Back Home from Namibia

Well, it has been about 15 days since I have returned from a killer landscape workshop that I led in Namibia. While I was gone, lots of things changed in my photo world. While it is always fun to return to Seattle and discover what little things changed, but man, change was everywhere around me upon my return. The big changes included:

1.  Nik Software is now available for $149.00 for the entire suite. Normally HDR or Viveza would cost this much alone. I use Nik products in just about every image that I process. I would suggest that you get it now, as we have no idea what Google will do with the product line.  You can get this software here.

2.  Nikon released a new, and much needed, 80-400mm Zoom. Still at an f-stop of 4.5-5.6, it sports a much faster focusing system, and Nano-crystal lens coating, making this a great safari lens for those that can’t justify the much more expensive 200-400mm.

3.  Nikon released the D7100, which returns another full stop or two more sensitive than the D7000.  Built as a pro-consumer body, this is a great camera for those interested in a 1.5 crop sensor.

4.  Posterious died with short notice. Posterious, the posting service that I used to post to my blog from the bush, was absorbed by Twitter about a year ago.  With 5 days notice, they folded their doors and left me searching for alternatives to support live blogging from the bush while I’m out on safari.

5.  The Hasselblad H5D series is now shipping to the US. After tons of trouble with the H4D series, this new release is the one that I have been waiting for. Better lens / body connections, new menu systems and weather-proofing make this a solid medium format camera that will last well into the future. I cant wait to get my hands on one.

6.  Last and certainly the least, is the big Adobe announcement for LR5. If the past trend of releases continues to be true, we might see a LR5 release by the end of June or July.  Looking at the LR5 Beta, the big improvements include:

  • Very powerful advance healing bush that allows for non-circular click and drag corrections
  • New Radial Filter for off-center vignetting and elliptical local adjustments
  • Upright in the Lens Corrections to automatically straighten photos and fix perspective
  • Smart Previews supporting off-line editing of photos
  • Grid and guide overlays for library, develop, and tethered captured
  • PNG file support
  • True fullscreen mode
  • Page numbering and layout saving in the Book Module
  • Videos can be included in slideshows
  • Windows HiDPI support
  • New smart collections criteria

I hope to release the final details on the Mountain Gorilla and Massai Mara safari (scheduled for early March), a June trip to Botswana, and Iceland in August, just as soon as I possibly can. If you are on my mailing list, you will receive advance notice of these safaris before they are posted on the web. As usual, space will be limited across all safaris, so start thinking about your desires.

I’ll post a few notes from Namibia before I depart for Tanzania again on the 12th of May, including Martini Madness. Meanwhile, I’m on the road heading to Atlanta to see my youngest daughter graduate with her second Masters. Rumor has it that she will soon be employed with a top notch consulting company in Washington DC.

Cheers and happy photo’ing

Lightroom 4 – about time

I can tell you that I have been a long time user of Lightroom (LR) 3 since it was first released.  Now, we have a seriously improved and massively updated version to play with.  For me this will re-define my workflow from start to finish.  The expanded brush controls are reason enough to jump into the new version.  As if this was not enough, the publishing module AND the price caused me to pause only about 5 milliseconds before I ordered my two copies.

This version is updated across all of the LR3 modules and I would strongly encourage you to spend some time across the ADOBE training sites for highlights of the new program.  Take the jump if these improvements are for you.

Once I return from Africa, I’ll do a fast update on how I used LR4 while on safari as well as a summary of the more serious improvements.

