Becoming A Fanatic of Lightroom Fanatic

Becoming A Fanatic of Lightroom Fanatic

Beatrice No Comments

  • Presets that come in bunches, courtesy of Lightroom fanatic
  • A photo-editing app that allows you to put keywords to your edited photos
  • Offering video tutorials as soon as you get a Lightroom fanatic online

Perhaps you are curious about what are Lightroom fanatic presets. Well, these are tools that improve the color, texture and luminosity of your photos. And Lightroom fanatic presets offer you the best deals in town when it comes to photo enhancement.

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Let us examine some of the benefits, though, when using these tools, and find out what are Lightroom fanatic presets all about? The best way to answer that is to see the benefits that go with these Lightroom fanatic presets.

  • They come in bunches – Lightroom fanatic offers the best free and paid Adobe Lightroom presets. Adobe Lightrooms specializes in color enhancement, intensifying texture and accentuating the luminosity of your photos. If you are looking for some answers about what are Lightroom fanatic presets, then this is the closest thing you can get, a variety of tools for the enhancement of your photos.
  • They are in order – Order in a sense that you can add keywords to your images. This will give you complete control over your editing and compartmentalize them later on. In fact, you can actually safe-keep your files properly by giving keywords to your edited photographs.
  • They seek to teach as well – Lightroom fanatic has video tutorials, too, for those who would want to make a career out of taking photographs. But even if you’re just a regular enthusiast, you will learn something from Lightroom fanatic via their cool video tutorials.

So, what are Lightroom fanatic presets, anyway? They are your handy companion when it comes to photo editing. You don’t need the services of a photographer anymore when you edit your photos, these Lightroom fanatic presets will take care of it.

Guest Article – Turkey, Antalya City

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Antalya is set on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, also known as the Turkish Riviera. It is Turkey’s biggest international sea resort.

The City offers superb beach resort facilities and long stretches of golden sands, with a fine selection of significant historical sites. The city is loved by many for its palm lined streets, charming marina, delicious restaurants, excellent shopping, cosmopolitan nightlife and lots of historical attractions.

Each year, millions of people visit Antalya. Fantastic for families, couples and even the more experienced traveler, Antalya’s mix of traditional, cosmopolitan and family friendly activities will ensure everyone will enjoy a holiday in Antalya!

Antalya has many great locations to take a decent photograph. It is one of the richest places in the world to shoot historical and modern buildings and landscapes.

My favorite activity in Antalya is get lost in Antalya and discover new amazing places every time again.

If you want to see the heaven in the world, you should visit the Turkish Riviera where is Antalya!

İsa Burak Gonca graduated graduated from the Department of International Relations of the Faculty of Business and Economics of the Eastern Mediterranean University of Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, and the Masters Program in Political Science and International Relations of the Institute of Social Sciences of Yeditepe University of Istanbul.

He writes about foreign policy analysis, travel stories, Antalya City and Turkish tourism in his blog. He enjoys basketball, swimming, tennis and photography.

Gear Review – Apex Bean Bag

Beatrice No Comments

From time to time, my friends at Essential Photo Gear send me stuff to evaluate. Two weeks ago they sent me the Apex Bean Bag, a new product designed in large part by Chas Glatzer, master photographer and well-known columnist and photo tour operator.

I have made two trips to Africa, once in Tanzania where I had personal guide and driver, and the other to South Africa where I did all the driving myself. One of the biggest issues I faced on both trips was how to support my camera and telephoto lens when doing wildlife shots.

Good solid support of a long telephoto lens is absolutely necessary. And when one cannot use a tripod, the choice among most photographers has been to use a bean bag.

Photo Courtesy of Travis Peltz

Well, this bean bag is different in many respects from what I have used in the past.

First is its shape. Made like a horseshoe, the bag fits neatly over a vehicle door frame. And I must mention something here that is very important. Yes there are all kind of window mount alternatives. I own one, the Ergorest Multi-tripod, but the problem is that the mounts require you to roll up the window to fit the mechanism in place, that means that critical “headroom” for your tripod mount is lost and it means that the camera is often too high to use effectively. This is one reason that I love the design of this bag, the photographers who designed it have encountered the same issues I have.

And, as you can see in the photograph, that is one more large lens! Yet the bag supports it perfectly.

I often use a bean bag while doing photography in Florida. There are many areas where shooting from a vehicle is a distinct advantage as wildlife tends to pay no attention to a truck or car. And, almost always, I am either shooting early in the morning or late at night which means I need a really really solid support for my camera as it is likely that I am shooting at less then 1/50. As in the photograph that follows.

The Bald Eagle simply ignored me as I took shot after shot, all from my SUV window.

What I would have given five years ago to have had the Apex Bean Bag! It would have made a significant difference in my photography for years. So I am glad to see that the folks at Essential Photo Gear have introduced the bag and made it available to folks like me.

Not all photography is done from a vehicle. And I am repeatedly advising others that getting low, or getting on the same level as your subject is a fundamental thing one must do to get a great shot. And wouldn’t you know, the designers of the Apex Bean Bag made it work by turning it upside down to support a heavy lens while shooting prone, something I often do. As you can see, the lens fits perfect in the horseshoe turned up.

Photo Courtesy of Travis Peltz

The Apex Bean Bag is made of high quality materials and I am amazed at the attention to detail that went into its construction.

An aluminum plate comes with the bag to which is welded a tripod mounting screw. One simply inserts the plate into the top of the bag and the mount protrudes through a small hole in the bag. Two washers are included with the bag to protect the cloth from marring when the tripod mount is affixed to the bag. There is even a little sleeve on the side of the bag to store the washers. Details, I like that.

When I got the bag, my first task was to go to Sam’s Club to find earth friendly stuff to fill it with. My first choice was rice. A big mistake. Rice is small and thus heavy, really heavy. So, I bought a bag of pinto beans and mixed the rice with the beans. The result was a bag that weighed 20 pounds when filled. Yep, 20 pounds! Like an idiot, I did not read the instructions or follow the advice of those who made it. One needs to find lighter stuffing, but not to the detriment of what the extra weigh means. The whole idea here is to have a solid surface on which to mount a very heavy tripod mount (most photographers use a Wimberly with it), a very heavy lens and professional grade camera. A five pound bean bag configured like this won’t work very well. It has to be heavy.

