10 Books Every Photographer Should Read

Grab a cup of coffee, put on your slippers, and curl up in your favorite arm chair with one of these texts and learn something new about the art of photography! I have a rather large and ecclectic collection of photography texts, and this list represents my 10 favorites - texts I would recommend to anyone wanting to improve their photography.

What have I missed on the list? Leave me a comment and let me know what you'd add!

  1. "The Camera" & "The Negative" & "The Print" - Ansel Adams
    The author needs no introduction, and this is really three texts in one, but they are the definitive texts for all technical things film photography. So you're a digital photographer? Read anyway. Seriously, these books are #1.0, 1.1 and 1.2 on my list for a reason. The fundamentals of photography are the same no matter the medium, and I promise you'll learn something. Plus, its awesome seeing how Ansel thought about his work.

    Buy on Amazon.com

  2. "Black and White Photography Workshop" - John Blakemore
    This is without question one of the best all-in-one books on using the Zone System to create incredible black and white film images. Like with the texts from Ansel Adams, this is a great material for any digital photographer who wants to build their foundational knowledge.

    Buy on Amazon.com

  3. "Vivian Maier: Street Photographer" - John Maloof
    Vivian Maier was a nanny in the mid-1900s who travelled around Europe and the United States taking photographs with her Rolleiflex 120mm film camera. She was a very private woman and never shared her work - it was only discovered and she became famous after her death. There is a documentary (currently on Netflix) about her story, but the book is fantastic as a resource to study the work of another photographer. What I find so inspiring about Vivian is that she took photographs for personal joy and satisfaction - not to share them. That's opposite of most of us (myself included) who have blogs, Facebook, etc where we share our images. There is something particularly special about her work because of the private nature of her images.

    Buy on Amazon.com

  4. "From Oz to Kansas: Almost Every Black and White Conversion Technique Known to Man" - Vincent Versace
    Vincent is a Nikon Ambassador, and an exceptional black and white digital photography artist. His text differs from the above black and white books in that he spends more time on the details of the digital workflow, and how to create masterpieces in the digital era. A must-own for any black and white photographer. Seriously.

    Buy on Amazon.com

  5. “Chasing Light: An Exploration of the American Landscape” - Frank Lee Ruggles

    Frank is a friend of mine. He was my first mentor in photography and sold me some of my very first lenses (I’m embarrassed to say it was a Tokina). Needless to say, after years of studying his work, I have found him to be one of my greatest inspirations. This isn’t a how-to book, it’s a fine art photography book, and it will inspire you. A good photographer is always looking at the work of others — I have spent hours reverse engineering Frank’s images and learning from them, and suggest this book to any landscape photographer. Plus, Frank’s an all-around awesome guy, so it’s no wonder this book is so high on my list of must-reads!

    Buy on Amazon.com

  6. "Eyes Wide Open - 100 Years of Leica Photography"
    Some of the best books for photography aren't instructional - they are collections of work from which I can draw new inspiration or ideas. I love to deconstruct other photographer's images, and this book is full of inspiration. And if you ever need a paperweight or door stop, it'll cover those bases too!

    Buy on Amazon.com

  7. "Captured: Lessons from Behind the Lens of a Legendary Wildlife Photographer" - Moose Peterson
    So you have an interest in wildlife photography? Moose wrote the definitive guide on all things wildlife and bird photography - its a fun read complete with great images and some amusing stories of his time spent shooting in the field.

    Buy on Amazon.com

  8. "Surreal Photography: Creating the Impossible" - Daniela Bowker
    This is a fun and entertaining text - a great way to see how some photographers express creativity by creating surrealist images. While I rarely (if ever) will use the techniques taught in this book, it's another great resource to draw new inspiration and pull new techniques from. Certainly one of the more bizarre and fun books on my shelf.

    Buy on Amazon.com

  9. "Black and White Magazine" - Subscription
    I am not a fan of most photography magazines - they push you to buy crap and gadgets you don't need. And just like the exercise magazines that routinely re-run the same articles with the "best weight loss tips," most photography magazines don't offer new content, or content that will make you a better artist. Black and White is the exception. There is a great showcase of various artists (real artists) and inspiring pieces. I would recommend the paper subscription over e-version - the printed quality is exceptionally good.

    Subscribe Online

  10. “Sketching Light: An Illustrated Tour of the Possibilities of Flash” - Joe McNally

    This addition to my list might surprise you, considering how little I use flash in my photography. I only ever use a flash for macro images, so it should speak volumes that I recommend a book about something I don’t use. Why? Because photography is all about light, and Joe McNally is arguably the master of light. The things he can do with a flash boggle the mind, and I think it’s important to study light as a photographer. So might as well learn from the master. Besides, my flash is the sun, and if you can control a AA-battery powered flash, you’re that much closer to making the sun work for you,


    Buy on Amazon.com

Writing Revolutions: What is Involved in Authoring a Photography Book?

Writing "Revolutions" represents the greatest professional accomplishment of my career as a photographer, but it was also far more difficult than I ever expected. Today I am reflecting back on the experience to share a look behind-the-scenes at what it took to write "Revolutions".

Mindset

It was important to me that "Revolutions" was done correctly. First, this was the first book I was going to write, and if I did a poor job, it would be the last book anyone would ever buy. The success of any future second book hinges on the first. Secondly, there is something very motivating about knowing you are making something with your name on the front. People can come read my blog and form an opinion about me without ever knowing my name, but that's just not the case with a book. My reputation is right there, front and center. Pride is a good reason to do something the correct way.

Beyond those motivations, I was also compelled by the desire to produce art. Each image contained in the book is artwork, and I wanted the final compilation of these images to be its own piece of artwork. This book is like a miniature gallery exhibit of my work - one that fits in a bag or sits on a coffee table. Most photo books do not feature a narrative story to accompany the images, so "Revolutions" represented two art forms - photography and writing - that needed to be combined into one perfect medley.

Finally, every accomplished photographer I know has written a book, and I believe that is one of the many ways to distinguish between photographers who really care about their craft, and those who consider this a hobby. Sure, you don't have to write a book to be a serious artist (there are many photographers who make a full-time living without writing books!), but I have always seen the time and resource commitment needed to publish a book is a good measure of how serious the artist is about their tradecraft.

Wedding photographers have the benefit of paying customers, but I have never been paid by any of the trees I have photographed. Sadly, writing a book is one of the harder ways to make money as a photographer, because the financial investment required to generate the product is insanely high. In the era of free blogs, who is going to pay money to read?

The Writing

Writing "Revolutions" was the easy part. During the course of the month long road trip that makes up the narrative and photographic story, I took detailed notes and transcribed records of the days. At the end of the journey, I had nearly 40 typed pages of notes and 60 pages of handwritten notes. The book is basically an edited version of those notes; I removed the "blah blah blah" and adjusted the story to articulate only the best parts of the adventure.

