Alaska Time Lapse

While I was looking over some images for yesterday's blog I found this sequence.  Thought it would make a nice simple time lapse.

Gorgeous Alaska day and a slow humpback whale dive.  Shot the sequence on my photo tour with a Canon 1D Mk IV and an EF 70-300 4.5/5.6L.

Put the time lapse together with Lightroom. Recommend the 720 quality option.

Go For It: Pixels are Free

One of my favorite expressions with digital photography is "pixels are free."  With no cost, photographers should enjoy complete freedom to experiment and play.  If you have an idea for a shot, go for it.  If it works, great.  Take what you did and make it a part of your photography. 

If it does not work out, no big deal.  But use the results as a completely free learning experience. Go to school and figure out what was the issue/s.  Can you make a small adjustment or do you need to go back to the drawing board and plan again. 

I recently found myself in a situation where I honestly did not know how the results would turn out.  I wanted to shoot a series of images for a landscape panorama in rapidly falling light levels.  I had the Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L on my 5K Mk II; a combination not often used for panoramas.  To make matters worse I was on the back of a moving boat.  Not only was it moving forward and slowly rocking side to side but we were in a regular ocean swell so we were slowly heaving (up and down.)

Not the best situation but pixels are free so I went for it.  The results from the 42 shots are shown below. 


This is the panorama after the stitching process.  If you follow the bottom (or top) you will notice a nice sine wave pattern.  That is the boat going up and down with the ocean swell.  My camera support was rock solid (RRS TVC-33 and PG-02) but the boat was out of my control. 

At this point I had a nicely stitched panorama even though it is somewhat ugly in terms of how everything lined up.  But it worked and did not cost a thing. 


After a little cleanup, I had a usable, huge panorama to optimize.  For a free experiment, I will take it.

Fiat Lux!

Tim Grey Vs. Survival Suit - Photo Adventure Alaska

A little video we shot of Tim Grey donning a cold water survival suit.  The standard is to get into the suit and be ready to get into the water in under a minute.  Take a look and see how Tim does.

Just came home from two back to back cruises in Alaska.  It just keeps getting better every time I go up there.  Hope to have you join me on one of the cruises soon.

Tim will be back with us here for Lightroom (Tim's Lightroom) in August and in October for the California Photo Festival You can find more info about Tim at

Fiat Lux!

Ice Cave

Alaska Ice Cave from Hal Schmitt on Vimeo

Video shot as I was getting ready to make some HDR source images.  Always be extremely careful when dealing with ice caves.  Many are not safe at all so perform a good survey of the scene and judge integrity, traction, and overall security.  It is also a great idea to not do this alone.  With at least one other person assistance/rescue gets much easier.

The textures, color, and tonal range inside the cave were amazing.  Shooting here was a challenge.  The biggest issue was the melt water.  Keeping the camera and lens relatively dry required full protection.  I do not use any fancy type of rain gear.  I prefer fish fillet bags and rubber bands or gaffer's tape.  They make a simple, effective, and economical solution.  Light levels overall were low so I used a tripod.  Tripod setup was a little challenging with very slippery, uneven terrain (ice) as the cave floor.  The ability to rapidly adjust my tripod leg length and angle was very helpful. 

I shot a single image to assess the tones and decided I needed to shoot multiples to cover the entire range.  For the HDRs on this blog, I shot only three source files at -2, 0, and +2 E.V with a Canon 5D Mk II.  This gave me about 9ish stops of usable data which worked perfectly.  Had I needed more shots I had my Promote Control with me. 

 HDR processed with HDR Efex Pro from Nik

HDR processed with HDR Efex Pro from Nik

I used Nik's HDR Efex Pro for this scene.  As many of you know I am not all that faithful to one HDR software.  I primarily find myself using Photomatix Pro but I will almost always try other options and pick the best result.  Sometimes my final result is a blend of output from different programs.  For this shot I wanted the result to show texture more than anything else.  Click on the attached images for a larger version since only when big will the real texture come out. 

 On this version I pulled some saturation and pushed texture a bit more.

On this version I pulled some saturation and pushed texture a bit more.

Now I need to go back in July with my Fisheye.  Of course, this cave will be gone but I should be able to find another.  Come out and join me.

Fiat Lux!

Out and about on the Moraine

Glacial Moraine from Hal Schmitt onVimeo.

A quick video shot from the highpoint of a glacial moraine in AK.  This is the far end of the moraine I discussed in yesterday's post.

We had intermittent showers throughout our trip ashore as you can see on the lens and hear.  Regardless of the weather, the landscape and scenery were pretty cool.  I found the most interesting part of this area to be that the landscape was completely fractal.  Regardless of scale, there were similar features.  For example, the glacier and its moraine were very similar in appearance to the small water flows and deposits of glacial silt. 

I will put up a few more videos from this location and other spots around the area. 

Video was shot with a Canon 5D Mk II and EF 24-70mm f/2.8L.  I processed very minimally in Adobe Premiere Pro.

I make a plug in the video for the best photography pants I have found.  They are made by a company called Crye Precision.  Crye makes combat and field gear without equal.  The best thing about the pants is they have ten pockets distributed along your entire leg.  One of the things I most miss about wearing a Navy flight suit everyday is the lack of useful pockets in normal clothing.  The lower leg pockets on the Crye field pants are perfect.  Crye is not bashful about charging a good amount for their gear but you get what you pay for.

Check them out at Crye Precision.

Fiat Lux!

Humpback Bubble Net Feeding Lunge

The Flash sequence above shows the end game of the humpback whale bubble net feeding lunge.  These huge animals have developed a technique to corral their prey into a tight ball to make eating a bit easier; not a bad plan when you have to eat so much.

Either singly or in groups the whales dive and coordinate releasing air to create a curtain of bubbles around, in this case, tens of thousands of herring.  The whales slowly come together in a decreasing spiral to concentrate the bubble curtain and the fish.  The survival instinct of the fish kicks in and they form tighter and tighter balls driven towards the surface by the bubbles and the whales themselves.

 Mouth open @90 degrees!

Mouth open @90 degrees!

Nearing the surface the whales propel themselves aggessively upward and lunge out of the water with gaping jaws open almost 90 degrees.  As is seen in the detail shot herring are leaping out of the water to get away. 

 Click on the detail shot above to see flying herring.

Click on the detail shot above to see flying herring.

Interestingly, bubble net feeding is not seen in all humpback populations around the world.  We were fortunate to observe bubble net feeding although we typically saw only two or three whales at a time.  This was not because of lack of food, there were billions of herring in the water for the annual spawn.  Rather it was a lack of whales.  In late April and early May, the Alaskan humpback numbers are fairly small as most whales are still making the swim from their winter grounds around the Hawaiian islands. 

When we go back in July, we expect to witness bubble net feeding with groups of 15+ whales.  Almost makes me embarrassed to show a sequence with only two.  I will re-engage in July with more whales!

The trick to photographing the lunge is twofold.  First, expect there will be a large splash and significant whitewater.  These will be your highlights and will drive the exposure.  Metering off dark water without any concern for the splash/bubbles will yield blown highlights.  I prefer to shoot in Manual mode with an exposure to properly expose white.  Second, watch the whales and learn.  You will see patterns in the water immediately before the whales surface.  When the patterns show up, point your camera with exposure set for the highlights, focus, and shoot!

Fiat Lux!

Tons of Falling Ice...A Cool Calving

A quick story to accompany the sequence above.  We were shooting the glacier face and watching fairly small calving events.  As it neared time to go, the Captain decided we could pull a "Jericho" and blew the yacht's horns to expedite a large icefall.  As we were about 1/2 mile from the glacier, it took the sound about 3 seconds to hit the face.  By the time the echo returned to us the first small pieces of ice were already falling.

I am not exactly sure how much ice calved in this sequence but it was a lot.  For reference, the face is about 500-600 feet high.  The ice created a 100+ foot splash and a 25 foot wave that fortunately dissipated to about 15 feet when it reached the yacht.  I have to imagine it was easily hundreds of tons of ice crashing.

 A still to show the size of the central spire that came down.

A still to show the size of the central spire that came down.

I am still  not completely convinced the sound energy brought down the ice but it is not outside the realm of possibility and it was one hell of a coincidence. 

For the image sequence, I shot handheld with a Canon 5D Mk II and EF 70-200mm at just under four frames a second.  I processed the images in Lightroom and then stacked them in Photoshop to align (making up for slight differences in my positioning.)  I ultimately created a series of 19 JPEGS and took them to Adobe Fireworks  to create the Shockwave Flash file.  Playback is at four frames per second so the sequence is pretty close to how the 5D Mk II captured it.

Fiat Lux!