Saturday, October 23, 2010

Adventure Photography Part II: Techniques

In Part I of this series of articles, we looked at what sort of camera to get for participatory adventure photography.  In this segment, we'll look at ten tips and techniques you can do to make sure you come back home with some memorable shots.

1. Research
Do your homework.  Take a look at some travel magazines and scour the internet's photography sites (like Flickr) for ideas and images that others have brought back from those places.
Woman at the Bazaar in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, India.  Nikon D300, 18-200mm lens.
While scouring the internet for ideas on Rajasthan, I came across
Manny Librodo's Rajasthan photos on pbase. I was blown away by his images.  This image is one of many that I shot with inspiration from Manny Librodo.  

2. Shot List
Get a shot list.  Get a small notebook and write down your ideas for the types of shots you would like to make in the form of a list.  You can do it early while doing your research or do it on the plane, but get it done ahead of time.  It's hard to show up at a place and start taking great shots without having some idea of the shots you'd like to make.  For example, on a mountaineering trip, I might jot down something like:
  • Preparation: Close up of map, reading guide book, etc.
  • Packing up: motion blur shot of packing, stuff all over the floor, etc
  • Airport: departure, weighing scale, signboard of airport, etc
  • Vehicle: loading up, dust as jeep pulls away, etc
  • Details: close up of hands, chalking up, racked up gear, altimeter, etc.
  • Portraits: headshots of guide, local at work, local in a bazaar, etc
  • POV:  shoot low - include wildflowers, etc
  • Etc...
3. POV
This means Point of View, or otherwise getting some unusual angles.  Shoot from near the ground to get some wildflowers in the foreground, or stand up on a rock and hold your camera up high and shoot down with an ultrawide.
Mountain Biking in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand.  This POV shot was made with a DSLR bungeed to my chest and the shutter activated with the self-timer.
4. Be Efficient
Keep your camera handy, take it out on the move and only stop when you're actually taking the shot.  When you do stop, cover a lot of angles, continue to shoot even when you're subject passes you.  For example, I may drop to my knees to shoot my subject as he approaches me, when he gets closer, I may lie prone on the ground to get a low angle shot as he goes by, and then when he passes, I'll continue to shoot, maybe running up behind him to get a POV shot at waist level with a lower shutter speed for some motion blur.  When you're done, stow your camera on the move.
This was shot early one morning during the 250km 'Gobi March' desert ultramarathon race in China.  I ran ahead of my teammates, dropped down on one knee, shot my teammates as they ran past the sign, then hurried to catch up.   Never keep your teammates waiting for a photo!
5. Shoot Early in the Day
Golden hour.  You've heard that the light is best one hour from sunrise (and sunset).  That's one reason to shoot early.  The other reason to shoot early is that you've still got the energy and mental capacity to compose your shots.  Whatever happens during the rest of the day, you'll know that at least you have those early shots in the bag.

6. Know Your Camera
Ideally, you'll have some time to spend with your camera before a big trip.  I like to learn how my camera meters a scene, so I know how it is going to expose for a shot.  I'll leave my meter in Matrix Metering (or evaluative or multi-segment metering), and control exposure with the exposure compensation button.  I've developed a feel for how my camera meters a scene, and I set exposure compensation based on how I feel I want the shot to look.  For example, silhouettes: -2EV; backlit or bright and airy: + 2/3EV.  It's not science, but it's quick and gets me in the ballpark where I can work it a bit more in post-process.  If this confuses you, skip to step 7 ;o)

7. Know Your Limits
I shoot most of the time in Aperture Priority Mode, and occasionally in Shutter Priority.  But when I'm occupied with other aspects of the expedition or race, I set my camera to 'P' Program Mode and keep on shooting.  When I get really tired, confused and start making mistakes, I put the camera away.
Knowing my limits.  I wasn't sure if I would have the strength to carry my DLSR all the way up 6168m Mt. Chola in China, so I left it lower on the mountain and carried a lighter compact camera to the summit.
8. Preset Your Camera Modes
When I really need to work fast, as when I'm racing, I'll preset the camera modes so that when I make a mode selection, I'll be ready for those variables that I've set.  For example, in a bike race, I'll set up Aperture Priority Mode on the lens's largest aperture, so if I switch it to Aperture Priority, I'll know that I've got the largest aperture, which not only gives me the fastest shutter speed, but also shallower depth of field.  If I switch it to Shutter Priority, I've got it set it at 1/30, and I'm ready for a motion blurring or panning shot.  Otherwise, I'll just leave it in 'P' Mode.

