Eastern Kentucky Pt. 2

Days three and four

Click here for part 1

I woke up around 10 a.m. checked out of the hotel and contemplated driving back home.  “I’m not sure what’s wrong with my car, and I don’t want to get stuck out here.  It’s also cold and if I leave now assuming the car holds out I can be back by dinner and still have 4 full days off until I have to be back at work on Monday.  On the other hand I came out to make a timelapse video of eastern Kentucky, I’ve wanted to do this for a couple years and these 14 shots aren’t enough to do much with, plus I spent about $1000 on extra gear for this trip.”  These were my thoughts when starting the day off.  After doing another visual check under the car and everything looking to be in order I decided to carry on with my original intent for the trip.

 

Coal Tipple in Lynch Kentucky

Coal Tipple in Lynch Kentucky

A few months earlier I came out to Lynch Kentucky with my girlfriend to check out the Kentucky Coal Museum and Portal 31(a tour of a former underground coal mine).  I knew the coal tipple at Portal 31 would make for an interesting timelapse so off to Lynch Kentucky I headed.  On the 27 mile drive to Lynch the car again started making the clicking sound when it got over 45mph constantly making me second guess not to turning back, but at least it was daylight outside and finding help probably wouldn’t be too difficult if the transmission had a catastrophic failure.  I arrived in Lynch and parked across from Portal 31 and shot in the surrounding area for four hours.  Nothing much out of the ordinary happened.  I grabbed 4 shots of the old coal facilities then saw a boarded up school in town that was the “colored school”.  I found this very interesting, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything outside of museums or in old photos hinting to this era in history and to just find it out in the open was so odd that I had to record it.  Unfortunately my camera started messing up telling me that the lens wasn’t attached even though it clearly was so I ended that hyperlapse early out of frustration.  Looking back I assume the contacts on the lens were dirty since it’s worked fine since then.

Motion Control Setup for Cumberland Nightfall

Motion Control Setup for Cumberland Nightfall

 

Nightfall on Cumberland Kentucky

Nightfall on Cumberland Kentucky

I planned on ending Wednesday back at Kingdom Come State Park doing another day to night but this time I would capture Cumberland Kentucky from the same location where I ended the day yesterday during the star timelapse.  This ended up being another of favorite timelapses on the trip.  The camera is on a slider and starts out slowly moving left and all that’s really happening is the trees seem to be moving some which by itself is pretty boring.  As the sun sets, the street lights power up in the valley turning the trees into silhouettes and the warm glow of Cumberland is seen below.  This was the longest manned timelapse of the trip taking 3 hours and the camera firing off a photo every 1.5 minutes.  The only downside to having a large time interval between shots  is that it makes matching the exposure jumps very difficult.  If you watch the final video the jumps aren’t perfect, but the reveal of the city below is still pretty cool.  Feeling exhausted and not really wanting to spend another night sleeping in my car I searched for lodging in my GPS.  Nothing close came up.  This wasn’t much of a concern as my maps were outdated by four years.  I headed into Cumberland stopped at a Dollar General and asked for directions to a hotel.  After searching for half an hour and not finding this phantom hotel I gave up.  It was already 10 p.m.  I could drive 45 minutes back to Whitesburg and hope there was still a room; find a parking lot in town and sleep; or get another star timelapse.  I didn’t find any parking lots I felt comfortable with in town so I went back up to Kingdom Come Park and set up a timelapse of the stars again.  I wanted this one to cover more time than the previous star timelapse and knowing the battery would run out if the camera used its internal battery I decided to run on AC power, the only problem with AC power is finding an outlet nearby.  The campsite didn’t have electricity, to overcome this I carry a 140 watt hour battery that has cigarette lighter adapters attached that I can plug an inverter into.  This is a pretty good solution to run a camera a few hours or to recharge the internal camera batteries if you don’t want to keep your car running when you are stopped.  The camera clicked away for 5 hours while I kind of slept in my car.  That night it got down to 19 degrees, I kept my shoes on and stuffed extra clothes in the sleeping bag to try and stay warm.  While asleep I thought I was secure in my car since I had the doors locked, but when I got up at 3a.m. I realized the driver door to my car was shut but not latched so looking the car was really of no use.  I threw the gear in the trunk as quickly as possible and tried to get some sleep.

