10 Dos and Don’ts for Mastering Your Tripod

Love ’em or hate ’em, tripods are an essential piece of gear for all photographers. It will keep your camera steady during long exposures, support the weight of those big lenses you need for wildlife photography, and hold your camera in what could otherwise be an awkward position for macro photography.

But just like any other tool, a tripod can be used the right way, and the wrong way.

10 Dos and Don'ts for Mastering Your Tripod - photographer under a rock arch

DO – Get a good tripod that fits your gear

First of all, make sure your tripod is sturdy and solid. There are a wide variety of models available that range anywhere from $20 on into the thousands, and there is a reason for that. A bargain tripod will hold a small point-and-shoot camera steady but is not strong enough to keep your heavy DSLR steady during a long exposure.

Even if you have a high-quality tripod, there are still some things to consider such as its weight limit and maximum height. Make sure your tripod is built to hold the weight of your camera, biggest lens, flash, and any other accessories you might put on it.

You might also want to consider if your tripod should be as tall as you are. If you need to look through your viewfinder, having a tall tripod will mean you can use it more comfortably without bending down. On the other hand, if you have an LCD screen that flips up, a tall tripod is less important.

A good tripod should last decades with proper storage and care, so it’s worth the investment.

photographer on sand dunes - 10 Dos and Don'ts for Mastering Your Tripod

DO –  Make sure your tripod is sufficiently weighted

The weight of the tripod itself is also something to think about. Typically they are made from aluminum which is relatively inexpensive but heavy. For a higher price, you can get one made of carbon fiber, which is strong and lightweight but more expensive.

A carbon fiber tripod is an excellent choice for nature and wildlife photographers who have to walk or hike long distances while carrying their gear. However, they are so light that a stiff breeze could potentially knock the tripod over, taking your camera with it. If you are using a lighter tripod and there is a lot of wind, anchor the legs of the tripod or hang a rock, sandbag, or your camera bag from the center to weigh it down.

I recommend going for a light tripod otherwise it will tend to get left at home. A light tripod is easy to carry and you can always weigh it down on a windy day.

sunset over Canyon de Chelly, Arizona - 10 Dos and Don'ts for Mastering Your Tripod

DO – Extend the thickest sections of the legs first

When a tripod folds up, its legs unlock and collapse into sections (usually three or four). The thickest sections of the leg are the most stable. So if you’re not raising your tripod to full height, extend the thicker upper sections before you bring the thinner lower parts into play.

DON’T – Raise the center column until the legs are fully extended

Raising the tripod using the legs offers much more stability than using the center column, which can sway slightly during long exposures. For maximum sharpness, the center column should be used to gain extra height only after the legs are fully extended.

DO – Remove the center column altogether

Consider whether you are more likely to require additional height, or if you would rather be able to get lower to the ground. Some tripods allow you to remove the center column, which means you can set up your tripod lower to the ground for super low-angle shots.

Gatklettur, or Arch Rock, in Arnarstapi, Iceland - 10 Dos and Don'ts for Mastering Your Tripod

DON’T – Touch the tripod or camera during the exposure

If you’re doing a long exposure, even a slight nudge on the tripod can cause blur. Make sure that nothing touches the camera or tripod while the shutter is open. A camera strap blowing in the wind comes to mind.

Ideally, you should use a remote shutter release or 2-second self-timer to prevent movement when you press the shutter button.

DON’T – Carry your camera mounted on the tripod

Okay, I have to admit I’m guilty of this one! It can be tempting to leave your camera attached to the tripod as you walk from location to location – it makes set-up and take-down so much faster when you need to get the shot.

But the release plates and screws that hold the camera to the tripod assume that gravity will be working with them. They aren’t built to hold the camera at an angle, especially with the bustling and bumping that can happen while walking around outside. By doing this, you risk your precious camera coming loose and taking a bad spill.

DO – Protect your tripod from water, sand and other debris

A good tripod should be fairly rugged, but tiny particles can get inside the tripod and erode the screws that make it move smoothly and fasten securely. Avoid submerging the joints and locks in sand or silty water, and if your tripod does get dirty, make sure it is clean and dry before folding it back up.

I often use my tripod on the beach and sometimes submerge it in salt water. A solution to the problem of getting sand and salt in the tripod is to not collapse it again. I just leave all the legs extended until I get home (or to home base if traveling) and can rinse it off.

Hraunfosser Waterfall, Iceland - 10 Dos and Don'ts for Mastering Your Tripod

DON’T – Over-tighten the screws

Some tripods have spinning screw locks that tighten the legs, and some fasten with clips that are held on with bolts that may need to be adjusted from time to time.

Either way, you want these screws to be secure enough, but you don’t want to muscle them so tight that they can’t be unlocked. Worse, you could strip and damage the threads. Most screws on a tripod should be firmly finger-tight, and no more.

DO – Turn off image stabilization

The image stabilization technology inside cameras and lenses is fantastic when hand-holding the camera, but can actually backfire when used on a tripod.

This is because the stabilization system itself causes vibrations, and when it’s mounted on a stable base such as a tripod, it actually detects its own vibration. It works harder to stabilize this, which causes it to vibrate, even more, compounding the problem.

Therefore, this setting should be turned off when your camera is mounted on a tripod.

10 Dos and Don'ts for Mastering Your Tripod - photographer in a desert valley

Over to you

There’s nothing worse than making a big investment in your photography only to find it isn’t helping very much. So make sure you are using your tripod properly to get those sharp images you are after.

The post 10 Dos and Don’ts for Mastering Your Tripod appeared first on Digital Photography School.

The First 10 Things You Need to Buy After Your Camera for Travel Photography

You’ve just splashed out a vast sum of money on a shiny new camera to do amazing travel photography, but what’s next? There are so many different lenses, accessories, and even filters to choose from. Most people would not be able to afford to buy everything they need in one go. So what should you buy first?

Fear not, here is a simple guide on what to purchase, and in what order, after you have bought a new camera.

photo on the back of a DSLR camera - The First 10 Things You Need to Buy After Your Camera for Travel Photography

1. Lens

It may seem pretty obvious but you won’t be able to do much without a lens for your camera, so naturally, this should be the first purchase.

But the lens you choose will impact on the quality of your photos. For travel photography, you will be able to get away with only using one lens most of the time so try to buy the best lens that you can afford. Look for something that has a good focal length range and is fairly fast.

Something like a 24-70mm lens will often mean you can get 95% of the shots that you would take.

24-70mm and 70-200mm lenses - The First 10 Things You Need to Buy After Your Camera for Travel Photography

Left: 24-70mm f/2.8. Right: 70-200mm f/2.8 lens.

2. Memory Cards

The next vital purchase is at least one memory card to be able to store your photos.

Again this is something that is worth spending a little more money on in order to buy a higher capacity memory card. If you are going to be shooting in RAW format (which you should be doing) then your file sizes will be large. This means memory cards can fill up pretty quickly. Something like a 32gb or 64gb memory card should usually last a few days, depending on what you’re shooting.

Whether you buy more will come down to your budget. Using one card will mean that you have to clear your memory cards each day or every few days. So if you can afford a couple more, it will be worth the investment.

CF memory cards in a case - The First 10 Things You Need to Buy After Your Camera for Travel Photography

3. UV Filter

A UV filter might seem like an unnecessary expense, but the real benefit of buying one is to protect your lens’s glass.

They are pretty cheap to buy compared to having to repair a lens so consider getting one straight away. I fit every one of my lenses with a UV filter the day that it comes out of the box.

Canon L-series lens with a UV filter fitted on the front. The First 10 Things You Need to Buy After Your Camera for Travel Photography

Canon L-series lens with a UV filter fitted on the front

4. Tripod

Most travel photographers would put a tripod at the top of the list of their accessories. This is with good reason. If you want to capture the best possible photos at the best possible time of the day a tripod is a must.

During low light conditions, you simply will not be able to hold a camera steady enough to take a sharp photo. The only way will be to raise your ISO which will in turn mean noise in your final shot.

But it’s also worth investing in a good tripod rather than something that is cheap and flimsy. I always find it astonishing when I see people with expensive cameras using poor quality tripods. Not only are poor quality tripods subject to vibrations which cause camera shake and blurred photos, but they are putting their expensive camera at risk of falling over.

So, always look to buy a good quality tripod that can support the weight of your DSLR.

camera on a tripod overlooking a landscape scene - The First 10 Things You Need to Buy After Your Camera for Travel Photography

5. Camera Bag

Over time most photographers will end up with a collection of different bags for different scenarios. For example, a long hike will require a bigger bag, whereas day to day, you will need something more compact.

But most people can certainly get by with one bag to start off with so look for something that you can use day to day. I would always recommend buying a day backpack as a first camera bag as opposed to a top-loader or sling bag.

Look for one that is carry-on approved as you should always take you camera equipment on board rather than checking it in when you’re flying. It’s also worth buying one that you can strap your tripod to and has space for a laptop.

