Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Search for the Perfect Camera Bag

Hello world.
Welcome to another episode of The Search for the Perfect Camera Bag!

Since I started shooting in 2006, I've gone through a fair number of camera carrying and storage systems. As my photography needs change and evolve, so do my requirements for camera bags.

For the last 4 or 5 years, I've been using the LowePro CompuTrekker AW Plus II bag. It's big, it's bad and it *barely* fits carry-on requirements. By barely, I mean I have to use my feet to shove it under the seat in front of me and flight attendants scowl at me when I do it.

Anyway. The main zipper on the LowePro bag started freaking out a few months ago and finally failed outright two weeks ago. That bag served me well for a long time - I figured I might just replace it with the newer version of the same bag, until I realized the cost. Upwards of $200.


Still, if a bag like that lasts me 5 years, I'm only paying $50/year or so, which isn't all that bad.
Just in case a better deal could be found, I decided to cruise for alternatives.
I found one.

 It's smaller than the LowePro but it still holds all of my essential gear. This forces me to be more careful about the gear that I carry and what stays at home. It also provided me with the opportunity to go through all my crap and discover some of the junk I have been carrying around for years in forgotten pockets of the LowePro.

It feels solid, especially the zipper, which is high on my radar after experiencing the zipper failure on the LowePro. Granted, I have only been shooting out of it for two weeks, so in four years I may be experiencing another tragic zipper malfunction, or perhaps something worse. Something about the feel of these zippers inspires confidence though - and I am optimistic about this particular bag lasting me a long time.

Best part? All this functionality for $40! (the price I paid two weeks ago).

Here's the old gear list, showing which items I removed for the fit into the new bag.

  • 18-55mm kit lens
  • Rain cover
  • 50mm f/1.8 lens w/ lens cloth
  • 28mm f/2.8 lens w/ lens cloth (sold)
  • SB 600 flash and Polorizing filter (never use it)
  • Nikon D300s Body with grip
  • BlackRapid R-Strap. RS-5 It carries an extra D300 battery as well as all of my Lexar memory cards
  • On the camera is the 35mm f/1.8 lens.
  • 3x PocketWizard Transievers
  • Portable USB HDD - Right now it's a 250gb Seagate. It will soon be a 500gb Seagate
  • 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II lens
  • A spare pair of socks. Gotta have 'em
  • Backup Camera Body is my Nikon D300 that recently had its shutter replaced to the tune of nearly $500
  • 2x Spare En-El3 battery
In the top pockets I have a notebook, zipties, and a bunch of spare Mini and Micro USB cables for HDDs/cameras/phones/ etc. I also carry a card reader, nail clippers, my old media pass and a flashlight. You never know.

Some of that gear has moved on to better homes, while some of it has been moved into a different carrying system. The hard drives and my computer now have a proper briefcase that I picked up at a thrift store, along with blank model releases. 

I anticipate continuing with this setup for some time to come. If anything drastic changes, I will (of course) write a post for you, my loyal readers.

Stay tuned for images from yesterday's photoshoot with a new face to the Vault Blog...

Monday, January 23, 2012

Models in the studio

I spent yesterday with my compatriots Andy and Taylor in the studio photographing a few ladies who are relatively new to modeling. Here is what I came up with:




A righteous good time working with each lovely lady. I hope to photograph all three of them in the future and I encourage other photographers to do the same!

My only real concept for the day was the shoot-through-fan deal, which I actually executed with a hot-light while Taylor used the strobes for one of his concepts.

Fun stuff: This Sunday tvC is hosting our first Photowalk in downtown Flagstaff with cameras and maybe models, seeing what there is to see and taking lots of pictures. Any and all are welcome. We will start off at noon with lunch at Big Foot BBQ, then wander aimlessly starting at 1pm. It's FREE unless you're having lunch with us.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Jan/Feb backgrounds

So, I've been bad about posting backgrounds the last few months. I haven't felt the need to change them every month - but this morning I did.

Here are the two images on my monitors right now:

Both are full-rez.

