Sunday, 23 July 2017

Shooting a Daily Vlog During the World's Toughest Adventure Race - Part 1

Earlier this year I got a phone call from Red Bull athlete, Paul Guschlbauer, asking if I was up for shooting and editing a daily vlog with him while he took part in the Red Bull X-Alps adventure race. 

It's an invite-only event and the 32 athletes taking part have to travel by foot or paraglider from Salzburg, Austria to Monaco, zig-zagging across the Alps through 7 mandatory turn-points on the way. The straight line distance is over 1100km but the athletes usually end up hiking and flying more than double this (because it's impossible to actually travel in a straight line in this kind of terrain).

The route for the 2017 Red Bull X-Alps

I'd worked on the photography team for this bi-annual competition back in 2015 so I knew Paul and the details of race already. Back then I was stuck in an office for the duration of the race (around three weeks), receiving and distributing images from our photo teams that were on the road following the athletes, and boy did I envy those guys.

Paul Guschlbauer waiting to fly from Gaisberg, Austria

So when this opportunity came up - to be on the road, shooting in the mountains, travelling across the Alps - I accepted the job on the spot and started to plan my workflow... It should be pretty straight forward, right? Follow the athlete in our car, film him throughout the day, he films himself when we can't get to him (i.e. when he's flying), collect all the video footage in the evening, edit the video, upload it to YouTube/Facebook/Instagram, publish it the next morning, and repeat! Simple...?

Of course I knew it wouldn't be that easy, so in the weeks building up to the event I went through the process of preparing gear, contacting potential sponsors and testing out my workflow. I spent a full day filming in the mountains with a paragliding friend, and then editing a test-vlog that evening. It went really smoothly and importing, rendering and editing a 5 minute 'vlog' took me around 4 hours. Totally manageable. I could even get a good night's sleep...

Shooting a test vlog with paraglider Carsten Hell

The problem was, I did this 'test' in perfect sunny conditions, I was the only one shooting so I knew everything that had been shot, I edited it in the comfort of my house, with a reliable internet connection, and I didn't have to drive anywhere in the meantime. On the road, during the actual race, things would be very different.

That's when I started to realise how much of a logistical ball-ache this was going to be. 
  • How will I manage my time following the athlete, shooting, editing, uploading the videos every day, distributing the video and posting to social media?
  • What will the internet connection be like in the mountains? Would I have to find a MacDonalds every day to do the upload?
  • How would I power all my gear and recharge all my batteries?
  • What would I do if my gear got stolen/broken/lost?
  • Do I have enough storage space for three weeks worth of content?
  • Will my (2011) MacBook be able to cope?
  • What car would I drive and where will I sleep?
  • When would I sleep?!
It was clear I was going to need some help, so I called up my buddy, Jamie Barrow. He's a pro snowboarder that I've done many video shoots with before and he's always up for an adventure (he just recently went snowboarding in North Korea, for fun). Luckily, Jamie said yes. 

Jamie, me and the crew after filming his towed by a plane snowboard speed record (125kmph!!!)

I looked at other Vlogs for inspiration and guidance (Casey Neistat, Jon Olsson, Ben Brown etc). The music seemed quite important, picking a style to fit your vlog that matched the visuals but didn't distract you from the content. Also, for my workflow, finding and downloading all this music was crucial, so that I didn't have to waste time doing this on the road probably with a poor internet connection and no time to spare. I needed my own library of licensed music ready to add to the Vlogs. In my research I came across - a music website specifically for YouTube channels. It was perfect and the selection of music was very good. I spent at least a whole day searching, listening and downloading and in the end I had around 50 tracks that I was happy with.

In my editing program, Final Cut Pro X (FCPX), I set up a new 'Library' specifically for the Vlog and created folders (called Events) by date where I would dump all the video and audio content into from that day.
I decided to name the Vlogs  'Vlog 1', 'Vlog 2'  etc rather than saying 'Day 1', 'Day 2' just in case we couldn't upload a Vlog each day. It also meant we could continue the Vlogs after the race where we left off, if we wanted to do the same thing for a different project. Accordingly, I created separate Vlog folders, where the video timeline (called the Project) would live.

