2015 Calendars Are Ready!

I’m happy to announce this year I am releasing not one, not two, but seven different 2015 wall calendars! And because of price drops, all calendars are just $15 (+S&H). Continue Reading →

Riviera Maya Caves And Cenotes Worth Returning To

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The place was called Indiana Joe’s and yes, they used the same font at the Indiana Jones franchise, so I knew there was a good chance of cheesiness involved. Joe’s was made up around two central, natural features, a pretty cool cave system and a cenote, which is a naturally occurring underground pool.

My daughter and I were visiting Indiana Joe’s along the Riviera Maya coast of Mexico on a press trip and dang it was hot. Melting-my-brain hot. Or at least, frying-my-patience-for-a-heat-weary-kid hot. We were luxuriated with an air conditioned van, a driver and a local guide, so it seems odd to complain, but we’re from the Pacific Northwest and this kind of heat saps our strength.

Once outside of the van at Joe’s the temperature could be felt and we were eager for the caves, knowing they would be naturally air conditioned. Later we would find the cenote to be frigid, but in a good way. I have no pictures of the cenote and that is a shame, because it is a cool swim-around cave.

The funny thing about tourist attractions in this part of Mexico is they often have to make stuff up to gain tourists and Indiana Joe’s is no different. We not only visited the cave and cenote, but also the ‘zoo’ they have there. We passed on the ziplines, opting to do those another day at another place. It’s a little cheesy, but understandable since most tourists in this area want to sit on the beach and maybe see some Mayan ruins at Tulum. Maybe.

The cave system was a leisurely 50 minute walk as I remember it and quite fascinating. In places they have to chisel new paths, but 80% of the cave is natural formations and passages. It’s not a ‘true’ caving experience as there are lights-a-plenty, but it is pretty cool to look at all the same. Kids will love it and if they don’t, just mention, “Where do you think the dragons sleep?” and you will have them hooked. It’s that kind of awesome.

I love places like this, honestly. The fact that thousands of people have been through the caves and they have been blasted in places to make passage does not take away from the awe and childish wonder in me. I love the formations and marveling at what time and water can do.

Take a look for yourself at the images above. (If you can’t see the images, click here to see the post online)

Oh wait! Obligatory, but useful, links to our hosts: Indiana Joe’s & Riviera Maya.

This is one place I would visit again on my own. It was cool (and refreshing!) and I love caves. If anyone else wants me to take pictures of their caves, drop me a line.

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Experiencing The Final, Fire-Laden Ceremony Of The Kharchu Dratshang Drupcheen in Jakar, Bhutan

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I love good fortune. While we had some days with rain for our 2013 Bhutan Photo Tour, we had some good fortune as well.

Having previously been to the Namkhe Nyingpo Goemba (Monastery) above the town of Jakar in Central Bhutan, I knew it as a great spot for sunset photos. After a day of trouncing around the countryside our group gathered in our trusty van and headed up the small, winding road (this describes almost ALL Bhutanese roads, by the way) to the monastery, hoping for a break in the clouds just at sunset.

What we were greeted with instead was a parking lot full of cars. Monasteries in Bhutan don’t have a lot of cars because the monks don’t drive much, if at all. We came to find out there was a retreat going on and that the next day there would be a ceremony in the courtyard. I’ll have more on the indoor ceremony we found that night in another post as it was a unique experience (we were allowed to take photos during the ceremony inside the temple, which is usually not allowed).

At the appropriate time the next day we headed up the hill again and watched as the monks set up for the ceremony, burned a lot of offerings and then ignited a huge fireball near the end of everything. You can see the fireball about 2/3 the way into this photo essay.

The experience was fascinating even though we didn’t understand a word of what was being said. I loved the pageantry and colors most of all and it was fun to be at on a local event.

How To Use This Slideshow For Best Effect

If you are reading this in a RSS viewer or on email, I suggest you click on over to a webbrowser. It works on your phone, tablet or computer. The bigger the screen the better. Here’s a link to make it easier for you.

Now do you see that x in the upper right corner above this text? Once you click that, you’ll have a full browser view of the images. You can then use the control arrows at the bottom of the image or your mouse’s scroll wheel. Or just flick them aside on your tablet like you would other pictures.

Feedback, Please

I would love you feedback on this new format. I know it will load slower as the images are each about 2MB (and there are 57 of them here, so that’s 100MB+), but other than that, how does it work for you?

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Using iTimeLapse Pro For iPhone Time-Lapse On A Plane

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Getting Started

IMG_0779Welcome! This tutorial will explain the steps I take when using my iPhone to create time-lapse movies shot from commercial airliners, as seen above. I will be explaining how I use iTimeLapse Pro, my app of choice in this post which is a companion to another post I wrote on Digital Photography School that explains the process of setting up the shoot to ensure best results from the app. I suggest you check out that post in addition to this one to gather the whole picture (pun intended, always).

iTimeLapse Pro is a very useful app as it will shoot and create the video for you. No need to download the images and compile them in a computer. That does create some limitations in regard to exposure smoothing between images, but for what it is, this app is a great tool. Here then are my suggestions for using the app to gain the most of airborne time-lapse shoots.

