Stop. Just Stop.

How many times has something attracted your attention and that little voice in your head spoke to you? You know, the one that tells you to stop for a photo?

Call it photographer’s intuition. If you haven’t yet, it’s something you should learn to tune in to.

I struggle with it. There’s always something catching my eye that I might process for a moment and think about whether or not I want to stop and attempt to make a photo.

It’s usually the second part of that process that gets me into trouble. If I think too much about whether or not to stop for it, it being the shiny sparkly sight that’s pulled me out of my usual daze, then I’m likely to over-think the situation and pass it up.

Slow down and enjoy the scene? Or speed up and blast through it? :-)
click to enlarge

I’ve regretted the things I’ve passed up. And I’ve enjoyed and been rewarded for most of the things I’ve stopped and made time for.

There’s some advice I can offer here, and this advice is pointed mainly at myself. I have to remember these things every time I go out.

1. Allow yourself extra time. If going from Point A to B, then add a bit of extra time so that stopping for a photo doesn’t disrupt your schedule.

2. Don’t have high expectations. Don’t have any expectations. Some scenes work out great. Some don’t. The main point to all of this is to exercise your photographic eye and practice the photographic process. And you might also have fun doing it. I know I always do.

My Camera Does Not Shoot People

I sometimes get asked to take photos of people and other subjects outside of my usual areas of expertise and liking. Portraits, products, horses, groups, and even weddings!

It’s usually because someone has seen either my landscape photography work or my camera gear when I’ve been out shooting. I see what’s going on in their heads, and sometimes they even tell me. “You have a nice camera!”

I’ll stay out of that argument for the purposes of keeping this short. Let’s just say that it has little to do with the camera.

So, over the years, I’ve done the rare portrait session or the like for friends or family. I always advise against it. The usual disclaimer is something like, “if you want good photos, hire a professional that does this type of work on a regular basis” (i.e. not me). It’s not that I don’t want to do it. The problem is that I can’t live up to what’s expected from a photographer that is skilled in this kind of work.

So, my son’s cub scout pack wanted to do portraits for this upcoming school year, and guess who was asked :-)

I really don’t mind. And knowing that these photos would be used for the online scout messaging and events website only accessible by the scouts, I didn’t think there would be high expectations. With the help of a friend and also our den leader, we got it all done within an hour.

My photo-buddy, Wes, has been in the same type of situation many times before. And his response? “My camera does not shoot people.”

There’s no fooling around. There’s no discussion. He shuts down the discussion right away.

Maybe there’s some wisdom there :-)

Big Bend #VantagePoint

I often get asked about my travels through the Big Bend and where my favorite spots to shoot are. This is a tough question for me to answer. And I’m sure my attempts have been met with some frustration and eye rolling :-)

I do not have a favorite spot. Anywhere in the Big Bend region is my favorite spot. Well, just about anywhere… maybe not that lumpy, sloped and spider-infested spot that I tried to sleep on once while tent camping near Dominguez Springs.

However, I can think of one spot, a #VantagePoint that stands out and is a frequent stop for me during my travels to the Big Bend region.

Just east of the western entrance gate of Big Bend National Park along Highway 118 is a small parking lot on the north side of the road. You’ll probably not notice it as you drive past. I rarely ever see anyone parked there. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone wandering out in the desert near that little lot.

Lat. 29.2945°
Long. -103.4940°

Hike just a few yards to the north and you’ll come to a broad, open arroyo. This mini-canyon is a dry, wide opening in the Earth that is filled with interesting curves and colors. You can stroll right up to the edge of this impressive viewpoint and enjoy a quiet slice of desert. Several mountains spread across the horizon in front of you.

click to see larger

You’ll be greeted with an amazing silence. Nothing is more relaxing than to NOT hear the din of man-made sounds that we’re all too used to. You’ll hear the crunch of gravel under your feet and probably the wind blowing through the tall, spindly ocotillo. But gone are leaf blowers, car horns, angry people, giant freeways, and huge commercial jets.

The smell of the desert is clean and sometimes colored lightly with fragrance from the creosote bushes all around. The refreshing dry air will remind you how much you hate humidity when you feel the lack of it.

The sights? It’s probably not the greatest view in the park. It’s certainly not one of the iconic views you see online and in publications. But it’s still an amazing spot. It’s amazing because it has all the elements of what makes the Big Bend so great and it’s super easy to get to.

Even more amazing is to wait until after dark. Look in a southerly direction from this parking lot, and depending on the time of year, the Milky Way will stretch up above the horizon.

click to see larger

I have enjoyed this spot and also photographed it many times over the past 10 years with a variety of different cameras. I even take my workshop students there sometimes.

