Get High: Go Fly a Kite

By Jeff Attaway from Abuja, Nigeria
By Jeff Attaway from Abuja, Nigeria

Everyone wants a drone but the reality is that $1,000 and really more like $2,500 after accessories, a gimbal mount, extra propellers, etc. is a lot of money. But, being able to take aerial photos without renting a helicopter is very attractive proposition.

I was reminiscing with an old friend this week about flying those huge Green Giant kites in our local school yard. (My older readers will remember that those kites were free with five labels from Green Giant frozen vegetable packages.) After hanging up, I starting thinking about whether it would be possible to lift my GoPro into the air with a kite. So, I did what everyone does today when faced with a complex problem, I Googled it.

Surprise! It has a name: Kite Aerial Photography or KAP. The American Kitefliers Association (AKA), devotes a section of its website to information on KAP. Moreover, you can put together a decent KAP kit for about $40. This means, while you still must worry about breaking your GoPro, you don’t have to worry about breaking an expensive drone to get aerial shots of the beach. You also don’t have to worry about national and local regulations and kites are not seen as evasive or as dangerous as a drone so you can even fly one on the National Mall.

First, you need a kite that creates uplift; many stay afloat using drag. A simple but effective kite that creates uplift is a Conyne Delta Kite, available starting at $20 Amazon. Your also need string, about $10 on Amazon. Finally, you will need a camera mount. There are plans for DIY mounts available for free online. The simplest one appears to be by Make magazine and AKA has one online as well. I suspect any one of these DIY mounts shouldn’t cost more than $10 to build. So, for a total of $40 bucks you have your “drone.”

Flying a kite is also a lot simpler than flying a drone. You simply mount your camera to the mount, turn on your camera’s intervalometer to take images every few seconds, and go fly your kite. When done, simply pull in your kite and download the images to your computer. There are no batteries to recharge or die on you, except for the one in the camera.

While I am sure, there is a steep learning curve, I think it can also be fun. Who minds a day outside in beautiful weather? How about a day at the beach? You can do this with your kids or grandchildren. They get to fly a kite and you get to indulge your passion for photography.

While not as powerful and maneuverable as a drone, it is much less expensive and simpler to operate. I need to follow the advice I get from someone around the office almost every day and go fly a kite.

Ethics And Courtesy In Pursuit Of An Image

I try to keep some thoughts to myself and not be too critical of anything or anybody but sometimes it is awfully hard to remain silent. This is one of those times.

During my just concluded trip to the deserts of Southern California, I was shocked by the less than admirable behavior by some photographers in pursuit of an image. I don’t know if they were simply ignorant of our professional ethics and common courtesy or blithely ignoring them. In any case, their behavior was unacceptable.

2015-04-05_Death Valley_Zwit_0131What did I see that so upset me? I saw photographers walking off trail, disturbing wildlife, littering, purposely stepping in front of other photographers, using inappropriate equipment for the environment or subject, and simply being obnoxious. They may think that one person can’t hurt anything but it is the accumulation of damages of that one person plus thousands or others or even millions of others.

Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, Death Valley National Park, and Mojave National Preserve as well as much of the other lands we photograph are delicate habitats. Within them, there are endangered environments and species and, even if not endangered, the destruction of some environments can take nature hundreds or thousands of years to repair. These refuges, parks, and preserves are our legacy and their destruction would be a sad reflection on us. Once they are gone, they are gone.

I do, however, realize there are competing interests that must be accommodated within these areas, e.g., recreation, hunting, photography, endangered species. Accommodations can be difficult to negotiate and enforce, especially with the high demand put on these areas by visitors and limited budgets. So, preservation falls to us: The photographers and other visitors to these special and unique places.

Most of us aren’t trained as naturalists or biologists. Instead, we need to rely on the experts-the people in charge of these lands, photography associations, and outdoor organizations-that have developed codes of ethics. See, e.g., North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA) Code of Ethics and Leave No Trace Center For Outdoor Ethics. These codes of ethics are based on science, designed to preserve the outdoors for everyone, and protect the ecosystem and animals living within these precious resources. Read them and follow them.

2015-04-07_Death Valley_Zwit_0239One common and major element of most of these codes of ethics is one that I need to emphasize to everyone-photographers and non-photographers: Treat everyone courteously. It’s simple and makes for a more enjoyable time for everyone. Remember, you are not entitled to go to the front of the line just because you arrive late for sunrise. Those already there got up earlier than you and arrived on time.

By all means, enjoy our refuges, parks, and wild lands but remember we are treading on irreplaceable habitat that, if it is to survive, we must help protect. No image is worth the cost of crippling damage to the environment.

As Spock Would Say, Fascinating

Photo of the dual nature of lightWithout light, there is no photography and one of the most interesting aspects of light is how it acts as both a particle and a wave. It was one of Albert Einstein’s great insights.

While scientists have confirmed the dual nature of light in the laboratory, they haven’t been able to observe both behaviors at the same time until just recently. A team of Swiss and American scientist recently took a “photograph” of the dual behavior of light. See Simultaneous Observation of the Quantization and the Interference Pattern of a Plasmonic Near-Field published in the journal Nature Communications. The article isn’t an easy read; I was lost half way through the first paragraph. For a more understandable explanation, see the articles on Discovery and the one on the website of Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, the university at which the photograph was taken.

