Traveling with Your Camera Gear

By Sara Goodnick

Since there have been a few questions regarding flying with camera gear from some of our participants on various workshops, I decided it might be helpful to put together some info for everyone. Some of these tips have come from my fellow photographers and I thank them.

If you plan to travel a lot, consider applying for Trusted Traveler and TSA Pre-check status. You will get entry into quicker security lines, and for Trusted Traveler, quicker re-entry into the USA if traveling abroad.

Airline seating: be sure you are not in a bulkhead row so you have a seat in front to stow your gear under.

Carry your camera gear on board as carry-on luggage. Do not under any circumstances allow your cameras or lenses to be checked. Carry them on with you and keep them with you. Place them under the seat in front of you or in the overhead bin ahead of you so you can see them at all times. There are many stories of photographers checking a well-packed camera bag and finding their lenses in tiny pieces when they arrived. Keep the other essentials right there with you, too, such as the chargers, batteries, the memory cards, and laptop.

Regarding camera bags as luggage, be sure of the weight and size limitations by checking their specific rules online, and measuring your bags. Be prepared to move everything fragile into a smaller collapsible bag that you can place under the seat in front of you if forced to gate check your bag. I always keep an extra nylon bag, or collapsible daypack and a sweater for padding for the fragile gear in my camera bag carry-on. If flying with a partner, maybe that person can take on some of your gear in an emergency. Have another collapsible bag ready.

Remove the lenses from the cameras and use the body caps to cover the sensors, and cap both ends of the lenses. The extra stress on a camera and lens bumping around together can damage the connection between the two.

Bring a good tripod. A few years ago at the Grand Canyon, one of our participants had set hers up a few feet back from a steep cliff preparing for a beautiful sunset. It was quiet with no wind. She turned away to get something from her bag, and when she turned back, her camera and tripod had gone over the edge never to be seen again! It was a good camera on a light tripod that just became unbalanced.

If you bring one of the smaller, lighter tripods, you can stabilize it with a strap, or cord attached to it and your camera bag, a rock, or other large heavy object. Do not extend it to full height.

I know people who take their tripods on as a carry-on piece of luggage. Some airlines do not even count it as one of your carry-on pieces. Check with your airline ahead of time.

Scott-E-Vest https://www.scottevest.com/best-travel-clothing.shtmlis a company that specializes in travel clothing with many pockets for everything. They have clothing for both men and women. Their vests are great for photographers. I don’t have the specialty photographer’s vest because it’s new, but I love the one I have. They don’t look like traditional photographer vests, so you might be less of a target for thieves.

Speaking of thieves, I always remove the brand name neck strap that comes with a new camera and replace it with a plain one (with extra padding for comfort). I don’t want anyone knowing what my gear is. Some even go so far as to cover the brand name on their camera with black electrical tape.

For cold weather destinations, wear your hiking boots on the plane. Take layers, including down sweaters, windbreakers, and wind pants, as well as your jacket, hat, and gloves. Look into purchasing fisherman’s specialty mittens that free up your fingers for photography purposes.

Safe travels!

Sara Goodnick is a Volunteer Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes.

Love your camera

By Rick Jacobi

I think this is an important part of one’s photography. A camera that you love and inspires you to shoot. There are many cameras that a person can own today, and they are all good. That being said then you should own a camera that speaks to your heart.

I am a street photographer and usually carry two cameras with me. I have bought and sold cameras in the last few years trying to find the combination that I really love. I have had expensive and inexpensive cameras that for me were not fun to use. I would not shoot as often because it was not enjoyable using these cameras. I would make up excuses in my head and would lose interest in shooting.

You will gain more creativity, more passion and motivation if you “Love Your Camera”. Don’t worry about what some other photographer uses for a camera. Remember they are all good. Just use a camera that is fun for you.  You might be thinking that I have this brand of camera with all the lens that I don’t really enjoy shooting with. What should I do? “Sell” it and get the camera system you would love to use. If you are not sure which one, rent them to find the one you love. It will be worth the money for all the fun you will have, and your photos will be better.

