Lava Light Lessons #26…Who Are You?

In the beginning of your journey to become a high end digital photographer, you are learning and trying everything. That is the way it should be. However, down the road, you need to think about who you want to be in the photo world…what is your niche…what will your “brand” be…what are you known for? Examples…wedding photographer, event photographer, portraits, school portraits, corporate head shots, bird photographer, exotic animals, surf photographer, underwater, action photography or sports photographer, landscapes, night photography, astro photography…pardon the pun, but the sky is the limit. You can be anything you want to be. I submit you can be good at all of these…but probably great at only one. That may not be exactly true…maybe you really are great at more than one…but the more you spread out your publicity or the awareness of your talents over more than one discipline…the harder it is to build a world class reputation.

Peter Lik is one of the worlds most successful photographers. He is basically a landscape photographer. I would guess that, if his brother asked him to photograph his wedding…and he agreed to do so…he would do an outstanding job. However, if he then tried to show the world what a great job he did, he would confuse his “brand”…people would start to wonder if he is starting to abandon his landscape photography business. So, people like Peter Lik stick with what they are known for…and try to become the best at it. Good advice for you as well. Learn to do everything, but show the world only your best skill set…the thing you are best at doing.

The whole topic of not confusing your brand is a difficult one. I love to shoot sporting events, get a candid shot at a wedding, take a nice portrait of someone, shoot waves, birds, night skies and underwater…along with wild life and landscapes. I do post all of the above on social media. However, if you walk into Lava Light Gallery in Waikoloa, Hawaii you will see that 90% or more of the photos on the walls are Hawaiian landscapes. We can do other shots…but what we want to be known for are Hawaiian landscapes…those are what pay our bills.

So…no need to decide right now, but be thinking about it for the future. Who are you? What will be your specialty? What will be your brand? If you one day want to be a paid professional photographer, it will become much easier to be that person if you have a reputation that is clear to one and all.

Aloha.

Lava Light Lessons #25…Editing

RAW files must be edited…must. If you think that taking a RAW image out of a camera and printing or posting it as is is the “pure” thing to do you are just not familiar with how digital photography works. A RAW image is there to be edited and you are the editor. A jpeg or jpg image is “edited” by the camera and it will look better in the computer than a RAW and unedited image…but it will be in no way a professional looking final edit image. And as mentioned before, if you are shooting in jpeg (always shoot in RAW) you are giving up much of your editing opportunity and options forever more on that image.

If I have not made the case for always shooting in RAW and then editing the image using software in your computer, it is only because of my lack of writing skills. The concept is 100% correct. So…if you are not convinced, email me at djhzz@aol.com and let me try to walk you through the concept so it is clear to you.

There are so many editing programs out there. Mac has one built in called Photo. I use Photo to help me sort my RAW images and catalog my downsized final edits so I can sync them to my iPad and iPhone…so I can easily find them and show them to people in the gallery or anyone else that I can rope into looking at my best work. I never ever edit a photo in Photo…because it is a very limited editing program. Also, you should know that Apple has a history of getting you hooked on an editing program and then absolutely abandoning that program. If you want to see tears form in my eyes, ask me about my days as a true expert in Aperture…an Apple editing program. When Apple went to their latest IOS operating system (Catalina) in late 2019…they made it impossible to even open an Aperture file (there are work arounds that I know all too well but they are such that I actually plan to always have one laptop that will never get upgraded to Catalina just to use so I can still access my Aperture files). I, long ago, rescued the RAW files from the Aperture trap and have access to them.

For now, please subscribe to Lightroom and Photoshop. If you want to try some of the other robust editing programs down the road, great, but learn to edit in Lightroom and Photoshop first. It is just about magic, easy to get started using and easy to do simple edits. It is also so powerful and tool rich that it would take a lifetime to master everything they have to offer…not that you need to master those items…but they are there.

Lightroom and Photoshop are subscribed to together. In the old days you would buy the program and periodically have to buy upgrades to it. Today, you subscribe for a small amount per month and you get both programs and many more…I am not even going to go into what else they have to offer…let’s just stick to LR and PS.

