Night Dive with Manta Rays

Here’s a couple minutes of video shot with my GoPro Hero2 from a recent night dive with 12ft Reef Manta Rays off the coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. Beautiful and docile creatures that feed on the plankton attracted to our torches, and an average-sized manta is estimated to consume 44–66 lb of plankton per day and can get up to 18ft and 1500lbs! You can see each manta rays individual markings on their underside which act as a fingerprint for identification, and the more time you spend with them in their environment you really get the feeling that they are very intelligent animals. Superfun dive and I recommend it to anyone who has the chance, it’s like being on another planet for an hour.

LONDON OLYMPICS – Day 14 Photo of the Day

LONDON, ENGLAND – AUGUST 9:  Team Australia enters the water during the Synchronized Swimming Team Competition, Day 14 of the London 2012 Olympic Games on August 8, 2012 at the Aquatics Center, Olympic Park in London, England. (Photo by Donald Miralle) Nikon D4  Lens: 16mm  Aperture: F3.5  Shutter 1/2000th sec  ISO:3200.  Aquatech NY-4 housing with a LP-3 Dome Port. Triggered with Pocket Wizard Plus III’s via cable.

Day 1 – Photo of the Day

LONDON, ENGLAND – JULY 27:  General view of the fireworks during the Opening Ceremonies as part of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on July 27, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Donald Miralle) Shot With Nikon D800  Lens:16mm   Shutter: 2.5 seconds  Aperture: F20  Triggered  with Pocket Wizard Plus III

Opening Ceremony was so impressive there needed to be two Pictures of the Day….

LONDON, ENGLAND – JULY 27:  General view of the fireworks as seen on the Tower Bridge during the Opening Ceremonies as part of the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 27, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Donald Miralle) Shot With Canon 5D Mark II  Lens: 24-105mm @50  Shutter: 2 seconds  Aperture: F5  Triggered  with Pocket Wizard Plus III

Photo of the Day

Sam Osborne and caddie walk up the 7th fairway as the sun sets behind the trees during the first round of the U.S. Open on June 14, 2012 at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, California. Osborne, the world’s 1,457th-ranked golfer, qualified for the US Open by winning a qualifier local tournament. (Donald Miralle for GolfWorld/Golf Digest)

Shooting Specs: Nikon D4, 80mm lens, ISO 200, F6.3, 1/1000 sec.

“It was close to 8pm at the first round of the 2012 US Open at the Olympic Club and the end of a very long day which is always the case for the 1st round of a golf major. The day had started before the sun rose and was ending as the sun set after we had walked 36 holes of the course. Most of the big names had finished up the afternoon round, and many of the fans and photographers had left the course. I got a text from my editor to hurry up as the bus was leaving for the hotel, but I said go on ahead without me as the light was just too good. The last group of golfers was walking toward the clubhouse on the 7th fairway, and the light was just screaming down the fairway. My assistant Brandon Magnus and I had been working the hole for about an hour waiting for the light to get just right, and as the last group which included US Open Qualifier Sam Osborne walked up the fairway, the light had got just perfect streaming through the trees. Since it was the final group, we were able to walk out on the pedestrian crossing which is usually closed in between playing groups, and get a vantage point directly behind the golfers which we couldn’t get for the earlier groups. As Sam and his caddie walked up, they both put their hands over their eyes to shade the light so they could see where their approach landed and I clicked the shot. I immediately knew I had got the shot of the day, and felt good turning off the cameras and running back for the media bus.”

(This is the 1st installment of a new blog series aptly called “Photo of the Day” which will showcase a recently shot photo, the details and specs how it was shot)

Tools of the Trade – NEW HD GoPro Hero (Part 1 of 3)

Video of Jon Field, driver of the #37 Lenco Mobile Intersport Racing Lola B09 86 Mazda, during the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 16, 2010 in Long Beach, California. Shot with GoPro HD Hero:

The folks at GoPro, the world leaders in wearable digital cameras for sports, were nice enough to send me a GoPro HD Hero unit to test out. If you haven’t seen these already, they fit in the palm of your hand and make sick HD videos and still images in water, land or air. They are so small, light and inconspicuous you actually forget you’re wearing them, and set-up takes minutes and couldn’t be easier. Rick Loughery, the Director of Communications at GoPro, hooked me up with the accessories for HD Surf Hero, Helmet Hero, and Motorsports Hero which made the camera usable to mount on a surfboard, a motorcycle or helmet and car respectively. 