Cheers and happy Lightroom’ing

Photo Organization I: The Importance of File Naming Conventions

The importance of good file naming simply cannot be under estimated. Right out of the camera, a Nikon file name looks like _DSC1024. I don’t know about you, but that file name tells me nothing about the image other than it was taken by a Nikon camera. The file name does nothing to tell you when or where the image was taken. As I Lightroom (LR) user, I have come to use a particular naming convention that supports rapid searches and easy client review. For folder names, I use dashes between names. My typical file name might look like this: Serengeti-Aug-2011. Located under a major file of Africa, followed by Tanzania, I now have a great idea of where and when any particular image should be filed or where I can look for something particular. For a file name, I always use underscores as separators (this allows me to work around a little quirk in LR). Incorporating the date, camera, and sequence number, a typical file name might look like this: 20120111_D3x_0199. This tells me that this image was shot in the 11th of January, 2011, with my D3x, and is the 199th image of that set. Of course, separated from the file structure, I have little information about the image other than the date, time and camera. I am almost always shooting with two camera, or more, while on safari. This mandates one or two approaches: if the camera bodies are different, I will let the downloader program insert the camera model. If I two of the same bodies, I will have the downloader program insert a value for the camera based on the camera serial number. Another method that I have seen used is the use of a job code placed somewhere in the image name. This job code could be a location or any other important information that helps with the identification of the file. My use of the job code might look like this: 20110111_D3x_Serengeti_0199. Now I can tell a great deal about the image just from the name and without having to look up the XIF and GPS data. Both of these approaches will avoid file name duplications and sets me up for some pretty good file management. The lesson here is to take time to figure out what file naming convention works for you and to use your naming convention consistently in all that you do. I would recommend that you approach this from two different levels; what do you want your file structure to look like, and then again your file name. Both of these go hand-in-hand and are critical to the organizational structure of your photo file system. Toss in a solid key wording structure and you can now find just about image you need to find in very short order.

For downloading, I use Downloader Pro (DLP), because of it’s wonderful re-naming capabilities upon import and it’s ability to keep track of what you have downloaded. While LR can do much of the renaming on import, it is far slower than DLP and not nearly as robust. For more details on DLP, check out the products link at Breeze Systems.

That’s it for file naming, so Cheers and happy photo’ing.

On the Coast Shooting in the damp

I traveled to Ocean Shores Saturday to photograph the 13 year occurrence of Snowy Owls into this area. In between a slight mist and a little bit of ocean spray, the camera rain cover by Think Tank is just what I needed. Due to my procrastination, my Hydrophobia lens cover for my 200-400 had not arrived. My bad, and it wont happen again. Think Tank, I love their products, is offering a free eyepiece (for a limited time) with either of their two models of the Hydrophobia.  Just click on the banner above to be taken to this special offer.  Meanwhile take a look at what it takes to photograph in damp weather without a Hydrophobia.

Lightroom 4 Beta

Another week of announcements:  The long awaited Lightroom 4 Beta is out and can be downloaded over at Adobe Labs for those of you that are willing to accept working in a Beta environment.  If you decide to download and install this Beta, please be sure to read all of the fine print associated with the using the Beta (there is always some level of risk in using Beta software, so plan accordingly).

After a fast review of the new features in LR4 (Beta), I can once again say that Adobe has done things right!  Several of the new features in LR4B are ones that I have been hoping to see in LR for a long time.  The most critical improvements for me include a local development brush that has gone crazy with enhanced adjustments,  the ability to create photo books directly from a dedicated module, a wonderful soft proofing capability as well as the ability to match your print brightness and contrast to that of your monitor, tonal adjustment controls are designed to extract the entire dynamic range from cameras for shadow details and highlights, and enhanced support for video including the ability to develop the video.  Lastly, there is a wonderful way to now email images directly from Lightroom using any email account, including Gmail, Hotmail, and Yahoo! Mail. All pretty slick, if you ask me.  If Adobe sticks to their normal release schedule, I would expect to see LR4 ready to release in late spring or very early summer.  Yes, I’ll be standing in line.  Meanwhile, spend some time over at Adobe Labs or over at National Association of Photoshop Professionals’ Beta Launch Center.

Cheers and happy photo’ing.

Nikon D4

The much awaited Nikon D4 was announced last night (Pacific Time) and if the specs pan out, this will be a killer camera.  With the D3s as my primary work horse, I have come to rely on the high speed capture rate (frames per second) and the second to none low light noise free shooting.  I can’t tell you how many times this camera has saved my bacon when it comes to shooting in the low light conditions of first or last light of the day.  Night city-scapes are also a breeze when shooting with the D3s.  In reading the specifications of the D4, it looks like nothing but a GRAND improvement over the D3s and I simply can’t wait to get my hands on one.  As soon as I run this camera through its paces, I will report back with my observations.  With any luck, I will own one of these before my trip to Africa in March.  Meanwhile, you can read about the D4 over at B& H Photo.  And now, here is the D4 with an estimated price of $6,400 US – OUCH.

