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Nature Blog Network

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

PLANNING A DIGITAL CAMERA SHOOT IN A TROPICAL MOUNTAIN


CLICK ON ALL THE PICTURES TO ENLARGE THEM







We are in the rainy season in Venezuela, which begins in late May and ends
in November. This must be taken into account in the preparation of a field trip, especially, if it involves driving on dirt roads or remote areas.


The location imposes the logistics, which is why, you have to place special emphasis on the subject you are getting ready to shoot. If the object is to shoot stock, work for an editorial house, making a corporate outdoors file or educational material, we must prepare the information we need that includes: Research about  the site, access, how long it takes to get there, what vehicle is required, where will the team rest and spend the night, the type of housing you will be staying, the equipment you will need to do the job, where are the closest power sources, are they compatible with your equipment, will you need transformers or transportable power plants, how the light changes during the day in the location, how easy is to photograph your objective, and so on. One must know how to program the shoot and determine how many locations will suffice to get the job done. Finally, one needs to know when are the deadlines and how to plan the postproduction workflow to meet them. All of the above affects the budget and production work.
 
The Avila National Park is a suburban destination, and even though the capital of Venezuela is right below it, the mountains still require planning to work on them. Mind you, that in some countries doing professional work in a national park requires a special permit with its respective fees and rules. Some institutions are very adamant about this and it is very important to take this in consideration. Maintaining a low profile is very important in case you did not do your homework.


Another thing DO NOT TAKE PICTURES OR FILM AT THESE PLACES:


Near military bases or police stations
Near communications antennas
At airports
Places like refineries, chemical plants or any place that may be a target for criminals or terrorist
At police men, military and private security personnel.
Government buildings and embassies
Banks
Road blocks


Use common sense and be polite. If you come across ethnic groups or interesting local people, ask for their permission to photograph them. Some people may be very angry if you take their picture without their consent. Have a release form ready in whatever language is required. This is very important if you want to able able to publish your pictures without getting turned down by editors, stock agencies and the like.







What should one take for a tropical mountain job


The clothing that one is going to use should be appropriate. It is not the same to dress for a beach day, as it is  to visit a mountain. If the outings are during the rainy season in tropical mountainous locations, we must take: A weather proofed outer layer, as layering our clothing, can be a key element in an environment, where temperatures can be as high as the summer during the day, and winter during the night. Long-sleeved shirts protects us from the sun, stinging plants and insects. T-shirts and a sweaters will be required if we are to climb above 1500 meters. It is also recommended a change of clothing, even if you are going for a day shoot. If you have quick-drying clothing use them. Sun block is a most as sunburn in the tropics occurs even in an overcast day. The use of hats, caps or hankies is highly recommended for protection from the sun. We must also bring plastic bags (minimum 3) to protect equipment in case of rain and if we have small backpacks or briefcases that are impermeable it would be better. Footwear should protect the ankles, have a firm sole and be comfortable. One should never use new shoes or boots for any field trip. Put on long thick socks and long pants that allow one to tuck then into the socks. This is to prevent ticks, chiggers, and even leeches from getting into your private areas!!! Most of these critters love to lodge themselves in moist, soft-skined areas. In the case of chiggers they can produce eaching that can last over a week. This is dangerous since one gets used to scratch onceself unconsiously and it can be an ebarassing situation if you start to scratch in one of those intimate places at a party or job interview ;-).


It is recommend the use of insect repellent to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes and gnats. The most effective insect repellants are creams that contain DEET, however, they can cause unwanted trouble...


INSECT REPELLANTS HAVE THE PECULIARITY OF EATING AWAY YOUR  CAMERAS AND EQUIPMENT. THUS, REMEMBER TO WASH YOUR HANDS IMMEDIATELY AFTER APPLYING ANYTHING WITH DEET. 


Carrying your personal medications is very important. For allergy sufferers, people with heart conditions, diabetics or any other need, it is critical to notify your travel guides or instructors to be prepared for unexpected situations. Make a checklist of everything they should do in case of an emergency and let them know how to work any of the equipment you are using for your ailments during the trip.


Safety:


There is nothing worse than underestimating a nature a destination. Without wishing to be an alarmist, if you are working in nature, one has to think about contingencies and worst case scenarios. It could be a life saving issue during the time that one is making a production in the wilderness.


When it comes to mountains, it is important that we let others know where our point of departure and arrival will be. Whenever we go out to take pictures, it's good practice to let our families and / or friends know which route we will take and our itinerary. It is very important NOT to change the itinerary at the last minute. If you have a map, tracing the route is a good measure. A description of our itinerary, with the hours, days and places that we're going to be working in good to inform everyone involved in the project. One of the most advanced forms of orientation is the use of GPS, today you can find them built-in in mobile phones, others are portable and accurate to one meter. Another tool is Google Earth, this website is very helful so you can locate the most remote places on earth with their coordinates, as these are an invaluable piece of information for the study of travel destinations.


It is equally important to have a telecommunications system, which rate from best to least efficient as follow: satellite phones, radios and cell phones. One most have their respective battery chargers and replacement batteries. Not doing this can cost you dearly.


One of the simplest and most important actions of security in remote locations are the fellow travelers. Some believe that the groups should be a minimum of 4 people, where one can seek help and there are always two to attend the wounded. A sprained ankle, the loss of orientation, dehydration, or a simple bug bite can become a serious problem, even in case of life or death when we are out of the beaten path.


Try be accompanied by a local guide, this is very useful and it contributes with the local economy. Any person, living in remote areas or in places where nature remains in its pristine form, is usually very in tune with the landscape, plants and wildlife of the places where they live. This is a wonderful way to help us locate sites to take pictures. Only time and practice will help us recognize photo opportunities in nature and local guides, and even hunters, have had a lifetime exposure to their environment and are a great help in making good opportunities for photographs.