It’s a location that you can hit quickly and move on if you have to. I prefer to spend more than just five minutes there, but that’s not always possible depending on my travel companions.

It helps to have good quality and highly portable camera gear if you’re going light and moving fast. My post from the other day described some of the cameras I’ve used when trying to minimize the gear needed.

Building upon what I said and looking ahead to new options, there is a new camera out now that has the features and specs to potentially be a superb go-fast-n-light pocket-able camera: the Light L16.

I’ve yet to see any reviews from real-world users, so I’ll reserve my judgement until later. The L16 has a unique approach and technology to capturing images that could potentially put it on a level with cameras that use much larger sensors considering the quality of the images.

I look forward to seeing what the L16 can do. Based on my good experience with the 2-year old camera tech in my current cell phone, I think the L16 has a ton of potential.

And it runs on Android. THAT is exciting.


It’s too nice to be inside today, but it’s too hot to be outside. It’s mid-October and 92°! Really?

My sister has reminded me lately that cloud-watching can be part of the photographic process. I forget how inspiring and relaxing it can be.

So as I sit here at work and… well, work, there’s this great set of clouds floating by just outside the window.

And it’s still too hot. Enough already :-)

What Happened to the Take-Everywhere Camera?

Technology moving forward. That’s what.

I was in the habit of always having a dedicated camera with me as I went about my day. Usually it was a small point-and-shoot digital camera.

I used a Canon G11 for a while and then later picked up a Sony RX100. Both were good cameras, but the RX100 was exceptional in that it produced better image quality (specfically lower noise at higher ISO settings) and it was actually small enough that I could put it in my pants pockets.

About two years ago I got a new phone: a Nexus 6. The image quality of the cell phone cameras I’d had previously was so bad that I’d only use them for very quick snapshots and documentary type purposes.

The image quality from the Nexus 6 was quite amazing. So good, in fact, that I began to carry my Sony RX100 around less and less. And now it’s come to the point where I hardly use the RX100.

The RX100 is still better than the phone when it comes to image quality. However, the Nexus 6 gets the job done for most situations considering my needs.

Recently I enjoyed a nice sunrise from my office window and took out the old RX100.

And then I shot the same scene with the phone.

The phone’s HDR mode and default processing made the shot a little too saturated in comparison (and I could have fixed that later). But it’s quite impressive to see how a cell phone camera handled that scene especially compared to older cell phone camera tech.

So, I still carry a camera with me at all times (my phone) :-) it’s just a matter of putting it to use! I.e. get out and photograph things!

Making More Stuff

Still in the maker-mode here. Last year I bought an assortment of colored LED lights. I’ve done a few odd things with them, nothing serious. It was more to learn about them and how to make them work.

Now I’m trying to make a tool for light painting. We’ll see how it works out… :-)

LED telights have been the main tool I’ve used for light painting in my night photography. I recently found colored LED tealights and bought a pack of red ones. Waterproof, too!

BTW, the clamp repair that I made a few weeks ago…
was in vain. It does not clamp down on a RRS plate well enough to hold it firmly. Pppfffftttt….

Making Stuff

Time seems to flit by in stretches. Wasn’t new years just the other day? Somehow it’s March now.

This phenomenon gets worse as I get older. That’s scary.

I’ve been engaged in a number of non-photography projects lately and also some photography-related projects. Since I’ve had my head buried in the details, I’ve forgotten to come up for air and take notice of what’s going on in the world. The spring flowers are already starting to bloom here, for one thing.


Some friends and I helped our kids make a small cart for a competition. It’s made mostly from spare parts and junk we had laying around. It’s basically a giant pull-back car that uses large rubber bands.

Turns out the bands didn’t work so well. I bought some large diameter surgical tubing, and it was more suited to being repeatedly stretched while keeping its elasticity.

My older son and I built a PC for his birthday. I picked out the parts (just a basic-level PC with an Intel processor) and then showed him how to put it all together. He’s 11, and I’m not sure how much he learned. But he did seem to enjoy the process.

And that’s something I want my kids to learn – that making things is often well within your capability if you put your mind to it.

My younger son competed in his first cub scout Pinewood Derby contest. They had an adult category, so I also made a car of my own. Of course there I put a camera in it ;-)

Here is the video from the car:

The ongoing saga of my old Sony 5.1 receiver…

It stopped working a couple of years ago. It kept tripping into protection mode. I tore it apart and found some bad capacitors. I’ve recently replaced them, and it still doesn’t work :-(

This thing should go to the junk bin, but the geek/engineer in me cannot stand to let it go. Next on the list is to test all the power transistors.