Turn Off Auto Lock

Auto Lock is your enemy here. Turn it off. It can be found by going to your iPhone’s Settings menu, then General then Auto-Lock. When your phone locks, image capture stops.

Name Your Video Before You Start

Speaking from experience, naming videos before you start is the way to go. In the excitement of creating these short movies, I have often become confused about which video is which. They all start to look the same when the sample image is of the horizon and ground.

Bigger Is Not Always Better

The app has a number of settings for the camera resolution. I choose the Good settings of 1920×1440. This allows for longer videos without making them too huge. For instance, at this setting I shot the SEA-LAX video with 690 frames on this setting (which, the app tells me, is about 2.6MB/image). The final size on disk of that video’s still images is 1.1GB, while the final video is only 39MB (at 720p HD). If I had shot this at the Best setting, it would have taken up 2GB on disk and this can be problematic at times.

Use The Start Delay

IMG_0780The start delay will be your friend and stop you from becoming too frantic while setting up your shoot.

Turn The Flash Off, Mostly

There is a flash feature on this app and for shooting video out plane windows, it is all but useless. Turn it off so it doesn’t accidentally (in auto mode) decide to come on. This feature will becomign available when you start capturing your images. Leaving a long Start Delay will help you turn this feature off without messing up your shots.

Judge Your Timing

Timing for time-lapse is greatly influenced by speed and distance. If objects are further away, you will need a longer interval between shots to show movement (or risk a super long video that no one will watch). If objects are very close, shorter timing is needed. For a typical flight, I prefer every 4 seconds when at altitude. This allows for a smooth enough movement and a decent video length.

Turn The Volume Off

By default iTimeLapse Pro makes a shutter sound with each shot. In a plane, this is not that big of a deal as the ambient noise will likely cover it up. Still, I notice the noise once in a while, even with my bad hearing, and wonder where it’s coming from. It’s best to not have to listen to it (and this is helpful advice for other shooting situations as well). Don’t do this if you are still listening to music on your iPhone.

Record Ample Shots

IMG_0781Most video plays back at 24 frames a second or 30 frames a second. I have found, with shooting at a frame every four seconds, I can get decent video down to 16 frames a second on a plane. This means, if I want to capture 10 seconds of film (just about a minimum for most viewers) I need to capture 160 frames. That will take about 11 minutes when all is said and done. Do this calculation first so you are not tempted to stop early just to see what you got.

Now all you need to do is hit Start Time Lapse, align the camera and shoot away! TIP: Use the window shade to hold the camera in place, or grab a GorillaMobile to help keep the camera in the best location.

When you are finished recording, press Exit to be brought back to the main menu.

Edit Out The Bad Frames

Maybe setting up the iPhone didn’t go as smoothly as you hoped and you captured a few extra frames. Or perhaps the last 20 frames weren’t needed. Click on the Details tab and then click Edit Frames. On this screen you can remove any frame, anywhere, the doesn’t work for you.

Rendering Options

On the Render screen you have a number of options. The first is frames per second. As I mentioned, I suggest 16 frame a second for plane flights otherwise the video can be quite fast. Play with this and see what works best for you. There is also the option to create a video to a particular length.

IMG_0782Change the file name to something intelligent so you can find it later.

Video resolution is up to you. I suggest choosing 1080p video and pick the 1440×1080 option, unless you shot your video with the idea of cropping out the top and bottom. If you make your video 16:9 ratio, it will not compress the proportions, it will simply crop off the top and bottom.

A Music Soundtrack can be added as well on this screen so you can pick a song from your library.

Video Quality? 100%, unless space on your phone is an issue.

After clicking Render Now, your phone will create the video for you to watch. For the example here with 690 frames, it took 7 minutes. You can leave it to run in the background but you can’t create another time-lapse while it runs. So it might be a good idea to capture your videos while the time is right then render them when the capturing moments have passed.

Share!

When your video is finished, it’s time to share with the world. There are three online options here; YouTube, Facebook and Vimeo. As expected, each will require a one time authentication with the service in order to share, but after that, you’re set.

IMG_0784There are options to save the movie to your Camera Roll so it can be used with other apps. You can also email the video if it is small. USB is an option to copy the file to your computer when connected via USB and with iTunes running. Instructions for all of these methods popup when selected. Lastly, Local Wifi Sharing is available if your cable is not available.

Conclusion

Oh! One more note. You can listen to music while the images are being captured. Just make sure to start it before the action begins.

iTimeLapse is a fun app with even more features than mentioned here. It is a useful tool that does just want I need it to do when creating fun time-lapse videos from a plane.

Suggested Equipment:

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