Unless you are a professional photographer, your photography is a hobby. Enjoy it to the fullest.

Enjoy your camera.

Rick Jacobi is a Volunteer Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes

Know your Equipment and Location

By David Halgrimson

Since moving back to Minnesota I have been researching places to go for photo opportunities and found a couple near where I live. One is Swan Park in Monticello Minnesota 15 miles west and Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge 25 miles north of my home. Both easily accessed.

We moved back to MN in November just when the Trumpeter Swans were starting to return to a section of the Mississippi River in Monticello. They stay from November thru February when they mate and leave for their nesting locations. The Swans along with geese and ducks like this area as the river is open due to a power plant on the river to the north and because for the past 30 plus years they get free breakfast and lunch. The Swans are the main draw at Swan Park, a very small park, maybe 40 feet wide, overlooking the river where the birds spend their days, eating, mating and fighting.

For more information on the park and the swans visit this site, http://www.monticellocci.com/pages/Swans.

About knowing the location, not just the Swan Park location, but any location. When visiting in August I went to check out Swan park only to find out there are no swans there in august, but now I knew right where to go when they returned… scouting day one. Once settled after our move, I went back and was pleasantly surprised by not only the swans, ducks and geese but the sheer numbers of them. As the story goes, over 30 years ago there were only a handful of swans and now there can be as many as 2,700 on any given day. I needed to know how to get the best view, what equipment and clothing would be best, it’s dang cold here November thru February. Because people are not allowed down at the river’s edge the area is somewhat secluded, so a good winter coat and stocking hat, warm boots and most of all special gloves. I went through three different sets of gloves to find those that would somewhat keep my hands from freezing. I found mittens with internal gloves that fold open to reveal gloved fingers and thumb to operate the camera. The glove portion of the index and middle finger have a special coating that allows for touch screen operation. Still, my fingers get very cold and I need to warm them occasionally. Next, what kind of lighting might be best for the subject. This day was bright sunlight and I found that the white swans had a good chance of blowing out the histogram, maybe a cloudy or partly cloudy day would work better or perhaps lens filters might help… scouting day 2. Oh, yes I did take pictures.

So now about knowing your equipment. On scouting day 2 I took my Lumix GX8 with a 40-150mm f/2.8 and a 300mm f/4 prime lenses and no tripod. The birds are very active, swimming, diving, taking off, landing, fighting and feeding. A slow shutter would not work but how fast should it be? I tried 400-500 with some good results for the swimming and feeding but needed much faster for the flying, landings and takeoffs.

The Lumix and lenses being new to me and not having used it for birds before, I was not quite sure what settings to use so experimented with a number with mixed results and not to my personal standards. I also found the 300mm a bit too close for many of the shots but great for the birds coming in or taking off…scouting day two.

40-150mm, f/4, ISO 100 1/640th hand held

40-150mm, f/4, ISO 400, 1/2000th hand held

40-150mm, f/4, ISO 400, 1/2000th hand held

Not quite as sharp as I wanted as can be seen here. Part of that is the aperture of f/4 giving less DOF.

I went home to review my images and decided to do some research on best settings for the camera and lens combinations. After some testing and experimenting and finding the settings I thought would work best for me, I decided to setup a custom setting for wildlife on both camera bodies. This included the shutter speed, aperture, ISO, high speed burst and more, this way when I am shooting birds and fast moving subjects I don’t have to remember settings I can just set the camera(s) to custom 1 and start shooting and making small adjustments as needed from there.

Now with all the scouting complete and camera settings configured it was time to return for a real shoot. I took both camera bodies, one with the 40-150mm and one with the 300mm and, yes, a tripod. I used the 300mm on the tripod for the birds in the air and the 40-150mm hand held for the action on the water.

