I recently had to replace a remote shutter release and after reading some reviews online decided to try TriggerTrap.
TriggerTrap is an app and device that allows you to use remote shutter release via phone or tablet, and includes some features for doing fun things with long exposures which I haven’t yet had the chance to explore fully, but here are my first impressions.
The setup is as simple as downloading the app to your device and connecting to your camera via the headphone jack. You just need to turn the volume to full and you’re ready to go. The app itself is free to download, but you do need to order the right cable for your camera. There are dozens of different cables but the website has a search feature that lets you enter you camera make and model and be directed to the right cable. Prices vary slightly but are around $40 to $50AUD so no more expensive than a good cable release.
Once up and running, there are a number of different shutter release modes, for different situations. From a simple tap to take a picture, to hold down and release to shoot, to a timed release that allows you to dial in a specific shutter speed.
There are also some time lapse and HDR features that allow you to dial in specific intervals or exposure variations then trigger and just let the camera do its thing. This is something I’ve not done much of in the past but am looking forward to exploring more. Especially the star trail settings that set up a number of exposures of set duration with a specified gap between each. The images can then be blended later to create star trail photos while reducing noise.
I also found the calculators that are included to be pretty useful. These include a solar calculator which reads your GPS location from your device and calculates sunrise and sunset times, and a ND calculator to help choose the right shutter speeds when using ND filters.
Other features I haven’t been able to try out yet but are worth a mention are the ability to trigger via sound i.e. clapping or whistling, and wi-fi capabilities.
5 minute exposure using Timed Release mode
As for drawbacks, the only ones I found are related to using the phone or tablet itself and not necessarily the app itself.
We photographers often to silly things like stand waist deep in water or on precarious cliff tops to get an image, and having to have your phone with you is one more piece of equipment that you need to be concerned about.
You also need to stand and hold the device while the shutter is open as the cable is not that long. I did find myself wishing for some gaffa tape to attach it to my tripod somehow, although there is an accessory available to mount a phone to either a camera hot shoe or directly onto a tripod. I’d imaging that this is where the sound sensor or wi-fi triggers would be handy.
All in all I found this to be a good value cable release with some useful extra features. I’d recommend first downloading the free app and looking through the features to decide if they might be usefully for you before ordering the cable.
All the expensive gear in the world won’t make you a better photographer. It just means you’ve spent a lot more to create the same mediocre photos.
I read a great article/rant recently over on The Phoblographer, that discussed how all the fancy camera gear in the world is useless unless you know how to use it. The whole point of the article is that bad photographers do exist and no amount of hi tech stuff is going to make them better on its own. And we need to shift our priorities as photographers to what really matters.
There is a great reliance in today’s industry on technology. An assumption that going out and getting a better camera will mean that your pictures are better. What they will give you is a better digital file, but we’re not in the business of making digital files. We tend to lean on technology to patch over our own technical deficiencies or laziness. If an image has a lot of noise or isn’t quite sharp enough, we can remove that with software. Its so easy to shoot with an “I’ll just fix that later” frame of mind.
While some would argue that the end result is all that matters, part of a photographer’s skill is in dealing with conditions such as low light and understanding how to work with them and make them work for you. When we neglect to develop these skills, we also neglect to develop our own vision. We become formula photographers. Very good at doing one thing but not very good at anything else. And so we are limited.
The Phoblographer article talks about how technology advances have come so far that it is impossible to buy a “bad” camera, and so we need to focus our attention in other areas that will help us create better photos. If you have a tendency to fall into the gear lust trap, have a read of this if for no other reason than to reaffirm what it means to be a “good” photographer. You can read the article HERE.
I’ve been using a Wacom tablet for Lightroom and Photoshop work for a little while now and after the initial awkwardness of learning to use the pen instead of a mouse, I have to say I don’t know how I ever did without it.
For localised work such as dodging and burning in Lightroom, or creating masks in Photoshop a pen gives a level of control that a mouse simply can’t.
The tablet I bought is the base model Bamboo Splash. This is a base model tablet which retails at around AU$80.00. There are larger tablets with more features, however I decided to try this model first since it is relatively inexpensive and I hadn’t done any image editing with a tablet device before. This isn’t an in depth technical review (sorry tech nerds) more my initial thoughts and impressions of using the device.
The Splash is a well built piece of equipment. The pen is weighted nicely and is comfortable to hold. There are two buttons on the side of the pen which are programmable but generally perform the functions of left and right mouse buttons. I found at first that I was continually pressing either one accidentally which caused a menu to pop up on screen depending on what I was doing at the time. This was a bit frustrating, but as with all things I got used to it after a little practice and once I worked out the best way for me to hold the pen was able to control this much easier.