There are some other nice features about the bag. It has two straps and buckle that allow one to anchor it to a door handle, or whatever seems handy. Why is that? Cause you don’t want to run into the assembly and have your $8,000 camera and $6,000 lens wind up on the pavement! Having a way to secure the bag to whatever then is a really good idea.

Photo Courtesy of Travis Peltz

Course there are many ways to use this bag because of its unique design. For example, it makes a great table top tripod. And, I can see it used on the ground for doing landscape photography as well. Or even on a car hood.

Photo Courtesy of Travis Peltz

Perhaps the most important feature of the Apex Bean Bag is that it is easy to pack for a long trip. One simply empties the earth friendly contents, rice, beans, or bird seed onto the ground and it all folds nice and flat, hardly taking up any room in my luggage. When I get to my destination, I fill it with whatever is available. That could be anything from pine straw to leaves, or dried beans bought at a native market. And if worse comes to worse, sand will do nicely as well, although that would be dern heavy!

My only regret is that this product was not available when I went on my last trip to Africa. I sure could have made good use of it while driving from one end of Kruger Park to the other, all 2,300 miles of my journey.

Ever since Essential Photo Gear got started, what has impressed me is that the stuff they sell is designed by photographers. Imagine that. And, each time I buy a product from the company I find the quality to be well beyond my expectations. In other words, a group of expert photographers with good business ethics and a friendly helpful attitude are making stuff that I can use because they have been at the same place I have and have faced the same issues I have. And they are making stuff that will last a lifetime.

In sum, if you have a need to support a heavy lens and camera from a vehicle, you should consider the Apex Bean Bag seriously, it is the perfect solution for such situations. In my view, if I am headed on a safari to Africa, this would be the first item I would pack. And frankly, I will use it in Florida repeatedly because I know that early one morning, some deer will pose for me in light that demands that I have a solid surface to support my lens and camera cause I am shooting at 1/20th of a second.

This product is not for everyone. It is for the photographer who wants solid, high-quality support for a heavy tripod mount, camera, and camera lens.

But, if it meets your needs, I highly recommend that you buy it.

Guest Article – Driving Canada’s Dempster Highway

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The ritual emerges early in the trip: Leap into the truck, slam the doors and spend the next few minutes killing all the mosquitoes which have followed you in.

We’re headed up the Dempster Highway, the most northerly highway in Canada and one of only two highways in the western hemisphere that cross the Arctic Circle. It winds 743 kilometers from its junction near Dawson City in Yukon Territory, crossing the continental divide three times before it reaches Inuvik in the Northwest Territories. Except for a few kilometers of pavement at each end, the road is a gravel challenge; the Dempster is not for the ill-prepared or the faint of heart.

Dawson City

The first morning gets off to an ominous start. I’m traveling with Ben, my father-in-law, in a big one-ton 4×4 truck pulling a fifth-wheel trailer. The mosquito killing begins and when I swat one (gently, I swear!) against the inside of the windshield, it cracks. Must have picked up a rock chip somewhere.

As we leave pavement just north of the junction, I’m acutely aware of our isolation. There is very little traffic on the road and it’s almost 370 kilometers before we’ll come to any services. We have a full tank of fuel, three spare tires for the trailer and one mounted spare for the truck, plus an extra tire. Mechanically, I’m hopeless if the truck breaks down (I could change a tire) but Ben is a farmer used to fixing his way out of problems like that.

But the anxiety gives way to awe as we climb up North Fork Pass where we traverse the magnificent Tombstone mountain range, part of the Ogilvie Mountains. The clouds hang low this morning as we stop at the viewpoint and we can’t actually see Tombstone Mountain itself.

Tombstone Mountain

Past the viewpoint a sort of eerie silence descends upon us. I’ve never seen landscape like this before. We travel up a wide valley with very little vegetation and soft, round gray mountains on each side. There’s a low cloud ceiling and it looks like it will rain. We move up the valley, but there are no vehicles and I start to feel perhaps we are leaving the planet Earth.

While the views make one feel very small and alone, my other eye is on the rain clouds. Before we left Dawson, we had heard stories of the weather up the Dempster. The service station at the junction had seen a steady flow of vehicles coming in with flat tires for repair. Someone had a friend at the Department of Highways and learned that it had been raining for the last three days and that the highway was quite a mess in some sections. The unspoken message was: Are you sure you’re ready for this?

It took 20 years to complete the Dempster. Construction started in 1959 but wasn’t finished until 1979. The challenges of building a road through permafrost are enormous and this accounts for some of the potential for mechanical problems. The road is constantly being maintained and in some sections the road bed is shale which can be very hard on tires.

Blackstone Uplands

Blackstone Uplands South

So now, as we move through the Blackstone Uplands, I’ve got one eye on the scenery and the other on the clouds, hoping the rain will stay in the mountains. We come to the northern edge of the uplands plateau and start to climb into the Taiga Range toward Windy Pass. Again, the scenery is like none I’ve seen.

Much of this area is in Beringia, one of the few sections of North America not glaciated during the last great ice age. The mountains are round, gray limestone lumps with virtually no vegetation. The only erosion they’ve ever seen was by wind, water and frost fracturing. We reach Windy Pass summit and the view today looks very much like it would have when the first people crossed the Bering Strait and arrived in North America.

Windy Pass

We’re aiming for the campsite at Engineer Creek to stop for lunch, but somehow we miss the entrance. You’d think that with almost no side roads for hundreds of kilometers, you wouldn’t have much trouble recognizing one when you see it. But it’s difficult to turn this rig around so we carry on up the road a little ways until we find a small turn-out by the creek. Just as we’re getting lunch organized in the trailer, a highways water truck comes along and the driver tells us we need to move so that he can back down to the creek to pump water into his tank. He tells us we can pull into the maintenance yard just up ahead.

Ogilvie River

After lunch, we’re following the Ogilvie River up its valley, then up Seven Mile Hill along the edge of the Eagle Plain escarpment. The hill rises 300 meters and we cross the continental divide for the second of three times before we get to Inuvik.

