RoW

I think I've figured out why so many photographers insist on bringing everything they own on every shoot.

It's a safety blanket.

(I leave mine at home.)

I rarely need more than a couple lenses when I'm working. Before the shoot, I think about the subject and environment, decide which camera and lens is best suited for the task at hand, then bring a logical alternative or two. 

But the fact of the matter is, I rarely stray from the initial plan. And what additional gear I do bring, often remains in the bag. Sure, I'll change a battery or swap out a memory card. I might even add a filter. But that's about it for extra cirrucular activity.

What I've noticed with my Pelican-case-packing-comrades, is essentially the same. Generally speaking, they are using a lens or two, changing a battery when needed, and that's it.

So why so much stuff?

I think it's the same emotion that leads to overpacking a suitcase for a trip. We bring too much because "we might need it." Just in case. It's insurance.

Insurance is based on numbers. So let's look at the math of overpacking. If you carry 30 extra pounds on 10 trips, that's 300 pounds of discomfort. Divide that by the one or two times that you actually use an extra item. Then look at the resulting photos. 

In business, we think in terms of ROI. So my question would be: "What was your return on weight?" I call this RoW.

After this exercise, your conclusion could be that the result clearly justified the bulk. That's great. At least you thought it through. Keep on truckin'.

If your RoW isn't as positive as you'd like, do a test. Think about the next shoot beforehand, carefully select the gear your need, then pack a smaller bag.

If it works out,

this could be the beginning 

of a lighter, more nimble, you. 

-Derrick

Backpack or Shoulder Bag?

It's the most common question in camera-toting lore.

And I think you'd have to be a photographer to appreciate the significance of this decision. Having the wrong bag for the situation is like wearing pants that are too tight or a shirt that's too short. It just feels wrong.

I'm thinking about this because I just switched from a messenger bag to a backpack for my trip to the Eastern Sierra. There's no way I would carry my black Urban Reporter down the streets of Bridgeport. I'd look like someone who got lost on his way to San Francisco.

My blue Photo Hatchback was the perfect choice. It felt right around town, and performed brilliantly while hiking along the Walker River in search of the perfect Aspen grove. With its secure shoulder straps and waist band, I could hop from rock to rock with my gear snugly hugging my body.

Next week I fly to New York City. There's no way I'm carrying a blue backpack down 34th. I'm switching back to my discrete, black Urban Reporter 150. I can easily slide it to my front when riding public transit, it looks good sitting next to me in a coffee shop, and I can quietly pull out my camera for a few quick frames when walking to work in Manhattan.

(I'll be frank. I find giant backpacks very annoying on crowded subways and buses.)

By now, you've figured out the answer to this carrying solution quandary.

You knew what I was going to say all along.

Any photographer worth his or her salt,

has one of each.

-Derrick

A Cold Night in Bridgeport

There were a lot of things on my mind as I drove out of town.

Sonora Pass was ahead of me, Bridgeport behind. I left a few things there. I won't be missing them. 

In the trunk of the car there were two bags. One contained a dusty change of clothes, toiletries, and some basic hiking gear. The other, a backpack, was used to transport an Olympus E-M10, four lenses, an iPad mini, wireless hard drive, and a few accessories. It's my version of traveling light.

Just a few days earlier, I had slung these two bags over my shoulder and walked up the back stairs to the second floor of the Bridgeport Inn. I had room 23.

"It's the one with a power outlet," Laura told me when I checked in. "Plus it's near the back door and the bathrooms."

The Bridgeport Inn was built in the late 1800s. Downstairs was a restaurant and saloon. There was also a large common area "where guests once smoked, read, and kept warm."

Upstairs was divided into two sections. On the left side were deluxe accommodations that contained a bathroom, heating, television, and other comforts. They cost more than what I was paying. The right side featured a long hallway with open doors on both sides. An open door meant the room was available. If you peered in, you would see a 9'x9' space with a bed, dresser, and a single light overhead.

With the exception of room 23, there wasn't even a power outlet. No heating, and the bathroom was at the end of the hall.

I normally camp when working in the Eastern Sierra. But this was a last-minute trip, so I booked the cheapest room possible instead. I knew it would be Spartan. But there was more there than I anticipated.

