Category Archives: Equipment

Ireland by iPhone 2014


I took my new Panasonic GH4 system to Ireland and loved it. Much lighter to carry everything from 7.5mm Fisheye (all lenses double in length on GH4, so really 15mm) to the 100-300 (think handholdable 200-600)! Batteries lasted much better than I thought and the new SanDisk 32GB Extreme PRO SDHC UHS-II cards are a dream. Not sure if it is camera speed or card speed or both, but writing files is extremely quick, much quicker than the GX7 that Rebecca is now using..

But with all the fun I had with my Pannie system, not be able to do anything with the RAW files yet (with bending over backwards and holding your breath while you converted with Panasonic software to tiffs) is a real bummer.. I’m going to have tons of stuff to process be the end of the summer if Abode doesn’t get on the stick and release the RAW converter for the new Panasonic GH4 RAW file..

So, in order to share places and events, I relied on my trusty backup camera, my iPhone 5. Most people are amazed when I show them images and then tell them they were taken with the iPhone. I use a variety of programs to then process the images ( and sometime capture images, such as the 645 Pro and Pro HDR). I use Snapseed a lot to process images). I push images start from 645 PRO to Facebook and to Twitter and Instagram.. Images aren’t up to the quality of my regular cameras, but considering it is always in my pocket and I can also keep in contact with loved ones and the world from this one, device, the images aren’t bad!

Here are a few from most recent trip to Ireland.. If anyone is interested, I could put together a trip for as few as 4 people to go and shoot in Ireland. Just say the word!

image Full Irish Breakfast

image Medieval grave slab from Clonmacnoise

image Beehive hut on Dingle Peninsula.


Quick Tips for Video with dSLR

I will be using the Nikon D4 as an example (the d800 is set up the same way) for shooting video with a dSLR.

  1. Shooting mode– You will want to shoot in M (Manual) Mode. Why? Because if the light varies much, your shutter speed will vary and shutter speed is related to frame rate, so you will want that consistent.
  2. Resolution/Frame size– You will want to use a 1080p resolution whenever possible. A 1080p is the frame size 1920 by 1080 as indicated on the Nikon D4. The other resolution you will see is 1280 x 720. This is called 720p. On the Nikon D4, you choose the resolution and the frame rate at the same time.
  3. Frame Rate- There are various frame rates (Frames per Second or FPS), but the most common that you will use are 24 FPS, 30 FPS and 60 FPS. 24 FPS is a more cinematic frame speed (movies) where 30 FPS is more TV 9 and commercial). 60 FPS is a really low HIGH speed. When you shoot at 60 FPS, then you can slow the play back down to 10-20 FPS and have slow motion footage. In the D4, the Frame Size (Resolution) and Frame Rate are connected. You will see 1080*30 (which is 1920 x 1080 at 30 FPS), 1080*24, 1080*25 (don’t use this as it is not common frame rate here in US), 720*60. When you go to 60 FPS, your Frame Size goes down to  1280 x 720. Can you mix and match Frame Sizes and rates? Yes but it makes editing much harder and the outcome might not be as good.
  4. Shutter Speed – Your shutter speed should be about twice what your frame rate is set for. So a 24 FPS frame rate should have a shutter speed around 48 (50 is the closest we have). At 30 FPS, shoot for a shutter speed around 60. Whatever you do, try to keep your shutter speed below 100 or below. The only caveat to this rule is when shooting for high speed (60 FPS). Then you want a high shutter speed (say 500-1000) so when you slow the playback down, the images are still sharp.
  5. Neutral Density filter – One of the upsides to a dSLR is using glass with fairly wide-open aperatures (f1.4- f2.8) to give you good separation between your subject and the background. But if you have to close your aperture down to f22 to get a shutter speed of 60, that kinda defeats the advantage of shooting with a dSLR. In steps a ND filter to the rescue. A variable density ND filter such as the Singh Ray Vari ND or the Genus Vari ND will best serve you. Just get one to fit your largest lens (say a 77mm) and then use step rings to fit smaller lenses. If you plan to shoot 2 cameras simultaneously (say for an interview) then you will need 2 filters. With the ND filter, you can get a shutter speed of 60 at f2.8 even with bright sun outside.  
  6. Audio– Cameras come with a built in mic, but this is not the best mic to use if you plan on using the recorded sound with the video. Rode makes a great small mic to fit on your hot shoe and plug into the Mic port on your camera. The Rode VideoMic Pro is a good choice. One add on do decrease wind noise is a Dead Cat.  No, don’t go try to find a road kill cat. A DeadCat VMP by Rode is an artificial fur wind muff to help deal with wind noise when shooting outside.  