Originally I had structured the book into two sections: one with the photographs and one with the narrative story. The reason for this was that I did not want to have to display the photographs in chronological order, which was the logical ordering of images if they were intermixed with a story that was told in chronological order. 

But when we got to editing, that plan was scrapped.

The Editing

Asking someone to edit a book like this is a tricky prospect; I needed someone who would be brutally honest and unafraid of hurting my feelings. Someone who can write better than I can. Thankfully, I know someone just like that! I enlisted the help of a trusted friend and worked on preparing a manuscript that I could present for editing.

A few weeks later, Clara, my editor, was given a hard copy printed transcript of the book that was made at Office Depot. I had generated PDFs of the book from my computer, but that would be hard for her to mark up. I felt like the editor should benefit from being able to turn real pages! With $20 and a copy machine, I created a manuscript that could be viewed in "book form" and allowed Clara to write, scribble, and mark up the thing mercilessly.

Good thinking on my part, because I got a red pen (and permanent marker!) covered book back! Clara suggested some major edits to the story, including to tell it as one story with photographs and text intermixed. At first I was down on the idea - I had spent months putting the book into this format - but upon reflection, I realized Clara was right. There was too much text at one end of the story and the photographs lacked context when not paired with words. 

So I rewrote the whole book.

The transcript I provided to my edtor, Clara. Not only did she mark up the whole document, she even attached additional pages of comments.

The transcript I provided to my edtor, Clara. Not only did she mark up the whole document, she even attached additional pages of comments.

The original version of the book was too text heavy - pages were full of content that really didn't add to the story and would ultimately put a reader to sleep. Clara helped me find that content and remove it, resulting in a cleaner and more enjoyable finished product.

The original version of the book was too text heavy - pages were full of content that really didn't add to the story and would ultimately put a reader to sleep. Clara helped me find that content and remove it, resulting in a cleaner and more enjoyable finished product.

The Re-Write

Following my review of Clara's edits, I re-wrote the entire book. This took months longer than I expected. I would read it one day, like it, then hate it the next. I had to walk away from the project for days at a time to regain the vision needed to see the project clearly. My motivation waivered; I had exhausted months of work and had almost nothing to show for it. On several occassions, I thought about throwing in the towel and declaring the book a source of personal memories.

But I persisted.

Slowly and steadily, I wrote, deleted, wrote, re-wrote, deleted, and wrote again. After a few months, I was ready to look at a transcript again. This time, I decided to order a printed copy of the book that was actually bound and printed in color. I figured this would help me visualize those errors and improvements that still needed to be made, but that I couldn't visualize on a computer screen.

The First Final

Printing a transcript in book format turned out to be a great strategy. I found lots of content, typos, and aesthetics that I wanted to adjust. For instance, the font needed to be smaller, section titles more prominent, and more blank space on every page. These aesthetic tweaks needed to be seen to be recognized.

After a few more weeks, I had re-built the whole book for (what felt like) the millionth time.  Before ordering another copy, I decided to set the whole thing aside for a month. I needed time to forget what the book looked like. To forget how each word read. To detach and come back fresh.

A month later, I returned and found that I was very happy with the text. There were a few typos that I had missed, but I didn't find any major changes. So I shelled out for another bound copy of the book.

A screenshot of the internal page layout of pages 2 and 3 in the final copy of the book. The photo will be creased down the center to form both pages, and if you look carefully, you can see where part of the image repeats just slightly in the center where the binding is placed.

A screenshot of the internal page layout of pages 2 and 3 in the final copy of the book. The photo will be creased down the center to form both pages, and if you look carefully, you can see where part of the image repeats just slightly in the center where the binding is placed.

The Final-Final

Alas, I had nailed it. Almost nine months after the first words were typed into a Microsoft Word document, the final book had taken shape. You don't have to work hard to see the evolution in the book between the various versions! With the book done, it was time to move onto the public relations part - promoting the sale of the book.

Two proofs of the book - opened to the same page. The top book (right) is the first version, while the one in the background (left) was the final transcript of the book. You can see the font size, spacing, title, and asthetics of the pages changed significantly between each version.

Two proofs of the book - opened to the same page. The top book (right) is the first version, while the one in the background (left) was the final transcript of the book. You can see the font size, spacing, title, and asthetics of the pages changed significantly between each version.

Two book covers - the cover had minimal changes to the front, just a slight shift in the location of the author name.

Two book covers - the cover had minimal changes to the front, just a slight shift in the location of the author name.

The back cover got a major overall; the top book is the final product, while the bottom one was the earlier draft.

The back cover got a major overall; the top book is the final product, while the bottom one was the earlier draft.

The Printing

With the book finished, it was time to look at printing it. This was the part I was dreading - asking people for money. But the reality was that there is no way to make a book even quasi-affordable without raising enough money to print several hundred copies. Each individual copy, if purchased al le carte, ran upward of $120/book! My target price was $50/book, meaning I needed to raise enough money to get several hundred copies printed at once, in a process called offset printing. 

In the End

This was, without question, much harder than I ever anticipated. Getting a book that qualified as artwork, a book I would put my name on, and a book I could share with the world was a pain in the butt. I have learned an incredible amount about writing a book and the process, which is good - because I'm going to need all the help I can get in generating motivation to ever write another book! I hope you have found this short write up about the process of writing a book helpful and enlightening.... and I hope it gives you a new appreciation of the arts.

Purchase a copy of Revolutions as a book or e-book today!

Posing with the final copy of my book, Revolutions.

Posing with the final copy of my book, Revolutions.

What the F*ck Photography!?!

"What the f*ck?" - That's what I want you to say, and if you say it, I'll take it as a compliment!

Sometimes I take photographs that are really bizarre - images that, by themselves, can't be shown off, because they don't make sense. But put a collection of outrageous photographs together and it starts work. So folks, that's what I've done. 

What the f*ck photography is what I am dubbing my collection of images that, particularly without context, are curious and wild. I have not artificially created these images in Photoshop - what you see is what I saw. I have not rotated the images either - this is the direction I caught them with my camera. The overwhelming majority of the images in this series were photographed with the Leica M Monochrom (Type 246); I guess black and white images are better for creating "what the f*ck" moments!

Leave me a comment and let me know which of these left you wondering WTF.

Photographing the Tour de France with the Leica Monochrom

If I told you I was going to photograph the iconic finish of the famous cycling race, the Tour de France, in Paris, you would naturally start to envision the types of photographs I might take. Like a high speed photograph of the moment when the winner crossed the finish with his hands thrust up in victory. The sort of photograph that could be put on the cover of an illustrated sports magazine and sold on newsstands around the world. A photograph that a few die-hard fans, sponsors, and probably the athlete themselves, would ever want to own or hang on a wall.

That's what you'd think if I told you I went to photograph the Tour de France.

Now if I also told you that I photographed the Tour de France with the Leica M Monochrom - a camera that only takes black and white photographs, and is not remotely close to the type of camera used to take the magazine cover images I described a moment ago - you'd think I was crazy (stupid).