There are so many choices out there so do your research and even test them out at your local camera store before buying one. It’s an important purchase that will not only keep your camera equipment safe, but also mean carrying things in comfort.

camera bag full of gear - The First 10 Things You Need to Buy After Your Camera for Travel Photography

6. Graduated Neutral Density Filters

Once you’ve purchased the above items it’s time to start building up an inventory of the more specialized things you might need.

Graduated Neutral Density filters are incredibly useful anytime you are photographing at sunrise or sunset. They help to even out the light across your image when you are faced with one area being too bright (the sky) and another area being dark (the foreground).

They will generally come as a glass rectangle that fits onto the front of a lens with an adaptor. There are also screw-in versions (like traditional polarizing or UV filters) but frankly, they are a poor substitute in my opinion.

There are a whole range of brands and options and buying a complete set can work out to be pretty expensive. But you will find them incredibly useful and use them for years.

Canon camera with filter on the lens - The First 10 Things You Need to Buy After Your Camera for Travel Photography

7. Polarizing Filter

The next thing that you should look to purchase is a polarizing filter. Primarily used for suppressing glare or reflections these little screw-in filters can be really useful when photographing water, metallic objects, or even glass (like shop windows).

They also have the added benefit of darkening blues and greens which makes them very useful for landscape and travel photography. Like most photographic items you are better off purchasing a better quality version rather than cheap alternatives that can have a detrimental effect on the sharpness of the image.

beach scene tropical location - The First 10 Things You Need to Buy After Your Camera for Travel Photography

Use a polarizing filter to darken the sky to a rich blue like in this image.

8. Neutral Density Filters

Whereas Graduated ND filters are used for darkening part of the image, these filters can darken the whole scene. They are essentially a square or rectangular piece of glass that come in different darkness levels (representing the same effect as stopping down you aperture).

You might be wandering when you will ever need to darken the scene? Well, for example, if you are photographing water during the day you could use a Neutral Density filter to help you capture a smooth moving water effect. Or cloud movements in the sky.

Again a full set of these filters can be expensive so build up your collection slowly over time.

waterfall and a river flowing - The First 10 Things You Need to Buy After Your Camera for Travel Photography

9. Spare Batteries

While most people can get by with one battery, it’s always worth having a spare. The last thing you would want is to run out of power mid-way through a shoot.

Keep in mind that long exposure photography will drain your battery more quickly than photographing during the day. So if you are going to be doing a lot of this kind of photography or if you’re heading to a remote place with no electricity, this item may move up on your priority list.

I tend to travel with around six batteries in total and charge the ones I have used each night.

camera batteries - The First 10 Things You Need to Buy After Your Camera for Travel Photography

10. GorillaPod

It could be argued that a cable release should be on this list, but as you can use your camera’s timer instead, I feel a GorillaPod will be a better purchase.

The great thing about these small bendy tripods is that they will often draw less attention than a regular one. So in places where tripods are not allowed, you might get away with a GorillaPod. The other great thing about them is that you can set them up on tables, which makes them great for food photography on the go.

Just make sure that the GorillaPod you select can support the weight of your camera and not collapse.

gorillapod - The First 10 Things You Need to Buy After Your Camera for Travel Photography

Conclusion

There you have the 10 items that you should buy in order after you’ve purchased your camera. There will always be exceptions and you might need to tweak this order for your needs. Building your camera and accessories collection up is expensive, so the key is to plan out your purchases in order and take your time.

What do you think? Have I missed anything? Anything you would swap with the 10 on the list? Share your answers below.

The post The First 10 Things You Need to Buy After Your Camera for Travel Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to do Extreme Close-Up Photography with a Macro Bellows

Macro photography is technically designated as the ability to photograph subjects at magnifications equal to or greater than life size. This means that if the subject’s projection size on the camera’s sensor is the same size as the subject itself, then you have life-size magnification, also known as a 1:1 ratio.

Even though many lenses state they have macro functions, a true macro lens must be able to do 1:1 or greater ratio magnification. These specialized lenses allow for a closer focus distance and have great image quality, but they tend to be expensive.

There are cheaper ways to create macro images though. Reverse rings, extension tubes and close up lenses are good options, but my very favorite one is the macro bellows. In this article, I will show you how to use macro bellows to achieve great extreme macro images the easy way.

The Gear

I am very proud to be the lucky owner of one of the very rare Spiratone Kenlock tilt-shift macro bellows sold by Hama in the 80s.

This is probably the rarest and the fullest featured bellows out there, designed originally for 35mm SLR cameras.
In fact, it looks like a scaled down monorail camera with the ability to be adapted to an SLR body.

macro bellow - How to do Extreme Close-Up Photography with a Macro Bellows

This is an amazing piece of gear, despite the fact it was built in the 80s for film cameras, that remains perfectly actual and can be used with modern digital cameras.

It has removable adapters for different brands of lenses and camera bodies.
In this particular setup, I’m using an M42 mount 50mm Tessar Carl Zeiss Jena DDR 2.8 lens and full frame sensor Canon 5D MKIII.

Because this equipment was made for old cameras with flat fronts without a hand grip like the modern digital ones, I am also using a Canon 25mm Extension Tube between the camera body and the bellows to give me some space for the mount.

This is obviously an expensive setup, but you can find many inexpensive simple function macro bellows that can be used with your existing camera and lenses.

Magnification

The magnification ratio is simply the relationship between the size of the (in-focus) subject’s projection on the imaging sensor and the subject’s size in reality.

Imagine a subject like a bug that is 1cm long in real life;

  • If its projection on the camera’s sensor is also 1cm then you have a 1:1 ratio.
  • You have a 2:1 ration if its projection on the camera’s sensor is 2cm.
  • And so forth…

This magnification is achieved by the extension of the bellows operated by two knobs that allow you to move the front and rear elements.

macro bellow on a Canon body - How to do Extreme Close-Up Photography with a Macro Bellows

Retracted, the macro bellows creates a smaller magnification.

extended - How to do Extreme Close-Up Photography with a Macro Bellows

Extended, the macro bellows makes a greater magnification.

There is some really complex optics math behind this magnification process that I am not able to calculate myself. So I used an online calculator to try to understand what I could achieve with this setup and these are the results I got.

magnification - How to do Extreme Close-Up Photography with a Macro Bellows

I was able to find out that the combination of this particular lens with this macro bellows allows me to get a magnification of 3:1 with the bellows at its minimum extension and 5:1 at its maximum extension.

Focusing

The process of focusing is done by moving the whole set constituted by the lens, macro bellows and camera body along a rail, making it closer or further to the subject.

Although it might sound simple, it is, in fact, a very hard process due to the scale of the image we are composing. Any minimal movement throws everything out of focus. So the use of a sturdy tripod and making sure the subject doesn’t move are critical factors to minimize error and allow precise control.

The focusing process is usually done with the lens at its widest aperture to allow enough light in and then it is changed to the chosen aperture for the image capture.

lens - How to do Extreme Close-Up Photography with a Macro Bellows

This aperture open/close process is done automatically in modern cameras and lenses, but with most bellows, it is not possible to have the communication between the camera and the lens due to the lack of electronic contacts, so it has to be done manually.

Sometimes this simple act of changing the lens aperture is enough to change the focus plane, making it a really hard process to control.

Depth of Field

This is for sure the toughest factor to control in macro photography. The depth of field is extremely reduced at this magnification even when photographing with the lens’s narrowest aperture.

A tilt and shift bellows like the one I am using helps to minimize the depth of field issues with some focal plane movements. But many macro photographers choose to use a much more complex technique called focus stacking. The process consists of digitally merging multiple images taken at different focus distances, resulting in a greater depth of field in the final image.

Getting the Picture

Now we’ve gone through the basic technicalities it is time to put everything in action.

For this setup, I will be photographing a dead house fly I found near my living room window. The fact that is not moving makes it a perfect case study to use in a macro stage.

To allow me full control of the equipment, I prepared a tethered setup with the camera connected to a computer, being operated by its native capture software. This way I can avoid touching the camera to release the shutter.

For lighting, I will use two speedlights controlled by a transmitter connected to the camera’s hotshoe that also allows power control through software.

setup for macro - How to do Extreme Close-Up Photography with a Macro Bellows

The intention was to create some light and shadow volume on the fly and separate it from the dark background. Here is the result:

house fly - How to do Extreme Close-Up Photography with a Macro Bellows

Illuminating such a small subject is a very difficult task as the smallest changes produce totally different results. Such is the case in this next image with softer light where I used only one flash and one reflector, instead of two speedlights.

house fly - How to do Extreme Close-Up Photography with a Macro Bellows

To me, it is really fascinating to see a fly at this magnification with all the small details. It is a creepy experience for sure.

This was just with the macro bellows retracted. For the full magnification experience, I will now extend the bellows all the way and experiment greater magnification.

This time I will focus on the fly’s head and the lighting will be done with an LED panel and a small reflector.

behind the scenes shot - How to do Extreme Close-Up Photography with a Macro Bellows

Here is the result:

fly head extreme close-up - How to do Extreme Close-Up Photography with a Macro Bellows

Now we’ve achieved extreme macro with fantastic detail.