In this first set-up with the racecar, I hooked up with the Intersport Racing Team with the help of Rick Dole and John Thawley, photographers who follow the American LeMans Series. After touching base with Crew Chief Brian Alder and Driver Jon Fields, we attached the GoPro HD Hero Camera next to the right rear view mirror on the #37 car in their paddock area. I used the suction cup mount that came with my kit as well as a safety cable looped through the camera housing to an adhesive mount just in case the suction came loose. It was the final practice before qualifying, so the crew was trying to get their lap times down and I wanted to have the camera as unobstrusive of a area as possible. 

I first set the camera on intervelometer camera mode shooting a frame every two seconds. The files were sharp and the 170 degree wide angle is very nice, and overall I was happy with the images. My only complaints are I wish the file size was a little larger (5 megapixels), there is a bit of graininess and noise if you’re shooting in lower light, and you can’t slow down the shutter speed. But in the right lighting situations, the files are razor and can be blown up a little in photoshop without falling apart. At the second pit stop I switched the camera to video mode, and I was truly impressed with the camera’s ability to properly exposure automatically with changing lighting situations of extreme backlit to front lit. There are multiple options in video mode from 1080p at 30fps to a very cool slow motion mode. Because the cars were going a top speed between 175-190 mph on the straights, I opted with the closed waterproof back on the housing to cut some of the wind noise. The audio was good, but there were still some pops and camera shake noise that came into play. At the end if the day, the results were pretty amazing in relation to how quick and easy the setup of this camera is as well as it’s cost.  If you do video or have any plans to do action sports video, you need this camera in your bag. If you’re just doing photos I still highly recommend this unit as it’s a great way to supplement your coverage of an event with odd and exciting angles that you couldn’t get with a normal sized SLR.  You can purchase the cameras and different mounts at very affordable packages and I have placed a direct link to there webpage on the right side of my blog. In addition to being able to shop on the GoPro website, there are great photo and video galleries on there too showcasing what this camera is capable of. In the coming weeks I’m going to try it out on a surfboard and motorbike and I will post those as they become available. Below are more photos shot during the LeMans session with the GoPro HD Hero in stills mode as well as the camera’s specs…enjoy!

Jon Field, driver of the #37 Lenco Mobile Intersport Racing Lola B09 86 Mazda, drives in practice for the Tequila Patron American Le Mans Series during the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 16, 2010 in Long Beach, California. Shot with the new GoPro HD Hero mounted with the car suction mount and safety line to adhesive mount. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

 

Danica Patrick of the USA, driver of the 7 Andretti Autosport Team GoDaddy.com Dallara Honda, drives during the IndyCar Series Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 18, 2010 in Long Beach, California.  Shot from a building with a GoPro HD Hero mounted on a pole (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)


Tony Kanaan of Brazil, driver of the #11 Andretti Autosport Team 7-Eleven Dallara Honda, pits his car during the IndyCar Series Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 18, 2010 in Long Beach, California.  Shot in pit-lane with a GoPro HD Hero mounted on a pole (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)


Helio Castroneves, driver of the #3 Team Penske Dallara Honda, looks on from his car during practice for the IndyCar Series Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 16, 2010 in Long Beach, California. Shot with a GoPro HD Hero (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)


A detail shot of the GoPro HD Hero mounted on the body panel of Jon Field’s the #37 Lenco Mobile Intersport Racing Lola B09 86 Mazda. 


Even with the camera attached, Fields managed to turn in the fastest laps of the practice.