The remoteness of the Dempster means that there is not much traffic, but we meet a group of motorcyclists headed back down south. This is a popular way to do the Dempster and we’ll see many more motorcycles before arrive back in Dawson.

Finally, we make it to Eagle Plains. This oasis of civilization in the middle of the wilderness consists of a gas/service station, a hotel and restaurant, an RV park, a highways maintenance yard and huge gravel parking lot in front of the whole works. It’s not exactly pretty but we need fuel and coffee. Eagle Plains was deliberately placed here at the half-way point as a service center. The site was chosen because it sits on bedrock and the buildings could be constructed without the need of driving pilings through permafrost as is the case with most northern communities.

With human and vehicle fuel tanks full, we push northward again. It’s not long before we arrive at the Arctic Circle monument. At this time of year (we’re crossing the Arctic Circle a few days before the summer solstice) the sun never sets below the horizon. In fact, it’s very disorienting. In the evening, your body is waiting for a visual cue that it’s time to go to bed, but the sun is still blazing in the sky. You look at your watch and discover that it’s 11:30 PM. No wonder you’re so tired.

Arctic Circle Monument

Arctic Circle Richardson Mountains

This evening we’re sharing the little campsite by the Rock River with a half-dozen other travelers and unimaginable swarms of mosquitoes. Because of its sheltered location at the bottom of a small valley, the Rock River boasts a forested area of fair-sized trees. But as we leave the campsite the next morning and climb out of the valley, the effect of altitude and latitude become apparent as the trees give way to tundra.

The other thing that changes as we climb toward Wright Pass through the Richardson Mountains is the weather. It was sunny when we left the river but within a few kilometers, the clouds start appearing low, dark and gray. But, for some reason, the apprehension I felt about rain yesterday isn’t there today. In fact, the low cloud seems to compress all the sound and fear out of the world. I don’t even really hear the truck as we climb up to the pass. Tundra spreads out all around and the mountains are low and not far away. Neither of us speak; we’re so awestruck by the view.

We reach the summit of Wright Pass which is also the territorial border between Yukon and the Northwest Territories. We stop to take our photograph at the border but the light is dim. The clouds are so low you can almost reach up and touch them. The wind is howling, but there is no rain. To the northeast, there is sun on the horizon.

Descending from Wright Pass

Wright Pass

From the pass, we descend down toward the Peel River and the vast valley of the Mackenzie River. We’ve been on the road for over an hour without seeing another vehicle headed in either direction. We pass a highway construction crew working on a section of the highway and eventually come to the Peel River.

The Peel is the first of two ferry crossings. In the summer, you cross the river by ferry. In the winter, you cross an ice bridge built up on the frozen river. During freeze-up and break-up, you don’t cross at all.

Peel River Ferry

This morning, there is only our unit and a semi-trailer on the ferry. The crossing only takes five minutes and we’re on our way to Fort McPherson, the first real settlement on the highway. I want to make a stop here because I’ve become fascinated by the infamous story of the ‘Lost Patrol’ of the Royal North-West Mounted Police, the predecessor of today’s RCMP. In the winter of 1910-11, a patrol of four police officers led by Inspector Francis Fitzgerald, set out on dogsleds from Fort McPherson for Dawson City. Although this was an annual event, it was the first time that the patrol had traveled in this direction; normally they went from Dawson City to Fort McPherson.

The result was a disaster. Enduring winter conditions that saw the temperature drop to -65 Degrees F, the men lost their way in the Little Wind River, a tributary of the Peel. Running out of food (at one point they started to eat their dog teams), they eventually gave up and tried to make their way back to Fort McPherson but all four died on the Peel River only 25 miles from their starting point. Their bodies were eventually recovered by Inspector W.J.D. (Jack) Dempster, the man for whom the highway is named.

The Lost Patrol is buried in the cemetery of St. Matthew’s Anglican Church in Fort McPherson. The sun is shining as Ben and I wander through the graves and a local native elder comes up and introduces himself as Frank. He shows us the graves of his grandparents, buried next to the Lost Patrol. For over 50 years, his grandfather, John Firth, had been a clerk at the Hudson’s Bay Company post here. In fact (as I later learned) his grandfather’s dog team was used by Dempster to recover the bodies of the Lost Patrol. The poignancy of the story comes crashing through the years when you’re standing there in the sunshine so far removed from that frozen winter a hundred years ago.

Fort McPherson Lost Patrol Gravesite

Back on the road and it’s about half an hour to the second ferry, this time crossing the mighty Mackenzie River. I grew up on the west coast of Canada and thought I had seen big rivers: the Fraser, the Columbia. But I was unprepared for the scope of the Mackenzie. It drains one-fifth of the fresh water in North America. They say that when the ice comes out of the river in the spring, the water level can rise 80 feet in 15 minutes and the cliff on the south side of the river near the ferry landing displays the scars of ice flows.

Today, the water is moving fast and strong, carrying a steady flow of broken trees and branches. There is no dock because the river would simply take it away, so the MV Louis Cardinal pulls up and beaches itself on the gravel landing. It empties its load of vehicles heading south and then we board for the short crossing. The ferry has to work hard against the current, but eventually we land on the other shore.

Mackenzie River Ferry

From the other side, it’s only 126 km to Inuvik and the end of the road. Since we are now traveling pretty well at sea level in the heart of the Mackenzie Delta, the terrain is fairly flat. The delta itself is about 75 km wide and 200 km long, full of winding channels and ponds; but traveling up its east side you don’t see much of it until you get to Inuvik.

Pulling into the campground in Inuvik we congratulate ourselves on surviving the trip (remembering that we still have to drive back).

Inuvik Igloo Church at Midnight

Logistics

Since this is a driving trip, the first planning will likely involve how to get a vehicle to the junction of the Dempster Highway. There are a couple of alternatives. The first is the self-contained option for those with a motor home or camper, however, this means getting yourself to Dawson City, probably via the Alaska Highway if you are coming from the south.

Another option is to fly to Whitehorse, YT and rent a vehicle, preferably a 4×4 truck or something equally heavy duty. This option adds about 536 km (one way) to the trip, but there are not many services in Dawson City. Air North offers regular passenger service to Whitehorse from Vancouver, BC and Edmonton, AB.

