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!

Spaces Available on Sept Big Bend Workshop

I have four spaces available on my upcoming night photography workshop in Big Bend. You can get the full details here:

Please contact me if you’re interested.

The price of tuition has been lowered to $750. The maximum class size is nine people. I currently have five signed up.

Don’t let the advanced description scare you. If you have at least a bit of experience shooting in very low light conditions and know how to change aperture, shutter speed, and ISO while in manual, then you’ll be okay. This workshop is designed to take basic skills and work them to gain advanced knowledge mostly by experience (so we’ll be spending a lot more time shooting in the dark).

Please contact me if you’re interested.

My Photos in Texas History Museum

The Bullock Texas History Museum in Austin is running an exhibit on Big Bend. They have chosen to display two of my photographs from Big Bend National Park.

The first image (above) is The Window taken early one morning in September 2008. Henry and Michael (my sons) are with me in the photo above, and they were also with me when I took the image (Henry was a toddler, and Michael was not born yet but due in about a month at the time). It makes for a neat image thinking about my boys and when and where I made the photo that’s now on display.

Also, just near that photo, is a display case showing a Canon 5D DSLR combined with a Canon 17-40mm f/4L lens. The equipment is not mine, but it is the same exact model camera and lens that I used to make that photo of The Window. It’s just an interesting coincidence.

The second photo is of Cerro Castellan taken in late afternoon in April of 2006. It was my first visit to that area of the park, and I fell in love with the interesting contrasts (white ash and red rocks) and the towering, multi-colored peak above.

The exhibit runs through September 18th, 2016. Catch it while you can!

Photo Workshop Sept. 2016

I’m holding a night photography workshop based in Big Bend this coming September. It will start on the afternoon of the 23rd and conclude late on the 26th.

See the fine details here

Click pic for more info.

This workshop will focus on night photography, and I will teach and demonstrate advanced techniques. We’ll also spend more time in the field shooting the dark, night skies that the Big Bend is famous for.

Interested? Please contact me!

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.

Really Right Stuff BH-55 Tear Down

I recently bought a used BH-55 ballhead. I’m fulfilling an eight year old equipment need to have a tall, robust but lightweight tripod and head.

Actually, I have a large, robust tripod but it weighs just shy of half a ton. Well, probably not quite that much, but that’s what it feels like on long hikes.

Dirty Head

The used BH-55 came to me looking well used and dirty. That’s okay, RRS makes great products, and I knew most likely the head would be perfectly fine.

For reference, I’ve had a BH-40 for about eight years now. I’ve used it quite a bit and abused it some. It’s had several hard knocks and the battle scars to prove it. It continues to work perfectly.

I decided to take the well-loved BH-55 apart and clean it thoroughly. The head was difficult to rotate down into the front two slots, even with the tension (drag) setting reduced. There was a lot of gunk and debris built up around the ball.

Breaking it Down

First step was to remove the panning base. There are four small screws on the bottom that must be removed. This is a great video that shows how to do it:

Note that the following images were taken during re-assembly. So that explains why it looks clean :-)

As shown in the video, you have to remove the small brass bushing. It will slide straight out, but you may need to knock it around a bit to free it.

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Then you unscrew the stainless steel plate that the brass bushing had locked into place. This stainless steel plate may be hard to start. There are a few blind holes in the bottom where you can insert something like an Allen wrench to get leverage and break it free.

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Next there is a round, stepped flange piece that you pull straight out. I didn’t get a shot of it by itself, but it’s the piece in the center of this image:

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Now, there’s a split collar that has to come out. This collar is held in place by the screw (and knob) that locks the panning base function of the ballhead.

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But first, the panning lock knob has to be removed. It has a plastic cap on the end that must be removed. Prying this cap out will likely destroy it, so beware.

After the plastic cap is off, you’ll see a screw head down inside the hollow knob. Remove the screw with an Allen wrench. NOTE that this screw is held in place with Loctite. So, it takes some torque to break it free and remove it. If it’s too difficult, then you can apply heat to the split collar to help loosen it.

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Once the screw is removed, the split collar comes out:

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All Stop

I chickened-out at this point. The next step WOULD be to remove the blind snap ring (aka circlip, or evil metal thing designed by satan). This would be very difficult because unlike normal snap rings that have tabs with holes, this blind one does not and therefore there is no special tool to remove it.

Removing it would be a matter of prying it out with a flat screwdriver or similar tool.

I made a few light attempts to do this, but the snap ring is substantially strong, and I feared that I would scratch-up the insides of the ballhead receptacle and the ball itself.

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However, at this point, the ball was very loose, and I was able to jiggle it around while using WD-40 and q-tips to clean all the small debris that had collected inside the head. And that was the whole point of this exercise: just to clean it thoroughly inside and out.

Here’s everything disassembled:

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Reversing the steps above gets you a clean and fully functioning ballhead again.

Wait… there are a few important details.

Remember the panning lock knob and screw that was held in place with Loctite? This will have to be cleaned (clean the screw and also threaded hole in the split collar) and new Loctite applied. Use Loctite #271 – red.

The red Loctite is supposed to set up in 10 minutes. I waited a few hours just to be sure.

I didn’t mention it above, but the panning base has lube inside of it. New lube will have to be applied. I used Super Lube All Purpose Grease. (remember, only the panning base parts get lubed; the ball itself stays dry).

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After initial re-assembly, the panning base was too tight to move. I had to go back and adjust the base one time to get the panning function to work properly. Basically I went through the procedure that was shown in the video (the first link above), except I loosened my panning base rather than tightened it (as shown in the video).

Post adjustment, the ballhead worked perfectly. It panned snugly and the ball dipped down into the two front slots with ease. And it looked much better all clean and fresh.

Tools and Materials Needed

• Set of metric Allen wrenches
• Set of standard Allen wrenches
• WD-40 (for cleaning)
• Knife and small flathead screwdriver
• Bunch of old, soft rags
• Lube and Loctite mentioned above


Throughout the whole process I was continuously impressed by the build quality and design. It really made me appreciate the good design and engineering that went into it, and I certainly can understand the price. In fact, I’m kinda surprised how low the cost is considering what goes into these things.

For example, I removed the ballhead lock screw and discovered a set of bearings where the knob makes contact inside the ballhead frame. This is quite a nice touch.

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I’m an engineer and a geek and I love this kind of stuff. This info will serve for future reference. I’m pretty hard on my gear and drag it around outside in dirty places, so I’m sure I’ll be cleaning it again at some point.