PetaPixel

Photographing Actors From 60ft Above a Broadway Stage with the CamRanger

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When I first heard of the CamRanger in October of 2012 in New York City at PhotoPlus Expo I was immediately intrigued.

I don’t actually own a laptop, so tethering to an iPad tablet has been a long awaited process with trial and error. My first experience was with the Eye-Fi Wireless SD Card; a memory card you place in your camera, the card transmits a wireless signal and supposedly you connect to that signal source, boom, you’re tethered. Except it didn’t really work.

Even set to low-res JPEG, transfer times were grossly long. Also, conflicting signals would constantly kick the connection. Among the many times I tried to make it work, it actually performed as it should twice.

When I saw the CamRanger and all it could do, I was severely skeptical. However, I couldn’t help the excitement. I pushed for Outdoor Photo Gear to stock the product and as soon as the demos arrived I grabbed one and went to work. What I found was not only a flawless tether and transfer but also a multitude of options and control. I’ve had it for nearly 6 months now and it’s become such a crucial piece of gear that I’ve had to actually rely on it, both for capture and client.

Hardware

It’s all a very basic setup. The physical CamRanger is a palm size white dongle that connects to your camera via USB cable. That device then creates a wireless signal which your iPad, Android, laptop or PC can connect to and there is no need for an existing Internet connection.

The free application, which CamRanger offers with the purchase, provides complete control of your camera — and I mean complete control. The device is provided with a padded black satchel to carry or clip the device to your belt or tripod. The CamRanger runs on a rechargeable and replaceable battery, which will run 12 hours of usage before requiring a charge.

Software

After registering the software with the dongle, the app opens to a very clean interface that’s extremely easy to use. On the right, my camera settings, I can switch into live view or focus and even fire my shutter. On the top menu I can easily switch to bracketing, focus stacking and even time lapse, all with one touch.

Diving deeper into options, the ability to rate images and even make notes has become a really exciting feature for clients. Transfer time is quick, If you’re shooting RAW + JPEG CamRanger will only download the JPEG and transfer time can run about 3-5 seconds. If you shoot in Continuous, simply turning off the feature “Auto Thumbnails” will prevent the build up of images downloading. However, the images don’t actually download to your iPad, they are simply “streamed” right from your memory card.

With that said, it’s more of a viewing and control platform than tethering system, which I’m perfectly fine with. After all, who would really want to re-touch a set of images on their iPad with their finger? Not me.

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On Location

I was hired to shoot a cover feature for a Louisville publication called NFocus Louisville. They wanted to put a unique aesthetic on Louisville’s theater and arts community and wanted a massive group shot, but not your traditional group shot. Knowing the dimensions of the large format cover and weighing in options, I threw out the idea of shooting the actors and their “characters” from directly overhead on a theater floor. With the help from creative director Gunnar Deatherage we formulated a plan and scouted Whitney Hall at the Kentucky Center For Performing Arts.

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During the scout, I was sort of taken aback by the fact I was walking on the stage of which I had seen a number of touring Broadway shows. The stage was huge and lighting was plentiful. Luckily, they had a great staff who led us on the few catwalks hanging over the stage, some 60 feet over head. However, the catwalks were not completely overhead, so we made arrangements to use a combination of a lift and boom stand on the stage floor. I wasn’t completely confident that we could make it work, but one thing I did know is that I could fire my camera remotely with ease and could see the results in real-time.

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The day of the shoot, we arrived early to setup. I began explaining what I wanted in the image with Terry, a staff production and lighting engineer. I described my gear list and we came up with the brilliant idea of rigging my camera to one of the lighting poles which could be lifted directly overhead. I was ecstatic and that is exactly what we did. With the help of some gaffers tap, metal rods and a few security lines including the Vulture Equipment Works A4 camera strap, we rigged the camera to point straight down. Lastly, I secured the CamRanger to the camera and set my focal length to 35mm as Terry lifted it 60 feet.

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I switched on the iPad and set the CamRanger to live view, we went to every 4 corners and marked position with white gaff tape. This would be where the actors and actresses would lay. As long as they we’re inside the “zone”, they would be properly framed. Once the camera was rigged Terry brought up the house lights to 90%. Although it was flat light, it was more the enough to fill and provide a well lit shot. I fired a few test shots with the CamRanger app and everything was displaying as it should, I tweaked a few settings including ISO and shutter then “radioed” over to Gunnar to escort the subjects in. I headed up to the catwalk overhead to get an idea of posing.

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As we began situating the group into their positions, we’d have to carefully move people around to make clothing, shape and their character pose work with the next person. We wanted it to resemble a child who had laid out his or her action figures on the ground. Not perfect, but organized. Once everyone was set I traveled back down to the stage floor and began snapping away.

