No one seems able to snap even an okay photograph of a UFO. I don’t why.
It’s like there’s this field surrounding the thing that causes people to misfocus, take 1/4 second exposures and hold cameras with arms
Taking a good quality picture really depends on what sort of equipment you have and your ability to use it properly. I know nothing about videography,
but here is my two cents regarding still photography.
The camera you want to use is a Single Lens Reflex camera, or SLR. The defining thing about SLRs is that when you look through the viewfinder,
you’re seeing things through the lens itself, by means of a pentaprism and mirror assembly. SLRs are the industry standard for almost all types of
photography, and they have the widest range of lenses. For aerial photography, you would want to be using a 35mm SLR, rather than medium format. 35mm
cameras are the normal sort you see everybody using. Medium format is more in the range of people who need to magnify images for commercial purposes,
and the equipment is a lot more expensive, cumbersome and requires a fair bit of knowledge to use. Not that people are likely to go out and buy a
Hasselblad for this sort of photography, but it’s worth being sure.
– the stuff that comes on rolls, in case you have forgotten – is a given for this sort of thing. It is cheap, readily
available, and when someone starts screaming photoshop you can say ‘Ahh, well . . .’
The photographic principals for film and digital are exactly the same. Whatever is said here applies to either type of image sensor.
When taking a photo, there are two things that you have to worry about: Shutter Speed and Aperture.
The Shutter Speed
is the single most important thing, the thing all the other things are based around. If the image is blurry or dark or
bright or just perfect, the shutter speed did it. You adjust everything else to give you a good shutter speed.
is a description of how much light the lens lets onto the film.
These two these things have to be perfectly synchronized in order to produce a good photograph.
To get a fast shutter speed to prevent blurring in poor light, you need a high ISO
(The ISO is a rating of how sensitive the film is to
light) and a small f/number (number describing the aperture of the lens). But the IS0 can't go too high, or your pictures get all grainy, lack
contrast and cannot be properly magnified or enlarged. ISO 800 is pretty much as high as you would want to go with both film and digital. If you can,
use ISO 100. You can set the ISO on digital cameras, while film has a fixed sensitivity, and you have to change the roll of film to change the ISO.
The ISO number also used to be called ‘ASA’ and ‘DIN,’ if you get confused by odd acronyms, and it is also referred to in terms of speed, i.e.
ISO 1600 would be ‘fast’ film while ISO 50 would be ‘slow’ film.
The aperture is entirely dependent upon the lens. Lens aperture can also be referred to as fast and slow, but unlike film a fast lens will not degrade
image quality, which is why they are so sought after. Fast lenses will cost a lot
more than slow lenses because they are physically larger and
harder to make, but having one means you can lower the ISO while keeping the same shutter speed, which increases image quality.
People tend to underestimate the importance of lenses. I can buy a $20 camera body or a $7, 000 one, but stick the same lens on either and I will
pretty much get the same result. Lens focal lengths are measured in millimetres. Very basically, anything below 50mm is wide-angle, and anything above
50mm is a telephoto. Above 300mm is 'super'-telephoto, which is what you want. But the longer the focal length of the lens the harder it is to have
a fast maximum f/stop, and hence you will be forced to use slower shutter speeds or raise the ISO, both of which are very bad. An f/2.8 lens is really
fast for a super-telephoto, and lets lots of light in, while anything above f/5.6 you might want to steer clear of.
Big numbers are bad
All 35mm SLR film cameras use 35mm film (obviously), but digital SLRs – DSLRs – often use an image sensor that is smaller than 35mm film. This is
called APS-C format, and is why all digital compacts and most DSLRs have ‘crop factors’. A smaller sensor means that not all of the light coming
through the lens is used, and so using only the centre bit of that light (cropping) means that the lens is effectively longer, or has more
magnification power. A crop factor of 1.5X means that you will have to multiply the lenses focal length by 1.5 to get a realistic, 35mm-equivalent
focal length. As an example, have a look at this digital
. The lens on the camera itself says 6.4-32mm, while the article goes on to state that it ‘offers the equivalent of 180mm’
This means the camera has a crop factor of 5.6X, which is huge.
You have to be aware of crop factors and what they mean when you’re calculating focal lengths, especially when analysing photos.