Conclusion

It is amazing how an old lens and macro bellows can produce such a high-quality image.

Give this technique a try, I’m sure you will have a lot of fun and make some great images along the way! Please share your macro images with a bellows in the comment area below.

The post How to do Extreme Close-Up Photography with a Macro Bellows appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Equipment List for Making Better Smartphone Videos

In case you haven’t noticed, smartphone cameras keep getting better and better. Not only do they take better still photos, but they also record high-quality video. Many latest generation smartphones are equipped with image stabilization, focus tracking, and the ability to shoot in 4K.

Smartphone video accessories 03

This is especially notable with the recent release of IGTV and social media platforms encouraging more video creation. With that in mind, it’s worth investigating how to use your smartphone to take better smartphone videos. As usual, it comes down to the tools you use. Here are several accessories worth investing in to take your smartphone videography to the next level.

A Way to Secure Your Phone

Equipment List for Making Better Videos With Your Smartphone - image on a cell phone

Smartphones today are being built tougher, but they still have a sleek body that makes them easy to drop. To keep your phone more secure, consider getting one of these accessories. This will help you take sharper and better videos.

Pop Socket

In case you’re not already hip to the Pop Socket, here’s why they’re so popular.

Image courtesy of Pop Socket.

These little devices look deceptively simple. They’re just a plastic backing that sticks to your phone and pops out to give you a better grip. This helps you hold your phone with one hand while taking selfies or shooting tricky angles. They are especially helpful while shooting video.

But there are some problems with the Pop Socket. For one thing, they’re bulky. Even when retracted, the Pop Socket sticks out just enough to make it a hassle to stick your phone in your pocket or put it into your car’s cell phone holder.

Secondly, Pop Sockets look about as cheap as they cost, at least in my opinion. This can ruin the aesthetic of the pricey phone you’ve invested in. Finally, these suckers are pretty permanent. Once they’re attached to your phone, they’re useless if you remove them. For that reason, I prefer using the next accessory to keep my phone secure.

Black Rapid WandeR Bundle

Image courtesy Black Rapid.

Black Rapid is known for their camera straps, but they also have a cool new product for smartphones. The WandeR Bundle is a nylon tether wrist strap that attaches to your smartphone’s case (above).

You can also use the included TetheR-Clip to secure your phone to a bag or camera strap (see below). It’s a simple concept that is very well executed and will make it hard to drop or lose your phone again.

Image courtesy Black Rapid.

A Smartphone Tripod

Like any other camera, there’s a time and a place to use a tripod with a smartphone, especially when creating videos. The good news is that you don’t need a giant tripod for your smartphone, although you can certainly adapt any basic tripod for use with a cell phone using an adapter (more on that below).

But if you want a more compact setup, consider getting a dedicated smartphone tripod. The Manfrotto PIXI EVO  is a popular option, as is the JOBY GorillaPod Hybrid Mini. Both are small, yet sturdy enough to hold a smartphone or even a small mirrorless camera if needed.

No matter what kind of tripod you end up with, make sure you get a cell phone tripod adapter to properly mount your device.

Equipment List for Making Better Videos With Your Smartphone - Smartphone mounted on a tripod

External microphone

Most smartphones have pretty good built-in audio recording features. But sometimes you need an enhanced audio solution. Note that for both of these microphones, you may need a smartphone audio jack adapter if you have a phone without a traditional audio jack.

One of the best smartphone microphones out there is the Rode VideoMic Me microphone. It’s very compact and comes with a fluffy windscreen (also known as dead cat). To use it, simply plug it into your smartphone’s audio jack. It worked well with my Samsung Galaxy S8 but didn’t work at all with the Google Pixel.

The reason is the location of the audio jack. On the S8, it’s located on the bottom of the phone, on the opposite end of the cameras. The Pixel’s audio jack is located on top, next to the camera. Thus, the microphone was in the shot both with and without the windscreen. So check the audio jack’s proximity to your camera before investing in this mic.

Another type of microphone you may need is a lavalier (or lapel) mic. It is placed in close proximity to the speaker’s mouth to isolate their voice from environmental noise. Lavalier mics are generally wired, meaning they can be difficult to use when plugged directly into your video recording device.

So the most convenient setup is to record your visuals with one camera, and record audio with a lavalier mic plugged into a smartphone. You’ll need an audio recording app to do this. A top of the line lav mic option is the Rode smartLav+, or the more affordable Stony-Edge Simple Lav. Note that sound quality typically corresponds with price, but it truly depends on your budget.

Rode mic on a smartphone - Equipment List for Making Better Videos With Your Smartphone

Smartphone gimbal

Many smartphones come with built-in stabilization that will help minimize or remove shake from your videos. However, you still need an extra tool if you want buttery smooth, cinematic video footage. The simplest video stabilization tool is an electronic handheld gimbal.

There are two main gimbals out there worth considering, and they’re very competitive in terms of features and price. One is the DJI Osmo Mobile 2, and the other is the Zhiyun Smooth Q. I’ve been using the Smooth Q for the past few months and have been blown away by how much my smartphone video quality has improved.

Best of all, a gimbal is easy to use and quite affordable for the features it offers.

girl using a gimbal smartphone stabilizer

Extra Power

While smartphone battery life keeps gradually improving, it’s still a good idea to bring a portable cell phone charger with you.

There are tons of external batteries on the market, but Anker is by far one of the more reputable brands. In particular, the Anker PowerCore 10000 is a compact, efficient, external battery. It can charge either your smartphone or electronic gimbal or both at the same time. Just be sure to charge the battery ahead of time and bring the right cables.

Over to You

In short, you don’t need a lot of tools to start using your smartphone to make better videos. However, if you add these tools to your kit, you’ll be well on your way to producing more professional-looking videos.

Do you have any smartphone video accessories? Let us know your essential tools in the comments below!

The post Equipment List for Making Better Smartphone Videos appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Time-Lapse Photography – Beyond the Basics

Time-lapse photography is a different way to show the world around you. They are videos which are made up of a serious of still images and combined to look like a movie. The frame-by-frame gives a sped-up view of the world. People find them interesting to look at and if done well they are fascinating.

Time-Lapse Photography – Beyond the Basics - sunset and lighthouse

One of the hundreds of photos taken at Point Lonsdale while trying to get a time-lapse there.

There are a few ways of making time-lapse videos The obvious way is to do a video and speed it up, however, most are made from lots of individual still images. Using special programs, you can put them together and set the time for the video to run.

In this article, I’ll share my experiences with you testing out some time-lapse gear and settings so you can learn along with me.

Basic Time-lapse

Doing time-lapse photography is relatively simple. All you really need to do is set your camera up on a tripod and get it to take a photo every few seconds. Put the images on your computer, batch process them if you like, then run some software that will allow you to make them into a time-lapse. Here is an example.

That is a very simplified way of looking at it. Of course, there are many other factors, like what is moving in the scene, how quickly it is moving, etc.

As you experiment more you will learn how to work out what time is best and how many images you need. On average, you will need 30 images for every second of video you want. So if you want a one minute video you will need 30 x 60 = 1800 images.

Adding panning to your time-lapse

Over the years I’ve played around with doing time-lapses, such as I just described. It didn’t seem hard and I thought that adding some new equipment would be fine, That it would just work. I was wrong.

Recently I was loaned quite a few products from Syrp here in Australia to try out. It seemed like the ideal time to step up what I was doing with these. Perhaps get more serious about doing time-lapse photography.

I was loaned enough gear to do panning, tilting, and sliding. In the kit were two Syrp Genie Minis, the tilt bracket, the Genie and the magic carpet rails.

Time-Lapse Photography – Beyond the Basics

Photo by Syrp showing a kit with the magic carpet rails, Genie, and tilt bracket.

Initially I decided to try just the Genie mini. Start with the easy one.

Time-Lapse Photography – Beyond the Basics

One of the stills from the first attempted time-lapse.

Syrp Genie Mini – first attempt

My first attempt was at the Tesselaar Kabloom Flower Festival. There were fields of flowers and lots of clouds, the conditions were perfect time-lapse photography. For a successful time-lapse it is best if there is something moving in the image.

I moved around a bit to various places, but the very first series I shot had to be deleted. The exposure was okay, but none of the images were in focus. It was my first big lesson with doing them this way. I learned that you have to focus the image and then turn off autofocus, otherwise, the camera will attempt to refocus for each image.

The Genie and Genie Minis are all controlled by an app on your phone. It is fairly simple to use, but the arcs for shooting can be confusing.

Next, I worked out how panning worked and wide it should be. Several different arcs were attempted and when I got home and loaded the photos, the problems were clear to see.

The first one was okay, but that was probably more luck than skill. I didn’t really know what I was doing and just let it go for ages, with the camera taking a photo every two seconds. There were around 450 images total.

