One year in Korea

Oct. × ’11

With 3 days before I return to Korea, I have put together this video from the last time I was there. It shows why I’m happy to be going back. Even if it’s only for 1 month. Most of these clips are from my Canon 7D.

Video not working? Click here for Youtube.

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Bicycle touring with a Mini Velo

Sep. × ’11

I have three bikes, but the steel rack I had sitting around would only fit my Mini Velo. So then it came to be that my bicycle tour would be on the Mini Velo I’d previously acquired in Korea. Endeavoring to do the overnight trip on a minimal budget, I used the motorcycle panniers I already had.

Sunshine Coast Bicycle Tour
This was only going to be a short trip so we caught a train up the Sunshine Coast to our start point, hoping to avoid riding through our own back yard.

Sunshine Coast Bicycle Tour
Before I even put anything in the motorcycle panniers they felt heavy, fully loaded the rear was almost impossible to lift. With that said, the ride was still pretty good and we still managed to climb a few hills. Considering the Mini Velo only has 7 gears I was pleasantly surprised how little I had to get of and push.

Sunshine Coast Bicycle Tour
When we reached the ocean at Mooloolaba we took some time to rest and generally enjoy the beach side.

Long ago I had thrown away the stand on my Mini Velo as it was made for a normal sized bike and generally didn’t work. Choosing to go without a stand was a poor choice on this occasion. My pannier bags open outward, meaning I’d have to turn the bike around and lean it on the other side if I wanted to get something out.

Sunshine Coast Bicycle Tour
In the evening we made our way to another quiet beach at Caloundra and dropped some ciders in the ocean to chill. The best part about Australia is all the free to use barbecues which really came in handy at dinner time. Hot food warms the soul in a way few other things can.

Sunshine Coast Bicycle Tour
I snapped this photo just as we were leaving the beach to go and set up camp. Pushing the bicycles through sand was really hard and not something I’d want to get stuck doing for a prolonged period. The heavy rear end meant pushing from the handle bars was near impossible and we both accidentally tipped our bicycles up a few times.

Sunshine Coast Bicycle Tour
Our priority was to be out of the wind, which meant we had to compromise on location. The camp site was the kind of place you want to wake up early and leave before anyone notices you. Sleeping under the stars is always good no matter where you are though and we were happy. Unfortunately on the first night of any trip it’s always hard to sleep and we both woke up at least a dozen times. Also being a paranoid kinda guy I laid my bicycle next to me for “security”. Matthew was less concerned, having faith in the good people of Australia.

The camp site looked nicer in the sunrise than it had the night before and was a great place to wake up.

Sunshine Coast Bicycle Tour
The rest of the trip was spent riding on the side of a main road with not much to look at. Matthew’s single speed was generally faster than my Mini Velo, so I tucked in behind him and kept up on his draft. We made good time and by chance turned up at the station 10 minutes before a train was due.

I didn’t bring a hex wrench with me and was unable to raise the handle bars. This meant my neck was pretty much gone and my hands were in pain from being too far over the front bars. I’d be willing to give the Mini Velo another shot but due to its low top speed and poor stability I’m not sure that I would commit to anything long and arduous.

This was a small adventure; a Microadventure. Alistar Humphries has also done some great Microadventures that you might enjoy. You can find them HERE.

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Creating Good Tripod Karma

Jul. × ’11

Tripod Karma

This week I get a little spiritual with my tripod. Thinking about your Tripod Karma can help you make better use of your tripod and ultimatly give you better shots. More in the video.

How do you think your Tripod Karma rates?

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Microadventure: Camping in my Backyard

Jun. × ’11

I’ve been unable to get away recently but I was inspired by Alastair Humphreys when he said this on his blog:

I believe that adventure is about stretching yourself: mentally, physically or culturally. It is about doing what you do not normally do, pushing yourself hard and doing it to the best of your ability.
If that is true then adventure is all around us, at all times. Adventure is accessible to normal people, in normal places, in short segments of time and without having to spend much money.