In the next picture is an example of what I mean as a trained eye. Look carefully, and see how it takes a trained eye to detect certain things in nature. Imagine being in the country looking for these animals without previous experience. We must learn to see in order to document our objectives efficiently.





The location and orientation of light:


To work on any mountain, we have to position ourselves according to the needs of light. When we're on a mountain, the way light falls upon its landscape will be key to our success. For instance, if we are to shoot a target to the west of the mountains, the morning light is the most appropriate if the orientation of the mountain range is east west, and the opposite would happen, if we wanted to shoot something in the west of where we are.





The early morning light gives a cold yellow color to the landscape in clear skies, however, if there is fog or haze in the atmosphere there will be a cast of blue in your pictures so one will have to make the white balance adjustments required for the specific place. If we find ourselves in a forest,  this is another story. To shoot streams, waterfalls and trails within the forests, the best light is between 10:00 and 13:00 when the sun is overhead or nearly overhead allowing light penetrate the canopy of the trees and lighten our areas of photography.


If we are to get in and out of different types of vegetation is not bad to carry a flash or reflectors to compensate for the lack of light. The use of a tripod is highly recommended for any photos of nature. Working with a tripod may seem somewhat slower, and even cumbersome, but the results justify it all.


Study Nature's Calendar:


Each season has its charm, and if we know the biological calendar of our destinations, we should plan our schedule our trips accordingly. In Venezuela we have the following seasonal changes: dry season-rainy season and their respective transitions in between. Even if our changes are more subtle than those which occur in temperate zones, in the tropics, drought and rainy periods dictate the biological activity of all living things.


It is not the same, to work in a mountain during the drought than during the rains. However, having the good sense to make a study of the natural changes of a destination in nature is a very important for any photographer. The following pictures were made in a mountain lower slopes. This place is a nature path traced by me to teach the Girl Scouts of Venezuela and low-income students to interpret nature, therefore I have had four years documenting the scene. The photos show the changes that occur after forest fires in our beautiful park. Therefore I recommend the challenge of photographing a story of nature, which I think is the best way to become a good photographer or nature documentary filmmaker.







Visiting websites with weather information can help predict how will the weather behave during our outdoor productions. In the northern hemisphere, air and water currents move in the a clockwise direction of and during the rainy season (summer) , storms and hurricanes form in West Africa and move to the Caribbean. In the satellite picture of the WSI can see the state of the climate during the 14th of June.






By June 16 we can see how conditions have changed. Here the colors are more vivid in the most severe storms. For thoose who speak and read english the NOAA web page of the United States is an excellent source of information as is the Weather Channel web page.







Altitude and its effects on vegetation


As we prepare for production in the mountains, it is extremely important to know how altitude changes the landscape. As our case study is the Avila National Park, the artwork, which was generously furbished by my friend, photographer and traveling companion Roman Rangel is going to be very useful. Roman passed away this month, but he let me add more text to an illustration of his book The Avila to enrich the knowledge of those who want to learn about the mountain. The illustration shows the change in vegetation as we go up the coastal northern slopes and down to the valley of Caracas. The changes are as dramatic as one can imagine. As we climb up from the Caribbean coast, we find ourselves with vegetational changes that range from a desert to a cloud forest. Each altitude offers endless opportunities to create files of all the mountain's ecosystems. Therefore, I urge you to make an effort to investigate your destination before the shoot, see the work of other photographers for inspiration and to photograph the destination several times a year.





Choose a tree at a site near their homes and take pictures once a month the same place at different times. You will see and learn from this action.






Finally, I want to share this photo where we can see the clouds moving from east to west from as the Windward currents bring rain to Caracas. For me, to document this kind of thing, is to capture a story we all live and most always overlooked ... A MOMENT IN THE LIFE OF THE EARTH.


I hope this article will be helpful to readers and especially to those who will accompany us out of the Way of the Spanish School with Fotoarte.


Regards


Leopoldo García Berrizbeitia


CHECKLIST FOR NATURE PHOTOGRAPHY


PERSONAL GEAR


Long Sleeve Shirt (cotton or quick drying blends) + flannel + rain gear.
Long thick socks.
Boots or walking shoes.
Cap / hat / scarf.
Backpack or fanny pack for personal items.
Toilet paper.
A bottle of water or Gatorade for hydration. You may take some hydrating powder with electrolytes that can be a blessing in extreme cases.
Cell phone with a fully charged batteries and extra batteries, it is very important to put in your cell phone a list of in case of emergency numbers, and your travel companions should know who should be called in case of an emergency. Keep the number as an EMERGENCY DOCTOR 1,2,3 and so forth, EMERGENCY HOME and so on.
Personal medications and insect repellent.
Granola bars, dried fruit with nuts are a good source of energy.
A pocket knife or multiple tools to help us during any contingencies.


Photo Gear:


Camera (for very remote areas, two bodies are important.)
Batteries for the cameras (the more the better).
Wide Angle Telephoto Zoom.
70-200mm telephoto zoom (desirable).
Macro lens (desirable).
Flash with adapters and 3 sets of batteries (12 batteries).
Briefcase or backpack to carry the gear + rain covers.
Large garbage bags (the black 3) to save the equipment in case of rain.
Sufficient memory cards for the shoot.
Circular Polarizer (desirable).
Tripod 
Cable release for photos with long-term or critical exposures.
A piece of aluminum foil the size of a letter size paper to use as a 
reflector on small objects.
A cloth for the lenses and cameras.


See you soon.
LEO