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Staying Out There with the Creative Cloud Photography plan
Here I am, writing this from a tent with one of my good friends Sarah in Denali National Park. We are here in Alaska for 2 or so months backpacking, hitchhiking, camping, staying in hostels, flying and of course trying to capture it from my perspective in every way I can.
As much as I would love to completely disconnect from the world on every trip, I have come to a new realization that I would rather do this the rest of my life then be in a desk chair everyday. Literally trying to ‘Stay out there’ even if it means doing some work from my phone in some obscure location and charging off battery packs and solar to make it all happen. This is my dream – living and working from all over the world. Let’s see if I can keep it going! I wouldn’t change anything about where my life is headed, even when things go wrong and I second guess myself. It may not be consistent and there are definitely months that scare me financially but being out there and on the go are worth every second.
This is a very special blog post for me. Something I never thought would happen. But if you push your passion far enough and go all in, you will have surprises all along the way. All I can say is never give up, anything is possible if you have the drive and passion.
So what is this all about?
I am finally announcing my new partnership as a brand ambassador with Adobe, to help explore and share the amazing tools the Creative Cloud Photography plan have to offer! I am sure many photographers and artists here are very familiar with these programs, I personally believe many of us wouldn’t be where we are today without programs like these. There is obviously a lot more to it then the programs and post processing, but for me it’s what really brings my vision to life and helps me create something a bit more unique with a personal touch. As you can see from my work, I process everything and in many different styles.
Throughout my short career in photography, or even before it was a “career” and just a passion, it has been a goal of mine to get something different every time. Even if I am shooting the same subject over and over. I will try to process it in a whole new way. Sometimes I surprise myself!
Let’s take the Golden Gate Bridge for example. I literally live 500 yards away from it. You can’t live much closer except a few houses. So I shoot this bridge a lot, and I am not exaggerating. If you follow my work you know what I mean 🙂 it has always been a goal of mine to get it from every angle I can. So when I had the opportunity to take a helicopter flight over San Francisco, I didn’t think twice about saying yes. It was definitely an investment at the time. But the best investment I’ve ever made.
Because this is about the amazing tools Adobe offers, let’s get into some more details about the featured picture and what my day, gear and processing is all about.
When I am home, traveling for work or even camping in an area with service, I start most my days with bacon, eggs and a cup of Matcha Tea while I check my email and various social networks, usually posting a new photo if I have one ready to go.
If I am planning an aerial flight or any shoot for that matter, I am also checking webcams and weather. If it isn’t looking too good, the pilot and I will touch base mid day and make final decisions. Sometimes it takes weeks or even months for conditions to align.
I have been asked if I have felt nervous or scared. To be honest I never really have, I love the thrill of trying something new all the time and nothing beats the feeling of the first flight when a helicopter lifts you off the ground, or being able to fly over a new area. I wish I could have that experience and feeling every time. It’s all very addicting, flying in general.
One of my favorite things is interacting with the various pilots I fly with. It seems most pilots really love what they do. I can see why! In San Francisco, I didn’t know the pilot or company at first, but when you fly in the area enough it will be hard to fly with anyone else. I have now flown with Marc from Vertical CFI so many times that it would be hard to recommend anyone else in the area. He is an amazing pilot and after 10 or so times you get to know each other’s language so it’s easier to communicate what you’re trying to shoot and what is realistic and safe for him to fly as well. It’s important that you understand the risks and don’t put him into a situation you can’t get out of; if something bad happens you’re both going down.
Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of flying for clients. When it comes to location we have very specific shots in mind. From exact GPS coordinates, elevation, time of day, and to the type of weather. It doesn’t make it easy and sometimes takes months of planning and waiting for just the right moment.
For personal shots, I tend to see new angles and details every time I am up and I make it a goal to focus on capturing something different every time as well. When I started I focused more on my wide angle. Now I tend to use the zoom lens more and narrow in to get details, patterns and textures.
