Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Still Life with Paraglider.

By Dave Masuda

Some months back when Chris asked me to write a NWPG blog post on photography my initial reaction was "Seriously? Take a look at the work you see each month in Cross Country. I think you're asking the wrong guy." But he's a persistent fellow, and so I committed to the assignment. The question then became, how do I approach this?

What I didn't want to do is browse through 12,000-plus images in my database (yes, yes, I am entirely inconsistent in editing metadata as I add photos) finding the couple dozen that might make me look like I know what I am doing. So plan B became, "Quickly skim my catalog, instinctively pick those that speak to you in some way and then retrospectively try to figure out why."

Here are the results. No particular order and likely no definable logic. And very possibly no broad appeal...

Paragliding photography as:
We are aviators, I suppose, and there is a plethora of aviation metaphors one might seek in capturing images. This ITV Saphir (circa 1990) was, at the time, believed to be one of the few wings capable of leaving a contrail. BTW, I still have this glider and fly it on New Year's Eve.

Curious that when we take paragliding images we tend to focus on the glider. But very often there is something far more interesting going on when you look for the human underneath the glider.

I really like these images. Perhaps gives you some insight into my sensibilities - for better or worse.

Go back and look at the last couple year's of cover photos of Cross Country. For me what makes these images stunning is not the glider - it's what behind the glider. In essence, great paragliding photos are great landscape photos that just happen to have a paraglider in them. Often tiny, and in the corner.

Given that the sky is commonly the canvas upon which we paint, taking advantage of the H20 phase change can be rewarding.

...fashion sense.
If left to my own devices, I’d likely dress like this all the time:

Fortunately, my beautiful wife, Sarah, has volunteered to oversee my wardrobe. But on occasion I do have, I think, some sense of color. Blue sky, white clouds, black/yellow limestone? Capture a blue, white and black/yellow glider.

In the end, it’s why we fly, no?

Some shots just fall into your lap. Be ready for them.

... back-lighting
 Can be technically tricky, but rewarding.

Seeing a cedar forest from the hiking trail is an everyday experience. Seeing a cedar forest from the osprey’s viewpoint is entirely different.

…what you come home to...
Sure, gratuitously self-indulgent. Can’t help myself...

Take-aways? Here are mine:
1. Learn your camera. Auto-ISO can save many a shot - so can a tripod.
2. Learn from your photos. Why did this composition work but not that one?
3. Beware of the ruts. 95% of paragliding photos are essentially the same shot. Try something different.
4. Learn the software (I use Lightroom). No one - at least no one I know - captures an image that is not vastly improved with post-processing.
5. Finally, it’s not about the glider. It’s about the people and the places we cherish.


I Frew said...

Very cool Dave...especially liked your wardrobe malfunction picture..anybody who wore clothes like that had to have a maulfunction...I'll remember to chastise Sarah the next time I see here about that! :-)

ernief said...

Very nice presentation David.

I find paragliding to be the most challenging topic to photograph. It definitely is difficult to capture the emotion most of us feel when we see ourselves flying like birds. Your article has done that well.

Anonymous said...

Ian, still have the flight suit and would still wear it if it weren't for the pesky problem of not being able to get the front zipper past my waistline.


Anonymous said...

Ernie, appreciate your comments. Given that I don't have sufficient testosterone to totally ignore the toggles whilst in flight (and hence don't get many in-flight images), I need to find other ways of capturing the essence.

And BTW, apologies in advance for not identifying the pilots in the photos. Either I don;t know who they are, or in some instances when I do, I know they'd not want to be named... :-)


ElevateLocalSearchMarketing said...

thanks for sharing your tips about creating images with emotional impact. I have experimented with various techniques for taking photos while flying and would appreciate any suggestions for trying to capture images of eagles or hawk when they are flying nearby. I have tried SLR, small camera, HD Videocam and HD Hero with limited success. Shooting moving objects while moving is a challenge even with fast shutter speeds. Any tips on using small camera that has easy to use controls while flying are appreciated. Many small pocket cams are very difficult to handle while flying . Thoughts , comments ?

Dave said...

It's a tough challenge. The problem is the bird is small and fast and the glider is big and slow. If you use a wide angle to get both the glider and the bird, the bird is likely to be tiny. If you use a telephoto to get a bigger bird, you won't see the glider and then it is no longer a PG photo.

Plus, there are the technical challenges. You need a fast shutter speed and a small aperture to get both motion freezing and depth of field - which means a big camera (ideally with a full frame sensor) and a fast lens - and likely a high ISO. HEavy and expensive.

Given all this, my thoughts would be:
--Fly tandem as the passenger so you can give 100% attention to the photos. Of course this means you need to know there will be birds nearby.
--Use Live View if your camera supports it so you do not need to look into the eyepiece.
--turn auto-ISO on.
--push the shutter release and keep pushing it. My experience with fauna is that you need to capture a hundred frames to get one that is half-decent.

The short version - I suspect it is nearly impossible to get a good* image of birds flying solo with a small cameras.

* - "Good" is, of course, subjective.