Enthusiast Photographer Hits CES – Acratech Part Deux

One other quick note on Acratech.  After getting the cool demo on their spiffy ball heads that can do gimbal and pano, the owner showed me something they are bringing out soon:

The key...

Apologies for the terrible phone picture.  In my tech-industry-day-job that is called a “Mr. BlurryCam” shot – usually a poor backroom photo of an unannounced product.

In this case, the product is pretty obvious – a small hex-key for your Arca plate to make removal/swapping easy.  I have three L-shaped keys in my bag, and I hate them.  They take up too much space and they are awkwardly shaped.  I told him I’d buy a set tomorrow if he’d make them in three sizes: my camera/lens plates, the set-screw for my ball head and the legs of my tripod.   I’d order immediately and just have them hooked to my bag by that handy strap.

What do you think?

CES Diversion – Snoop Camera Bag

They say the first step is admitting you have a problem. But hey, I just like a bag now and then – there’s nothing wrong with that, right? I mean, a man shouldn’t have to limit himself to just one bag when there are so many really cool bags out there. Right? Anyone?

OK – so the fire sale that was going on with the Snoop Camera bags was too good to pass up (as of the time of this writing, they had a number of sizes and colors available, starting at $59 – over 45% off!), and I ordered a Medium Snoop bag for $79 (regularly $150). My rationale was that while I love my current Laptop Messenger, (A) it is a pretty big bag, (B) I liked the idea of a dedicated bag I could keep loaded and ready to go without unpacking my work stuff and (C) was made of ballistic nylon that would tolerate my shoots in the woods, etc. better than the waxed canvas of my other bag.

At least that is what I’m telling myself.

(If you’re a new reader, check out the review of my custom-made Timbuk2 Laptop Messenger as well my separate review of the Snoop insert that goes inside the custom bag – I make a lot of references and comparisons below)

It arrived today, in the now-familiar Timbuk2 bag/map.

My map collection grows…

Out of the…um…bag, the Medium Timbuk2 Snoop bag was clearly smaller than the Large Laptop Messenger Bag – they both have the Medium Snoop insert, and both seem very snug, so somehow the Snoop looks a lot smaller but appears to hold nearly as much the Large bag.

Snoop Unleashed...

Open view, note the clear pocket for cards, etc. and the standard velcro silencers

A quick view inside

Snoop Camera bag - loaded and with a ThinkPad T420s on board

View of the insert, loaded other than my camera

My bag-o-many things fits fine all loaded up

So how does the Snoop bag compare to my full-size Laptop Messenger? Clearly, these bags are sisters – the overall exterior design is very similar – same trio of zippered pockets on the front, along with a drop-in pocket at the top. In contrast to the Laptop Messenger, the bottom of the zip-pockets has a clear plastic front, presumably so you can see the memory cards, etc. you tuck inside. Like many bags from Timbuk2, the Snoop also has the “Napoleon Pocket” – a long pocket accessed from the side which doesn’t require opening the messenger flap – very handy.

The overall outside design is two colored panels instead of three. My bag is the black and gunmetal ballistic nylon, which looks great and feels really sturdy and durable.

The shoulder strap is the same very heavy-duty affair with really strong hardware. In contrast to my custom Laptop Messenger bag, the shoulder pad is included, as are the velcro “silencers” that were an add-on to my custom bag. These are used when you don’t want the “RRRRIIIIIiiip!!!” sound of velcro on a nature shoot, during a quiet event shoot (wedding, etc.) or during a meeting when you just don’t want to be loud. It does take away a layer of protection – the velcro ensures the bag doesn’t fly open if you don’t clip the flap down and later drop or tip the bag. Since I don’t shoot wildlife or weddings, I don’t think I’ll use them often, but I’m glad I have them. The shoulder pad has excellent padding that makes even a fair amount of wear bearable and regular weight very comfortable.

The other big differences on the outside are something gained and something lost. This version of the Snoop Camera bag does not have the handy “grab strap” handle at the top. I happened to talk to the lead designed of Timbuk2 at CES (post coming soon) and he seemed to say that newer versions of this bag would have the handle. I hope so – it is a very handy feature (no pun intended…), and I’m sure I’m going to miss it.

