Remaining Mobile.

Over the last few years Parkinson’s Disease has made it increasingly difficult for me to carry my photographic equipment any distance.  I was diagnosed in 2011 and as recently as 2015 I was carrying a 20 kg rucksack all day over all kinds of terrain, but then I started loosing coordination in my left arm and the difficulty was not so much carrying the rucksack as getting it on in the first place!

So I started casting an eye about for some means of carrying my gear, and eventually I bought the Monowalker.  Designed for moving over rough ground, it is hitched to a harness a little like Scott’s method of man-hauling sleds!  I used it without the harness (like a posh wheelbarrow) and it worked very well, although kissing gates and stiles presented a problem as I had to unload and reload it either side.   However, towards the end of 2017 I was starting to have difficulty pushing or pulling it, and a new solution was needed.

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The Monowalker loaded up for a night time trip.

I looked at some electric trolleys, mainly designed for fishing, but these had various drawbacks.  They were generally big, heavy, and even secondhand ones were expensive.  More importantly they would be difficult to modify them for carrying my camera gear.  Then I hit upon the idea of converting an electric golf trolley.  This was far more promising as they were light, folded up for transportation and had a good range.  The big plus was that they would be easier to modify.  After looking at many different kinds I eventually bought a secondhand ‘GoKart’ trolley off eBay for £50, and set about modifying it.

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The ‘GoKart’ golf trolley before modification.

First I needed some method of securing my camera equipment, including the time-lapse motion rail.  The first idea used four lengths of Unistrut fixed across the frame, but this added too much weight and was probably a bit of  over-design on my part.  After a little more consideration I designed and fabricated a timber bed with a toe board and a cut out for the battery.  This was fixed to the frame using ‘U’ bolts and has lashing eyes fitted for securing the equipment.  It is also split so the trolley can still be folded.  Initial trials of this went well, but revealed that the trolley was going to need bigger wheels if it was going to traverse rough ground.

I bought a pair of 20 inch bicycle wheels with disc-brake hubs, but in order to get these to fit I was going to need to replace the existing trolley drive shaft wheel hubs.  I designed new ones using Autodesk Fusion 360 and the resulting models were used by a friend (Daniel) to fabricate the hubs from aluminium.

 

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The new hub design. The grey part is the drive shaft spigot, the blue part is the wheel hub adaptor.

The new hubs were in two parts. The first, the drive shaft spigot, was designed to replace the originals, and fitted the hexagonal socket in the trolley’s drive shaft.  Once screwed in place the spigot end was left projecting onto which the second piece would slide.

The second piece, the wheel hub adaptor, was bolted to the wheel via the disc brake fixing hub, and would slide over the trolley’s drive shaft spigot.  It was then secured using a large spring pin.  This arrangement meant I could remove the wheels for transportation and storage.

My principle concern was that the change of driving ratio due to the bigger wheels would mean the trolley would go too fast.  (I had visions of me chasing it for miles along some Scottish beach!!!)  I couldn’t do anything about the gearing as the gearbox is an integral part of the drive train.  All I could do was hope that the slowest speed was slow enough !!

However, my fears have proved groundless.  For its first trial I took it down to New Brighton beach so I could do some time-lapse work. It all went fine and when it started to struggle in the softer sand I just fed a little more power to the wheels. I’ll have to be careful how I load it up as the balance point is over the wheels but it works a treat.  There are a couple of minor changes to make and I’m sure it will continue to be improved.

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The finished item.

I have a long-term time-lapse project planned and the trolley is key to getting my gear to where it is required. This will test it’s abilities (as well as mine!) but for the time being I’m still mobile!

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Time lapse Diaries Part 2

I did promise to report back on the first attempt at a dusk ’till dawn time lapse. Everything went ok except for two minor hiccups. The first, least serious, was that the cable from the battery wasn’t long enough to get me into exactly the right spot. Easily solved; buy a longer cable.

The second was a little more difficult to diagnose. Around 2:00 am the camera started failing to trigger, resuming normal operations around 3:00 am. This resulted in about 160 dropped frames in the middle of the sequence. I can only assume that the camera power connection was faulty. I will make all the connections more robust in time for the next attempt .

In the meantime the result can be seen here:- http://www.stevelewis.photography/fb-current.html

Don’t forget to turn up the sound!

The Timelapse Diaries

Introduction.

