About Me

Wells, BC, Canada
Richard is a working photographer and writer in B.C. His camera focuses on natural history. archeology, travel, and documentary photography. His photography blog may be found at: http://richardtwright.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

GoPro Hero on the road and Bighorn Sheep

On the road with GoPro Hero and Bighorn sheep

Dash cam, Nikon d7000 on auto.

I rode into Cache Creek, B.C. from the north, in the dark, listening to Marty Robbins.  As I pulled into the log lodge I realized this was likely the first time I had arrived here from the north, in the dark. Normally I am blasting through on my way from Kamloops or Vancouver, with perhaps a quick stop for a burger at Hungry Herbie’s, but now that I am watching my fat intake even that is rare.

Dash cam, Nikon d7000, auto exposure

The Bear Claw Lodge is a massive log structure built a few years ago. I have never stayed here but on this trip south to Christmas I decided to change my overnight stop from 100 Mile House to Cache Creek.  I had got a way from home earlier than expected, the drive was easy with clear roads and brilliant sunshine and my new eyes felt great. I lingered for a few minutes at Williams Lake while I tried to guide the local constabulary to a suspected impaired driver who had been weaving down the highway. I followed him for a while and got a tag number after he turned off the highway.  The constable was on him and was going to follow it up. Merry Christmas.  Many years ago I lost a good friend to a drunk driver, just at Christmas, so this one is for her.

I checked in to the lodge in the restaurant, the front desk being closed, unloaded bag after bag, turned on the TV, put the Do Not Disturb on the door. That’s about as secure as I can make the room.

The waitress/busser/desk clerk/ hostess was run off her feet.  Fourteen people at about six tables were in various stages of dinner.  A couple of truckers, a family traveling for Christmas, another family with the ubiquitous crying baby, and a single woman.  In a few minutes the tall, attractive woman warmly greeted two young boys, finished her coffee while standing and went outside where they unloaded snowboards and bags from what appeared to be their grandfather’s car into her rooftop carrier and truck. A quick roadside hug and they headed off in opposite directions. The roadside transfer. The Christmas child sharing. I knew folks who were doing the same maneuver.  I remember making the same painful separation myself, year after regretful year, never seeming to be able to make it right, to get it right – and it never ends.

Inside I was sure it was going to be a long wait for dinner. But Holly was rushing from table to table, somehow managing to keep up. My beer was on the table in a couple of minutes, then salad, then baby back ribs.  I wanted some protein.
“I’ll bring you a finger bowl in a minute,” she said.
“I hope you’re getting well paid for all this work”, I said.
“Minimum wage dear, minimum wage. But it’s $9.50 an hour now.”
“You deserve a lot more,” I said, realizing I had just talked myself into a large tip.
“I close at eight tonight – have to be back here at 5 a.m. ready for breakfast at 7.  The owners are away but they are supposed to be back soon and then it will be easier. Is everything okay with your room?”
“It’s all good – see you at breakfast.”

Just after first light I was on the road again. Heading south toward Spences Bridge and the Fraser Canyon.  I was going to take the canyon road this time, staying out of the high country snow on the Coquihalla, opting for a few hours of photography along the Thompson River.

I took a few minutes to try a new mounting option for the GoPro.  One of the mounts I picked up was a Ram suction cup mount.  It is a suction cup which is “squeezed” onto the surface with a lever. Above the suction cup is a ball and socket fixture, allowing the camera to be pointed in virtually any direction.  I had used the suction cup mount on the inside window but now threw caution to the wind and squeezed it onto the hood, and pointed it back at me.  “They use them on the side of helicopters,” the sales woman at Point of View cameras in Vancouver had told me.  Hmmmm.

GoPro Hero hood cam with a Ram mount.

But, sure enough I could see no sign of the mount loosening as I drover down the highway.  However, when I stopped to check and remount I decided to rig up a safety lanyard of parachute cord from the mount to my sideview mirror.  Set at one photo per 30 seconds it worked fine and a got a few more shots for my driving portfolio.

View from the GoPro Hero with a Ram hood mount.