 

Sunrise at Kingdom Come State Park

Sunrise at Kingdom Come State Park

My alarm was set for 6:30am so I could capture the shadows disappearing from the hills below but when the alarm went off I didn’t feel up for shooting and considered just skipping the idea and going somewhere else.  Thirty minutes passed and I decided that I probably won’t be back again so I would try to salvage what I had left of the sunrise.  Luckily the daylight had just barely hit the top of the hills.  There wasn’t enough time to set up a motorized timelapse so I grabbed  an intervalometer and tripod and had the camera fire away.  I would sit in my car with the heater running and check on the camera every 5 or so minutes to make sure everything was still working properly.  It seems I should have been checking it  more often because the battery ran out.  It was replaced as quickly as possible but there’s a little jump in the disappearing shadows towards the end of this shot…it’s subtle but there.

 

Old mining houses in Wheelwright Kentucky

Old mining houses in Wheelwright Kentucky

Hardees was the only fast food place in Cumberland serving breakfast.  Unfortunately they didn’t have wifi to help me scout new locations but that was alright since the town of wheelwright was cached in my Ipod from the night before.  Thanks to coalcampusa.com I found other interesting looking cities and it seemed that close to Cumberland there was an old coal town named Wheelwright.  Wheelwright was established in 1916 by the Elk Horn Coal Company so I was sure to find some old company buildings.  I spent 2 hours getting 3 hyperlapses in the town.  The former company houses were between two hills all lined up along the road through town.  It’s kind of depressing to realize that the sun sets before it really should in the area.  Since some of these towns are built in a valley when the sun dips below the top of the hills or mountains it gets dark before the sun goes below the horizon.

 

Abandoned Coal Processing Facility in Price Kentucky

Abandoned Coal Processing Facility in Price Kentucky

The next stop was an abandoned coal tipple in Price Kentucky also found on coalcampusa.com.  I figured finding this would be pretty difficult and would have to turn down many wrong roads. Surprisingly it was right next to the main road and I just pulled off and parked next to the processing building.  It’s amazing that these structures are still standing.  The processing building was made out of brick as if it was designed to last for hundreds of years, even though it was only in use till 1991 and built in 1951.  I set up for a vertical movement next to a small bridge over a creek.  The creek would have been perfect and if I lived there I would have spent many hours playing in it during the summer if it weren’t for one thing…lots of trash.  From the road most of eastern Kentucky looks gorgeous but when you get out and walk around you notice just how much litter is around.  I guess when you live in one place long enough the magic wears off and everything seems normal so why bother to keep an area looking nice.  Another disappointment was drifting my way as well.  While looking up the creek bed I noticed this fog rolling through, it seemed odd that fog would be appearing around 2pm, but I’m not from the area so I guess it’s possible.  As the fog hit me I realized it was smoke and the particles falling from the sky were cinders from trash being burned somewhere.  I can only imagine how pretty this place was a couple hundred years ago.

 

Idle Coal Tipple in McDowell Kentucky

Idle Coal Tipple in McDowell Kentucky

Heading on to the last location of the day I figured there would again be a lot of searching to find the next abandoned coal tipple near McDowell.  Fortunately like the previous location this was easily seen from the main road and was only five miles away.  Nothing interesting happened here, the camera did a push in on the coal tipple with railroad tracks as the foreground element and it took about 30 minutes to complete.  Feeling worn out from from the night before, I decided to call it a day and headed to Pikeville.  This was the biggest city I saw with a population of 6900 since leaving Louisville four days earlier.   It was amazing to see familiar chain stores all over the place, it gave a feeling of being less isolated and alone.  Arriving  before 6 p.m. I figured finding a hotel room wouldn’t be much of a problem.  I pulled into what might have been a Days Inn at once and the only room left was a smoking room, I wasn’t looking forward to smelling like smoke, but I was beat and didn’t want to do anything else.  Even with the slight smell of cigarette smoke the room was amazing.  There was a bed, heat and most importantly a shower.  The cable TV and internet were also luxuries to be thankful for.