9. Bring a Camera
I know this sounds obvious, but sometimes I'll leave my camera behind if I think an adventure will be too hazardous, or I think I won't be able to take any photos.  These days, there are plenty of rugged, waterproof cameras or housings that will allow you to take your camera just about anywhere, and mounts that will allow you to shoot hands free video from a helmet, chest or bike handlebars.
A rugged, waterproof housing will allow you to take your camera just about anywhere.

10. Shoot RAW
This point alone is worth a whole post.  So I'll end with this and hope to see you back for the next installment:


Hazy Days are Here Again

Me with the Totobobo Mask on the trail. Photo © Laura Liong
The haze is back.  A few days ago, the PSI (Pollutant Standards Index) went over 100, or into the unhealthy range.  Outdoor activities were cancelled and people were advised to remain indoors and refrain from strenuous activities.  

Ehh?  A little dust in the air is not going to stop me from getting my biking fix.  And judging from the number of riders on the trail this morning, many others feel the same.  But it's worth reminding ourselves that a little protection goes a long way.


This morning the PSI Reading was in the 70s (moderate range).  I rode on the jungle trails of Singapore where the thick jungle canopy should have filtered out the worst of the pollution.  Nevertheless, I wore my Totobobo Anti-Pollution Facemask and rode for 2 hours between 10am to 12 noon.  Here's a photo of the filters after the ride (used filters on top, bottom are brand new filters for comparison):
Top: Filters after 2 hour ride.  Bottom: Brand New Filters for Comparison
There isn't much of a difference, but it is noticeable.  Keep in mind that I wasn't out in the open, and I only wore the Totobobo for 2 hours in moderate haze conditions (PSI 70s).

I travel everywhere with my Totobobo now, and if you're wondering how black the filters can get, check out this image of a set of filters I wore in China for 4 days riding in a bus:
Totobobo N94 filters after 4 days sitting in a bus in rural China
I'm not going to blow smoke up your ass and tell you that the Totobobo is comfortable and fun to bike with.  You do notice it when it's there: there is increased breathing resistance, and condensation collects inside the mask (Totobobo does make a 'Supercool' design which is supposed to help with this, but it only covers the mouth).  Also, the straps do take a bit of experience to work with.  But I feel the protection is worth it.

There's a few different types of Totobobo Facemasks and filters.  I like the 'Classic', which fits over the bike helmet and doesn't interfere with your eyewear.  I use them with the N94 filters which not only filter out pollution, but also viruses like the H1N1.

If you buy your mask from the Totobobo website, enter "adventurenomad" into the discount code and you'll get 5% off the standard price.  I get 5% from the sale too, but I think this is still the best price you'll find on the Totobobo mask.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Adventure Photography Part I: The Camera

Before buying a camera, perhaps it's best to examine your role in the adventure you're participating in.  Are you there as a functioning expedition member, or perhaps a racer in a competition; or are you there primarily just to photograph?  If you are there just as a photographer, then the full spectrum of photographic equipment opens up to you, as you won't be encumbered by weight and other considerations.  For an expedition member or racer, photography is likely to play a secondary role, after considerations of achieving the goals of the expedition or race, safety, speed and efficiency.  This is the type of photography we'll be looking at.

Trekking in Nepal with a Nikon D300, 18-200mm lens

First off, what adventure are you participating in?  Hiking, mountaineering and adventure travel lend themselves well to still photography.  The action is slower, and you generally have both hands free to play around with a camera and have some time to compose the shot.  Biking, skiing and kayaking lend themselves better to video photography.  Not only are your hands busy doing something else, but the action is faster in these sports and capturing the movement is a big part of showcasing the activity.  Sometimes, a combination of the still and video photography works well, and these days, many cameras do both.  Here are my picks:

DSLRs
My top picks for a DSLR would be the Nikon D7000 (or D3100 if you want to go lighter or cheaper).  There are a number of other DSLRs that would do the job too, like the Canon 7D or 550D.  It's just that I'm more familiar with the Nikon brand.  I wouldn't get too hung up on the brand of camera.  If you like the way it feels, looks and handles, it will work.
Last Light at Manvar.  Taken with a Nikon D300, 18-200mm lens

I would pair the body with an 18-200mm lens first and then perhaps a 12-24mm (or 10-24mm) lens.  Sometimes, I'll add a 50mm F/1.4 for shallow depth of field shots.  I'm always on the the search for better quality, but time and again, I come back to the 18-200mm as the basic lens for adventure shooting.  Why?  When you're tired, you don't have to move around a lot to get a shot; or sometimes you just can't, as when you are roped-in.  The 18-200mm gives you a wide focal length range without having to think about changing lenses, or cleaning a bunch of lenses, or carrying a bunch of lenses.