The added element(s) are the two tripod straps on the bottom of the bag. This is a feature I was excited about, since I’m a tripod guy, but I’m not sure I’m a fan of the execution. First, it is very difficult to get the tripod in and out of the loops. There are no snaps or connectors. You have to open the strap loops very wide, slide the tripod through and then tighten the straps around the tripod. My Gitzo almost slid right out because I went for balance, placing the tripod in the middle, and the legs are very slick – when I picked it up, it almost fell. Ultimately, I had to tighten one loop around the neck between the base and the head, with the other loop around the legs, which left a considerable amount of the legs exposed. The tripod is light enough that it didn’t affect the balance of the bag, but I think it is going to be awkward. I think the “compression tabs” on my Laptop Messenger will work better, and might well be more reliable, too. The tripod loops on the Snoop bag are each sewn at one 1″ spot, which seems like a lot of stress on the fabric. The compression straps on my Laptop Messenger are sewn at the outside edges of the bottom forming a cradle that I can use for the tripod – easier to use, seeming as secure and spreading the load across four points vs. two. Lastly, I wish there was some sort of padding on these straps. I’ll likely wrap my tripod to avoid any wear from the straps, and may rig something different altogether to carry my tripod. A disappointment, if a small one.

Snoop Camera bag - using the tripod loops

To keep the tripod from sliding, I had to tighten one loop at the neck, leaving a lot of leg exposed at the other end...

Inside, the differences are a lot greater. Outside of a tall sleeve for a laptop or tablet on the back of the cavity, there are no pockets or other storage at all inside the bag. Of course, the camera insert itself has compartments for lenses, the camera body etc., but no other mini-pockets at all to tuck things into. I’d really like to see some storage on the top flap of the Snoop insert – a couple zippered compartments on the top and maybe a mesh one on the inside. As you can see in the pictures, I do have a separate bag I tend to use, and Timbuk2 has an array of small bags with funny names they are happy to sell you.

At the end of the day, the bag has a very reasonable amount of storage, but storage in a camera bag is like closet space when you’re married – there is never too much.

The bulge on the flap. That's technical...

One other difference from my other bag is the Snoop bag does have the bulges at the base of the main flap that fold inward to seal the bag from moisture, dust and other nasty stuff. There is even velcro that you can pinch as you’re closing the bag to make it extra secure. I wish my Laptop Messenger had this design, and I wonder why it doesn’t.

The bags share the waterproof “TPU lining” which seems to be a slightly rubberized nylon. Whatever it is, I like it – it feels tough and the protection from water is peace of mind.

Since this is a dedicated camera bag and to make access easier, I tucked the top flap of the camera insert away. Since I’ll have the snaps and the velcro protecting things from falling out, the flap will only be used during actual travel if this is the one I take on a trip or during storage.

Tucked away - the zippered top of the Snoop insert is folded over and hidden to allow better access.

I’m amazed at how much less volume this bag has while still carrying the large majority of what I had in the much-larger Laptop Messenger:

Side by side, Snoop Right, Laptop Messenger left. Both loaded with Medium Snoop inserts

Top view

I’m picking a lot of comparative nits here, so let me be clear – I’m thrilled with the Snoop Messenger bag. For $150, it represents a lot of function, flexibility and style in a package that carries very well. It has a lot of capacity, has a very reasonable amount of pocket storage and protects the gear very well. If my time with the Laptop Messenger is any indication, the bag is great to walk around with – it is comfortable and convenient. Is there room for improvement? Surely, but my addiction…er…quest for the perfect bag has been lulled into a passive state by this excellent bag. For now.

At the $59 to $79 they are selling for at the moment, they are an absolute steal. I’m hoping it ends soon so I’m not afraid to go on the internet any more. It isn’t a problem though. Really.

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As an aside, in case you are wondering, I’m just what I say I am – an enthusiast photographer. I don’t make money on this in any way, I don’t get free stuff and I don’t have any ties at all to any products or companies I write blogs about. I don’t have a PayPal account for donations like Ken Rockwell. I’m just passing things along as I see them and hoping they are useful, entertaining or both. Thanks!

Enthusiast Photographer Hits CES – Acratech

Acratech's quick-release head

If you’ve ever shopped for an Arca-Swiss-based ball head or other equipment, you might be familiar with Acratech.  They are a US company making professional ballheads that have some really unique features.  I’ve noticed their videos on YouTube, which inevitably feature their very…mellow…owner with the somewhat acerbic voice.