An indispensable travel planner is The Milepost, a guide to all the highways in Alaska, northern British Columbia, Yukon and the Northwest Territories. Updated annually, it provides detailed information about services and points of interest along every kilometre of these highways – don’t even think about making a driving trip in the north without getting a copy of this guide.

Dawson City is a funky and historic little town at the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike Rivers. In 1896, gold was discovered in Bonanza Creek, a tributary of the Klondike triggering one of the biggest gold rushes in North America. Gold is still mined in the area and there are many interesting artifacts from the past that will help you understand the industry. Plan to spend some time in Dawson at either the beginning or end of your trip.

Inuvik is on the east side of the Mackenzie delta and has about 3300 residents. There are four hotels and the Happy Valley Territorial Campground (open June 1 to Sept 1) is a good place near the center of town for motor homes and RVs.

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Bruce Pollock got his first real camera in 1973 and has been learning about photography ever since. He works with 35mm and large format film cameras and is working hard on his Photoshop. He lives in Victoria, BC and thinks that travel and photography are a perfect marriage.

Guest Article – Adventure in Peru

Beatrice No Comments

Each year one of my friends and I set a goal that will cause us to work on our fitness during the year, preparing for the adventure.  In 2007, based on an article we read in the NY Times (http://travel.nytimes.com/2007/06/03/travel/03inca.html) our goal was to hike in the Andes mountains of Peru to a somewhat unknown Inca ruin known as Choquequirau, the Cradle of Gold.  Built by Topa Inca, son of the Inca ruler who built Machu Picchu, it was built with similar architectural styles and techniques causing its reference as “Machu Picchu’s sacred sister”.  You can actually hike to it from Machu Picchu, but it is a much more strenuous and lengthy journey than our goal required.  So, we decided to take the more common route, a 4 day hike from the town of Cachora.

Cathedral and Square, Cusco, Peru
You get to Cachora via a flight to Lima (from Miami in our case) and then a flight to Cusco, which is the same launching point for Machu Picchu.  We spent two days in Cusco acclimating ourselves to the almost 11,000 foot altitude.  I had never been to Machu Picchu, so I took the train up and spent the day touring the site.  It is an unbelievable experience to sit on the side of a mountain and imagine the architectural knowledge and sheer effort to construct something like this in the 1400’s.

Our trip was arranged by Lima Tours (http://www.limatours.com.pe/english/index.asp) and our guide, Sergio Cuba, who worked for Pachatusantrek (http://www.pachatusantrek.com/)  met us in Cusco.  There were three of us on the hike, my friend Gary, his wife Linda and me.  We met Sergio the night before and he gave us an overview of the adventure as well as the do’s and don’ts for the next few days.

Maccu Picchu
We all got up excited the next morning and met our guide and driver for the four hour drive to Cachora.  When there, we met Amer, the owner of the horses who would be packing all our gear for the four day journey.  We ended up with 5 horses and a staff of 4 in addition to our guide.

Sergio, Mike and Gary with a local lady
We had lunch in Cachora and then set out walking on our trek.

The Hike

This was a hike over 20 miles and two days to get to Choquequirau.  We start at roughly 10,000 feet, go down to 5,000 feet where we cross the Apurimac river and then back up to 10,000 where the ruins are located.  You hike on trails that are fairly good, but very dusty.  There are a lot of places where the elevation is fairly steep and, of course, you are either going up or down.  While 20 miles doesn’t sound like too much, when you throw in the elevation it becomes all I could handle.  The first day you go mostly down and then camp for the night.  I had a tent and Gary and Linda had a tent.  They also pitch a latrine tent with a portapotty and a mess tent.  We ate great meals each day.  They boil water each evening and you fill your water bottles for the next day.  It is warm and very dry in the mountains and you need to drink a lot of fluid.

On day two you cross a bridge over the Apurimac river and start the hike up to the ruins.

Apurimac River View from Bridge
Along the way you see few other people.  They limit the permits and this place really hasn’t yet been discovered by the traveling public.  Its rugged and remote location probably contribute as well.  There are a few rest stops and you do see locals who will sell you a soda, but mostly, you are putting one foot in front of the other, looking up occasionally to take in the incredible scenery or take a picture.

Late in the afternoon of day 2 you reach Choquequiriau.  You first see it from the other side of a valley.  After getting the the camp area, the tents are pitched and the four of us walk over to the ruins for a short stay.

One of the adventures is a walk down the steps shown here.  They look (and feel) like they fall off the side of the mountain, but really just connect the various terraces.  One thing that I found interesting is that you have to take big steps to climb with the risers sometimes over 2 feet.  Yet the folks who lived here were relatively short.  They must have been in great shape.

After dinner, its dark and time for bed.  Sleeping in the mountains wasn’t a problem for me, mostly because you are really tired at the end of the day.

We spend the next morning exploring the ruins.  It is somewhat anti-climactic as they are only 30% excavated at this time.

One of the highlights is the fairly recently discovered “White Llamas”, a wall with Llamas inset on each terrace level.

Close up of White Llama
The hike back is just as majestic as going there.  One thing about going both directions is that you really see everything.  I felt like we were on top of the world, and imagined the Incas must have felt the same.

Here is another source of information about the hike.
http://www.besthike.com/southamerica/peru/choquequirao.html

The Photography

On a hike like this, obviously you need to travel light.  I carried a Canon Digital Rebel with 17-85 and 70-300do lenses.  I also brought a light travel tripod which proved helpful for pano’s in Machu Picchu, but not too useful on the hike.  You are moving a lot.  To add some color, I had a Canon TX-1, small video camera which was used to provide some short clips for my slide shows back home.  Finally, my trusty digital elph which was handy for snapshots in camp and on the trail.  More images are here: www.pbase.com/mikeojohnson/peru

Mike Johnson
www.mojphoto.com

*****
Mike Johnson is an avid amateur photographer who enjoys mixing travel, wildlife and landscapes all over the world. He retired from business in 2004 and moved from Minnesota to Florida, where he currently resides with Jan, his wife of 37 years. Photography became a passion post retirement and we have been fortunate to see a lot of wonderful places, meet a lot of wonderful people and experience a lot of the earth’s most exciting creatures. In the past few years Mike has been trying to raise the level of his photography by joining several well known photographers on photo safaris. Grizzly Bears in Katmai, Polar Bears in Churchill, Eagles in Homer and the Big Five in Africa have all been captured. You can find Mike’s images at: mojphoto.com

Cleaning Your Lenses – The Carson System

Beatrice No Comments

Doing photography often presents unanticipated events.

