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Nature Photography Day 2012

Nature Photography Day, Friday June 15, is the seventh annual celebration of Nature Photography. Established by NANPA (North American Nature Photography Association) in 2006 to encourage people everywhere to explore nature with a camera. The day was designated to promote the enjoyment of nature photography and also highlight the fact that nature photography plays a important role in conservation of lands, plants and animals on our globe. Photographs have been a part of our culture since Louis Daguerre and the daguerreotypes of the mid 1800s. Photographs have changed the way we communicate and, with the advent of the Internet and now, Social Media, sharing your images is far easier and more far-reaching than ever before.

Nature photography has had a profound impact on our understanding of the nature world and also the wide spread recognition of need for conservation. Images of beautiful, unspoiled wilderness provides encouragement and inspiration to all who are concerned with the fate of man’s mark on our world. The impact of images that show pollution, man made disasters affecting nature (like the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010), show what effects we are having on our fragile ecology.

Nature photography can also be a healing modality as many people have picked up a camera to express themselves while in nature. And the best way to express yourself well is to understand nature. And the best way to understand nature is to spend time with nature. And the longer you spend time in nature, the more you come to appreciate the beauty of the nature world around us.

So, Nature Photography Day might be a celebration of photography in nature and a way to get people out to appreciate the natural world, but I look at it as a time to hopefully contact people with a the healing powers of nature. Solitude, quietness, inner reflection, and slower pace of life: these are all things you can enjoy while out in nature with a camera. You might even find yourself putting the camera down and just enjoyment the moment with all your senses..


How not to get burned shooting Fireflies.

Ok, so Fireflies don’t give off any heat, but getting great images of them is still not easy. Much easier now, though, than when I tried with film years ago. The most interesting fireflies (lightning bugs) are the Synchronous variety found most numerous in the Great Smoky Mountains. Last part of May into June, these luminous insects arise and light their fire for the world to see.

How do you start photographing the faint light at night? Well, here are a few tips.

  1. Get there early (before sunset) and compose your scene. That way you can make sure your focus is good and there aren’t any distractions. If you find a scene after dark, a flashlight helps you find your elements (besides the fire flies) and focus.
  2. Don’t pack it up to early when the fireflies haven’t shown up. They seem to come out 30 minutes or even later after sunset.
  3. Use a high ISO. I find that shooting between 2000- 5000 ISO works well and picks up even faint, distant lightning bugs. I try not to shoot over 30 second exposures, because the noise builds up.
  4. Use a wide-angle lens. Unless you want to do macro, anything from a 50mm and wider will do.
  5. F stop 5.6 or larger (more wide open). If you are using a wide-angle lens, then the DOF (Depth of Field) will still be pretty good except really close to the lens. Using a wide open lens lets you use lower ISO and that means less noise.
  6. Take multiple shots over time. I usually shoot 15-30 second exposures for 30-100 exposures using an intervelometer (in camera for most Nikons, electronic release for Canon). Then I can build up the image I want using Layers in Photoshop and Blend Mode of Lighten.
  7. Light paint some trees or other subjects to add to your blended image. I use a Surefire LX2 Lumamax which is 200 Lumens on high. You can even get a red and a blue filter to fit on front. I also carry a 2 Million Candle Power spot light and a set of filters. This works when your subject is further away.
  8. Glow Stick- This is great to wrap on your tripod leg to help you keep track of it in the dark without having to shine a light around (even using a red light on a head lamp can light contaminate your scene). I use Pre Wrap like athletes use to tape it on the tripod (any athletic sporting goods store, ask for Prewrap).
  9. Red head lamp- helps maneuver around and check settings between shots and doesn’t destroy your night vision.
  10. Filters for your LED flashlight for light painting – I use colored plastic dividers I get at Staples but some people use Rosco Filters and Kevin Adams has designed a plastic filter holder that looks like it works great.

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.


Feisol Tripods and DISCOUNT

One of the few images of me. Rebecca likes to get me in action at times, even though I try to duck.. This is my Feisol CT-3372 and the older leveling head.