Wider Shot of placement of  camera…


Here are the specs on the GoPro HD Hero:

Camera Optics

  • Lens Type: Fixed Focus (2ft/.6m – ∞), glass
  • Aperture: f/2.8 (high performance in low-light situations)
  • Angle of View: 170º ultra wide angle in WVGA, 720p, or 960p mode
  • Angle of View: 127º wide angle in 1080p mode

Video

  • HD Video Resolution Modes: (subject to change, pending final firmware release)
    • 1080p = 1920×1080 pixels (16:9), 30 fps, 15 Mbit/s data rate
    • 960p = 1280×960 pixels (4:3), 30 fps, 12 Mbit/s data rate
    • 720p = 1280×720 pixels (16:9), 60 fps, 15 Mbit/s data rate
    • 720p = 1280×720 pixels (16:9), 30 fps, 8 Mbit/s data rate
    • WVGA = 848×480 pixels (16:9), 60 fps, 8 Mbit/s data rate
  • Sensor Type: 1/2.5″ HD CMOS, 2.2µm-sized pixels
  • Light Sensitivity: Super low-light sensitivity (>1.4 V/lux-sec)
  • Video Format: H.264 compression, saved as Windows- & Mac-compatible MPEG4 (.mp4) file
  • Exposure Control: Auto with user selectable center weighted average and spot metering settings
  • White Balance: Auto

Audio

  • Microphone: Built-in, mono with AGC (automatic gain control)
  • Audio Format: 48 kHz, AAC audio compression

Photo

  • Resolution: 5 megapixel
  • Capture Modes: Single shot, photo every 2, 5, 10, 30 or 60 secs.; 3 photo burst; self-timer

Storage

  • Memory: SD card, up to 32GB capacity (SDHC)
  • Average recording times (using 32GB SD card):
    • 1080p (30 fps): 4h 21m
    • 960p (30 fps): 5h 26m
    • 720p (60 fps): 4h 21
    • 720p (30 fps): 8h 09m
    • WVGA (60 fps): 8h 09m

Camera Connectors & Cables

  • PC Connection: USB 2.0 (data connection and battery charging)
  • HDTV Out: HD NTSC & PAL (component cable incl.)
  • Audio Out: Combo 2.5mm jack with stereo audio and composite video out
  • PC Compatibility: Windows® XP (Service Pack 2 or later) or Vista; Mac OS® X 10.4.11 and later

Power & Battery

  • Battery Type: Rechargeable 1100 mAh lithium-ion
  • Battery Life: Approx. 2.5 hrs
  • Charging: via USB to computer or optional power adapter
  • Charge Time: 80% capacity after 1 hour with optional power adapter; or 2 hours with a computer’s USB port

Waterproof Camera Housing

  • Depth Rating: Up to 180 feet / 60 meters
  • Construction: Polycarbonate and stainless steel
  • Hardware: Stainless steel

Size & Weight

  • Dimensions (H x W x D): 1.6” x 2.4” x 1.2” (42mm x 60mm x 30mm)
  • Weight: 3.3oz (94g) incl. battery, 5.9oz (167g) incl. housing

Optional Accessories

  • Additional Rechargable 1100 mAh Lithium-Ion Battery (not yet available for pre-order)
  • Full Line of Mounting Accessories

Optional Expansion Bakpacs™

An innovative expansion port on the back of the camera, the HERO Bus™ accepts optional Expansion Bakpacs to expand the functionality of HD HERO cameras:

  • LCD Bakpac for on-camera preview and playback (not yet available for pre-order)
  • Endurance Battery Bakpac for double battery life (not yet available for pre-order)
  • More Bakpacs and expansion devices coming soon

How To Remote Photograph on a Kayak

CHARLOTTE, NC – AUGUST 24: 3-Time Olympian Scott Shipley of the USA paddles down the rapids during the official training session for the US Slalom Kayaking Championships on August 24, 2006 in Charlotte, North Carolina at the US National Whitewater Center.  (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

One mid-summer day back in 2006, I was lounging around the casa surfing the internet thinking of ideas on an offbeat event to shoot. I was originally looking for an outdoor swimming or diving event to cover because I wanted to do some underwater remote photography in nice light, but then came upon an article about the US Slalom Kayaking Championships being held at the recently opened US National Whitewater Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. I immediately thought, “If I can set up a remote underwater in a pool and on a bobsled going 80 miles per hour, why can’t I do one for a kayak?” The wheels immediately began to turn then spin. Mind you this was the days before the GoPro Hero water cameras that weigh 15 ounces rather than 15 pounds. The water housing I was using at the time was an SPL, and although a bit bulky with it’s aluminum construction it was fairly light and had custom features I had Sean Labrie build, including a remote cable firing capabilities and threaded holes to attach to a ball head. I mounted the housing to a light metal plate that had an antiskid rubberized bottom using a Slik ball head. The plan was then to attach the rig to the front of the kayak with ratchet straps and use a small foam floatation device to offset the weight of the camera and that would also be useful for retrieval if the rig slipped off the vessel. Since I only had the rough physical dimensions of a kayak and didn’t have one I could test on, I planned to prepare most of the remote on site; therefore, I would have to allocate extra time for set-up, and bring as much gear as possible with me to make sure I had the flexibility to change the set-up on the kayak if needed. After I had figured out the technical logistics of the camera placement, now I had to sort out how to pitch the idea to my employer and the organizers.

