Here’s a little video from China when I was changing lenses to get a shot on an old part of the Great Wall.
Another Photo during Winterfest
Every year around this time Queenstown has a long event called Winterfest. Every day they have different events… on the opening night, there is a big concert and then some fireworks. Here’s a quick shot I got while I was watching it with the family.
Daily Photo – Super Moon Sets Over Queenstown
So… you’ve been coming to the blog for, what, six+ years, yes? Well, maybe…hehe… AND, if you’ve been coming all that time, you might have noticed that I have NEVER posted a photo of the moon. Why is that, you wonder? The main reason is because I’ve always gotten absolutely terrible moon photos. Until now! I finally got one that I am kinda happy with… I shot this in the morning yesterday when I walked out to my studio.
I saw it setting behind the mountain near my house, so I got out my NEX-7 with the 55-210mm lens and shot away. This is just one exposure… one RAW file. It worked out well because all the light levels were about the same with the pink in the sky and the snow and the white moon behind the purple cloud…
I noticed a shortcoming in Google Glass. When you are in a helicopter and trying to get Google Map directions, the only options are walking, biking, public transport, or car. There is nothing about a chopper in there.
But I wasn’t flying the thing. I had the back window seat and was busy tracking the Google[x] Project Loon balloons. I didn’t really plan on making a video until I jumped in the chopper. Then, I thought, hey, “This is gonna be cool. I should record it!” I’m still getting my head around the idea of recording the “highlights” of my day. I’m doing it more and more with my kids. I don’t want to lose these moments, you know?
If you click below, you can see the video I made with Glass. Is it blocked in your country? Here is the Vimeo link.
I didn’t know anything about Project Loon when I signed the paperwork from Google. They just said “Sign it.” I was like… errrr… okay. But if it was from Google[x], I figured it had to be cool. Besides, I trust Google and I guess they know I am a good secret-keeper. It sounded like a great chance to go see Project Loon and take pictures behind the scenes.
Let me back up a second. So, it turns out that Google has this cool secret plan to launch a matrix of balloons all around the earth to bring internet to the masses. There are billions of people on Earth without internet. It turns out that launching a ton of low-cost balloons could be the most effective way of getting these people connected.
And, by coinkidink, they happened to be testing these balloon systems in New Zealand, where I just moved about a year ago with my family! I live down in Queenstown, which is about three hours south of the launch site in Tekapo. I drove up there with my son and arrived at midnight. A few hours later, at the crack of dawn, I was watching a launch and flying all over the south island to get photos and test out the balloons. We had a whole covey of helicopters out there. It was like Apocalypse Google Now.
The balloon launch worked flawlessly. I’m sure they’ve had many failures (in the wonderful Google-iterative-development-manner), but the one I saw was perfect. They partnered with another company called Raven Aerostar to help with the balloons. These guys build the NASA weather balloons, the Macy’s Day Parade balloons, and all kinds of other hardcore things. I was kind of hoping the balloons would be in the shape of Snoopy and Barney, but no such luck.
As for Glass, I would alternate between taking photos and videos. It’s super easy. By default, the Glass video (which is all HD), only records 10 seconds. But you can click a little button on top if what you are recording is interesting and it can go for a long time. This is actually a smart system. Most 10-second videos are quite boring and you can bail out easily. It sure makes it easier later when editing. I edited together everything in iMovie in about five minutes. That was easy and fun.
But then I realized another little problem. I mean, it’s a good problem, but still a problem. I’m recording more and more video every day, especially of my family. Editing it down and picking the best bits takes a bit of time. Creating a “highlight” reel of your day or week is a cool idea, so I am looking forward to when it is more automated. Google+ photos are already doing a smart job of this with “Highlights” where it automatically picks the best photos. I’m looking forward to when that happens with video too. Anyhoo, for now, it just takes a few minutes in iMovie to edit stuff down… not the end of the world.
Back to the Loon story. We landed on a very remote farm in Canturbury, which is sort of a central area of the South Island of New Zealand. Even here, there are about a million people without internet. After landing, we went into the house and tested out the internet as the balloons were flying overhead, forming an internet mesh. It worked perfectly! The family was thrilled. Well, the wife was not so thrilled when her husband started looking on trademe.co.nz (the New Zealand ebay) at buying another truck.
It was a fun experience, and the Google team on Loon is really clever. They’ve been working hard on this, and there is a lot of hard and fun work left to do. I felt kind of like the-guy-that-didn’t-belong. I was just kind of darting in and out, staying out of the way, taking photos, and drinking it all in. But man, it was cool. I was really honored.
