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MY DRONE JUST HELPED THE POLICE FIND A FOREST FIRE

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

Tonight my drone just helped the Massachusetts State Police locate a forest fire.

The Middlesex Fells is a large nature preserve near where I live. There are a couple of lakes that are very pretty, so this afternoon I took my DJI Phantom 2 quadcopter (with GoPro Hero 3+ Black video camera mounted to the bottom!) to the Fells to get some pretty sunset footage. As I was setting up the drone just a few minutes before sunset, I saw smoke in the sky. I called the State Police to report a likely forest fire. The operator took my name and number and thanked me for the report, and after I got off the phone I started flying the drone.

A few minutes later, the police called me back. The officer asked if I knew more specifically where the fire was located (the Fells is pretty large and spans four different towns, and parts of it are pretty remote and are only accessible by foot). I told the officer, “I don’t, but I can find out!” I explained that I was flying a drone and could use it to locate the fire more specifically. With the officer on speakerphone I took the drone up to about 100 meters and looked around and could clearly see where the smoke was coming from, right between the southern and middle of the park’s three lakes. I told the officer, and he then gave my information to the Massachusetts Department of Conservation & Recreation, which operates the park and manages the land, who then directed their firefighters to the area I pinpointed.

Framegrab from the video:

Frame grab from GoPro mounted to DJI Phantom 2 showing forest fire in Middlesex Fells reservation, Sept. 22, 2014. ©2014 Chris Conti Photography. All rights reserved.

There you have it. Tonight my drone and I helped the State Police pinpoint a forest fire!
(and some people want to ban them!!)

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Great Behind The Scenes Look At How GoPro Videos Are Made

Saturday, September 20th, 2014

GoPro’s marketing videos are awesome. We all love them. They show incredible people doing incredible things in incredible locations, with incredible camera angles (and incredible editing).

What the official GoPro videos DON’T show you is what goes in to making those videos, and personally I’ve been somewhat disappointed that GoPro seems to actively try to hide the details, tactics, equipment and (most importantly) talent that makes them so incredible. This isn’t surprising: the goal of those videos is to sell cameras to consumers by giving them the illusion that by buying the camera they too can create videos as mind-blowing as GoPro’s official marketing videos. Showing the consumer all of the professional-level (and often big-budget) production that goes into those videos would shatter that illusion of attainability.

For people who use the cameras though, it is incredibly helpful to see how some of those incredible shots are captured. This morning I stumbled on a video on the New Yorker’s website (thanks to Cameron Davidson for the find!) interviewing one of GoPro’s sponsored professional athletes and showing some of the tricks and gadgets that allow some of those incredible shots to be captured (the video doesn’t go into any of the extensive editing and post-production that makes GoPro’s official marketing videos sparkle, but it does pull the curtain back on a bit of the filming process).

If you like (or want) to shoot point-of-view action video, this is a good thing to watch.
(click the preview below to go to the New Yorker website)

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Rolling Shutter vs. Global Shutter: Just Learned Something New About My GoPro

Sunday, July 28th, 2013

On this rainy Sunday morning I was just sorting through images I shot during my recent trip to Greece, and I learned something new (and surprising) about my GoPro camera: even when shooting stills, its electronic shutter is rolling, not global. If you just thought “huh?”, then read on.

On a short flight from the island of Milos back to the Athens airport I set up the GoPro on a suction cup mount pointing out the airplane window to do little timelapse of the flight. Looking at one of the still frames from the timelapse, I saw this:

GoPro still frame shot out the airplane window. Well, I guess that answers that question!

The above image is not Photoshopped in any way (other than the watermark). “What in God’s name is going on with that propeller, the blades are split in pieces!” you might say. Photographers, videographers and some others knowledgeable about electronics will know immediately what is happening here. The propeller blades did not, in fact, break into pieces during my flight (thankfully); the blades appear this way in this image as a result of a curious side effect of the way certain digital camera sensors work called “rolling shutter.”