Nobody told me this, but I had a pretty good idea of how the Inn once worked. My room, along with the others on the right side of the building, were short-term accommodations. The interior stairs led from the raucous saloon to the long, darkened hallway.

I woke up cold at 3am the first night. The temperature outside was in the mid-20s, and my room was probably in the upper 30s. I had to sleep curled up. I was too uncomfortable otherwise.

"This is how it was," I thought. I remember one story about life in Bodie where the prostitutes would stay all night with the miners who had hired them. It was for the warmth. And in many cases, I'm sure it meant the luxury of a night's sleep.

First thing in the morning, I went downstairs to the heated restaurant. The coffee was good. I ate a full breakfast. I felt great.

This might sound odd, but I loved the experience. By the second day, I was already in rhythm with my life in the Eastern Sierra. I ate bigger meals, found an extra blanket, and worked hard while the sun was out.

I thought about how my life is different than when the Bridgeport Inn was built. And on my way to the Sonora Pass, I realized that I would have been fine then too.

Thanks to a cold night in Bridgeport,

I gained a lot of confidence

from a little discomfort.

-Derrick

Packing for Bridgeport

I'm heading to the Eastern Sierra on a scouting mission.

Bridgeport will be our headquarters during the June 2015 Photography Workshop for Bodie and Mono Lake. I love this area, and Bridgeport is a wonderful place to hang my hat for a night while exploring the rugged terrain of the High Plains. 

Fortunately, the Quaking Aspens still have color right now. So I'll be able to capture a few photographs, find a good homebase for our event, and breath some clean air.

I have a room reserved at the Bridgeport Inn. It's one of those places where you wish the walls could talk. It was built in the late 1800s and has hosted adventurers, fisherman, hikers, and those seeking their fortune in the silver mines of Bodie.  I've never slept there before. Who knows what I'll encounter.

At the moment, the Bridgeport Inn is my leading contender for workshop headquarters in June. But I'm not going to make a final decision until I spend a few nights there. I'll also scout locations for our photo shoots, and of course, test places to eat. 

This is the part of my job that I love. Having the freedom to go off and see something beautiful, then figure out how to share it with others. 

I'll finish packing my rucksack this morning, record the podcast for the week, then hit the road.  I'm traveling light, of course. I'm taking the Olympus OM-D E-M 10, a couple lenses, the iPad mini, and a pocket camera. That's all I need -

Oh, except for the camping stove and some French Roast. 

I love the taste of coffee 

at 6000 feet. 

-Derrick

 

Wish Upon a Blood Moon

I had already decided that I wasn't going to photograph last night's lunar eclipse.

I just wanted to enjoy it. And who knows if I were to see anything, anyway.

So as I went to bed, I told my internal clock to wake me at 3:30 am so I could poke my head outside. It was closer to 4 when I opened my eyes. At first I wasn't sure why. Then I remembered.

The blood moon.

Theresa woke up too. She looked at me inquisitively.

"The eclipse," I whispered. "Come see it with me."

I put a blanket around her shoulders and we ventured out back. There it was, hanging in the west. Beautiful.

The air was clean, revealing a sky filled with jewels. The veiled moon dimming her beacon, allowing the stars to cast their light. 

We stood silently.

At 4 am that morning, I loved my life, my family, and the creator of such magnificent moments. The experience lasted only minutes. I'll remember them forever.

I was half naked. Cold was setting in. We shuffled back inside and upstairs to the warm bed. Heaven.

Normally, I would have cast a wish up that blood moon. But not that night. Because, as I stood there, eyes upward into the sky, I knew that I had everything

that meant anything

to me.

-Derrick

Cameras for Kids

I receive a lot of mail asking for camera recommendations for young adults.

On one level, it's like asking me what car to buy. There are so many factors involved, it's difficult  to formulate a generic answer. But I've learned that people want answers, so I've come up with some basic responses.

Generally speaking...

First, you have to consider how kids work. They are connected and often in a hurry. I have two teenage sons. I know this. So the first thing I recommend is a camera that can talk to their devices. Put WiFi on the list.

