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A very portable “tripod”

28th February 2011

Make yourself a simple “strap tripod”

Owing to various photo assignments, I seem to spend a considerable of time in the field. But I’ll have to admit that I’m not a big fan of lugging around a tripod. My “excuse” is that with all of the shuttling back and forth, a tripod is not the easiest item to carry-on when traveling by airplane.

There are many times however, that I could use the rock-steady support of a tripod. For these occasions, I make do with a substitute accessory that easily stores in my pocket or backpack.

As you’ll see, this accessory is not very sophisticated, but it does an adequate job of squeezing two or three additional stops of exposure from my camera when the light is fading.

These are the few simple materials that I used for this project:

  • 6 feet of web strapping – available from Hobby Lobby, Michaels or other fabric store
  • one plastic strap adjuster – also available from fabric store
  • one 1/4″ x 20 threaded bolt – from hardware store (three are shown in this photo)
  • one grommet – from hardware store; If you don’t have a grommet kit, this will be your biggest expense. Since I already have a grommet kit, I save about $10.

Another benefit of using this strap tripod is that it’s dirt cheap to make – about $3.


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Wedding & Portrait Photographers International Convention – Part 3

Last Wednesday was the last day of the WPPI Trade Show and I again walked the aisles to take it all in.

Most of the attendees are at WPPI to learn techniques that they can harness for their wedding and portrait photography businesses. To promote their products, companies provide floor demonstrations that show ways that their products are used.

For example over at Canon‘s booth, noted photographer Clay Blackmore was demonstrating how he uses Canon’s portable strobes for making portraits.

Here he is shooting in this on-floor studio. His setup uses a softbox strobe and background strobe triggered by his on-camera flash and a pair of reflectors.

His demo attracted many attendees who were interested in seeing the results of using simple equipment and techniques. His camera was equipped with a wireless transmitter which immediately sent the images which were displayed for the audience.

One of the largest group exhibitors were the photofinishers. The competition was less based on price and more based on selection and customer service.

As you can see by the exhibits, there is a tremendous selection of size, finishes, variations and mountings. Albums, postcards, posters, t-shirts, more….




Color Inc

Shootsac makes camera accessory bags that don’t look like camera accessory bags. Designed with the female photographer in mind, they’re both practical and fashionable.

For more information contact Shootsac.

Triple Scoop Music is in the business of licensing music. They have a large library of more than 7000 songs.

Photographers that want to use music for slideshows and/or videos can license any of these songs which can then be used royalty-free.

Having licensed music in the past, I am convinced that having a single point of contact makes for a hassle-free way to add music to your productions.

For more information contact Triple Scoop Music.

Having heard about Fuji‘s 3D camera, I stopped by their booth for a demo.

The Fuji W3 camera is an advanced point-and-shoot with two lenses. When you snap a photo, the two images are combined to form a single “.mpo” file which you can immediately view on the specially designed 3-1/2″ LCD without using glasses.

Plug your camera into a 3D television, pop on a set of glasses and you’ll see amazing 3D effect of this camera. Below is an example. When viewed, I was able to see the 3D effect of my outstretched hand. This stuff is cool.

For more information see Fuji

As a frequent trade show goer, I’m sometimes blasé about walking up and down aisles. But this week, I could sense real excitement from both exhibitors and attendees. I too came away excited about the WPPI show.

This trade show is mainly about small businesses – photographers seeking the know-how to profit from their skills. They want to stay ready for the opportunities that arise as the economy recovers. I’m heartened to share the energy.

As an aside, I am a frequent visitor to the Las Vegas trade shows – 2 to 4 a year for the past 30 years. From my un-scientific measure, it’s been 4 years since I’ve seen Las Vegas as busy as this week. With concurrent conventions taking place the hotels, casinos and restaurants were filled. I’m hoping that this is a sign that things are looking up for economic growth all over.


Written by Arnie Lee


Accessories From Hoodman USA

26th February 2011

Help Seeing with your DSLR

These two accessories look simple because, well, they are simple. They’re also those types of accessories you might not think about using until you do and then you wonder why you went so long without them.