For the next few, I told the Genie Mini to run for 6 minutes, and for the camera to shoot an image every two seconds. This time it took 360 images. The area it was panning over was increased. When converted to the time-lapse it was jerky and the panning was too fast.

Solutions, if you are going to do a wide pan, you need to take a lot more photos than you think you will need.

flower garden - time-lapse photography

Another one of the stills from the flower center.

Next attempt

I went down to a local area to try it out again, this time giving it more time. Unfortunately, I made a similar mistake.

As I was setting up, I had it in my head to do an image every 5 seconds and to set the pan to last for 20 minutes. This only gave me around 240 images for the video. It wasn’t enough, and the same problem occurred. Next time if I only want to do 20 minutes I should take a photo every two seconds. That will yield 600 images, which should make it a better time-lapse. That is what will be attempted next time.

A couple of other problems happened as well. While panning, the camera was not level for the whole scene. So, I need to work out how to make that happen. Practice will make it easier.

All the tutorials I’ve been watching say to use manual mode for exposure. However, this really only works for constant light. If you are shooting a scene where it is variable, then you may need to use aperture priority.

Working it out

There did come a point when I realized the smaller the arc the better. Not covering such a wide area was better. Making sure there was something interesting in the image as well, something moving.

The number of images and how far apart they are shot is another aspect that can be hard to work out. Taking a photo every 2 or 5 seconds is good for some scenes, but not others. However, it is a good place to start and as you do more time-lapse photography you will begin to understand what settings you need.

Most time-lapse series will result in a video of around 5-10 seconds. When you are compiling it, you need to think about how many images you will need.

As a general rule most are done with 30 frames per second, or 30 images per second. In theory then, for a 5-second time-lapse you will need 150 images. However, if you are adding panning to that, then it will depend on how far you pan. If you are covering a really wide area you might need a lot more images.

time-lapse scene at sunset

You have to make sure there is something interesting in the scene, and that there is movement.

Adding Tilting

Once you think you have worked out how to pan you can try tilting the image up and down as well as panning. I only tried this a couple of times, as the biggest problem I had was my camera is very heavy and the tilt bracket struggled with it. You could see that it was too much weight for the system.

I found that using the Genie Mini with it was a bit tricky and it would tilt the wrong way. The lens would hit the bracket if it went the wrong way. It was the most frustrating aspect.

Again, you have to be careful what you use this for. There needs to be a reason to tilt up or down. Waterfalls are a good choice for tilting. Maybe looking up at a building. Think about why you would do this beforehand.

Gliding along the Magic Carpet with the Genie

The magic carpet rails with the Genie on top will glide the camera along in a straight line. It can add a small amount of movement to your video to make it appear like the camera is moving.

The Genie was very complicated to use and after doing so once, I really didn’t want to use it again. It wasn’t as easy and intuitive to use as the Genie mini. I had been shown how to use it, but when I went to do it myself, I had trouble working it out. In the end, I only used it once.

It does add a nice effect to the final time-lapse, but I’m not sure it is worth the aggravation. Perhaps, if you really wanted to get into doing time-lapse photography seriously it would be worth spending the time learning how to get the best results.

However, Syrp have now upgraded it to the Genie II. It is supposed to be easier to use and can do a lot more. Though at $1599 USD, the price will put it out of the range of many photographers, myself included.

Syrp gear

For most of the time that I had the gear on loan, I used the Genie Mini the most. It was small enough that I could carry it around in my bag most of the time and it was easier to use. Using the phone to control it was never a problem.

It is something that will take a lot of getting used to, but for anyone starting out doing time-lapse photography it would be enough. The Genie Mini is what I would recommend. It isn’t cheap, for what it is, but not that expensive that if you really wanted to do time-lapse. The Syrp Genie Mini sells for USD$249.

In the end, by the time I had to give the gear back, I knew I wanted to do more time-lapse photography. So I have since purchased the Genie Mini. I like what I can do with it, it’s simpler to use and the price-point is doable for most people.

Storage and processing the time-lapse

Everyone recommends you take raw images for your time-lapse series, that way you can process them in Lightroom. The biggest problem is the size of the raw files. My D850 has raw files that are approximately 50MB each, so when you are taking a few hundred images, that requires a lot of space.

Thankfully, the D850 has the ability to change the size of the raw files, so I can use smaller ones for time-lapse. If your camera has this feature, then I suggest you do so. Once the images are processed and the time-lapse is done, you can delete the raw files as you will be unlikely to use them again.

time-lapse still Princes Pier

Princes Pier is a popular place for photos, so it seemed like a good idea to try a time-lapse. This is one of the still images from the series.

Using Lightroom to process the images is good as you can edit one image, then sync the rest of them. This will help give all your images the same look. You can then export them to make the time-lapse.

I used Photoshop to build the time-lapse. However, there are many different programs available to try. Some will give you more control, however, Photoshop is quite basic. It’s a good place to start.

If you have trouble getting Photoshop to work it could be the sequence of images you are using. They have to be consistent, or Photoshop won’t load the images properly.

Getting into time-lapse photography

If this is something you want to try, then start with your camera on a tripod. Take photos every few seconds.

However, if you want to get some camera movement, then I would try the Syrp Genie Mini. Learn how to use it completely to get the best videos. If you decide to add more then you can look at doing tilting and gliding. Don’t confuse yourself by trying to learn it all at once.

Read more on time-lapse photography here:

The post Time-Lapse Photography – Beyond the Basics appeared first on Digital Photography School.

9 Recommended Accessories for Your New Sony a7R III or a7 III Camera

The Sony a7 III is arguably the hottest and most popular full-frame DSLR on the market right now. It packs much of the power of Sony’s other full-frame powerhouses, the a9 and a7R III, into a camera that’s significantly more affordable.

If you’ve added the Sony a7III (or the a7R III) to your camera kit recently, here are 10 accessories you might want to buy as well to help you capture better photos and/or videos.

Side note: This article excludes specific lenses, flashes, and camera bags as recommended accessories since they’re hot topics in their own rights, but make sure you get some of those as well.

Sony accessories 01

1. Screen Protector

Both the Sony a7R III and a7 III are certainly very solidly built. You probably won’t need to buy additional protective accessories to shoot in most conditions (unless, of course, you plan on shooting in extreme conditions).

However, it’s a good idea to invest in a screen protector for the rear LCD screen. They’re cheap, relatively easy to apply, and they let you use Sony’s limited touchscreen functions. Just make sure to buy a screen protector that fits your camera model.

2. SD cards

Make sure you invest in at least a couple of SD memory cards to store your images in-camera. If you have multiple memory cards, a memory card wallet or holder is also great to keep them organized.

Size-wise, bigger is better given the larger file sizes of these cameras, so consider getting 32GB or 64GB cards. If you plan to shoot 4K video or take advantage of your camera’s blazing fast frames per second shooting, make sure you choose memory cards with a high write speed, such as this SanDisk 64GB USH-II SD card.

9 Recommended Accessories for Your New Sony a7R III or a7 III Camera - SD cards

3. Camera strap

Both the Sony a7 III and a7R III come with dedicated Sony camera straps. They get the job done but can be difficult to remove in a situation where you don’t want a camera strap in your way (ie. shooting on a tripod). Thus, many photographers opt to purchase third-party camera straps.

The Peak Design Slide camera strap is especially popular right now since they have the ability to easily connect and disconnect from your camera as needed. Also worth checking out are Black Rapid camera straps, especially if you have two camera bodies and need a Double Camera Harness.

Photographers looking for a more fashionable alternative may also be drawn to the HoldFast Money Maker camera strap, which is handmade from genuine or vegan leather.

4. Lens filters

Both the Sony a7 III and a7R III require detachable camera lenses that you have to buy separately. This article won’t discuss specific lenses, but no matter which ones you end up with, you should definitely have a UV filter for each of your lenses.

Not only do UV filters minimize atmospheric haze, but they also protect the surface of the lens from scratches, dust, and most other external damage.

Other handy photography filters include a polarizer and neutral density filter. These are especially applicable if you plan to shoot outdoors.

9 Recommended Accessories for Your New Sony a7R III or a7 III Camera

5. External hard drive

Today’s cameras are packed with more megapixels and high-resolution video recording capabilities than ever before. While this can be a great thing for creatives, it can be a bane on your digital media storage. This is especially true if you have the Sony a7R III, which is capable of producing massive 42-megapixel images.

To avoid filling up your computer, you’ll want at least one external hard drive, or ideally three total to make backups of your images after shooting. When selecting an external hard drive, consider getting a “tough” or version such as the LaCie Rugged Portable Hard Drive that will give you some extra protection, since hard drives can be notoriously easy to damage.

9 Recommended Accessories for Your New Sony a7R III or a7 III Camera - computer and hard drives

6. Spare batteries and a battery charger

It’s somewhat arguable if these two accessories are needed. In case you haven’t heard, Sony drastically improved the battery life in the new Z-batteries that ship with the Sony a9, a7R III, and a7 III.