One of my best photos I took from the helicopter no one has even seen yet! I was there with the famous Steven Levy from Wired Magazine. They got an exclusive on my very very very favorite photo, and that will appear in the magazine on newstands soon. Steven’s full article on Project Loon will also be another must-read, so be sure to check that out.
Here’s one of my favorite images from that day in the chopper. Shooting from a helicopter is always tough. If you watched that video, you’ll see I switched a lot between different cameras. Even though I am using the Sony NEX-7 a lot, I chose the Nikon here because of the extreme conditions. I was quite worried I would only get a few minutes to shoot, so I wanted to make sure I did not run into any buffering problems… this is why I went with the Nikon.
Don’t know what buffering is? That is what happens when you take a whole bunch of photos in a row and the camera has to save them quickly. On lesser cameras, sometimes you can only take a few photos before there is a long pause while it writes the photos. The NEX-7 lets met get in about 10-13 photos before it starts going slow. The Nikon D3s lets me take about 30+ I think!
A few people saw this a few months ago when they came out to the workshop, but I thought you might like to see it in the snow… it’s a cool winter down here in Queenstown… anyway, I thought you might enjoy seeing where I go to work on my photos every day! 🙂 I shot this with Google Glass.
Daily Photo – Path Through the Snow
Just today, on the way home after the Winter Festival in downtown Queenstown, I saw this scene just off the road. I jumped out of the car and got in a good spot to take a photo. There is no tripod or anything… just a handheld shot with the Sony NEX-7. I processed it in Lightroom and Silver Efex Pro. Actually, I also made a video of me processing it… the team is actually working on something cool on the backend too… a new way to bring you these videos! 🙂
Today Adobe announced Photoshop CC that is only available to cloud subscribers.
Adobe should not release such lame updates to Photoshop and Lightroom to convince people that the cloud-subscription software is exciting. They should make dramatic improvements – things that photograpehrs can’t live without. Can we live without “Smart Sharpen” and “Intelligent Upsampling” with Photoshop. Err, probably. The Lightroom improvements are equally underwhelming. You know that the updates are lame when one of the top bullet points is “Include video in your slideshows!” How did THAT become one of the top-most-requested features?
Here's a list of some of the features with Photoshop CC. I am not thrilled. Also, that seems like kind of a lame photo they are using to show off their product, isn't it? Maybe Photoshop has gotten to the point where it is just kind of like a pencil or a paintbrush -- they can't be improved upon. Maybe Adobe really has run out of ideas (except for ideas around new business models where you get to pay them every month).
It also worries me that Adobe is running out of ideas for their photography-related products. Their “big features” are, at best, incremental improvements. They are certainly not exciting enough to drive millions to subscribe to their cloud subscriptions. Their biggest idea, sadly, seems to be cloud-based subscriptions.
Business-model confusion with Adobe
Adobe’s PR and marketing team has a whole list of reasons about why Cloud-based subscription is so awesome for Photoshop. They have a few good points in there, such as it is easy to do incremental updates. But mostly, the reasons are lame and not exciting to amateurs and hobbyists who can’t afford to shell out a ton of money every month.
Here is the confusion: If Cloud-based subscriptions really are so awesome for Photoshop, why do they have a completely different business model for Lightroom? They tell me, well, Lightroom is more for hobbyists and casual people, and Photoshop is more for professionals. I think that sounds kind of ridiculous, don’t you?
What is especially confusing for me is, “How do I explain this to people?” I get a bunch of people that come to this website or to the HDR Tutorial (new and improved, and free as always, btw!) to get advice on what kind of software to get. We get a lot of new photographers who don’t really own any software. Now I have to give confusing advice: “Well, you really need Photoshop and Lightroom. Photoshop you have to pay every month for, but Lightroom you can just buy once.” People are like, “Whhhhaaat?” Why have two business models for such complementary pieces of software? It’s completely confusing to new people, and moderately confusing to veterans.
Anyway, these are the kind of confusing decisions that come out of committees. I hope they clarify things soon, and I also hope they have a business model that is less punitive to beginners, students, and hobbyists that can’t afford the high price of cloud-based subscriptions. It’s not like Netflix or World of Warcraft with their monthly fees. You pretty much have one kind of customer there. With photography, you have the full span of professionals and studios to ameteurs and hobbyists. In my judgment, it’s too punitive to have One-Pricing-Model to rule them all.