San Francisco is definitely really special to me. I have been shooting it non stop for the past few years, so getting above it has been overwhelming and dream fulfilling. Getting to see it and share those perspectives with everyone just drives me to keep doing it. With a goal to find something new every time I fly. The weather has a huge impact on the outcome though. We obviously have our dream weather situations, but it is also our goal to make due with what we are given. So I try not to let it get to me and adapt to get different shots.
When I go up on a flight I tend to have two cameras at all times ready to go. One with a wide angle lens and the other with a zoom lens, and because I am shooting with the doors off, I don’t like changing lenses while up in the air. Everything goes by fast and you are paying by the minute, why miss a few seconds to mess around with lenses! Going forward I will also have a Panasonic GH4 to shoot 4k video as well, so will be trying to manage 3 cameras like a crazy person. On certain assignments I will also bring up a gyro stabilizer as well. I usually use that for video or for stills as it gets darker out. I used the Kenyon 4×4 gyro which I rented.
When trying to get a shot, the pilot and I are talking constantly over the headset. “Move this way a little or that way or come back around, a little lower or higher. Can you sweep in from here and end there.” This is one of those situations where we understand each other better as we fly more together. I wouldn’t have certain shots if it wasn’t for his experience and learning how to understand me and what I’m envisioning. Sometimes it takes many passes to get what I want, a few flights or even a few months.
Settings and gear:
- Canon 6D
- Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 L II
- Kenyon KS 4×4 Gyro
- ISO 1600
For this shot in particular, I love how I got the lights on at AT&T park. If you don’t fly much you wouldn’t know this, but during Giants games, there is a 3 mile radius or so of no fly zones. So getting a shot shot during a game like this is near impossible, unless you have crazy connections and/or are hired by the Giants! I also love how the light is still hiring some of the buildings, which helps add some depth rather than a skyline hidden in shadows.
The very first thing I ever do after any shoot is backup my photos in multiple locations. When at my home office I put them on my Thunderbolt Gtech RAID first and then dump them into my Synology NAS server which is also auto backing up to Amazon Glacier (the Cloud). When I am on the go, like I am right now, I do my best to back them up to multiple WD portable drives. I will also have 2 backups before clearing my Lexar SD cards. And if I can, I will even do a third backup and ship a batch of drives home to separate my data.
Now that I feel better and backed up, I will put my photos into Adobe Lightroom and start flagging favorites. I love Lightroom and sometimes feel it’s all I ever need. It can do pretty much everything I want. I will go through and give my favorite RAWs some basic touch ups from exposure, color, lens corrections, sharpening and so on. And that will give me a better idea of what I want to focus on.
With this aerial night shot, it required a lot of recovery because of how dark it was. So I brought the exposure and shadows up a lot. And I mean a LOT for this one. It is hard to tell at first when looking at the RAW files, they are sometimes so dark I can’t tell if it’s usable until I had brightness and bring up those shadows. I also used the brush tool a lot to basically paint some more light onto the skyscrapers to really make them pop.
Then I brought it into Photoshop and added extra sharpening with a high pass filter, did some more advanced brushing and spot removals, saved it and it auto brought it back to Lightroom for me. Love that the programs work so well together.
Since using Lightroom CC the sharpening and noise reduction seems to be a lot better, so I am using Photoshop less and less it seems. Unless I need to get into layers and masking. I tend to do more of that with my seascape and landscape photography, when I am on a tripod.
Some of the newer features in the Creative Cloud Photography plan are really awesome. I use the radial filter a lot with my photos like I did to finish off the above photo. I really like bringing more focus to a smaller area of the photo rather than keeping everything from corner to corner in focus. Especially with my darker photos like my surf or architecture series – Which we will get into in another post. I use the brush tool a lot for the same reason, especially with photos like this where I wanted to bring out AT&T park and put a little more detail on the skyscrapers.
I hope this gives you a decent background on my aerial work and how I go about shooting to post processing. Feel free to ask any questions and I will do my best to respond. I am traveling and in and out of service, so my response may be delayed, I am not ignoring you 🙂
I have to thank Adobe for this amazing opportunity to share my story, such an incredible company and amazing software that allows me to pursue my passion.