This should get you started. I will talk about support in a later blog for video..

Why use a Leveling Base on your tripod?


Today I was talking to a friend about tripods, ball heads and leveling head/ leveling bases. He was asking if he should get a leveling base on the Feisol tripod he was about to order. From using a Bogen, a Really Right Stuff  and a Feisol leveling base for my ball heads over the years, these are the reasons to consider a leveling base.

  1. Panoramas – Having your ball head pan horizontally in a level position is important if you want to make the most use of your sensor real estate. You can hand hold a pan and a multi image composite, but you will end up cropping more because of the variability in holding. You will also need a high shutter speed and images taken from a tripod always capture finer detail than hand held. I was introduced to a Sunwayfoto tripod head DDY -64mx that David Lawrence has started using. Made in China, it is fabulous quality and has multi indexed stops for shooting pans.. I can mount it on my other ball head and level from there.. No need for a leveling base like this. Thanks David!
  2. Birds in flight with a long lens (or other objects that move quickly)– Shooting with a gimbaled head ( Really Right Stuff   and Wimberly ) makes this chore much easier. But shooting with a gimbaled head on an unlevel tripod means your horizon can become unlevel as you follow your subject. If you use a leveling base before you start shooting, then all is level with the world (as long as you remember to level your camera before you start shooting).
  3. Video – If you are going to use a fluid video head (which you will use if you want to move your camera during filming), then having a level base is imperative. Well, I guess that depends on the artistic license you plan on using. Maybe unlevel scenes are what you’re going for. If you want your scenes to be level, even when panning with the video head, you will need a leveling base.

I do need to mention that just because you use a leveling base doesn’t mean your shots will be level. You still have to make sure your camera is level within the mount (ball head, gimbaled head, video head). A bubble level or spirit level is the key, but many cameras now come with a built in electronic level. My Nikon D4 has one and it is so easy to use (includes 2 axis ) that I haven’t gotten my plastic bubble level out of the camera bag. Jim Clark said he was going to use his plastic bubble level as a door prize at his next workshop.

All Wet Photography

So many times we give up when the weather becomes inclement. Because we don’t like to get wet, we don’t want our equipment to get wet, it’s a hassle. But have you ever considered the images you can make under stormy conditions? Or being out there as the conditions change? I’m not advocating standing on a beach with Category 4 winds coming at you from Hurricane whomever, but you extend your photographic reach with a little more protection.

  1. Rain covers- Before the advent of specific rain covers for cameras and lens, we used to grab the shower caps that came free in the hotel. Some were better than others. Many would fit a SLR and 70-200 lens. And the price was right. You can still go this route, but basically it protects your investment as you wait out the rain. What about when you want to actually shoot in the rain? I have used at least 4 different makes of rain covers and have settle on the equipment from Think Tank Photo. They make covers (Hydrophobia) for DSLR and 70-200, DSLR and 70-200 and flash, DSLR and 300 to 600 and a set of covers for remote use (Remote Control). The Hyrdophobias covers allow you to look through your viewfinder while shooting. The sleeves allow you to stick your arms inside the cover (and snug down so water doesn’t trickle into your rain coat sleeve). You can even have the Hydrophobia for the long lens pre installed and just pull it back over the rest of the lens and body. To go to Think Tank and order: and then enter AP-619 as the code for a free gear offer with your purchase.