The first is the HoodEYE eyepiece from Hoodman. The HoodEYE, which replaces the normal eyepiece of your Nikon or Canon DSLR camera, helps block out light from the side that might reduce your ability to see correctly in the viewfinder. All you need to do is gently slide off the normal eyepiece and slide the HoodEYE on the mounting rails. It takes only a few seconds. You can rotate the HoodEYE eyecup left or right to accommodate both “right-eyed” photographers and “left-eyed” photographers. It won’t cover or interfere with the LCD screen.

Click the following to view a video of the HoodEYE.

I used it with my Canon XTi and it worked as I hoped. I was outdoors on a bright sunny day with the added problem of sunlight reflecting off the snow but everything in the viewfinder was bright and clear. Best of all, I didn’t have to hold my left hand around my eye to frame the picture and read the display in the viewfinder while trying to hold the camera steady with the my right hand.

Wedding & Portrait Photographers International Convention – Part 2

Here’s a follow up to yesterday’s report from the WPPI Convention. Below are several more of the exhibitors with whom I stopped to talk about their products.

The Spider Pro Camera Holster is a safe, hands-free way to carry your camera. A study bracket mounts to the bottom of your camera and securely clips to a wide, padded belt. The unit can be locked to prevent the camera from accidentally falling. The price is about $135.

A second lightweight model is designed for smaller point-and-shoot cameras.

For more information, contact Spiderholster

HiTi was showing their P110S portable, “on-the-go” printer.

This rechargeable battery-powered unit weighs less than five pounds and is typically carried in a shoulder bag and tethered to your camera. It prints 4″ x 6″ thermal prints in about a minute.

The P110S is useful for fast, portable printing, for example event photographers who want to deliver “instant” prints.

The price of the P110S is less than $400. For more information contact HiTi

Recently, I reviewed the Eye-Fi Wireless SD-card here. The Eye-Fi transfers your images from the SD card (while it is still in your camera) directly to your PC or Mac computer via your wi-fi network.

At WPPI, I ran into Ziv Gillat, one of the co-founders of the company. Ziv showed me this adapter into which you can insert an Eye-Fi card to add the wireless capability to DSLR cameras which use CF-cards. It’s compatible with later model DSLRs which support the UDMA protocol. He tells me that the CF adapter is available for about $20.

Ziv was also excited to tell me of an upcoming firmware upgrade for all Eye-Fi users in a few weeks. This upgrade lets you configure your Eye-Fi card to automatically upload your images to a server of your choice via a iPhone or Android phone. This is especially useful for making a backup of your images.

For more information, contact Eye-Fi

I’m back tomorrow after I attend the last day of WPPI exhibits.


Written by Arnie Lee


Wedding & Portrait Photographers International Convention – Part 1

February 21, 2011

The WPPI holds its annual convention here in Las Vegas. My original plan was to fly here from Grand Rapids on Sunday. But the weather man kept telling me that Sunday was going to be a no-no because of the umteenth snow storm that was closing in on the midwest. So I rescheduled my flight and arrived here late Saturday and beat the foot of snow that closed highways, schools and activities.

The convention started on February 17 and runs through February 24th. There are two parts to the convention.

  • the first part are dozens of seminars led by some of the best names in the wedding and portrait photography business. Many of these professionals are versed in the creative styling, equipment selection, lighting techniques, printing selection and workflow while others are experts in the selling, advertising, promotion and business end too. I counted more than 100 different seminars with diverse titles as: “The Art of Light and Motion”, “Lightroom – step by step workflow for beginners”, “Winning Marketing Strategies”, “High Fashion Meets Wedding”, “The Power of Video Marketing” and “Your Wedding Business from Scratch to Success”.
  • The second part of the convention is the trade show with more than 300 exhibitors including the major camera, lighting and photo printer services.

The WPPI management was predicting 13,000 attendees – an impressive number mostly owing to a very full and robust set of seminars. The high attendance suggests that these individuals understand the importance of investing in their profession.

Today I spent some time at the trade show. Here’s a few of the exhibitors with whom I stopped to talk about their products.

Here’s a look at some of the attendees crowding around one of the camera manufacturers booth. The major camera makers were there: Canon, Fuji, Leica, Nikon, Panasonic, Sigma and Sony.

There were also dozens of lighting manufacturers, makers of camera bags and backpacks, tripods, backdrops, wireless flash syncs and printers.

In full force were photo printing services. With so many wedding and portrait photographers attending, they were keen to show them the huge range of photo services offered.