As stated before, the longer the lenses focal length the harder it is to get a fast maximum f/stop. An f/1.4 50mm lens is quite common, but a f/1.4
600mm lens would have to have a front element about half a meter across. Only a bit awkward – and all but impossible to manufacture.
Hence, if you want a super-telephoto with even a reasonable speed, then you are still looking at a fair bit of money. The el-cheapo telephoto lenses
can't let in much light at all (i.e., have a maximum aperture of f/11 or worse).
But if you've got a bit of cash lying around, say, USD $1000, then you might want to consider buying at least a half-decent SLR camera system.
Nowadays, everyone has Canon and Nikon autofocus Digital-SLRs. But before there were autofocus lenses, there were (lo and behold) manual
lenses. I shoot with Canon, and prior to the current Canon Electro Focus (EF) lens mount and digital cameras, there was the FD mount. The FD lenses
were top quality, and today are pretty cheap.
There were a wide range of them, a bigger range of focal lengths than the current EF system, and although they didn’t have fancy ultra-sonic motors
or 4 stop image stabilization, the optical quality is easily comparable with today’s glass.
I predominantly use online auction sites or reputable online shop fronts/retailers for my photography-related purchases, including film.
probably has one of the best online stores, with reasonable prices and
excellent customer service. Your local camera store is unlikely to stock high-quality FD gear, and the chain stores wouldn’t know what an FD lens
was if it hit them in the head. The best stores to buy manual focus equipment from are the ones with dust on the floor and an old guy behind the
counter who actually fully understands Ansel Adams’ Zone System. If you’re not sure, ask him (bring a chair).
Here are the two most important things:
(All listed prices are $USD)
Canon FD 400mm f/4.5 lens ($400)
Canon T-90 film SLR ($200-ish)
The 400mm is an awesome lens. It's not too heavy, and so can be easily handheld for short periods, but it also comes with a tripod mount, which is
very handy. It's got a retractable lens hood, which you should always use, as well as having a great, crisp, precise focus ring. These pops up
on eBay about once a fortnight.
The T-90 is a professional-grade SLR capable of 4.5 frames per second for those fast moving UFOs. It's slightly bulky – as all pro-level cameras
are - and just feels right in your hands. Don't consider any other camera.
Around the internet you might see lenses with something like a 1300mm focal length. All I can say is, don’t even think about it. Steer well clear of
these poor-quality, cheap unmentionables.
Manfrotto 055PROB tripod ($200)
OR Manfrotto 190XB tripod ($150)
OR Slik Pro 340DX tripod ($100)
OR Sunpak 7500 tripod ($50)
Bogen 488RC2 Ball head ($110)
OR Slik Ball head 800 ($100)
OR Bogen 3437 3D Magnesium head ($70)
60-T3 Remote release ($20)
I have an 055PROB tripod for surf photography, so it might be a bit over-qualified for just holding a camera steady, but it is definitely worth the
investment. If you're not too hot on that, the 190XB has had great reviews, and the other two work pretty well. If in doubt, go the 055. Worth every
cent. But there are literally hundreds of other tripods out there if you don't like the sound of these ones. Go find em', but don't go
One thing a lot of photographers do is carry around a small beanbag. You might forget about it for 5 years, but when you need to rest a lens on the
roof of your car or on a handrail, a beanbag becomes invaluable.
The head is the bit that connects the tripod to the camera. It is vital. For aerial photography I would recommended a ball head, rather than a
pan/tilt head, as you’ll soon find out that if the wrong knob is locked off then you are going to miss the shot. A ball head lets you move the
camera around and just lock it off anywhere with a turn of a knob, but they can be expensive, and once more you definitely don't want to go for
anything cheap in this area. The 3437 3D is a pan/tilt head, while the other two are ball heads. The 488RC2 is probably the best. But again, there are
many many more out there.
A cable release is generally needed for low-light photography, where even the touch of your finger on the shutter release button can cause too many
vibrations. You would normally only have vibration problems with a still subject and a telephoto lens, but if the UFO is just hovering, whip that
cable release out. You want your shots to be as crisp and clear as possible.