2.Underwater or close to the water photography- Most of us don’t do enough underwater photography to justify spending $2000 and up on an underwater housing for our camera. But if you just snorkel or stand in the water or kayak with your camera with you, then there are less expensive options. I happen to use a EWA- Marine cover which is a plastic cover with an optical glass port for my lens. This works well for snorkeling, photographing kayakers while close to or in the water or photographing in the water at the beach. Just remember to rinse it off and dry off after use.

3. Keeping equipment dry- Think Desiccant. This is material that absorbs water in liquid and vapor form. You can put a small pack in your UW housing while you are working and it will absorb stray water or condensation. Another use is for extremely damp environments (jungle, rain forest). My friend Gabby Salazar kept a Pelican case filled with desiccant material and switched her camera bodies out every other day. This helped reduce the changes of water induced failure. Some desiccants can actually be renewed and reused. Easy way to get started is the Sealife Moisture Munchers.

4. Keeping yourself dry– If all your equipment is dry, but you are all wet, you won’t be thinking about image making at all. So, why not keep dry yourself?  Depending on your environment, a good pair of waterproof boots is a great start. Anything that says waterproof and has a Gore-Tex liner will probably work. I am on my second pair of Lowa boots in 8 years. Add a pair of rain pants (mine are Gore-Tex and now about 10 years old and still going) and a waterproof jacket (Gore-Tex, eVent, or something similar). Being outfitted for outdoor adventure is part of being a nature photographer.

Weather and Lightning Safety Outdoors (Hoping for a safe Friday the 13th for everyone!)

I’m writing this for all those outdoor photographers out there who want more information about weather and safety while we are out shooting. But much of this applies to anyone who ventures outside during possible inclement weather. As outdoor photographers (this might even include portrait or wedding or commercial photographers when they are outside), we always want to know what to expect. In my previous blog I talked about iPhone apps, which give us Sun position, moon position, tide charts and more. These are important, but what’s the weather going to be?

Before smart phones, we were usually glued to the Weather Channel on TV, then the Weather Channel on the Internet. Now with smart phone apps, we can carry all that information with us on our phone. I really would like to have the radar built into my GPS screen on my Toyota 4Runner, but maybe the next one I buy.

So, to get the most up to date information, where do you go? The Weather Channel has an App for the iPhone that comes loaded on the iPhone in conjunction with Yahoo!. It’s ok, for a start, but there are better apps out there. My favorite is My-Cast by Garmin. It gives great choices for maps, including Radar that is not static and updates every 15 minutes. It gives up weather alerts as soon as they come from the NWS. AND, most importantly for safety, it has lightning strikes update every minute.

So, with My-Cast you can look at the forecast, see the radar for approaching rain or other events, look at current conditions including temperature, wind speed, humidity, dewpoint and barometric pressure. How does dewpoint help? Well, if you’re looking for fog to shoot, this can give you some indication whether or not fog will be present. How? Fog happens when the air temperature falls to or below the Dewpoint. This morning I went down to the lake knowing that fog would be over the lake as the Dewpoint was 39° and the temperature was 38°. Sure enough, fog over the lake.

As far as safety, the Lightning Strike indicator can be life saving. Have you ever heard the saying “a bolt out of the blue”? Well, that came from lightning striking even when there is blue sky. Jerry Monkman told me about a surfer on the coast of NH (first, until I knew Jerry, I didn’t know that NH had a coast and, second, aren’t most surfers, like, in California or Hawaii?) was struck by lightning while surfing with blue sky overhead, but a storm further inland. Lightning can strike up 10 miles or more away from the storm that generates it. Thunder, on the other hand, can usually only be heard 6-8 miles away. So if you hear thunder, you definitely should take cover.

So, safety tip of the day for all you outdoors enthusiasts, “If you see it, flee it (Lightning) and if you hear it, clear it (hearing thunder means get off the field or to safety.)