Not only am I crazy (stupid), but I actually chose this camera to photograph the race.... On purpose. Right. While every other serious photographer is wielding a serious dSLR with a 70-200mm zoom and maybe a monopod, I'm shooting a small, manual focus camera that maybe shoots 2 frames per second..... In black and white.

What the hell was I thinking? For starters, without press credentials, there was no way I was going to get into a location that would offer the type of images illustrated sports magazines would want. Second, even if I took those glaring sharp images with creat color and detail, who is ever going to look at them? And third, I like to make art, and taking "serious" photographs of the race wasn't the sort of artistic look I wanted. So I set out with the goal of making artistic and creative images of the race. I wanted to make photographs that were completely unlike anything else that anyone else would shoot that day......

Of course I photographed one of the American women riding - Alison Tetrick

Before selecting the camera I would shoot for the race, I conceptualized the images I might want to make. I started by looking at past photographs of the Tour finish in Paris; most of which were the high-speed action shots that I wasn't looking to emulate. I then started to research locations and the race setup. The peloton of the Tour de France will do 10 laps along the Champ de Elysees as part of the ceremonial finish, so I knew I wanted a chance to photograph the riders as they ran that circuit. Why?

If you have never watched a professional bike race, then watch the following video clip, which was filmed on my iPhone, to understand how fast this race whizzes past.

Now imagine trying to get dozens of artistic and creative shots, with different focal lengths and effects, in that short window of time. Not happening. My only chance to build a mass of different photographs was to get 10 laps of them. I also read that lining up on Rue de Rivoili was a great spot for spectating, as it wasn't hard to get a spot along the barricades. The only variable was security - with the recent string of terrorist attacks in Paris, I knew the French Gendarmerie would be all over the place. Despite my best efforts, I couldn't find a lot of information about what areas of the route would be open to spectators..... I suspect it wasn't published widely to prevent any ill-intentioned persons from using the same information for less noble causes. As anticipated, the Gendarmerie had blocked off Rue do Rivoili on the park side - an area that used to be a great spot to spectate from because it was in the shade!

Anyway, back to the decision process..... If I had 10 laps to photograph the riders, then a slower camera could suffice to capture the action. And I knew the images would ultimately be presented in black and white to neutralize the bright colors of the race. Teams and sponsors cover the riders in an array of vibrant colors and bold designs to attract the attention of viewers, and I didn't want these designs to overpower the underlying theme of my images..... Motion.

When I really sat down to think about it, the motion of the race is what I wanted to capture. The riders whip around at speeds in excess of 30MPH and create a whooshing sensation as you stand along the spectating route. The tempo and speed are what make this race so impressive; hundreds of men going full speed inches apart from each other and with the grace and poise to make it look easy. That's what I wanted to capture.

I decided that it came down to either the Leica Q or the Leica Monochrom for this task. The Q images could convert to black and white, and its auto focus and faster shooting speed might be handy. But I also liked the idea of shooting some images at 50mm, and ultimately opted for the camera with interchangeable lenses. And, I would be doing some street and night photographs during the remainder of my weekend in Paris.

I packed two lenses to photograph the Tour: the Leica 35mm Summarit f/2.4 and the Leica 50mm Summicron f/2.0 (1983 Made in Canada edition!). The Leica EVF-2, a spare battery and some memory cards rounded out the kit. Lightweight, easy, and no frills. We also packed some cold drinks and snacks, as the plan was to watch the women's race and Tour de France caravan (a parade of sponsors) before the men entered the circuit. It was going to be a long, hot day, but we were ready (except the sun screen, doh).

Access to the route was very tightly controlled. Security inspected all bags closely - to the point they opened my wallet and flipped through it. Cool, and thank you to all the French security forces who made the race safe and enjoyable.  I got to an open spot in the barricade right as the women started to come through for their first laps as part of their race, called "La Course".

The women's race was a great chance to get dialed in for camera settings and configuration, and gave me a chance to work on my timing for panning shots. The women riders mostly preferred to be in the center of the road, or the opposite side; later I'd find myself wishing the men would do the same as they got too close at points!

As the ladies entered their last lap of La Course, it was clear something was afoul. Each team has a set of cars carrying the team director, mechanics, and spare bikes that follows the riders. If a rider has an issue, they can drop back in the peloton to their team car and get service (there is also a neutral service car that will help everyone.... But you might not like the equipment they give you). As the women entered lap 10, we could see the team cars at the back of the race suddenly stopped. A friend of mine watching the race on broadcast TV texted me the verdict- a big crash just happened with a bunch of riders caught up. On that last lap there were several different crashes, leaving the peloton in battered shape as they passed for the last time. Those riders who had been caught in an accident, many of whom had bandages and torn jerseys to show for it, finished their last lap at a more relaxed and casual pace as their chance to win in front of the Arc de Triumph passed. The crowd was wonderful, cheering extra hard for these battered women who fought to finish; as a photographer I was appreciative that the slower pace gave me a chance to get some different images.

At the conclusion of the women's race, we had several hours before the men would arrive. To fill the time, the Tour organizers arrange for the Caravan to pass. The Caravan is basically a sponsor parade. Each of the major race sponsors has floats with people dancing and singing. See the Tour elsewhere in France and the Caravan will throw out treats and freebies to spectators. But by the time they reach Paris, there are no more freebies to be had. Thankfully the Vittal float, which is for the official bottled water provider of the Tour, had "freebie" water sprayers to help cool the crowd. I could have asked them to pass a few more times.

Now all of this probably sounds like there was a lot of action to photograph, but that was hardly the case. There were hours of nothingness, followed by a flash 10 seconds of racing, followed by 10 minutes of waiting before the race came whipping past again for another 10 seconds. The street became rather crowded as the race approached, and since we had secured a space along the barricade, there was no choice but to stay and bake in the sun. At points we'd sit on the ground cramped into awkward positions and on the hot asphalt just to give our feet a short reprieve. I don't say any of this in an attempt to elicit sympathy - I had the time of my life - but getting these photos wasn't just a show-up-and-aim-affair, it required dedication and a lot of patience for 10 seconds of shooting opportunity.

Speaking of, let's get back to the photography. As I mentioned earlier, I brought two lenses for this shoot, but started with the 35mm Summarit for the women's race. In my pre-visualization of the images I wanted to make, I determined that I would be using slow shutter speeds to create the blur that viewers would associate with the motion of the race. Unfortunately, it was so sunny that with the base ISO of 320 on the Leica Monochrom, I had to shoot at apertures between f/11-16 to create shutter speeds in the 1/90th of a second range. While I might have preferred a shallower depth of field before I started shooting, not knowing exactly where the cyclists would line up on the roadway made a wider depth of field ultimately more favorable. At f/11-16, I could guarantee that the entire roadway was in focus, so I just had to be attentive to the timing and panning of my camera. Easier said than done!

