Things have been rather quiet on the blog this week. I’ve been extremely busy at work and have also been down here in Houston since Wednesday working on a TI project. Luckily, I”m pretty close to the wonderful architecture downtown so I’ve managed to get out with the camera twice to shoot skyscrapers.
As in all big cities, you can be pretty sure that the minute you show up with a tripod, local security guards start getting all itchy. I’ve had no unpleasant encounters this time but, as usual, got the distinct impression that I was considered a security risk:
- I was asked to stop shooting the Wells Fargo building (it’s the blue/green shiny one in this image from a couple of years ago). The pleasant security lady who came out and talked to me after I had finished my second bracket indicated that she thought the policy was silly but that was the policy.
- While shooting at the Chevron building both today and on Thursday evening, I found myself shadowed by a security guard who hovered around me but didn’t complain about my presence.
- While trying to find a high vantage point to shoot the downtown skyline, I wandered into the Hilton Hotel which has a 24th floor terrace. Unfortunately, it’s not open to the public and the bell captain I spoke to indicated that the hotel has a policy of no photography with tripods unless you have permission from a manager (which is fine) and that he reckoned none of the downtown rooftops would be open to photography since everyone currently has a heightened awareness of “security issues.”
While some of these are still examples of ridiculous policies, in my opinion, there was one very obvious difference between my experience here and up in New York. Here, at least, both the security-related people I spoke to were friendly, courteous and professional. Neither was belligerent or overbearing and both saw the humour in the situation. Our discussions were completely civil and not at all confrontational.
If we have to have ridiculous anti-photography policies in place in our big cities, I would suggest the people imposing those policies take a lesson from the folks I interacted with in Houston instead of employing the New York model.
P.S. I don’t have any image management software on my work laptop so I can’t post any of this week’s captures just now. Look for a couple of pictures within a few days once I’m home.
As any dedicated HDR photographer will tell you, you should be carrying a tripod with you at all times. Even if you are carrying your tripod, however, it’s not guaranteed that you will actually be able to use it. Many buildings prohibit tripod use and many security guards get all hot and bothered when anyone walks into their territory carrying one. Despite this (and I won’t get started on how annoying and pointless some of these situations can be in this post) you can often save the day if you are also carrying a small and pretty inexpensive piece of equipment.
I have two Joby Gorillapods – an SLR-Zoom model and the larger, sturdier Gorillapod Focus. Frequently the same people who complain loudly if you even think of setting up a tripod won’t bat an eye if you pull out a Gorillapod and use that instead.
The picture shown here was taken with my D90 on the Gorillapod SLR-Zoom in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York, a place where tripods are completely verboten. I had to remove the camera’s battery pack and restrict myself to a smallish lens (this was shot with the Sigma 10-20mm) since the SLR-Zoom model, from my experience at least, really isn’t sturdy enough for anything but the lightest body/lens combination. Regardless of only having this small tripod-replacement, I managed to get some great shots by clamping the bendy legs of the Gorillapod onto the top of one of the cathedral pews. In some places, the fact that you can attach the Gorillapod to posts, furniture, fences, etc. actually gives you better camera-positioning options than you would have with a traditional tripod.
The newer Gorillapod Focus model is intended for larger cameras and can handle the weight of a pro-body with battery pack and a decent sized lens. For even more flexibility, add a small ball head to allow easier adjustment of the camera position. I have Joby’s own ballhead for the Focus and a small, generic ballhead on the SLR-Zoom.
Next time you find yourself having to use your tripod as a walking stick because some officious security guard tells you you can’t use it, save the day by trying to use a “non-tripod” instead and see if you can get away with that. I expect you will be pleasantly surprised.
Continuing the week’s theme of HDR tips, here’s one that can help out in situations where you find yourself wanting to shoot a bracket for an HDR but you don’t have access to a tripod. I don’t shoot many handheld HDR brackets but sometimes I don’t have a choice – either tripods are banned or I don’t have one with me. In this case, here are a few tips that can allow you to get the shot even without your trusty tripod. For reference, the shot above is a 7 exposure, handheld HDR shot at EPCOT in Walt Disney World.
- If your camera allows you to shoot more than 3 shots in automatic bracketing mode, set it to bracket a couple of shots wider than you normally would. If you would normally set up for a bracket of 3 exposures, for example, set it for 5. You won’t get a chance to tweak exposures after shooting your handheld bracket if it’s not wide enough so this helps minimise the chances of you having to reshoot the whole thing if you don’t get it first time. If your camera only allows 3 shots in the sequence, stick with that.
- Set your camera to high speed continuous shooting mode. The idea here is that you want to hold the shutter down and have the camera rip through the whole bracket as quickly as possible. Even if you can’t shoot at 8fps, 3fps is still better than you are likely to do pressing the button once per shot so go with what you have.
- Set your aperture so that the longest shutter speed in your bracket will still be in the safe handholding zone (1/focal length). If you are taking a 5 shot bracket, your slowest shutter speed will be 4 times the center setting (+2EV). If you are taking a 7 shot bracket, the slowest will be 8 times the center (+3EV). Typically, I will shoot 5 or 7 shot brackets and try to get my initial shutter speed in the 1/750 to 1/1000 range with a standard lens. This ensures that you won’t have problems with camera shake at one end of the bracket.
- Put your feet apart, brace your elbows by your sides and hold the camera firmly against your eye. Frame the shot and then squeeze and hold the shutter trying to move as little as possible in the process. In continuous mode, my Nikon cameras will shoot the entire bracket then pause to allow me to take my finger off the shutter.
Once you’ve done all this and have your handheld bracket back in the computer, probably the most important tip is to forget Photomatix for the first part of the process. If you have Photoshop, it does a far better job of realigning brackets that are not perfectly aligned so use the “Merge to HDR” feature in Photoshop and save the file it generates as a .HDR or .EXR file. Take this file and open it in Photomatix for tonemapping.
If you practice these steps, you can usually get a pretty decent HDR even if you don’t have a good way of stabilising your camera.