If you are looking for a GoPro Hero you will find them in most cameras stores.
Or, click on the ad that is likely below this blog.
 However, for a variety of point of view cameras (POV) and mounts you might check out
Point of View cameras near Main and 2nd in Vancouver:
Another great site for GoPro cameras is
I have not purchased from them but their site is great and they have a number of very useful videos on their site and on YouTube. Their video of the LCD screen, for instance, I found very useful.
I just had an email from Russell Latimer at EyeofMine who says, “Our plan for 2012 is to work on more professional related products.  Right now we are working on a carbon fiber jib arm for the GoPro. Very small and light.”
Now this could be very useful as once you start using a GoPro you will find more and better uses for it and while the camera is great the real challenge then becomes how to get a different angle and how to mount it.

GoPro photos framed and exposed, or at least converted to digital pixels, I tucked the camera away and headed south again.  Then at Spences Bridge a parked truck drew my attention and just as I had hoped the local bighorn sheep were on a hillside just above the road – just as I had been hoping.

Bighorn sheep are one of my favorite wildlife subjects.  Back in the 70s and 80s Bighorns were the subject of two films my partner of the day (Rochelle) and I shot with an Idaho biologist. “Bighorn” was a CBC Klahanie half hour film and followed us around western North American in pursuit of bighorn sheep.  Some of the same film was then used for “The Nature of Things.”  The summer we shot the film was one of the highlights of my career, taking us from Idaho to Wyoming, from the Chilcotin to Banff. Banff was one of the climactic moments.  Way back in the mountains we layed down to rest and were joined by a herd of sheep with one of the largest rams we had ever seen.  That old magnificent ram made me a lot of money.  But all of that is a longer blog.

Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep at Spences Bridge

For now I am here at Spences Bridge.  This herd is an introduced herd of Rocky Mountain, brought here in about 1960 as I recall.  The usual sheep in the Chilcotin and Okanagan are California bighorn which are slighter in build with slimmer and wider set horns.  This herd numbers about 125 but usually a smaller band of about 20 are seen near the highway.

Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep at Spences Bridge

Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep at Spences Bridge. Two ewes.

Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep at Spences Bridge. Young ram.

Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep at Spences Bridge. Two young rams.

Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep at Spences Bridge. Two young rams sniffing.

After a couple of roadside shots I headed up the hill, which was much steeper than I thought. That’s the trouble with photographing bighorns, they live in steep, difficult terrain, and I am not as young as I was in the 70s.  Nevertheless all the tricks came back to me. Don’t hide – stay in the open and move toward them gradually. Hiding and then appearing suddenly will spook them. Watch for the grandmother ewe. She is the one that the herd will take their warning from.  When she turns her white rear end toward you they are about to leave. Stop. Wait. Look for behavior shots – the pawing of the ground, sniffing, pawing of the rear end or pawing to make another sheep stand, feeding and resting.

Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep at Spences Bridge. 3 year old ram.

Gradually the band of ewes, yearlings and a few immature rams moved uphill, across the skree slope into the rocky escape habitat, heading for the meadows high on the mountain. What I wanted to do was head up a steep draw and come in above them where I could sit and wait for them to climb toward me. This was not the day to follow them. Christmas was waiting for me in Vancouver where I had a photo assignment waiting tonight; shooting Amy Newman’s Christmas Revelers at Burnaby Village Museum.  I reluctantly headed down the mountain back to my truck and out of Spences Bridge, which holds another raft of stories for me.

For more information on BC Bighorn sheep go to:
Though mostly based toward hunting there is some good information on BC’s sheep.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

GoPro Hero dash cam on Highway 26 to Barkerville

Just a short post as I head south to Vancouver for the holiday season.

On my way home from "town" the other night - Quesnel that is - I rigged up the GoPro Hero as a dash cam. Utilizing an aftermarket suction cup mount and the GoPro tripod adapter mount, I found a reasonable place on the windshield.  Then I set the camera for one frame every 30 sec. and up-side down mode. This means even though the camera is mounted upsdie down the images are right side up. A cool feature. And I now have it in beep mode to facilitate knowing when it is on.  Then I wait 30 secs to make sure it is firing. Next trip I will have a mirror so I can see the front of the camera and make sure it is firing.

I had hoped to drive the 80 kms in daylight as it was beginning to snow, but no luck.  Half way home, about 4 pm and it was dark.

My goal is to get a portfolio of pictures that show what life in the Great White North is like, the weather we have to deal with and why we have moose bars on the front of our trucks.  One day I will get the shot I want - a moose right in front of the truck captured by the dash cam.
I did see a cow moose and yearling, but they were on the side of the road, at dusk, in a snow storm.
Automatic exposure with the D7000 and it was about bang on - just a little post work to the RAW image in Aperture 3 and we were good to go.