I walked up to their booth at CES, and the owner was there.  Honestly, I was pretty shocked – he’s very different in person – warm, friendly, very easy to talk to and of course very knowledgeable about this products.  I hadn’t seen the Acratech in working in Gimbal mode (which is a side-mounting that is especially useful with big lenses shooting moving things like birds or cars), and I was amazed to learn you can invert the head and use it to make completely level panoramas!  Especially if these are things you want but only occasionally, the Acratech heads become a super-strong choice because to get those functions on most standard ball-heads, you’re investing big money in additional equipment.

A true gimbal setup like a Wimberly head is almost certainly more stable since it keeps the weight directly over the tripod, but they also cost nearly $600 and are pretty large.  The Acratech head offers a very nice solution

Panorama mode: the ball head is flipped upside down so the panning base allows you free rotation once you've leveled the camera by the ball-head base. It looks a little funny, but appears to work great! Click the photo to see Acratech's demo (skip to 3:10)

Gimbal mode - note the collar on the head that allows the Gimbal mode

Another view of gimbal-mode

Make no mistake – Acratech isn’t selling inexpensive heads here – they are fully a competitor for Really Right Stuff in terms of quality, target market and Made in the USA credentials.  But they offer some interesting features for the serious enthusiast that might save you a few bucks while making your photography life easier (while shooting panoramas, etc.).  Add to that a clean design that eliminates any need to worry about dirt or water and you’ve got a compelling option.

I’d also mention they have a quick release head that has a safety built in, so the lever can’t get caught on a cord or piece of clothing and accidentally opened.  It is still a one-hand operation and their heads have a nice, big level built in, too..

Check them out on the web.  Also, both of my local camera stores carry their products (and when I say camera store, I don’t mean a retail store, but one that smells like cheese whiz and canvas, is crammed with stuff and has a lot of guys in it who are either unsure about facial hair or should be).

Enthusiast Photographer Hits CES – Beta Shell

From the Beta Shell website - all of my CES photos were phone-terrible...

I came across something that might be really handy if you ship your lenses or travel with them packed in a suitcase.  I’d never seen Beta Shell before, but it is a pretty cool product line.  Essentially they are hard plastic cases that have memory foam at the top and bottom with close-cell foam collars to stabilize the lens from the hardest shocks.  The top is a screw-in affair that is water-sealed – and I mean capable of submersion and all kinds of dastardly conditions that would normally ruin your lens.  These things seem almost military-grade.

Cutaway view showing the rubber-gasket-sealed top and foam at top and bottom.

A view inside - note the neoprene lining on the inside of the barrel

Inserting the lens...

Ready to go...

Another cutaway view

Quick view of their banner at the show

I talked to the owner/inventor of the company for a little while – he seems like a good guy who has thought through his product very well.  If the water-tight lid becomes a little sticky due to pressure/altitude changes, there is a flat bar across the lid that can be leveraged against a table or counter-top.

They aren’t available from B&H or your local camera store yet, just directly from the company, but that is something he’d clearly like to change – ask about them at your local camera shop (and I don’t mean the mall, I’m talking about the places that has a whole corner devoted to light stands and a case full of nothing but 1970′s-vintage film cameras.  If you don’t know the closest one of these, I suggest you find it – they are great fun and a valuable resource).  Beta Shells start at $45 for the smaller ones and go to around $90 for the biggest lenses.  That isn’t cheap, and probably is a lot more useful to a Pro photographer who ships his/her lenses or a camera store that rents them than an Enthusiast Photographer, but I could see getting one for my two 2.8 lenses for secure storage and the off chance I mights ship them instead of travel with them.  They also seem to be very well-made – my guess is they would last for years of hard use.

Lytro Light Field Camera – See the Unseen

I didn’t get to see it, but Scott Bourne of Photofocus.com did.

He put a few thouhts on his Flickr stream and he’s actually on the Lytro front page.  It looks like cool technology, and I’m guessing it will evolve into something interesting over the next several years…

Back to my CES write-ups…

Facing Vegas (off to CES)

So the Enthusiast Photographer is off for CES, the famed Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.  That probably means it will be a quiet week for the blog, though I may do some quick mobile blogging – who knows?

