Thursday, April 9, 2009

eye in the sky

Years ago, when I was using my CoolPix 5000 to photograph bands performing, I came up with a neat idea - stick the camera at the end of a pole (in this case, it was a monopod), and get above everyone's heads - maybe even on the eye-level of the folks on stage (depending on the venue, of course).

The first iteration of this technique relied on the articulated viewfinder of the CoolPix, which I would angle facing downward so I could at least get a vague sense of the composition I'd be getting (I say vague cuz that screen is the size of a large postage stamp, and seeing it from 5+ feet away isn't exactly useful). I'd also need to use the camera's self-timer to trip the shutter.

I used to think of this technique as a kind of "fishing"; you angle the viewfinder, set the timer, and then hoist the camera up into the air, hoping you get a decent shot in the time it takes for the camera to make the exposure. Once you see the LCD flicker, you hoist the camera back down again to see what you caught. Repeat.

I don't think I got any award-winning shots from that technique, but it definitely proved itself fun, at the very least, and somewhat useful.

Some time after that, I added two more elements to this technique - a remote control (you could call it a cable release, of sorts; Nikon called it the "Remote Cord"), and one of those little hand-held television/watchman gizmos. When all of these things were put together, I'd have the ability to leave the camera up in the air, and be able to compose and review my shots on the remote screen, tripping the shutter with the remote cable. Pretty cool.

Recently, I purchased a 5 foot boom pole so that I can hang lights directly over things that I'm photographing. Just this morning, it occurred to me that I could replicate my old CoolPix "camera on a stick" rig with my D90.

Here's how I did it:

First, I used a standard umbrella bracket to mount the camera to the end of the boom. I might consider using something lower-profile, like a ball head or some other sort of clamp, but for now, this works just fine.

Next, I pulled out the successor to the little Casio handheld tv I mentioned earlier; this little Coby handheld tv. Unfortunately, you get what you pay for with these things, and the image quality is quite awful. It also seems to have some issue with the proportions of the image, and stretches the D90's 4:3 image to fit the 16:9 screen. But it still works.

Using a super clamp and a spring clamp, I fastened the tv to the bottom of the boom pole. I then ran the 1/8" to 1/8" cable (which came from an old set of computer speakers) from the tv's input to the D90's NTSC output jack.

Lastly, I connected the poor man's alternative to Nikon's cable release for the D90 - this guy - which I got a few weeks ago for another project (which I'll write about later).

The key to really rocking this system is the D90's LiveView mode. When the camera is in LV mode, the image on the built-in LCD is sent through to the video out(s), as well. So I can now compose and review my shots without having to use the "fishing" technique.

The only downside I see to this system is the relatively slow and weak autofocusing system that is used in LV mode. I would imagine that if I were to make serious use out of this rig, I'd probably work at a relatively high aperture, and set the focus manually.

Here are some crappy shots I took of the rig as described above, only using a monopod instead of the boom pole:

Periscope Cam

Periscope Cam

Next time I'm out shooting an event, I'll definitely be giving this a try.

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