Nikon D4


Safari Update – What Worked Well On My Last Safari

After each safari I consult my travelers and make a list of what went well, as well as those things that need improvement.  For this post, I will highlight what worked well for us or those things that made our lives on safari just a bit better (or a lot in some cases).  Before we get to the list, I would like to share the photo below.  I seldom have my photo taken, but Steve was able to capture my sheer joy of being in the bush.  If I had my way, I often wonder if I could find a way to simply live there.

That Safari Grin

The top fifteen tips or observations of what worked well on the last safari:

  1. Ramadan did not pose a problem while in Dubai.  Before you go, spend time learning to work around cultural events in foreign countries.
  2. While Fairview was nice and always my first choice for lodging in Kenya however, you need to stay in the main building (rooms 3 and 5).
  3. Transfers with additional camera equipment between Kenya and Tanzania with Precision Air, was relatively painless.
  4. All coordinated transfers were painless.
  5. Packing and planning well in advance for differing conditions reduced shooting stress.
  6. Mobile camp at Senera (unit) was really special – fast response by Thomson’s to alter location to better support photography clients (BIG PLUS – these guys are simply the best).
  7. Mobile camp at Kekogona was perfect for northern work and river crossings.
  8. Inverters in the trucks are great support.
  9. Amod tracking device was flawless, and worked well on rechargeable batteries.
  10. Hyperspace worked great, less the combat card issue and having one of the units dropped which fractured the hard drive connection point.
  11. Jerimah Beach Hotel in Dubai is THE place to stay (not cheapest)
  12. The maps that Thomson’s provided was used often buy all of the travelers – great resource.
  13. Difficult but rewarding hike up the side of Mount Meru.  This was an optional trip for some of my travelers.  Great to do if you are in shape.
  14. English-Swahili ‘Useful Phrases, TMP Book Department – TABORA’ – the best book I’ve seen thus far.
  15. A visit to Shangaa, was rewarding as usual.

Cheers and happy photo’ing

Safari Update 1 PLUS Six Building Blocks For Better Image Capturing

With multiple flights and time zone changes, we finally arrived at the Mara Plains Camp.  Within 15 minutes of leaving the Mara Intrepid Air Strip, we were sitting on a male and female cheetah that were seriously into each other .  Although we stayed with them for several hours, we did not get to observe any mating.  The next thing we know, we are watching  a pride of lions tear apart a Wildebeest carcass.  Tomorrow we head deep into the Masaai Mara Plains for a full week of intensive photography. I’ll be trying out several different blogging options in hopes of blogging everyday from the bush. This will be a test and I’ll have to wait until the end of the safari to see what worked versus what didn’t work.

Sitting around the table tonight with John, Brett, and Scott, I briefed everyone on what to expect over the next week and the best way to shoot it typical scenes.   A discussion then unfolded into what I believe is key to making outstanding images. I prefer to think of this as my six foundations for making outstanding images. Once these foundations are in place, you can build on them with composition, display, processing, etc.  For your consideration, here are my thoughts on the basic foundations.

1. PLANNING. No doubt about it, a poorly planned shoot will more than likely return poor images.  Plan your shoot, pack the necessary gear and be prepared. My adage is: “plan your shoot and shoot your plan.”
2. GLASS. Yep, the better your optics the better chance you will have at pulling in a better image. In my opinion, there is no way around it. Simply put, there is a huge difference between a $400 80-200 zoom kit lens and the professional $2700 70-200 f2.8 Nikon pro model. With very noticeable improvements in light gathering, edge to edge sharpness, and resolving power, this is what professional glass is all about. Having said this, good glass on a poor camera will still result in a poor image; think of it as the least common denominator defining your image quality. If you are going to get serious about capturing outstanding images, plan your investment accordingly. If you are only interested in snap shots, then I suggest that the kit lenses would most certainly meet your needs. No doubt, there are some wonderful kit lenses out there so read the reviews and the performance specs.  If you are not using  higher end glass enough to justify the purchase, consider renting from any of a number of lens rental companies.
3. SENSOR/CAMERA. You must know and understand the limits of your camera/sensor. Learn how to master the capabilities and overcome the camera’s limitations. The sensor must be equal to or surpass the quality of your best glass; yes, the two are directly linked. Plan for the future and take into consideration your shooting style. You must also learn how to maintain your sensor – keep it clean.
4. FOCUS. Funny thing about our brain, in all but the rarest occasions, the brain will use focus as the immediate basis to either reject or accept an image as acceptable. So, if the image is out of focus, I consider it a lost leader. By this I mean no software will make it better, so you have to get this part correct.
5. STABILITY. Stability is more than just using a tripod or monopod. For me, stability includes using the correct shutter speed so vibration or motion is not transferred to the sensor and thus to the image. Using a tripod or monopod is also key, so always use one when you can get away with it. Using a tripod makes me slow down just a bit. If I slow down, I usually can think through things just a bit more completely and walk away with a far better image. On this trip we will be shooting from tripods almost exclusively, even when we are shooting from inside the trucks (watch for photos of this setup in the next posting or two).
6. POST PROCESSING. Take time to learn Photoshop, Lightroom, or your choice of editing software. If solid post processing can make a good image look great, just think about what you will end up with if you started with a great image.