As the riders would pass on their laps, I had a few minutes to review the images from the last lap to evaluate and make changes before they came around again. By the end of the women's race I had some images that looked like definite "keepers" on the LCD screen; more importantly, I felt dialed in for when the men would come through in a few hours.

Unfortunately, the sun and clouds felt like changing pretty significantly in that time. The women raced around 1:30pm, when the sun was directly overhead and very bright, but the men came through in the 6:30pm hour, so the light had faded and wasn't as harsh. As a result, all the settings I had dialed in earlier were completely moot! I ended up shooting at an ISO around 1600 to give me shutter speeds in that 1/90th range. But as I reviewed the images after that first lap, I had a lot more blur than when I'd used that same shutter speed with the women. Apparently the men are going even faster than the women and a shutter speed of 1/125-250th was more appropriate for getting the same level of blur. I'm sure some math geek can translate shutter speed (at the same aperture) to the speed of the bikers.... It probably involves terms like "square root" and "differential equation." Feel free to comment if you feel like doing some math.

After a few laps at 35mm, I switched to the Summicron 50mm with the idea of getting more close-up shots of the riders. Bad plan. Well not really, abstract is abstract, but there is too much shutter lag with the Monochrom to really try and frame and shoot like that. Using the 50mm turned into 'spray and pray' shooting, which I really hate, so I returned to the 35mm focal length for the remaining laps.

I found that shooting the high speed action of the Tour de France caused me to ditch some of my normal photographic techniques. Most notably is that I did a lot of chimping (checking my work on the LCD screen) - I would NOT recommend trying to shoot an event like this with a camera like the Leica M-D that doesn't have an LCD screen, unless you have balls of steel. I also spent less time framing each shot.... Okay, I spent no time framing. I would make decisions before each lap about my shooting objective for the next lap and would stick to it. Am I shooting them head on as they approach? Panning as they pass? Shooting their shadows and tires? Once I decided on the objective for that lap, I would do some test framing, but mostly hoped to get lucky!

Considering I brought a cricket bat to a baseball game with the Leica Monochrom, it performed surprisingly well; however, I attribute the success I had not to the camera, but to the pre-visualization and knowing what I wanted before I clicked the shutter. The Monochrom isn't the tool for getting that home run magazine cover finish line image, so don't try to use it as such. I wanted to bunt for a base hit, and I was able to use the camera to achieve that result. For all intensive purposes, I had to fight the Leica Monochrom to get these photographs. It's a camera that forces you to slow down. It's a camera designed for thoughtful and deliberate photography, not haphazard and reckless shooting. But it is possible to shoot the Monochrom with such abandon, and the result is stunning.

Would I bring the Leica Q next time? I'm not sure. I would have had a completely different shooting experience, and probably would have tried to get different images. For instance, I would have probably tried to get more blurring of the uniforms and jerseys to create images with a colorful smear. I wouldn't have gotten these photographs.

Overall, I am thrilled with these results - they are the abstract fine art photographs that I set out wanting to create. There isn't too much emphasis on the individuals of the race, rather these photographs capture the spirit of the race. The Tour de France has been running for over 100 years - it's a race that has (and will continue) to inspire millions around the world. Cycling is one of the most popular personal activities, and the photographs I made could easily hang on the wall of a cycling enthusiast who wants to capture the underlying spirit of their sport....... Motion.

Quick Shot: Never Too Late To Turn Around

I hate nothing more than a blown opportunity at a photograph. To think about the photos that "should have been" makes me sad and frustrates every part of my creative spirit. So, as a general rule, I try to avoid "should have been" photos.  

I flirted dangerously with a "should have" photo while in the Lake District. I had done the research to find a great location to setup for sunset and I went out an hour before sunset to setup and prepare for whatever Mother Nature had in store for me. The sun was slated to set around 9pm- at 8:30 it was looking pretty bad. The sky was full of a thick layer of grey clouds - the sun was lost behind it and there was no color to be seen. Cold and downtrodden, I called it around 8:40 - there was no way this dull sky was going to amount to anything. 

As I drove back to the campsite, my friend and I got busy chatting about the otherwise good day. About 10 minutes into the drive, I looked in the rear view mirror and all I saw was neon pink...... The sky had turned a shade of pink I had never seen before - I was incredible - and here I am driving AWAY from it! At this point the sun is about to set, but I peeled a quick U-Turn and hauled ass back to the spot we'd been setup at earlier. Thankfully I arrived in time to get some great shots of the neon pink reflecting off the water - there is very little editing in the images below... It was that good! 

There's a lesson here..... Don't give up on your photograph. And if you do, it's okay to turn the car around!  

Shot with the Leica SL and Leica f/0.95 Noctilux Lens.

Yes, it really did look like that. Very minimal edits done to this image.....

Yes, it really did look like that. Very minimal edits done to this image.....

The last drops of pink in the sky. I love how it turned the water pink.

The last drops of pink in the sky. I love how it turned the water pink.

Quick Shot(s): Dark & Moody or Bright & Lively?

There's been a lot of ramblings about camera equipment here lately, so today we'll get back to the photography with this duo of photos.....

These are two very different images of the same set of trees that I came upon during a long hike this weekend. I couldn't decide which composition I preferred as I framed the shot, so took both and figured I'd work it out later when I could review them on my computer.... but I figure I'll share both because it might help you.

The two photographs were made with the same camera (Leica SL) and same lens. I am standing in the same place for both - the difference is that I crouched down a few feet on one to include more eye-level perspective on the shrubs and underexposed one image by -1/2 stop. But look at what a different feel these images have! One is darker and more moody, while the other is bright and lively.

The point is, composition and photographic technique will have more to do with storytelling than the equipment you carry. It doesn't matter what brand that camera is if you don't know how to use it to get the results you want.

Which of these two photos do you prefer? Dark and moody or bright and lively? Comment and let me know!

Day 6-7: Serengeti National Park

Rather than repeatedly offering play-by-play accounts of the animals we saw on safari in the Serengeti, I’m going to mix things up by instead offering a recap of the highlights from Days 6-7, which were spent in the Serengeti National Park. These days brought us virtually all of the animals seen in the Serengeti-  the exception being a rhino. We had almost forty lions, leopards, cheetah, gazelle, giraffe, elephant, hyena, warthog, crocodile, hippo, etc etc etc!

Some of my favorite moments in the Serengeti:

  • One of the roads we went down took us into the middle of a group of hundreds of Zebra. It was probably the biggest concentration of a single animal we observed outside the wildebeest in the north. As far as you could see were zebra, even spanning across a small river. The funny part was listening to the zebra; they make a "he haw" sound like a donkey, but when hundreds of them do it simultaneously, its a sound unlike any heard before. It became dubbed the zebra song and we enjoyed hearing it from smaller groups elsewhere.
     