The Adobe folks who produce LR and PS will push you into their cloud products. This is probably generational or a control freak thing…and I have had bad experience with iCloud and other cloud products…so I don’t use their cloud program. If you are comfortable with it…you are probably better off, as it is clear that is the way computers and computing is headed. I use Adobe Lightroom Classic. My images stay on my computer and I send them to various attached hard drives…and I actually send some of them off to a cloud I use for back up…but it is a cloud of my choosing and not the Adobe one. My thought…start off with the Classic program and you can decide about the Cloud product later on when you know what you are doing and how this all works.

If I had it all to do over again, I would have started out by taking a hands-on class in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop…started with the absolutely basics of how to import photos, sort them, edit them, catalog them, store them for safety…all using my computer and the Adobe products. I did not, so I have made up my own workflow and yours can be so much better if you start off right. If you are actually intent on becoming a professional or high end photographer you MUST be a good…actually great…editor. If you look into the history and photo life of Ansel Adams…the first world class photographer from way back when…born in 1902…you will be amazed at how much editing he did to his black and white photos…with no software of any kind. In fact, one of his best known quotes is “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” Editing is not cheating…it is as essential as actually taking the photo. I will talk about the abuses of it in a later post.

So…get LR and PS and learn how to use them. It will take some work, but it will astonish you at how cool that photo you took can actually become. And the first time you see a little tool in Photoshop work…one called Content Aware…you will believe in magic.

One last point I want to make very clear. If you are headed down a path of becoming good or great with a full sized digital camera you must also take on the skill set of becoming a good to great photo editor. You can not just do one…you have to both take the photo and edit it. If that is too daunting a task…stick with phone photography…much easier, less expensive, less time consuming and phone photographers are getting better and better results. Trust me on this one…If you think you will buy a high end camera and just take the photo and not bother with editing it…you are fully and completely wasting your time. It is not an option. You will end up both frustrated and looking foolish. You must take the photos AND edit the photos.

Aloha.

Lava Light Lessons #24…The Circular Polarized Filter

I have one and use it only for rainbow shots. With today’s editing tools and your good skills with the camera, there is very little need for that filter. And, by the way, if you have one and your partner that day does not…and a beautiful rainbow shows up…for goodness sakes, share the filter. I failed to do so on a shoot with CJ and he only mentions it every single time we see a rainbow. Lesson learned.

I do have a clear UV filter on any lens of mine that will accommodate such a filter…but only to protect the expensive glass of the lens. That filter has saved my bacon on several occasions…worth the small investment.

Other filters…quite a good tool for your photography and I will cover them in a future article.

Aloha.

Lava Lesson #22…Flashlight

Take a flash light along even if you don’t think you will be out after dark…a real flashlight, not just the one in your phone. If you are hiking, you might want to try a head lamp setup. They work pretty well for most people, but I still prefer to carry a regular flashlight with extra batteries.

Hint…you can also use the flash light to light up foreground elements in long exposure night shot…but that is a technique I will get to down the road.

Flashlights…don’t leave home with out one.

The attached photo was made possible by me having a flash light. I needed the flashlight to hike over a very rough lava surface that had plenty of plants to hide the ankle snapping cracks between the rocks. I then used the flashlight to highlight the tree so I could get a proper focus on the scene. Last, during a 30 second exposure, I painted the tree with the flashlight to have it stand out in the foreground with the Milky Way behind it. Net result…this image won First Place in the 2012 Outdoor Photography Magazine Natures Colors…out of 13,000 other entries.

Aloha.

Lava Light Lessons #21…Tripod

Got to have one…or two. I have a light carbon fiber one that I use when I hike or travel. I have a big ass heavy one that I use for long exposure night photography or when I am using my giant 800mm lens. On the light one I have a ball head (that is the part where you attach the camera to the tripod) that is fairly high end…and a closet at home with a half dozen cheaper ones that I bought and wanted to throw off a cliff once I used them. To me, the ball head has to be easy to use in complete darkness…the black of the middle of the night. Most do not meet that standard. I use Really Right Stuff ball heads, but there are others. Don’t go for the cheap ones. On the heavy tripod I use a Wemberly Gimbel Head that is built to easily handle big gear with big lenses.

I do not use mono pods. They can have some limited use…but not much.

I do not use the little travel tripods…too flimsy and move around in the wind.

The biggest complaint that any of us who have led new photographers out into the field at night is this…people who bring out their tripods, loosen them up to extend the legs and then extend the legs until the legs fall off…in the dark…probably losing needed parts as they do so. They always then need help to get them back together…and that is not always easy and is always time consuming. Get a tripod that does not come apart that easily and learn to use it BEFORE you hike out at night. I know professional photo guides who will not even hike you out if you show up with a flimsy tripod.

