photography, random thought

Top 10 Photography Gadgets

Your camera and lenses are the most important tools in your bag.  Hands down.  But there are so many more helpful instruments out there, that sometimes choosing what to pack and what to leave behind is overwhelming.  Here are my top ten, don’t leave home without them!

10.  Filter Holder

Filters help us achieve the look and feel we want in camera.  I hear the excuse all the time, “Why use that when you have photoshop?”  But to put it bluntly, getting it right in camera the first time is where we get the latitude and quality that makes professionals stand out from the amateurs.  Though I often handhold my 4×6″ ND filters, my Cokin Z Pro Series Filter Holder allows me to hold my filters (up to 3 at a time) in one consistent place, making it easier and more accurate to shoot long exposures and time lapses.  The downside though, is at super wide focal lengths, the edges of the holder are visible in the frame.

9.  Velcro… Yeah, You Heard Me… Velcro.

How did people live without velco??  On most trips I carry a 15ft roll of the stuff.  “Why?”, you may ask.  Well, I can tell you many uses, but I seem to find more on nearly every trip!  Right now I use Scotch Self-Stick Reclosable Fasteners on my tripod legs to fasten my intervalometer and cable releases.  When shooting long exposures and time lapses, you don’t want them flapping around in the wind messing up your shot.  I also use it on my pocket wizards to fix them to whatever I need; the power packs, stands, flashes, etc.  There are so many uses, I could hardly name them all…

8.  Filter Pouch

My Lowepro S&F Filter Pouch 100 allows me to keep all of my filters in one place, where I can access them conveniently.  It clips around the neck of a tripod, and can hold several circulars, 150mm x 100mm NDs, and even a filter holder.

 

7.  Multi-tool

It’s hard to argue this one.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had emergencies where I’ve had to tighten crews on my lens in the field, or cut something, use my players to fix a wayward piece of metal, etc.  No matter where you are or what you’re shooting, you’ll thank me if you take your multitool, I promise.  And I recommend the Leatherman Wave.  It has just about any and every tool you would ever need in the field to fix any problem… you could even field dress a deer with it.

6.  Small Stand

The Manfrotto 5001B 74-Inch Nano Stand fits in a standard size suitcase.  When space and weight are a premium and I’m traveling around the world, this little bad boy gets packed first.  It folds down to less than 20 in, and can easily support speedlights and boom mics.  When full size stands won’t do, this compact solution will save the day for you.

5.  Geared Tripod Head

It’s an obvious and necessary accessory… a good tripod head.  But recently I’ve been introduced to the Manfrotto 410 Geared Head.  It was love at first use for me.  It’s heavy and meaty, which I love for it’s stability when shooting long exposures.  Now I’ll admit, it’s not the best for mobility with video, but I rarely shoot anything but handheld or static shots anyway in video.  Its precise controls, and super fast yet secure quick-release plate keep me loyal.  It’s perfect for landscape, long exposures,  and architecture… the majority of my work.

4.  2X Tele

A good 2X teleconverter is a must for nature shooters.  It’s all fine and good to have your 500 or 600 f/4, but let’s face it, they are beasts.  And sometimes a 5 or 600 isn’t even enough.  A good 2X like the Canon EF 2X III Extender will give you what you need with minimal image degradation.  I often use it just in conjunction with my 70-200/2.8 so I can have a 400mm reach without the bulk of a prime, when hiking or backpacking.  It’s not better than good prime glass, but it’s a supremely valuable tool when space and weight are a premium.

3.  PocketWizards

If you shoot portraits, these are a must.  Whether you’re using strobes or speedlights, PocketWizard Plus III Transceivers are the best solution to consistency and stability in communication between your camera and lights.  But something that most folks don’t know about these little magic machines… you can also remotely trigger your camera.  It comes in really handy for wildlife and sports photography.  They run on two AA batteries, and they’re quite small, so you don’t have to worry about them taking up valuable space in your bag.

2.  Intervalometer

I really don’t know how I lived without this for so long.  Seriously.  My work was so much more difficult and time-consuming without the Canon TC-80N3.  It will control long exposures and time-lapses like a boss.  You can tell it exactly how many frames at what intervals… I mean.  Remember the days of the cable release with your 35, medium, or large format camera?  Yeah, this totally kicks their butts.  And what it does most valuably for me, is that it allows me to get a little shuteye when I’m shooting star pictures and night time-lapses.  I really cannot say enough about this genius, little gadget.

1.  Graduated ND Filters

Again, it’s only been the last few years since I’ve really seen the necessity of my Singh Ray Graduated Neutral Density filters.  I’ve already talked about “getting it right in camera”…. well, this is how you achieve that.  Have you ever been shooting a scene and not been able to balance the amazing sky with your perfectly composed landscape?  Well sometimes these shots would be impossible without grad and reverse grad nds.  There is no Lightroom or Photoshop equivalent, though one can achieve decent results in post.  You really can’t argue the difference in quality once you start using the appropriate filters.  And it opens your ability to convey the emotion and drama you envisioned for your image without it looking too “photoshopped”.  Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with Lightroom and Photoshop, I use both everyday for very single image I shoot.  What I want to do though as I grow as an imaging professional, is to minimize the distraction to my viewers.  I want them to get lost in the fantastic beauty of my image… and I don’t want them seeing the tell-tale signs of having to use Photoshop salvage an image.

