Hints & Tips

The Tripod

George Theodore, May 1, 2016

Three years back, Tom wrote an article about Tripods which we carried on this site and which you can still read. This is a reminder of some of what Tom said in his piece and a result of lots of observation at our events.

With the advent of Image Stabilization, Vibration Resistance or whatever each manufacturer calls it’s “shake-proof” lenses, we see way too many photographers shunning tripods for landscape shooting and doing a lot of hand-holding. Let’s state a fact: if you want to maximize sharpness, if you want a “tack-sharp” image, if you want the cleanest image with the lowest possible noise, nothing will give you those results better than a solid platform - which your hands aren’t. As a side benfit, tripods slow the image-making process down; we take more time to look, to lhink and to compose - and that's a good thing. Finally, as we all know, a tripod is an absolute "must" for long exposures or for any type of blended imagery.

So, let’s talk about tripods: In a photographer’s lifetime, one may go through several camera bodies and lenses and even change manufacturers. The one piece of equipment that should rarely be changed is the tripod - if one makes the right choice(s) to begin with. Many new to photography know “I should have a tripod” and buy what is usually an inexpensive skinny, flimsy, light tripod. Now, one might be fortunate enough to attend an ANPW event and really learn about buying a tripod and make corrections. Others (the “unwashed”) may go through several tripods, spending a lot of money before “seeing the light”. A good tripod isn’t cheap. Neither is going through several tripods until you make a “good” choice. So, spend $1000 now or make several purchases that total $1000 or more.

What are the criteria for selecting a tripod? First, we should buy something that’s going to last. So that means solid and durable. Second (for the sake of our backs and necks) we select a tripod that, with camera mounted, places the camera eyepiece close to eye level. Third, the tripod must be capable of handling the largest load we anticipate placing on it. When calculating that load use your heaviest anticipated camera-lens combination plus the weight of the tripod head. Don’t have that big glass but thinking about a purchase soon? Consider its weight in your calculation. But, don’t forget that your tripod head also has a load rating. As a guide, Really Right Stuff uses camera-lens combination examples to help in deciding on a tripod head.

Be conservative; a general recommendation is that the tripod load rating should be three times the weight that you impose on it. So, if your load of camera, lens and head equals 12 pounds, you’re looking at a tripod capable of handling at least 36 pounds.

How about center posts? A center post limits how close we can get to ground level and raising the post makes the tripod unstable especially in wind. And, in most small tripods one is limited to around 8 pounds of gear plus head combo. But, I understand that smaller tripods can make air travel easier because they fit in checked luggage so nicely and most small tripods do have center posts. If you’re considering a center-post tripod, we recommend you not have to raise the post more than two inches to get the camera eyepiece to your eye level.

But wait, if you would rather not have the center post at all, there are other options. With today’s technology - and for just a little more money – slightly heavier and more stable tripods that collapse to lengths that won’t challenge your luggage are available so look around. For example, Really Right Stuff Series 2 tripods have a load rating of 40 pounds and they’re available in three and four leg configurations. Likewise the 50 pound rated Series 3 also comes in three and four leg options. The four-leg models collapse to very transportable lengths although, depending on the length of the luggage, you may have to remove the head. I often travel with the Series 2 or 3 with the head removed.

In the past, all the above meant “heavy”. Today, with materials like carbon fiber and basalt, we have tripods that satisfy our needs for support and stability and are easy to carry as well. On the flip side, they’re expensive. But, do it right and it may be the last tripod you buy or, at least, one you’ll have for a very long time.

Which tripod manufacturers and features do we like? Both Tom and I have tripods by Really Right Stuff. We have both owned Gitzo’s, and liked them. We find, however, that RRS tripods have a slightly thicker wall and are, pound for pound and dollar for dollar, a better choice. We prefer twist locks to lever locks and do like the ability to get really low to the ground. For casual hiking – especially longer distances - we might choose a center-post tripod but our go-to tripods are either RRS Series 2 or 3.

Questions? Shoot me an email at george@amnaph.com

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Street Photography Tips

Tom Bol, February 26, 2016

In just about a month we are returning to one of my favorite locations, Patagonia.  My first experience in Patagonia was leading a two-month sea kayaking expedition with my wife, Cree.  For 60 timeless days we paddled remote, unexplored fjords and bays, many of which Darwin noted during his travels in the area.  Highlights included practicing kayak rolls with penguins bobbing in the water beside me, and Cree finding at nine-inch primitive spear point in an ancestral fishing camp.  Ever since that trip I’ve been hooked.

While the stunning landscapes of Patagonia never disappoint, I am equally excited about photographing vibrant Buenos Aires and the quaint towns in Patagonia.  The people of this area are very warm and friendly, and great street photography abounds. 

One thing I’ve noticed is some photographers struggle in the urban environment.  Things look different than photographing glaciers, landscapes and wildlife.  But just refer to your class notes on composition.  The subject matter may be different, but compositional guidelines are similar.  What’s different is you are photographing people, cars and ‘urban mountains’ (i.e. buildings).  I’ve shot many travel assignments for publications, and the best advice I ever got from an editor is this; the viewer has to feel, touch, smell, taste and hear a location through your images.  Think about creating an essay of images that really bring the experience home to your friends and family who look at your images.  Don’t take snapshots; photograph the soul of the city and its personality. 

