In pursuing our passion for photography, we found that we had a million questions about gear, software, accessories…..you name it we had (and continue to have) questions. Here we will share some of our discoveries, and encourage you to do the same.
I know this seems like a weird thing to add to our camera kit, but it really is essential. We just got back from Colorado and needed a four-wheel drive high clearance vehicle for the back roads. My father-in-law and I happen to have red Jeep Cherokees with four-wheel drive. Jack Graham called mine a very large camera bag – and he is right.
My tripod is big and heavy and is a bulwark against wind and vibration. My tripod is aesthetically beautiful. It is an engineering masterpiece of precision and usability. It is a symbol of excellence and something for me to live up to. It is my faithful companion in the field (besides Mary) and brings me courage and comfort. Quite frankly, I love my Tripod.
Discovery #10 Panoramic Made Easier with a Really Right Stuff Panning Clamp
The Really Right Stuff panning clamp is the quintessential tool for getting a good series to merge into a panorama. The panning clamp can screw into your tripod, or better yet, clamp into your existing lever-release clamp for part-time use just when you want to shoot panos. It has a built-in circular spirit level to keep it level as this is essential for good panoramas. Remember that the best results come from portrait orientation, overlapping each shot by at least a third, and using a focal length of about 100 mm. If you use a wide angle, you will get some vignetting and distortion around the edges. The whole point of doing a panoramic is to not have to use a wide angle lens.
Discovery #9 Macro lenses and other stuff for Macro Photography
Mary fell in love with macro photography from all of our trips to the Huntington Gardens in San Marino near our home. She started with a Canon 100 mm (that I use now) and has graduated to the new Canon 180 mm. Macro lenses allow you to get very close to a subject, producing a 1:1 or greater image of it. This is especially helpful in photographing flowers and insects. For Christmas, I bought her a Canon macro ring light to further enhance the macro photography. The flash helps illuminate dark areas and evens out the light. It can also freeze the subject when there is a little wind. Mary is a pretty serious macro photographer as she also carries several lengths of extension tubes, close-up filters (magnifiers), and Really Right Stuff focusing rails. You do not need all of this equipment to do macros, but it sure does help. To see some of Mary’s macro shots, use this link to see her blog on photographing flowers. This month’s book review is about getting started with macro photography.
Discovery #8 – Singh Ray Variable-Neutral Density Filter
Sometimes you see a really good image and wonder, “how did they do that?” I know to get foggy, dreamy water, you need a slow shutter speed. Obviously, early morning and evening makes this easy because there is not much light. But, how the heck do you do it in the middle of the day? The dirty little secret is this unique and expensive filter. It twists onto your lens like a polarizer, and rotates to give you 2 to 8 stops light difference. So, even in the middle of the day, you can stop water. When you are at dusk or dawn, you have even more flexibility. Here are a couple of images from the Oregon coast using the Vari-ND Filter. To get more information or buy one yourself, clink the link www.singhray.com.
Discovery #7 – Canon Point and Shoot Cameras
Though our main cameras are the Canon 5D Mark IIs, Mary and I also carry Canon point and shoots for candid and impromptu shots. Mary carries an S90. Canon just released an upgraded S95. This is a super compact camera that will fit in a shirt pocket, has all of the new technology of point and shoots, can also shoot in regular cameras settings, and shoot raw files. It is excellent in low light conditions which makes it a great night camera and in-door party camera.
My G12 is a remarkable piece of equipment. It is really two cameras-in-one. First, it has the standard features of a DSLR camera. I usually shoot in Manual mode on my 5D and I can do the same with the G12. I can pick ISO, aperture, and speed, as well as use exposure compensation. Second, it is a fully loaded point and shoot with all kinds of programmed settings. It has a low light setting, quick shot setting where you use the eye cup rather than the LCD screen; it shoots video and it provides 18 different scene modes.
As a landscape shooter, there are three things I especially love about this camera. It provides an in-camera grid screen on the LCD for composition; it has a built-in level so your shots are always straight; and it has a HDR (high dynamic range) scene mode that takes three consecutive photos with exposure compensation and combines the three into one image that accounts for the highlights and lowlights. You have to use a tripod to use the HDR function, but it is well worth it. I usually will use my 5D for a set-up and then take out my G12 and take a few HDRs.
There are only two downsides, I can see here. First the G12 is bigger than a compact camera – it can not fit into your shirt or coat pocket (though, it is smaller than a regular DSLR). I wish it shot panoramas like some of the new point and shots that have the “sweep” technology. The G12 does provide a panorama assist function, but you still need to stitch the images together afterward.