Compacts
Sometimes, the weight of a DSLR is too much.  Then, I'd take a compact.  My current choice for a compact would be the Panasonic LX5.  I haven't used the LX5, but my wife and I own two LX3s which we are very happy with.  The compact rides very well slung over the neck, either in front of me, or to the side.  It's light enough that I can bike or climb with it without feeling the weight.
Mountaineering with the Panasonic LX3 Compact Camera
The Micro 4/3 cameras like the Panasonic GF1 are an interesting option that I've also looked into.  For the time being, I've ruled them out because of cost.  If I need light, I'll go with a compact, and if I can afford the weight, I'll go with a DSLR.

Video Cam
I've limited experience with video, but I'd like to do more.  Apple's iMovie make combining still slideshows and video a breeze, and it's easy to upload onto a video sharing site for friends and family to see.
GoPro HD Hero mounted on my mountain bike

My choice for an adventure video cam is the GoPro HD Hero.  It's ultrawide angle and shoots 2 hours of HD video on one 16G SD card, and the battery lasts 2 1/2 hours.  It's light, rugged and waterproof down to 180'(60m).  There's a bunch of mounts available, depending on what sort of adventure you're into.  For example, other than the usual helmet mount, there's a chest mount that is useful for bikers and skiers, a suction cup mount for kayakers and surfers, and handlebar and rollbar mounts for motorsports or bikers.

Here's a slideshow/video presentation I made with the GoPro HD Heroof a recent mountain bike race:


Next up: Part II, Techniques

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cape to Cape MTB 2010


Cape to Cape MTB Race 2010 from Kenneth Koh on Vimeo.

The Cape to Cape Mountain Bike Race is an annual event held in the Margaret River region of Western Australia. 
Map of the Cape to Cape MTB Race from Cape Leeuwin to Dunsborough
It is a four stage race and totals about 200km of distance across a variety of terrain.  The first stage climbs out of Cape Leewin, and then finds its way onto the beach and ends in Hamelin Bay.  Stage 2 winds through back roads, paved roads and some singletrack trail to finsh at Prevelly.  Stage 3 is a 'special' stage with a greater proportion of singletrack through some very nice pine forests.  It ends at the Colonial Brewery in Margaret River.  The final stage is fast paced ride through fire roads and ends with a little singletrack through Meelup Park at Dunsborough.
Stage Three: Singletrack Action
Riders are expected to find their own accommodation and food.  This could be a problem for foreign riders.  We chose to camp out at the suggested campsites.  The race does have some vendors coming to the campsites, but it's not a sure thing.  For example, the food vendor ran out of breakfast food on the morning of the first day (he didn't cater enough, but fixed his mistake and never ran out again), and the coffee vendor decided she could make more money at another event on the 3rd morning, and so we started the day without our morning expressos :o( 
Stage Three ends at the Colonial Brewery
Overall, it is a great event, but is not without its flaws.  The organization is a bit 'loose', but with some Aussie ingenuity and flexible, the job gets done.  For example, there wasn't enough space on the bus to take participants from the campsite to the start line on the first day.  We waited for almost 2 hours for the bus to make a return trip and arrived just 15 minutes before the start.  Even then, there wasn't enough space for the all the competitors and some had drive down, while others hitched a ride.  There wasn't enough time for lunch, but event volunteers managed to scrounge us up some food.
Awards presentation after the race, Dunsborough
Despite the lapses, the event is well worth doing.  The region, the trails and the work that the volunteers have done really make up for the few management lapses, and the event is well worth doing - especially if you can spend some time checking out the Margaret River region after the race.

We used two Panasonic LX3s for the photos and a GoPro HD Wide for the video.  If you would like to see more photos, please see my Cape to Cape set on Flickr.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Everest: Nutritional Supplements

I wrote this article because there is so little information in the way of high-altitude mountaineering and nutritional supplements.  I did some research and I hope others will find this information useful.  Here's what I'll be fortifying my diet with when I take on the world's highest mountain next Spring. 

Nutritional supplements have become a way of life in our modern world.  At this time, the argument isn't so much WHETHER you should supplement, but WHAT you should supplement your diet with.