During a boat trip to Bass Rock, off the coast of Scotland, I found myself photographing Gannets as they plunged into the water during a “chumming.”  This is a process where small pieces of fish are thrown into the water to attract the birds. Hundreds of the birds participate in this spectacle.  With a wide-angle lens and camera set to record 10 frames per second, it is quite an experience.

An experience that soon found both me an my camera soaking wet!

So, there I sat, in the midst of a photographic opportunity with a lens covered in salt water. And worse, I had absolutely nothing with me to clean the lens!

Upon returning home I made it a priority to acquire the best lens cleaning equipment I could find to take with me on my next photographic adventure.

Coincidentally Carson Optical introduced a line of lens and screen cleaners designed specifically for cameras, iPods, iPads, binoculars, scopes and a variety of other optical products. The new carbon-based cleaning system won’t damage your expensive glass and revolutionizes the way people clean their lenses. There are eight models available, including both disposable and reusable cleaners.

Carson has grown to be a leading supplier of Binoculars, and the largest manufacturer of Magnifiers in the USA. The product line has also grown vertically to encompass a broad range of optical products and accessories. Today, Carson products are sold through a diverse retail network in tens of thousands of locations in the USA and abroad.

Frankly, I must admit to having used a variety of things to clean my very expensive lenses, dumb me.

Most notably is my tee shirt. Yep, pull the shirt out of my pants and wipe the lens surface. The problem with this method is two-fold. First is the chance of scratching the lens surface because my tee-shirt has residuals on it from breakfast. :-) The second is that it is ineffective, and leaves residue on the surface of the lens.

Next is the toilet paper idea. Roll up some toilet paper from the loo and wipe away. Problem is that this method leaves small deposits of paper on the lens and these deposits show up in your high resolution photographs.

So, tell me, why am I using these methods when inexpensive but high quality lens cleaning solutions are available? Why would I want to use my tee-shirt to clean a lens that costs $5,000 or more?

What I like about the Carson lens cleaning system is that it does not utilize alcohol or ammonia. Instead, the cleaning tools use a specially formulated C6 dry-cleaning compound that effectively, quickly and safely cleans screens and lenses. The dry compound bonds with the oils left behind by your skin, then simply wipes away, leaving a sparkling clean screen. Eight models, with varying size and shape cleaning pads, clean everything from binoculars and cameras to iPhones and tablets. All are compact and ergonomically designed for comfortable use, plus there is no messy liquid to damage your electronic devices.

Each of the non-disposable tools includes a brush for clearing away debris from your camera and lens surfaces, the brush is stored in the opposite end of the cleaning tool, making it a very compact system. I utilize the compact lens cleaner for my smaller camera lenses, including my tiny GoPro HD Hero2. I utilize the Jumbo cleaner for my larger telephoto lenses. Another model comes with a built in pen clip that makes it easy to store in a shirt pocket. All three are small enough to fit in any camera bag with ease. In fact, the units virtually take up no room at all!

The disposable units are even smaller and a joy to use. I keep one on my desk to clean my eyeglasses.

Of course, the real question is how well does the system clean a lens? WOW, my lenses have never been as clean. With virtually no effort, no chemicals to damage my cameras or lenses coatings, the system gets rid of all those smudges and stubborn stuff that lenses seem to attract.

Interestingly enough, it was fabulous to use the system to clean my iPad which is always filled with annoying fingerprints that interfere when I am watching the movie Avatar or reading the BBC news. And, I might add, that my iPhone never looked so good, I can actually read the screen for a change.

I also use the system to clean my filters. I have filters that cost as much as a good camera. Now they shine to perfection with absolutely no residue.

Carson also makes a very small microfibre towel that comes in a package that allows one to store the towel when not in use. A convenient clip allows one to attach the towel on one’s jacket or camera bag. We were so impressed with the towels that we may soon sell them at Photo Travel Review.

Lenses are expensive. My collection would cost $15,000 to replace. The last thing I want to do is ruin a lens by scratching its surface or damaging its delicate coating by using harsh chemicals in a cleaning process. Investing in new technology as offered by Carson, at very reasonable costs, seems more than appropriate.

In sum, the Caron lens cleaning system has earned our highest rating of five stars, we highly recommend the system to anyone who does photography. ★★★★★

Iceland – Westfjords in August

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Finding a location for summer photography presents challenges, often the light is too harsh, sunsets and rises too close together to enable decent sleep and the air lacks the clarity that cold days bring. Plus all that green! In other words while it is great to ditch the thermals it is hard to find inspiration.

A solution is to escape to cooler latitudes. This summer Mel and I, with new friend Canadian Connie, headed north to Iceland and chose to spend a week in the Westfjords. This location would present challenges in the winter months due to it’s isolation and difficult terrain but in the summer is accessible but little visited (while the south is full of tourist buses).

On arrival the weather was in fact warmer than it had been in the UK which was a bit of a surprise but there is no second guessing the weather here. Basically no matter the season take layers and wet weather gear and expect to remove and add on an hourly basis!

The drive to the northern part of Westfjords takes about eight hours so our guide and driver had suggested an itinerary that gave us an overnight stop near the Kirkjufellsfoss on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula for an evening shoot, then a fairly easy drive to Thingeyri for three nights and finally on to a base near Isafjordur for a further three nights. For the return journey we caught the Sykssholmur ferry to cut down on the driving and to give another perspective on the land.

Day 1

Arrival at Keflavik International Airport where we met our guide and new friend Connie, the weather was looking fabulous and an easy drive took us to Kirkjufellsfoss,  a  well-situated waterfall near the distinctive Kirkjufell mountain on the north side of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. The only down side here was the sky – just a bit too clear but it is a great location and having the mountain light up in the evening sun a bonus. It is always good to bag a few shots early in a trip – at least you know you have something to take home.