If you are going to get really good at photography, you need to eventually get to be like the Army guys who can disassemble and assemble their complicated rifles while blindfolded. There is nothing I can not do with my camera that I can not do blind folded…except perhaps, change the settings. Be able to get the camera out, change lenses, get it turned on and operating, get it attached to the tripod, get the tripod extended properly, attach things like your cable remote…all without being able to see any of it in the dark. Also be able to change batteries and memory cards in the dark…which probably means you have them handy and security in your pocket ready for use.

One other thing…the ball head is a really useful tool for helping you set your composition with your camera. Learn how to use it…how to make it turn right to left and back without loosening it from the tripod itself…how to then tighten it so it moves no further…same for moving that head so the camera points up or down…learn how to use it to shoot horizontal shots or vertical shots (you will need to attach an appropriate L bracket to the bottom of your camera so you can attach it for both horizontal and vertical…without the L bracket you will only be able to attach it for horizontal). Be able to do all of the above in the dark with no light on at all.

Which brings me to this…I can not tell you how much I hate it when someone shows up on a night shoot totally unprepared. If that is the deal we all planned…a night mission to sort all that out, that is fine and I am prepared for it. But if you and I are going out for a night shoot…unless you warn me ahead of time…and not in the car on the way to the shoot at 2am…and you then get out there and shine your flash light around for 20 minutes while the rest of us are trying to get our shots…I am not going to be a happy camper. You CAN NOT discretely shine a flash light around when others are doing long exposure night shots…it can not be done. And those red lights that don’t show up in the photos that others are taking because it is red light…well, they do show up in the photos of others and ruin their shots. If you are new to night photography, let that be well known before anyone agrees to take you out…and it will all go fine. Pretend you know what you are doing and you really don’t…and you will end up ruining everyone’s night. And, by the way, we were all new at this at one time…so don’t be bashful about just telling it like it is…almost all of us are happy to help…we just don’t want to be surprised.

One last thing…when photographers shoot together at night, it is a team effort. We coordinate our efforts and do all we can to not get in each others way. That takes communication and some discussion and a genuine interest in everyone having a great experience. When the one guy or gal wanders off out of sight and then starts waving around their laser or bright light…the fun goes out of the shoot…and that happens all the time…don’t be that guy.

Ok…I just read back through this blog and I sound like the old guy who yells at people to get off of his lawn. Sorry about that…but it needs to be said…so I am leaving it as it and will check into the availability of a local anger management class.

And yet one more after-thought…I use my tripod as a cane or walker when I am on slippery or very uneven surfaces…it has saved me from falling more than once. And, if everything goes wrong and CJ falls into a deep crack in the lava and compound fractures his ankle…as he did back in 2011…Nick and I were able to take an expensive tripod apart and turn it into a much needed splint to stabilize CJs broken ankle as we “Weekend With Bernie” him over about a mile of rough lava to the car. Once we got to the car we were able to access the Medical Kit CJ and Nick kept there for just such on occasion…and found it to contain exactly one aspirin and one Band-Aide. Photo by me of Nick working on the “splint” with CJ seeming to enjoy the action.

Aloha.

Lava Light Lessons #20…Flash Photography

I will got a lot of flack about this one, but here goes….

Don’t buy a flash in the beginning. Learn to use the camera to its’ full potential and then look into a flash or other light source for your work. Exception, if you are going to be doing mostly people photography…in that case, you will need a flash or other light source from day one.

I am a landscape photographer and I use a flash well less than 1% of the time. In fact, I have to get the manual out every time I use it, because I forget how to use it after months or years of not using it. I do light things up with a flash light or a hand held flash not attached to the camera or use a reflector to bounce some light from time to time…but that is kind of advanced stuff I won’t get into it now.

If you are just starting out in digital photography…you have your hands full just learning the camera and the editing tools. Work on those first and add flash photography once you have mastered the basics.

Aloha.

Lava Light Lessons #19…Backpacks

Linda and I have probably wasted more money on backpacks than any other area of photography. They all look so good. Net result, I just gave away maybe a dozen of them…all lightly used. Why…because we found the one that works for us. It took a bunch of experimenting, but we finally wound up with one that suits our purposes.