In my experience with the A7rIII, these new batteries last as long as the ones that power the Canon 5D Mark III. I find that I rarely bust through a whole battery in a full day of shooting still photography. However, it’s always wise to carry a spare battery or two, just in case.

As for the battery charger, you will probably need to buy one if you have the a7 III since that camera is reportedly not shipping with a battery charger in the box. Or, you can simply juice up your camera using the next recommended accessory.

7. External battery charger

One of the most refreshing parts about switching from a DSLR to a Sony mirrorless camera is the fact that you can charge your camera without removing the battery. Simply plug your camera into a wall outlet or external battery via the USB-C port to start charging.

Best of all, you can operate your camera while it’s being charged! As far as external battery packs go, Anker makes stellar options such as this one that is slim and capable of charging not only your camera but also your cell phone.

8. Tripod

Most photography articles include a tripod as a definite “must-have” in your camera kit, but I think this is a very arguable accessory, especially as camera technology improves. If you plan to shoot architecture, real estate, products, or in low-light scenarios, you definitely need a sturdy tripod such as this beastly Manfrotto tripod that is huge, but rock solid.

However, if you’re more of a run and gun shooter or looking for a more minimalist camera setup, you can get away with something like the Manfrotto BeFree travel tripod series, or even a GorillaPod.

In particular, I’ve found the GorillaPod to be ultra convenient. It’s compact and flexible enough to throw into your bag and have it as an option to quickly stabilize your camera as needed (if at all). If you do get a GorillaPod, be sure to get the 3K or 5K option, as any smaller models are often not strong enough to support Sony a7 cameras, or DSLRs in general.

Sony accessories - photographer with pack and tripod in the mountains

9. Timelapse trigger

If you’ve owned a previous model of Sony camera such as the a7R II or an a6000, you probably used the built-in Sony apps. These unlock a host of extra features such as built-in time-lapse.

Unfortunately, Sony removed those apps from both the a7R III and a7 III cameras. That means you can’t easily do built-in time-lapses anymore. Fortunately, there are other options such as the MIOPS Smart Trigger.

In Conclusion

There you have it, nine recommended accessories (besides lenses, flashes, and bags) that you should get for your Sony a7 III or a7R III camera. Would you add any accessories to this list? Please let us know in the comments below.

The post 9 Recommended Accessories for Your New Sony a7R III or a7 III Camera appeared first on Digital Photography School.

5 Camera Bags That Every Travel Photographer Needs At Some Point

One of the great things about being a travel photographer is that you are almost always working outside. Sometimes this might be in a city and sometimes in the wilderness. Either way, one of the main attributes you will need is to be organized. This involves everything from research and planning, to your shot list and efficiency. It also includes being organized with your equipment and what you will need on a day to day basis.

There is a fine balance between carrying too much unnecessary equipment and what you actually will need. A vital part of carrying your equipment is choosing the right bag for the scenario you are going to be photographing. Not only are camera bags important in keeping your equipment safe and dry, but a good bag will also make it easier to carry equipment.

Especially when you will potentially be walking around all day. There are so many bags to choose from, so here are the five types of bags that you may need at some point.

person on a cliff overlooking the water - 5 Camera Bags That Every Travel Photographer Needs At Some Point

#1 – Day Bag

A day bag is usually the first bag that most people would purchase. It will also be the bag that gets the most usage. So it’s vital that you take into account the different options available to fit your needs. Before you rush out and buy one, consider the following factors:

day bag for camera gear - 5 Camera Bags That Every Travel Photographer Needs At Some Point

  • Size – What will you generally be carrying day to day? Most travel photographers will carry a telephoto lens and possibly a couple of smaller lenses. You may also carry a flash as well as memory cards, batteries and possibly a second camera.
  • Tripod – The first day bag that I ever purchased, didn’t have a way to attach and carry my tripod. I quickly realized how frustrating and tiring that was. Carrying a tripod means you are constantly having to put it down every time you want to take a photo. So when fleeting moments arrive you are not ready to snap away.
  • Non-photography space – Another big consideration when purchasing a day bag is how much additional space you will have to carry non-photographic items. For example, can you carry a bottle of water? Or a rain jacket? Is there somewhere safe and hidden away that you can keep your keys, mobile phone or even cash?
  • Accessibility – Would you really want to take everything out of your bag to get to those plasters right at the bottom? How quickly and easily you can access the various compartments of your bag is very important. For example, some bags will allow you to get your camera out from a side zipper without having to open the whole thing up.
  • Comfort – As a travel photographer you will often be out walking for hours. Being able to carry your equipment comfortably can mean the difference between going back to the hotel because you’re uncomfortable and in pain or carrying on.
  • Airline carry-on – Another consideration is whether your bag complies with the carry-on regulations of airlines. I always carry my camera equipment on the plane (I put my tripod in my suitcase) rather than check it in so have to make sure that my bag isn’t too big.

All of these are factors that need to be considered before purchasing a day bag. It’s taken me a few attempts to find the perfect day bag but my choice is the Lowepro ProTactic 450 camera bag.

It has plenty of storage for two cameras as well as a couple of other lenses and things like memory cards and batteries. It has a top zip, as shown below, that makes it easy to access my camera without needing to open the whole bag. I can also carry a large tripod attached to the bag as well.

5 Camera Bags That Every Travel Photographer Needs - Lowepro ProTactic 450 AW Camera Backpack

#2 – Hiking Bag

While a day bag is great for everyday use, sometimes it’s simply not big enough. For those photographers who like to hike or camp overnight, then a day bag won’t be able to hold all of your camera equipment and additional things needed like a tent, food, and water.

So the next bag up from a day bag is a hiking bag. But again it’s important to consider the factors below before purchasing your hiking bag.

5 Camera Bags That Every Travel Photographer Needs - man sitting on a rock by the ocean

  • Size – The first criteria for your hiking bag is the size that you will need. This will come down to what you are planning to photograph and the duration of your hike/trek. For example, if you are planning to camp overnight you will need space for a tent and sleeping bag. But if your hikes are one day ones then you could get away with something smaller. Factor in all the items you will need such as spare clothes, a first aid kit and even cooking utensils as well as your camera gear. Then find a bag to fit what you will be carrying.
  • Water reservoir – This might seem like a trivial point when considering a bag, but being able to have a drink without having to take your bag off is incredibly useful. So one thing that I would always recommend is buying a bag that either comes with a water reservoir or one that you can fit one into. You don’t want to have to constantly stop and take your bag off every time you want to have a drink.
  • Waterproof – Most outdoor bags these days will be somewhat shower proof, but some bags also come with a rain cover that you can place over the bag. These sometimes sit under the bag and can easily be accessed when you need them.
  • Adjustable – On any long walk or hike, comfort is vital. So look for a bag that allows you to be able to adjust the straps to fit your posture. The best thing to do is to try out your given bag for a few hours with your equipment locally before setting out on your trip.

My personal choice for a hiking bag is the Lowepro Pro Trekker 650 AW camera backpack. As I rarely camp overnight, this bag is big enough to carry my camera equipment and any additional daily items. There is also a side pocket for a water reservoir (not included) and you can strap a large tripod to it as well.

#3 – Sling Bag

There are times that even a day bag is too big and cumbersome to carry around. Sometimes all you need is a small bag to carry your camera and a few additional accessories. Sling bags are useful for this purpose and also because you can get things in and out without having to take your bag off.

There may also be occasions (i.e. in busy events) where you can keep your bag in front of you thus making it less inviting to pickpockets and thieves. You won’t be able to carry a lot of equipment or strap your tripod to it, but a good sling bag should still have plenty of room for what you need.

I pack my sling bag into my suitcase (it folds flat) and will use it on occasions when I don’t need to take a lot of equipment. For example, some museums or viewing platforms don’t allow backpacks whereas you’ll be okay with a sling bag.

My sling bag of choice is an older version of the Lowepro Passport Sling III camera bag. It’s surprisingly spacious for its size and I can fit my DSLR as well as a wide-angle lens and a telephoto lens inside. It also has space for memory cards and batteries as well as outside pockets which are useful for things like a water bottle.

sling bag - travel photographers camera bags

#4 – Toploader

These small camera bags are only big enough for one camera and one lens (if you want it for a telephoto lens make sure you purchase the bigger size). The real benefit of these bags are that you can keep your camera on your hip for easy access. So rather than having to take your bag off to pack or unpack your camera you can simply place in this bag as and when you need to.

I find that this is especially beneficial on long hikes or treks when I sometimes may not take a photo for long periods of time but I still have it on hand when a moment presents itself.

The less obvious benefit of these bags, which I realized recently, is when traveling by air. Airlines can be very picky about the weight of your checked-in luggage. So if you find that you are over the limit you can place some items from your luggage into this bag and take it onboard. For example, on a recent trip I was able to place the head from my tripod and few other small but heavy items into this bag and avoid paying the excess weight charge.