Click here for part 1

Click here for part 3

Eastern Kentcky Pt. 1

Days one and two.

In late 2009 I was riding in the back of a van headed to a mountaintop removal site in eastern Kentucky to get some interviews for a video.  Having never been to this area before I loved getting to look out the windows and see the scenery.  As we got further in our trip the land became more mountains and the main roads were higher than some of the towns resting in the valleys below.  I was stunned that I had a birds eye view of these cities we were passing through and knew that someday I would come back to record these wonderful views and share them with others who would never be able to see the area for themselves.  A little over three years passed and I felt that I had found a good way to show the scenery in a unique way, so I scheduled a weeks worth of vacation and prepared for the trip.

 

Hyperlapse in Hazard Kentucky

Hyperlapse in Hazard Kentucky

I started the trek late on a Monday leaving Louisville, Kentucky and driving about 180 miles to the first spot that looked cool from the road which was Hazard Kentucky.  I arrived around 9 p.m. and from the road I could see down into this city of lights, it was pretty amazing.  Over the next hour I tried to find a way to shoot that would give others an idea of how gorgeous the city looks.  I finally settled on the edge of a large parking lot higher up a hill and started a hyperlapse.  This was my first time using the Panasonic 20mm lens for a timelapse.  Most of the time it seems like prime lenses don’t really give the desired field of view I’m looking for so I go with zoom lenses, but it’s a treat to use a prime when I have the chance since there is no risk of accidently changing the focal length during a shoot.  The hyperlapse took about 40 minutes to get and I wanted to capture a couple clips the first day so I drove through the city and found another  overlook at the community college.  I set up the slider for a vertical move and half an hour later packed up and drove the remaining 30 miles to Whitesburg.  I found a somewhat secluded parking lot and fell asleep around 2 a.m.

 

6:30 a.m. came too soon but it was time to get some early morning photos on a pull off I noticed from the previous night.  There was a slight drizzle this morning so once the slider was set up I put an umbrella over the rig, set up the camera and let the slider do it’s thing.  The shot turned out alright but wasn’t really what I was expecting, I should have set up earlier to get a night to day shot.

 

Downtown Whitesburg Kentucky

Downtown Whitesburg Kentucky

Rainy timelapse in Whitesburg Kentucky

Rainy timelapse in Whitesburg Kentucky

I stayed in Whitesburg until early afternoon and got the closing shot of the video before heading on.  I was in the downtown area and could see mountains as the backdrop for the city with these really low clouds that would sometimes completely hide the mountains while other times they would hug and flow over it.  I took too long to show the clouds completely enveloping the mountains but the shot still turned out well.  I packed the gear into the trunk and was extremely  happy to get in my car and head somewhere else after this.  Whitesburg is a great place but I was damp from the rain and had been shooting outside in the upper 30 degree weather for about 5 hours I was freezing and the warmth from the car felt amazing.  I would become very grateful for the heater on this trip.

 

Pine Mountain Warning Sign

Pine Mountain Warning Sign

After grabbing lunch to go at McDonalds, I headed out of the parking lot and saw a flashing sign to my right saying the weather could change at anytime on Pine Mountain.  I assumed this meant the road went pretty high up which would probably make for a cool overlook.  Not having a plan on what to shot next made this seem like a great idea.  The road snaked along the edge of the mountain and the higher up it went the further into the distance I could see, it was a thrill to drive on.  Approaching the top I  pulled over onto a scenic overlook and after being mesmerized by this view for a few minutes I set up some motion control gear and started shooting.  The next two and a half hours were spent playing around with different setups and shooting the area.  Doing justice to the area is almost impossible but I gave it my best attempt, cameras just don’t seem to give a good idea of what it’s like to look over a guardrail and show how high up you are.  During the stay on Pine Mountain no one else pulled over at the overlook, thinking back it’s not really that surprising.  To the locals it’s probably just a road that puts more wear and tear on their vehicles with the engine having to work harder to make it up the mountain and the brakes wearing out faster on the downside of the mountain.  To an outsider however the landscape is spectacular.