I wrote a little about tripods back in the fall. Since that time I have had lots of experience with the Feisol CT-3372 tripod and want to say just a little about it.
I had always used Gitzo tripods since the early ‘90s. The old aluminum ones were really heavy. The joke was that Gitzo stood for “Get So Heavy” in the field. Then came along carbon fiber. First generation was ok, but they hadn’t learned what glue to use to keep the legs together, so we saw a lot of Gitzo CF tripods literally come unglued in the field.. I stuck with my old, heavy realiable Gitzo. As they improved, I started looking at them in earnest. Staying with the Gitzo, I went through several generations and sizes before I came to the 3541 XLS model.. Boy would it go really tall in the field. And light! Rob Sheppard convinced about the attributes of a travel size tripod (after taking a lot of guff from me about his toy tripod). I also got a Gitzo travel tripod that I still use today.

Then Really Right Stuff jumped into the fray with their CF tripod. They already made the best ball head in the game, so their quality was a known factor. I really liked the RRS CF tripod from them and used it for a couple of years (I still have it and use it as one of my backup tripods). The leg release mechanism on the RRS was a big improvement over the Gitzo.

Then I was introduced to Feisol. At first I wasn’t sure about getting a new tripod, but I was convinced to give it a look. Thanks to Feisol and Michael, I received a CT -3372 tripod. WOW.. Seems as light and well made as my RRS tripod. Leg release mechanisms are the best I have every seen and the legs will go past 90 degrees for really weird setup that we nature photographers sometimes get into. And at a price that is much cheaper than RRS, it is hard to beat. Their new version, the CT-3372LV comes with a new and improved leveling head (you can always switch out to regular plate).  I am thinking about replacing my travel Gitzo with the Feisol CT-3441S. I still haven’t seen their ballheads in action, but I’m told by friends that they are really nice.

I like them so much that I have worked out a deal with Gary at Hunt’s Photo and he will be selling the tripod at a 10% discount. But you have to call Keith directly at Hunt’s photo at 781.462.2340 or email him at Patankar@wbhunt.com to get the discount.

If I ever get my hands on their ballheads, I let you know how they stack up.


Smokies Spring Scouting March 27

I made it back to Chimneys Picnic Area and the Cove Hardwood trail early morning and was the first car there at 720am. I made around the entire trail and saw more flowers blooming there than I have ever seen all at one time. Trout Lilies, White Fringed Phacelia, White Erect Trillium, Yellow Trillium, Large-flowered Trillium, Bishop’s Cap, Dwarf Ginseng, violets, Squirrel Corn, Yellow Mandarin, Solomon’s-seal, and more. The floor is carpeted with White Fringed Phacelia and there are huge groups of Large-flowered Trillium. If you can get there in the next 4-5 days, this is the most spectacular display I have seen in 20 years..

Large Flowered Trillium


What everyone ought to know about cold weather photography

Fall color has peaked and gone. Spring flowers are just an anticipation of things to come. Winter is upon us and many photographers have hung up their equipment for the frigid season of the year. And these photographers will miss out on the magical season. Why are so many photographers reticent to venture out into the cold? Well, one reason is that we are all creatures of comfort and being cold is not comfortable. Why do you think all the travel agencies market the warm weather destinations during the cold part of the year? With just a few tips and tricks of cold weather photography you can survive the elements and enjoy the wonders of ice and snow and frigid temperatures.

Fog or frost on your lens or camera– Most of the time this is not brought on by taking a warm camera into the cold. There is very little moisture in cold air to condense on your equipment EXCEPT if you blow on the lens or camera with your mouth. Our breath is very moisture laden, so blowing on to your lens (you know, like a pro is able to do without spitting on it) will force larges amounts of warm, moist air across your cold equipment. Do this when you lens has reach temperatures below freezing and it will cause instant frost on your lens. A friend did this when we were in Yellowstone shooting one winter. His lens was frosted all day until we took it inside and warmed it up and let it dry out. Lesson learned.Another friend iced his metal tripod to his beard by looking through the viewfinder for a long time in one place when the temperature was around 0°F. His breath mixed with is beard, which was long and touching the metal leg of his tripod. The moisture instantly froze his beard to the tripod. So, lesson one, don’t breath onto or around your cold metal equipment when the temperature is well below freezing. That is why I always use a bulb blower to blow of dust, snow, etc from my lenses and cameras.

Powering your equipment in the cold- In the digital age, we are extremely dependant on electrons to power our cameras. Electrons love the cold, but batteries via a chemical reaction supply electrons. Most chemical reactions DO NOT like the cold and become much slower. Meaning less time producing electrons (shorter battery life). How do you get around this? Have extra batteries and keep them warm. One way is to keep several extra batteries inside your coat next to your body. Some people even use warm packs in the same pocket. When your camera battery gets really low, swap it out with a fresh warm battery. You will find that putting the cold battery in your pocket and warming it up will many times revive it so you may just be able to keep switching out batteries as each one gets cold.