For the past few years I have been interested in the genre of timelapse photography.  Of particular interest are those timelapse films which capture the transition from day to night or night to day.  These are commonly called ‘holy grail’ films, the term having originated in the days of celluloid film when they were an extraordinarily difficult thing to get right.  However, modern digital equipment and post-processing makes the whole process more accessible and over the last few years I have become reasonably adept at producing them.

Many holy grail films only feature the transition through sunset or sunrise, but I began to wonder about making a holy grail film featuring a sunset and sunrise in the same continuous film, which would also capture the beautiful night sky, so I decided to make it my project for the summer.

There were two main challenges which had to be overcome.  Firstly I would have to find a suitable location and secondly I would have to provide power to the camera (Nikon D600), the pan and tilt unit (Emotimo Spectrum ST4) and other equipment for the duration.

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Emotimo Spectrum ST4 with Nikon D600

Location.

The location needed a number of key attributes.  First, there had to be an uninterrupted view to the horizon.  Secondly, as the film features the night sky it would be preferable if the location was in a dark sky area of the UK.  Thirdly, it needed to have decent vehicle access as I need to get the equipment as close to the location as possible.  Finally, it would be preferable if the location was a lake or a body of water as reflections always make a film more interesting.

Based on my local knowledge and experience, and after a few reconnaissance trips I chose Llyn Conwy.  The source of the river of the same name, it sits on a plateau of peatland bog known as the Mignient high above Blaenau Ffestiniog.  Sitting at the highest point meant that there aren’t any hills or mountains overshadowing it, and the horizon is only just above the water level. It also had a small carpark at the southern end.

Astronomical Calculations.

Now I had my location I needed to work out how I was going to power the equipment, and in order to do this I needed some information concerning timings.  Consulting my favourite photographic app (Photo Pills) gave me the relevant information.

On midsummer’s eve (21st June) at Llyn Conwy sunset is at 9:45 PM and sunrise is at 4:45 AM.  Allowing an extra hour at each end of the sequence for run-in and run-out this meant that the equipment would have to run for 9 hours.  The compass bearing for sunset is 314° and the sunrise is 47°, giving an angle of 93° through which the camera was going to have to turn.  I could have the camera remain static and rely on the angle of view of the lens to cover the 93°, but the 14 mm lens on my full frame Nikon has an angle of view of 114°, leaving only 10° of angle at either edge of the frame, which I thought was too close for comfort.

The Power Conundrum.

Having sorted a location and the astronomical stuff the next problem to address was how I was going to power the equipment continuously for 9 hours.  I needed to power four pieces of equipment.  First there was my Nikon D600 DSLR, secondly there was my Emotimo Spectrum ST4 pan and tilt unit, thirdly there was a Samsung tablet which controls the cameras exposure settings, and finally I was going to need to power the lens heater.  After much experimentation I finally settled on running a 10 metre cable from the 12 volt leisure battery in my motorhome to the equipment location.  The cable is fairly large so that the voltage drop along a 10 m length is minimal, and is fitted with an inline fuse.   

Although the ST4 could run directly off a 12 Volt supply the camera required an 8 Volt supply.  The solution to this was provided by a small voltage and current step-down power supply.  This reduced the 12 volt to the required 8 volt and the amperage to the required 2 Amp hour max.  This in turn was plugged into a dummy battery pack DC coupler which replaced the standard battery in the camera.  I cobbled together a small box to house the power supply.

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Voltage regulator and DC dummy battery pack

So now I had a solution.  The camera, lens heater and the ST4 would be powered from 12 Volt supply from the leisure battery, and the tablet computer to control exposure would be powered from a 20 amp portable battery bank.  This only really needed to run for the two hours around sunset and sunrise when exposure changes are needed.  It could be switched off and recharged during the night when the exposure didn’t change.

The Timelapse Hypothesis.

Having got the equipment side of things sorted out I decided to carry out a full-scale test at home.  However before I could do any kind of test I needed to sort out the actual timelapse timings, so here we go.

9 hours total at a 24 second interval = 1350 frames. Say 1400.

So 1 hour = 155 frames

Starting at 20:45 (an hour before sunset);

Static time :- 200 frames = 1 hour 17minutes.  Takes us to 22:02

Moving time :- 1000 frames = 6 hours 27 minutes.  Takes us to 04:29

Static time :- 200 frames = 1 hour 17minutes.  Takes us to 05:46 (an hour after sunrise).