At the time I was a staff photographer at Getty Images, so I called my Managing Editor Brandon Lopez to see if he would approve travel expense to Charlotte for the event. Since he had recently added a new young and talented photographer Streeter Lecka to staff in Charlotte, it was a hard pitch but he agreed if I could stay at Streeter’s pad, and spend no more than $500 on all expenses (flight, food, transport) I had the green light. I had run on limited budgets on editorial shoots before, so this was no problem and I knew if I got a money frame it would pay for the costs ten times over. Next, I contacted the US Kayak and Canoe to introduced myself, told them of my plans to cover their event and requested mounting the camera on one of the kayaks during the competition. “Well, the only person who is probably capable and willing of going down the rapids with a large camera attached to their vessel is Shipley,” the media officer told me over the phone. For those of you who don’t frequent the kayak and canoeing circles, Scott Shipley is not only one of the most decorated US kayakers of all-time, but also a three-time Olympian and the course designer for the US National Whitewater Center. “He could run the course with his eyes closed,” he continued, ”Let me contact Scott and see if he would agree to this.” A couple days later, I received and email from the media officer from US Kayak and Canoe saying that Scott was totally down and forwarded Scott’s info along to me so I could touch base with him over any technical issues I may have. I spoke to Scott leading up to the event, and ironed out the final logistics for the shoot with him, including which day of the event we would meet and shoot the photo. Finally, I shot an email to Sports Illustrated’s Photo Editor Jimmy Colton, told him of my plans and if he would be interested in possibly looking at the photos if I had anything good. I had contributed many photos to Jimmy in the past and as always he was supportive and expressed interest in the photos.

The day had come for the shot, and I met Scott a couple hours before his first run at the top of the course. He brought his kayak, and with the help of Streeter Lecka, we started to put the rig together. About half way through, my Slik ball-head snapped because it was corroded from underwater usage from previous swimming shoots, and with only an hour or so before Scott’s run I began to panic. “Dude, I got an extra one back at my pad!” Streeter said in his classic Southern accent and he ran back to his house like a champ and about 20 minutes later we were back in business. After tightening the ratchet straps to the camera and kayak, even though it was a bit top heavy, I was surprised how stable it was. Inside the housing I had a Canon Mark II with a 15mm fisheye lens attached to a remote trigger that ran through a port to an external waterproof cable. I ran that cable along the side of the kayak, attached with waterproof tape, up into Scott’s life vest to a pocket wizard receiver in a waterproof bag. The final preparations had to be done while Scott was in the kayak floating in the water so we could tuck any of the extra cable slack under the rubber bib and into his kayak.

CHARLOTTE, NC – AUGUST 24:  Scott Shipley paddles down the rapids with a camera rig attached to the front of his kayak during the U.S. Slalom Kayaking Championships at the U.S. National Whitewater Center August 24, 2006 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

My heart raced as Scott took his first strokes with his paddle down the water, tainted red with the fresh dirt still present from the new construction.  I sprinted as fast as I could along side the man-made river, holding and firing my pocket wizard transceiver in my hand, praying it was firing the camera. Fans, coaches and other athletes smiled and looked on in amazement  as Scott skillfully negotiated class IV rapids and whitewater with grace and ease and I ran like a little kid following him down the hill. Even with an extra 10-15lbs on the front of his kayak, not once did he loose control and like all elite athletes in their zone he  looked effortless.