The tablet itself is quite small. Dimensions are 27.7cm x 17.5cm (10.9″ x 6.9″) and 1cm (0.4″) high. Slightly narrower and longer than an iPad. The actual active (drawing) area is only 14.7cm x 9.1cm (5.8″ x 3.6″) which I thought may be too small but proved comfortable. It looks pretty cool too with a black and lime green colour scheme.
Instillation is pretty automatic. Just plug in, run the setup disk and you’re away. All you really need to do is select whether you’re left or right handed. This will determine which side is the “top” of the tablet. There are a number of drawing and annotating apps that you can download and play with, but if you’re looking to do image editing there is no other instillation to be done. Just pick up the pen.
As I mentioned, the pen is a little awkward and frustrating to use initially as your hand gets used to moving across the active area in relation to the screen, but by the end of the tutorial built into the software it was starting to become quite natural already. The pen has an impressive 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity which gives a very high level of control.
This little device has already saved me time in allowing me to edit with more precision faster than I could with a mouse. I may one day upgrade to a professional level model with additional quick keys, even more pen sensitivity and wireless capabilities, but for now this is fast becoming an essential piece of equipment.
The good folk at Photoshelter have just released their Photographer’s Outlook for 2013, the results of an annual survey of 5,000 photographers asking about their plans and expectations for 2013. One of the questions was “In 2013, what will you invest in?” Amongst the usual responses of lenses, camera bodies and other equipment and software, I was happy to read that over 50% of photographers planned to invest in their education. It is worth noting that not all those surveyed were professional photographers. The survey included a mix of hobbyists, students, semi-professional and professional. But from the numbers it is clear that professional photographers also understand and value the need to improve their skills, photographic and otherwise, to maintain a successful business.
Yes gear is important, but not that important. Get the best gear you can afford, but put your time and effort into understanding how to get the best out of it. New cameras are released so often that whatever you spend your savings on is likely to be obsolete (according to manufacturer’s marketing spin anyway) within 6 months. So why bother to try keep up with the latest and greatest when what you have will most likely do a sound job. If you are a commercial photographer who needs high mega pixels to produce images for large billboards etc then it makes sense to spend big dollars on a D800 or even medium format kit, but if you shoot weddings or family portraits, there isn’t really a need for this type of gear. You would get better value from attending a workshop on working with natural light or how to connect with and bring the best out of your subjects. The end result might be smaller pixels, but better, more saleable images.
In the end, we will all need to update our gear every so often, but the more use you can get out of each piece of equipment, the more value it adds to your business. Business common sense says with each new purchase, you need to earn more revenue to make the same profit. So be careful what areas of your business you invest in and make decisions with your head not your heart. A good photographer with an average camera will create a better image than an average photographer with a good camera every day of the week.
If you’re interested, the Photoshelter Photographer’s Outlook for 2013 is available to download HERE.
Why would you bother using a tripod in this day and age of technological wizardry? Haven’t digital cameras evolved that they can handle low light well enough? Well maybe, but using a tripod creatively can open up your options and allow you to add elements that otherwise would not be possible.
In addition to allowing you to capture low light scenes in sharper detail, slower shutter speeds can be especially creative in altering the mood of an image. For example adding light trails from speeding cars lends to a feeling of movement and urgency. Conversely, a long exposure used in a scene that involves water can flatten it out and make it glassy, reflective look which gives a sense of calm.
Singapore, 2012. Being able to use slow shutter speeds to flatten helped convey the peaceful dawn.
We think of lenses and filters and other pieces of gear as creative tools, but for some reason not our tripods. Treat your tripod as another tool for being creative and you will find that new ideas will flow and your photography overall will improve.
London, 2007. Light trails from speeding buses give a sense of energy in a big city.
So now you need to go and get one? Here are a few things to consider.
What do I want it for? The type of shooting you do will determine the type of tripod you need. If you like to shoot when travelling, you’ll be looking for something lightweight that can compact fairly small and be carried easily. If on the other hand you are a landscape photographer or shoot mainly in a studio where you generally won’t be moving around too much then you may be looking for a larger, sturdier tripod
How much can I spend? You don’t think too much about spending thousands on a new lens, so why not the same with a tripod? Carbon fibre tripods are lightweight and sturdy but don’t come cheap. If you can’t afford one, look at lightweight metals such as aluminium, magnesium or titanium.