Most of the recent cameras can now capture video. Switronix showed me this portable LED that provides lthe equivalent of 50 watts of daylight balanced lighting. This is the TL-50 and includes rechargeable NiMH batteries which can power the LED for an amazing 3 hours.

Dave was handholding the TL-50, but the unit is lightweight and conveniently mounts on the flash shoe.

Price is about $250. For more information, contact Switronix.

For portable flash units, LumiQuest makes several models of diffusers and bounce devices. Here Heidi is showing me the company’s most popular model, the Softbox III. To use it, you unfold the 8″ x 9″ flat package to this shape and attached it to the flash with velcro straps.

I found that the unit was very study and can be used on-camera or off-camera.

Price is about $45. For more information, contact LumiQuest.

At the Hoodman booth, I had a demo of their Cinema Kit Pro. Designed especially for the videographers, the mounting bracket sits on the flash shoe and swings up and down to provide a magnified view of the LCD without any reflection or interference from sun or room light.

If you have trouble seeing the LCD as you capture videos, this device makes it easy to monitor the detail.

Price is about $180. For more information, contact Hoodman.

Epson had many of their professional line of printers on display.

I had my eye on the new Epson 4900. The printer was spewing out gorgeous samples of 17″ wide photos and uses ten color cartridges.

Designed especially for high quality, professional applications, the printer includes an in-line X-Rite SpectroProofer for exacting color management.

Price for the 4990 is about is about $2500. For more information, contact Epson.

I’ll have more news from the show shortly.

Written by Arnie Lee


A quick look at the storage area for my photo equipment is a reminder of how many accessories that I’ve accumulated. My shelves are lined with camera bags, backpacks, filters, tripods, gorillapods, remote shutter releases, battery chargers, flash brackets, gps receivers, and many more.

Having used many dozens (perhaps hundreds) of accessories since the 1960s, I’ve had varying opinions about the usability of many of them. Some were worth their weight in gold while others weren’t worth the shelf space they were occupying and are no longer in my possession.

I’ve had a long history of making my own accessories. I’m signalling a short series of articles that I will be writing in coming weeks that show you how can easily make your own photo accessories to save you both frustration and money too.

Here’s a peek at the very inexpensive materials that I purchased to make the first accessory.

Stay tuned to see what we do with these items for the first project.

Written by Arnie Lee


Sharing your photos

13th February 2011

Sharing your Photos over the Web

For more than ten years I’ve been taking photos of airplanes and trains. As you can imagine, over this time period I’ve accumulated quite a large collection. In fact, these photos now number in the tens of thousands.

Not long after I became interested in these subjects, I knew that one of my goals was to share these photos with others. I looked for an inexpensive and easy way to share them online and discovered a software package called Gallery.

Gallery isn’t for everyone. In fact, you’ll need a good deal of technical knowledge and your own web server to use it. I won’t go into the details other than to say that we’ve been using Gallery trouble-free for years to share several hundred photos.

You can see our large collection of aircraft, trains and celebrities at the Abacus Gallery. For more information about Gallery please go to Menalto.

The Eye-Fi SD Card

A few months ago I had read about this product – an SD card with wi-fi capabilities. You could say that I’ve been “eyeing” it for a while. Anyway, I made it a point to stop by their booth at CES in early January to learn more about the Eye-Fi card. There I spoke with Berend Ozceri, one of the founders of the Eye-Fi Company.

After he explained its features and capabilities, I was sold on the Eye-Fi and decided to review this interesting product. When I returned home, I visited a local computer store and picked up a 4GB model on sale for $39. It’s slightly more expensive than a plain vanilla SD-card so I was curious to see if the extra features were worth the price.

Traveling Light

05th February 2011

A Vote for the Backpack Camera Case

Here in Michigan, it’s been bitterly cold with plenty of snow. A blizzard earlier this week closed virtually all of the schools and municipal services and curtailed most of the business at retail stores as well. So it shouldn’t be surprising that I’m looking forward to a few days away from the blustery northern winter to shoot birds in the warmth and sun of the Everglades.

Since most of my expeditions last only four or five days at a time, when flying I travel light. By carefully selecting the appropriate equipment for a given assignment, it all fits snugly into my backpack camera case. This along with my trusty rollerboard suitcase means that I rarely have to check my luggage for an airline flight, saving me the trouble of waiting at the baggage claim.