Kirkjufell Mountain and Falls

We stayed in a rough and ready guesthouse in Budardalur but all we needed was a bed, shower and breakfast and then off again into the unknown. From this point we quickly left the the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and were in the southern parts of the Westfjords.

The roads began to get “interesting” with three mountain passes in quick succession. The road turns to a gravel track. It stays this way for 100 plus kilometres, until we got to Thingeyri. It is a drive that is fine in summer but I’d still recommend a vehicle with plenty of power and good tyres, to be honest I’d not fancy it in winter on my own.

We arrived in Thingeyri in the afternoon and experienced the last of the summer sun of the trip before the clouds took hold.

Our guesthouse here was well placed and had the benefit of a shared kitchen,  I wish that the UK had more accommodation like this. It is somewhere between a B&B and a cottage and gives so much more freedom for a photographer who has just a few days (so doesn’t want a weekly cottage let) and needs the flexibility to self cater and keep strange hours.

That evening and the following morning we enjoy the  view over Dýrafjörður from the top of Mt. Sandafell .

From Mount Sandafell

From Mount Sandafell – Morning

The Aðalból mountain road proved an exciting option. It is hardly a road, more like a track that has been crafted and hewn by dedicated souls determined to bring their little homesteads within the reach of civilisation. We drove it twice, the second time I felt a little more relaxed but the soaring aretes above you and drops below made you grateful for the safety of a sturdy vehicle and experienced driver. Truly worth the effort. The light wasn’t really with us but as an experience it was unforgettable.

Every corner had a surprise.

Taking a leisurely walk around a location is always worthwhile to get the local flavour – or in this case the smells.

Fish Drying Huts

Days 4-7

Iceland -avalance stoppers

Leaving Thingeyri was hard, it had been a great location and I felt that if we had found some better light it would have kept us busy for several more days.

Most of the drive North involves driving in and out of the fjords that distinguish the Westfjords from the rest of Iceland. Progress is slow but who wants to rush?

From Isafjordur, it was a 20 minute drive, including a seven kilometre long tunnel, to get to Blómsturvellir Guesthouse in Súðavík, which provided pleasant self catering accommodation.

For the next few days we explored the northern edge of Westfjords. Worthwhile locations include; Önundarfjörður, Skálavík, Súgandafjörður, Bólungarvík, Ísafjörður, Hestfjörður  and Skötufjörður

The weather proved a little stubborn as it refused to move. In the distance we could see great light over an inaccessible reserve and we had to work hard to make the most of any moments when it shone our way.

Red Glow

Highlights include a rainbow and waterfall  over the distant reserve. My Canon 70-300L proved its worth during this trip as it allowed me to peer into places I couldn’t reach.

Inaccessible

Sunrises gave some frustrations as the gap for the sun to shine through was so small but for a brief time it ignited the land and showed the local colours. Colour that in summer in the UK would not be found.

Brief local colour

We stopped in Isafjordur to take some detail shots I had to chuckle when I found this… our football is truly a religion all over the world.

United

A week is not long enough to do such a place justice, you leave asking so many questions. Did I make the most of the light and time? What would the area look like in another season? Will the light be better tomorrow? What is round that corner we didn’t quite walk to? When can I return?

Grabbing the Moment

As we drove away from our house for the long drive back to the airport we had a happy accident – Connie had left her watch and she had to dash back to get it. Mel and I opted to be left by the road until she returned and we got a fleeting bit of light. A grabbed moment at the end of a great week when no-one wanted to leave.

Grabbing the last moments

A final stop was at Dynjandi, one of Icelands most famous waterfalls. Not a mid-day location and indeed even though it is spectacular I haven’t seen an image from here that makes me go “wow” – I wonder if the light every really catches it and makes it sparkle. I’d love someone to show me a picture from here that proves it does sometimes glow. This is is a tiny, tiny part of a mountainous fall.

Dynjandi -a fraction of a fall

We had decided to take the ferry to avoid a long drive. The ferry from Brjanslaekur  arrives at the port of Sykssholmur. There is nothing in Brjanslaekur. It is basically an Icelandic crossroads, there are a few farms, along with a hut which is used to sell ferry tickets, and a dock. As basic as it was I still felt a sense of returning to the world. Once on the ferry the magic was broken – all possible food tastes catered for and there were people again which made me realise that we had seen so few on the trip.

Our final night near the airport was spent at The Barracks,  Keflavik. If you want a very clean and airy room, own bathroon, access to a kitchen, a breakfast at any time of the morning and a free drive to your plane at a VERY reasonable price – this is for you.

Postscript.

I mentioned that I used my new Canon 70-300L a lot on this trip. I have used a zoom many times before for landscapes but never found a lens that really worked for me. I have a 100-400 Canon which I enjoy and can produce quality shots but it isn’t a lense you want to drag up mountains. I had the 70-300 DO  but my copy seemed soft and didn’t appear to work with my 7D (I use the 5D MKII for landscapes but carry the 7D in my bag with a long zoom for when I need some reach). I have uploaded shots from this trip here that show how much I used the 70-300L. It has in fact given me a new “voice” – while I remain a wide angle junkie I now have a new tool that gives a perspective that intrigues me.

Aurora Hunting – The Highs and Lows

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For a long time it has been one of my ambitions to see the Aurora Borealis (from now on referred to as the aurora), in recent years is has also been an aim to photograph it and to come home with something that I can hang on the wall. In the past twelve months the dream has become a reality. Unfortunately rather than having satisfied my wish it has become something of an obsession and I’m already planning the next trip.

Claire has already written about the technical aspects of capturing the aurora in camera, I would reiterate the following:

Shoot at as high a speed as posssible within the limits of your lens and the noise issuues of your camera ( I’m assuming digital capture)

If the prime aim of your trip is to shoot the aurora and you don’t have a fast wide angle lens, i.e at least f2.8 and 24mm, consider borrowing or hiring one

Find the focus point on your lens to get the stars sharp and tape it in place or make sure you have marked it adequately enough to be able to find it in the dark

Continually look at your histogram while shooting. The light intensity can change rapidly at the peak of the light show making it easy to both over and underexpose. Getting the exposure right in long exposure/night time situations will be critical in your final image quality

Make sure you have a head torch, an invaluable item

Know which bits of you get cold and guard against it

Post-processing can be a minefield, experiment with white balance until you can recreate what you you “thought” you saw at he time.

