 400, 24-105mm @ 24mm (A2_029812)
I would then use the Lightroom plugin to attach location information where possible to all the photos in the previous week or so of the trip. The plugin can be configured to skip already-encoded images, which simplifies things. First I would encode using each of the GPX files from the eTrex ("David's position") and then fill in the remaining images with the GPX file from the BT-1000 ("the Trollfjord's position"). The "GPS Shadow" metadata field can be easily used in Lightroom filters to determine which images still don't have location data.

This worked very well! Every image got GPS data (although one batch of images around the town of Hammerfest got encoded with the port location as I'd forgotten to turn the eTrex on that morning, the location is "close enough for jazz"). And it didn't take a lot of time and effort to do.

For a while now I've been highly recommending the Garmin eTrex Legend HCx as a handheld GPS unit (the Vista HCx adds a few bells and whistles, but not ones I miss for this). This recommendation stands, but now I also recommend the BT-1000 if you want a simple and reliable GPS logger.

I'm still annotating the odd image from the trip with further location information (keywords, IPTC "Location" field, etc) and this is made easier by being able to quickly jump over to Google Earth and compare with the detailed paper maps I now have on hand. And because I travelled past many locations multiple times over the course of the 5 weeks, the GPS data has come in handy in another way also. Using Jeffrey's GPS Proximity Search plugin I've been able to quickly find all photos taken near the same location without having to know exactly when I revisited that location.
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Monday, January 11, 2010

2 places available for this weekend's Wildlife Photo Workshop

Due to a last-minute cancellation we have two places available for this weekend's Wildlife Photography Workshop in Portland, Victoria. The workshop starts on Friday night, and continues through to mid-Monday. These places are available at the discounted rate of $480 each, so if you're at all interested please contact David ASAP.

Note that the workshop fee does not include your accommodation. Right now Victoria House is still holding the cancelled room at our group rate. Staying with the rest of the workshop participants will be optimal, so act quickly while the room is available!
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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Just another day in Portland

Gannet, Portland
EOS 7D, ISO 400, 100-400mm @ 220mm (A2_031688)
It's been a busy weekend here in Portland (in western Victoria). Next weekend's wildlife photography workshop should be fun!

Portland sunrise
EOS 5DmkII, ISO 100, 24-105mm @ 28mm (A2_031493)
Again, for those of you not following the blog feed via RSS or Facebook: I've posted the blog entries for November 28 and 29.
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Friday, January 8, 2010

Tip for "Air Rocket" users

Many of you use these devices to clean your camera. They're simple and very effective.

I've mentioned this before, but it's worth repeating: if you carry a blower in your camera bag to help keep your camera gear clean (especially if you use it to blow dust off your sensor) remember to keep it in a zip-lock bag. Otherwise it will end up blowing the dust it collects from your camera bag into your camera!

On a separate note, for those of you not following the blog feed via RSS or Facebook: I've posted the blog entries for November 25, 26. and 27. More will come, although not many this weekend as I'm off working in Portland.
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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Finally back!

It turned out the satellite network connectivity on the ship wasn't up to the job I wanted to put it to. Small file updates sometimes worked, but larger file updates would usually fail. Having spent hours struggling with it (usually at night when I was also falling asleep) I had to give up on it. At least the map updates (of my location) worked (they didn't rely on network connectivity).

Christmas Night Lights!
Vestfjorden, Norway
EOS 5DmkII, 17-40mm @17mm (A2_030530)
Apart from that the trip was a great success! I'm back in Melbourne now, finally with decent network connectivity. I do have my blog posts from the trip on-hand which I'm not going to waste. I'm batching them up and will be posting them here in parallel with current news over the coming weeks. A classic "what worked, what didn't" post will also be forthcoming.

Ok, back to work...
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