Here is more magazine editor advice for travel images.  I once had an editor tell me there were two kinds of travel photographers, participatory and non-participatory.  Here is an example; when you photograph a person on the street, will you approach them and engage them while taking their image? Or will you shoot from the street corner so they don’t know you are there? Both methods work.  If possible I like to engage my subject when taking a portrait.  I feel the connection between photographer and subject is critical; this relationship is evident in strong travel portraits.  Not to say I don’t shoot interesting people without them knowing, sometimes this is more practical.  But keep these ideas in your mind when taking street portraits.

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Time-Lapse Photography

From a Digital Photo magazine article by Tom Bol, January 28, 2015

If you’ve recently gone to the movies, watched TV or surfed YouTube videos, chances are good you’ve seen some time-lapse photography.  Time-lapse photography is all the rage right now.  Feature films and documentaries have long used time-lapse photography to wow viewers.  Remember watching the flower grow from seedling to mature plant in mere seconds, or watching the stars rotate in the night sky over a jagged Himalayan peak?  Time-lapse photography was once a complex process reserved for high-end productions, but not anymore.  Today this dazzling technique is available for any photographer, and it’s never been easier.  Some DSLRs even create the movie in camera.  Time to get out and shoot some time-lapse!

How it works.  Time-lapse photography involves shooting a large number of frames over a long period of time, and then merging them into a movie.  Two hours of shooting time and hundreds of frames can be merged into a 10 second movie clip, in essence speeding up time from hours to seconds.  On the extreme end, some time-lapse photography involves shooting over the course of weeks and months, and then merging the sequence into a few brief minutes of footage.

The possibilities are very exciting.  Imagine watching your next two-hour photo shoot from start to finish in a 20 or 30 second movie or seeing the transformation of light from a rosy sunset to a starry night in 30 seconds of video.  See some interesting clouds passing overhead?  Some of the best time-lapse sequences record passing storms and interesting clouds streaking through the sky. You can also combine several time-lapse sequences into a longer video.

To shoot time-lapse, we need an intervalometer. This device simply counts intervals. For photography, there are two popular options for intervalometers - either in-camera or an intervalometer cable release.  Camera manufacturers took note of the popularity of time-lapse photography, and a number of cameras have intervalometers built right into the camera. All one need do is set up the sequence and hit the shutter button.  Some cameras take this a step further, and offer a time-lapse movie option where the camera actually creates the final movie once the sequence is complete.

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Infrared Photography

George Theodore, March 3, 2014

With the ability to convert digital cameras for infrared photography, this art form is enjoying an upsurge in popularity. As photographers upgrade their DSLR’s, many are having their older cameras converted rather than “giving them away” at eBay or Craig’s List especially if that older camera is more than two or three generations old. The conversion replaces the sensor’s low pass filter with one that essentially blocks visible light and passes infrared.

The advantage of conversion over the use of infrared filters is that filters require much longer exposure times. With a converted camera, one shoots at whatever aperture, shutter speed and ISO is required to capture the image.

A few years back, I had Life Pixel convert a Nikon D200. I usually carry two DSLR’s in the field and the D200 made it three. For many trips, that’s a bit much so I had a Canon G11 converted. Finally, I had a Fuji X-E1 converted and that's now my go-to IR camera. With a mirrorless camera you don't have to be concerned about lens focus adjustments (a subject I won't discuss here). Life Pixel came highly recommended and my experience with them has been excellent. In both conversions I opted for their Super Color IR filter. I like false color IR’s (though I do some black & white too) and this filter looked like it was my best choice.

The problem most have is how to post-process the image and the biggest issue lies in proper white balance. To start, set your white balance in-camera according to the filter type; some filters do better with green (just use grass or some other foliage), others with a gray or white card. Fill your frame with the appropriate color making sure it’s in the same light you’ll be shooting, take the picture and use that frame to set your custom white balance. Your camera’s owner’s manual will tell you how to do that. Now go shoot.

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Macro Flash

Tom Bol, January 2, 2014

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I recently have been shooting some macro flash, and I was asked what worked the best. Here is the good news. Lighting principles work the same, whether you are photographing a model on the beach or a butterfly in the garden.  All light has direction, quality and color, the three characteristics you work with using light.  With macro photography, your set is very small, maybe only a few inches across and a foot deep.  But macro adds some unique challenges.

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The biggest challenge with macro is you might only be 5 inches from your subject. That doesn’t give you much room to work with in terms of angle of light and how soft it is.  One big variable is the lens you are using.  If I am shooting my 60mm macro, I am about 2 inches away from my subject when I have 1 to 1 life-size reproduction (true macro=subject is life size on your sensor).  I really can’t do much with my flash, maybe hold it off to the side, but this is very close and will scare live subjects away.

 

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