And with that I decided to spend a night in the tent in my backyard. It’s only a very small thing I know but still adventure enough to be worth it. This video is a simple account of that time. The best part of it all was waking up outside. I think next time I’m going to sleep in the hammock I got in Cambodia, its been sitting in my closet for ages.

In case your interested, Alastair’s Blog:​adventures/​microadventures/​

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The best way for beginners to improve their photography

Jun. × ’11

When I was living in Korea I partially sustained myself by teaching photography.  I always enjoyed teaching the lessons but I could tell some people were just wasting their money. Having taught my self photography I became aware that the only way to get better is to take a lot of photos. Yes you should seek feedback and such but unless you actually take pictures, you’re never going to be good at photography. Keep paying for lessons and you’re probably just wasting money.

I’m aware it is rather brash for me to say such things so I will offer up some of my experiences as examples. The first such experiences is that of learning to work with subjects/models. The first time I worked with a model I was pretty lucky because she knew what she was doing and I didn’t have to give direction. The next time I was not so lucky and as I moved around taking photos I realised that I was making the model uncomfortable. My lack of feed back left her feeling uncertain and it showed through her expression. I learnt that constant feedback is important, letting them know what I’m doing and that what they are doing is good.

Further on models, I learnt that photographers can take certain liberties that may not be acceptable in day to day life. Moving the hair on a subjects face to place it exactly where I want is something I would never do without a camera in my hand. Having to talk honestly about a persons flaws so we may focus on their good points was also a challenge. As a man it’s bedded in to me that we don’t point out a females physical flaws, so telling a girl that her large shoulders require a certain angle to offer appeal was cringe worthy.

Which camera gear to take is also something I had to grapple with. I’ve walked around Osaka and Tokyo almost dying because I took pretty much all my camera gear with me. It really did make the trip less enjoyable and on my following trip to Cambodia I took no where near as much gear. Taking less gear gave me more energy to take photos and video and ultimatly I shot more in Cambodia then I did in Japan.

You could perhaps have someone ”teach” you all of these subtle tips but I expect most photographers would agree that experience is the only way it will stick. I do however believe that doing beginner lessons is a great idea because solid fundamentals let you later focus on learning the art of photography. What do you think, have your experiences been different from mine?

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Weekend Adventure

May. × ’11

Weekend AdventureWe were lucky enough to get away this weekend for a bit of camping. We headed south with no real plan and ended up at the Tweed Coast on the boarder of Queensland and New South Wales (Australia). Beautiful weather was all the go concidering it was pretty much on winter in the southern hemisphere. Here is a bit of a media for your enjoyment.

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Keep track of all your photos and videos with this simple method

May. × ’11

My hard drives were a real mess in the past as I would just save stuff anywhere. Usually it would be in folders labeled “New folder x”. Eventually I figured out this wasn’t working well at all. I knew of software that could keep track of it all for me, but I didn’t like the idea of having to open a program just to find a file. Eventually I came across a method that works pretty well for me. Its simple and works within windows explorer.

I basically save media in the windows explorer file system according to the date it was captured. This is usually helpful when browsing because I generally have an idea of when something was taken. I label as follows:

As you can see the dates are all in reverse order. This is so that when I sort alphabetically I get a chronological order. The formatting is YYYY_MM_DD_Description. I add a description at the end so that I know whats in the folder without having to go into it. I usually try to use key words so that the folder will come up in a windows search. You could add as many keywords as you like but I seem to manage with just a few.

You might like to separate your folders by year or month. I have mine separated into 3 folders “edit”, “upload” and “done”. This is so I know which photos I’m finished with and which ones still need something done with them. I don’t sort my photos into separate folders for photos and videos. I have a Canon EOS 7D and find that keeping my video clips along side their respective photos to be more convenient.

I think the tools that come with Canon EOS cameras automatically sorts photos like this but I’m not sure. Can anyone confirm this or if the same is true for other manufacturers?