All the scouting, researching, testing and camera setup paid off big time. I went on a bright but cloudy day, cameras all ready, my warmest gloves, set up the tripod with the 300mm, hung the other around my neck and started shooting. The results were to me more than I expected.

300mm, 1/2000th, ISO 400, f/8 tripod mounted

300mm, 1/2000th, ISO 400, f/8 tripod mounted

40-150mm, 1/2000th, ISO 400, f/8 hand held

40-150mm, 1/2000th, ISO 400, f/8 handheld

40-150mm, 1/2000th, ISO 400, f/8 handheld

As can be seen in these the DOF and sharpness are much better. This is due to the faster shutter and and smaller aperture settings.

Know you equipment and do your scouting, it pays off in the long run.

Check out Arizona Highways PhotoScapes at https://photography-workshops.directory/photographer/arizona-highways-photo-workshops/

David Halgrimson is a Volunteer Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes

Bugs are Beautiful

Author:  Bruce Taubert

For whatever reason I have become obsessed with taking macro and micro photographs of bugs.  Beetles, files, wasps, bees, stink bugs, moths, butterflies, and whatever other bugs in Arizona and around the world.  Bugs are cool!  They have compound eyes, colorful exteriors, antennae, exoskeletons with sharp spines or hairs, scales like a fish, and many endearing body forms.

To take extreme macro/micro images of bugs I have purchased some types of photographic equipment that one would not normally find in a photographer’s bag.  All the cameras I own are adequate to take wonderful macro images, but it is the lenses that lack the magnification power to get the job done.  My first super macro lens purchase was the Canon MP-65 f/2.8 1X-5X zoom lens.  This unique lens does not zoom from wide to telephoto but zooms to different magnifications.  By moving the “non-focusing ring” the lens zooms from 1X to 5X without the need for extension tubes, teleconverters, diopter lenses, or the like.  Very easy to use when it comes to changing the level of magnification.

Cognisys “StackShot” attached to the automatic focusing rail. The camera is the Canon 7D Mark II with a Canon MP-E-65mm f/2.8 1-5X. The diffuser is a tapioca cut. In the set-up there would either be a LED light or two flashes.

When I want to go past the 5X world I must resort to purchasing equipment normally found in the research laboratory and, not in the camera bag.  For 10X magnification I have purchased a Mitutoyo microscope objective.  To allow me to use my digital camera and not a microscope I place a 70-200mm lens on the camera and use an adapter to place the microscope objective on the end of the camera lens. Not difficult to do and the cost of objective is less than the cost of a quality macro lens, and there are more inexpensive options than the Mitutoyo lens I have.

Mitutoyo 10X microscope objective mounted on a Canon 70-200 mm f/2.8 lens attched to a Canon 7D Mark II camera. This set-up gives a 16X magnification.

From here the only other relatively costly item is a focusing rail.  When taking images at large magnifications, it is necessary to use focus stacking.  Focus stacking is a mechanism by which the computer puts several images taken at different focal distances together resulting in a final, single image that has more depth-of-field than possible by any other process.  For smaller magnifications I may only take 10 images for stacking but at higher magnifications I take 200 or more images.  The focusing rail allows me to move the camera in very small increments and makes it easy to take the multiple images necessary for stacking.  To make life easier I purchased an automated focusing rail.

The rest of the equipment is easy and cheap.  I use either an empty tapioca container, plastic cutting board, printing paper, or even a ping pong ball for diffusion.  Camera flashes or LED lights provide the illumination and the bugs are free.

This sinister looking portrait of a wasp face was focused stacked from 44 images taken with the Canon MP-65 lens.

Not only are the images, in my mind, beautiful they represent forms that are unimaginable without having a photograph to view.  With this level of magnification, we can better appreciate the natural patterns of even the most obscure creatures.  Small bugs that are completely unappreciated become things of beauty, hopefully allowing the viewer to better appreciate them.  Even with all the biological experience I have and my love for all things alive (yes Roberta, even Creepy, Crawly Critters) I am forever amazed to see the intricate details these images uncover.