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The fact is… there are so many wonderful little gadgets that help us take our images to new heights of creativity.  I would love to hear which I’ve left off the list that are true must haves.  I know there are plenty out there with which I am not yet familiar.  Thanks in advance!

— andrew


 
Take your photography to a new level… check out my new workshop dates:
 
Grand Teton Photographic Tour/ Workshops 2014
More Destination Photo Tours/ Workshops 2014
 
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
 
Tandem Stills + Motion // andrew r. slaton
 
If you are interested in purchasing prints from this post, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
 
andrew r. slaton // photographer // prints
 
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
 
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com!
 
all images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2014
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photography, random thought

Autumn Rules // Top 10 Reasons Why Photogs Agree

I love summer, but in my opinion, nothing compares to the Fall.  Here are my Top 10 Reasons why professional photographers are salivating over the return of Autumn…

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10.  No Mosquitos… Okay, less mosquitos at least.

Depending upon where you choose to go this Fall, mosquitos could be the least of your worries.  Due to lowering temps, unfavorable for mosquitoes, they tend to hide in the autumn and winter.  They’re still there, but mostly inactive.  If traveling to more tropical locals, like the Florida Everglades, Fall could be the wet season, creating perfect conditions for the tiny insects to ruin your day.  Choose wisely, my friends.

green treefrog  mosquito on human hand

9.  Cooler Temps

It’s the reason for the lack of mosquitoes and other annoying bugs, but it’s also a welcomed relief to folks like me that appreciate the cool, dry air.  Whether you’re in the Smokies or the Rockies, the air begins to teem with a new, crisp energy starting in September.  It’s the coming of winter and the first snow that seems to charge the air with a sense of purpose, unlike the relaxed feel of Summer.  And the animals feel it too…

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8.  The Animals Are Active And Energized

The inevitable coming of Winter that is marked clearly by the changing from Summer to Fall, is perhaps the alarm clock for most animals, especially in the mountains and forests.  They come alive with the urgency of the moment.  Realizing they must feed as much as possible before the unforgiving Winter, they become bold and are easily viewed and photographed during the Fall.  And that’s not even to mention mating season… I’ll get to that later….

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7.  Less Crowds

I do enjoy people (sometimes), but when I’m on one of my nature/ landscape trips, I prefer to avoid crowds.  So if you’re like me, Autumn is the time for you.  The crowds of the Summer months dwindle away with the start of new school years, less hospitable weather, and reduction of seasonal services.  All is quiet.  And peaceful.  The way nature should be appreciated!

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6.  Catching The First Snow Is Exhilarating

Ah, the first snow.  It is something I strive to catch every year in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.  There is something so magical about it, and as mentioned before, it is the first real indicator of the coming Winter.  The animals get energized and a beautiful dusting of contrast is added to a yellow and sleepy landscape.  Which brings me to my next point…

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5.  Dynamic Weather

With the colder air from the north and first snow comes weather and dramatic clouds.  Those bluebird Summer days feel long gone, and the beautiful “drama queen” that is nature, peeks out to show you her moody side.  The light becomes magic as it penetrates small openings in the clouds, kissing the land.  I’m getting giddy just thinking about spending a month in Colorado and Wyoming this Fall!

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4.  Longer Nights…

I know, I know, this seems weird, right.  But let me just say, if you’re a seasoned photographer, you’ll know what I’m talking about.  We are often slaves to the light.  And during the Summer months, the days are so long.  We must rise before the sun to capture the gorgeous pre-dawn and dawn light (4:30-5 AM), and then we cannot truly rest until the sun has again hidden itself from our little part of the earth (9-10 PM).  It’s exhilarating, but exhausting.  So when the shorter days, longer nights of Fall come, it’s a nice reprieve.  Well, okay, let’s be honest; I still spend the same amount of time shooting, it just allows me to also capture the night shots I so love to shoot.  And thankfully, I still get a solid 5-6 hours of sleep.

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3.  Better Light = Better Photos

What is it about the Fall light?  Well, for one, the sun is lower in the sky, so the angle of sunlight is generally prettier and softer.  But also, as I mentioned before, the weather creates a situation for the light to be filtered and fantastically interesting.  There’s a harshness to the summer sun that fades away with the advent of Fall.

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2.  The Rut… And the Animals Get Crazy

If you’ve ever hear elk bugling, you’ll know what is so entrancing about the rut.  The rut is the mating season of many mammal species, including deer, elk, sheep, moose, pronghorn, caribou, etc.  The shorter day lengths of Autumn are the trigger for many of these animals.  And the side-effects of the increased hormones are what make this time of year so exciting and interesting for wildlife observers and photographers.