T90 with 400mm and 3437 Head
And while that is simply nothing compared to what can be brought today, it does the job fine and is pretty cheap. But if you’ve
literally got money to burn, then this is what you would want:
Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III ($11, 600)
OR EOS 40D ($1, 800)
EF 600mm f/4 IS USM ‘L’ lens ($13, 650)
1.4X Teleconverter ($530)
WH-200 Wimberley Head ($600)
Gitzo 1548 Tripod ($900)
The semi-professional 40D has a 1.6X crop factor, so a 600mm becomes a 960mm while still retaining the f/4 maximum aperture. Add the 1.4 TC to that
and you’ve got a 1350mm f/5.6 lens. Not at all bad. But the professional grade 1Ds has 21.1 full-frame megapixels, none of that APS-C stuff like the
40D. If you just happen to have the cash, it’s up to you. Not that I would seriously expect anyone to actually buy that sort of gear solely for
photographing UFOs. The only people that own that sort of equipment are professional photographers.
One thing that consistently wrecks possible UFO photos - and always weeds out the fakes - is metering. Metering is the term used to
describe how the camera works out the correct combination of shutter speed and aperture, given an ISO speed.
Have a look in these two posts: ATS1 and
ATS2. What you see there is the EXIF data, which stores all the information
about the settings of the camera as the photo was taken. As you can see, the metering modes are respectively listed as 'pattern' and 'matrix'.
These are the two most common modes you will come across. Both do pretty much the same thing; they take meter readings from a whole range of different
points throughout the frame and then average them out to give you what should be a nice, properly exposed photograph. But alas, since most
photographed UFO's take up approximately 1/100th of 1% of the frame, you aren't going to get a good exposure for the mysterious black thing; all
you'll get is a nice background. You need to learn how to make the camera do what you want it to do, which is the crux of good photography anyway.
To have proper control over your camera you don’t need to intricately study the practise of taking photos. All you need is a solid understanding of
photography basics and the knowledge of how to physically operate your camera without taking your eye from the viewfinder.
The best way to learn how to do this, as with anything, is to practise. Read the manual, learn the theory, and then get out there and test that
knowledge. Air shows are useful in this respect, but be prepared to have turf battles with other photographers, who will usually have much bigger and
fancier looking setups.
Outside with jets roaring past 100 metres away you will learn how to use your camera and set settings quickly, and you will have consistent subject
matter to shoot, as the aircraft will all be flying in the same general area. It will also help your man-made aircraft recognition skills, so not
everything you see will be labelled a UFO. Turning radiuses, exhaust characteristics, reflection patterns, sounds, etc can all be seen at air shows.
Focusing manual focus lenses is very easy, thanks to some ingenious engineering. There is a piece of ground glass inside the camera, called a
focusing screen, that displays the image exactly as the film will see it. In the centre of the
screen there is a little circle that will split the image up if it is out of focus. All you have to do is twist the focussing ring on the lens until
the upper and lower halves of the split image line up, becoming one unbroken image.
Twist the ring in the direction that will ‘fix’ the split image, i.e. anti-clockwise for the image above.
Manual focus cameras are especially handy for UFO photography, as the object of interest will usually be so small that the auto-focus system of modern
cameras will not recognise it. Focussing screens on the T-90 are interchangeable, but the ‘E’ screen is most common, and the super-imposed images
of this particular screen are shown above exactly as they will appear, although the lines are a lot thinner.
One trick for finding aircraft though a telephoto lens, which can be surprisingly hard to do quickly, is to have both eyes open, one looking though
the viewfinder and the other peering out the side of the camera.
Suppose your right eye is looking though the viewfinder. Look at the aircraft with your left eye, then move the camera so the middle circle of lines
on the focusing screen (which should be slightly out of focus) goes over the aircraft. Close your left eye, and the aircraft will be in the exact
middle of your viewfinder.
Click to enlarge
I cannot find this method documented anywhere else on the internet, but it is very very effective once you get it down pat.
While air shows do provide good practise, the best possible thing you could do is attempt to take photos of birds. Birds are small, unpredictable and
damn fast. Try and take some pictures of them (flying, you slacker) and you will see that your shots are generally poorly exposed, once again,
because the camera doesn't realize that the black blur is actually what you want to take a picture of. One possible solution to this is using
'spot' metering, which calculates exposure based on the centre 2.7% of the frame, at least with the T-90. But while 2.7% may sound like a tiny bit,
it is actually quite a lot, and the subject generally has to be dead-centre for this to work. The T-90 has a few tricks up its sleeve, but you cannot
just rely on the cameras metering programs to solve your problems. Sometimes you have got to take manual control, and that's where the experience you
will get from bird photography will come in. You can read how to use the selectable multi-point spot metering on the T-90
Bird photography will also introduce you to ‘panning,’ or following a moving
subject as you take a photo. This is a good technique for when your shutter speed falls too low.