I go for work, not fun, but I should get a chance to swing by the area that hosts the photography industry.  One obvious target is the new Nikon D4, but what would you like to see?  I’ll try to get to anything you post as a comment and take a few photos and/or post a few thoughts, though my time isn’t my own, so I can’t make any promises.  Let’s hear some ideas!

Future Cameras – Is The DSLR Bound To Go The Way Of The 8-Track Player?

Future Cameras – Is The DSLR Bound To Go The Way Of The 8-Track Player?.

I’m hoping Scott is counting me among the “SOME” – it sounds to me like we’re thinking alike.  :)

Are DSLR’s going the way of the Dodo?

Trey Ratcliff of “Stuck in Customs” fame made a pretty bold statement today:  The DSLR is as dead as the dodo and he’s not going to invest in any more DSLR bodies or lenses.  Considering who Trey is and what he does and that we are said to be only a couple of days away from a big new announcement from Nikon (probably a D800 and maybe a D4), that is a pretty big statement.  For the record, I have tremendous respect for Trey – he is a terrific photographer, I appreciate his craft with HDR, he is clearly an extremely intelligent guy and appears to be a really nice person as well, so I’m not throwing stones.

Anyway, Trey is asserting that in as few as two years that mirrorless cameras will displace DSLRs and make them as obsolete as a horse and buggy.  I find myself agreeing and disagreeing with Trey, so I thought I’d lay out my thoughts.  Let’s start with the disagreements:

  • You shouldn’t buy a new DSLR body: I’m only sort of disagreeing here, and to be fair Trey isn’t saying you shouldn’t buy a new body, he’s saying he won’t buy another one.  Trey is a leader in our little world, though, and a throng of people will follow him just like they do on a photowalk.  Reading the comments on the article, some of those followers are genuinely wondering what they should do.  There isn’t really a wrong answer.  I think many people are tempted by the latest body well before they get all the juice out of the tool already in their hands.  I also have friends with well-worn D300′s who will upgrade to the next pro-DX camera (presumably the D400) as soon as it comes out as much because it is time to replace the beater as anything. Generally speaking, body investment seem to follow the lenses, not the other way around.  The kind of sea-change Trey envisions will necessitate that a lot of people will have to invest in a whole new set of “3rd Gen” cameras (his term for mirrorless, which I actually like a lot), and I just don’t see that happening for the bulk of the market.  Photographers buying their first serious interchangeable-lens system will consider it (and probably buy it) and high end photographers who aren’t limited by budget will do it if the quality is there.  That leaves out the big, fat middle of the market place where all the volume is – and volume is what makes the market.  I’m not trying to talk anyone into buying a new body, but I’m also not *quite* ready to declare it a bad investment, either.
  • You shouldn’t buy DSLR lenses:  One of the key things that makes a Nikon 1 attractive to me is the FT1, an adapter that would let me use my current Nikon lenses on this new class of camera.  If this adapter allows you to get high quality photographs using the existing lenses, why not own them now and get the benefit?  Lenses generally hold their value a lot better than bodies, and if the compatibility story is good on mirrorless/3rd Gen I think the impact on lenses will be minimal.  Add to it that the crop factor gives some of these lenses a really fun “reach” – the 2.7x crop factor offers a 200mm lens an effective 540mm field of view!  As a zoom guy, that sounds awfully fun!  (Have a look at the fun photo Andy from Nikonandye put up on FMForums – a Nikon 1 with an effective 6,480mm!)
  • Small size is a good thing:  Trey seems to say that lugging a big camera around and looking like a pro is a bad thing.  I know Steve Huff would agree.  I’m not saying I love a big camera or huge, heavy lenses, either.  But I don’t like how many of the smaller cameras fit in my hands, and I think some weight is a good thing when trying to steady a camera.  In fact, maybe my technique is just whack, but I think I’d have an easier time getting steady hand-held with my front-heavy 80-200 mounted on my D90 vs. the same lens on a D3s.  The heavier the load at the back from the body, the harder it is to get steady (at least it seems that way for me).  So I’m not completely sold on the super-small form factor of the Nikon 1 series, but I do think mirrorless will offer much greater freedom for camera designers to create cameras that are more natural to hold.  They might wind up looking a lot different…
  • Mirrorless will replace DSLR’s in two years:  When I’m not out being an Enthusiast Photographer, I work in the technology industry, and have watched a lot of technology fade into oblivion.  Here’s the problem:  it never fades as fast as anyone thinks.  There is so much investment on the side of the industry and their customers that it takes forever to finally kill anything.  Look how long the floppy disk lasted! For that matter, look at the computer you’re using to read this blog – does it have a CD or DVD drive in it?  When was the last time you used it?  I’ve seen lots of people say that optical is dead and is going away in the face of huge USB drives and streaming content.  But just ask the CEO of Netflix what his opinion is today verses when he made the Qwikster announcement…  Optical drives are going to die, but it is going to take a few more years.  Heck, two years ago there were experts predicting it would be gone already.  The super thin, light, more expensive PC’s have started to go without them, and it will trickle down through the industry.  But not for a while.  I’ll say two years.  :)