How do I know if its the right size for me? You can test a tripod by extending the legs to their maximum limit and check that it comes to somewhere near eye level without using the centre column. Any tripod is less stable with the centre column extended so you should aim to only use this when really necessary. To test stability, press down on the tripod while extended. It should move only a little if at all. If there is a big bend in the legs, move on, nothing further to see here.
So far we’ve mentioned the tripod itself, but the tripod head is equally important. The two options are a ball head and a pan-and-tilt head. A ball head means that the camera attachment rotates on a single ball and locks with one control, whereas a pan-and-tilt has separate controls for horizontal and vertical adjustments, generally ball heads are favoured by professionals as they allow faster adjusting and locking, however they are more expensive. Again it depends on the type of images you are generally make. If you need to capture fast moving scenes then it may be necessary to spend the extra money on a ball head, however if you’re a landscape shooter who generally sets up their shot and waits for the right light, a pan-and-tilt may be sufficient.
Choosing the right tripod is as essential as choosing a camera you feel comfortable with or a lens that allows you greater creative freedom, so put in the research and get the one that is best for you.
I don’t write much about gear. I’m just not that into it. I know some people love their gear just as much, or in some cases more, than the act of making images, but to me camera equipment is simply a tool that lets me do what I love to do. Its maybe for that reason that I don’t tend to carry a lot of gear with me. In fact I carry as little as possible. There are a few reasons for this.
It’s an obvious statement, but the more gear you carry, the heavier it gets. The heavier it gets, the more tired you become. The more tired you become, the less effort and enthusiasm you are likely to put into making photos. Making photos is easy, but making great photography takes time, energy and dedication. If you are tired and sore from walking and carrying around a heavy pack for hours on end, chances are that you are just not going to be as mentally prepared to find the decisive moment.
Apart from the literal weight off your shoulders, carrying less gear is very freeing. Trying to choose the right lens for a particular shot, then get set up often leads to missing the moment entirely. If you have less options, you have less decisions to make about equipment which leaves you to concentrate on composing an image. You need to improvise more, which means thinking more constructively about how to read the scene in front of you. How you can manipulate the light, and your subjects to achieve the image you want.
Sorry if I’m bursting anyone’s bubble here, but more gear does not make you a better photographer. In fact, there is every chance it may make you a worse, more lazy photographer. Hey, I might have just saved you a few thousand dollars! It is easy to hide behind your camera equipment and all it’s fancy features. It is much more difficult to say “I am making this picture, not my camera” and put the additional work into becoming a better photographer.
Haven’t done a gear post in a while so I thought it was time to nerd out and post some thoughts on a backup and file management device I have been using for a while.
I have been carrying Digital Foci’s Picture Porter 35 around with me for some time now as a method of backing up while on the road if I’m not travelling with a laptop, or to store an additional copy of images for a bit of extra security. I have found it a handy tool overall and while it does have some drawbacks, these aren’t such a big disadvantage for the way I use the device.
First the basic techy stuff:
Picture Porter 35 comes in 2 hard drive sizes, 250GB and 500GB with the 500GB version coming in at $399 from the Digital Foci website. Also check out prices on Amazon, but don’t tell them I said that).
Memory cards supported: CF and also MultiMedia Card, RS-MMC, SD Card, SDHC card, miniSD, Memory Stick, MS PRO, MS Duo, xD-Picture card
These are the main features, but if you’re interested, check out the full specs on the Digital Foci website.
Image review screen
The good bits
As well as storing images, the Picture Porter 35 allows you to manage and organise your files by renaming, sorting into folders and deleting unwanted files. It also allows you to review your images by zooming, panning, rotating, viewing EXIF data and historgram allowing you to edit your shoot on the road to save disk space and also time later in uploading. You can also add voice notes, which I have found useful for adding details of locations and things that may be useful for keywording later. The device can also store music and video files and act as an mp3 player, however I found this redundant since a) everyone has an ipod or smartphone these days that can do the same thing, and b) it takes up valuable space that could be used for storing more images.
The not so good bits
Firstly navigation. This is done using a wheel and 4 other buttons on the side of the device and can be a little difficult to get used to. File naming for example requires you to scroll through the alphabet and press select on each letter to create a word. Maybe its because we’re now in the age of tablets and touchscreens, but I find the navigation to be a bit clunky and slow. The screen, while large enough isn’t of a high enough quality to allow you to review images properly. Zooming to check for sharpness is difficult as the resolution just isn’t high enough. The device is a little chunkier than I’d like, measuring in at 5.4” (L) x 3.8” (W) x 1.2” (H) or 13.7cm (L) x 9.7cm (W) x 3cm (H), but only weighs in at 14oz or 400g including battery so is not too difficult to carry. Even though I leave the drive locked in a hotel safe while out shooting so that I have the additional file copies in a different location if something was to happen to my CF cards.