I take my Lowepro Toploader Pro 70 AW II camera case with me on every trip. If I can, I pack it in my suitcase and use it where necessary. If my suitcase is full, I put my camera in it and carry it onto the plane in addition to my day bag.

Lowepro Toploader bag - travel photographers camera bags

#5 – Hard Case

Another option to consider for traveling are hard cases. These are suitcases which are made of a tough material which is waterproof and dustproof. They are especially designed for transporting camera equipment.

The benefit of these cases is that your equipment will be safe inside from damage. But they are generally only useful for transportation rather than day to day use. Some of the latest models are designed with a camera backpack inside which allows you to wear it like a traditional day bag. But having tested one a while ago, they are not as comfortable as the traditional day bags.

Personally I have never found a need for one to date as I carry all my equipment in my backpack. But if you are going to be traveling to harsh conditions or face the likelihood of your equipment getting wet than it would be worth investing in a hard case.

Summary

Camera bags might not be the first accessory that comes to mind when building your photography equipment inventory, but they are incredibly important. Not only will they keep your equipment safe, but they might stop you from being uncomfortable or even in pain because of the weight you are carrying.

The important thing is to not rush out and buy all of the above at once. Over the years as the need arises, you can invest in a new bag. So, think carefully about what you need and do some research into the different types of bags available.

What camera bags do you have or find useful? Please share your recommendations below.

The post 5 Camera Bags That Every Travel Photographer Needs At Some Point appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Review of the Westcott Eyelighter for Headshots and Portraits

The portrait and headshot industry in photography is likely the craft’s most popular niche. As such, it isn’t a stretch to say that there is a multitude of headshot and portrait photographers in every state and country. So, you need to find a way to stand out from the herd. The Westcott Eyelighter is one such way to differentiate from the masses, a unique reflector unlike any other I’ve seen before.

Review of the Westcott Eyelighter 2 - studio portrait of a model

What is the Westcott Eyelighter?

Much like the name implies, the Westcott Eyelighter is curved to mimic the shape of the human eye and illuminate the bottom part of the iris (something that many photographers tend to add in post-production). The eyes are the windows to the soul, and often the very first thing most viewers notice about an image. This highlight creates an eye-catching image (no pun intended).

As all working photographers understand, the more time you spend in front of a computer screen is less time out there shooting. So taking advantage of a tool that creates a commonly edited effect is grand. This product certainly diminishes the time spent at the computer.

portrait of a model in a black and white dress - Review of the Westcott Eyelighter for Headshots and Portraits

What’s in the box?

The Westcott Eyelighter kit features the reflector itself and a carrying case, with additional accessories sold separately. The physical makeup of the Eyelighter includes a durable aluminum frame and a highly-reflective silver surface. Tension rods are utilized to pull this material taut, maximizing the light cast on the subject.

I was quite impressed by the durability and quality of the Eyelighter’s build, this is not an addition that will snap or break easily.

Review of the Westcott Eyelighter for Headshots and Portraits - b/w of a model in the studio

Assembly

Assembling the Westcott Eyelighter is not much of a task on paper, but can be a bit of a handful in practice. Myself, as a 5’ 5” 98lb female, did struggle to put the Eyelighter together with no help, but it is most certainly possible.

Westcott released a very helpful YouTube instructional video (see below) on how to properly assemble this reflector for those that don’t find the instruction manual helpful. The real difficulty comes from the tension rods as I found it requires quite a bit of strength to put together.

Had there been a second pair of hands to help, the assembly would have been more of a breeze (so photographers that have studio assistants, there won’t be much concern there). On average, after practicing the assembly process several times, it finally took me 10-15 minutes to put together.

Review of the Westcott Eyelighter for Headshots and Portraits

What’s included with the Westcott Eyelighter.

Transporting the Eyelighter and portability

The Eyelighter is a rather large piece of studio equipment and really is intended as a permanent addition to your studio. As I did not want to assemble and disassemble the kit every time, I wanted to test to see if I can transport the reflector in its fully assembled state.

From personal experience, I can attest that this product can fit into a car fully-assembled (minus the tripod). I drive an SUV, and I did not need to place the seats down to fit this reflector in horizontally across the backseat. Seats may need to be put down for smaller vehicles, but the height of the kit poses no issue fitting inside of a car.

The Eyelighter does come with a carry case and can be disassembled and assembled, but the assembly does take a bit of time. At least, for me it took a significant amount of time, so I would rather transport the reflector fully-assembled.

Review of the Westcott Eyelighter for Headshots and Portraits - studio setup showing it in use

Using the Westcott Eyelighter

Using the Eyelighter is rather simple and doesn’t require any advanced studio knowledge. Like any reflector, the Eyelighter works by bouncing light off of its reflective panel.

The Eyelighter is already tilted upon attachment to a tripod (which must be purchased separately). As such, all you need to do is take a large softbox (I personally use an octagonal one for this but a square or rectangular softbox is just as valid), place it directly above the Eyelighter, and aim downwards.

It may take a bit of maneuvering and brief trial-and-error test to find the correct placement of the reflector underneath your subject, but the general consensus is that it belongs below the chest area of your model. This piece of equipment will not affect your additional lighting setup, which allows you the freedom to light the rest of the subject in any which way.

Unique catchlights

Review of the Westcott Eyelighter for Headshots and Portraits - dramatic b/w portrait

The Eyelighter reflects light toward your subject, leaving a catchlight that follows the natural curve of the eye. If the silver reflector is too bright or causes too stark of a reflection, Westcott has a white sheet available for purchase that will cover that whole panel and soften the effect.

My favorite aspect of this is how seamless the catch light is, there are no odd or unflattering gaps. As well as this, it really does soften the light on the neck and chin. Paired with your other studio lighting kits, this is a must-have for anyone looking to add something fantastic to their collection.

That being said, it is important to keep in mind that due to the necessary position to create the effect, this reflector really is for portrait and headshot use only – you won’t be able to catch a whole body image with this.

Review of the Westcott Eyelighter for Headshots and Portraits - white panel

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, the Westcott Eyelighter is a fun, eye-catching, and simple to use reflector that can really help you stand out from the competition.

With a retail price of $299, this isn’t the absolute most expensive item in your photographic arsenal but can make a huge difference to your portraits and headshots.

The post Review of the Westcott Eyelighter for Headshots and Portraits appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Some of the Pros of Using Micro Four-Thirds Cameras for Wildlife Photography

Micro four-thirds (MFT) cameras have been on the market for 10 years now and have grown to be a preferred option for professionals and amateurs alike. The small camera bodies (you might even say tiny) house high-quality features including high dynamic range, high ISO sensitivity, and 16mp (or greater) sensors.

As the MFT format has gained popularity a range of professional-quality lenses has also been developed. I have been shooting the Olympus Em5 and Em5II since they came on the market in 2013 and 2015 respectively. Throughout my travels shooting wildlife across the U.S., I have been shooting this system with great results.

There are many aspects that micro four-thirds cameras great for wildlife as well as a few drawbacks. I will walk you through my impressions of this system for wildlife photography, both the pros and the cons.

humpback whales - Pros and Cons of Using Micro Four-Thirds Cameras for Wildlife Photography

I took this image of bubble-net feeding Humpback Whales with an Olympus OMD E-M5. All of the images featured in this article were captured using the MFT system.

Intrinsic Advantages (Pros)

The micro four-thirds system has some advantages for wildlife photographers due to the nature of its sensor and technology. These “intrinsic advantages” as I’m calling them are inherent to the system and can assist in your wildlife photography. In the next few sections, I will walk through how a 2x 35mm equivalency, quiet camera, high ISO range, high shutter speed, and high-resolution.

I will also review some features specific to the Olympus E-M5 Mark II system that you may find beneficial.

Micro four-thirds for wildlife - caterpillar

Here I have used MFT to photograph all forms of wildlife. From coastal brown bears to insects.

Pro – Get Closer with the 2x Crop Factor

Everyone who shoots wildlife photography wants to get closer to their subject and this is one way in which micro four-thirds sensors shine. When talking about how a sensor’s size affects the final zoom of your lens, the photography industry standardizes to “35mm equivalency”.

Without diving into the ins-and-outs of that means, here’s the bottom line: if you have a 100-300mm lens the micro four-thirds system effectively makes it a 200-600mm lens. The camera intrinsically doubles the length of your telephoto lens – you can likely appreciate how that doubling of focal length will help you get your wildlife shots!

Micro four-thirds for wildlife - portrait of a deer

2x equivalency is a big deal! You can get closer to wildlife with your enhanced telephoto lens.

small bird with a berry - Micro four-thirds for wildlife

As an avid birder, I appreciate the 2x equivalency to get closer to small birds.

Pro – High Maximum Shutter Speed

The micro four-thirds system is capable of really fast shutter speeds. As a wildlife photographer, it can give you a leg-up on fast-moving animals such as small birds or even insects.