What did not work? We tried the one that CJ loves. It is huge. You can pack your house in it and throw it on your back. But…CJ is 40 something and we are 70 something…and it turns out that makes a difference. Two trips out to the lava flow with that big pack were enough for both Linda and I. Too heavy and too awkward for us. In fact, CJ had to take them from us and lug them out himself on a couple of occasions or we would still be out there. Nick Selway use to do the same thing…come over when we were taking a rest and grab my backpack and carry it off with me semi-protesting..all because we were making very slow progress with me trying to lug that giant backpack.

Next, we tried high quality back packs that were much smaller. Turns out they were too small. Give away items.

We tried the ones you swing over one shoulder…useless on a long hike over rough lava. More give aways.

Hey…let’s try those cool looking ones that actually have rollers. Worthless.

Let’s try the ones that look like a suitcase with rollers…too heavy and hard to carry on.

Got to have the ones with the built in water supply. Got em…tried them…gave them away.

Basically, we tried them all. We finally found ones that work for us. I am reluctant to even tell you what they are…they may not be right for you. I will say that Think Tank has a nice line of backpacks…but they are not the only company that has them. Think through exactly how you will use them and then decide. I hope it takes you less tries to get it right than we experienced.

Here is what we decided on…one that is large enough to carry all of our gear when we travel. We pack the tripod in the suitcase and check it, but carry on the rest. TSA does not love us, but our gear gets there at the same time we do every single time. It must also have a place to put our laptop computer. There must still be room for several bottles of water…not when traveling in a plane but for those long lava hikes. Needs to be pretty waterproof…although we never carry the rain protectors they provide…if it looks like rain we carry an umbrella. Got to be a place to hang our tripod. Last, has to fit into overhead on the plane or under the seat in front of us. Oh…and it has to all add up to something that we can actually carry. To be truthful…we push that one right to the edge. CJ is always reminding us to pack light for hikes…which we often ignore and pay the price for a few miles into the hike.

Many come with a belt you can cinch around your waist. That is great for those of you young enough to be an actual pack horse. For us…if the pack is heavy enough to need that kind of anchoring to our body…it is too heavy.

So, good luck. Think it through and remember our wastefulness…then begin you own. Aloha.

Lava Light Lessons #18…Taking Care of your Equipment

We shoot in a harsh environment. We are often near or in sea water. We are often out on hot lava with acid and steam in the air. We have to shoot in the rain from time to time. When we travel we are often in areas where there is a lot of dust. Our equipment takes a beating.

We also use high end and expensive equipment…and like 99% of the other photographers we meet…we do NOT have unlimited funds for replacing equipment we have ruined. So, we take good care of what we do have.

Specifically, salt water is the killer of cameras. If you get salt water on your camera and do not carefully get it all off immediately, it will corrode that camera in no time at all. And when you send it in to the manufacturer for your expensive repair, you will get a letter back stating that the camera and/or lens has salt water damage and is now only good as a door stop or paper weight…they will not even fix it. I know…oh, do I know.

So, if you get splashed by a wave or water coming over the rail and into the boat…stop what you are doing, move to a dry location, use whatever you have to get that salt water off of there right now…not when you get home. I take my camera apart…remove the lens, open all the little compartments, take out the battery and the memory card and look for salt water everywhere I can find it. If all I have to clean it is my tee shirt…I use my tee shirt. Better to have some micro fiber clothes with you and maybe some KimTech Wipes to do the work…but do something.

If your camera gets submerged or drowned in salt water…like dropped in the surf or completely soaked by a wave or a leak in your water housing…get that camera and lens into a container or uncooked white rice and let it set while you go online to B&H Photo to buy your replacement for those items. You may think that a disiccate or rice or blow drying will solve the problem…false hope. It will not. That unit is done or soon will be.

Cameras that get sea water on them may look ok and may even still work for time. However, over the next few weeks you will begin to see some odd looking white substance emerging around the tiny screws on the camera and around the dials and around any opening. That is corrosion. Once it has started…it will win the day and you will lose.

Get the dust off your camera right away as well. This is especially true for lenses…especially zoom lenses. If that zoom starts to be hard to zoom, suspect it is dust in the mechanism. Good news, the manufacturer can usually fix that problem for a few hundred bucks…much cheaper than a new lens.