How do you keep safe if you can’t get away?

  1. Stay away from any bodies of water.
  2. NEVER stand under an isolated tree.
  3. Stay away from tall trees – keep twice as far from the tall tree as it is tall.
  4. Avoid being the tallest object around – but don’t lie down on the ground, squat. If you can put an insulating pad under you to stand on, it might help.
  5. Stay away from natural lightning rods—Towers, tall trees, telephone poles, metal objects.
  6. If you are in a group, spread out with 50 feet in between each person. This possibly prevents multiple people in a group being affect by a single strike.

What do you do if someone in your group is struck by lightning?

  1. It is ok to touch them; they don’t carry any residual electric charge.
  2. Check to see if they are breathing and their heart is beating.
  3. Start CPR if needed. Sometimes the heart will start back to beating on its own before the person starts breathing on their own.
  4. If a person is talking, moving, etc, they probably will be ok, move on to the person who is not breathing and heart is not beating. We call this Reverse Triage in wilderness medicine. Usually in multiple casualties, you attend to those who DON’T appear dead.
  5. Get help, call 911 if possible. Anyone struck by lightning, even if they are walking and talking, needs to go to the ER to be checked out.

For more information on lightning safety for the outdoors, go to the NOLS site.

Bill teaches Wilderness First Aid for Photographers as part of his experience as an ER doctor for 20 years and his activities in the wilderness spanning 35 years.

iPhone for Scouting

iPhone for scouting

I have always carried my phone with me when shooting, Especially when hiking. I really don’t want to be one of those people who call 911 when I run out of water or get lost, but if something bad happens when I am alone, I will use it to facilitate a rescue. I have been looking at the PLB (Personal Locator Beacons) and the Satellite Messengers (SPOT is one but I am holding out for the InReach by Delorme, which is currently only for Android phones.. Really? With all the iPhones out there?).

So what else do I carry my phone for? Well, my iPhone4 has a built in camera and also built in video. So this has become one of my scouting tools. Instead of carrying a larger compact camera, this camera has multiple functions, including the one my wife thinks that all phones should do only, and that is make and receive phone calls. Now, with my iPhone, I can take reference images and video. Take images and then share directly to Facebook. Take images and use Snapseed by NIK and play with them before sharing (Hey, it’s not Photoshop, but boy did they pack a lot of stuff in a program that fits on your phone).  Use reference apps for wildflowers, butterflies, birds, etc.

So for photo shooting and image enhancement, these are my top Apps:

  1. Pro HDR – 2 shot HDR method
  2. AutoStitch Panorama – Creates panoramic images
  3. Snapseed – creative enhancement to images and great sharing
  4. Pano  – Creates panoramic images
  5. Photoshop Express (PS Express)– still not regular PS, but fun to use.

For location and scouting, these are my tops Apps:

  1. Sun Seeker – great sunrise sunset position that even has a live image overlay mode.
  2. TPE (The Photographer’s Ephemeris) – great for sun and moon information including phase of moon. (for those of you, like me, didn’t know what ephemeris means- “a table listing the future positions of the Sun, Moon, and planets over a given period of time”. So now you know.)
  3. Hi Tide – gives high and low tides for your position. Great for beach photography and especially tidal pool photography.
  4. SkySafari 3 – I use this to determine moon position in sky and also constellation positions for time lapse of the night sky.
  5. Offline Topo Maps  – You can download the maps for the area you will be in and have them on your phone, even without a internet connection.. Works great.

For in phone reference, these are my top Apps:

  1. Audubon Guides– Butterflies– Great resource
  2. Audubon Guides – Wildflowers
  3. GSM Wildflowers Great Smoky Mountains wildflower guide that is partnered with DLIA ( Discover Life in America) which is in charge of the ATBI (All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory).
  4. iBird Explorer Pro Birds of North America. Includes drawings, photos, songs and more. They have a sell on the app right now (April 12, 2012) for half price. It was worth it at full price!
  5. The Sibley eGuide to the Birds of North America– for all of you who have used David Allen Sibley’s guide books for birds, this is great. Get the full version!