As you can see, these foundations are closely linked to one another. In my opinion, focus is the deal breaker – gotta get this one right. Let’s go on safari………
Cheers and happy photo’ing.

Tracking Your Journey – Part III (final)

In the first post, I introduced my AMOD GPS tracking device followed by the various settings I used in the second post of this series. In this post, we will pull all of this together and see everything in action.

First off, download and install Google Earth – something everyone should have if you are interested in exploring the world around you. In order for Google Earth to use your file, it must be converted into a format called KML. Connect your AMOD and locate the GPS log file that is of interest to you. Follow this link for one of the best FREE NEMA to KML converters.

Locate your GPS log file using the browse button on the converter page and make the necessary selections from the drop down boxes that fit your application. After a few minutes the converter will return an opportunity for you save your new KML file. Simply save this to your desktop and double click on it. The next thing you know Google Earth will transport you to the exact location that represents your log. 

To make the image easier to see, I un-tick the box in the left hand column called ‘placemark icons’. This will leave only the line segment. In the case of this file, the different colors represent the speed of our travel. You can easily see how we slowed for our approach as well as landing followed by transfer to the jeeps for travel to the camp. I encourage you to zoom around this log and see all of the detail Google Earth will produce for you. Enjoy….

This log file was created on a flight from Windhoek, Namibia to our Skeleton Coast Camp. Namibia was a very special place for me and I place I look for ward returning to. I will write more about that experience in the future.

So what are you waiting for, go grab your logger and record your paths.

I hope to be able to blog live from deep in the Mara Plains, so say close and watch the blog.

Cheers and happy photo’ing.

Tracking Your Journey, Part II

Continuing from my previous post on Tracking Your Journey: I have chosen to alter the base settings of the AMOD to achieve much greater storage capacity and to fit the particular type of travel that I do.  For example, on my safaris trips I have selected to turn OFF elevation since we will either in the air or on the road.  Should I need ground elevation information, I can consult a map.  I have also decreased the frequency of write times to the device.  So, here are my settings and  what they mean as far as the type of data that will be returned on the ‘write’ to the log: Mode 6, RMC logged at 10 second intervals. The National Marine Electronics Association (NMEA) has developed a set of specifications that defines the interface between various pieces of marine electronic equipment. The standard permits marine electronics to send information to computers and to other marine equipment. Most GPS manufactures have adopted the NMEA standard for recording GPS data and outputting the in a uniform manner. The most common, and considered the bare minimum, GPS data is RMC. RMC, as defined by NMEA sentence structure, returns a log that contains the following data for every log event:
RMC Recommended Minimum sentence C
123519 Fix taken at 12:35:19 UTC
A Status A=active or V=Void.
4807.038,N Latitude 48 deg 07.038′ N
01131.000,E Longitude 11 deg 31.000′ E
022.4 Speed over the ground in knots
084.4 Track angle in degrees True
230394 Date – 23rd of March 1994
003.1,W Magnetic Variation
*6A The checksum data, always begins with *

Using RMC as the minimum recording in Mode 6, I can record more than 2880 hours of data with more than 1,040,000 data points. In this configuration, each log is written to the device every 10 seconds – plenty for a land safari. The next post will walk you through down loading and processing for display on Google Earth.

Cheers and happy photo’ing