The Trips

March 2011: Senja, Norway with Northshots

Trip leaders Niall Benvie and his partner Charlotte Eatough.

Attracted by the promise of the Northern Lights the Northshots website description looked very appealing. A quick message to Amanda was all it took to let me know there was a place available. Prior to departure and in enough time to plan for the contents of the suitcase I received a “what to bring” information pack that was very useful. Also, we received an outline of how the day might be spent, it seemd to include a significant amount of “theory/tutorial” time, which in the end I think was minimal as we were out shooting all the daylight and much of the early night hours.

Highs

Seeing the lights three of the four nights we were there. We had a lot of cloud, but as it was my first experience I was in awe.

Watcher in the Sky

strange-things1

We had a viewpoint just out of the door of the hotel which meant we did not have to travel far to see what was happening in the night sky

A Little more Detail

The accommodation was exceptional: lovely, clean and modern apartments with superb meals provided in the hotel restaurant. The proprietor was both friendly and informative and was quick to give us the nod when the aurora began to reveal itself

We were a small group, just 5 plus the two guides

Senja is a magnificent place, likened to the Lofotens but quieter. We managed to get in a good amount of exploring in the day, thanks to Niall’s persistence and driving, and had the opportunity to shoot a variety of subjects

Resting Up

Lows

Flight times were not great, we arrived very late and had to leave very early which effectively reduced amount of time we could be out shooting.

The weather was bleak. After a record breaking cold winter in Britain I was quite unprepared for rain! We did get a little snow, but it remained grey for the duration of our time there. The breaks in the cloud did come at night which was what we needed

The lack of locations for viewing and photographing the aurora, it would have been good to see the lights against another backdrop – I think something has been adressed on this (2012) year’s trip.

Niall’s “Turn of the Northern Lights Before You Leave” sign went walkies with the wind

February 2012, Iceland (independent travel arrangements)

Returning from our Westfjords trip to Iceland in August 2011 I asked Claire about her plans for the following February and if she would contemplate a visit to Iceland in the winter? Not much later we were well into planning the same. With the help of Connie from our August trip we identified a  vehicle which served us well for the duration of our stay. The Dodge Durango was comforatble and spacious enough for four people, luggage and groceries and sturdy enough for the conditions we encountered.

It was much to our chagrin that having made all arrangements the the flight, for both Claire and myself, was changed and delayed by ten hours. It meant rearranging the first part of the trip and holding back our two companions in Keflavik. It is something, I have since learned, that Iceland Express do on a not infrequent basis. Changing flights to something more suitable was going to be a very costly affair giving us no option but to go ahead with the rescheduled flight.

Highs

Price, excluding flights, was great; somewhere around £500 each for 7 nights accommodation, vehicle hire, food and fuel

Being right! When everybody went for an early evening rest I didn’t have to wake anyone up when the green wisps began their dance across the sky.

Wisps over Hali

Two spectacular nights of aurora viewing and shooting and forever the memory of Connie saying, as we watched this miracle of nature: “from now on everything else will be gravy”

Cosmic Rays

Being independent and a small group it was easy to find our own viewpoints on scenes

The day we left, the sun came out and Claire and myself had a little time to explore. Finally the snow sparkled.

Hólmsvöllur

Lows

Once again the weather. The forecast for the week was warm and dull. We arrived to rain. The frozen landscapes we had been expecting were not waiting for us.

The wind! This was ferocious at times. It was hard to see and stand when black,volcanic sand alternating with hail bites into everything. I lost 3 filters: two being sandblasted beyond use and one being whipped out of the filter holder whilst battling to capture some of a glorious sunrise. The sand is still coming out of my camera bag, despite cleaning five times with a vacuum cleaner

Wind and Wave Power, Vik

Guesthouse Steig: images on the webite verify that the camera lies. Perhaps we were there at the wrong time of year, we will not be in a rush to return. Make sure you order linen if you stay.

March 2012: Sommarøy, Norway with Light and Land

Trip leaders: Antony Spencer and David Clapp

Having calculated that I had some more annual leave to take I came across this trip by trawling the web. Over the years I have spoken to a number of people who have been on Light and Land tours and all have spoken highly of them.

Details on the Light and Land website made it clear that capturing the aurora was the prime aim of the of the trip and that the tour leaders would go to great lengths to find clear skies in which to view it. Mention was made of sunrise and sunset photography with snow covered scenes being transformed by soft coloured light.

After communicating with the office I had no hesitation about booking. Shortly after payment I received a trip dossier with advice regading what to expect, what to wear, what camera gear might be needed – something to make very useful reading for the uninitiated.

Having booked the recommended flights to coincide with the group leaving and departing Tromsø I was quite perturbed to be informed that flight times had been changed. This time the culprit was Norwegian, they at least had the grace to come up with a relatively reasonable alternative though it meant a long layover in Oslo on the return journey.

Highs

Flying towards and into Tromsø with the magnificent snow covered landscape bathed in the beautiful, soft light that had sounded so enticing in the trip description

Seeing the aurora within just a few brief hours of arrival, curtailing our evening meal to get out.

First Night, Sommarøy

Totally dedicated tour leaders who really did go the extra mile (lets say over a thousand kilometers) to find the clear skies under which the heavenly lights exploded. In something like a twenty-seven hour period we drove from Norway through to Sweden and back through Finland in the quest. During our period of photographing the aurora, in the clearest of skies possible during this trip, I was ever mindful of the attention both Davidand Antony gave to the participants. They moved constantly between us giving advice and help where requested, something that many tour leaders find hard to do when confronted with magic we witnessed. Being an independent little s– I kept to myself, but appreciated being hauled out of the snowhole I’d inadvertently found myself in.

We even manged a visit to the Ice Hotel, though by this time I was too tired to go and explore.

Ice Country

Warm, comfortable accommodation with good food. Being able to walk from the door to find subjects for the lens was a great bonus.