It was most likely that I couldn't bring my iMac to edit on, it was just too big. So I would have to use Jamie's new 15" MacBook Pro and my 2011 MacBook Pro. Although I've upgraded the RAM and added an SSD drive, it still struggles with 4K video playback. Luckily, FCPX can automatically convert videos to compressed 'Proxy' files when importing them, allowing for faster editing especially with slower machine. But this conversion can take a long time, especially with a day's worth of footage, shot on multiple cameras. So Jamie's MacBook would be the main editing machine and I could use mine for everything else like data transfer (it has an SD card slot but the new MacBook doesn't).

Regarding storage space, I got in touch with Drobo and they were awesome enough to kit me out with a brand new 5D3, equipped with 12TB of space on three Seagate IronWolf Pro drives. The plan was to store everything on here, all the RAW video footage, audio files, FCPX Library and anything else like graphics, logos etc. This thing has two Thunderbolt 3 ports so it was plenty fast enough to work from and it has its BeyondRAID technology so the files would be safe. Even so, we also backed up the files on my MacBook and another external hard drive, just to be sure.

I was all set to go right? Wrong.
What about the driving and the issue about powering everything? My trusty Touran was definitely not big enough for two guys to sleep in along with a bunch of camera equipment and a generator. I ended up scouring the internet for a van and found the perfect one. A kitted out Fiat Ducato Maxi 3.0 with a fridge, power sockets, power inverter and plenty of space. I said goodbye to my budget and hello to what turned out to be one of the best decisions of the trip.

Norbert - my mobile studio, kitchen and bedroom

In terms of gear, we needed to go lightweight, fast and weather proof to cover all the various elements of a 'hike-and-fly' adventure race. There wouldn't be time to set up complicated rigs or lug around heavy cameras in the mountains. So here's what we took:

Compulsory gear-arranged-neatly shot. And Jamie.
  • Two MacBook Pro laptops
  • A Drobo 5D3 with 3 x 4TB Seagate drives
  • A 1TB G-Tech ev RaW
    • Sony a7RII and a6300 (with around 8 spare batteries)
    • Lenses:
      • Zeiss Touit 12mm, 32mm and 50mm
      • Sony 16-35, 16-50, 55-210mm 
      • Sigma 10-20mm
    • DJI Mavic Pro
    • GoPro 5, GoPro Session, GoPro 4 and GoPro 3+
    • Manfrotto BeFree Live Tripod
    • Feiyu MG stabiliser
    • Rode Stereo Mic Pro with Deadcat and smartLav+
    • Thule Aspect and Covert DSLR backpacks
    With one week to go, I felt quite confident I had it all worked out. I was comfortable with my workflow, we had plenty of gear, I had a good vehicle and an assistant to help me.
    How wrong I was... stay tuned for Part 2 to see how it actually all went down when the race kicked off!

    Saturday, 10 June 2017

    Downhill Mountain Biking World Cup | Leogang, Austria

    I went over to Leogang, Austria to check out the first day of timed practice for the mountain biking downhill world cup.

    The weather was perfect but the track was pretty much the same as last year and not really challenging the riders. However, this could make for a very tight race with not much separating the top riders.

    Check out the finals on Red Bull TV, Sunday 11th June, here.

    Selection of pics below!

    Tuesday, 30 May 2017

    Sony a6300 Landscape and Sports Photos

    Warmer weather and disappearing snow means more hiking, mountain biking and climbing shoots! A selection of recent photos below with the Sony a6300:

    Sony a6300, Sony 55-210mm, 1/320, f/8.0, ISO 300

     Sony a6300, Sony 55-210mm, 1/2500, f/5.6, ISO 100

    Sony a6300, Sigma 10-20mm, 1/500, f/6.3, ISO 200 

    Sony a6300, Sigma 10-20mm, 1/500, f/5.0, ISO 640 

    Sony a6300, Sigma 10-20mm, 1/1000, f/6.3, ISO 400  

    Sony a6300, Sigma 10-20mm, 1/1600, f/5.0, ISO 400  

    Sony a6300, Sony 55-210mm, 1/1250, f/5.6, ISO 640   

    Sony a6300, Sigma 10-20mm, 1/800, f/5.6, ISO 640  

    Monday, 8 May 2017

    Video: Avalanche close call - Rohnenspitze, Austria

    While skiing down the north face of Rohnenspitze in Austria, I set off a small surface avalanche and you can see it in the video below as it brushes past the tips of my skis.