When I met him in the pool at the bottom of the rapids I was panting like a dog from my run while he was slightly out of breath like a man who just took a leisure walk in the park rather than a person who just paddled down angry whitewater. We immediately took the camera off, which was intact, and looked at the previews on the LCD through the back of the housing. “How does it look?” Scott asked. I quickly scrolled through about 300 frames that were shot as the camera hosed down his run, and found the frame and smiled. There was just one frame of the red tide of the river completely encircling and framing Scott and his vessel, that was one in a million and one of those lucky moments when preparation meets opportunity. “It looks awesome,” I said, shook his hand, thanked him, and told him I would send him some copies.

When we got back to Streeter’s place, we ordered pizza and drank beer while we edited our takes. I ftp’d a selection to Getty and also directly to Jimmy at SI, and he replied immediately via email “Do you have a picture of the set-up?” Once again, Streeter came through by taking a photo of Scott coming down the rapids with his 400mm, and I sent that along to Jimmy as well. SI ran my photo as a Leading Off double-truck with Streeter’s photo as an inset, and it also landed on the front page of the New York Times sports section. To top it off, my expenses were under-budget at $450 for the entire trip, including our celebratory night in Charlotte we had following the shoot. Proper preparation as well as a little help from a friend made my idea into a reality as well as a great time, and that’s what it’s all about.

Copy of the double page spread in SI’s Leading Off opener that featured both of our photos…

How To Photograph Moving Vehicles

A step-by-step guide to capturing that perfect motion shot.

By Peter Kolonia Posted December 2, 2009

To find the right amount of motion blur, Miralle played with exposures. He started at 1/60 sec, and worked his way down to 1/10 sec before settling on 1/15 sec at f/13 (ISO 50). He also bracketed each frame by 0.67 EV. A neat trick: He chose a bike with a shiny gas tank to bounce fill light up onto the rider’s face.

When the German magazine Stern approached Donald Miralle (www.donaldmiralle.com) to shoot a new line of Harley-Davidson motorcycles, the Carlsbad, CA-based commercial and editorial photographer was thrilled. Then it hit him: “I’d had very little experience shooting moving vehicles!”

It helped, though, that Miralle had a particular image in mind-the one shown here. “My aim was to find an angle on this subject that no one had yet documented,” he says. “While I may not have entirely succeeded, I feel I did place my own perspective and spin on it.”

Capturing that image required some very specialized gear. Miralle attached his camera to the Harley using a redundantly secured set of clamps and brackets from Manfrotto. Riding just ahead, in the back of a fiatbed pickup, he tripped the shutter using a pair of PocketWizard Plus II Transceivers ($170, street).

If you try this, start slow. Even motorcycle speeds of 5-10 mph can produce thrilling motion blur. And they’re safer.

 

Two Manfrotto Magic Arms ($110, street) and three Super Clamps ($27, street, shown here) held his Canon EOS-1Ds and 15mm fisheye lens on the bike.

Step 1 Get The Right Gear: A full-frame camera (Miralle used a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II) captures a wider view than APS-C-sized sensors. To get full views of both the bike and the background, Miralle chose a 15mm f/2.8 Canon EF fisheye lens.

Step 2 Scout Locations: Shady sites will allow the slower shutter speeds you need to record motion blur. “Here, I liked the way the trees and blips of sky created a visual texture,” says Miralle. “A plain blue sky wouldn’t have conveyed speed or motion.” For sharpness, seek out smooth roads.

Step 3 Secure And Stabilize The Camera: Miralle attached two Manfrotto Super Clamps to the bike’s front fender rail. Then he used two Manfrotto Magic Arms extended from the Super Clamps, attaching one to the base of the camera and the other, with another Super Clamp, to a metal stud in the hot-shoe. Finally, he secured everything possible using safety cables that he’d attached to the bike.

Step 4 Play With Shutter Speeds: You need a long shutter speed for beautiful motion blur. But set it too long and you risk a blurry biker. Best: 1/10 to 1/30 sec.

Final Step Shoot Like Crazy: The cool part about this assignment? Miralle only needed one good shot. The uncool part? It took hundreds of pictures and two days to get it.

Tools of the Trade – The AquaTech New DV-4 Housing

When Canon released the Mark III to mixed reviews this year, my biggest concern was that I had to go out and get a new housing for my new cameras. Being that the button configuration, wheel, and even some of the dimensions were different, I knew I had to start from scratch. Luckily, when I discovered that AquaTech released their new DV-4 housing to accommodate the new Canon cameras, I had to look no further.