Next, I like system cameras over fixed lens compacts. A system camera can grow with the photographer. I typically recommend a mirrorless body with a kit lens and a second optic that suits their style. A long lens for action photographers, bright prime for existing light artists, etc.

The push-back I often get is, "I don't want to spend too much." Then you should encourage your child to pursue another hobby. On average, figure $750 to get started. Yes, that's a lot of money.

My parents bought my first camera when I was 11 years old. If they were to calculate their return on investment, I'm sure they would be thrilled.

Not every kid with a camera becomes a successful photographer. But the pursuit of that craft may lead to benefits yet unimagined.

Generally speaking...

I'll take that risk.

-Derrick

New Items in the Nimble Store

The dexterous elves have been busy.

We have four new items in The Nimble Store:

Nimble Fingerless Gloves ($12.99) - For those brisk morning shoots. 

Dual Function Nimble Stylus Pen ($3.95) - Perfect for using your iPad while dining in a restaurant.

Classic Lowepro Z10 Pouch ($6.95) - One of the first designed by Lowepro over a decade ago, and perfect for your mirrorless lenses.

New Walking Man Cap Putty/Navy Combo ($26.95) - The latest edition to our cap collection is ideal for warmer weather with its light-colored material and stylish navy bill.

Plus, we've lowered shipping rates to make our quality items as affordable as possible.

Hope you have a chance to come by to peruse our growing selection of nimble products.

(We're having a blast with this...)

-Derrick

 

 

 

Top 10 (Plus 3) Cameras for Traveling Photographers

The world is catching up to us, even National Geographic.

I just read the article, Top 10 Compact Cameras for Travelers on NationalGeographic.com, and the list included much of the gear that we've been working with for some time. Some of my favorites on the list include the Fujifilm X-T1, Olympus OM-D E-M1, and the Sony Alpha a7 - all great cameras.

This list is meaningful for a few reasons. First, it's a stamp of approval for non-DSLR cameras. We didn't need this affirmation, but there are many photographers still on the fence about mirrorless bodies. This will help assure them that those cameras are worthy of serious work.

Beyond that, however, this list implies that you don't need a full frame sensor to produce amazing photographs. Yes, the Sony Alpha is full frame, but the other entries are Micro Four Thirds, APS-C, and in a couple cases, even smaller than those two.

For me, however, there are three more entries that I think should be considered. Here are my additions.

Olympus OM-D E-M10 ($649) - This body has most of the important features that an enthusiast would want, but at about half the price of the flagship OM-D E-M1 mentioned in the National Geo article. You do give up weather sealing, however. So if you plan on soggy adventures, you might want to look at the OM-D E-M5 as the other alternative. Otherwise, this body is a steal.

Panasonic LUMIX LX100 16.8 MP compact camera ($899) - Panasonic took a well-established, refined compact camera, and figured out how to replace its smallish sensor with a hefty Micro Four Thirds chip. Plus, you get an excellent Leica zoom. If you don't want to carry extra lenses, this could be your answer.

Canon PowerShot G7 X compact camera ($699) - Canon tries its hand at the 1" sensor compact, and seems to have created a wonderful little camera for the traveler. The G7 X features a f/1.8(W)-f/2.8(T), 4.2x optical zoom (24mm-100mm), flip-up touch-screen LCD, and 20MPs of resolution. I think it's going to be popular with discriminating shooters.

All of these cameras have a high nimbleosity rating, and will serve the enthusiast photographer very well...

Even when not on assignment for National Geographic.

-Derrick

Next Stop: New York

Fall brings shorter days, colorful trees, and my favorite US photography show: Photo Plus Expo.

This October event is particularly exciting for me this year because I'm working with an entirely new team. I'm attending press meetings as an editor for c't Digital Photography Magazine and as the evangelist for Rocky Nook Publishing. Two companies that I adore and am thrilled to be representing.

One of the things I'm working on right now is setting up a speaking schedule for meeting with my photographer friends in the c't/Rocky Nook booth.  If you're attending the show, please come by and say hello. I'll have a Nimble Photographer microfiber cloth on hand for you.

I want to meet you.

We'll also have issues of the magazine on hand. If you haven't seen c't Digital Photography in real life, you need to. It's beautiful, and it's unlike any other photo publication in North America. (We have a 20 percent discount going right now, btw.)