One note for GoPro SD cards and Aperture 2.
I normally take out the SD card and use a flash-drive type card reader to download into my Mac Book Pro and Aperture 3.  This time I tried for close to an hour and could not get the card to download.  Finally I went to the card directory and found a video file sitting at the bottom. Inadvertantly I had turned on the video for a few secs as I was setting the dash cam. I dumped the video file off the card into the trash and sure enough, with a reboot, everything was tickity boo and on the go.

The drive home did not produce any spectacular shots but there were a few of the 475 that were interesting at least. Delete 100, keep 375 for now and work on a dozen.

The GoPro Hero will remain as a dash cam and on my drive tomorrow I am going to set up the Nikon D7000 with a remote to the steering wheel and keep trying for that moose.

Merry Christmas to all readers. I hope to get one more post in before Santa comes.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

GoPro Hero familiarization, Vancouver to Barkerville

It has always been my photographic wont to seek new perspectives, to put cameras where we normally don't imagine them.  Back in the days of film cameras it could be a difficult task.  This was before infrared triggering, small Point of View cameras (POV), the ability to take hundreds of frames and quick retrieval of images.
When I mounted a camera on the bow of a whitewater raft to make the second descent of the Chilko River back in 1970 it was weeks before we returned to town, processed the film, spilled the slides onto a color-corrected light box and checked the 36 frames hopefully. Often there was nothing usable.
In the case of the Chilko trip I had rigged up a waterproof housing for my motorized Nikon F2 using a surplus 20 cal. ammo box. Foam held the camera tight, a remote wire ran from the camera along the frame and up the right oar to a pressure switch which my thumb could press. I had built several switches from Radio shack parts. Two would fasten to the oar. One burned up a whole roll of 36 with one press and another took one frame at a time.

With a motor drive set at 6 frames-per-second that gave me 6 seconds of shooting on a 36-exposure roll.  How I dreamed of buying a 100-foot film back for the Nikon. I don't remember how long it took us to run Bidwell Canyon, which my brother Edd and I had swum a couple of years before in a novice attack on the river, a first descent, that saw us drown - well, almost - but I did get a couple of good shots of the camera looking down at me rowing, the bow crunched up as it hit a huge rooster tail, and another of the bottom of Dave's runners as he was launched skyward.  The exposure was bang on, the image sharp and they were usable shots for several magazines.

On assignment for BC Outdoors at a Car ice-racing event, about 1975, I again wanted something more than the usual track-side shots. I mounted a 24mm wide angle and placed a motorized Nikon at a pylon on the inside edge of the track, with the remote wire running back to a safe position. I was willing to risk the camera but not my head.  I then asked the drivers to steer (on ice mind you) as close to the pylon as they could, but please, try not to hit it.  It worked and we got some great shots. (One day I will scan and post them.)

Point being, I like remote cameras. So on my recent trip to the metropolis of Vancouver I picked up a GoPro Hero camera, sometimes referred to as a helmet cam or POV cam. If you watch closely you will see these cameras mounted in various spots in reality shows such as Ice Road Truckers and Alaska Gold. Small, compact, with a 170-degree lens (about 5mm) they are great for unusual shots or placements.

One of the things I have learned over the years is to really try and focus on using one lens or camera when it is new.  Bought a new 80mm? Stick it on for a day or three and use only it until you are really familiar with what it sees and how it responds to your left eye.

So with the GoPro I did the same. However, I was somewhat hampered by two things, a new left eye (well okay new lens) and not being able to shoot for several days, and the LCD screen of the GoPro Hero.  Being old school I am more familiar with dials and buttons. I don't do well with LCDs, and the GoPro LCD is just .5 by .75 inches. So some of the messages are cryptic to say the least.  In talking to a youing snow boarder on the weekend he said they had bought one for snowboarding and spent the first week trying to figure out how to turn it on.
The only way is to keep using it.  One of the first issues I had was that it seemed to turn on randomly and drain the battery. Also, sometimes I thought it was on and it was not.  The power on/off switch seems to be very sensitive, so rather than keep it in soft case attached to my pack I now keep it in a hard shell case where the switch cannot be pressed inadvertently.
So, once I had the off/on and mode selection down to some degree I decided to try and use it wherever I could.  I wanted to replace a non-working security light at my partner Amy's place (which did not stop the cops from calling us two nights later to say her car was broken into) so I put on the head strap, mounted the camera, put it on the "1 photo every 30 sec" mode and went to work.