Males often rub their antlers or horns on trees and shrubs, fight with each other, wallow in mud and dust, self-anoint, and herd estrus females together.  Bull elk, in particular,  will loudly and frequently bugle.  A bugle is a vocalization made exclusively by bulls and can be directed toward other bulls or toward cows (female elk). A  bull will direct his bugle toward his cows while gathering them or while chasing a cow in estrus.  A herd bull might also direct his bugle toward another bull to express his dominance over the herd, while a satellite bull may use his bugle to challenge the herd bull.  Yelping also known as “grunting” is usually only made by herd bulls when they are excited. Seeing the steam from the cold air streaming from the nostrils and gaping mouth of a massive bull elk grunting and bugling is truly amazing.  But it’s the haunting bugles in the distance that one wakes to that heighten your senses and keep you coming back to the mountains in the Fall every year.

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1.  Fall Colors

What can I say?  This is self explanatory.  The colors of the fall just can’t be beat.  The deep greens and blues (to borrow from James Taylor) of Summer are magnificent.  Totally.  But the colors of Fall, almost exclusively during a few magical weeks each year, awaken my soul.  Red, orange, yellow, and every hue in between.  It’s earthy and warm, but those old familiar cool toned skies and purple hued mountains make for supremely balanced images.

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Sometimes as I drive down the road to Cora in the Winds, the leaves fall and dance in front of my car, and I feel like I might be in heaven.  Or some cheesy car commercial.  But it’s amazing and I really can’t get enough.  I miss Fall as soon as it’s gone, and I can’t wait until it arrives again…  Every.  Single.  Year.

If you don’t believe me… join me this Fall for my Grand Teton Workshop!

~ andrew


 
Take your photography to a new level… check out my new workshop dates:
 
Grand Teton Photographic Tour/ Workshops 2014
More Destination Photo Tours/ Workshops 2014
 
If you are interested in licensing any of the images/ video from this post, please visit my stock agency:
 
Tandem Stills + Motion // andrew r. slaton
 
If you are interested in purchasing prints from this post, please check my prints for sale, or email me directly for a custom request:
 
andrew r. slaton // photographer // prints
 
For assignment work requests, please email me: andrew@andrewslatonphoto.com
 
Thanks for visiting AndrewSlatonBlog.com!
 
all images and content © ARS Media, LLC 2014
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photography, random thought

primal depression

i have always loved zoos.  some of my earliest and fondest memories include family trips to the famous ft. worth zoo, where i would gaze at the magnificent creatures before me.  i believe that these early visits actually cultivated my great love for animals.

however, i went to the zoo just the other day, and had quite a different experience altogether.  now, don’t get me wrong here – i am by no means a supporter of PETA, nor do i hold animals in higher esteem than humans.  i simply saw the zoo, for the first time, in a very depressing light.  i’m beginning to rethink my ideas about human/ animal interaction. 

to further explore this concept, i’m starting a series on “caged animal” portraits.

  

i’m not trying to contribute to some “great” cause or anything, i’m just trying to see something from a different perspective than before, and i believe this is worth pondering.  i hope the photographs speak for themselves. 

thankfully, in all the tragedy that is our world, there remains beauty and humor as well.  i hope that some will find all three in a few of these images…

the primates exhibit an obvious parallel to our own mental malaise.  but what really got me was the bald eagle.  i’ve been lucky enough to have first-hand experience with wild balds when i lived in wyoming, and they are some of the most freewheeling and majestic creatures i have ever seen.

  

this animal, whose wingspan is longer than i am tall, was in a netted enclosure approximately 10’x10’x20′. talk about a caged bird… but it certainly could have been worse.

  

another factor that i guarantee contributed to all the long faces, was the temperature.  i was drenched in sweat the entire time as i walked the wide paths inside this enormous facility.  it had to have been over 100 degrees fahrenheit on the concrete, so it’s a given that the animals (many with gratuitous amounts of fur, hair, or feathers) were overheating, and desperately trying to keep cool.

please let me know what you think about all of this.  what has been your experience at various zoos around the world?  america’s zoos would be some of the best and most humane in the world, i imagine.  and i know that one justification people have for the continuation of traditional zoos is to create an awareness and love for animals in humans, which is the precise effect zoos had on me.  are we justified because of this?

 

i overheard a woman guiding a tour that day ask a group of children where they think zoos get their animals.  

“from the wild,” the children all answered.  

she kindly corrected them.  apparently, american zoos now almost exclusively acquire their animals from captivity.  they encourage captive breeding so that they are not pooling from the wild, therefore in theory, caging animals that are “used” to being caged.

 

i don’t know what the answers are.  and frankly, i feel very strong that there are much more important issues going on today with our own species.  however, these questions will eventually need answers.  as we move forward in our own evolution, have we surpassed our need for these exotic attractions?  are there simply better ways of studying and learning about our animal neighbors?  

 

all images © andrew r. slaton | photographer 2008

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