Rain water or any other non-salt water…much less dangerous than sea water and as long as you have not drowned the camera so bad that it has experienced an electrical short, clean it up and it will probably be ok. If it gets inside a lens…that is a problem and it needs to go in for repair.

One other odd problem…if you live in an area like we do…an area where conditions are tropical all year or long parts of the year…you can get mould inside of your lenses. It looks a bit like smoke in the lens and will ruin it if not addressed. You normally need to send that in for repair. Better yet…avoid getting that mould by storing your camera bodies and lenses in a dry setting…either a locker designed to keep them appropriately dry or with some desiccates around them or whatever you can come up with to protect them. Might want to spend some time online checking that situation out if you have expensive equipment in tropical areas.

One other thought…self repair of broken or injured cameras or lenses…way beyond my capabilities and I highly discourage it. Send it into the manufacturer, get a quote on what it will take to fix it and then weigh whether you want to upgrade that item right now and forgo the fix. Some companies, like Canon, often offer you a big discount on an item that is fully ruined…a discount on a new or refurbished one from their stock. I drowned a Canon 7D Mark 2 recently, sent it in for repair, estimate came back more than the cost of new camera, I asked if they could help me out on buying a new one and they did…in fact, I upgraded it to a Canon 5D Mark4 and ended up a happy camper rather than feeling like I had suffered a big loss (I lie to myself from time to time).

Aloha.

Lava Light Lessons #17…Trouble Shooting In the Field

Camera’s tend to break down when you are furthest from home and right when you need them most. It is the reason that I often take two camera bodies with me even on a long hike. It is not usually the lens that will give you a problem…it will be the camera body or the battery or maybe even the memory card. So…what to do if you do run into problems and you do not have the back up with you…

First, turn the camera off and then back on. Did that fix it? No…go to next step.

Second, turn the camera off and take the battery out of the camera. If you have a backup battery, put that battery in the camera and turn it on. Did that fix it? No…go to next step.

Third, look for the simplest possible fixes…they sound stupid, but these things happen to all of us eventually. Did you take off the lens cover? With the lens cover on you will have to shoot at a really high ISO to get any kind of a shot (small joke there…you can not shoot anything with that lens cover on). Is the battery in properly with the little door closed all the way? Is there a memory card in the camera with memory still available…not already completely filled up? Try taking the lens off and put it back on to make sure it is fully connected.

If you do all of those and the camera is still acting like it is a brick and not a camera…there is an official photography term for it…you are screwed. Pack up. Call it a day. Head home. Send your camera into the manufacturer for repair.

Fourth…if the camera turns on and your only problem is that you can not get it to do what you want it to do, there is hope and lots of it. First, find your patience…you will need it. Next, start going through the menu pages one by one looking for a setting that has slipped out of its’ normal position…happens all the time…you may have a small glitch in the camera or, more likely, your hand hit a button and changed a setting.

Common areas to suspect are the Exposure Compensation menu. In most cases, the indicator should show it to be right exactly in the middle. If the indicator is several places left or right of center, your photos will be either over exposed or under exposed…and if the indicator has moved far enough…just plain unusable. Easy to fix…just move the indicator back to center. This has happened to all of us and can be quite confusing…and I often can not figure out how I even did it…but am also happy when I see how easy it is to fix.

Another common area to suspect is your ISO setting. In fact, if your camera is taking photos but the photos are no good…review one of them and read the settings. You may find that you have somehow shot it too slow, with too little light coming into the lens or with some strange ISO setting. Easy fix…change the setting.

Photos blurry…check to see if you are still shooting in Auto Focus…check the little pull slide on the side of the lens. Can’t tell you how many times I have put it in Manual for a shot and then forgot to take it back to Auto Focus. Again, and easy fix.

Are the colors off or strangely too light or too soft…check the menu item for White Balance and move it back to Auto. I might change it to shoot under indoor lights or cloudy weather and forget to change it back to Auto. Next time I go out and shoot…the first few photos will be screwed up…but I am the guy who checks the photos I am getting all the time…so I will catch it before I ruin the whole day. You be that guy…or gal.

Todays cameras have so many setting options that it is beyond easy to get one of them wrong. Just calm down and work your way through the problem and you will win in the end most of the time. If you are still unsuccessful, you will begin to see the wisdom of bringing along a back up.

Aloha.