Updated on September 4, 2016
Updated on September 4, 2016
WARNING: This post is going to make photography buffs cringe.
As many of you know, I dropped a hard drive about 6 months ago and lost travel photos spanning 15 countries, three continents, and 6 months. I’ve already done enough public, online whining about it, so that’s not what this post is about.
Instead, this post is about a quirky little hack I stumbled upon in trying to scour through my videos to reclaim some stills from those destinations.
The longer Drew and I travel, the more my tug of war between “photography” and “presence” leans towards the latter. I’m a little bit slower to reach for my camera than I was in our early travels, and certainly less mindful and intentional with the photos I do take.
This might have something to do with the fact that our modes of photography have tripled since the early days. More photography methods somehow has meant less mindful photography. May seem odd, but it’s true.
In the beginning, I went on walks in the evening just to find things to photograph with my trusty Nikon D40. Every snail, spider, and fiddle-head was shot from several vantage points each, including an attempt at a macro shot, despite my lack of a macro lens.
Now I have a little LowePro backpack stuffed to the brim with random camera gear including a Canon 5D Mark II (with a wide angle lens, a 50mm fixed lens, and a zoom lens), a GoPro 3+ black (and the random fixtures and cases it comes with), and an iPhone 5. (Yes, I consider that among my camera devices.) And despite all these options, I forget to bring all but the iPhone on my evening walks 9 times out of 10.
This “upgrade” in camera equipment happened largely because of Drew’s increased interest in video. (Check out our Youtube channel if you haven’t already. The Nyepi video is probably my favorite.) So every scenic stop we make means we’re thinking about how to capture it on video, how to capture it on Instagram, and how to grab at least a few shots for the blog as well.
All of this means I weary of it quickly, pay less attention, and end up not taking the photos I want: the candid shots. The ones that happen because your camera was already in hand when your travel companion cracked a smile in golden light to the backdrop of Vienna. The photos taken just after someone shares the punchline of a joke.
I still take time to get the shots I need. But I don’t often take time to get those candid shots I want.
On the contrary, Drew will often just keep his camera recording for minutes on end, even if nothing seems to be happening. Often times he’ll pause before we move on from a scenic stop, to grab the GoPro from off the top of a rock, and I’ll suddenly realize that he’s been filming our conversation the whole time.
On our hike into the Grand Canyon he took infinitely more steps than the rest of us, racing ahead to hide the GoPro somewhere so it could film all of us unknowingly walking by it, then backtracking to retrieve it again.
These kinds of antics make for lots and lots of candid footage.
So even though it’s tedious and produces low-quality images, unfit for printing, I went back through all of last summer’s videos to grab screenshots and fill in the gaps in my photo coverage of our travels.
Before I share my favorites of these candid shots across Central Europe, Eastern Europe, Turkey, Egypt, South Africa, and Namibia, I wanted to share a useless but fun little analysis of screengrab photography.
I doubt a single one of you will ever need to know which device produces the best stills grabbed from video footage. Even so, I think it’s interesting to note that not all video footage is created equally. And therefore, neither all stills collected from video footage.
Starting with the worst camera for screen grabs, is the Canon. Note that this is unquestionably the best camera we have for video, but as Drew explained to me, a good camera for video correlates with a bad screengrab because of the way frames are blended together. In other words, what’s good for video (in terms of frame blending), is bad for screen grabbing. Your eye doesn’t actually want to see 30-60 perfectly crisp photographs patched together for a video. Instead, it wants those 30-60 frames to flow and blend together.
As soon as Drew pointed this out, I noticed that indeed, there’s something kind of unnaturally crisp about GoPro video footage- an example of video that doesn’t blend the frames in quite the same way.
So when I paused the Canon videos, they were often sharp and crisp in focal points, and faintly blurred otherwise.
(Please if you are a photography buff, chime in and give me better language for this, or correct the parts I’m butchering!)
GoPro video footage often produced really great screengrabs. Unlike the Canon, there appears to be less of this frame-blending kind of stuff that happens with GoPro footage, so the stills grabbed from this footage are crisper.
However, the lens on our GoPro is so wide angle that a) there’s a kind of curve effect and b) it seems to catch the glare of the sun more easily than the other cameras. I’m sure someone who knows cameras better can explain this, but a lot of the footage has a filmy look to it. It wasn’t until I watched clip after clip after clip that I realized that this filmy look seems to simply be a result of the lens catching the sun. It doesn’t happen all the time, but, for whatever reason, far more often than the Canon or iPhone.
I have an iPhone 5S. The screengraps from my iPhone footage were by far the best.
Now that I’ve given you a little low-down on the difference between each device’s video, see if you can tell which screengrabs come from which device. Also, there are actually enough photos that I’ll have to divide this into two posts. I figured this post, part 1, will include Central/Eastern Europe and Turkey. And eventually I’ll try to do a part II with Egypt, South Africa, and Namibia.