Daily Photo – Sunset in New Zealand before the Blizzard
We are expecting a major blizzard coming into Queenstown tonight! We just got back from the grocery store to stock up. I’ve got all my cameras fully charged and ready to go… I’ll try to hit as many places as I can with the fresh snow… chains are ready and all is good to go! Super-excited.
And, speaking of the article above, I can’t think of any of my images that could have been improved if I am using the new features in Adobe’s cloud. Sure, I subscribed to their cloud (Adobe did not gift me one, nor will they probably ever because I am so critical of them), and I am using the latest of everything… but none of these new features have really found their way into my photos yet. Comon Adobe… I know you can do better.
I get a strange email from Google. Just sign the paperwork they say. We can’t tell you anything. I sign, assuming it’s gotta be cool with an approach like that.
Fast Forward One Week
Next thing I knew, I was up in a helicopter over Tekapo, New Zealand, sitting by Steven Levy from Wired magazine tracking balloons as they headed for the stratosphere. I was just a few hours north of my home in Queenstown, so I was excited to check out this secret Google X project right in my own backyard!
So, here’s the whole story. I’ll start with a video I shot with Google Glass that shows some of the behind-the-scenes. Can’t see it in your country? Here’s the Vimeo version.
(Note, there is the Longer Video coming soon that has a lot of the tech talk and geeky stuff if you want to know more.)
Here is beautiful Tekapo, NZ. The water is that wondrous color from all the fresh glacial melt.
So, what’s the reason for all this? Well, there are billions of people on Earth without Internet. Billions! What’s a crazy (loon-y) idea to get them Internet? Step in Project Loon from Google X and Rich DeVaul. What’s the net result of it all? You can see the little white dot-balloon in the photo bellow on the left floating over New Zealand.
The Internet floats over New Zealand. Another Google Loon Balloon makes its way towards the stratosphere, spreading Internet like ambrosia dripping from Mount Olympus. We soared up vertically over the mountains, spiraling up to track the balloons. I had great trouble spotting the balloon from the chopper! But there, you can see a little white dot there on the left in the sky. It's not like one of those giant hot-air balloons. It's more like a tiny weather balloon.
New Zealand was a perfect test bed because even though we have only 4 million people, 1 million of us don’t even have Internet. Or, if we have it, it’s crazy-expensive. We even visited one farmer (Charles) who said that he had to pay $1400 for ONE month of satellite-Internet. Crazy!
So, imagine a network, a mesh of balloons that spin around the earth, effortlessly handing off Internet from one balloon to the next, just like the way you hand off phone service from one tower to the next as you drive. You can see more about the tech on Google’s Project Loon site.
Inside the secret Google warehouse... somewhere in New Zealand. By the way, this place is very cold and full of things that you should not touch.
Anyhoo, I was invited along to take photos. Google was nice enough to even officially license a few photos (thanks!). No, they didn’t pay me to write a nice article. I’m just kind of a Google fan. Stephen Levy and Wired liked some of the more special photos too, so you can see even more in Stephen’s article (Wired magazine). Man, he’s a cool guy. You really get to know a dude when you’re ripping through the New Zealand mountains with these crazy Kiwi pilots!
After watching the flawless launch on a chilly morning, we ended up taking a chopper to a remote farm. There were a lot of choppers. It was kind of like Apocalypse Google Now.
We exit one of the choppers to go check the Internet on this farm. You can see the pilot running off with all my camera gear on his back.
We landed and jumped off to go try out the Internet. Again, flawless. I can only assume they had a few failed tests beforehand… they must have been working on this for a long time. But man, it was smooth. The family was super excited. They were on Trademe.co.nz, which is the eBay of New Zealand. The husband was looking for a new truck… his wife was not thrilled.
The balloons worked perfectly. Raven Aerostar is the company that is behind the balloons; they are Google’s design partner for Project Loon. They make balloons for NASA and stuff, so they are pretty hardcore.
Rich talks with one of the tester families. You can see the friendly red Google antenna above and the Loon balloon over there on the right (the tiny white spot!)
At lunch, the creator of the project, Rich DeVaul, told us a funny story. I don’t even know if I can repeat it, but I will. It seems innocuous enough. BTW, I’m not a real journalist or anything. I’m just a guy that takes photos and likes stories.
[Queue Radiolab soundeffects] Rich is tearing down a highway in central California. He’s in his own car. There are other Google people in there, and they are peering upwards and out the window like tornado chasers. They have radio antennae, laptops, and all kinds of crazy Google equipment as they try to track a balloon. At some point, they overload his alternator and they come to an unceremonious stop. They are stranded.