Equipment fogging up coming inside – Take a break for lunch to warm up and refuel and bring you camera inside with you and you may find that everything fogs up. That is because there is moisture in the warm air inside. And if your camera or lens is cold and then exposed to this warm, moist air, it will fog up. Choices, a. leave your equipment outside or b. bring your equipment inside BUT leave it in your camera bag. This includes tripods. Do NOT open your camera bag while inside. It takes several hours for the temperature to equilibrate. Once you are finished with lunch, take your bag outside and your equipment should be fine. When you come in for the evening, you have 2 choices. Put your equipment in a plastic bag outside and leave it in the bag for several hours after coming inside. Any condensation will be on the outside of the bag, not on your equipment. Wait at least several hours before you open the plastic bag. What if you forget to bring a plastic bag? Then keep your equipment in your camera bag and DO NOT open it for at least 2 hours as the temperature equalizes.

Keeping the human equipment warm and working– Hands and head are most important. Wearing some type of balaclava over your head that also covers your face and neck will keep you much warmer. Layering is the ideal way to keep your body warm, starting with a good pair of long underwear.  Patagonia Capilene 3 is a good choice. Next layer may be a form of Polartec fleece pants and shirt or pullover. Follow this by a waterproof pair of pants and jacket and you should be good to go. Footwear is critical and winter boots by Sorel or Columbia should fit the bill. Make sure you have enough room in the boots, because cramped feet and toes get colder, faster. I usually wear a pair of large mitten shells that can come off easily and underneath I wear a pair of liner gloves. These are usually thin enough I can feel all the controls on my camera, but my fingers don’t freeze off from being exposed to the cold.

Using a tripod in snow – we all still want to use a tripod but sometimes the snow is so deep that it makes it difficult. If you are pushing your tripod down into the snow, caution. If the legs are fully extended and against the stops at the base and you push them into the snow, you can break the base or the legs. Instead, gently push the tripod down into the snow with the legs not completely open against the base. They extend outward as you push down. Also, if your tripod is metal, be careful of touching the metal. You can freeze your skin, beard, and tongue to the metal surfaces. AND, your hands get much colder holding the bare metal. Even with gloves on. Insulate the legs before venturing out into the elements.

I have just finished my 2012 schedule. Go to the tab above to see the schedule or go directly to Bill Campbell Digital for a listing and link to each workshop.


Follow Up to War on Photography

Wow, talk about charging people up, good or bad.. I never expected the response I got yesterday. I was hoping to inform some people about what was going on (like those of us who have been accosted because of taking photographs need reminding). I also wanted to point out the the “War on Photography” is not just limited to Homeland Security. Over the years, the National Parks were sometimes difficult to work in because of specific rangers, not a management decision to harass photographers. It has gotten better as more rangers are informed as to what the policy is for photography within the park. And photographers can be stupid and do stupid things within our parks, I’m not denying that (just like regular people can do stupid things like get too close to the bears, bison, elk, etc).

But Denali’s Road proposal was aimed in part at attempting to limit photographers’ access while giving more access to the Cruise lines. It is not photographers’ griping about wanting access, it is about the fairness of access previously granted for a long time being taken away and handed over to private companies to make more profit. If anyone out there is put out by professional photographers making money off of images they produce in parks, you might want to ask one next time you see them how good business is. We do this for the love of creating images that people can enjoy and identify with and see the beauty of areas that most people really don’t want to venture into.

But several people brought up the issue of “what about the amateurs who want to photograph?”.  That’s a great question. In reality the park should be more open and accessible to all people who want to experience the park and not on restrictive terms of Denali. It should be the Park’s job to figure out how to accomadate people who want to go in early or stay late to take images, not just take the easy way out and give more passes to big businesses. It is OUR park.. We need to protect it, but we also want access to it and not be told that big business comes first. If the park service would allow pro photographers to get the permits to do photography tours, then more people would have access to do the kind of photography they want to do. Not photography only on the timetable of the bus or driver.

I put this out there because the War on Photography does exist on public lands were people are told they can’t have access to photograph.. You don’t have to be arrested or considered for a terrorist act to be a victim in the War on Photography.

Here are a few images in which no one was harassed or even approached while creating these works.. They are from yesterday in the Cherokee Forest along the Tellico River in TN.

If you have a story from your experiences on photography and being harassed, post them here so all can see what is going on..