Uploading speed is kind of slow if you want to be picky, however I don’t really find this to be a drawback since I usually start the upload and go off and do something else. Exporting to computer is via USB 2.0 although depends more on the computer speed as once the Picture Porter 35 is connected it acts as an external hard drive.
I tend to rename the files in camera and not use too many of the file management features, so am not too disturbed by the controls. My big gripe, however is the battery life. I found that the battery usually only lasts around 2 days of uploading cards from a full day of shooting (around an 8GB card each day for me), so needed to recharge every second day. If you’re in a hotel with easy access to electricity this isn’t really an issue, however if you are away from electricity access for more than 2 days you could easily find yourself without a backup system. The only solution for this really is to buy an additional battery or two, adding to the expense of the device.
Overall, I have found the Picture Porter 35 to be value for money compared to some of it’s competitors, and works well as an extra hard drive and security method for getting your photos home safely. However it does have a couple of drawbacks and does include some useless features for which Digital Foci charges a premium.
I’ve been using this bag for a few months now for street and general shooting, and it’s been a long time since I’ve done a gear related post, so I figured it was time to nerd out and post some thoughts on the good and bad of using the bag. This is not so much a review as a collection of good and bad points.
Lets start with the good:
As with everything from Think Tank, the build quality can’t be faulted. The material is rugged and hard wearing and the straps are army grade tough. So far mine has survived an incoming tide, monsoonal rains, being dropped in mud and bounced against sharp rocks and has come away with only a few character building scratches and marks to show for it. The Retrospective 30 does come with a rain cover, which is easy to slip on and is again strong and resistant to tears. There is a nice thick padding on the shoulder strap, which it needs, because with lots of gear in it this bag can get pretty heavy.
The design of the bag is versatile, with a large main compartment that easily fits 4 lenses and front, side and internal pockets that cater for various accessories such as memory cards, flash, batteries, filters, cords and notebooks. Fully packed, the bag is designed to carry a pro grade kit including 2 bodies and it does this with ease. The compartments can be rearranged by moving the internal walls which attach by Velcro to the sides of the bag, creating as many or as few separate sections as you need. The soft structure also gives greater flexibility for carrying larger equipment, say a camera with a large lens attached.
The details have been given some careful consideration as well, with a dedicated pocket for business cards and “sound silencers” under the main flap which you can use to prevent the velcro from contacting and avoiding that embarrassing noise when you need to open the bag in a quiet place.
The Retrospective series of bags are primarily designed not to look like camera bags, and in this Think Tank have succeeded. If you didn’t look too closely you would think that this is just a standard canvas messenger bag. In fact, if you wanted to take out all the camera gear and use it to carry around your books or things you would use on a normal day at work, school or just out and about you could. All Retrospective bags come in either black or pinestone (or as I like to call it: gray) and both blend easily into a city street.
Now the not so good:
This is a big bag, and as mentioned before, packed full it gets pretty heavy. Especially after a full day carrying it around and shooting. Being a shoulder bag, all of this weight goes onto one point on your shoulder and by the end of a days shooting you can end up with quite a sore shoulder and back. I find that despite the bag being able to fit every piece of gear I might potentially need, I still need to consider if I am really going to want it on any given day to reduce the weight as much as possible.
The other issue I have with the bag is while working out of it is definitely much easier than most shoulder style bags, I find the large flap that covers the main compartment can get in the way when I’m trying to reach into it in a hurry to change a lens or grab something. It is possible to fold the flap back and leave the top of the bag open while shooting, but this might not be ideal in some circumstances as there is the danger of exposing your gear to the weather or pickpockets.
Overall I like this bag, really like this bag. It is by far and away the most well built and organised shoulder bag I’ve owned and is fantastic for an urban environment and when you need to change lenses and dip into your bag for something often. I wouldn’t use it on long walks over rugged terrain due to the weight distribution, I’d stick with a backpack style bag for that. But then that’s not what it’s designed for. What the Retrospective 30 is designed for is to be a bag that holds all you need for a days shooting, that is flexible and easy to travel with and goes unnoticed to allow you to blend in with your environment. In this, it is a great success.
For more info on the Retrospective 30 and other Think Tank products, click here.