I will be posting a blog tomorrow about some weather apps as well as useful information about weather conditions and also how to survive a lightning storm!

What equipment to carry?

Many times you will find photographers who specialize in one type of photography or subject matter. In nature, we have underwater photographers, landscape photographers, bird photographers, wildlife photographers, adventure photographers, and so on. I guess that if you build up a clientele and specific images from you is what they want, you shoot what pays the bills. But that seems a bit limiting to me. As a generalist, I go out and shoot the light. I look for great subjects. These might be landscapes, they may be extreme macro or intriguing wildlife. So I have to be ready for many different possibilities. Sometimes I wish that I would limit myself to one or the other. This would sure cut down on the gear that I carry.  The more techniques I learn, it seems the more equipment I carry. Not always with me, but at least in the car. Adding video (along with audio capture) now adds even more to the mix.

These are typical from April 5 in Cades Cove: They vary from landscape to wildlife to macro.

So, what should a general nature photographer start out carrying in their pack?

1 to 2 camera bodies- In the old film days, one body would have slow speed film (Fuji Velvia which I shot at 40 ISO) and then a higher speed film for wildlife or just higher shutter speeds. Now with the capability of changing your ISO between shots in the same camera, carrying 2 bodies into the field is not quite as important. Carrying 2 bodies when you travel is important, because you never know when disaster may strike and if you only have one camera body, your trip may be doomed.

Wide angle lens – I keep a 17-35mm F2.8 lens in my pack all the time. I love the field of view from really wide angles. Remember that you loose the extreme wide angle if you camera is not a full frame camera. Then a lens like a 12-24mm lens (which is the same as 18-36 on full frame) on your APS-C sensor camera will do.

Medium Zoom – in my pack is either a 24-85mm (with macro capability) or a 24-70mm  lens. Both are good lenses. The 24-70mm f2.8 Nikon is an extremely sharp lens, but weighs a ton. I have made the mistake of carrying only a wide angle zoom and a telephoto zoom and then find a scene that was inbetween.

Telephoto Zoom- a 70-200mm f2.8 is my mainstay lens for this range. With a 1.4 convertor, your reach is out to almost 300 at f4.

These 3 lenses are always in my pack. I frequently add my 200mm f4 Nikon Micro along with a 24mm PCE Micro (tilt shift lens) and a 16 mm f2.8 Nikon fisheye.

Usually along in the car is my 200-400mm f4 Nikon big telephoto. This is my wildlife lens but it is also handy in doing extreme compression of a scene.

Through in a cable release, a circular polarizer, a bulb blower, and a lens cloth and I am good to go.

Oh, in case you’re wondering, the fuzzy thing on top of my pack in the bottom right hand corner that looks like a mouse is my Sennheiser MKE 400 microphone for shooting video. It just has a fluffy windscreen on it that cuts down wind noise outside.

All of my equipment fits into my Think Tank Airport Acceleration bag, which works well for plane travel as well and 4-8 mile hikes.

I carry my tripod with me everywhere I go and use it once I have scouted around and found my position and framing for my subject. I have been using the FEISOL Elite Tripod CT-3372 Rapid tripod that I really like. My wish for FEISOL is that they take this tripod and add another section to it so the overall height is taller. I still use a Really Right Stuff Ballhead, but FEISOL also makes ballheads that look really good. I just haven’t used them to render any type of judgment.

But what do I use if I find myself without all of this equipment? I pull out my iPhone and snap away if there is a great subject and great light. My wife uses a small point and shoot all the time for her photography when we are out shooting. (She claims she isn’t a photographer, but her work is good and she is my best scouting partner, finding things I miss and scouting while I am shooting. If I could just tear her away from her lab more often to go with me.)