I have tricked out my G12 a little by adding a Really Right Stuff L-bracket and a Canon Filter Adapter FA-DC58B that allows me to add a polarizing filter. Lastly, I carry it all in an R Strap, Snap R case. See Mary’s post on R Straps below.
Discovery #6 – The R-strap
I collect camera straps like I collect handbags…..it’s really difficult to find just the right one. Because my focus is primarily landscape photography, I never quite understood the value of the R-strap……until I wanted to roam around San Francisco with just my camera and reflexes to capture the moment. Because the R-Strap attaches to the bottom of the camera, rather than the sides, it supports quick action as well as vertical pictures. I found with a traditional strap, I couldn’t move fast enough to get the camera position, and often ended up in strange contortions trying to avoid injuring myself with the strap. If you like to do a lot of candid photography that involves reacting quickly, I would recommend checking out the R-Strap.
Update #5 – Our Basic Field Kits
No matter what I say about “it’s the photographer who makes the photographs, not the camera”, people always want to know about our camera equipment. So here is our typical kit when we go out.
Our cameras are Canon 5D Mark IIs. The two really key features are 21.1 mega-pixels and a full-frame sensor that makes it ideal for landscape photography. We have also attached to them Really Right Stuff L-brackets, which makes it easier to shoot both landscape and portrait orientation.
We both carry a Canon 24-105 mm f/4 with image stabilization as our “walk around” lens. I carry a 70-200 mm f/2.8 and Mary carries the 70-200 mm, f/4. Lastly, I usually have a 17-40 mm f/4 wide angle. Mary will usually carry a 100 mm f/2.8 macro or a Lens Baby. We stuff all of this into Think Tank Streetwalker and Streetwalker II backpacks.
Lastly, our tripods are Gitzo legs with Really Right Stuff ball heads. Mary uses the medium ball head and I use the large one.
We have several other specialty lenses, but this is the standard kit we travel with and go out with. Mary’s favorite set-up usually has her with the 70-200 and I like using the 24-105. In this way we are pretty complimentary when we go out together to one location.
Discovery #4: Overland Equipment Bags
It is impossible to have one bag for every occasion. We are big fans of the Think Tank bags, and have a few that we fight over….often. However, we have been doing more shooting in urban locations and need something smaller that didn’t advertise “hey we’re carrying around a bunch of gear”! A workshop leader from our National Geographic workshop had a great Overland Bag (Donner style). It holds a camera and lens in it’s main compartment, plus you could put two smaller telephotos in the side pockets. I also managed to squeeze in my Singh-Ray Grad, my level, some extra cards, a wallet, and my iphone (of course). It is subtle enough that you can use it for non-photography purposes too (the side pockets would be great for bottled water).
Discovery #3: Really Right Stuff Equipment
Really Right Stuff tripods, ball heads, L brackets, stitch plates, etc. are arguably the best on earth. They are thoughtfully designed to work extremely well in the field. They are highly durable and precise pieces of equipment. Mary and I use their ball heads and brackets. They are both very sturdy and very light. Now, having the best equipment costs money. However, in my estimation, dollar-for-dollar, these are the best made. We looked at several systems that are similar to Really Right Stuff, but in the end, we chose RRS and have never looked back. Check them out at www.reallyrightstuff.com.
Discovery #2: Galen Rowell Graduated Neutral Density Filters
Don’t fret over the long name. They are also known as ND filters, or just “grads.” If you want the history of their development by Galen Rowell, it is quite interesting, but not for this page. Grads allow you to capture greater detail in landscape pictures when there is a bright sky and a somewhat darker foreground. Of course, this is the primary position you are in when you are shooting a sunrise or sunset. The hard plastic filters are square so that you can use a filter holder or just hold them with your hands, as I do. They come in 1, 2, or 3 f stops. They also can come with a hard edge to the darker portion or a soft edge. Grads will allow you to expose for more details in the foreground and keep an interesting sky. They can also help you bring out much more detail in the sky. The are “neutral” as they will not affect the color of your pictures. Once you start using these highly valuable tools, you will never leave home without them. Purchase them or find out more at http://www.singh-ray.com/grndgrads.html.
Discovery #1: Nik Software
Building your photography skills and developing your own techniques and style isn’t only about the camera. It’s also what you do with the photograph afterward. I’ll be honest, Photoshop can be overwhelming. It is an amazing tool that is incredibly versatile. But with versatility comes complexity – and that’s where Nik comes in. Nik software is focused on the things that photographers do most often. They have created a tool set that allows you to target changes easily (make one area brighter, another darker), create compelling black and white photographs (that include and easy menu ability to add color tones), and introduce a wide range of creative effects (with a large menu of choices, and simple sliders to tweak the look).
And their customer service is amazing. We highly recommend you use their free trial download and start experimenting.