For photographers, this is a twofer. One, we learn a little more about light and, two, we get to see light and its dual nature in a first-ever photograph.


Look and Learn: World Press Photo of 2014

One of the best ways to learn how to make great photographs is to look at great photographs and, once a year, we have an opportunity to view some of the best press photos when World Press Photo announces the winners of its annual photo contest.

WPP announced the winners of the 58th annual World Press Photo Contest on February 2. This year’s overall winner is a photograph by Mads Nissen, a staff photographer for the Danish daily newspaper Politiken, of an intimate moment between  a Russian gay couple. WPP also awarded prizes for images in the categories of Contemporary Issues, Daily Life, General News, Long-Term Projects, Nature, Portraits, Sports, and Spot News. WPP also posted short interviews of the jury members reflecting on the contest and photography.

The World Press Photo Foundation supports and works to establish high standards for photojournalism and documentary photography. Its yearly contest, if not the most prestigious contest for photojournalism in the world, is one of the most prestigious and this year’s contest drew 97,912 entries from 5,692 photographers in 131 countries.

Breaking a Creative Rut

Sunset on the Susquehanna River near Drumore, PA.
Sunset on the Susquehanna River near Drumore, PA. Nikon D750 with 24-70mm at 70mm, 1.6 sec, f/11, and ISO 100

Until this last weekend, I had been completely focused on work, the ongoing requirements of daily life, and other people’s tribulations for almost six months. In other words, I had been in a creative rut. It had even been a few weeks since I had my camera out of its bag! However, after a just a couple of days in new surroundings, I feel reenergized and I am once again reminded of the need to shake things up frequently to keep yourself fresh.

A dilapidated greenhouse door on the grounds of Valley Forge National Historical Park
Nikon D750 at 70mm, 1/2,000 sec, f/2.8, ISO 200

It is easy to fall into a rut. There are simply lots of people, events, and other things competing for our attention. It is especially easy to fall into a rut during this time of year; it is cold, rainy, and just not very agreeable outside. And, inertia being what it is, it is easy just to go with the familiar and safe. Ruts also pulverize your creativity.

What changed this last weekend? Dingo and I found ourselves at home alone and looking at another weekend of working on the house and doing laundry. In a moment of relative spontaneity (it played out over a couple of days), we decided to get in the car and drive north to Pennsylvania. I was going to see and photograph some new places and Dingo went along to smell some new places.

Nikon D750 at 70mm, 1/80 sec, f/11, ISO 100

We visited six new parks, hiked about twelve miles, took a few hundred images, and got a good night’s sleep on Saturday. I also met a couple of other photographers while on the road and, based on their recommendations, have some additional locations to check out on the next trip. Overall, a great weekend. It was relaxing and gave me some quality time with Dingo.

More importantly, I feel like it broke the rut. I still may have painting and the laundry to do but I feel great and I got some good images. My recommendation to you is to remember to shake it up and get out soon.

Report on the Field Trip to the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America

© 2014 Mark Seetin

The Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America: Architectural Marvels and Sprawling Gardens field trip was held last weekend and Elliot Stern, the instructor, has published a report and some of the student’s images on his blog.

Report on the Blue Bells: The Beginning of Spring Field Trip

blue bell 4The Blue Bells: The Beginning of Spring field trip was held last weekend at Bull Run Regional Park and Elliot Stern, the instructor, has published a report and some of the student’s images on his blog.



Selfies and Dingo

Selfies are huge on social networking sites. The word selfie was declared by none other than the highly respected Oxford Dictionary as the word of the year for 2013. For those of you who don’t know what a selfie is (there are some people who don’t), it is, according the Oxford Dictionary, “a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.” There are even selfie derivatives now with my favorite being a belfie or an image of your posterior.

2014-04-10_Dingo Watching NOVA
Dingo watching an episode of NOVA’s Inside Animal Minds, a series about the science of animal cognition and how it is changing what we know about the intelligence of animals. Check your local PBS station for dates and times.

I think that a large percentage of the selfies I see are, to be totally frank, self-indulgent and egotistical exercises of the photograph art. I really don’t care to see you eating dinner or dressed in a cheerleader outfit or diaper or sitting on your toilet. (Yes, they are out there.) However, I can’t say that I have never shot a selfie. I do so very occasionally to document a moment but even then I don’t post it on Facebook.

Despite my general feelings about selfies, I have decided today to make one exception to my general rule of no selfies: Dingo can make selfies. Dingo is my above average dog and she watches NOVA (see the image with this post for proof) and Nature on PBS, Ceasar Millan on Animal Planet, and any animal show on the National Geographic Channel. No cartoons for Dingo. She can also convince any of my office colleagues to part with their lunches with just a look.

Over the next few weeks, I am going to train Dingo to take selfies for two reasons: (1) she needs to learn some tricks and (2) I get to spend quality time wither her sharing my love of photography. (It has been difficult to train her to use Photoshop or Lightroom because, without opposable thumbs, she has trouble using a mouse.) Dingo can be stubborn but responds well to food. So, she should learn quickly following the training outlined in this Photojojo article; it is based on the use of positive reinforcement, i.e., use food to incentivize the dog to take its picture. I also need to buy a new app, Big Camera Button, for my iPhone.

I will report back in a few weeks and post some of Dingo’s selfies. In the meantime, what do you think of selfies and dogs and cats…