Thursday, July 26, 2012

What do you do when you have too much camera gear?


You buy a bigger bag of course!


When I've traveled with my camera on the airlines in the past I carried my camera backpack with one camera body and three lenses.   My big 100-400 zoom had to go in the suitcase because it wouldn't all fit.  Now I have two bodies to take with me and I was afraid I was only going to be able to take one change of clothes because my suitcase was going to be filled up.   In addition to the camera backpack I was also carrying a laptop backpack on these trips.

I now have a thinkTANK Commuter backpack that is big enough to carry all my camera gear plus my laptop!  The cool thing is this bag is designed to fit in the airplane overhead bins or under a seat so I can keep it with me even on those little planes that fly in and out of our local airport.

You can see I have my 5D, 7D, 17-40, 24-105, 100, and 80-400 in there, plus my flash, a collection of filters, and a bunch of misc. accessories.  The blue thing in the middle is a rain fly for the bag.  My other Tamrac bag claimed to be weather proof but I learned this past spring that it's not 100%.

When I put all this stuff in one bag and then strap the tripod on the side I have to get a crane to lift it on my back.  My plan is to keep my old smaller bag and use it for hiking where I take only what I need.

This bag is extremely well built and looks like it will last forever, or until I outgrow it again.  It came highly recommended and rated online.  Everyone I know that has a thinkTank bag was really happy.  I'll let you know how the bag works out after we get back from Glacier.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

One Fruit of The Spirit & Shooting Birds

Click on any photo in the blog for a larger view.

No, I haven't taken up bird hunting.  In this case I was shooting perching birds in the backyard with my 400mm zoom.   These little guys are a challenge to shoot because they fly so fast and are so small it hard to catch them in the frame and in focus.   Those big egrets are a breeze compared to these little speed demons. 

Today's bird blind was the kitchen. We have a bird feeder on a post in the backyard.  I opened the kitchen window and shot from the inside out towards the feeder.   My old Sigma 80-400 does not focus near fast enough for these birds and there is no way I could follow them in the view finder.  I set up on a tripod and pointed the camera at a point just to the left or right of the feeder where I could catch them in their flight path.   I guessed at the focus using the feeder as my reference. 

I learned that the Depth of Field (DOF) of a 400mm lens on a Canon 7D at f/11 focused at 25' is just over 6".   Most of the time it wasn't bright enough to get that large an f-stop and I had to make do with 5.6 - 7.1, which gave me a DOF of 3" - 4".   That means the bird had to fly through a space less than 4" deep and about 2' wide.

Most of the time it was cloudy and when the sun did come out it was behind the birds, making them a dark silhouette against the bright green field behind them.   I got out a large reflector and propped it up to bounce that sunlight back towards where I hoped the birds would fly.  I later discovered the birds used the reflector for target practice.

I found the birds were most active at the feeder when the sun was behind the clouds and it was too dark for a good shot.  When the sun came out the birds were no where to be seen!

I was able to get one decent shot of a Purple Finch (above) and a few of the Pine Siskins. There were also Gold Finches, Towhee, Chickadees, Cardinals, and Tufted Titmice but I didn't get them today.

Watching these graceful little creatures has a calming effect.   It's a good thing because this was an exercise in patience.  There was a lot of time standing and waiting for the birds to fly to the right spot.  When I loaded the results on the computer 90% of them were out of focus, only part of the bird was in the frame, or there was no bird at all.   
The title of this blog hints at one of the key factors in wildlife photography - patience.   "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Against such things there is no law." - Galatians 5:22-23.  You can't rush wildlife photography.  Patience may be the biggest contributing factor to getting decent wildlife photos.

When shooting wildlife it's good to remember this saying by Ralph Waldo Emerson - "Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience. "

Sunday, July 15, 2012


Nothing says summer like a big yellow Sunflower against a blue sky with white puffy clouds!   After a week of rain, the skies were clear on Saturday morning and it was time for a short trip to find something to shoot.   I had heard about a sunflower field in Piney Flats Tennessee, which sounded like fun.  All I knew was the name of the road.   Turns out that road is pretty long and we had no idea where along this long winding road the field was.  We drove from one end to the other and saw no sunflowers.   We turned around and headed back not knowing if it was even still there.   After a few miles we saw it!  It was in a curve and up from the road a bit which made it hard to see coming our first direction.

The owner happened to be out when we got there and with a wave of his hand let us know it was OK to take some photos.  The flowers weren't in the best shape this day.  Maybe it was the hot dry spell we had through all of June, or maybe it was the torrential downpours we had a few days earlier.   Either way it was going to take a little walking around to find the best angles to get the flowers with an interesting background, good light, and no distracting elements in the photo.   It was close to mid-day, which is typically a bad time for taking photos outdoors.  I needed to take a practice shot to check out the lighting.   I walked up to the first good specimen I saw, quickly focused and took the practice shot.  No tripod, no worrying about the f-stop or shutter speed.  Just a quick shot.

After that I wandered around the field with my camera on the tripod (I almost always shoot on a tripod) composing shots with attention to details in each photo.   After a while I had 80 or so shots (every shot yields three images at different exposures) and we headed home for lunch. 

While the photos were still loading, I decided to see what I could do with that first practice shot.   Little did I know it would turn out the be my favorite of the day.  I liked the lighting, the composition and the depth of field.   After a few tweaks on the computer I had this sunflower image.

I worked on the others but I didn't like any of them as much as this first one.

Seems like there were some lessons here:
  • Don't make any assumptions about the quality and value of something (or someone) without taking a close look.  My assumptions may be completely wrong or keep me from seeing the real beauty.
  • The beauty in a photo has less to do with my skills and equipment and more to do with God's creation.   Not only did he create the flower, but he provided the conditions that highlighted the beauty of that creation.
  • The rules of photography, such as don't take photos outdoors at mid-day in bright sun, are not rules but guidelines.  I need to remember that.
I hope you enjoy this Summertime Sunflower.   I'm going to print it and have it available for purchase in the Star Trails Downtown Gallery in Kingsport around July 23rd.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Several weeks ago I went to a Revolutionary War Reenactment with plans of shooting some action shots of the battle.   Before all the action started I was wandering around the fort mostly looking for shots of the actors.  If you've not been to one of these events you don't know what you're missing.  It's like being transported back hundreds of years.  These people are very good at what they do and seem to enjoy it immensely . 

Being primarily a landscape photographer, I almost always travel with my tripod but that day I didn't have it.   I needed to be able to wander around and a tripod would only get in the way.

Then I looked in one of the windows at the fort and saw that a table had been set with period items.  I was outside in bright sun and the inside was very dark (no electric lights in 1776).  No way I was going to be able to capture the entire range of light with a single exposure.   I needed to take multiple shots at different exposures to be able to blend time together using HDR software.   I always use a tripod when shooting for HDR so that the camera does not move.  Any camera movement will make an HDR image useless.   I decided, what the heck.  I have the time and it's only pixels.  I'll give it a try.

When I got home and started processing the images the result I got was totally unexpected. 

My three exposures were at 1/6, 1/13, 1/25 of a second, really too slow to hand hold and
I never expected the the shots to line up, but they did!

One of my sayings is "You'll never get the shot if you don't go".  That usually involves getting up around 3 AM and driving to get a sunrise that may or may not work.   My new saying is "You never know what you'll get until you try".  Conventional photography wisdom said this shot was a waste of time.  If I had followed conventional wisdom I never wold have gotten this photo.

This has become one of my favorite shots.   Maybe because I never expected it to work or maybe because it is different from what I usually shoot.   I don't know if anyone else will like it at all, but I went and printed it and it is for sale at the Star Trails Downtown Gallery in Kingsport.   Stop by the gallery and check out all the artwork that is on display.  It's really a nice gallery and some very talented people are represented.

Star Trail Gallery
246 Broad Street, Kingsport, TN 37660
Tuesday – Thursday  |  11 AM – 7 PM
Friday & Saturday  |  11 AM – 8 PM

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Calm Before The Storm

Last week I got an email from a small hotel in Townsend Tennessee inviting us to come for the July 4th holiday.   Townsend, known as the quiet side of the Smokies, is a small one traffic light town just outside the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Their fireworks were to be set off in the field next to the hotel.  That hotel didn't have any rooms left so we got a reservation at one of our other favorite hotels in Townsend - The Gateway Inn

Cosby Creek
You can click any of these photos for a larger version.  These and other recent photos are available online in my Recent Outing gallery.

With our reservation made we headed to the park on July 4th.  June and I tend to avoid Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge and the massive crowds as much as possible.  This day we came in from the East and stopped at the Cosby Campground for our big hike of the day.   We had plans to hike to the Mount Cammerer Watch Tower, which is 6 miles away and 2,400 feet up from the campground.   The hike up the Low Gap Trail to the Appalachian Trail was hot and tiring but worth it.  We were surprised to find a small creek and this foot bridge at the very beginning of the trail.  Time to take the boots off and wade into the creek for some shots! 

We found dense gardens of Rosebay Rhododendrons, Bee Balm, Turks Cap Lilies and other wildflowers along the trail.   When we reached the top we found the stone watch tower to be a great place with fantastic 360 degree views.  We stayed for a while and watched this storm move up the valley before heading back down the mountain.   We hiked and took photos for almost 7 hours and only saw 5 other people!  No crowds here except two very large wild turkeys near the trail. 

After a fantastic fireworks show on Wednesday night we got up and headed into Cades Cove just after sunrise.   We expected to find smaller crowds and wildlife in the cove that early.   The weather had been very hot and the wildlife was already back in the woods by the time we got there.   We were able to get out to the John Oliver cabin before the crowds and enjoyed watching the sun come up through the trees.   By this time the traffic was picking up and it was time to leave the cove and do some more hiking.

We picked a trail we had not hiked before and headed up the mountain.   After a mile or so we decided it was way too hot and muggy to keep hiking and there must be cooler spots so we turned around and headed for the Tremont Road and the Middle Prong River.   We found a shady spot in the river and got out on some large boulders, laid down and took a nap with our feet in the cool mountain water.   When we looked up we were treated to a beautiful canopy of green leaves and a blue cloudless sky.  It may have been the most peaceful place in the park at that time.   We had successfully avoided the crowds again!

The temps continued to rise into the mid-90's and we decided it was time for a late lunch and to head home.   Little did we know that by leaving early we avoided one of the worst storms to ever hit the park.   Thunderstorms brought 70 mile an hour winds and torrential rain, knocking down trees, blocking many of the park roads and killing two people.   It had been so peaceful a few hours before while we were napping on boulders in the river.  We had no idea of the destruction that was to come.

There may be some life lessons in our short two day trip to The Great Smoky Mountains. First, following the popular path may not lead to the best things in life.  Second, sometimes we have to go down a difficult path before we see the blessings.  Finally, storms are going to come through our lives, often when there are clear blue skies and we least expect them.  The narrow path may be difficult and there will be storms but God has promised his blessings for us.

The Smoky Mountains is one of our favorite places to visit and we will be back and we'll hike up to Mount Cammerer and enjoy the views again.   It's now one of my favorite hikes!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Book Review: Photographing Waterdrops

Recently I was given the opportunity to review the second Harold Davis photography book to be added to my library of photography books - Photographing Waterdrops.  Harold is a master in the art of macro photography and has written several books on the subject.  Each of his books are both instructive and a joy to look at and this latest book is no exception.

I enjoy shooting water drops.  Each one is a miniature world reflecting the world outside or refracting the world on the other side. They are always interesting to look at and almost always difficult to photograph .In this book, Harold instructs the reader the equipment and techniques for capturing these miniature worlds.

The book is organized into three sections - Waterdrop Worlds, Making Waterdrop Photos and Waterdrops in the Digital Darkroom.

After several pages on the importance of water to our world and the lifecycle of a waterdrop, he gets down to how to deal with extreme magnification of macro photography, the physics of a waterdrop, different kinds of waterdrops, and the difference between reflections and refractions.  He spends several pages on waterdrops on spiderwebs.  I've shot these before, but never like the extreme closeups he shows in the book.   I'm inspired to try it out next opportunity I get.  He also explains how to get the starburst effect in waterdrops.

In Making Waterdrop Photos he covers some basics of good exposures, the exposure triangle, and reading histograms.  A new photographer will appreciate this instruction and the more experienced may benefit from the review.   He spends several pages on equipment - lenses, extension tubes, close up filters, tripods, and flashes.   He also talks about some of the challenges of extreme macro photography and how to over come these challenges.

In the final section, Harold explains his techniques for post processing using Adobe Photoshop.   If you're an Aperture, Lightroom, or other software user you will benefit from the concepts, but not the technique.  

Harold includes many of his own photos as teaching examples in his books.   With each photo he explains the situation, how he approached the subject, and the technical specs on each photo.   The examples are great teaching tools and are a pleasure to look at.

This book retails from $29.95 (USD) and Amazon is selling it for $19.37.   If you have an interest in photographing waterdrops you'll find this a very worthwhile investment.

Now if it will only rain here in East Tennessee I'll get out and practice what I have learned.