The Olympus OMD E-M5 II is capable of shutter speeds up to 1/8000th of a second! In bright lighting conditions, you can use the fast shutter speed to stop water droplets of an animal walking in a river or the fast pulse of the wings of a hummingbird.

hummingbird in flight - Micro four-thirds for wildlife

Fast shutter speeds will help you stop the wings of a bird even as quick as that of a hummingbird’s!

Pro – 40MP High-Resolution Mode

A feature specific to the Olympus OMD E-M5 II is the 40-megapixel high-resolution mode. Sensor shifting-technology allows the camera to increase the resolution of the image.

One restriction of this process is the subject or animal has to be completely still. However, if you know you have the right conditions and a shot for which you need high resolution, you will find this mode convenient if your goal is to make large prints later.

owls in a tree - Micro four-thirds for wildlife

These great horned owl chicks were sitting so still that I was able to use the high-resolution feature of the Em5II to create a 40-megapixel image of them.

Pro and Con – ISO, and Light

The micro four-thirds system is capable of using high ISO settings to boost your camera’s sensitivity to light. However, high ISO values can create image noise (graininess in the image), and this is one area where the MFT systems fall much shorter than full-frame systems and DSLRs.

You will find that you can comfortably shoot up to ISO 800 or 1600 and be able to post-process out the noise. However, at ISO 1600 you will notice the noise if you crop the image, so be aware of that. Low-light conditions are common for wildlife photography, so consider that this system will not give you the performance of full frame cameras.

great horned owl eyes closed - Micro four-thirds for wildlife

This great horned owl was photographed in low light, so I needed to increase my ISO to capture it.

Pro – A Stealthy Camera

This camera contains no mirrors or moving parts inside the camera – every process occurs digitally. That makes the camera extremely quiet when you press the shutter button and it will not disturb the wildlife you are watching. This helps you keep the animal in range and also be an ethical wildlife photographer that does not negatively impact the wildlife you are shooting.

dragonfly damselfly - Micro four-thirds for wildlife

A quiet camera is very important for capturing skittish animals such as this damselfly!

Pro – Flexibility

This camera can provide incredible flexibility to your kit. In the next sections, I will review some features that I find helpful for wildlife photography.

Pro – Light Body

All of the mirrorless cameras are light which makes them ideal to transport. This is due to the lack of moving parts within the camera such as mirrors – which allow the cameras to be smaller. The lenses native to micro four-thirds cameras are also generally light.

Reiterating my point about 2x equivalency, you can get a 600mm equivalent telephoto lens that only weighs a few pounds. As a traveling wildlife photographer, you will appreciate the light weight in your backpack, carry-on luggage, or strapped around your neck.

micro four-thirds for wildlife - olympus camera

This is the Olympus Em5II body and Lumix 100-300 that I use for wildlife photography. You can see how small the body and lens is!

Pro – Fast Autofocus

The autofocus system on this camera is very fast and is useful for inflight shots of birds and general wildlife photography. Upgrades to the autofocus systems in the Olympus E-M5 II have provided accurate focus points giving you the ability to target an exact spot in your frame to focus.

One disadvantage is I find that the autofocus hunts in low-contrast situations. So you should be prepared to manually focus in low-light shooting conditions such as at dusk or in a heavy forest canopy.

micro four-thirds for wildlife - eagle in mid-air

A fast autofocus system will help you a lot with in-flight images of birds.

crane in flight - micro four-thirds for wildlife

I relied on the autofocus to capture this sandhill crane as it flew by.

Pro – High Resolution

Almost all micro four-thirds cameras come with a high-resolution (16mp or greater) sensor. The 16mp sensor on the Olympus E-M5 II gives plenty of resolution for enlargements. This is useful for printing and also gives you the ability to crop a shot and maintain sharpness.

I have made canvas prints up to 36” with images from this camera and found the resolution was ample for that as long as you have a sharp shot.

owl in Lightroom - micro four-thirds for wildlife

Here is a 1:1 crop of an image of a great horned owl. You can see that the image maintains decent sharpness even at a large crop.

Pro – Native Lenses and Adapting Lenses

If you are willing to shoot with manual focus it is possible to adapt nearly any brand of telephoto lens (Canon, Nikon, Sigma, etc.) to your MFT camera using an adaptor. This is thanks to the small flange distance of the MFT format. I have had success adapting long telephotos, old Olympus OMD lenses, and even old screw-mount lenses such as a Takumar 35mm that I have.

Why does that matter? Adaptors are cheap ($25 – $50 generally) and allow you to utilize glass that you may already own bringing down the price-point of your system.

olympus camera and adapted lens - micro four-thirds for wildlife

You can adapt almost any lens to the MFT bodies. Although I do not use this Takumar portrait lens for wildlife, it shows off the ability to adapt even a screw-mount lens such as this one built in the 1960s.

Pro – Sealed Bodies and Lenses

The body of the Olympus E-M5 Mark II is sealed from dust and water. Although that is not the case with all MFT cameras, as long as you do your research you’ll find other camera bodies that are sealed and well-built too.

This is invaluable to a wildlife photographer! I am sure you can think of times that you needed to shoot in the rain, the dust, or perhaps the mist of a waterfall. Having a sealed body will protect your camera and investment.

breaching whale - micro four-thirds for wildlife

On a boat or on land, you need to be able to count on a sealed body to protect your camera.

The Bottom Line

You may have found the features above appealing for your photography needs, so let’s look at the bottom line and the value-to-cost of this system.

You can find micro four-thirds cameras starting at $200 and going up to about $1,000. For those prices, you are getting a camera capable of shooting high-resolution images with excellent quality. With practice and patience, you can take beautiful images of wildlife and not break your back (or your bank) while doing it.

As I like to say, “pixels are cheap”, so I hope you make lots of them photographing wildlife with a micro four-thirds system.

The post Some of the Pros of Using Micro Four-Thirds Cameras for Wildlife Photography appeared first on Digital Photography School.

REVIEW: LaCie DJI Copilot BOSS External Hard Drive

The LaCie DJI CoPilot BOSS is a portable hard drive with an internal battery and added interfaces. The interfaces include an SD card slot, USB-C and USB-A connectors, and a custom cable for connecting the device to a phone or tablet.

There is an app available for both Apple and Android devices which gives you the ability to perform simple procedures on stored photos.

REVIEW: LaCie DJI Copilot BOSS External Hard Drive

The device is meant to be simple and easy to use while providing long battery life for extended periods away from a computer or outlet. The idea is to remove the need to take a bulky or brittle laptop into the wilds while shooting. But still, allow for backing up of critical images while on location.

Who is the LaCie DJI Copilot BOSS for?

While the drive is marketed by DJI, a leading drone manufacturer, the drive can be used by any photographer. With its ruggedized covering, it’s meant to travel far and wide. Its interfaces make it device agnostic. If you have an SD card (or micro-SD with the included adapter) or a USB connection, this device will work for you.

It is meant to be easy and straightforward without the extra cost that comes with all kinds of unused bells and whistles.

Some stats

REVIEW: LaCie DJI Copilot BOSS External Hard Drive

What’s in the box of the LaCie DJI Copilot BOSS External Hard Drive. (Photo courtesy of LaCie/DJI)

  • 2 terabyte (TB) capacity
  • 5.3″ x 4.3″ x 1.4″ (136mm x 111mm x 36mm)
  • 1.2lbs / .53kg
  • Compatible with Window 10 or higher and Mac OS X 10.10 or higher via USB-C 3.1, Thunderbolt, 3, USB  2 or 3
  • Mobile phones/tablets running iOS 10.3 or higher or Android 4.4 or higher
  • Connects to mobile devices via included Lightning, micro USB or USB-C
  • Comes with a wall charger with multi-country adapters as well as a micro USB adapter
  • For reference sake, the 2TB drive can download 31 x 64GB cards. That’s about 70,000 20MP images (at roughly 28MB each) and hours of 4K video. Storage capacity varies depending on your camera settings.
  • Suggested retail price is $349USD

REVIEW: LaCie DJI Copilot BOSS External Hard Drive

The unit can be charged with the included AC adapter (more on that in a minute) or through the USB-C connection, but only when connected to a computer or power pack, not through a wall charger.

The unit does have the ability to charge via its USB-C connection but only when connected to a laptop/desktop or portable external battery. When I asked, LeCie stated a wall charger would not work with the USB-C connection and it was also slower than the AC adapter (taking 12 hours to charge from 0-100% vs. 3 hours with the AC adapter).

How it works

Operation of the CoPilot is pretty simple. There’s only one button and you press it once to get system status (battery level and storage space remaining) or hold it down for three seconds to turn the unit on.

REVIEW: LaCie DJI Copilot BOSS External Hard Drive

The on/off button.

Next, insert a memory card, USB drive, USB connection for a phone or USB connection to your camera or drone. The screen will ask you, “Copy?” (see image below) and indicate one press of the button for yes or hold down the button for no. Pretty easy!

REVIEW: LaCie DJI Copilot BOSS External Hard Drive

REVIEW: LaCie DJI Copilot BOSS External Hard Drive

The unit will scan the drive and start copying, updating status as it runs. It gives updates with a progress bar and the remaining battery level of the unit.

