Lava Light Lessons #30…Mirror vs Mirrorless Cameras

Again with the disclosure…I am not a technician…go online for a full technical explanation.

I shoot both…and love both. I love the feel and capabilities of my Canon mirrored cameras…especially my Canon 5D Mark 4…a dream camera to operate. Along with that camera I own a virtual camera store of Canon and Sigma lenses for Canon that give me a complete suite of options for each photographic situation. I love Canon.

I also love Sony, especially my two mirrorless cameras from Sony…the a9 and the A7R4. Wow…are these good cameras. They are small. Easy to operate. Nearly silent. The sensors are large and robust…and the a7R4 may have the best sensor in the business…at least in the normal range of professional cameras.

CJ shoots Nikon…along with anything he can get his hands on. He has excellent Nikon equipment…a top of the line Nikon camera body and all the good lenses. He loves Nikon. His mirrorless choice at the moment is Sony.

My guess is that the future…maybe even the now…will be mirrorless. Canon, Nikon and Sony all have them. Sony seems to have a bit of a lead at the moment…but that changes quickly. They are all good.

I care about three things…the image a camera can produce, the ease of using that camera and how sturdy the camera is…can it handle normal weather/dust/sea spray. There are a few other things I consider…cost is important…service is important…the range of lenses and accessories available is important. In the early days, Sony produced it’s first mirrorless camera and I bought it just about the first day it was out. It produced great images…was a little bit expensive…was so poorly prepared for the realities of life that it would glitch if I even sneezed around it and HATED damp environments…and the little tiny buttons and knobs were very hard for me to use. I am sure that all the great brands had the same kind of learning curves. However, today…they all have it figured out…today’s mirrorless cameras WORK…and I love them.

In the early days of mirrorless cameras, all the existing lenses worked well with the new mirrorless cameras. However, as the sensor size grew and the mirrorless cameras became more refined, specialized lens developed to maximize the system capabilities. I can smell a trend a mile away…and here is that trend. It will not be too long before you will need whole new glass for your mirrorless cameras. By that I mean…you will wake up to an announcement that the next newest best ever model of the mirrorless camera brand you embrace will no longer work with your old lenses from that brand. Now, we are talking about serious upgrade expense.

I am in the photo business and advances in equipment mean opportunities for new sales for Linda, CJ and myself. We are prepared to make those equipment purchases when the time comes. You may not want to invest that kind of money in your personal camera/lens inventory. So…just keep my educated guess in mind as you start down the path of buying mirrorless vs mirrored cameras…the purchase of a mirrorless camera body may just be the start of a number of expensive purchases down the road.

One last thought…you can get excellent images from all kinds of cameras. What is going to make you a terrific photographer will NOT be the equipment…it will be your ability to figure out exposure, frame the shot and edit the image. I found an image this week that I took eight years ago on a camera that you would laugh at today…and re-edited it. It produced a wonderful image. Kind of reminded me of my golf game…I own every wedge ever produced or advertised on tv…all those wedges that will “Get you out of trouble”, “Cut five strokes off your game” or “Lower you handicap overnight”. My short game still sucks. Turns out it is not the equipment…it is the operator.

With all that said…please don’t buy cheap or off-brand cameras or lenses. Just stick with Canon, Sony, Nikon and Sigma for lenses…and you will find it almost impossible to make an equipment mistake. Not saying that other brands are not viable…I shot Olympus for years and loved them. Just saying that there is a reason that Canon, Sony and Nikon are leaders in camera equipment…their products work, they provide excellent service and you can buy them everywhere. Aloha.

Lava Light Lessons #29…Full Frame Sensors vs APS-C or Crop Sensors

I am not your guy for giving you a great technical explanation of something like full sensor vs crop sensor. Go online and look it up and you will find excellent explanations. And…both have their own advantages…but the Full Frame Sensor has more advantages.

I shoot only full frame sensors. Why? Because they provide an image that covers a bit more of the scene I am shooting and because those sensors are better at capturing the information needed to bring out detail in the shadows and elsewhere. The Full Frame Sensor is equivalent in size of scene captured to the old 35mm slide. The crop sensor will capture less of the scene.

Why do people even mess with crop sensor cameras? My guess is that they are trying to save money and, in some cases like the sometimes smaller size of the outfit. The biggest advantage to a crop sensor camera is that if you shoot a 70mm lens on that system, you will get the same magnification of the image as you would with a 100mm lens on a full frame system. So…you might think of it as a built in telephoto. The cost of that telephoto…you miss some of the scene.

Word of warning…some lenses do not work on both full sensor and crop sensor cameras. They may not fit properly on the camera body…although most do. They may vignette…leave black empty spaces in the four corners of the photo. Read up on what lens goes with what camera.

I use to shoot a Canon 7D Mark 2. It is an excellent camera and I chose it for wave photography only. It has an APS-C crop sensor. Why did I chose it…it fires at ten frames per second…a big advantage when doing wave photography. Why did I give it up…well, first I accidentally drowned it by hitting the bottom with my camera housing really hard, breaking the dome of the housing and letting sea water in to completely ruin my beautiful camera and lens. Second, I used my Canon 5D Mark 4 the next day as my backup…and found I much preferred the larger and more detailed images I got with that 8 frame per second full frame sensor camera. I decided to quit the crop sensors forever and I am glad I did. And…I am getting better and better at making up for the loss of those two frames per second. Heck, I have seen CJ get excellent shots, back in the day, with a full frame sensor camera that only shot 4 frames per second.