On top of all that, the industry has a franchise to protect.  The whole stratification of DSLR families between consumer, prosumer and pro cameras (and lots of shades of grey…) and the lenses, etc. that support a huge revenue stream and represent a massive investment from the Nikon’s and Canon’s of the world won’t change that quickly – they can’t afford it.  So my opinion is you’ll see it push from the bottom and the top and trickle.  The companies will milk their cash cow DSLR revenues while figuring out how to still make pro mirrorless platforms that produce the revenue and profits they are used to from those segments – and that won’t be easy as you get to the prosumer and pro platforms.  Who is going to pay D3X money for a mirrorless?

I’d like to introduce Trey to Andy E., who writes the Nikonandeye blog.  Andy has a massive array of Nikon lenses and I believe he owns every Nikon DSLR ever made. He’s an interesting cat.  He’s written up his experience with the Nikon 1 system on his blog, and participated in some interesting threads on Fredmiranda, including using the FT1 (his photo of the Nikon 1200mm with the tc301 and the V1 for an effective 6480mm is pretty humorous).  Some of his recent discussions have compared the Nikon 1′s to his D3X, which is Trey’s baby, so I’d bet the two of them in the same room would be fascinating, and to get them out shooting together would be a lot of fun.

At the end of the day, I don’t think Trey is wrong.  I agree that there are lots of advantages mirrorless offers – smaller bodies and lenses, sharper images, more design flexibility, less moving parts which hopefully means reliability among other benefits.  It is definitely the heir-apparent technology, indeed the “3rd Generation”.  But much like it took a while for the early automobiles to figure out how to be a mass market product (not to mention a good one…) and fully displace the horse and buggy, I’m not willing to declare the DSLR dead quite yet.  He’s a leader, and he’ll adopt early.  It will just take a while for 3rd Gen to kill the DSLR.

When it is gone, I doubt we’ll mourn it any more than we do the floppy disk or the wooden carriages of yore.

What do you think?  Does the rise of mirrorless make you think twice about buying any more DSLR equipment?  Do you crave a small camera with high quality or do you like a camera that “fills your hands”?

My favorite photographs of 2011

Apologies for a long post, but I thought I’d throw some of my favorite images from 2011 out there along with the lessons they came with. I hope you’ll find it worth your time!
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I’ve tried not to make this blog too much about my own photography, but I took some time today to reflect on my journey this year and how far I’ve come. I got my D90 around Christmas last year, and shortly after that I read the two books that really opened the door to the world of photography for me. I don’t think I can overstate the impact Scott Kelby’s Digital Photography books and Bryan Peterson’s Understanding Exposure had on my ability to understand what my camera was capable of and how I could get out of the “Auto” and scene modes and really take control of what I was doing. It has been really satisfying, and a source of great fun for me in a year when a lot of things weren’t so fun. I doubt they’ll ever see this, but I’m extremely grateful to both of them.