    It was April 30th and the avvy warning was a 2/3 that day. There had been a fresh dump of snow after a week of warm weather, so not enough layers to form a slab. My skiing partner was watching me from above and we both had receivers, shovels and probes.

    Learning from this experience, although I stopped to the left of my skiing line, I really should have stopped much further over to the left on a higher 'safety island'.

    At the end of the video you can see us checking out the remains of a previous avalanche with boulder sized chunks of "beton schnee" or concrete snow. That would have been a different story!

    Video and map below:

    Shot on GoPro Hero 3+ with chest mount

    Blue marks the spot

    Skitour and Photos at Rohnenspitze, Tirol, Austria

    End of April and it's dumping snow all week. Best course of action? A new ski tour! Rohnenspitze in the Tirol was ideal, only two and a bit hours up with a steep north face decent back down.

    We set off from the car park at Zöblen, followed the piste up and through the forest, popping out just below the peak and zig zagged up to the top.

    The snow was great for this time of year, not too heavy and about 40-50cm deep. Check out the map and photos below!

    Tracked with the Outdooractive app

    Sony a6300, Sigma 10-20mm - 1/1600, f/14, ISO 100

    Sony a6300, Sigma 10-20mm - 1/250, f/22, ISO 100

    Sony a6300, Sigma 10-20mm - 1/250, f/22, ISO 100

    Sony a6300, Sigma 10-20mm - 1/250, f/22, ISO 100

    Sony a6300, Sigma 10-20mm - 1/250, f/22, ISO 100

    Saturday, 22 April 2017

    Snowboarding Shoot | Kitzsteinhorn, Austria

    We had a late dump of snow here in the German and Austrian alps so I went out to Kitzsteinhorn, Austria with UK snowboarders Rich Brown and Tim Ross. Perfect weather and great snow, a couple of shots down below!

    As I had a backpack with avalanche equipment in it, I didn't have much extra space for the camera gear, so I had to pack pretty light. I took the Sony a6300 and Sigma 10-20mm on the MC-11 adaptor and they performed flawlessly.

    Rich Brown dropping in
    Sony a6300, Sigma 10-20, 1/2000, f/10, ISO 100

    Tim Ross lifting off
    Sony a6300, Sigma 10-20, 1/1600, f/14, ISO 100

    Tuesday, 18 April 2017

    Using iPhone as External Monitor on Feiyu MG Stabiliser + Sony a6300

    The Feiyu MG stabiliser is great for shooting smooth video with my Sony a6300, however the gimbal blocks the view of the Sony's LCD screen making it difficult to see what you're shooting (see photos below).

    Above: the rear gimbal motor arm blocks the Sony's LCD screen

    Another disadvantage of using the Feiyu MG with the Sony a6300 is that you have to have the left side of the camera pressed up against the gimbal to balance it (it doesn't work the other way round), meaning you can't access the HDMI port to plug in an external monitor.

    The LCD screen on the Sony is also pretty small, doesn't fully articulate and is rendered almost useless if you're shooting outdoors.

    I found a solution to all of this when I realised that I could actually use my iPhone 6 as a wireless external monitor with the Sony PlayMemories app and the Smart Remote Control function on the camera.

    Above: the Smart Remote Control feature on the Sony a6300 allows you to control it wirelessly with your smartphone

    To attach the iPhone to the Feiyu MG, I used multiple GoPro connectors, from a handlebar mount on the MG to a sticky mount on the back of an iPhone case. Connecting it in this way meant I could angle the iPhone screen in many different ways as I was holding the stabiliser.

    Video below!

    • It solves problem of Feiyu blocking the Sony's screen
    • The iPhone screen is bigger and brighter than Sony's LCD display
    • The iPhone is lighter than most external monitors
    • No cables needed
    • There's a surprisingly fast wifi connection between Sony and iPhone
    • Using multiple GoPro connectors allows you to angle the iPhone screen
    • The battery life on both the iPhone and Sony drains quicker than normal when using the wifi connection
    • You can't shoot log footage using the Sony Playmemories app (please solve this Sony!)
    • There's also no quick way to switch between 4K and 1080 using the Sony PlayMemories app (again, please solve this Sony!)

    Shooting a Daily Vlog During the World's Toughest Adventure Race - Part 1

    Earlier this year I got a phone call from Red Bull athlete, Paul Guschlbauer , asking if I was up for shooting and editing a daily vlog wit...