Both were shot on the P7000

This-coming semester

We are starting another semester... hopefully my final semester. Ever.

Here are some things that I would like to accomplish in the next 5 months:

1) Graduate. Apparently NAU misplaced my two graduation applications. Rawr.
2) Get a job that I enjoy. This job must pay in real money, in excess of minimum wage.
3) Start working with Actors instead of Models. I've heard great things about it.
4) Solidify my relationships with local businesses, and form new ones.
5) Continue working with thevisualCollective
6) Sell a bunch of the crap that I've accumulated but never use.
7) Move into a camera bag with a zipper that works
8) Help the NAU Photo Program continue to improve in ways that matter to students

That's all I can think of for now... Here are a few pictures from my winter break walkabout.

14" of fresh snow. 7am

check that bokeh...

Depressing dead-looking trees.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

ONE LENS: to rule them all

I've had a fair few conversations with emerging photographers recently. Naturally, as they tend to do, beginners tend to start out talking about gear. What gear should I buy? Which body? Which lens? What computer, software, memory cards, etc?

So many questions.

My advice to these photographers generally surprises them.

In my humble opinion, there is ONE LENS to rule them all. My go-to piece of glass. If I had to sell the rest of my lenses, it's the one that I would keep. It's the one that has survived everything I've been able to throw at it, and the one lens I have beat on the longest.

It's the 50mm F/1.8
All images courtesy of

This should *not* surprise anyone. The 50mm prime is the oldest trick in the book. It is incredibly versatile, inexpensive, small (low profile) and lighter than any other lens.


Still, the people I talk to don't WANT to hear that the 50mm is my favorite lens. They want to hear that the 70-200mm F/2.8 or the 400 F/2.8 or the 600 F/4 is my favorite lens, because all those lenses are hideously expensive, and thus generally out of reach for these beginners and amateurs who don't have thousands to spend on glass.

They can say, "Well it isn't my fault that my pictures suck, I don't have the right gear, I don't have the money. If I could only have ____, then I'd be a better photographer."

On the other hand, a $125 or $220 lens?* Anyone can buy that with a little bit of smart spending/saving. Cut back on your coffee or cigarette or energy drink habit and you've saved enough to buy one in a month or two.

If the gear you need is within your reach, it becomes YOUR fault that your pictures suck. It becomes your problem that you haven't spent any time thinking critically about how to communicate with a still image. It becomes your fault that you don't care enough to take your time to compose an image worth sharing. All of a sudden, when you realize that gear is not the issue, all your shortcomings as a photographer become your problem.

Of course this is stupid. The fact that you never bothered to learn proper exposure has always been your problem, but you used to be able to brush it off and pretend it wasn't your fault.
Those damn camera companies just make things too damn expensive. Damn THEM!

Uh uh. No dice.

Do yourself a favor, buy a 50mm prime. Use it exclusively for a week or a month. Put a few hundred frames through it. Something tells me that you too will discover its power.

The one lens.

To rule them all.

* Nikon sells two version of the 50mm F/1.8. One is the AF-D and the other is the AF-G. The D series will work on the prosumer (D300s) and professional (D4) bodies. The G will work on the lower-end consumer bodies (D90, D3000, etc) as well as the pro and prosumer bodies.

Curiously enough, the version for prosumer bodies is nearly $100 CHEAPER than the G series lens.

I'm guessing they did it to boost sales of the 35mm F/1.8, which is the DX equivalent of the 50mm. Also an excellent lens at $200.

When I bought mine, I got it for $106 plus tax. Brand new. Retail.
You can still get the same (superior) model that I have (with an aperture ring) for $125 on Amazon or $135 from Nikon

Friday, January 6, 2012

2011 Subaru WRX: in the snow

Shame on me!
Recently (ish) I did a shoot with a 2011 Subaru WRX.
Apparently I forgot to blog about it.
Shame. On. Me.

That I haven't blogged about it is a major surprise mainly because I had a blast on this shoot, and I'm fairly happy with the results:

So much fun!