 

Sunset at Kingdom Come State Park

Sunset at Kingdom Come State Park

A couple days before leaving on the trip I figured it would be a good idea to do a little bit of research to find what else might be cool to photograph.  On one site I saw a picture taken from another overlook at Kingdom Come State Park.  The park would be the next location since it was only 15 miles away and the sun was going down.  A few wrong turns later and after going down a road in the park that was somehow considered a two way road even though only one car could make it at any time I found the vista I came for.  Upon getting out of the car I was greeted with a sign warning visitors to beware of black bears.  Feeling uneasy about this I continued to the overlook and hoped the animals would be hibernating during the winter months, if not the tripod with spiked feet would be the only thing to ward them off.  Thankfully no bears were encountered, but the cold was terrible.  I had on a hoodie, winter jacket, ear muffs and a pair of gloves.  When the wind wasn’t blowing the 36 degrees was manageable, but this was on top of a mountain and the wind was almost always blowing with nothing to break it.  I was going for a day to night on the overlook but ended up leaving after about an hour.  The thought of having to walk back to my car with only my headlamp and black bears around was too intimidating, plus I was really cold.

 

Timelapse of stars at Kingdom Come State Park

Timelapse of stars at Kingdom Come State Park

One of the coolest things about being away from larger cities is the lack of light pollution.  I messed around with shooting some star timelapse stuff back in 2007 but didn’t have an intervalometer, or a fast wide lens so I was anxious to give it another try now that I had the right tools.  While driving back down Kingdom Come I pulled off to the side of the road and shot the stars through the trees in the foreground for an hour.  During the shoot I noticed something even cooler than the stars, to my right was a city peaking through trees in a valley below.  If it all possible I would come back and get this.  On the drive back to Whitesburg to find a hotel and take a much needed shower my car started making a clicking sound.  Earlier in the day the car bottomed out while pulling off the road and now I was concerned the transmission was messed up since the noise started happening at a certain speed.  Very relieved to have made it to Whitesburg I pulled into a Super 8 did a quick check under the car, didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary and I wouldn’t be able to do anything anyway so I got a room and some food from the Wendy’s next door and settled in.  I never realized how much I take a heated room for granted until spending all day outside.  I had internet, a TV with cable, and a shower.  I’m pretty sure the amenities the room came with were way better than anything kings or queens had a few hundred years ago.

Click here for part 2

Click here for part 3

Magic Arms

Magic Arm without Accessories

Magic Arm without Accessories

Overview

Few pieces of gear are as versatile and useful as the Manfrotto Magic Arm.  It’s rated to hold objects up to 6.61lbs (3Kg) in about any position you can think of.  I bought my first Magic Arm in 2008 and I’m still finding new ways to use it.  Most pieces of gear have some sort of a flaw, but as of yet I haven’t found any negatives to the Variable Friction version of the Magic Arm.  Even a couple months ago I was still finding new features I didn’t know existed on this device.

I’m sure I haven’t discovered everything about this yet but I’ll share what I’ve learned so far.
There are two versions of Magic Arm.  One uses a lever to lock all the joints in place, and another that uses a twist knob to lock everything.  If there is any possibility of moving the magic arm in the future pay the extra $12 and get the twist knob or “Variable Friction Magic Arm” version. ($12 difference as of June 6 2013).

From this point on VF will stand for “Variable Friction Magic Arm”
I stared with the lever version and when locked does work equal to the VF.  However the problem with the lever is in locking.  The lever has to be flipped 180 degrees to tighten everything.  Moving the lever takes a good deal of effort and when the lever locks, the final position of the Magic Arm moves somewhat.  To avoid this problem get the VF instead.  It may take an extra couple of seconds to tighten but the decreased frustration makes the extra $12 easily worth the price difference.