  • The gazelle are particularly amusing when you watch them move. While their normal process is to just walk like deer, they have this very funny jump / bounce that they will do whenever they are moving faster (like when our truck approaches). It looks like someone attached springs to the bottom of their feet!
     
  • Lions are very lazy. Very lazy. They make my house cat look productive! In the Serengeti we saw several lions that decided to nap in the shade not under a tree, but under the shade of a safari truck. As a result, we had several lions just feet away...... talk about surreal!
     
  • Speaking of lions, they normally hunt in groups and we had a chance to see a failed lion hunt. There were three lions involved; two sat on the horizon near trees while the third was closer to us and sat in the middle of the field. A group of gazelle unknowingly walked between the group, making them in prime location for a hunt, but the lions were not successful in stalking the gazelle. One of the gazelle realized what was happening and they sprinted away before the lions could make a kill.
     
  • We saw other cats, including a cheetah, in the Serengeti. The funny thing about the cheetah was watching it be harassed by a much smaller warthog when the cheetah started to mark its territory. Apparently Puma felt differently about who owned the territory and, undeterred by the size difference, the warthog chased the cheetah out of the area. It was unexpected interactions like this that made the Serengeti so interesting!

The end of day 7 took us to the northern Serengeti where we began our quest for wildebeest migration.... stay tuned!

Twenty Four Hours with the Leica M-P 240

A little over 24hrs ago, I walked into Red Dot Camera in downtown London. I was full of giddy anticipation - the kind you get when you know something exciting is about to happen, a feeling I associate with opening Christmas presents as a kid. The time had come; I was about to become the owner of a Leica digital camera.

My introduction to Leica as a brand came early in my photographic journey - I heard it referenced as being top-of-the-line equipment so I Googled it. After seeing the price tag on the cheapest camera, I closed the browser in dismay…. I’d never own one of those! A few years later I had a chance to demo a Leica S2, which is the $25,000 dSLR system made by Leica Camera. It was a beautiful machine and the images it made left my Nikon D7000 feeling inadequate. 

Not longer after I upgraded to what I thought was going to be the end-all-be-all of my photographic equipment - a 36megapixel Nikon D800. I loved this camera. Together we took over 25,000 photos, won awards, got printed in magazines, sold plenty of prints, and even had a guest appearance on CNN. 

Within the past year, I had the lofty ambition to refocused my photographic efforts to be a more patient and thoughtful photographer. As part of that effort, I wanted to explore the roots of photography by shooting more film. Early this summer I decided I could finally afford a Leica, but only as a 35mm film camera.

To say that Leica MP 35mm film camera ruined me would be an understatement. The Leica rangefinder system is the perfect tool with which I can create a masterpiece. Being fully manual, it requires thought and patience to work, along with a very strong understanding of photographic principals. I invested in a 35mm and 75mm lens and was blown away by the quality of them relative to their size. My Nikon glass was huge and heavy, this could be tossed in a purse!

I began seriously considering my future equipment setup - the lenses I was investing in and loved for film don’t work on my Nikon and vice versa. When I travel I may want to shoot digital and film, would I have to bring both setups? After days (ok, weeks) of deliberation, the truth was clear - I was going to become one of those people who sold off their dSLR setups and moved to Leica.

Fast forward to Saturday - I’ve arrived at Red Dot Camera in London to see a barely used Leica M-P 240. The M240 is the top of the line model of digital rangefinder made by Leica and the “P” version is upgraded slightly from there (cosmetically and with a 2GB buffer). The camera I was eyeing vas virtually new - the battery still in the original plastic wrap from the manufacturer. Apparently someone with more money than common sense decided after buying this that they wanted the black instead of chrome one and I was eager to take advantage of them paying the initial depreciation. 

Unfortunately the battery was nearly dead, but the folks at Red Dot are fantastic and offered to charge it while we walked around an outdoor street party for a little bit. An hour later, I came back and picked up the camera for a stroll through London. 

As of this writing, the Leica M-P 240 and I have been together for 29ish hours and 15.87 miles (or 36,855 steps, according to my Fitbit). It’s certainly premature for me to offer a comprehensive review, so this represents my impressions after a day and a half of shooting.

First, the Leica M-P 240 is a wonderful camera. Unlike the film version that I own, the camera is not fully manual, but focusing and setting the aperture are still manual operations. Initial edits of the files shows tremendous depth and color - although I haven’t done a side-by-side comparison, there appears to be more dynamic range than found in my Nikons. 

Pros:

  • Silence. The sound this camera makes when the shutter actuates is a whisper; the Nikon suddenly sounds like a machine gun.
  • Quality. Even with the best Nikon glass, there is distortion and vignetting. I haven’t seen any artifacts on the images produced by the Leica. 
  • Weight. It is such a joy to carry lightweight equipment! I never appreciated how heavy and burdensome a dSLR is until walking around with this camera all day.
  • Feel in my hands. I really liked the feel of a D800 in my hands, so I was concerned that the lack of hand grip was going to make the Leica awkward to hold for a long day of walking around; however, I found the little thumb notch/rest near the scroll wheel to be a surprisingly comfortable grip and the camera never felt out of place. I think that’s largely a factor of weight as the D800 had to offer more ergonomics to accommodate for the heft!

Cons:

  • The menu system is a little cryptic to me, which may be a result of being so accustomed to a Nikon format. Changing settings like file type from .jpg to .DNG was surprisingly tricky..... on a Nikon all adjustments are made from the "Menu" button, but the Leica uses the "Set" and "Menu" buttons to adjust settings. This wasn't obvious to me without reading the manual, and I think if I have to read a manual, it could have been done better. I do like that I can set a profile to save particular settings though!
  • I am used to the Nikon providing a lot more information in the viewfinder display, so it’s been a little jarring to not see the aperture displayed. With time, I’ll become more used to this.

General Observations:

  • The increased buffer size for the Leica M-P 240 (from 1GB on the Leica M to 2GB on the Leica MP) makes a difference! I was shooting some images from the train home from London and would rattle off a burst without ever worrying about the buffer. 
  • I’m surprised that Leica will let you change the film mode to something like black and white when the camera is saving .DNG RAW files. Why isn’t that menu greyed out? The files don’t save black and white, but they give the illusion that they do.
  • The shutter is smoother on the Leica M-P 240 digital camera than it is on the M-P 35mm camera. I attest this to being a digital camera vs a fully manual camera, but the difference in shutter feel is rather significant. I don’t dislike either.
  • The external “leatherette” cover on the 35mm and digital Leica M-P is very different. The Leica M-P (35mm) is more finely textured, like sand paper, while the Leica M-P 240 is like real leather.
  • The Leica M-P 240 is taller and wider than the M-P 35mm brother. It is also significantly heavier, but still far lighter than my Nikon’s.
  • Thank you to Leica for including adapters for the charger for the most common plug types!