With a little practice and some unique equipment, it is relatively easy to see the smaller things in life.  The learning curve is not steep and the equipment not as expensive or exotic as one might imagine.

used a Canon MP-65 to capture this image of the beautiful scales on a moths wing.

If this type of photography interests, you I teach macro photography workshops through Arizona Highways PhotoScape’s and I have just written a book with Amy Brooks Horn on The Art of Macro Photography.

Bruce Taubert is an Instructor with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes

 

New Lenses VS Old Lenses, and Testing Them

By Sara Goodnick

Camera lenses produced before the digital age may still be in mint condition, but you might want to consider replacing them anyway. Here’s why. The newer lenses were designed specifically for capture by the digital sensor which is completely different physically and chemically from a film plane. To optimize this difference in sharpness and color capture you will probably need to upgrade.

Perhaps going to your local camera store and asking to test one of their lenses is an option. If not, rental through one of the various lens and camera rental companies will give you a feel for whether you should upgrade.

If you purchase a new lens, or want to test your old ones, there is a great tool available for free! It’s a downloadable lens test target, produced by B&H Photo Video, and available to anyone. The only problem is that it is almost impossible to find on their website. I asked them and they sent me the link: https://static.bhphotovideo.com/explora/sites/default/files/bandh-test-target.jpg

I downloaded it and took it to Costco to be printed as a 20×30 mat print. It came rolled up like a poster, but some photo mount spray and a piece of white foam core allowed me to mount it and hang or prop up for shooting my lens tests.

First set up the mounted target in in an area of even light. Most do not have a portrait studio or lights, so try to find a north light from a window in a room, a well lit room, or look for open shade outdoors (however, wind will be a problem there, so secure it well). You can check for eveness of the light by setting your camera for the perfect exposure using the best combination of shutter speed, aperture, and ISO, then use the camera’s meter reading to check both ends, the top, the bottom, and the middle to see if any parts are under or over-exposed by checking the exposure graph in the viewfinder or on top of the camera. Of course, an independent light meter is ideal. Get it all as even as possible, but if that isn’t possible, just plan to photograph the part that is most evenly lit.

Make a plan on what lenses you plan to test, and at which focal lengths and apertures. Also plan and mark on the ground at which distances you wish to test each lens. Be very methodical and it will help later. You could make these notes on individual pieces of paper and photograph each notation as you work by photographing it before each test.

For instance, if I want to test my 70-200mm Nikkor 2.8 lens this is what I might do.

Set distances of the closest distance it will focus zoomed in, at its longest focal length as listed on the lens barrel (200mm at 5 ft in this case), 10 ft, and as far back as I can and still fill the frame with the test target. At the closest distances, only a part of the target may be visible, but I will choose to photograph the part that has the most detail and set up the camera on the tripod there. Remember to use the cable or remote release, or mirror lockup. I will photograph the target at the lens’s largest aperture (f/2.8 for this lens), several middle apertures such as f/5.6, f/8, and f/11, and then f/16 and f/22.

Repeat this with the different focal lengths you want to test. I might go for one set at 200mm, one at 135mm, and the last one zoomed in to 70mm.

Then repeat this at the various distances from the target you have measured out for each lens you want to test. Lenses with variable apertures, i.e., those whose apertures will change when you change focal lengths will be a little more complicated in that you will have to take note as to what their limits are at each focal length.

At the smallest and largest apertures, you may find the need to add more light. If you cannot actually add more light itself, go to a higher ISO unless it takes you into an unacceptable noise level. Or you could begin with your largest aperture and lowest ISO. That will not affect the sharpness of the lens, and it is better if you can see the target!

Download this these images into your computer, label them with any info not already in their metadata, and compare their sharpness especially on the edges, and particularly at the smallest and largest apertures. You will learn a lot about your lenses this way, and photography in general.

It’s not nearly as much fun as going out and photographing your favorite subjects, but the knowledge you will gain will improve your future image captures!