I was finally brave enough to try out a Photoshop tip in Scott’s first book on my favorite photos of 2011, and I was really pleased with the results, so I’ve posted them all here. I’ve added a few comments about each photo, what it meant and what it taught me. I hope they’ll be of some use to you, or at least that you enjoy the image! (The WordPress photo hosting leaves a little to be desired, so clicking on each will link you to the Flickr page.). On to the photographs!
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Harbor Pilot - Charleston, SC - February 2011

This photo was one of a set I took not long after finishing Scott’s books and really having some time to digest them. My mother-in-law lives in Charleston, and I got out before dawn one morning while we were visiting. I had no idea what I was going to shoot or really where I was going, but this boat was one of the first things I shot. It showed me how valuable my tripod really was to getting a shot like this! I was determined to shoot manual, and I must have taken forty photos, with varying shutter speeds and aperture settings. I hadn’t read “Understanding Exposure” yet, but when I did, I was thinking about getting this photo the whole time.
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Battery Park - Charleston, SC - February 2011

Something about this statue and canon eternally facing out to the harbor struck me, and I had to take a picture. What I remember most about taking this photo was that I kept the tripod legs folded – the composition standing up lost the searching feeling this image has, and brought the trees into play. It was an early lesson in thinking about up/down dimensions when composing.
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Cristo Redentor from Sugar Loaf - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - April 2011

I’ve been so lucky to have been a lot of places in the world (mainly on business), but Rio was my first big trip after rediscovering photography. Not a bad place to go! I actually struggled a great deal. Knowing I wasn’t likely to ever return to this iconic place and with tough, hazy conditions, I was a little stressed out about getting the shot. Coming home, I wasn’t immediately happy with many of my photos, but these photos helped show me the value of shooting RAW and learning my editing tools. This image has come a long way from the first time I saw it out of the camera, and I’ll treasure it for my whole life.
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Cristo Redentor - Rio de Janiero, Brazil - April 2011

This photo probably gives you some insight to how difficult the conditions were. It was very hazy and bright. What I finally learned here was that I needed to relax, enjoy the moment and recognize than an Enthusiast Photographer is shooting for fun, not a paycheck. This isn’t a magazine-quality picture, but it means a lot to me. I wasn’t exactly feeling it photography-wise, and I was a little flustered, and I decided that was OK. Things went much better from that moment on!
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Old shed - Cary, NC - May 2011

I liked this view of the shed since it seems like the tree is almost part of the structure, or maybe vice versa :)

I’d been driving by this old shed for years, and it suddenly occurred to me it has all the texture and color I look for when I want to take photos. I got out to shoot early one morning to a very disappointing dawn sky, which forced me to change what I’d expected to do that morning. The lesson here is you can’t always predict the weather or conditions, so you have to go with the flow. Instead of a blazing orange sky I have long, wispy green grass, which I think is a great counterpoint to the building.

A couple other notes here. First, this shed isn’t in a remote area – there are lots of developed neighborhoods all around it, and I’m standing in the shoulder of a fairly large road to take the shots. Sometimes you create an illusion with composition, and that is a lot of fun. I composed them to take the newer house off to the right out of the frame and ensured the power lines and other modern elements can’t be seen. Also, this building was boarded up and sealed not long after I took these photos, so it was a very good reminder not to dawdle when you get some inspiration – the chance might not be there tomorrow…
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Flare of Dawn - Carolina Beach, NC - July 2011

I spent every morning of our week at the beach watching the sunrise from the porch with my 9-year-old son. The composition was limited to the porch where I was drinking coffee and talking with him. When I posted these on various forums, I inevitably got comments about the two old posts from the pier that was taken by a hurricane years ago. The suggestions were that the posts are distracting and that I should Photoshop them out. But sometimes photographs serve just to remind you of a special time or place. Those posts are like an old scar on the face of a wizened man, and I’m not taking them out. They remind me of those conversations with my son and the nice old house we stay in every year. In other words, sometimes you just have to listen to yourself. :)
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Fountain on Charleston Harbor - Charleston, SC - November 2011

This was one of the images that benefited a great deal from Scott Kelby’s instructions on using the Unsharp Mask tool with Lab Color and the Lightness Channel in Photoshop. Now if it sounds like I know what I’m talking about, don’t be fooled. I’m just parroting what I read in Scott’s book, and true to form, he doesn’t bog you down with a lot of jargon and details, he just tells you how to do it. It was easy and the results are good. Sometimes the “why” can come later, and that isn’t a bad thing.
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Harbor Pilot - Charleston, SC - November 2011

The outing during my November visit to Charleston was a bit of a bust. I was so busy getting out to shoot at dawn that I didn’t have a clear idea of what I was shooting or where I was going. The result was I wound up back where I’d been before. The good news is I got a shot that is a nice example of exposure. My first visit with the boat had much better color, but this time I was more aware of getting the exposure right, and the result is a better and sharper image. The wisdom gained from that day was to have a particular goal in mind every time you go out: shoot for color or texture, unusual shadows, whatever.