Climbing Mt. Everest has it's own challenges nutritionally.  I'll be on the Everest expedition for about 2 months next Spring, and training hard for about 6 months til then, and I've determined that to keep myself healthy, I've got to supplement my diet with some nutrients.

I repack my supplements into small one-a-day ziplock bags, and take 1/2 in the morning with breakfast and the rest with dinner.  Here's what's in them:

Morning* 
1 AOR Ortho Core Multivitamin
1 Controlled Labs Orange Triad Multi
1 Now Vitamin C 1000mg, Buffered, Time Released, with Bioflavanoids
1 AOR Mito Charger
1 Beverly International Ultra 40 Liver Tablet

Evening*
1 AOR Ortho Core Multivitamin
1 Controlled Labs Orange Triad Multi
1 Now Vitamin C 1000mg, Buffered, Time Released, with Bioflavanoids
1 AOR Ortho Bone Calcium Supplement
1 Controlled Labs Oximega Fish Oil Capsule

* Amazon links are provided for your information.  I have not checked out the prices.  Personally, I buy my stuff from bodybuilding.com and iHerb.com (use referral code KOH756 and get $5 off your order from iHerb.com) or TSW.com.sg.
In addition, there are certain 'high altitude' supplements I take when I climb, and I start taking these about 2 weeks prior to when I start a high altitude climb:

Morning
1 GNC Ginkgo Biloba Plus Siberian Ginseng
2 First Endurance Optygen HP Capsules

Evening
1 GNC Triple Garlic
1 Digestive Enzyme


Why I take what I take:
The AOR Ortho Core and Controlled Labs Orange Triad are both very good multivitamin supplements.  Each has something that the other one doesn't. Orange Triad has joint aids like Glucosamine, Chondroitin, MSM, and Hyaluric Acid; Ortho Core has N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC), a precursor to Glutathione, which in addition to being a very powerful antioxidant, may also help clear the lungs of excess mucous.  I hedge my bets and take a little of each.  A standard dose is 6 per day, but at my bodyweight of only 63.5kg (140lbs), I figure 4 per day will do*.  

*Update Feb 2011
Ok, this isn't working out for me.  Since changing over to the new multis, I haven't been feeling as vital.  I think I need to switch back to using a multi at full dose, but I might do something else, like NOW Adam.


I take my fish oil supplement in the evening to prevent 'fish' burps in the day, but also because I believe the slower burning fat in the oil helps keep me warm at night.  Multivitamin supplements, together with a Fish Oil supplement, are what I recommend everyone take, regardless of whether you are climbing Mt. Everest or not!

Vitamin C and Calcium are usually never in large enough quantities in a multi.  I've chosen to add 2000mg of vitamin C a day.  Some are going to say it is too much.  It's a personal decision.  I've tried reducing the amount, but each time I do, my old asthma creeps back in.  Through trial and error, I've found out that the minimum I need to keep my asthma (and other allergies) at bay is 2000mg daily.


The Ortho Bone Calcium supplement is very interesting.  Although there is only 100mg of elemental calcium per capsule in this supplement, it comes in the only form of calcium shown to regrow bone (MCHC, or the Hydroxyapatite form which comes from bovine bone tissue).  The other forms (such as citrate, carbonate, etc) have only been shown to slow down bone loss.

The liver tablet is an 'old school' bodybuilding standby.  Among other things, they are known to increase endurance.  I take one a day to help my body build blood (each tablet provides about 2mg of heme iron), as to well as add in a few BCAA amino acids.

AOR Mito Charger is a new player on the market and brings together 3 useful micronutrients for keeping the mitochondria, or the body's energy production systems, healthy: Coenzyme Q10, R+ Alpha Lipoic Acid and Acetyl-L-Carnitine.  Currently, I'm taking these in 3 separate pills.  This one product brings it together for me in one pill, and at less cost. 


Gingko Biloba, Siberian Ginseng (Eleuthero), Garlic and the ingredients in Optygen HP (Rhodiola and Cordyceps) are known to help acclimatize and perform in high altitude.  I only take these supplements just prior to and during a climb, and they are not part of my daily supplement pack.
 
One of the challenges of high altitude climbing is trying to swallow pills, especially if you are nauseous.  I try to limit the number and size of the pills I have to swallow.   And because altitude can also mess around with your ability to digest food, I take a digestive enzyme with dinner, which is usually my largest meal for the day.