I'll also be speaking in the Panasonic booth on Saturday with my friend Frederick Van Johnson, and am on the presentation docket for lynda.com. Being so "on the go" brings out the Nimble Photographer in me.

I'm toying with the idea of packing only my iPad mini, the WD My Passport Wireless, and the Olympus OM-D E-M1 for my editorial work. That's right, no laptop. I'm testing this kit right now. It's so light and nimble. Everything fits easily in my Lowepro Urban Reporter 150. And I can carry it all day without fatigue.

I love fall.

New clients, new gear, new ways of working. Guess you could say that,

I'm turning over a new leaf.

-Derrick

Guess That's Why They Call Them Smartphones

I won't be purchasing an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus. My 5S is only a year old and running just fine.

But I'm not disappointed. iOS 8 essentially gives me a new camera for my existing hardware.

Now, if photo gear manufacturers are still wondering why so many people are using their smartphones instead of dedicated compacts, this is a compelling reason. In addition to all of the other benefits - such as portability and connectivity - with a single firmware update, Apple has dramatically improved photography on my iPhone 5S.

For free.

On the camera side of the equation, I now have dynamic exposure compensation. All I have to do is slide my finger up or down on the screen to adjust the brightness. Other goodies were included too, such as time lapse and single-capture HDR.

Plus, the Photos App was overhauled. Once I take a picture, I can quickly edit with tools such as shadows and highlights, then share my image with the world.

Seems like camera manufacturers are just now understanding the power of a firmware update. Recently, the Olympus E-M1 and the Fujifilm X-T1 received solid upgrades this way. As a result, I'm experiencing that same warm, fuzzy feeling about my E-M1 that I have about my upgraded iPhone.

We've had digital cameras for a long time. Why so late to the firmware party? Why ignore the digital aspect of the camera?

Software updates seem so, well, intelligent.

Guess that's why they call them smartphones.

-Derrick

My Eyes are Bigger than My Credit Limit

One of the things that I liked about photo magazines was their prolific advertisements. Once a month an issue would arrive, filled with pictures of cameras and lenses and all sorts of interesting accessories.

I would examine each page carefully and figure out the items that I had to have. Sometimes I would revisit a favorite page a half a dozen times or so, and dream about how I would put this new must-have piece of equipment to use. 

I rarely bought anything. There just wasn't the budget for it. And as of the month wore on, I would gradually forget about the whole thing... until a new issue arrived. 

Now, it's like magazine day every day. 

I open my web browser and before me is an entire candy store of photo items to peruse. It's particularly bad right now because Photokina is still in full swing, and practically everyone is rolling out new gear.

Much of it I want. 

I took a quick tally today of the items on the my photography wish list, and it came out to about $4000. There's no way I have $4000 to spend. In fact, I just paid my quarterly taxes. I don't have $40 to spend.  

Once again, my eyes are bigger than my credit limit. 

But, just like that kid with a brand-new photo magazine... 

It doesn't hurt to look. 

-Derrick

How Photoshop Began

Back in 2000, I worked with the folks at Adobe to write an article titled, From Darkroom to Desktop - How Photoshop Came to Light.

It was one of the most popular posts I have ever published. I wrote about how Thomas Knoll began writing graphics subroutines on a Mac Plus in 1987. Then, how he started working with his brother John to create a program first called Display, then ImagePro. Two years later, in 1989, Adobe licensed the app that we know today as Photoshop.

The Knoll brothers represent cornerstones of digital photography. Thomas loved developing pictures in his dad's darkroom at home. John was attracted to personal computing from the very beginning. And they both had an appreciation for the intersection of these two disciplines.

If you like this kind of stuff, I've created a PDF titled, History of Photoshop and placed it as a digital download in the Nimble Store. There's no charge for it. I'm testing how this process works.

If you wish, you can help me. First, jump over to the Nimble Store. Then add the History of Photoshop to your cart and check out. A link to download the document will be sent to the email address that you used in your cart.

If you have time, please add a comment to this post about your shopping experience (and if you want, about the content itself). Or you can send me a private note via the Contact Form.