Rich has to call his wife to pick them up. She’s been in the dark for years about this project, and he hasn’t told her anything. She drives hours and hours to pick them up. He fills up her car with nerds and equipment and they sit there silently, ignoring the Fringe/X-Files nonsense that is happening in the backseat. His lips form a line as he looks side to side innocently. I’m not sure if that look actually happened, but it probably did.
I heard she’s here at this press conference that’s happening right now in Christchurch. So now she knows everything; She’s probably quite proud of him!
More balloons are lined up and ready for launch as a chopper lands behind.
And, by the way, if you are here in New Zealand in Christchurch, come see me at the Festival of Flight at the Air Force Museum on Sunday! The Project Loon event is from 10am-2pm on Sunday June 16th. There will be a lot about balloon science and stuff like that… bring the family! Here’s a map.
Anyway, hats off to all the engineers and team members. It’s a cool project. It’s all quite early, of course, but if they can keep iterating, it will be a really cool option to get Internet everywhere. I can see remote villages in Africa having one of those red-ballooned antennas. I can see it forcing competitive local Internet services in SE Asia to provide cheaper service and no data caps (the same way Google Fiber is disrupting competitive services). I can see myself putting one of those antenna on my truck so I have Internet no matter where I travel in New Zealand to take photos. Man, I can’t wait!
If you didn’t know the geological process that forms these strange round boulders on the beach, what would you guess? I can see how the first explorers here thought they might have been some kind of alien eggs!
Daily Photo – Birds on the Spherical Boulders
After the sun had gotten higher up in the air, I left “sunrise shooting mode” and entered “find interesting shapes mode.” I had on my 14-24 lens, which means I had to get super-close to these birds. Birds are hard to take photos of, I think. So I had to be very slow, like a cat, on my approach to these boulders. I barely got off a shot before the freaked out and flew away!
You’ll recognize the photo below from the Sony NEX-7 Review here on the site! This is one of the new photos I took with the 10-18mm lens. I love that thing!
Daily Photo – Abandoned Ruins in Dalefield
This is the turn-around-point for my jogging route! I run around this area between Queenstown and Arrowtown and end up at this place. Sometimes if I am feeling more full-of-energy (rare), I’ll go a bit longer, but usually not. This is a beautiful place to loop around and begin my return-journey.
I don’t know much about this place, other than it is a bit hidden from the road. If you look for it off Speargrass Flats, then you can see it, but you’ll never notice it if you’re just driving down the road like a normal person. I’ve heard they have plays here and have had a few film crews show up. Either way, it’s cool!
You may remember this shot from the sample on Trey’s Photomatix Presets. It turned out to be a perfect candidate because of the crazy amount of dynamic light. This is just about as dynamic as it gets — shooting into a very bright sun with dark, shadowy trees in the foreground.
Daily Photo – Out in the Woods
This is one of my favorite photos of an outhouse that I’ve ever taken. I’ve only taken one, by the way.
Actually, when I think about it being an outhouse, it makes it feel not so beautiful. So I just think of it like a little maintenance shed or a meditation chamber. Yes, that’s better, some sort of Scientologist meditation chamber where they measure their midichlorians.
I’m recording more and more of these lately. The problem isn’t actually the recording — that bit is easy — the problem is the editing and uploading. That one takes me a bit… I’ve got a lead on a few possible interns here in the Queenstown area to help me out… once I get that bit, I can release even more! 🙂
Daily Photo – Windmill over still lake
When does a pond become a lake? Maybe this is a pond. Or maybe a pond is a subset of a lake. I do not know for sure. I could look it up, but I find it more fun to speculate about it.
Anyhoo, this serene scene is just another on the back nine of The Hills country club in Arrowtown. If you’re into golf, then this place is a must-visit! Or, if you’re just into photography, then it’s also a must-visit!
I’m about to send out a FREE bonus pack to everyone that already bought those things… just a little nice thing… I created some new ones and thought you might enjoy them too. You can pick them up inside the Stuck In Customs store.
New HDR Tools? Or still Photomatix?
Yes, I’m still using Photomatix as my main tool! I updated the HDR Tutorial recently — you can see all the new screenshots in there.
Daily Photo – The Cinematic Country
When you drive to Aoraki Village, it can take many more hours than necessary if you like to take photos. There are literally one million places to jump out and get photos of roads and the mountain! So awesome!
Here’s a little hint if you take this road. If you walk off to the right and jump the fence, there are many little streams that are also very beautiful. No one ever walks over there… I don’t know why. Don’t let the fence stop you. No one is over there! 🙂