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You could hear the shutter fire every time I touched the “Capture” button in the CamRanger app. I switched to Continuous Mode, again right from the app, and rattled off a series of bursts to guarantee I had an image. The shoot wrapped to applause and the publication was floored and very happy with the results!

I went back to Whitney Hall for a second shoot the following week and struck up a conversation with the production head, Peter Bell. He was the one that suggested shooting from the catwalk and we shared a laugh as he said; “Well, I didn’t know you had this fancy technology to shoot from your iPad!”.

As I shook his hand and walked out, I smiled to myself and a warmth of pride came over me.

Overall

With any type of photograph you may be attempting to capture, this is a wonderful tool to guarantee you’re getting the shot right. I’ve showed the CamRanger to many photographers and every photographer that has used it or has seen me use it in action has purchased one. I foresee it becoming one of those “essential” accessories in every photographers bag.

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About the author: Clay Cook is a photographer based in Louisville, KY, and is the owner of Clay Cook | Photography. In addition to his website, you can see more of his work on his blog. This article originally appeared here.


 
  • Daniel Milstein

    CamRanger? Heck yes. One unit lives tied to the primary camera with a spare charged and ready in the “Emergency bag.”
    This is the first piece of gear in a long while to break the cycle of ” Announce, release, disappoint.” The CamRanger (on my Nikon bodies) solidly ushered in the age of “Announce, release, THRILL.”

  • jkantor267

    My eyefi card works really well. It’s designed for short range studio work or wifi uploads to the web.

  • jkantor267

    “Floored” by the results?

  • http://www.bobcooleyphoto.com/ bob cooley

    It’s not the same as the CamRanger. Eye-Fi only uploads photos that are taken by the camera – CamRanger lets you remotely control (and view) your camera via an iPad or iPhone, with no computer tether. I’ve got one too, and it’s brilliant – you can completely control the camera, in still or video mode, and control focus by touching the desired focus-point on your ipad.

    I have an Eye-Fi, too – and its useful, but in very different ways – I’m floored by what it can do too.

  • Yannick

    cam ranger is like 3 time the price of an Eye-Fi …please, compare apples with apples!! get dslrDashboard on android and you will be able to control the cam at distance. The downside is that you need 2 devices. CamRanger is a great product but if you already have some pocketwizard around, you can do the job without it

  • luisg

    sorry kantor but im floored by your profile picture.

  • Clay Cook

    I agree Daniel!

  • Clay Cook

    I’d like to reiterate what Bob said, unlike PocketWizards(which I endorse), you have COMPLETE control of your camera. Both Eye-Fi or PocketWizards cannot do that.

  • Rabi Abonour

    Very nice concept, well executed. Great work!

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?&hl=en-GB&v=mm1KOBMg1Y8 Uncle Onyango

    Brilliant idea but stupid expensive. Nearly $300? No thanks. For only $229 you can get a new Nexus 7 and Google provides an app that allows you to tether your DSLR directly from the pad. Full control. Live previews. All of it. And, the Nexus is also a full-featured pad that includes a real-live USB port which means you should be able to do file transfers from your Camera’s memory cards to an external HDD.

  • http://www.bobcooleyphoto.com/ bob cooley

    Like @clay_cook:disqus, I also use Pocketwizards – and they are the best at what they do, but they don’t (as Clay clarifies) don’t give you complete control of your camera – the CamRanger does – Full disclosure – I do NOT work for CamRanger, but bought one at PhotoPlus, and love mine.

  • Reggie Hughey

    I have the Eye-Fi/ShutterSnitch/iPad combo. I was initially delighted with the inexpensive system, and I’ve learned to live with the limitations of this set up.(distance to camera, signal interference, along with the constant app updates from ShutterSnitch). I’m intrigued with the CamRanger set-up. I love and need wireless file transfer to use as I shoot, so I’m sold.

  • meh

    hardware part: tp-link mr3020 + openwrt “usb over ip”

  • meh

    sorry its a TL-MR3040 39 $US

  • ritter00

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  • Logan Luckey

    don’t want to spend $200, the “camRanger” is nothing more than a tp link wireless n router…..model: TL-MR3040… throw on a firmware update “openWrt”, and a hot shoe adapter and you are set… you need to use the android app “DSLR controller” but it works great! and for a total of $40 it’s a steal…

  • pincherio

    But you’re not wirelessly tethered, which is what the CamRanger allows you to do. But I’ll let you in on a little secret – there’s a hack for that. You’ll need to buy a TP Link TL-MR3040 wireless router, which is around 50 bucks, and hack it so it’ll work wirelessly with that Android app. But don’t take my word for it. Google it.