Lightening the Load in Outdoor Photography

Ok, I know I’m late to the party! To make a long story short I thought I could just tough it out. But, as I found out, it wasn’t necessarily possible or even worth it. I’m talking about the load of gear us Photographers take when doing Outdoor Photography. Personally, I do Landscapes, but lots of you do travel, sports, nature, or just family stuff and end up with a 25lb camera bag.

For some quick background, like many I’ve been through numerous camera bags, camera systems, and tripods. The camera system changes are extremely tricky as we are trying to find gear that meets our technical requirements, and unfortunately, most of us love the technology and get sucked into making changes for some pie-in-the-sky solution to all of our problems. I won’t go any further as I don’t want to spoil anyone’s fun.

I started with Nikon 35mm stuff, ending up with all kinds of glass, from fisheye to 400mm. Many of you can relate. Not only is the bag heavy with glass and super-duper camera bodies, the tripod and ballhead to hold these things are massive and heavy.

When I finally moved to just doing Landscapes professionally, I sold everything and moved up to Medium Format Digital, specifically Phase One. I bought the 45mm, 80mm, and 150mm lenses. To put this in perspective – just the body, digital back, and those three lenses weighs in at 9 pounds. Add a laptop, camera bag, batteries, Gps, other gadgets, tripod and ballhead and you can see where this is leading. But I wasn’t done.

After a year of lugging these, the idea of traveling 1000+ miles (I’m based in Dallas) with only one camera body seemed foolish, so I invested in a Cambo technical camera with just one lens, the Schneider 35mm. (21mm equivalent) So if anything happened I had the finest wide-angle money could buy. Much slower to operate, but actually the best quality possible, especially at wide angles. Don’t misunderstand, this was no second-place camera. It’s the ultimate with a slower workflow, and I used it all the time.

The Cambo body with lens is 3 pounds, so all total my current full setup is around 30 pounds. (I know some of you are laughing at me… saying ‘Is that all?’)


Close-Up shot 1       Close-Up shot 2
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Creating a Camera Startup Checklist

You travel hundreds, or thousands of miles to a location, typically in a rush before leaving, and arrive late afternoon. You’re at a magnificent location and the lighting is perfect. You see your subject, whatever that might be, and you quickly pull out the camera and start doing the easiest thing in the world – tap the shutter button. What could possibly go wrong.

The other day I took a snapshot of my wife while testing the flash with the built-in neutral density filter on my Fuji X100s. (She’s used to it!) I took a few shots, and moved on. Some minutes later I had the chance to zoom-in to inspect these shots when I realized that my subjects were almost all out of focus. Then it dawned on me that I had left the camera in Manual-focus mode, but I was shooting as if the lens were set to auto-focus. The camera doesn’t warn me because the focusing electronics have been turned off . That’s the point of Manual.

Manual-focus mode – oops

I wanted to share my rules for solving this – might as well show it alongside my own failure. It wouldn’t be so funny on a professional gig. In this situation I didn’t use my own rules because it was a snapshot, and not critically important. But, it reminded me again how problematic this is with modern electronic and highly configurable cameras. Picking up your camera to shoot, with no idea of the state of the settings is just a roll of the dice. In this case I DID go through a basic setup, but I missed one important item. Don’t trust your memory!

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From Nikon to Phase One Medium Format

PhaseOne 645DF Medium Format System

Some months ago I made a major change in equipment, going from Nikon 35mm Digital Cameras, to a Phase One Medium Format System. (645DF and P65+ Digital Back) While I stay mostly clear of gear on this blog, I can’t help talking about this, as this change has a big impact on my portfolio by allowing for much larger prints at a very high quality. In Landscape Photography it’s important to be able to print large, as otherwise it’s difficult to convey scale. While an 11×14 print of Rock Art can look fine, a Canyon printed at the same size loses it’s sense of grandeur.

Print Size

The larger print sizes are possible due to the very high resolution of the Medium Format System. Phase One and Hasselblad are the major names in Medium Format Digital Photography. While this camera uses the same kind of technology that all Digital Cameras use, the sensor is much larger, allowing for much higher resolution. (and making it quite expensive).

The Phase One System has a 60 MegaPixel Digital Sensor, so without tweaking anything, the print size is 22 x 30 inches. For most prints that is large enough. However, when larger Panoramas are needed, stitching as few as two photos together gets me a super high-quality 40 x 60 print.


Digital Sensor Quality

The Medium Format System does more than just print larger. It seems to capture a wider or finer tonal range of color. For Landscape Photography this is very important. I don’t just want detail. I want the full range and nuance of color that I see in nature.


Print Quality

Here’s what I use to make these large prints. I’ve been working with Inkjet printing since the early days of color proofers in the 1980’s. Today these Epson printers produce among the highest quality Fine Art Prints you can buy. With the right quality papers and inks, the prints I produce will last over a hundred years. Longevity would rightly be a concern to anyone that has seen old photos turn yellow. The materials we use are nothing like the common paper old time photos were printed on. The color photos have Permanence Ratings of over 100 years, and the Black & White photos over 200 years. The Epson inks will also hold up to fading this long. Along with most Fine Art Photographers, I have a Lifetime Warranty against fading. The technology has really made a difference, especially with color printing.

Coming up, lots of new work on the web page along with some beautiful new custom frames.