Over the past 10 years I’ve gone through several housings, from custom jobs for an A2 from Babish, to Ikelites for 1-V’s, to most recently SPL’s for my Mark I and II’s. But I have to say from the moment I held the AquaTech DV-4 in hand, I knew I was holding one of the best and most versatile water housings I’ve used. I recently brought my new housing to Brazil with me for a trial by fire (or water in this case) at the Pan-Am Games.

What immediately struck me is how aesthetically pleasing and sturdy the epoxy shell is, how well engineered all the machined stainless steel and aluminum knobs are, and how the ergonomics felt perfect. But most impressive is the ease of which all the interchangeable parts can be swapped. All the back plates, which use quick release clips with a safety latch (no more butterfly bolts!), are constructed of a clear acrylic with precisely positioned buttons for easy LCD viewing and camera control.

I have one back plate for my 1DS Mark II and another for my Mark III, which means if I’m switching cameras all I have to do is switch the back plate and slip in the new camera on the convenient mounting base plate which screws in the bottom of camera’s tripod threading and ensures the camera a snug and strong fit. AquaTech uses a threaded interchangeable front Lens Port System, which pressurized O-Rings means you just unscrew on one port and screw done another in seconds.

AquaTech has made available a wide array of lens ports for nearly every lens you would use in the water: from domes ranging from a large 8″ dome (LP-3) compatible with a 14mm or 15mm, to a zoom port for the 70-200 IS 2.8, it takes literally seconds to switch. In addition, it has the option for the interchangeable pistol grip or side grip depending on whether I’m shooting in the pool or in the surf.

There are other great accessories that are available like a detachable flash housing for a Canon 580EX, a detachable Pocket Wizard housing for when you want to use your camera as a remote on the bottom of the pool, a pistol or pole shutter release for when you want to go shoot some Hail-Mary’s in some big surf, and even a nifty moisture detector audio and visual alarm that can be fitted to the housing!

The best part of all, is with the amount of quality workmanship that goes into each housing, the DV-4 and the accessories are affordably priced. Leave it to the Aussies to get it right in the water! But you don’t have to go to AUS to get one…AquaTech’s full line of Sport Housings, ports, and accessories are now available through Backscatter (http://www.backscatter.com) and B&H Photo Video (http://www.bhphotovideo.com/). You can go to these websites for more product information or to AquaTech’s website at http://www.aquatech.com.au/ or contact them at 714-968-6946 

AquaTech DV-4 Sport Housing Specs

Physical Specifications

225mm X 220mm X 120mm (WxHxD)

Weight

1.7kg (housing only)

2.9kg (housing with Canon Mark II body)

3.7lbs (housing only)

6.5lbs (housing with Canon Mark II body)

Depth Rating

10 meters – 33 feet

(But I heard someone took one down to 100 ft and it was still H20-tight)

Material

An epoxy construction. The controls are tactile using stainless steel, aluminum and high strength plastics. All of the aluminum parts have been anodized for maximum protection and product longevity.

Features

• Housing comes fitted with Flash Bulk Head Connector and Remote Shutter Release Bulk Head Connector.

• AquaTech threaded interchangeable front Lens Port System. (No tools required for lens and lens port changes. Port compatible with all new AquaTech sport housing models.

• Quick release clips and safety latch

• Top display window

• Clear acrylic back plate for easy LCD and camera control viewing (available for Mark II DS and Mark III)

• Detachable flash housing capability

• Electronic pistol/pole and remote cable release capability

• Detachable left side handle.

Controls included with all DV-4 Housing Models

• Manual Shutter Release

• Main Command Dial

• Quick Command Dial

• AE-Lock (Back Focus)

• Menu

• Select

• Display

• MC Select/Magnify

• Trash/Delete

How To – The Birth of the “Bull-Cam”

(Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Growing up in the greater Los Angeles area, my exposure to rodeos and the cowboy culture was limited to a handful of Clint Eastwood movies and watching late night telecasts of PBR rodeos on ESPN 2. Nevertheless, the cowboy culture is such an ingrained part of Western American Culture that at one point all of us have played the part of the Lone Ranger or Tonto. Luckily, as a photographer I’ve had the opportunity to shoot a couple of rodeos, and most recently was in search of a small rodeo to work on a feature picture idea that I realized one night watching quite possibly one of the ugliest creatures in the animal kingdom on the Discovery Channel.

