Tag Archives: nature photography

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.


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.

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.)

Scouting Report Smokies March 28

This day was spent up in Greenbriar area. With numerous spots to pull off and shoot the Little Pigeon River or go up to the confluence of the Little Pigeon River with the Middle Prong, the shooting was great. I walked up the trail, past Porter’s Flats and up Porter Creek trail. After Porter’s Flats, the flowers were much more sparse than down below. There are a preponderance of Yellow Trillium around, with Large Flowered Trillium also. This was the first place I’ve seen Dwarf Crested Iris blooming and also found some Little Brown Jug. Little Brown Jug is fun because the flowers lie on the ground and are actually pollinated by crawling insects such as ants. Sometimes you have to move some leaf debris to see the “Jugs”. I think they got this name because the shape of the flower is similar to a brown jug which you used to get “White Lightning” in before the Mason Jar become the prominent way of dispensing this Mountain delicacy.


Tomorrow I will be posting on different vantage points and lenses for flower/ forest composition.

7 Tips for Landscape Photography

  1. Scout with your camera! This is for all those people who use a tripod, which should be everyone. So many people tend to look at a scene, plop their tripod down and get their camera out of their bag and start shooting. Without giving enough thought to lens, angle, vantage point and composition. I start out walking around with my mid range zoom (24-85 or 28-70). I look for elements I want to include in the image. I decide placement of elements by walking forward/ backward, left/right and up and down with the camera to my eye. If this lens is the right on, then I find my spot and mark the place and the height and then I set up my tripod. If I need longer or wider for the scene I am looking for, then I can change lens up or down in focal length.
  2. Foreground emphasis in wide-angle images. Look for a prominent subject to put up close in the foreground in your image. So often we see wide-angle images that just include an expanse of scene and, while looking ok, is not the dynamic image that it could be by placing a foreground subject in the scene. One of my favorites in stream shooting is to find a big rock with something interesting on it (leaves, moss, etc). That mountain scene can be accentuated by place a really close up of a flower in the foreground.
  3. Use a polarizer.I see photographers all the time forget about the power of the polarizer. It is not just for blue-sky days to darken the sky or with water to take reflections of the water. It can slow down your shutter speed for a longer exposure allow for more creativity. It can take the sheen off of shiny leaves in the forest. It can enhance the color of fall foliage by reducing the reflections off of leaves. It can cut through some of the haze in a scene with distance to the subject (think Smoky Mountain vistas). It should be used more often than most people use it in nature photography. I even have one for my 200-400 lens.

    200-400 used with a Nikon Polarizer

  4. Use Mirror Lockup when possible. Often our landscape images have shutter speeds from seconds to 1/500 of a second. If you are using a polarizer, your shutter speed will be slower. Using Mirror Lockup allows the vibrations to subside resulting in a sharper image. Remember to wait about 1 second after mirror lockup before triggering the shutter.
  5. Shoot verticals AND horizontals.We tend to look at a scene and think that it is a horizontal scene or a vertical scene. Force yourself to try to compose BOTH when you find a great situation of subject and light. Why? Well, besides have a more complete portfolio, it is easy to tell an editor “Yes, I do have that scene in vertical also”.
  6. Always look behind you when great light is in front of you. John Netherton taught me this listen many years ago (almost a quarter of a century, wait, how can it be that long ago, I’m not that old!). We get so focus on a great sunrise, we don’t look the opposite way to see what the light is doing. Always look 360° to evaluate the light. And keep looking. Light is always changing; so don’t get so focused in one direction. I was having so much fun with this little guy that I almost didn’t notice what was behind. When I turned around, it was a WOW moment. 
  7. Keep you image level. Use a bubble level in your hot shoe or learn to use the built in Virtual Horizon in your camera. This keeps vistas on the level and keeps the water in the ocean from running out one side of your frame. Level isn’t always what we want to do, especially when trying for a more creative look, but when the scene should be level; don’t think “I can fix that later in Photoshop (Lightroom, etc).

Cumberland Plateau Beauty

Today Rebecca and I went in search on waterfalls close by (actually, I had been to several of these but wanted to share them with her).

One of our favorite spots is just outside of Wartburg, TN. It is Potter Falls.


The weather was cool and crisp and the sun was intermittently hidden by clouds. The leaves are starting to change some,
but there is lots of green still on them.

I just wanted to share some of these will they were fresh on my mind because tomorrow I will share more of these
and how I am using HDR even when the contrast is not huge to generate a more pleasing image. These are all straight
images with just some correction in Lightroom.


I will also post some videos that I shot from the plateau.

Coming this week: The War on Photography!

Enjoy your weekend..

HDR (High Dynamic Range) Part 2

Before we go any further, let me clarify that most of the time I shoot from a tripod, BUT there are times I use AutoBracketing and Continuous High Frame rate on my Nikon D3s. Having a Frame rate of 9 frames/sec helps and I am usually using a wide angle lens (16mm Fisheye or 17-35mm). I have been able to create some pretty remarkable hand held HDRs using this method. See some of my HDRs , go to my Bill Campbell Photography Facebook page.

Now comes the fun part, after you have your images captured and downloaded, of creating HDRs in any manor of creative vision. Remember that you can make your HDR images look as nature or as artistic as you like. No judgment on either. Depends on the image, but I tend to go for the artistic representation.

I use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 for my image catalog and also to do basic image editing. This makes it easy to see your images all together. Now, if you remembered to use some type of before and after marker (a hand), then choose all the images between the hands. Click on the first image and then Shift Click on the last image. All the images in between will be chosen. Then go to your editing software. If you are using NIK or HDR Expose or Photomatix, you will go to the File>Export with Preset>choose your software. This will convert your RAW images into TIFFs and open them in the HDR software.

Above are the same images shot of the outhouse at Daybreak Images (Thanks Richard and Susan) location but processed with different software…

Photoshop HDR

HDR Expose


Nik HDR Efex Pro

In NIK, you have numerous presets that allow you to choose the look you want from a preset.

Here are examples of same image, different preset with no adjustments in NIK HDR Efex Pro

Default Preset

Strong Counterlight Preset

Fine Structures Preset

Vibrant Detail and Colors Preset

Vibrant Detail and Colors Preset

Bright Room 1 Preset

This is a shot of the Global Adjustment area for NIK HDR Efex Pro.

This is a shot of the Selective Adjustment area for NIK HDR Efex Pro.

This image is one that I took the Bright Room Preset and then used both the Global Adjustments and the Selective Adjustments.

And this is my son Joe, suited up for fighting fires, his passion and his possible profession.