If you have a lot of photos or want to spend a lot of time tagging your pictures then I suggest something like Apple Aperture 3 or Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3. Adobe Photoshop CS5 comes with Adobe Bridge which is also a great tool for managing your files. There is also Googles free Picasa 3 though some may find it a little simplistic. Depending on what brand you have, the software provided with your camera can also sometimes be quiet good.

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Adventures between adventures – How we get away on a regular basis.

May. × ’11

We can’t always be away on adventures(well most of us). Its just a reality of life. Unfortunately sitting at home for months between adventures is also painfully woe. Our solution to this is our car. It’s small, economical and suitable as a daily driver during the week. Come the weekend, we grab some food and hit the road. Permanently keeping our camping supplies and a bed in the back means its no great effort to sneak away for a night or two.

I installed a second battery so I could run a range of accessories. A cooler, lights and a phone charger were some of the more necessary items. The TV was just for fun.

In efforts to make it a little more homely, curtains were added.

For extended stays, a small half tent is used.

The fact that it doesn’t look like a camper means we’re usually fine to stop anywhere without getting hassled by the local police.

I recently put the bed on a raised platform to allow for more storage under the bed. In the lower right of the picture you can see a long pole with a hook on the end. I use this for pulling out storage crates from under the bed.

It might be ugly, but we love it.

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How to build a DIY travel camera rig.

Nov. × ’10

A couple of years ago I was sent out of town to film and photography 3 days of corporate news coverage at an airshow. I would have to bring a DSLR and Camcorder, so I opted to leave the tripod at home. I knew I probably wouldn’t use it much nor was I going to have anywhere to stash it when I wasn’t using it. To avoid the shakes I put together a simple rig to keep my shots steady and hold my microphone. I made the rig to fit in my camera bag and and weigh very little thus I opted to fore-go anything fancy like a quick release or LANC controller. It worked so well that I have continued to use it on my productions.

Camera Rig

This rig was built from an old fold up lawn chair . On either side are handles to hold the camera and a long piece from the rear to rest against the shoulder.

Camera Rig

Mounted on top of the camera is a Rode Video Mic. Bar tape is wrapped around all hand contact areas preventing noise transferring to the camera. I used hockey tape the tie of the bar tape but anything will work.

Camera Rig

The whole rig is held together by two bolts. One is to hold the camera on and the other holds the microphone and shoulder mount together. The right hand hold is close enough to control the start/stop record button and zoom toggle.

Camera Rig

The left side hand hold provides protection and operation for the LCD touch screen. The shock mount that comes with the Rode Video Mic further stops sound transferring to the camera.

Camera Rig

Shaping the frame was done by lightly flattening the area to be curved and then bending it. Fortunately the ‘C’ shaped right hand hold was already formed in the scrap metal I used. Using a pipe bender would result in the frame being much stronger.

Camera Rig

When the microphone is removed the shoulder rest can be taken of. I had to cut and stretch the piping so the other piece would fit inside it. If you had the proper tools you could no doubt get a nicer result. Later I realised it would have been better to put the join just above the right hand mount so the frame can pack flat. The frame was finished in Black Aerosol Spray Paint.

Camera Rig

The frame on its own weights very little and considering the price and effort involved it works very well.

Camera Rig

The rig in use. The grey box on top is for a blue tooth lapel mic.

Camera Rig

The whole package is reasonably light so you can film for prolong periods without pain.

Camera Rig

Easy access to the controls means no need for a LANC controller.

Camera Rig

Easily packs in to the top of my camera bag with plenty of room left over.

Camera Rig

If I need the space inside my bag I can strap the frame to the side.

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What everyone should know about Camcorders: A practical guide to choosing camera storage.

Nov. × ’10

The first draft of this post was painfully boring. I rambled on about all the different storage types and how they are different, something that I am sure has already been covered numerous times on the interwebs. I coarsely thought to myself “that’s not why I made Starship Monkey; I made it to help people create better travel/adventure photos and videos”. So rather then my previous rant, I’m going to talk about what I would recommend to three different types of travellers. This is because what’s right for one person, may not be for another. These examples can help in learning to look at your own needs and then make the appropriate choice for yourself.