A couple of months ago I was kicking back with a bowl of ice cream watching a very late night session of Discovery Wild featuring the mole rat, a vile and repulsive little rodent capable of burrowing miles of tunnels underground with his huge incisors. After getting over the initial reaction to his grotesque appearance, I found myself wondering how the D.C. film crew captured all the incredible angles of this sub-terrainean atrocity. They must have buried the cameras! Then for some unknown reason my mind drifted from the very small foul rat to a very large angry bull.

After Googling rodeo schedules for 2005, talking with a couple of rodeo aficionados and plastic fabrications shops on the telephone, I set out to construct my brain-child, the bull-cam. Over 1,500 lbs of standing force, hard hoofs, and an unpredictable subject were a few of the things I started to consider. I decided that a lexan polycarbonate bullet-proof glass device that would be anchored into the ground, absorb shock, and house a Canon 1-DS (I wanted to utilize a full-frame fish-eye to get the widest angle possible) would be my best bet. After drawing a couple of different designs, I brought my sketches to MGM plastics in San Marcos and they fabricated the different pieces I needed to construct the bull-cam.

After weeks of testing its design and strength (including driving my truck over it a couple of times!) I was satisfied with its reliability in protecting the camera but more importantly in its safety for the cowboys and livestock. Then I began my search for a small rodeo that would serve as a nice setting for the bull-cam. Again with the help of Google, I came upon the website for the Woodlake Lions Rodeo (http://www.woodlakelionsrodeo.com) which boasted “America’s Most Beautiful Rodeo Grounds”. I immediately contacted the head of the grounds crew at Woodlake, the governing officials of the rodeo, and the rodeo’s main sponsor to tell them how interested I was to come out to cover their rodeo with my new device. Everyone I spoke to was intrigued and excited by the idea of the bull cam, but said they had to reserve judgment whether they would allow the device upon further inspection when I arrived. (I immediately got a flashback to February of this year while at the Lake Placid World Cup of Bobsledding, the FIBT and USA Bobsled tried to pull the plug on my Bobsled mounted camera 12AM the night before its first run after over a month of preparation. But that’s another story…)

So I packed my truck with my camera gear, my pregnant wife Lauren, and a newly purchased cowboy hat and shirt (you can shoot from the inside of the arena with a cowboy outfit) and we began a long road trip from San Diego to Central California. Seven hours, three fast-food stops, and four red bulls later we found ourselves checking into the Best Western on the edge of the Sequoia National Park. That night as we tucked ourselves into our stiff bed in the dingy room, I prayed that the rodeo gods were on my side for the big day tomorrow.

My new white cowboy shirt was practically sweated through after I finished digging a hole next to one of the release gates, a location I thought was logically my best chance of actually getting a bull in my frame. I buried and anchored the camera and its protective housing, ran a buried zip line from the camera to a pocket wizard attached to the top of a pole on the bull pen, and prepared to give the rodeo officials a demonstration. Luckily the people at the Woodlake Rodeo were some of the most accommodating and friendly folks I’ve ever met at a sporting event. I got a full spectrum of reactions from them and some cowboys like,”I’ve never seen that before” to “All you’re going to get is a shot of the bull’s balls!” to “Boy, you’ve got some balls!” to “You’ve got to patent that thing!” But to my delight, they all agreed to allow the bull-cam during the rodeo.

A day later, as I was packing my very dusty camera gear and scratched lexan box windows into the car, I felt a small sense of accomplishment that the 1st ever rodeo bull cam worked. It ended up being much harder getting a picture that worked than I thought – I missed a lot of bulls as the 1DS was slow at two frames a second (I couldn’t get my hands on a Mark II 1DS in time), some frames had too much bull and not enough cowboy, the hoofs and dirt easily scratched the lexan, as well as other compositional and lighting problems I ran into. However, I did come away with a couple of photos I was satisfied with, but realized that the maiden voyage of the bull-cam was a good launching point and left much room for improvement for my future attempts. And with any creative job, sometimes it’s not the final product that makes it worthwhile but the process that goes into it.