How To Get Started In Aerial Photography

What’s It Really Take?

Back in November 2009, I posted an article about choosing (radio controlled) helicopters for aerial photography. At the time, I was looking for the cheapest way to get professional quality results for both still and video. Back then,  you’d need about $3k worth of helicopter (or more). You’d also need to hire a pilot, or spend a year or more likely two years learning to fly it yourself.

Well, all that’s changed. There are new helicopter designs with ever more sophisticated electronics. The new designs are cheaper, more stable, easier to fly, stay in the air longer, and are safer and easier to repair than “conventional” helicopters. And as digital cameras get smaller and lighter, the loads placed on these helicopters are reduced. This makes it possible to use smaller, less powerful helicopters to get the job done. Sound good? Here are the details… Continue reading

Importing Long Videos With Final Cut Express

Problems with MP4 Importing

In a previous post, I discussed difficulties I encountered while exporting MP4 files with Final Cut Express 4.0.  In this post, I will discuss difficulties I encountered while importing MP4 files with Final Cut Express. In particular, I noticed that FCE sometimes truncates mp4 clips during import.  I found that I could import 20 megabyte mp4 clips just fine.  But clips just over 30 megabytes in length were shortened.  They were truncated so that they terminated early.  I couldn’t find a setting in the user or system preferences that would allow me to import longer mp4 clips without truncation.

MPEG Streamclip to the Rescue

The solution I found is to split long mp4 clips into shorter clips, each of which can be imported into FCE successfully.  You can put the clips back together once they are inside FCE by dropping them into the same sequence.  The tool I used to split a clip is a very nice freeware conversion and editing utiliy called “MPEG Streamclip.”  You can download MPEG Streamclip at  It is available for either Macs or PCs.

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Exporting Videos With Final Cut Express

New to Final Cut Express

I’ve been teaching Photoshop to photography students for about 12 years.  When a recent student asked for training videos to supplement the instruction, I decided it was time to make some.  Not knowing what I was getting myself into, I went out and got a copy of Final Cut Express 4.0.  And so the fun begins.

Final Cut Blurries

After reading a few sections of the manual that comes with FCE, I was able to assemble a few mp4 video clips into a sequence.  However, when I tried to export the sequence to get a final video result (also an mp4), I hit a roadblock.  The resulting video was quite blurry and in a dynamic way.   That is, text in the video would sometimes be crisp and sometimes become a blur.  It was as if someone was pouring water over freshly painted watercolor. The blurriness would flow around the image.   I assumed that this was some kind of compression artifact, so I tried using different parameter settings during the export to fix the problem. No luck.  I finally concluded that there must be a bug in FCE’s processing of mp4 files.  So, I tried a different output format.  When I chose the Quicktime Movie format (an mov file), things started to work much better.  With the right settings, I was able to get clean, crisp output.  In this post, I’ll take you through the settings that I found to work, so you can get high quality exports without a fuss.

Click-by-click Solution Continue reading

Take Your Camera Out In The Snow!

Bad Weather, Good Photos

It’s snowing here today.  Such stormy weather can provide opportunities for beautiful and unusual shots. So, I was very eager to get out and see what I could find.  However, there’s nothing worse for your camera than getting either water or sand inside it.   So as I was getting ready to go out and take some pictures,  I looked around the kitchen for something to protect the camera.  Unfortunately, I discovered that I was out of zip-loc bags.

Zip-loc Raincoat

A large zip-loc bag can make an acceptable raincoat for a DSLR or similar camera.   The camera goes inside the bag, and the lens pokes out the opening of the bag.  You can snug the bag around the lens barrel with a rubber band, or sometimes the zip-loc itself will hold.  But what do you do if there are none around? Continue reading

How to Master Nikon D3, D300 Autofocus

Rude Awakening

When my D3 first arrived, I had been using a D2x for 2 years.  I never noticed the D2x’s autofocus because it worked so well.  It faded into the background of my attention.   Expecting to have the same experience with the D3, I took it out of the box and brought it with me to a friend’s wedding.   I was seated among the guests right on the aisle.  It was still daylight, so the chapel had adequate lighting.  When the bridal procession began, I expected to get some great shots for my friend, the groom.   As the procession was moving straight toward me, I had only a few seconds to get a shot.  I confidently picked up the camera, framed and pressed the shutter.  Nothing happened.  I noticed that it was in single shot mode (S on the front switch) and realized that the shutter wouldn’t trip unless the focus was spot on.  I immediately switched it to C.  My last chance.  I reeled off a few frames, but all of them were out of focus.  What had gone wrong?   Of course, I switched to manual focus, but that moment was lost.  Fortunately, I wasn’t the hired photographer that day. Continue reading