Clearly the Pro’s outweigh the Con’s on this list, especially because the negatives are mostly things I need to learn or become accustomed to doing. It took me months to fully master using my Nikon D800 without thinking as I worked the menus and expect it will take some time for me to really get comfortable enough that I could use the camera by touch only. 

Overall, I am extremely happy with my purchase. Saying goodbye to the Nikon D800 was heart wrenching, but I am not regretting it for an instant! Having the quality, optics, size and flexibility of Leica is well worth the adjustment. 

Stay tuned for more reviews of the Leica M-P 240 once I’ve really had a chance to put ‘er though the paces!

Big Ben and Parliament as seen from across the river. Black and White conversion done in Nik Silver Effects 2 (shot in RAW).

A Chinese News Agency Shop - I liked the bright red color and was curious to see how it rendered. I think the result is very pleasing. Notice how there's no vignette on the photo - that's the Leica optics at work!

One of the busy (er, not busy?) Soho streets

Taken from the train as we passed a train station. The colors are a little more muted and yellow looking, but I was shooting through dirty train glass, which I suspect is partially to blame.

Technically this is the first image I took with the camera. Most people take a picture of whatever crap is on their desk - I'm happy with this result!

The camera performed beautifully in low light situations. This was hand held at 1/30th of a second.

My favorite street in Cambridge. Edited in Nik Silver Effects 2.

A row of punts lined up on the River Cam

Quick Shot: Leeds Tower

I once purchased a book on abstract photography, and although I've never come close to creating anything like the book demonstrated, I do look for naturally occurring opportunities to create something more abstract.

Such was the case with this photograph, which was taken from inside a shopping mall in Leeds, England. The mall was semi-open air and had a very neat glass roof that created an interesting dome over the mall. I could have taken a hundred photographs with the interesting shape of the ceiling, but I focused on trying to make one great image. I couldn't tell you what stores are in the mall because I walked all three levels looking up the entire time trying to find the perfect shot. On one of the top floors, I found myself looking at this - a tower outside cutting vertically through the scene, while the natural curve of the roof made the windows and frame wrap horizontally. It was the sort of interesting geometric contrast I was looking to get!

To help balance the frame, I exposed for the clouds. This made them visible and "moody" while darkening the window frames and tower. The resulting image I think is very dramatic and geometrically intriguing. 

Shot on my Leica 35mm MP with a 75mm lens and Kodak Tri-X film.

The Power of the Darkroom

Since I've started working with enlarging my film negatives in a darkroom, I keep getting the same series of questions.......

  1. Darkrooms still are a thing?
  2. Isn't it expensive?
  3. Why not just scan and print your negative?

All fair questions. Let's break down the power of the darkroom.....

1. Yes, darkrooms are still a thing, but increasingly rare. Where I live outside Cambridge, the closest public use darkroom is a little more than an hour drive away, but it's worth the drive. While I could (and will eventually) build a darkroom in my house, that will have to wait until I am not living abroad, so a public darkroom is the way to go. There are several websites dedicated to helping you find a darkroom, such as http://www.localdarkroom.com

2. Name something in photography that is not expensive and you win a prize. For me, darkroom printing is no more expensive than my inkjet work. My consumables are the light sensitive papers and chemicals. In my case, I don't pay for chemicals because I have instead opted for a membership at a darkroom (The Photo Parlour), so my chemical cost is really my membership cost. Factoring in the cost of paper and assuming I make around 50 prints a year, my cost per print is around $3 - and that's good and large paper (8x10 or bigger). In digital printing, my costs are ink and again paper. The paper I was using, which is again a high quality paper, cost $2.75/sheet and my ink costs were about $2 per print. In fact, all factors considered, I once calculated that my "startup" cost for inkjet printing was almost $1000! 

Let's assume I make 50 prints at 11x14 per year. My cost per print in the darkroom, including my membership fees, is about $4/print (also assuming some margin for mistakes and re-prints/ test strips, etc). The cost for the same 50 prints done at home on my inkjet printer is $5/print (I probably have less "waste" since a printer is a very.... mechanical..... object!). 

Bottom line - it's always cheaper to mail order print, but that removes the "art" from a lot of the work. I enjoy watching my prints appear before my eyes, so for me, the costs of personally printing are worthwhile. And, in my current situation, the darkroom doesn't cost more than inkjet!

3. I really didn't appreciate the true magic of the darkroom until I began using it. This sounds stupid to say, but I always thought about my prints as having one single proper exposure. I thought there was one version that was the "proper" version (as conceived by the artist, not technically proper) and you print that version. I was blown away when I watched prints that were dramatically different come from the same negative...... slightly longer exposures in the enlarger made some prints darker and moody, while the same negative with less exposure time was light and bright. I was blown away. I can make two different prints with two different moods from the same negative? I know, it sounds stupid, but I never really considered this.

Suddenly a new world was unlocked. I now visualize an image thinking "is this a dark and moody photo, or a light and cheery photo?" ---> I am thinking about the development and enlargement before I take the picture. With digital photography I would think about the end product, sure, but I didn't think in the same tonalities and with the same possibilities that film has stretched me to consider.

The best example of how to get the different tonalities is best seen in a test strip. Check these photos below - the different slices are the same photo, but different lengths of time in the enlarger. Each has a different look and feel and none of them is "more correct" than the other.

Let's revisit a recent negative - one of a boat on the beach of Dungeness. I scanned and posted it several days ago, but let's review the original negative....... looking at it below, it's fairly dark and the image we see is a digital machine's (scanner) literal interpretation of the negative. There isn't much creative interpretation - the scanner is just trying to represent the negative in a series of shades of grey - really simplifying my image into a series of 1's and 0's. How sad.

Obviously, this is a lovely photograph! But it's not the print I imagined when I clicked the shutter. The print in my head was much lighter. MUCH lighter. It was almost white sky and the boat was very light, as though it was drawn in pencil. It was a happy photograph, while this is a little dark and moody. Off to the darkroom!

I did a test print and decided that my first print would be at an exposure of 10 seconds with no dodging or burning - just a straight print. Here's what that looks like:

This is certainly lighter than the scanned "literal interpretation" from the negative, but the sky is still too dark for my liking. I ran another print at  5 seconds, but that was too washed out - needed more contrast. To boost contrast in a black and white print, we add magenta filters, so I went crazy and added 50 magenta to the filtration (for scale, 15 is more "normal"). I ran another test strip and determined I liked the look of the print at 9 seconds. I realize this almost the same exposure as the previous print, but the magenta filtration requires more time to compensate, hence the minor change in image time. Here's the print at 9 seconds with 50 magenta in the filter (I also burned the bottom right part of the rail a little more.

Perfect! This is actually my final print - there are several others that I used to tweak the dodging and burning and show slight differences in the foreground, but this was my final version. 

So why bother with the darkroom - that's why! Look at what an incredibly diverse set of prints I got from a negative that, to the scanner, looked very dark. The darkroom has unlocked my creative potential and has me visualizing my artwork in a whole new way.