The backpacker.

-Accommodation: Hostels, couches.
-Transportation: Public transport, walking.
-Trip duration: More then two months.
-Technical ability: Grew up in the computer age so they can at least figure out how to use windows. Potentially unfamiliar with VHS!!!???
-Partial to: Filming them self and sharing footage with friends.
-Recommended storage medium: SD card.

The backpacker is often travelling with a large backpack (duh) and so usually don’t want to carry more than is necessary. SD cards are small, fitting nicely into to small cameras and thus are likely to be in the cameras most back packers are partial to. Generally one wouldn’t just take photos of themselves so the ability to share photos with friends is handy. Most newer laptops and net-books have SD card slots so one could stick their card in a friends computer or even vice versa. SD cards are also the cheapest of all Memory cards and can be brought just about anywhere. Humours tests have shown that some SD cards are also extremely durable.

The tourist.

-Accommodation: Hotels and cruise ships.
-Transportation:  Trains, tour buses and cruise ships.
-Trip duration: Less then 3 months.
-Technical ability: Reasonably limited; Computers are a hassle and film cameras were all the rage back in their day.
-Partial to: Filming everything, easy to use things, VHS tapes.
-Recommended storage medium: Hard drive, MiniDV.

It is natural for people to often stick with what they know and for many people it’s probably not computers. Fortunately VHS tape has been around for years and most grown-up people have them figured out. Because they are familiar with VHS, they are likely to easily grasp the concepts behind MiniDV tapes which are similar to mini VHS tapes that hold around one hour of video. They are linear, meaning they fast forward and rewind to review the tape. The cassettes are big enough to label with a sticker which can be handy when working with more than a few. Most MiniDV cameras can plug in to a VHS recorder to dub the footage on to VHS tape. However if needed the footage can be put on to a computer or DVD, MiniDV cameras are also widely supported by most PCs. Just plug in the camera to the Firewire port and use Windows Live Movie Maker to produce a DVD.

If not a fan of changing tapes, then a Hard drive(HDD) camera can be a good way to go. Hard drives usually have big capacities and can literally record for days without having to off-load with the footage.  This means one can largely ignore how the footage is being saved until returning from their holiday. Upon returning home however, there may be trouble in finding somewhere to put 96 hours of holiday video. Copying the footage to a computer is pretty straight foward and it should then be easy to edit it in most video editing programs.

The journeyman.

-Accommodation: Side of the road, homes of kindly local residence.
-Transportation:  Some form of arduous and unnecessary transport.
-Trip duration: More then three months.
-Technical ability: Much like the backpacker, they know their way around electronic devices 
-Partial to: Filming them self and the countryside.
-Recommended storage medium: MiniDV, SSD.

Lets say for example that a journeyman was walking across china and wanted to make a video about it. They will eventually gather significant amounts of video. MiniDV tape isn’t as convenient as most other digital mediums but it has one great advantage, it can be posted home affordably. As the journeyman stops in at various towns they can go to the post office and purge their footage to the safety a known residence.  Upon their return, the tapes would be ready and waiting for editing. They could potentially mail home SD cards instead but it wouldn’t be cheap. MiniDVs are well priced and readily available.

If a post office wasn’t part of the plans, then a Flash(Solid State Drive) camera would be the next best choice. Flash drives are exceptionally reliable because they have no moving parts and stay clean inside the sealed camera body. However if finding a post office is a problem, recharging the video camera is likely to be even more of a problem. Flash cameras can be a little expensive in contrast to other types of storage but that should change in the not to distant future. When it does, they will likely replace HDD cameras.

From the above examples it is easy to see that not everyone has the exact same needs. Did you know that many professionals still use tape? We even used it in part to film our Cambodian Motorcycle Adventure. In fact, in consumer products the storage medium you choose has virtually no bearing on video quality. By looking past the stickers on the box we start thinking about how a camera actually best suites our particular needs. If you do this, you can be sure of making a good choice.

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