Another interesting repair was an old set of powered computer speakers that stopped working. Turns out there was a small ball bearing rolling around inside the speaker that contained the amp. It was rolling around on the circuit board and shorting things out.

Typically, speakers don’t contain any ball bearings :-) But, living in a house with two young boys I’ve learned to accept that things end up where they don’t belong quite often.

Both of my boys deny having anything to do with this…. naturally.

I suppose this is just pay back for all the times I broke something as a kid.


Well, not quite. But photography related, yes.

The used ballhead I recently bought came with a semi-broken lever clamp. I say semi-broken because it was still somewhat functional, but not 100%.

The small pin that held the lever bolt in place (preventing it from rotating) had sheared. The lever bolt was also bent.

I engaged Really Right Stuff about fixing it. I sent them a detailed description and photos. They told me to send it to them if I wanted it repaired.

Once they had it, they then informed me that they could NOT repair it. It was a “legacy” clamp, and they had no spare parts for it. And since I’d bought it second-hand, it was not eligible for their upgrade policy.

I like RRS products. I’ve used them for many years. And I like the new products that they develop. They show great ingenuity and intelligence in developing devices and aids that can help photographers.

But, it bothers me that they couldn’t make a repair after they said to send it in and I had disclosed to them exactly what model the clamp was and what was wrong with it.

Anyway, being slightly pissed off about it, I decided to attempt to fix it myself. I “un-bent” the bolt and drilled out the broken keeper pin. I then put the bolt back in with a bit of red Loctite (permanent) and shoved a sanded-down pin into the hole.

Moving on…

I also got a used tripod. It’s an old Gitzo model that has the design flaw of a round, center plate with no secondary locking mechanism.

I’ve read about this issue many times. The round, center plate gets clamped into the spider (the central part of the tripod where the legs attach). However, if the clamp loosens during use, the center plate (along with the attached head and possibly also camera + lens) has a tendency to fall out unexpectedly.

I fixed this potential issue by drilling and tapping a hole through the spider and center plate.

A small (#10-32) stainless steel bolt goes into the hole (just snugly with a bit of blue Loctite).

Maybe it’s overkill… But I really like backup methods and secondary systems to ensure that something works and stays working as it’s abused, er… used.

And finally, I did not like the way the head attached to the tripod. There was only a stub of a 3/8″ bolt sticking out of the center plate.

Every single tripod I’ve used that employed this design has had issues with the head unscrewing itself during handling and use.

So, I drilled and tapped three holes through the center plate. Set screws go into these holes and tighten against the bottom of the ballhead.

Now I just need to get out and shoot! :-)

Having Fun

Getting back to the idea of having fun mentioned in a previous post… On our trip to Death Valley last year, I brought colored LED lights to play with.

6 Photographers on a Dune

But first, we had fun with ourselves. This was take one hundred something. Seems like it took forever to get the group just right, and then we had several shots trying to get our postures and body positions right AND keep still through a 25 second exposure.

Spinning lights on a string

Light Spheres on a Dune

That was it. Simple. Put a light on the end of a string and spin it around.

Green Light Sphere on Cow Creek

Although the lights were initially WAY too bright. Remember, these are highly sensitive exposures that pick up starlight.

For some strange reason, I had a spare white sock with me and also some tape. I cut apart the sock and taped bits of it over the light to diffuse and reduce the intensity.

The light spheres are fun, and there are probably a hundred other patterns that you can make while spinning a light on the end of a string.

Light Tornado

My favorite was the tunnel made as I spun the light in a circle in front of my body while walking towards the camera.


Storage Upgrade Complete

…for now.

This is the new black box of bytes (Mediasonic HFR2-SU3S2) sitting in a remote location (my office). In addition to a new 2TB drive, I also got a 4-bay enclosure to house it and also the other two existing 2TB drives that I have. So, now it’s three 2TB drives in one box (with an open slot for adding a fourth drive later on).

Hopefully this is enough to fulfill my storage goals for the next 3-4 years.

Death Valley

Last November I visited Death Valley with several photo-friends. It was a week to get away and see the landscape, and to focus on photography for a good, long while.

Shooting in the dunes.

This wasn’t a workshop or a group shoot or any sort of formalized event. It was just six friends getting together and having fun. And we had loads of fun.

Manly Beacon and badlands in Golden Canyon

Editing and processing the images has taken forever. There were thousands of photos to sort through, and I’m finally finishing up.

Scouting in the valley.

I’ll post more about this trip later. We visited and explored some great places. I’ve only been to Death Valley once before, and my knowledge is fairly limited. But we did get to see a lot of new stuff (for me) on this recent trip.

And we got to experience some very interesting weather. High winds, heat, cold, snow…. and a rocket launch. More about that later.