Even if you don’t stick to it, no plan up front runs a high risk of an aimless and unproductive outing.
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Heading out - Charleston, SC - November 2011

This is another image that saw great improvement from the “Unsharp Mask” technique, but also a reminder about being ready and aware. I was taking shot after shot of the pilot boat that I completely missed the sounds of this other boat pulling away from the same dock and heading for the rising sun. The focus was pretty soft, but the benefits of the full RAW information and Scott’s Photoshop tip helped recover most of an image I really wanted to capture but wasn’t quite ready for…
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Reach for the Sky - Jordan Lake, NC - December 2011

This was the last frame of my last shoot of 2011, and it is already one of my favorite photos ever. There were several lessons on that shoot, a few of them detailed in my previous post “Deep in the Woods” (net: carry a flashlight and think about darkness when you’re off the beaten path), but there were a couple more lessons I took away from that day.

In my haste to get back to my car before it got really dark, I noticed as I was driving out of the park that the light was still getting better and better. I wavered, but finally pulled over and went looking for a clear place to shoot over the water at the marvelous colors in front of me. The moral here is don’t be afraid to stop and grab a few quick shots. Anyway, as I hurriedly fought my way through the brush and brambles again, the scene above just struck me. I immediately stopped, set up my tripod and started shooting. The branches set against the sky were just so visually interesting that I couldn’t pass them up.

It cost me the opportunity to get the clear shot across the lake, but I’m positive that that shot wouldn’t be nearly as compelling (at least to me) as what I did get, and it reminded me that I have to keep my eyes open even when I’m on the way to the shot I think I want. The unexpected can be more powerful, and while the colors of the photograph I missed would have been really nice, the image itself would have been a little pedestrian. What I got was a lot more fun, and I knew it as soon as I saw it!

I’ll also mention that my new tripod and especially the L-bracket came in very handy here. My spot was on a very uneven set of ground, and I don’t think hanging the camera over in the drop notches of a standard ball head would have been much help to sharpness during the long exposure. The RRS BH-40 and the L-bracket were heroes for this shot!
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I hope these have been useful and enjoyable! Among other things, I’m busy writing up my 2012 Photography Goals and Resolutions. I’ll publish mine soon – what are yours? What were the big lessons of 2011 for you?

Thanks for reading, and please let me know if you have any topics or questions I could use for a blog!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

When Gadgets Collide…

It all looks so innocent, doesn't it?

If you’re following the blog, you’ve heard me talk about two things recently:  my new tripod and head setup and the Black Rapid Strap.  I’m loving both of them:  The Arca-Swiss platform and L-bracket are just plain functional with a healthy dose of awesome, and the Black Rapid strap makes carrying your camera more comfortable and available.

One problem.  They don’t work together.

It isn’t so much that they can’t work together as they step on each other if I try to use them as they sit.  Here’s the issue:  If you look at the picture, you can see the fastener for the Black Rapid on the bottom of the camera (they cleverly call this the “FastenR-3″ – sometimes marketing guys should restrain themselves…),  There is a handy hole in the bottom of the Really Right Stuff L-bracket for exactly that kind of thing.

Here’s the issue:  With the FastenR screwed into the L-bracket, I can’t mount the camera to my tripod unless I take the FastenR off.  That means I’m having to choose between quick and easy use of my tripod (which I love) and the easy-carrying strap unless I’m willing to unscrew the thing every time I want to put it on a tripod.

I don’t like that because:

  • (A) it is very inconvenient,
  • (B) it causes handling that puts me at higher risk of dropping my camera,and
  • (C) I’m worried that after a certain number of times through this cycle the threaded hole won’t hold as well as it should, and back out, dropping my equipment.  That may not be reality, but I don’t want to worry about it.  Half the point of the strap is to make the camera “disappear” when aren’t using it.

I have some ideas to fix it, and set the pieces in motion today (literally), so look for an update early next week.

In the meantime, have you had any gadgets fight each other?  Let’s hear some stories (and solutions)!