Build your own Ship

7 Dec 2011 0 Share

When Tasmanian lensman Dave Otto began shooting photos over a decade ago, the world of photography and video production was a landscape more like the wilds of home state. Thickly forested with gadgetry and pocked with pitfalls of technical miscalculation, it was a sparsely populated realm where images were elusive beasts and those that hunted them required considerable supplies of equipment, patience and know-how. Thankfully technological advances over the past ten years have changed that. Producing and publishing near-professional standard material is now a walk in the park, and a cheap one at that. So when Dave began his latest project exploring the characters and country surrounding the Apple Isle’s most notorious break, Shipsterns Bluff, he packed light.

“I didn't think I'd ever leave a $10,000 broadcast camera at home and replace it with a $500 point-and-shoot, but the quality difference really isn't that much,” said Dave, who hopes to use the project’s website - www.shipsterns.com - to showcase budget multi-media production.

“The website, blog and iPhone application cost a total of $150 to produce. The camera was $520 and the computer used is just a base model laptop. There are so many free, or cheap, ways to produce and publish digital media these days that anyone can give it a go. With the majority of publishing is now done online, content is more important than the equipment you use. Advances in small, relatively cheap cameras have made it easier than ever to get great results on a budget.”

The project began with a trip to the State’s South four years ago, an undeveloped corner of the country dominated by National Park and visited mainly by hikers, naturalists and, more recently surfers.

“There are no roads,” explains Dave, “just a single, muddy, snake-infested walking track that takes seven days start-to-finish… It is one of the most violent, yet beautiful, pieces of coastline anywhere in the world.”



By contrast, Dave’s journey into media production began with contributions to mainstream surf mags on the mainland. However, after completing a degree in Environmental Policy and Planning he moved into film/video production and web development and now hopes to apply his skills to document his home state.

“When Abel Tasman sailed up the South East Coast in 1642, he noted a wide river mouth with 'long breaking rollers' -  three words every surfer lives for. Almost 400 years later this surf break is now a Tasmanian classic. Just about every wave along this coast has a shipwreck or two nearby and the State’s history is full of stories about men who risked their lives to pioneer this region. Today it is a group of local big-wave surfers who are exploring the coast in search of new waves. Shipstern Bluff is just one wave and one story, through this project I hope to raise the funds to tell a few more.”

The video above was shot on consumer camera costing $520, with a battery and 8GB extreme SD card.

We asked Dave to outline his workflow and give us some tips for aspiring filmmakers and photographers looking to follow in his footsteps…

Techniques and workflow

 “There are plenty of cameras on the market around the $500-$1000 price bracket but I opted for the lens with the biggest zoom range available, 24mm-840mm. This opened up a whole new range of possibilities for angles and framing. To put it in perspective, a DSLR with a 800mm lens might cost $15,000.

When shooting video, consider the type of files your camera records. Ideally you need ones that’ll be easy to use with your computer software. With the camera I have and my laptop, I pretty much drag, drop and edit. Some other cameras use slightly higher-quality files (AVCHD) but the files can be a nightmare to edit if you don't have the right computer or software. I love that I can plug the SD memory card into my computer, drop the files straight into iMovie and be editing within a few minutes. The file sizes are also reasonable small so they wont take up too much room on your hard drive.

You need to use manual settings to get the most of a camera in this price bracket. Lock the exposure and make sure you retain some detail in your highlights. This is tricky because a breaking wave will reflect so much light that the whites can over-expose your image. You also need to lock the focus and set the focus point to infinity. Sharp focus is extremely important when shooting High Definition video. A good tripod (around $300) will give you a steady shot and smooth pans. This is essential for shooting with such a long lens.

Most new cameras have a number of pre-sets that make shooting stills a breeze. You can choose a setting based on the type of scene you are shooting. For example, the tilt-shift setting allows you to choose vertical focus points which makes things look smaller than they really are. It's an effect that is fun to play with and something that will give your photos a unique perspective.

With new cameras so easy to use, framing your photo is probably the biggest challenge. Get creative. Make you photo stand out from the crowd by trying different angles - anything that gives your photo a centre of interest. Creative composition comes from really thinking about how you can make the events of your life interesting and unique. Your photo should say something about who you are and what you want to share. Whether that is surfing, landscapes or people, if you really want to take good photos you need to put your own personality into it.

Good light makes for great photos. There is a reason photographers call the hour around sunrise and sunset the 'magic hour'. The colors created during this time are vivid, saturated and perfect for both landscapes and portraits.”

To check out more of Dave’s work, visit www.shipsterns.com.

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