Don’t attempt bird photography with anything other than an SLR, as compact cameras have something called shutter lag. With the latest professional
DSLR, the shutter lag is 55 milliseconds, which means 55 thousandths of a second elapse between the time you depress the shutter release and the time
the shutter fires. With compacts, this lag time is vastly increased, and can sometimes even go above 1 or 2 seconds. This makes them virtually useless
for proper aerial/bird photography, when you need the shutter to fire virtually instantaneously. Also, lenses in compact cameras are very poor
quality, having both bad optics and a slow maximum aperture. Any extra movement of the camera is going to cause awful blur due to the poor speed of
the lens; and the camera itself will move a lot, as compacts usually weigh around 200-500 grams. On the other hand, SLRs with heavy, interchangeable
lenses are going to jerk around a whole lot less. Inertia is a form of image stabilization: the heavier something is the harder it is to jolt around.
One absurd thing people tend to do is use their on-camera flashes. Thankfully, the T-90 doesn’t have one, but a lot of consumer SLRs and DSLRs have
small flashes. These generally have guide numbers of 10 or 12. I’ve got a portable flash with a GN of 140, and it is an absolute beast. If I don’t
have a 500 volt recharge pack it takes about a minute to charge to full power, but even that isn’t going to help me with aerial photography, as the
power of a flash is governed by the inverse square law, which means if you double the distance from the flash, you will get ¼ of the light. This
limits flashes to very short ranges. To find out what the maximum range of your flash is in metres, divide its guide number by the f/stop you are
using. So a flash with a GN of 12 used with a lens set to f/5.6 would have a maximum effective range of 2.14 metres at ISO 100. If you double the ISO
you double the range, but as I said before you don’t really want to increase the ISO all that much. At sports events you always see hundreds of
flashes going off at any one time in the stands, but little do these people know that their flashes are doing absolutely nothing. You never see the
pros using flashes, and they are sitting right on the sidelines.
If you happen to be in the middle of taking a sequence of photos of a UFO, then it is well worth partially obscuring the UFO with an object in the
foreground, such as leaves or the edge of a building. Also, if you have the time to swap lenses or if the UFO is close to the ground, take reference
shots of the surrounding area with the UFO visible in the frame, on the same roll of film. This makes it a lot easier to both prove that the
photographs are real and to analyse them later. There are many other things you might want to capture in the frame, such as people pointing, or
running towards/away the object. The more frames you can capture of these events the more convincing it will be.
Once you have taken the pictures, immediately rewind and remove whatever film you have used. If any of your friends – or even any strangers - took
any pictures, try and get their film or memory cards as well. Stash it safely. Get it all properly developed and scanned onto a computer at the
highest resolution possible by a professional. Then make copies of all the digital files, transfer them to multiple CD/DVDs, and send them to
relatives and friends. This is a technique wedding photographers use to safely backup irreplaceable images. The film itself is much more valuable than
any digital image, and you must hang on to this at all costs. If anyone asks to see it, watch the film at all times. Let them hold one row at a time
and keep the rest. Film cannot simply be copied, and it is far more effective at proving a UFO than a digital image. And since not many people know
how to handle film in these modern times, don’t touch the surface, don’t store the film touching like the pages of a book,
don’t leave it in the sunlight or heat it up, don’t bend it, and don’t wipe it with anything including optical-grade
lens cloths or tissues of any kind. Always keep it in the slips it comes back in from the developing shop. If any weird liquids get on it delicately
wash the film in clean luke-warm or cold water, and hang it to dry out of direct sunlight.
You will want to report your sighting as soon as possible. There are a wide range of agencies for this, and Wikipedia lists the majority of them
here. Most have online report forms, so just select the one relevant to your country. This
ATS thread, How should I report a UFO sighting?, also has a few handy pointers.
And that’s it. Have fun making history.
[edit on 3-12-2007 by sanctum]