Digital cameras’ sensors are composed of millions of individual pixels arrayed in a grid of rows and columns. DSLR cameras have a physical, mechanical shutter that starts and stops the collection of light hitting the sensor, but other types of cameras (point & shoots, cellphone cameras, and cameras like GoPros) do not have a mechanical shutter, and instead start and stop the process of collecting light on the sensor electronically rather than mechanically; essentially the circuitry in the cameras tells the pixels in the sensor when to start and stop “looking.” On many cameras, the pixels start and stop “looking” the way you’d expect: all at the same time. Cameras that behave this way are referred to as “global shutter,” because the “shutter” (which is in fact just an electrical signal) acts globally, on the entire sensor at once. Some other cameras though (notably, most digital video cameras) use what is referred to as a “rolling shutter” in that instead of reading the entire grid of the sensor’s pixels at once, they read the pixels one row at a time: the camera records what the first (top) row of pixels “sees,” then the row below it, then the row below that and so on, on a “rolling” basis until it reaches the bottom row. This process happens in a fraction of a second, so it is usually fast enough that it isn’t relevant to the image, especially when recording individual, still frames instead of video.

But when photographing something that’s moving very, very quickly (like an airplane propeller at full throttle!) that fraction of a second during which the camera moves from recording the top of the image to the bottom matters: by the time the camera gets around to recording the bottom of the image, the subject recorded at the top of the image has already moved, so in the finished image you’re seeing the same subject recorded in different positions. With a spinning propeller, that results in images like the one above, distorted by the passage of time.

Many cameras use a global shutter when recording still images (as opposed to video) and I thought my GoPro did too. I knew the GoPro used a rolling shutter during video recording (that is quite common on all but the highest-end professional video cameras), but it turns out that it uses a rolling shutter during still frame shooting as well.

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Two New Portfolio Additions

Friday, December 21st, 2012

On this last rainy weekday before everyone takes off for the holidays, I had a few free minutes and decided to add a couple of images to the website that I really like, but until now very few people had seen. The first image, “Dave,” was shot several months ago during the summer, and the second image , “Kaylee 2″ was shot just last week. Here they are.

"Dave": Canon 7D, Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM @ 70mm, ISO 100, f/2.8, 1/1000 sec. ©Chris Conti Photography All Rights Reserved.

Dave is a master craftsman who works for a large marine services company in Portland, Maine called Portland Yacht Services. This summer I was in Portland on a commercial shoot for PYS on a dry dock in Portland harbor producing a timelapse video of PYS’s employees using the drydock to service a large yacht that had been damaged. The drydocking process is fascinating (the entire structure lowers itself under water, the vessel to be serviced maneuvers inside, and the structure rises back up, lifting the entire vessel out of the water). It was a great shoot in a totally unique setting, and I also just happened to catch this candid shot of Dave on the dock. To me, guys like Dave epitomize the Maine maritime economy and culture.

"Kaylee 2": Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II @ 200mm, ISO 800, f/2.8, 1/250 sec. ©Chris Conti Photography All Rights Reserved.

Kaylee is a musician and music therapist from Seattle in the final stage of her training. Last week I was shooting a music therapy session at a senior housing community called Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly in Framingham, Massachusetts shooting marketing photos. I was severely limited in the amount of equipment I was allowed to bring into the facility and was limited to a single strobe and reflector, so I had to get a bit creative with my lighting. In order to create the image above I decided to take advantage of large windows that were in the room, and use the natural light as my key light and instead use the strobe only for fill. Given the limitations I really like how the image turned out.

That’s it for me, now it’s time to pack up and get on the road to my parents’ house for the holiday.

Happy holidays!

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Stratton Mountain Timelapse

Monday, December 17th, 2012

I was up in Vermont with some friends at Stratton Mountain this past weekend, and I figured I’d take advantage of the cold, dry mountain air combined with the lack of light pollution and shoot a night timelapse (I also experimented with a couple of new tools I’m developing to solve a couple of persistent difficulties you run into when shooting long-duration timelapses in questionable environments… more on that later!).

Here’s a quick frame from the timelapse. The constellation Orion is very clear in the sky just right of center, the Milky Way is faintly visible in the center and I believe the very bright object at the top of the frame is a planet (although I’m not sure which one; this image was shot at 10:30PM ET on Dec. 15… can any astronomy buffs tell me what it is?).

Check back in later for the finished timelapse shot!

Stratton Crown Point timelapse: Canon 5D Mark II, Bower 14mm f/2.8 @ 14mm, ISO 1600, f/2.8, 30 sec. ©Chris Conti Photography All Rights Reserved.

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