Quick Shot: Greece Beach

I was trying to pick from a stack of photos for today's quick shot and figured this one would be perfect because it will be in great contrast to some of my next photography subjects..... a week from today I'm setting off for an expedition in the arctic circle to capture the aurora! With that said, what could be in greater contrast to snow and sub zero temperatures than a beach scene?!

I took this photograph in Mykonos, Greece. Little boats like this line the marina and beach, and their bright colors make them a natural subject to photograph. I decided to use an aperture that would give the boat mostly in focus, but lightly blur the background so that it wouldn't distract from the main subject, which was this beautiful and rustic vessel. With the bright colors and golden sand, it was a photograph that took itself - I just had to push click!

Review: Mindshift Gear Rotation 180 Panorama Backpack

I’ll admit it - I’m spoiled. I started my experience using MIndshift Gear bags with the original Mindshift Gear Rotation 180 Professional, and I’ve been spoiled by that experience. I love that bag, but wanted a smaller bag for one day trips or short adventures where I only needed only needed one or two lenses. The Rotation 180 is a wonderful bag, but its very bulky for a short jaunt through a city where you may only need a limited amount of gear. Enter the Mindshift Gear Rotation 180 Panorama.

I purchased this bag after numerous trips around the England, where I felt that the 180 Pro was too big for my needs. The Panorama, being smaller, is better suited for carrying a single dSLR body and one or two lenses with a tripod, while still having space for a light jacket or rain gear. The first time I really got to put this bag through its paces was when I took a three week trip through central Europe, with stops in Italy, Greece, Turkey, France and Spain. In these trips I needed something lightweight and flexible for the variety of terrain and environments I could encounter. I opted to leave the 180 Pro at home and carried the 180 Panorama the entire trip, and this review details my experiences with that bag.

PS - I am a firm believer that I need to put a lot of use into a product before I review it. At this point, the Rotation 180 Pano has covered over 3,000 miles of travel......

The Rotation 180 Panorama in the Barcelona, Spain airport after we finished three weeks and over 3,000 miles of traveling together. As you can see, the bag is in basically pristine condition, despite more than a few heavy rain storms and having been tossed on the ground a few billion times.

The Rotation 180 Panorama in the Barcelona, Spain airport after we finished three weeks and over 3,000 miles of traveling together. As you can see, the bag is in basically pristine condition, despite more than a few heavy rain storms and having been tossed on the ground a few billion times.

First, I love the bag. It is wonderful at many things, and is perfect for a lightweight hike with a limited amount of equipment. Where the bag struggles, however, is when you compare it to the features of it’s big brother, the Rotation 180 Pro. I realize it’s unfair to compare a $500 bag to a $200 bag, but some of the things I’ve come to love about the 180 pro are missing from the 180 Panorama, and those features become very noticeable. With that all said, let’s break down the bag in detail.

The rotation feature of this bag and the big brother 180 Professional make Mindshift Gear bags my absolute favorite for travel and outdoor shooting. We spent several days in Venice (I am seen here shooting sunrise in San Marco Square) and the city flooded on several occasions while we where there. Although this created a problem for my footwear, my camera gear never was at risk as I could keep it elevated off the ground while rummaging through the bag.

The rotation feature of this bag and the big brother 180 Professional make Mindshift Gear bags my absolute favorite for travel and outdoor shooting. We spent several days in Venice (I am seen here shooting sunrise in San Marco Square) and the city flooded on several occasions while we where there. Although this created a problem for my footwear, my camera gear never was at risk as I could keep it elevated off the ground while rummaging through the bag.

Construction
As we’ve come to expect with everything produced by Mindshift Gear or their parent company, Think Tank Photo, the construction on the 180 Panorama is top notch. Only the highest quality materials are used, and after three weeks of total torture (including more than one heavy rain storm and several encounters with mud), the bag looks virtually brand new. In areas where you’d expect to experience a lot of wear on the bag, such as the bottom, Mindshift Gear has put heavy duty tear resistant fabrics. It is a wonderfully constructed bag and I could probably pass it off as brand new despite heavy use.

Rotation Feature
The rotation feature of this bag is the big selling point - you can walk around with the camera stowed but quickly access it without ever taking the bag off. I fell in love with this feature when I started using the Rotation 180 Pro, and love it still on the 180 Pano. The belt slides smoothly one handed and the rotation pack is just big enough to hold my D800 with Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens; however, the camera would not fit with the external battery pack in place. That’s okay - I purchased this bag for light travels, when I only wanted one or two lenses with me, and it does that well. My normal “deployment” was to carry my camera on my shoulder while stowing my 2nd lens (the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens) inside the rotation pack and do lens swaps that way. It worked quite well and left space in the main compartment for raincoats or light jackets. 

Like the other Rotation 180 Pro bag, the 180 Panorama has a “safety leash” designed to keep the rotation pack from ever falling out of the bag. I like having the safety leash, but I think it’s a little too long on this particular bag; I often got entangled in the leash when securing the waist strap. It’s a fairly easy fix to shorten it, but having never encountered this problem with the other bag, it was frustrating to experience this problem (and it happened almost daily). 

There is one other feature I wish for inside the rotation pack, and it’s a feature I’m shocked that Mindshift Gear overlooked…. a little clipping point for things like the memory card wallet. The only clipping point for something like that is in the top pocket of the bag, but I like to carry spare memory cards with the camera.

I wanted to get the Rotation 180 Panorama for short day trips like this one through Cambridge, England. The Rotation 180 Professional was just too much bag when I only needed to carry one or two lenses, but the 180 Panorama really excels at filling this niche.

I wanted to get the Rotation 180 Panorama for short day trips like this one through Cambridge, England. The Rotation 180 Professional was just too much bag when I only needed to carry one or two lenses, but the 180 Panorama really excels at filling this niche.

Backpack
The rest of the backpack is well designed; it has one large main compartment big enough to easily hold two raincoats, etc. The normal deployment was to carry my wallet, cell phone, and jackets inside there, which pretty much filled the entire compartment. There is a small top pocket, which is actually fairly sizable and was great for holding business cards, spare memory cards, cleaning cloths, and other little accessories. There is one side zipper pocket deep enough to stash a water bottle,  but it was actually designed for a CamelBak type bladder (I didn’t carry a hydration bladder for fear of puncture during such a long trip). There is also an external pocket that I think was actually designed to hold a water bottle, but it’s just way too small and bottles always fell out. I ended up using it to stash spare tissues and maps….

Comfort
When traveling, comfort is king. While I won’t go so far as to say this bag is as comfortable during a long day as it’s big brother, the 180 Panorama certainly holds it’s own during a day of exploring. Of course, packing light and smart makes a big difference in comfort, and the whole point of purchasing this bag was for the small size and lightweight design. I would say fit is average for a busty woman - the Rotation 180 Pro is extremely comfortable on my small, yet curvy, frame, and the 180 Panorama, while not winning any awards for comfort, met my expectations during long 14 mile days.

