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Entries in Photography Gear (8)


Three Basic Tripod Heads to Consider

There are three basic tripod heads to consider.

  1. Pan/Tilt
  2. Pistol Grip
  3. Ball Head


Ideally you want something that permits 360 degree rotation, forward/backward tilt, and left/right tilt for vertical shooting.

The two-handled Pan/Tilt models are generally less expensive, but are somewhat awkward, and have a limited range of motion.


Some photographers prefer the convenience of a  pistol grip that allows the camera to be moved in any position by squeezing the grip.


Finally there is the option of a Ball Head.  While these types of heads are the most expensive solution, they provide a smooth experience in which you can point the camera in any direction quickly and securely. You can also pan and swivel making it a very versatile tool.



Holiday Cheer is Not New Gear

 Yes, it's Christmas time in the city, but there is no need to break the bank to improve your photography. The truth is, if you already own a DSLR, you have what you need to start taking great pictures right now. Granted, upgrades can offer helpful features and improved specs, but these won't change what's at the heart of a great photo.


Photography is about capturing a moment through the lens in a way that expresses your unique vision. Strip away all of the marketing hype, instant rebates, and sales pitch propaganda, and you are left with a light gathering box. While there are only three ways to get light into this device, mastering the process takes a considerable amount of time and practice.

Ansel Adams was a terrific pianist before taking up photography. He often said it was this discipline that carried over to his camera work. Yet, if you read the camera ads that come in the Sunday paper, or watch another famous actor talk about how easy it is to take great shots if you just buy their must-have device, it's not surprising that so many people are searching for the magic shortcut to creating compelling art. As I've said here before, photographs are not created with mouse clicks, nor is knowledge withdrawn from an ATM machine.

Just because it's more expensive, doesn't mean it is superior.  Look at this article which clearly details how a sub $1000 Canon Rebel is outputting better results than the Canon 7D at close to $1500. This is great news for those of us who realize the truth and make our purchases accordingly. You can get much more for your money by doing your research independently, and investing in better lenses, not pointless upgrades. Of course those photographers who always need the latest and greatest will debate this until they're blue in the face, but we know better.

This holiday season, I encourage you to focus your efforts on developing your photographic knowledge, not falling in line at the local Best Buy.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!




The Most Important Filter in Your Bag

When shooting dramatic landscapes, there is no filter more useful than a graduated ND.  The idea here is to get the shot right "in the camera" without relying on post production tools.  As terrific as these filters are, it's easy to be confused by exactly how they work.  When I was first starting out many years ago, I searched everywhere for a simple explanation, or visual example of how they are used.  Unfortunately, there wasn't much available and I learned by just getting a set of 2, 3, and 4 stop grad NDs, and practicing. Below, I've prepared a quick layout of how they work.



In this first photo, no filter was used.  The house is well exposed, but the sky is too bright.  If I opted to expose for the sky and make it darker, the house would be too dark as well.  This is where the grad ND comes into play. 


To the left is a 0.9 soft edge grad ND filter.  This is also known as a three stop ND.  It blocks three stops of light on the darker portion of the filter while letting the normal amount of light pass through the clear bottom portion.  The filter on the right is a 1.2 soft edge, and block four stops of light for a more drmatic look.  Having a few options is recommended as different scenarios call for varying strengths. 



Here you can see where I've placed the 0.9 (3 stop) ND filter over my lens.  It fits in a square mount so you can slide it up and down in order to change the effect.  Notice how much darker the sky becomes while leaving the house and foreground properly exposed.



The final result is the best of both worlds with a dark, ominous sky and a well exposed house.  No post production or HDR was needed.



How I Carry My Photo Gear

The ideal camera bag should fit comfortably while allowing you to carry your gear in an unobtrusive way. As such, you'll want to give careful thought as to what system will work best for your individual needs. Since I shoot a wide variety of subject matter, I required a versatile and rugged solution. I also wanted something with a waist strap to take some of the weight burden off my back. Before finding the right bag, my shoulders would ache after long hikes in the woods. 

Rather than leaving necessary gear at home to shed weight, I started to research photo backpacks. At that time, I decided on the Lowepro Mini Trekker AW which offers enough room to fit a camera body with attached 400mm lens, plus a 70-200mm, a 100mm Macro, a Flash, various filters, batteries, and accessories. It also includes a rain cover for surprise downpours, padded shoulder straps, and a supportive waist strap. Best of all, it qualifies as a carry-on for both domestic and international flights.  After eight years of heavy use, I'm still using the same bag!  Lowepro has since refreshed this line with the new and improved Pro Runner AW backpacks.

Along with the backpack, I use a large toploading holster. Since this sits on my hip it's perfect for quickly accessing my primary camera. The attached lens depends on what the most fleeting subject is. For example, if I'm in bear country, the 400mm is attached to the camera in the top loading holster. If an animal suddenly appears I can quickly access it without taking off my backpack and unzipping it as my subject disappears.

I reverse this setup when focusing on landscapes. In these situations I keep my wide angle lens ready while the telephoto is close by in the backpack. In short, the holster is what I work out of, while the backpack allows me to comfortably transport the essentials.

When flying, I never want to check my expensive photo gear for fear that it could be broken or stolen. This two bag system has made air travel much easier. The backpack is my one carry-on piece of luggage while the holster qualifies as a small personal bag. They both fit under the seat, or in the overhead compartments.  This system even worked on a small passenger plane in Costa Rica.

My tripod is the only piece of photo gear that gets checked. Since it can be used as a weapon most airlines have policies against bringing then on board as a carry-on. Of course it's an essential piece of gear that can't be left behind. Here's how I transport it:

First, I remove the ball head and pack that in my carry-on photo backpack. Without the ballhead the tripod is a few inches shorter and fits inside a duffle bag. I then pack all of my clothes around the tripod and wrap it with a few sweaters or pants. This extra padding will protect it from being destroyed when it's tossed on and off the luggage belt. Should this bag get lost or stolen, I'll still have all of my camera gear and the clothes on my back.



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Just because everyone else is buying it, doesn't mean it's the right camera for you

A recent Bloomberg report indicated that Canon held 44.5 percent of the camera market, with Nikon increasing its share to 29.7 percent. I immediately questioned these findings as the majority of cameras I see in the field tend to be Nikon. Were my impressions a fluke, or perhaps a regional trend specific to the New York area? I decided to run my own poll to find out. The results streamed in from all over the globe:

As you can see, the results of my poll were remarkably similar to the initial report. Canon still held the lead, but by a slightly smaller percentage.

So what does this mean if anything?

First, I think it's important to point out that both brands are equally capable in the right hands. I've seen amazing photography created with everything from $20 plastic Holgas, to the most expensive Leica, and everything in between.

Ultimately, this type of healthy competition is in the best interest of the consumer as each company works to gain market share through price cuts and added features. The result is a wide array of professional quality DSLRs with reasonable sticker prices. As this trend continues, the line between the super high-end and prosumer bodies will become increasingly blurred.

Considering this ongoing tug-o-war, it can be difficult to pinpoint which camera is right for you. Besides Canon and Nikon, there are excellent Pentax models, Sony, Olympus, Fuji, and more. Before deciding on one, I recommend looking into their entire line of dedicated lenses and flashes. Remember, you're not just buying into a camera body, but rather an entire system of products. 


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