Of course, this car is really a sports car, and driving it around in 18" of fresh snow means we got it stuck. More than once.

Behind the Scenes: 

Using the bumper as a snowplow... not particularly effective.

Ryan towing Justin and the Subie...

Pretty sunset reflection in the windows

Really stuck...

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Tools: Nikon P7000 First Impressions

Hello world,

Much like David duChemin, I'm not a huge fan of gear-centric rants that exclude the most important part of photography: the photographer.

Despite that, I have recently acquired a couple new tools and I'd like to share what I think about them.

Keep in mind that while these tools enable us to do certain things, and limit us from doing others, they are still just tools - things we use to make our vision become a reality.

Nikon P7000

10 megapixels, 1:2.8-5.6 variable aperture. 28mm-200mm zoom range. Takes SD memory. Has a hot shoe as well as full manual controls. Basically it is Nikon's answer to Canon's G10-12 series.

Shutter speeds from bulb to 1/4000 sec. Apertures from f/2.8 to f/8.0*. ISO from 100 to 6400.
All of these are fairly standard, except the apertures. It really only does stop down to F/8. Past that, you've got to use either the built-in ND filter (no idea how that works), or boost your shutter speed.

Whew. We survived the tech specs. Now onto the real meaningful stuff.

I've wanted a camera like this for ages. Small, portable, but that still allowed me some kind of control over what I was shooting. I asked for the p7000 for Christmas, having seen it go on sale for at Amazon ($229). I didn't expect anything - it's an expensive gift and I only discovered the sale last-minute. Despite that, my amazing parents managed to get it under the tree for me on Christmas morning.

I've spent the last few days putting the camera through its paces. Testing and trying and learning where I can. It has been frustrating. Going from a camera I know intimately well to using a totally different (and MUCH slower) system is hard. I am by no means an expert, but I've learned a few things that I think are worth sharing.


The main use I have for this camera is: everyday carry. I'll keep it in my man-purse with my extra computer cables, my emergency Snickers bar, water bottle and book. The things I like to have with me, but that I can't or won't stuff in my pockets.

The awesome extra-special use for this camera, however, is studio/portrait work.
The hot-shoe on the P7000 will work with Pocketwizards, cybersyncs and most likely other brands of wireless triggers. This means that I can set off big powerful studio lights without carrying around my monster DSLR.
This camera is ideal for the photography student who is required to bring their camera to class every day, but who lives off campus and doesn't want to carry around the 35lb backpack of bodies and lenses. It's ideal for an impromptu portrait session either on location or in the studio, where you have access to speedlights or studio strobes, but you want to stay mobile.

For instance,
Yesterday afternoon I went with my brother Mark and his buddy Zach on a hike. Up a mountain. I decided that it might be fun to take my Einstein 640 along for the ride so I could use some big-strobe at the top of the hike. The strobe and the Vagabond Mini weigh a fair amount, but they're manageable. If I had wanted to bring up My D300s and the same range of lenses as the P7000, I would have been carrying another 15 or 20 pounds on top of the strobe equipment.
Instead, I snagged the P7000 and my CyberSync transmitter. Under 3 pounds and it fits in my cargo pockets for the hike.

Let's look at some pictures.

At F/8, ISO 100, 1/250 second. This image lacks the underexposure I need to really make it dramatic. Generally, I like to underexpose the ambient light by about 2/3 stop in order to make my subject matter really pop. With the aperture limitations on this camera, I was worried that it would have been impossible.

Then I discovered the best feature about the P7000. It does not have a focal plane shutter. It does not care what shutter speed you use with a flash. The following image was taken at F/8, ISO 100, 1/1000 second. Flash goes top to bottom, no big deal. This is amazing! I went up to 1/2000 sec. Above that, it quit syncing properly with the Einstein - and at half power, that was probably a function of the flash duration not being short enough for the camera.

This opens up a whole new area of possibilities. Working with flash at 1/2000 second shutter is something no DSLR I know of an do. They generally max out at 1/320 or sometimes 1/500. 