One other factor in my decision…and it may not be a factor you have to consider…Linda and I and CJ own photo galleries where we sell our images up to huge sizes. I think our largest standard image that we sell is about nine feet by twelve feet…now that is a big ass photo! The full frame sensor cameras are best, in my opinion, for producing images for large prints. My Sony a7R4 produces an image that captures 61MP with wonderful dynamic range…meaning I can edit it to bring things out of the shadows and sharpen detail…and end up with a file that can be blown up to a huge size and look absolutely sparkling. Most of you will not be doing that kind of printing…and may not need the capability to do it. It is just one more advantage of the full frame sensor camera.

My choice…full frame. Your choice…up to you…just understand the advantages and limitations to the choice you make. Aloha.

Lava Light Lessons #28…Abuse of Editing

First off…there are photographs and there are graphic arts. Both are valid. Both can be beautiful. Both are fully ethical.

My only gripe is when someone uses their graphic arts or Photoshop skills to enhance a photo in ways that are not real…and then fails to tell anyone.

Case in point…if you add flowers to a Italian mountain scene and those flowers only grow near the beach in Hawaii…and you don’t mention you added them in Photoshop…I have a problem with that image.

If you take a white sky and buy a package of fake skies online and then add that fake sky to your image…and don’t mention it…I have a problem with that image. Worse yet, you buy a perfect lightning bolt to add to the photo…so now you have a fake sky and a fake lightning bolt.

I know one famous image where the photographer took a perfect photo of one flower and then clone stamped that perfect flower over and over again until he or she had a whole field of perfect flowers. I actually love the image. I sure wish that photographer just said what they did to achieve that image instead of trying to fool the viewer.

And don’t get me started on those who add themselves in next to a shark or lion or celebrity…fake fake fake.

Everyone uses some of the editing tools to improve a photo…but I hope you choose to keep those changes minimal and realistic. If you go over the line…just say so…disclose that it is a manufactured image…people buy those all the time.

Guys like me can tell what is real and what is fake…most of the time. You want respect from your fellow photographers…just disclose your techniques to achieve that image and there will be high fives all around. Try to fool us…and the whispering starts behind your back and online. I love creativity and really do not like liars and cheaters. Just say it like it is and you will get the respect you deserve. Try to fool us and you will also get the respect you deserve…none. And I promise I am not a zealot about this…everyone deserves to make a mistake or two along the way as they try to be increasingly creative…just learn from those mistakes and go back to what is the most honest form of photography…editing without the tricks or full disclosure of the techniques you employed.

By the way…when you get to the point of entering big time photo contests…they often require you to send them the RAW image of the shot along with a description of every editing change you made to the shot…kind of hard to fool the judges with your RAW image in their hands.


Lava Light Lessons #27…Get A Coach or Mentor

You will never reach your full potential without a coach or mentor who can not only help you, but then will tell you the absolute truth about your progress. CJ and Nick played that roll for Linda and I when we first started. I felt that each day spent with them on photography advanced my skill set by months. I found I could read books, go to classes, attend workshops or take lessons online from online gurus or by finding stuff on YouTube…all helpful. However, to have CJ or Nick next to me as I struggled with my camera in the dark under challenging circumstances like lava flowing all around me…that direct one-on-one help was gold.

Today, of course Linda and I are still learning, but we have mastered most of what we need to know. What we still need is someone to tell us the absolute truth about the images we produce. That roll still falls to CJ. CJ is matter of fact about it…doesn’t do a damn thing to spare our feelings…he just tells us the truth. It has made a huge difference in our photography and has caused us to cry only a few times.

Many of CJ’s comments fall into the positive category…and we are glad to get them. He might say “Epic” or “Gallery shot” or “Love it”. We are always happy to hear those because we know he means it.

The ones that help us build to and maintain a high standard don’t sound so positive. They might sound like…

“Over saturated”

“Soft focus” which means it is slightly out of focus

“Try bringing up the shadows and let me look at it again”

“What ISO did you shoot that with…looks like a lot of noise”

“Why do you have so much dead space on the left side of the photo?”

“Looks like you forgot to clean up some sensor dust spots that I see in the sky”….his eyes are much better than ours but he is also much more disciplined about magnifying an image and going over every square inch looking for imperfections.

“Too blue…the ocean is not really that blue.”

“Should have used a filter to balance the sky with the foreground”

“Why is that branch poking in on the right side of the photo…either crop it out or include the whole tree.”

“Looks like a big crop…and I doubt that what is left is big enough to print.”

“Nice shot…too bad the sky is so white…go back and shoot that again on a day with a proper sky.”

Or the always dreaded “Nope” or “Deleter”

Neither Linda nor I run our social media photos by CJ so you may see some flawed photos make their way out to Facebook or Instagram…but you will never see a flawed photo of ours make its’ way on to the gallery walls…because CJ looks those over carefully before we have them printed.

Who is your CJ?

Get a coach and mentor and listen to them. They will help you get to be the best that you can be. Thanks CJ and thanks Nick…we appreciate the coaching and the feedback.


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.


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 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.


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.


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.


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.