A Walk Outside

Lows

The weather. Again wet/ warm and grey. Just after the short-lived aurora display on our first night the promised cloud rolled in and stuck to the area for the duration of our stay.

A relatively large group (12 plus 2 guides) made it difficult at times to keep out of other participants images.

Having to leave.

Some Thoughts

The weather

Grey is something to be expected across the Northwest coastal regions of Europe. Heading inland will give more stable condidions and better chances of clear skies. If seeing the aurora is at the top of your priorities than this is  what you should do. On the other had there is something quite compelling about the coastal regions where the scenery is at its most magnificent.

Tungeneset

Is is easy to become despondent when the light fails to play ball, you have to work hard when the elements are against you to create an image. You just have to persevere, eventually something will catch your eye. Auora aside, in the three trips I witnessed just one inspiring sunrise and sunset, both in Iceland.

Grey Day Stuff

Organised Tours

Dedicated and organised photography tours are expensive, but a great introduction to an unfamiliar area. You get to meet like-minded people and to swap ideas. All the ground work has been done, locations have been scouted, and basic necessities such as food, accommodation and toilet stops have all been planned. It can be frustrating at times not to go at your own pace and a bypass things you would like to explore. With large groups it can also be restricting when ever mindful of getting in the way of someone else’s lens.

Independent Travel

If you are a little more adventerous and have the time and incentive to do the planning organising your own trip can be full of rewards. Claire and I both had a little experience of Iceland to draw on which helped the process. We were rewarded with good value for money and finding some special locations that were not full of other photographers.

Gear Review – Acer Aspire One Laptop

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Once in a while I run across equipment that offers me more flexibility when traveling. I am always looking for smaller and lighter.  Less weight and less space are important.

For a photographer, having a means to view and save digital photographs while in the field is important.  I have used a Vosonic VP8360 unit for viewing and saving photographs on it’s 120GB hard drive, but I have been disappointed with the resolution on it’s tiny screen, although Vosonic has not let me down ever; it’s a great company with wonderful personalized support.

Recently, while visiting CompUSA, I saw an Acer Aspire One laptop.  I was attracted to the device because of it’s size.  It measures 9.8 X 6.7 X 1.14 inches and weighs 2.19 pounds.

It has a terrific LCD high resolution screen with 1024 X 600 pixel resolution.

Moreover, I was impressed with it’s price.  I paid $380 for the 160GB model.

I was amazed at what the little device can do.  First there is WIFI built in, meaning that I can connect to the Internet wirelessly.  Second, it has three USB ports, and more importantly two card slots that read SD card media including SDHC.  So, with no adapter, I can offload photos taken on SD cards directly to the hard drive.  And, with my external 120GB drive I have more than enough space to keep two copies of all my shots over a month long period or more.

Important too is how well it is made, it must be reasonably rugged.  I have found the Aspire One to be a quality product, equal in all respects to machines costing hundreds of dollars more.

It took me about two hours to set up the machine the way I like.  I have loaded Firefox and Thunderbird, added software to sync with my Nokia E71 Cellphone, installed a bluetooth adapter so I can use a bluetooth mouse, and then installed Irfanview, wonderful free software that will allow me to review shots I have made, including RAW files.  I don’t expect to be doing any major Photoshop work while traveling so I have not loaded the software.  What I have is a great device for storing my photos while on the go, a device with a high resolution screen for viewing photos, a device that will allow me to tether to my E71 when I am not near a wifi connection, and connectivity to a hotspot for surfing the web or reading email on the go.

It has a lot more stuff, but the items I have mentioned are the ones I will use constantly.

Including from time to time adding entries to my blog while on the road.

But what I like most is it’s size.  Less is better.

Setup was painless for a Windows machine.  I’m a Mac user and I expected lots of difficulties configuring the PC Home software, but I have to admit, it went smoothly.

So, now I have a small and easy-to-tote laptop that will help me out on the road.  And all for less than $400!  And the good news is that it will fit quite nicely in my LowePro Mini Trekker AW camera backpack!

Benefits of attending Bird of Prey Photography Workshops.

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I have recently begun a new venture, offering bird of prey photography workshops in the beautiful Shropshire countryside near my home in the UK. The first one took place in June and was a great success and another follows in August. It was a pleasure combining my teaching experience and photography knowledge to help the participants make the most of the experience, with skills levels varying from total beginner to experienced nature photographers.

The purpose of this article is to discuss the benefits of attending workshops where the subjects are captive birds.

Wildlife photography is a skill that takes many years to acquire. Not only does it require a huge amount of patience and time but also field crafts. You need to know your camera inside out so when fleeting moments present themselves you can respond intuitively. However,  actually being in the right place at the right time is the real challenge and to do that you need to understand your subject.

Well run workshops will focus on photography technique and also the bird themselves. Their natural habitat will be considered alongside their behaviour. A huge amount of useful information can be acquired which can allow participants to seek out wild subjects.

Learning how your camera and lenses can be used effectively to “nail” a good shot is fundamental. Being able to spend a day experimenting with different lenses, depths of fields and speeds has been for me in the past a huge confidence booster for the times I have been out in the field with “real” subjects.

Flight shots are a real challenge, especially in the poor light we often get in the UK. Knowing how to wind up your ISO to the limit that is acceptable for your camera is something that all nature photographers must know.

Panning to maintain a bird in frame is yet another skill that needs repetition.

Learning how the background changes the impact of an image and knowing which f/stop keeps the full bird in focus can be practiced as a hundred images can be taken of one bird as you swap camera settings and lenses.

The skills learnt can be applied endlessly in the future. Participants may go away and more confidently seek wild subjects, be more able to shoot subjects in their back yards or maybe be better prepared for the safari they always wanted to go on. Before I went skiing I went on the dry ski slopes so when I hit the real stuff I stood a chance of enjoying the experience more – this is how I view these workshop, a chance to hit the ground running when the opportunities arise without falling on your butt and cursing lack of preparation.

In addition it is always good to meet other photographers and see how different people approach a subject. In my workshop we share images after the event and that is a big learning experience and people can stay in touch so new friends are made.

For more information about my workshops email me at Barnabys@btinternet.com or visit my website here.

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