We're testing the next phase for the Nimble Store: digital downloads. There's going to be all sorts of good stuff in there. Some of it technical. But not all.

For example, in 2015, I will add a book to the catalog. Oddly enough, its title will be

The Nimble Photographer.

-Derrick

My Extra Layer of Security

Before digital cameras, casual photographers used Polaroids to shoot nude pictures.

They had to. Unless you had your own darkroom, it was difficult, and somewhat awkward, to find a commercial lab that would make prints of naked people. Now, all anyone has to do is point their smartphone at the subject, and tap. 

Very convenient.

Photography today is easier... and a bit more risky - especially the part about sharing the images. Doesn't seem like we have complete control over who can access our shots.

I used to send 4"x6" glossies to family and friends (to be clear, fully clothed pictures). I would order "double prints" so I would have enough to go around. I would organize the snapshots on the kitchen table, write the letter, address the envelope, determine the correct postage, and get it all to the mailbox before the postman arrived.

The process was a bit clunky, but relatively secure. Unless I had a rogue lab worker or incompetent mail handler, I was in good shape.

Today, I press a button to take a picture, then another to share it with the world - whoops, I mean my friend. Yes, there's risk associated with convenience. If someone really wants to get in my business, they probably can. 

Our house, computer, and cloud storage site can all be targets for those who think it's acceptable to take what isn't theirs. Does that mean we shouldn't use these services? I don't think so. 

But at least we can make it difficult to break in. Practice good password security, and hope for the best. And in my case, I have a little extra.

The pictures of me aren't as desirable as those of beautiful Hollywood actresses. A few more years and a couple pounds have become my outer layers of security.

I mean, really. Who's going to pay

to see those shots?

-Derrick

Shiny Objects

Samsung just announced a new Galaxy Note. And in just a few days, we'll know everything there is to know about the latest iPhone.

Despite all the new features highlighted, we seem too easily satisfied. Let's stop for a moment and look at the stuff we're not getting.

Alternative ways of charging - These things don't use that much energy individually. But collectively, they are a substantial drain on the grid. I'd like to see solar panels (or other means of smart energy) designed for our homes by the big companies with influence, that we will use to charge smartphones, tablets, LED lights, and low-demand devices. Less fuel consumed, less pollution produced, better for the planet.

Personal storage - It's hard to believe that in 2014, storage is still a hassle. And despite my best efforts, I still have data and pictures at risk. If we are indeed the data age, then we need persistent, robust storage solutions that work for everyone.

Security - I'm tired of the possibility that my business, and the economy as a whole, can be easily corrupted.  If you're going to come out with a cool new service, then you darn well better be able to secure it. If not, then keep working.

Waste - At some point, the landfills will have more precious minerals then our mines. If you're going to sell a million new devices, then there has to be a plan for the million that's going to be replaced. And I don't think that plan should be toss 'em in the trash.

As a whole, I feel like we're easily distracted by shiny new objects.  And as much as I like  toys, we need to be responsible about how we use energy, dispose of waste, and protect individual rights.

The new Galaxy Note and the latest iPhone seem to fall short in these areas.

At this stage of the game,

we should be further along. 

-Derrick

Hello Rocky Nook

Today is my first day working with Rocky Nook Publishing.

They've hired me as their Photography Evangelist. If you're not familiar with this group, you're in for a treat.

Rocky Nook is based in Santa Barbara, CA. Right off the top, they show good taste in location. When I met with them last month to discuss this gig, we had lunch at the Shoreline Cafe that sits right on the beach. It's not too often you get to wear shades during a job interview.

They choose titles based on their appeal to the editorial team - no focus groups, high-priced consultants, or pressure from retailers. "I like to publish books that I find interesting," remarked Gerhard Rossbach, publisher in charge of Rocky Nook. He then asked me what camera bag I was carrying. "That would look nice with my Fujifilm X-T1," he added.

We are of like minds. As I've mentioned before, I only work with companies that I respect and find interesting. If I'm going to promote something to my audience, I need to be excited about it too.

I just posted my first article for them, Tips for Photographing Birds. The editorial calendar for upcoming weeks looks fantastic.

I'm going to love this.

-Derrick