Betsy and I snuck out of town for a few days to catch our breath and meet up with some friends at Umbagog Lake in New Hampshire.
We had camped on the lake a last year and this time we decided we would try camping at one of the remote sites, in our case site 1 on the “Big Island” located about 2 miles from the main grounds. Our son Jay joined us and he had arrived there a few hours beforehand. Our friends were to arrive the next day and set up at site 7, which was about a half-mile around the island.
We arrived with good weather but do to timing and weight limits of our kayaks my camera equipment stayed in the car until I could retrieve it the next day – by which time the weather was beginning to play some games. I’ve included a bit about the tradeoffs made for this trip in the technical section at the end of the article.
The island was nice — kind of a northern rainforest feel to it…
On Saturday our little flotilla paddled around the island with the goal of getting to the Androscoggin River inlet. After a few hours paddling we stopped for lunch and, by then, I had decided to turn back as my tendonitis was sending some warning signs. Because we were camping I was piloting our 16-foot tandem kayak which weighs quite a bit more than my normal boat. Coupled with very little paddling this year, the miles were beginning to take a toll on the arms. Sigh!
Shortly after we turned back it started to rain (lightly), so perhaps it all worked out well anyways. The nice thing is that the light turned soft and we were getting a bit of saturation in the vegetation. Forests always seem so peaceful, but I’m reminded that they are really battlegrounds for plants. Conifers versus deciduous, leaf vs needle vs moss…
Umbagog is also home to a number of Loon families and at least one of them dwells near the island. The calls at night are simply delightful. We paddled fairly close to this mother/youngster pair. It was this moment that I felt REALLY annoyed about leaving the 500mm f/4 in the car (logistics, once again, rearing its ugly head).
The fast-changing weather may have destroyed the opportunity for glorious sunrises and sunsets, but it did provide an opportunity for some soft light within the woods and the opportunity to record some time-lapse sequences. I had one and a half tripods with me. The Gitzo was set up to record the time-lapse movies while I padded around the woods with the Gorillapod. Here’s the 40D rigged for the inevitable inclement weather.
Doing macro photography with a Gorillapod turned out to be somewhere between surprisingly good and quite challenging, but the wind was the real spoiler for getting good macro shots. Faced with incessant winds I decided to make lemonade. If I couldn’t get things to sit still then I’d take advantage of the movement. I switched the 5D to video.
Here’s a little short that incorporates video captured with the 5D/Gorillapod (mostly) along with the time-lapse sequences.
The rain was getting a bit more persistent and this 30-second exposure turned out the be the last image for the trip.
First a bit about equipment choice. We were camping on an island that was a 40 minute paddle from power and something solid over your head. Whenever I travel into the unknown my camera bag of choice is the Lowepro DryZone. I’ve had this bag for probably 9 years now and it only comes out when things might get hairy. The DryZone bag is a regular camera bag that is surrounded with a reasonably watertight shell. (And no, I haven’t tested it recently.) If the kayak is swamped or our tent site is inundated by a thunderstorm (which, by the way, happened) I like to keep the sensitive electronic gizmos reasonably dry. Much less stress when you don’t have to worry about that.
I packed the Canon 40D and the 5D Mark II cameras. You might ask why I didn’t bring the 7D as it would be better than the 40D – and you would be correct. The 7D stayed home nice and dry because I had a business filming assignment the day after I returned and, although I don’t use the 7D for video shoots it is my backup camera. In heading out for a vacation I decided to only risk half of my revenue-generating equipment. If the worst happened I had everything I needed to meet my obligations to my client when I returned.
The trusty 70-200mm f/2.8, 24-70mm f/2.8, 16-35mm f/2.8, and the 100mm f/2.8 macro rounded out the lens choices. The 1.4x teleconverter came along for the ride along with a wide set of filters, Zacuto Z-Finder, spare batteries, plastic bags, clips, rubber bands, and CF cards. A separate utility bag, which remained in the car, held the chargers and other non-critical items. I also brought along the 500mm f/4 – but that doesn’t fit in the DryZone bag. Sadly, considering the less than ideal weather along with the amount of cargo we had to ferry out to the site, I decided to not bring the 500mm to the island. For the most part this was a good decision. For stabilization I brought along the Gitzo tripod with the H38 video head and a Jobi Gorillapod. I didn’t end up doing much in the way of tilt/pans with the video so the H38 head turned out to be a lot of weight and bulk I could have done without — but frankly that had more to do with the weather.
I’m beginning to wish I had purchased a Vari-ND filter. My 5-stop setup just isn’t up to the task for really long exposures when light levels are even moderate. This turned out to be a limiter on some creative ideas I wanted to explore (e.g., blurring the clouds). The other reason for wanting more stops is that I was forced to use apertures like f/16 and higher for some of the images and the dust spots just come out of woodwork when you do that. You can probably see a more than a few in the time-lapse sequences.
While the 40D was cranking out time-lapse sequences I screwed the Gorillapod to the base of the 5D and it did a pretty decent job. I used a cable release to keep the vibration to a minimum — although as I noted the wind eventually got the best of the situation. I will definitely try that again under different conditions — the Gorillapod works naturally near the ground — unlike my tripod.
The first two timelapse sequences were captured using S-Raw files, then processed by Lightroom for exposure/contrast/cropping. I really like using S-RAW for time-lapses — the file format provides decent storage utilization while preserving the ability to fully tune the images in Lightroom prior to rendering it as a video file. Due to card constraints the 3rd timelapse in the video was captured via JPEG. This turned out to especially annoying because the sky lightened more than my 1-stop safety and blew out badly for the first 200 frames (of nearly 1000). Rats. If it had been S-RAW I might have been able to recover the sky a bit and extend the sequence a bit more.
All images (including time-lapse sequences) processed by Lightroom 3. Techniques varied widely for the images so I won’t bother trying to spout off settings.
The 5D clips were converted to ProRes LT by MPEG Streamclip and the video was edited and graded with Final Cut Pro. A shout out to my friend Duke Levine for granting me permission to use his great music on these personal video projects. I thought the tone of the song matched the dreary weather just great. But, as we all know, bad weather makes for great photographs — so I’m not complaining in the slightest!