Accessories

Magic Arm Accessories

Magic Arm Accessories

If you are going to buy some of these make sure you get some “Super Clamps” aka “Mafer Clamps”.  These will allow you to clamp the Magic arm on objects about 2″ thick, like a pipe or edge of a desk.
I also recommend getting a camera platform attachment so a camera can be easily mounted on the arm.
My final recommendation would be to pick up a Kessler Flat Mount Adapter.  This will allow you to attach a tripod head or a quick release plate to the magic arm.  Note in the above picture to the far right there are two sizes.  Kessler originally made a smaller diameter version for some reason.  I believe the smaller version has been discontinued but even if you can pick it up for free I would stay away from it.  The diameter is so small that you often have to use a pair of pliers to remove it from things because you can’t get enough leverage with your hands.  The newer larger version has fixed this problem.

Magic Arms In Use

How to: Basic Timelapse

GH2 in video mode

GH2 in video mode

There are two fundamental ways to make a timelapse, one is by shooting video and the other is by taking a series of photos.  I think the easiest way is the video method.  To do this you’ll need a few pieces of gear and software, but before going any further this is the end product from the tutorial.

For this tutorial I’ll record with a Panasonic GH2 and mount the camera to a window sill with a magic arm.
If possible set the camera’s exposure to manual so your video doesn’t get really dark or bright from when clouds cover the sun or reveal the sun.  If you are in auto exposure mode the image would probably become very dark when the camera sees the sun since the camera is trying to compensate for this really bright light source and ends up underexposing what is actually important in the image.
That’s pretty much it for the part of capturing the image, just make sure the camera is well supported and then ensure that nothing will bother it.
The amount of time you’ll record will vary depending on what your subject is.  In the example I set the camera up as soon as I got home from work and just let it go until it got dark which was about 3 hours and 34 minutes.

Once you’ve stopped recording, the process of turning regular video into a timelapse starts,  This part is really easy but may tie up your computer for a while.  Open your editing program of choice for this one I used Adobe Premiere(there are also free video editing programs online) put your video on the timeline right click the clip go to speed duration and you can either increase the speed by a percentage or set the duration of the entire clip to a what you think feels right.  In this clip I set it to about 40 seconds.  With this speed you can still see the storm progress but no be so long that hopefully viewers won’t immediately click on to another video.  Nothing really exciting happens and if the clip lasted 2 or 3 minutes I doubt anyone, myself included would stick around for it.  Alright so when a speed for for the clip has been entered select a small portion of the timeline and render it out to see if the movement is too fast or slow and change your speed as necessary.  Once happy with the desired effect export the video to your codec of choice.  For this since the GH2 records to an h.264 type codec I rendered out an h.264 type file since I didn’t see any point in exporting a less compressed format that would use way more hard drive space.

Conclusion

There are some disadvantages and advantages to shooting video for a timelapse instead of taking a bunch of still photos.  On the plus side if something really interesting does happen you can play back the footage in real time.  Before the storm happened tornadoes were predicted to accompany it.  I shot at 60 frames per second so in case a tornado did form and I was lucky/unlucky enough to catch it I could slow it down and have some tornado footage if the camera wasn’t sucked up with it.  Another advantage to this is that you don’t need any specialized gear like an intervalometer to take photos at specific intervals and this is probably the most forgiving type of timelapse for anyone starting out.  It’s forgiving because you don’t have to guess what is a good interval to shoot at and potential have a timelapse where things look like they are moving way to fast such as can happen when shooting photos with too much time between shots.  With video if you speed it up too much just choose a slower speed and keep tweaking it till it looks the way you envision.

Generally I think the advantages of the recording video method don’t make up for the disadvantages.  The first disadvantage is that you are limited in resolution for what you are capturing.  I shot this with a resolution of 1280 x 720 which comes out to be 0.92 megapixels.  If I had shot this as a series of photos I could have had a finished piece that had a resolution of 13.9 megapixels.  I do admit that there are some cinema or high end video cameras like the RED Epic that can record at these resolutions but they are expensive and also use a lot of storage space.  Another disadvantage is that on most consumer cameras you don’t have the ability to shoot raw, so while you can do a little bit of color correcting to the image you will always be significantly limited in how much you can tweak the colors and brightness or the final video.  The third disadvantage is that this usually uses more hard drive space than if you would use still photos.