Sara Goodnick is a Volunteer Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes

Who says you need to travel far to capture great animal photographs.

By Jon Vemo

I’ve always thought that to be able to capture great photographs of animals, it had to be in the wild, which generally meant traveling to some place far away. Well, I’ve learned that that is not necessarily the case, and often your local zoo or wildlife preserve can provide just such an opportunity.

On a trip back to my home town of Seattle, I decided to spend one afternoon at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo. Though I had lived in Seattle for 35 years before moving to Arizona, I do not remember visiting the zoo since I was a kid. I recall hearing many great accolades over the years about how Woodland Park had become a world class zoo, however I was not expecting to see surroundings that were as native to the inhabitants, as was possible in Seattle (Giraffe’s are not native to the Pacific Northwest, if you weren’t aware, however the habitat created was close as could be).

Wow was I surprised and impressed with what I saw, truly a world class zoo. However what I think impressed me the most, was the variety of animals and the habitat created for them. Yes there are barriers, fences, glass partitions, and other means to provide separation and protection for the animals (yes, zoo visitors can be quite raucous…), but I was truly surprised in the way in which this separation was camouflaged so as to reduce the sensation of “I’m at the zoo.”

Photographing at the zoo can be challenging; crowds, fences, glass partitions, etc. but that does not mean all your photographs have to look like they were captured at the zoo. To help you capture photographs that do not look like ‘zoo pictures’, I offer the following suggestions on how to capture photographs that do not look like they were taken at the local zoo.

Use a long lens and wide aperture.
Using a long lens allows you to better control depth of field, as well as reach into your subject (and exclude undisrable elements). Using a long lens, held close to a fence or glass barrier, with a wide aperture, will greatly blur, if not remove, the traces of a barrier…

Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle, WA

Patience.
When photographing animals, I want either a completely natural image, or one that is truly unique and interesting. To capture either of these, patience and a steady hand are required. Having familiarity with your target subject and its natural actions…

Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle, WA

Composition.
Frame your image with the subjects natural tendencies in mind (OK, so maybe this isn’t completely natural, but I couldn’t resist)…

Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle, WA

Bold.
Create a natural image, one that compliments that animals surroundings, such that it truly appears to be in the wild. Doing so will draw on the above suggestions; composition, patience and a long lens to capture those desired elements…

Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle, WA

While capturing images in the wild, whether being in Alaska or while on an African safari (which remain on my bucket list), I know that I can create great wildlife images, applying the above techniques, a little closer to home.

Jon Vemo is a Volunteer with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes

Less is Better with Age

By Rick Jacobi

I was fortunate to be a trip leader this last May on a workshop in Tuscany for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops. I have been on a lot of workshops and have done some extensive traveling. Mirrorless cameras have become more popular over the last couple of years because they are so much lighter. I am still seeing though; a lot of people traveling long distances and more than one airport change carrying a heavy bag of photo equipment. I used to be one of those people with the big 40lb black bag.

I now carry one camera body {Sony] and two lens. Lens 24-70and 70-200. In addition, a small back up camera body just in case. It can fit all in a small camera bag weighting less then 15lbs which is a lot easier to carry than the 40lb or so bag. Do I miss some shots by not having a wider-angle lens a macro or a 100-400? The answer is yes. But the question is how many, and I figure less than five photos that I would keep on a week-long workshop or trip. To me I’d rather feel comfortable walking through airports or the streets of a city enjoying myself rather than carrying all that weight and having a sore back the next day. Those shots I might miss don’t make up for the discomfort of a large camera bag. I am not saying to sell your equipment and buy a mirrorless camera. Just take what you think you need and then take less.

If you are driving that is a different story. I am talking about traveling by air and connecting flights. If it is one flight or a car then take the kitchen sink but again take only what you think you will need. As we get older less is better and you will still get great shots. Just give it a try.

Rick Jacobi is a Volunteer with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes