Archive for the ‘Product Reviews’ Category

Review: Mike Moats Macro Photography

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Don’t ignore macro photography just because it’s winter!

Springtime is usually the most popular time of year for macro work – everything blooming and coming to life and all – but don’t ignore the winter months, it’s my favorite time to shoot macro.

A nice winter morning (after a fresh snow fall or especially after an over night refreeze) can yield great opportunities.  Keep your eyes open for some of these subjects:

  • Snow or ice settled on top of branches, winter berries or left over shells – like the opening image in this post
  • Puddles on the trail or along the banks of small streams and rivers that have frozen over night – look for trapped leaves, air bubbles and unique patterns (this is my personal favorite)
  • Mother Nature’s overnight composition work in the leaves and pine needles that were blowing around.  It’s a special delight to find a contrasting light colored leaf that landed or bent in a unique way around a darker one

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Are you new to macro and looking to give it a try?  Then check out Mike Moat’s Website.  Mike is a self taught, outstanding photographer who specializes in macro education.  In addition to his blog and clinics around the country, Mike does a really good down to earth instructional series in his books.

I can highly recommend his Creating Art with Macro – ebook, it’s what I turned to as my first instructional tool into the macro world.  The first couple of chapters rehash some of the typical camera basics, but after that it’s all macro.  Mike’s writings are down to earth and easy to read in a nice simple format.

Check Mike’s stuff out, if only to subscribe to his blog – I’m sure you’ll find it worth your time!

Stay in focus,

Mark

The Real World – Cold Weather Shooting Tips

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3 years of cold weather shooting (down to -23F) has taught me a thing or two.  Here are a few rock solid tips – some you’ve probably read a few times, along with a few that will be unique!

Camera and Gear

  • Moving from cold to warm – and vise versa
    • Probably the most common topic addressed, my answer is very simple – pack your gear in a photo bag, and leave it there for a little while. For example, the pack will be warm when leaving your house and will allow the camera gear to gradually cool down in the car or field.  The same concept works when going back into the house – I take my memory cards out of my camera/bag (and anything else I want to get to immediately) and then let the bag sit for a few hours in the warm house.  The camera gear will gradually adjust to room temperature.
  • Keeping your breath in check on a really cold day (this is the really big one)
    • Use a lens hood  – the shorter the lens the more critical this tip is.  Your breath (even straight from your nose on a really really cold day) will roll around and frost up the front of your lens – and there is no easy way to get it off without warming up the lens.  This is a real killer just as the sun starts to crest above the horizon on a fantastic cold weather sunrise shoot (yea, ask me how I know about this!)
    • Use some “Scope Dope” to help keep your LCD clear.  This stuff does a pretty decent job on the LCD and an ok job on the view finder.
    • Use a Hoodman Eye Cup to keep your breath away from your view finder.  Actually turn it vertical like in the image below for the best results, it does a great job of keeping your view finder fog/frost free in all cool to cold weather.

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The Photographer

Feet

  • Keep your feet warm, dry – and on the ground where they belong
    • Don’t slip!  There are now plenty versions of the YaK Trax seen in the image below.  Get a pair, they work wonders on ice (including ice that is hidden below a layer of snow)  There are even versions now that have actual spikes.

  • Dry feet are happy feet!
    • If you’re in wet or snowy conditions, it goes without saying to at least have water-proof boots/shoes.  In light snowy conditions (1″ – 3″) consider a simple pair of elastic leg gaiters (as seen above) to keep the snow out of the top your boots.
    • In heavier snow (greater than 3 inches and up to 7 inches) try some of the Neos brand products.  The image below shows me using the Neos Trekkers in water but they do the job in snow as well.  Warmer versions are also available – to cover both the “dry” and “warm” requirements.  And yes, you CAN COMBINE the Neos product with Yak Trax.

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Hands

  • My hands are the hardest body part to keep really warm.  Before I talk about gear, here is the most important tip I’ve learned over the years – once your hands (fingers) get cold, you’re in trouble.  Get out of the cold and get them plenty warmed up again.  So the best tip is to have your hands fully warmed up before you set foot outside – “gear up” in advance so you move into the cold with maximum advantage.
    • 1st layer of protection – liners with pockets for warmer packs.  The pockets locate the warmer packs on the back of your hand, above your blood vessels, enhancing the warming impact for your fingers.
    • 2nd layer of protection – primary winter gloves, water proof with thinsulate or other warming material.  How heavy this primary pair of gloves are is up to your personal needs.
    • 3rd layer of protection – Mega Size Hand Warmers. Depending on how cold it is, I’ll keep 2 or 4 of these in my coat pockets.  Hands go in the pockets when not in use and I’ll actually hold these mega warmers in my hands (between my hand and the camera) when I’m doing extending shooting in really cold weather.

Body

  • Keeping your core body temperature up helps you stay warm longer.  So similar to your hands, get toasty (without sweating) before you head outside.  Staying dry is a very critical component of staying warm, and layers are the other key.
    • 1st layer of protection:  Light duty long underwear made of water wicking material (not cotton) to help you stay dry
    • 2nd layer of protection: Medium duty long underwear is added as a layer to increase warmth
    • 3rd layer of protection: Heavy duty long underwear is added (depending on how cold it is)
    • 4th layer of protection:  Outer shell winter coat this is roomy (with your layers on) wind and water proof.  Collar protection and an insulated hood are a must as well

Head

  • Your head is one of the primary places heat escapes your body, so keep protection on and layer it as much as needed.  I’ll typically wear a full face mask and my winter coat’s insulated hood.  When it’s needed, I’ll add a neck gaiter or a warm cap.

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Staying warm is not only the safe and smart way to shoot in the winter, it’s also the path to great images.  When you’re warm and comfortable, you can place all your energy on the task at hand – getting some great shots!!

Stay in focus,

Mark

Review: Bosque Workshops

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I had the opportunity this year to make it to Boque Del Apache Wildlife Preserve for the first time – WOW!  Fantastic landscape and the birds (geese, ducks and cranes) certainly did not disappoint.

Since this was my first time there, I decided to participate in a photography workshop with seasoned veterans (Rick Sammon and Juan Pons) who knew their way around the preserve as well as a camera – and they most certainly did not disappoint!

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Our workshop began on the evening of December 5th and the weather was a real challenge – 8″ of snow at the beginning on the week and below zero temperatures for the rest of it.  Juan and Rick were determined not to let the weather deter us and found new and interesting places to shoot for the first day and a half (when Bosque was actually closed due to the weather)  The alternate sites were fun and full of adventure but most importantly, the guys kept it very upbeat and interesting.  Once we were able to enter Bosque, we were treated to a true winter wonderland, with Juan scouting out super locations for both morning and evening while Rick provided excellent insight into composition and new techniques.  Always eager to lend a hand, these workshop leaders were a delight to the entire class.

Now, their dedication and first class instruction was really great – but what makes these two fellows truly unique is the care and concern they show to all of their participants, regardless of skill level.  In this day of “photo egos” and the many “professionals” flying at a higher than thou level – both Rick and Juan were firmly planted on the ground, providing excellent instruction, encouragement and support – even though their skills certainly flew high.

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I can enthusiastically recommend both of them for their learning style, passion and sincere desire to help aspiring photographers.  Checkout some of their work, learning materials and upcoming workshops – you won’t be disappointed!

Stay in Focus!

Mark

Book Review – Ducks of North America – The Photographers Guide

Ducks

Photo books are a dime a dozen, and most rehash all the same stuff over and over again – but E.J. Peiker’s book is different, it’s targeted specifically at one subject – ducks.  The book does cover all the standard fare topics (equipment, exposure, light, technique . . . and so on) but every subject is directed back to the book’s main focus – how it relates to ducks!  The section on field techniques is very detailed and was found to be a strong benefit to enhancing my outdoor acumen – espeically the section on Outdoor Flash Photography.

Field Techniques Section:

  • Approaching Wild Ducks
  • Exposure
  • Composition
  • Natural Light Photography
  • Outdoor Flash Photography
  • Lens Technique
  • Ducks in Flight

It’s an easy, enjoyable and informative read!  This is also one book that you’ll keep handy as it makes a great “field guide” of ducks, both native and visitors to north america, as it is wonderfully illustrated with E.J’s great images.  I use it regularly as a reference to confirm identification.

Now this is an eBook, but I consider that an advantage as it’s always with me (in my iPad or iPhone) and available for that quick identification.

You haven’t tried an eBook yet?  Well, this is a great one to start with then!

Purchase it Here

I have no affiliation to the vendor in the link provided other than being a satisfied customer.

Keeping Your Feet Dry

Protection from the muck!

I found a Great Blue Heron Rookery recently with about thirty nests – along with a great location to get some morning shots. There was just one problem, the “right” spot was about twenty feet into ankle deep water and muck! It was finally time to try out my new Neos Trekker Overshoes!

From this first outing (including a couple hours in the water) I can conclude these things are pretty good! The nice benefit of these overshoes is that you can wear your normal foot-gear (an important point when this is coupled with a several mile hike) and they are very easy to put on. They unwrap to a wide mouth, making it easy to get your boot laden foot in. A quick snap of the buckle, twist wrap the uppers and Velcro in place – You’re all set.

They’re a snug fit (which is good) and if you’re wearing over hiking boots be sure to go up a size for a good fit. Two hours in the water and no leaks. I’ve heard complaints from some that these leak – I’ve found no evidence of that, the seams are sealed up pretty well. Since these are water tight, my calves did sweat pretty good and make my jeans damp – maybe that’s what they’re running into – not much you can do about that though!

If anything changes, I’ll post it here, but so far these guys get two thumbs up from me! Looking for a good place to get them? Checkout Outdoorphotogear.com. Great people to deal with, lots of stuff focused at nature photographers, in stock with quick shipping and great customer service.

Keeping your Feet on The Ground

And your behind off of it!

This was my first real winter shooting off-trail and in the snow and ice.  My primary goals were to keep dry, comfortable and everything (both me and my equipment) in one piece.   Several items helped accomplish this: long underwear, good boots, winter socks, gaiters and “Yak Trax”.

The Yak Trax are basically snow chains for your feet, easy to put on and comfortable to walk in.  They stretch easily around your shoe (various sizes are available) and secure firmly in place to give you increased traction in snow and ice.  I’ve put them to good use this past season and never once had a problem with them – work very well, as advertised.

The traction they provide on pure ice is incredible!  With these things in place, I was able to traverse solid sheets of ice with minimal effort and keep both my gear and myself safe.  I highly recommend them as a great addition to your winter hiking kit or as part of your winter emergency kit.  They’re also pretty easy on the wallet and can be found at many locations for around twenty dollars.  Two thumbs up from me!!

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