If you press the button, it will also show the number of files copied alongside the total number of photos to be copied. The next screen shows that previous amount as a percentage complete and then is a screen displaying the rate at which your card is being backed up.

REVIEW: LaCie DJI Copilot BOSS External Hard Drive

Some nice features

The unit also has the ability to queue up different backups, such as plugging in both an SD card and a USB drive for total unattended backup of your devices.

When the copy process is complete, the unit will display “Done” and it will remain on that screen until OK is pressed. I love this feature. In the past, I have used units that never gave a copy confirmation and I’m not one to stare at a device for 5-30 minutes depending on how many photos are being backed up. I never knew if a backup failed or completed.

The CoPilot will tell you if the copy competed or if there was an error, before letting you move on to another card. Very handy. Also, there is a ring around the outside of the display showing, as a percentage, how much space has been used on the CoPilot.

Copy procedures can be stopped at any time by simply holding down the button for three seconds and then pressing once more to confirm cancelation.

REVIEW: LaCie DJI Copilot BOSS External Hard Drive

The CoPilot App

The CoPilot App runs on Apple or Android devices. I will be sharing screenshots from an Apple iPad in this article. The unit comes with three cords for connection; Apple Lightning, micro-USB, and USB-C. The cord for connection wraps nicely around the unit, a thoughtful touch.

REVIEW: LaCie DJI Copilot BOSS External Hard Drive

After the initial setup of the app and device (those instructions are included with the device), it’s pretty easy to browse photos stored on the CoPilot or even on inserted SD cards or connected USB devices. This is helpful as it can turn your phone/tablet into a card reader for other purposes.

REVIEW: LaCie DJI Copilot BOSS External Hard Drive

On the left side of the screen are the available devices, with the first item being the CoPilot, followed by the device you are using (my iPad is named Spiff, as in Spaceman Spiff) and then the other ports on the CoPilot.

The main screen shows folders on the CoPilot when it is selected. The Backups folder is where everything resides and tapping it brings up a folder for each backup run.

REVIEW: LaCie DJI Copilot BOSS External Hard Drive

The folders are named by date, the time the backup was started and a unique identifier for each card or device. The date is below each folder if that makes reading easier.

Using the app

Tapping a folder will let you drill down through the typical card structure (depending on your camera manufacturer’s specifications) until you arrive at your photos.

REVIEW: LaCie DJI Copilot BOSS External Hard Drive

At this point, the image grid can be made fullscreen to cover more real estate if you like.

REVIEW: LaCie DJI Copilot BOSS External Hard Drive

The LaCie DJI Copilot BOSS External Hard Drive can handle all the major Raw and JPEG file types as well as PDFs and a few others.

One more tap brings up a single image to fill your screen. It’s a 100% version, so you can zoom in just as you would on your desktop. There is not a zoom indicator anywhere, though.

REVIEW: LaCie DJI Copilot BOSS External Hard Drive

REVIEW: LaCie DJI Copilot BOSS External Hard Drive

There are a few things you can do with the photo at this point. The Move and Copy options are both straightforward. Images can be copied either to another place on the CoPilot or to an attached USB or SD card. Rename might be helpful to some users as well.

REVIEW: LaCie DJI Copilot BOSS External Hard Drive

Full EXIF information is also available although DJI/LaCie need to clean up how it is presented.

REVIEW: LaCie DJI Copilot BOSS External Hard Drive

Exif information display for this image.

I can see why a programmer made it display this way, but it’s not too user-friendly. An exposure time of 0.00200o seconds?

A little handier is the ability to share out the image with normal platform-specific applications. Here you see the standard Apple lineup and I enjoy that “Save Image” is there, making it easy to drop the file onto my iPad for use in a blog post or the like.

REVIEW: LaCie DJI Copilot BOSS External Hard Drive

Share options.

If installed, the image can be handed off to the likes of Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop Express or Dropbox or any of a number of other apps. Note that these are the RAW (.CR2 in the case of Canon) files, not JPEGs if you are shooting RAW.

REVIEW: LaCie DJI Copilot BOSS External Hard Drive

The image opened in Photoshop Express.

Previews in the app

One small annoyance with the app is the chronological preview creation. In this case, I had over 800 images in the folder on the CoPilot so it starts at the top creating previews. Before that they all look like this:

REVIEW: LaCie DJI Copilot BOSS External Hard Drive

And if you want to work with an image shot just moments ago, it’s going to be at the bottom of the folder and you have to wait for the preview to resolve. Not a big thing, but something to note if you have thousands of images in one folder.

Otherwise, the app is pretty slim in features. You can rename folders and delete them if you like, which is handy. I wish I could drag images from the main part of the screen to my iPad folder on the left, but that’s not the case. I’d also like the ability to star or pick my photos as I do in Lightroom. That would make the app a lot more useful.

In the real world

At times I thought I should be able to just plug a card in (without powering on the unit) and start copying. Once I got over that mentality and was patient enough to wait for it to power on, I found the CoPilot easy to use.

I really enjoyed that it could back up all my media, including my phone photos (but not a true backup of my phone as I do on my desktop). With a cable, I can also download directly from my drone, but I often found it easier to use the micro-SD card adapter. After all, that’s what I do now when downloading drone footage.

The unit is a little hefty and all the rubberizing makes it a little bulky. It’s certainly not as small as my Western Digital Passports but also not as large as a standard external drive. I do feel pretty confident with that mass of rubber coating all around the shell and the toughness of a non-touchscreen.

REVIEW: LaCie DJI Copilot BOSS External Hard Drive

Minor issues

This will seem like a minor gripe and I guess it is, but not owning a newer Android phone, I also do not own a USB-C to USB-A cable. The unit comes with a USB-C to USB-C cable for connecting to your desktop or laptop for final download and workflow, but not the cable I needed. Not a big deal, but it’s one more cable.

My bigger complaint is with the interface cover. It’s not tethered to the unit and I easily see myself losing it within a month of owning a CoPilot. It’s great that there is a cutout on the inside of the cover allowing you to keep SD cards (or the Micro-SD adapter) inserted with the cover on. But when hooked to USB, that cover can go missing.

For portability, I’m not happy that I can only use the somewhat bulky AC adapter that comes with the unit to charge the hard drive. When I am out of the country for 2-3 weeks leading one of my tours, I can’t trust that I’ll have enough battery power. So yet another power adapter has to be packed and accounted for.

It would be great if I could charge the unit with USB power (and that would take away my complaint above). However, if I was only going to be gone 1-2 weeks and thought I would shoot maybe only 4000-6000 images, I think it would be okay. This aspect needs more real-world battery drain testing.

Backing up your files

Unfortunately, there is no ability to perform incremental backups. The good news is you can use the app from your phone or tablet to simply delete the previous, redundant backup.

Such as, if you shoot 400 photos and back those up, then keep using the card for another 600 images. Your second backup will contain all 1000 images and with the app, you can delete the first backup of 400, if you want. It’s also handy that Lightroom and other desktop apps will recognize the duplicates and only import one copy, so you don’t have to delete the redundant backup copies if you don’t want to.

Backup speeds will depend on the type of card you are using. It is handy that the unit will tell you the exact throughput (in MBs) while it is downloading so you can estimate time remaining. In my experience, 40GB of backup from an SD card to the unit used about 6-8% of battery. I would estimate 12-14 32GB cards could be downloaded with each charge.

Dirt issues

Lastly, this is a minor thing, but the rubberized coating of the CoPilot attracts dirt and lint. I placed the unit in a planter for the introductory photo of this post and it came away with dirt stuck fairly well to the housing. It’s meant to take a beating, but my unit was not sparkling new for long.

See all the dust and stuff stuck to it?

(Photo courtesy of LaCie/DJI)

Downloading from the CoPilot

When matched with the likes of Lightroom and its ability to ignore duplicates, the CoPilot is a breeze when it’s time to download images at home or the office. Plug into the USB-C connector and start your import. No need to browse folder to folder.

Yet, if you only want to download a particular day’s worth of images, the CoPilot’s structure of naming folders first by the date shot is a big help in finding just the right images. The USB-C is fast at a rate of about 5Gbps.

Otherwise, the drive works like any other external hard drive and can be read directly. It can also be used as a card reader while plugged in.

(Photo courtesy of LaCie/DJI)

Is it worth it?

The LaCie 2TB DJI Copilot BOSS External Hard Drive lists for $349. That’s a hefty price and not a cheap purchase. If you travel occasionally, this might not be the right device for you, given that price point. But if you find yourself lugging your laptop around only to be used as a conduit for backing up photos, the CoPilot will pay for itself soon enough.

Personally, when I lead photo tours I carry enough gear for the group that I don’t want to bring a laptop. I intend to purchase a CoPilot BOSS before my next trip abroad in order to lighten my load while ensuring I all my precious photos return with me.

The post REVIEW: LaCie DJI Copilot BOSS External Hard Drive appeared first on Digital Photography School.

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