To photograph the birds, I decided on the Canon 7D. Its excellent autofocus system works well with the long 100-400 telephoto. While it doesn’t have the resolution of the 5D MkII, it’s smaller and lighter and also accepts the 10-22mm lens, one of my favorites. I’ll bring along the 2X TeleExtender in case I need the extra reach.

For a second camera, I’m taking the new Sony Alpha 55. I’ve already put it through six weeks of testing and will use this assignment to complete my review of a very innovative camera. I’m also toting the waterproof Olympus 6020. It may come in handy in Florida’s watery environment.

this is the equipment that I selected for shooting birds in the Everglades

all of the equipment fits neatly into the large, padded compartment including the notebook computer

Here’s the list of equipment that fits inside:

  • Lowepro Fastpack camera backpack
  • Canon 7D camera
  • Canon 100-400mm lens
  • Canon 2X TeleExtender
  • Canon 10-22mm lens
  • Sony Alpha 55 camera
  • Sony 18-250mm lens
  • Olympus 6020 waterproof camera
  • Canon SX210 camera
  • GisTEQ GPS
  • GorillaPod
  • notebook computer
  • several battery chargers

When fully loaded, this backpack weighs about 40 pounds. It’s heavy but this backpack has wide, padded straps that cushion the weight. The upper compartment has room for a few magazines, an iPad and a some snacks – especially important on a long flight. Conveniently, the backpack fits beneath the passenger seat so that I can get to any of its contents without having to reach into the aircraft’s overhead compartment.

When I arrive at the hotel, I’ll remove the notebook computer and other non-photographic items. The backpack will then serve as a field camera case. I can comfortably take photos while wearing the backpack. If I swing one of the straps off of my arm, I can access the zippered compartment e.g. to get another lens.

I’ve been using the Lowepro for more than two years. This represents more than 100,000 miles of air travel and at no time has any of my equipment been damaged. The ballistic nylon outer surface looks almost new. I’ve also owned the Kata and Tamrac backpacks, but the Lowepro has held up the best.

I have another day of rest before I fly out of this Arctic look-alike. I hope there are some birds left in Florida for me to shoot.

Written by Arnie Lee


The origins of EXIF Data

02nd February 2011

It Can Help Improve Your Technical Skills

In some ways, I’m a hoarder.

I have lots of “stuff” from my youth and earlier years stored away in boxes in the basement. The other day I was trying to locate an older photograph so was digging through a few cartons. I didn’t locate the photo, but I had another interesting find – this Memorandum.

Users of early model “Kodaks” – as the early cameras were called – were encouraged to record their exposure data for each photograph in this small booklet.

Part of the booklet contains detailed guidelines for determining the proper exposure.

In particular there are the STOPS – today we refer to these as the aperture and the TIME – the shutter speed.

Depending on the lighting conditions and by following these guidelines, the photographer would be able to produce an acceptable photograph with the Kodak.

In the other pages of the the booklet, the photographer was to record the exact conditions and settings for each of the 100 exposures.
Take a look at the date!

Yes, this booklet was published in the late 1800’s (click to enlarge the illustration). Might I suggest that this booklet is a predecessor to today’s EXIF metadata. Why was it so important to record the exposure data? In short – to minimize the cost of photography.

…introduced in 1888 (No.2 Kodak) which had a built-in 100-exposure paper roll film costing $25, a huge amount. The box camera had to be sent back to the factory once all the exposures had been used. The customers got their cameras back with new film roll loaded into it, and the image prints.

Historical information from Wikia

Back then, each photograph cost a very expensive 25 cents. So it was wise for the photographer to carefully review the prints and corresponding exposure information to improve subsequent photographs.

Today, the cost for an in-camera photograph is virtually free. But we can still improve our photography by reviewing the exif data – the information that is automatically recorded with each captured image.

Most image editing software shows the exif data alongside the photograph. As a quick example, below you can see that the young child on the right is slightly out of focus. The exif data tells me that image was captured using an aperture of f/4.0. For the follow up photo, to insure that both children are in focus, I should use a smaller aperture e.g. f/5.6.

I frequently take this cue from the pioneer photographers of the 19th century and wisely use this metadata to improve my photography.

I’ll have more examples in a future article.


Written by Arnie Lee



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