This means the camera will be static during sunset and sunrise.   I’ve also allowed for a 150 frame ramp at either end so the camera eases into and out of motion.  Simples!!

The Pudding Proof.

I ran the cable from the 12 volt leisure battery into the house and connected everything up. I started the sequence at 20:45 and left it to run.  Checking the images the following morning I found the last one had a time stamp of 04:15.   This equals 7 1/2 hours running time.

Now this may sound like a failure but a few factors meant it was actually ok.  The first is that, on location, for the first hour and the last hour the battery will be getting some charge from the roof solar panel.  So the battery-only running time is actually around 7 to 8 hours. Secondly I can adjust the motor settings on the ST4 so it uses less power, and I can turn off some settings on the camera as well.  Finally I can run the engine for a short period a couple of times during the night to top off the battery, but this means fitting a second voltage/current regulator to protect the equipment from any surges.

So the power diagram looks like this;

timelapse diagram

So we’re now good to go.  However as I write this it’s still 4 weeks to the shortest night and it may take a few weeks for the right conditions to come about but I’ll report back and post the results here. Watch this space!!

A Memory Jogger? by Stephen Lewis A.R.P.S.

My maternal grandfather, Adrian Allen (Bob to his friends), was not only a fine watchmaker but also a fine musician. He played a mean jazz guitar, and his main claim to fame was that he played the opening night of the cavern club in Liverpool. The band he played in was called the Ralph Watmough band, and although I’ve been able to find out a little bit about them from the Internet the pickings of been a bit thin.

So I am posting this image here in the hope that somebody out there can tell me something about it. It was taken we think around 1955, and shows a group of session musicians, including my grandfather front and centre with the guitar. This is not the Ralph Watmough band, but some of the musicians in this photograph may have played in that band.

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Now I appreciate that the Liverpool jazz scene in the 1950s is a fairly specialised or specialist subject and that many of the people involved around that time will now be getting on a little bit, but if you happen across this webpage and can tell me anything about the photograph or the people in it (including my grandfather)  I’d be grateful.

Back to Basics by Stephen Lewis A.R.P.S.

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It’s been a while since I last posted here. (A few other projects and ill health have kept me away).  However, a recent decision about my photography has got the old blogging juices flowing again.

For the last few years I’ve been concentrating on two photographic genres, namely time-lapse and infrared monochrome.  I have done little in the way of traditional landscape photography, and I’ve struggled to conjure up any enthusiasm for it.  I’ve been giving some thought as to why this may be and I think I have the answer.

I have a perfectly decent Nikon D800 which is capable of fantastic results, especially when used in conjunction with Nikon’s tilt and shift lenses.  The DSLR has allowed me to experiment with all kinds of new ideas and to make images which would have probably been impossible with a film camera.  However, I just don’t enjoy using it for landscape work.  It’s fine for my macro work and my watch photography, but when out in the landscape it provides an unsatisfactory experience.

I still enjoy the process of finding a landscape image. The search for a decent subject, the contemplation of light, tone, texture, colour, highlights, and shadows, and the challenge of bringing it all together in a coherent composition.  What I’ve stopped enjoying is the actual process of making the image; of using the camera.  The realisation I’ve come to is that this is largely due to the camera not allowing any kind of real engagement with the subject.

Any camera is just a tool of the craft, and should never get in the way of or interfere with the creative process.  If you’re busy thinking about the camera, which button to press, which wheel to turn, which menu item to select, then you’re not really concentrating on your subject. You’re not engaging with it in any meaningful way.  The technical side has superseded the creative process.

This lack of engagement became evident when I started sorting through my images in preparation for a book to be published later this year.  Up until 2013 I was producing strong, coherent images on a regular basis, but since then I’ve made far fewer.  The quality is still there but whereas I used to produce between 25 and 50 decent images every year, since 2013 I’ve produced maybe 50 in total.  Now, I’m a ruthless editor of my work, and very hard on myself when it comes to the quality, so either I’m editing more out i.e. throwing more away, or I’m just not making as many images as I used to.  Either way it boils down to drop-off in production which I’ve put down to a lack of enthusiasm in turn brought about by the unsatisfactory experience of using a DSLR out in the landscape.  So what’s the solution?

I wrote here in 2016 about coming to terms with selling my large format equipment and how I missed using it out in the field, particularly the sense of engagement it provided.  Since then I’ve constantly found myself checking out websites and retailers to see what’s out there but I’ve always resisted the temptation, mainly due to concerns around the film processing (cost, quality, et cetera).  However, recently these concerns have abated somewhat, and I find myself back in the position I was in in 1997 when I started looking at large format for the first time.

So, I’m going to do now what I did then. I’m going to invest (or should that be reinvest) in a small, lightweight large format system. A lightweight field camera, one lens, a couple of film holders, and some Ilford monochrome film.  My venerable Sekonic spot meter is still working and I’m sure I can find my original dark cloth.  For the time being I will have the film processed by commercial lab, but hopefully at some point in the future I would like to recommission my JoBo CPE2 processing system.  (To fund all this I’m going to sell my Nikon tilt and shift lenses,  so if anybody out there is interested please get in touch).

Buying my first large format system was one of the most significant points in my photographic career. I now realise that selling it was a low point from which I’ve not fully recovered. To quote one of my photographic heroes, Joe Cornish;

“There is a proper sense of occasion and significance setting up a big camera on a tripod.  I liken it the process to a painter setting up a canvas on an easel, and working with paints and brushes, en plein air (as the impressionists described it).  The process itself, with its laborious workflow, reinforces a sense of respect for photography and for the landscape.  This in turn helps me make pictures that I feel do justice to the subject.  It is impossible to snap, to take, to point and shoot and walk away”

I feel better already!  So, is it to be 5 x 4 or the wonders of 10 x 8?  I’ve always fancied a 10 x 8………

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Turns out the scientists are no better at counting polar bears than they are at Photoshop.

I typed famous fake images into Google this evening for a bit of fun, and the image above popped up high on the list.  For decades the polar bear has been the poster child for the AGW church. This image was used extensively to garner public support, but is clearly a fake. It’s set me thinking as to what else the polar bear worriers were up to, so I decided to do a little bit of digging. A few nuggets have been unearthed which are worthy of future study but the following is so astonishing that I couldn’t wait. 

My research lead me the the website of Dr Susan Crockford, a zoologist with more than 35 years experience, including published work on the Holocene history of Arctic animals, and currently an adjunct professor at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. There I discovered this little gem.

In 2014 Dr. Dag Vongraven, of the Norwegian Polar Institute, was the chairman of the IUCN [International Union for the Conservation of Nature] Polar Bear Specialist Group (PBSG). In May of that year he sent an email to Dr Susan Crockford. It read as follows;

“Below you’ll find a footnote that will accompany a total polar bear population size range in the circumpolar polar bear action plan that we are currently drafting together with the Parties to the 1973 Agreement. This might keep you blogging for a day or two.”

It appears the PBSG came to the realization that some damage control was required.  Here is the statement that the PBSG used as a footnote in the Circumpolar Polar Bear Action Plan;

“As part of past status reports, the PBSG has traditionally estimated a range for the total number of polar bears in the circumpolar Arctic. Since 2005, this range has been 20-25,000. It is important to realize that this range never has been an estimate of total abundance in a scientific sense, but simply a qualified guess given to satisfy public demand. It is also important to note that even though we have scientifically valid estimates for a majority of the subpopulations, some are dated. Furthermore, there are no abundance estimates for the Arctic Basin, East Greenland, and the Russian subpopulations.  Consequently, there is either no, or only rudimentary, knowledge to support guesses about the possible abundance of polar bears in approximately half the areas they occupy. Thus, the range given for total global population should be viewed with great caution as it cannot be used to assess population trend over the long term.” [my bold]

In other words a senior scientist responsible for collating polar bear numbers, and, presumably his team and piers, have been guessing the numbers. I would say it doesn’t bear thinking about, but the pun trivialises the fraud.

The sun will still rise tomorrow.

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Traigh Tuath, Barra. Outer Hebrides. Scotland.

Well there you have it. The dust has settled, we’ve taken belts and shoelaces off those who voted to remain and tried to inject a little magnanimity into those who voted to leave. 

We’ve resigned from a failing and corrupt elitist club, governed by unelected and unaccountable plutocrats, and offered the opportunity to go out and see the rest of the world. To make new friends and forge new relationships which will ultimately benefit everybody.

The uncertainty will be easier to manage, and problems easier to solve, because we are in control of our own affairs and destiny.  There are always exceptions to the rule but ultimately we are a tolerant, liberal, multicultural democracy, and, whilst we are not perfect, we have a lot to offer.  All we need now is the self belief.