Now this is really wide angle. It would be great for a demo video. Exposure was reasonable as was the shutter speed, neither of which can be adjusted. Testing and familiarization, I should point out, is important, as the camera has no viewfinder. At 170 degrees you just guess.
But guessing is not necessarily the best solution. Amy was heading out on errands on her bicycle so we mounted the camera on her handle bars, set it for one photo every 60 sec. (you can choose 1 sec, 2, 5 10, 30 or 60) and sent her off.  A couple of hundred photos later she was back with some interesting shots, and several of the inside of her pocket when she took it off the bike to shop.

Interesting shots for a first time effort.  Then the clamp came loose.  The assortment of harnesses and mounting for the GoPro are versatile but with some restrictions.  The mounts only move one way. To get an up and down and left to right movement you need two right angle mounts. There is no swivel mount to you need to adapt an after-market mount or use a ball head.  And, the knobs are strong, but small, so hard to tighten.  I am going to make up a wrench for tightening. Which all goes to say that on her way home the mount slipped and the next 50 pics were similar to this one.
What about a shot of the cyclist? Well, Amy had to go singing with her Christmas Revelers and I was not allowed to drive, so I assumed that meant no riding a bike, so I headed for the hardware store, bought a short adjustable painters pole, rad or gear clamped it to the frame, extended it forward and shot backwards, while still in Amy's apartment.  Not the best environment, but it worked and gave me the perspective I was after.
I will be able to use this for biking this summer.

Then one evening I thought about trying to photograph the streets in Hong Kong last year, where people block much of your view, so I fastened the cam to a D ring on my jacket and went for a walk on Commercial drive. No one noticed it, even in stores, but for the first half it had turned off.  I set it for one shot every 10 sec. Shows possibilites though.

Gradually I became more familiar with the cam and it's potential. On the drive home to Cariboo I tried it as a dash cam, hoping for a shot of a moose on the road. No luck there, but with some adjustments to frame out the dash it will work.  Here again I used one frame per 60 sec.

Back at home in Wells I played some more, trying to learn all the functions. While photographing Barnards's Express at Barkerville's Victorian Christmas, I wanted to mount the cam on the horse for a different view. 

The hames were the only place to mount so we tried that.

The GoPro on a ball head attached to a Manfrotto Magic Clamp - the best clamp you can find.  It worked. But, not quite what we had in mind - horses butts and a wide angle view.
Teamster Glen Escott, standing next to me on the boardwalk, suggested we get the camera higher. "We need a pole or a monopod," he said.  There on my pack was my monopod.  We clamped it to the hame with some difficulty and with more effort lined up the shot.  it held for about two steps and then with the horses movement it swung to the right. But it gave us the idea and we will try again this week.

We will use two clamps, try to get the pole forward a little more and also try some shots from the rear of the sleigh.  I can tell you it sure does attract attention. The horses comments were unrecorded.

Finally, some of the limitations were resolved by buying a second battery Bac Pak and a Bac Pak LCD screen that slips on the back of the Hero for easier viewing. It does suck power but could be used just to set up and then turned off or removed to attach the second battery it the setup was going to be used for a long period, such as a bicycle race or dog sledding. Camera, extra batter, LCD, mounts, case, HST tax, all totaled about $600. Now I better make it pay.
The GoPro Hero is 5 megapixels.  Of course, now there is a new 11 megapixel model, the GoPro Hero 2. That is next.
Should you want to see more of the Barkerville Victorian Christmas and Barnard's sleigh shots go my Flickr page at:

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All photos and this blog are copyright © 2011 Richard Wright

Monday, December 12, 2011

Barkerville B.C. Victorian Christmas

A short post today.  For images of Barkerville's Victorian Christmas go to:

For a photo album of Barkerville's Victorian Christmas go to:

Post just before is an explanation of a GoPro Hero cam on a pole on a horse.  Another way to get a different perspective, and one that needs some refinement next weekend,  Thanks to Glen and Maureen of Barnard's Express, Barkerville, for helping with this.