Much is debated about the gear needed when heading out on a photography trip. Which lenses you should take and what accessories. Camera’s and lenses are all well and good, but what about the essentials that no one talks about, but that are just important to planning a full day or even week’s shooting away from home? I’ve put together a short list of things I never leave home without. Please feel free to add to it.
Guidebooks- Help in scouting locations and getting from place to place. Also include places to eat and stay.
Notebook- Cannot count the amount of times I have struggled to remember where an image was taken when I’ve returned home and began keywording and editing.
First aid kit- How often do you get a cut or sprain something right next to a pharmacy? Also include travel medicine in this.
Good shoes- Because if your feet are aching all day long, you’re going to be thinking of putting them in a bath instead of the photos you’re supposed to be taking.
Swiss army knife- Actually I have the little credit card sized thingy. Great for on the spot repairs.
Cleaning cloth- I’m notoriously neglectful in keeping lenses clean when shooting and often come to regret it later when I have to spend hours removing dust spots, but wiping with a lens cloth occasionally can save you time on this. Especially when you’re shooting in wet or dusty conditions.
Money belt- You just don’t know in a new place, so better to be safe than sorry and carry your cash and important documents in a hard-to-get at money belt, rather than your wallet which can easily be pick pocketed while you are distracted by something shiny and new.
Suitable clothing- As with the shoes, if you’re too cold or too hot because you don’t have appropriate clothing your mind is not going to be completely on the task at hand. Basically, it’s a matter of making yourself comfortable so you can concentrate on taking photos instead of fighting the temptation to just go back to the heated hotel room.
Alarm clock- To get you up in enough time to watch the world wake up and catch the best light.
Attitude- A smile and politeness will open numerous doors in a foreign place and increase your chances of some memorable images.
Power adapter- For recharging batteries, your phone, Ipod and any other electronics you carry with you.
Some time ago I was given this photo bag to try out and review by Think Tank. Think Tank has been around for some time in the US, but are only now entering the Australian market. The bag I was provided with was the Urban Disguise 20, a small shoulder bag that can be used as a stand alone bag, or as part of a larger belt and harness system. So here are my humble thoughts:
Second to none. The canvas used is thick and sturdy and the stitching and zips are big and chunky. The strap locks are made of metal rather than plastic and seem like they could survive a bomb blast. The bag comes with a rain cover which I haven’t yet had the chance to use but the material is thick and resistant to being pulled and stretched. This is not a cheap bag, and that is reflected in the quality of materials used.
The main compartment of the bag includes a set of Velcro dividers that can be rearranged to suit your needs. I managed to fit 2 pro sized lenses, the largest being a 70-200 telephoto with lens hood reversed, quite easily. It also includes a second compartment which carries the rain cover. This though can be removed completely and the compartment used for accessories such as spare batteries, CF cards or cables. There is also a front pouch with can fit a DSLR without a lens attached and also another front compartment large enough to fit a notebook and/or accessories and is easy to access while on the run.
The bag is quite small, measuring only 24 x 24 x 15cm (9.5 x 9.5 x 5.5”), but can hold a lot of gear considering. Enough for a full day of shooting if you are planning to pack light. There is also a dedicated pouch for business cards which is a nice touch.
Ergonomically, it is an easy bag to carry all day depending on what you decide to put into it. When fully loaded it can be quite heavy on your shoulder, and can create a bit of soreness if you need to walk a long while without taking out and carrying your camera and a lens. For this reason, the padding on the shoulder strap could be a bit more chunky.
The other gripe I have about the bag is that the rain cover is accessed by opening the bags main compartment, which in a downpour could mean rain getting in coming in contact with the equipment inside. This can be overcome by removing the rain cover and stuffing it in one of the side compartments, however I think the ideal solution would have been to have a dedicated pocket for the rain cover that can be accessed without exposing any of the other contents.
Innocuous. The basic black design doesn’t scream “I have expensive stuff inside” like some other brands, and so I didn’t feel self conscious in walking around with it all day.
The Urban Disguise 20 is part of a larger family of shoulder bags of varying sizes. On it’s own it is a good bag for a day of shooting where you don’t want to carry too much gear. For a longer trip, it’s big brothers the Urban Disguise 50, or Urban Disguise 70 Pro seem more appropriate.
One great advantage of this bag though, is that it can be matched with a number of other Think Tank products such as their series of component belts (Or even worn on an old belt you might already own), to create a customizable system of bags and pouches that can suit the needs of just about any travelling photographer.
To sum up, the Urban Disguise 20 is an extremely well made and hard wearing bag that keeps a low profile and can fit a large amount of gear considering its small size, and has the flexibility to become part of a larger system.