To be fair, a large part of this working is probably due to the fact that the Einstein 640 has incredibly short flash durations. The whole draw of this technology is that the flash pop is MUCH faster than other strobes. Still - the combination of the Einstein and an electronic shutter is powerful.

Above is a quick Behind the Scenes shot of my brother Mark holding the Einstein, while Zach and Mocha (the dog) sit on the peak of Mt. Sunitas. 1/1000 sec. Overlooking Boulder.

Here, I chose to brighten up the ambient a little bit. Something like 1/640

This is all the way down to 1/400, but we were quickly losing daylight at this point. The shadow on the right side of the frame is that cast by the Rocky Mountains.

The ability of a P&S camera to fire big strobes is what makes this camera worth having. Anything else, like impossibly short shutter speeds, is just a bonus.

To be fair, the P7000 suffers from the same shortcomings as nearly all P&S cameras. It is SLOW to do what you ask of it, it has a habit of resetting all the settings every time it gets turned off, the zoom is unbearably slow to respond, it's a variable aperture, and the dials and menus are different from what I'm used to. Did I mention that it is SLOW? Because it is. I bought a class 10 SD card, hoping it would speed up write times from the camera to the card. No dice. Still takes a full second to write the picture to the card, then another half second for the camera to get its life in order before you can ask it to shoot again. A second and a half? That doesn't seem so bad - but when you're used to 8 frames per second with a strobe at half power, a 1.5 second wait seems like eternity.

On the bright side, it has a rangefinder - so if you don't feel like looking at the screen, or you can't see it in bright sunlight (not much of an issue), you can look through the minuscule window above the screen and get a basic idea of what your image will look like. The AF light is conveniently displayed right next to the rangefinder, so you can see when the camera is focusing and when it thinks it has focus lock. It does fairly well focusing, aside from the fact that it takes forever.

Overall, I am very much enjoying my new tool. The fact that I have it with my everywhere and that it is *much* higher resolution than my phone means that I can make quality (printable) photographs of anything/everything around me, whenever my muse strikes.

That's all for now! Questions? Comments? Concerns? Let me know below!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Shake it up

I'm reading LINCHPIN by Seth Godin.

It is blowing my mind. Chapter by chapter, my brain gets a little more messed up.

But in a totally great way.

It has me realizing that much of what I did in years past is not sustainable, and in order to continue to learn, grow, and challenge myself, I need to shake things up in 2012. This post is an attempt to organize some of the thoughts bouncing around in my head and perhaps engage in some brainstorming

From a Flagstaff SLAM event

Tonight's focus, a bit more than halfway through the book, is about the difference between gifts and business transactions. The difference between people that matter and strangers. I see it as the difference between forming lasting relationships and one-off interactions. The difference between making something I am passionate about and conforming to someone else's vision.

When it comes down to it, as a photographer I make *astonishingly* little money.

Per hour, I do pretty well. When I'm working on images for clients, I can generally get about $50/hour. The issue is that I only get two or ten gigs a year that pay me at that rate, and generally they only involve a few hours, including computer time.


 I have made an amazing number of photographs with people that I care about. I've given hundreds of dollars worth of images as gifts to family and close friends. Each personal shoot I do is a chance for me to engage with people, to make art that I care about, and to learn and grow as an artist.

There needs to be an overlap of some kind. A happy medium where I can shoot things I care about, with companies and people who have the ability to push me, to help me, or to push me to help myself. If I were to find just a few companies like this, that allowed me to work on my craft while giving the gift of professional images to an organization I believe in, and that believes in me... I think a powerful relationship could form, and I *might* find myself with a surprisingly sustainable income.

As such, I will begin the search for an organization that can help me grow, that can give me chances that no other organization can give me, and that is invested in my continued growth. This company or non-profit must also be one that I believe in, and one that can benefit from my artistic contributions.

Thus begins the search.

Can you think of any organization that might meet my criteria? Is it your organization? A friend's? I'd appreciate a comment with the suggestions you might have.