I'm no neat freak and it certainly doesn't bother me to toss a bag haphazardly on the ground, but in Mykonos, Greece, I needed the weight of the bag to help hold my tripod firmly in place while taking some long exposures. My hair should be a good indicator of the wind strength, but the Rotation 180 Pano sprang into service as a weight nicely.

I'm no neat freak and it certainly doesn't bother me to toss a bag haphazardly on the ground, but in Mykonos, Greece, I needed the weight of the bag to help hold my tripod firmly in place while taking some long exposures. My hair should be a good indicator of the wind strength, but the Rotation 180 Pano sprang into service as a weight nicely.

Tripod Mounting
When it comes to carrying a tripod with the bag, you have two options: 1) mount it with one of the two included methods or 2) mount it with extra accessories sold by Mindshift Gear. Although I own the accessories required for option #2, I didn’t plan to carry the tripod daily. Anticipating I’d only need it for certain environments, I opted to use one of the included methods of transport. Those methods are to strap it to the outside of the bag using the tripod “pocket” or attach it to the sides of the bag with the included strap and elastic bungee. The golden rule is to always put the heaviest items closest to your back, so I never mount the tripod on the far outside of a bag, and instead used the side mounts. These worked reasonably well, but certainly required the removal of the bag in order to access the tripod, which sort of defeats the point of having a bag where you don't have to remove it to access the camera….. If you use the extra straps sold by Mindshift Gear, you can mount the tripod in such a way that you don’t have to take the bag off, but I would have probably knocked over 1000 trinkets in the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul if I’d used those mounts! 

Rain Protection
Houston, we have a problem. The Rotation 180 Pro comes with an elaborate and well designed rain cover that connects in such a way that you can access all the rotation features of the bag while still being waterproof. The same system is sold as an accessory for the 180 Panorama. Not realizing that the rain system was not interchangeable between the bags, I didn’t purchase the rain gear (it was also not made very obvious on their website that the two were not interchangeable).

Imagine my dismay the day before we leave and I’m trying to mount the rain cover with no success……. 

It wouldn’t be terribly difficult to adapt the rain cover from the 180 Pro to fit the 180 Panorama; it would be a little baggy since the bags are different dimensions, but with a few Velcro attachment points, the rain cover *could* be interchangeable. I don’t care if it’s a little baggy - rain gear doesn’t have to be taught to work - it just needs to cover. 

In a last minute frenzy of packing, I grabbed the rain cover that came with the Think Tank Photo Shapeshifter backpack. This is a simple rain cover with two synch cords - although I couldn’t use the rotation feature of the bag with this in place, at least it was something and it fit. I’m glad I brought it - at one point in Toulon, France, we were caught in a total downpour. I got so wet that my entire jeans, underwear, socks, and shoes were drenched (it took 4 days for my jeans to finally dry out….)! Even with the rain cover I did have, the bag got damp (though not soaked). 

I’m going to get on a soap box….. if I spend almost $600 on a backpack, like I did with the 180 Pro, I expect as many things as possible to be backwards compatible from that bag to the other bags in the Mindshift Gear series. I understand some things, like the main compartment padded organizer won’t swap between series due to tremendous differences in bag sizes, but making the rain cover compatible between the two should only take a few pieces of Velcro. I hate feeling like I’m being nickel-and-dimed as a consumer and this is the first time Mindshift Gear / Think Tank Photo has disappointed me.

The Mindshift Gear bags are all designed for outdoor and adventure photography, so I think it’s a crime that the bag doesn’t include any rain protection. Even the crude rain cover that came with the Think Tank Shapeshifter was effective (and those bags retail for the same price). If you purchase this bag, expect to buy rain equipment for it or re-use something you already own, because the bag itself can only handle a light rain before the contents get wet. 

I fell in love with the Rotation 180 Panorama during this trip and that bag can expect to travel many more miles soon. That said, I certainly will still have application and use for the big brother 180 Professional, but, for now, I'm done shopping for camera bags!

I fell in love with the Rotation 180 Panorama during this trip and that bag can expect to travel many more miles soon. That said, I certainly will still have application and use for the big brother 180 Professional, but, for now, I'm done shopping for camera bags!

Overall
Despite the frustrations with the rain gear, I am very happy with my purchase. I bought this bag to fulfill a niche (light day hiking with 1-2 lenses) and it does a great job at meeting that objective. It’s well built, comfortable, and works exactly like it should. If you’re looking for a lightweight and small backpack that can be used for light excursions with minimal gear, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the Mindshift Gear Rotation 180 Panorama. If you plan to carry alot of equipment or need something for longer hikes, you really should save up for the 180 Professional, because it is a spectacular bag. What you purchase really should be determined by the type of shooting you’ll be using it for, because the bags are similar in so many other features. Just know that if you opt for the 180 Panorama, you’ll be looking to purchase additional rain gear!

Quick Shot: Venice Canals

Gondolas and canals - what two things could be more quintessential to Venice, Italy? The first time I went to Venice was about 10 years ago and during the summer, so it was hot and packed with tourists. This recent trip was much more pleasant - the summer heat makes the canals a little stinky, but the cooler weather meant it was nice to explore Venice without ode de canal in the air. This photograph isn't scratch-and-sniff, so you'll just have to trust me on the smells!

I shared with you earlier my favorite gondola photo, so it's time to share one of my many canal photographs. Like so many of the pictures taken during this trip, I snagged this one while walking - it wasn't really a planned shot. I knew I wanted a canal photograph, but I was going to wait for the canal to speak to me.... there is only so much homework you can do with regards to planning the boats, building colors and sunlight! I got lucky with this one because all of those elements fell into place as I walked past - all I had to do was click.

Quick Shot: Venice Sunrise

After over three weeks of traveling through Italy, France, Spain, Greece and Turkey, I'm finally back home and busy editing all the pictures. It was an incredible trip, and I'm excited to start sharing the photos, beginning with one of the first images I took during the trip.

Our arrival in Venice, Italy was greeted with a lot of rain. San Marco Square was completely flooded and the rain continued for several days. While this made it less pleasant to walk around, the rain did keep people inside - meaning I had some of the busiest parts of Venice all to myself. 

We woke up very early one morning to head to San Marco Square so I could shoot sunrise. I knew I wanted the photo to just scream Venice, and there is nothing more quintessential to Venice than the gondolas. With the gondolas in the foreground, I lined up and started shooting a wide panorama. I intentionally shot at shutter speeds around 2 seconds so that I could get a little blur to the gondolas that were bobbing peacefully in the water.

The resulting sunrise photo is actually seven images stitched together to create one monster panorama. The final full resolution image is over 500MB in size..... a whopping 93 megapixels! I am really excited to print this photograph in full size, because there is such incredible detail. The image was taken with the Nikon D800 and 50mm lens. 

Review: MindShift Gear Rotation 180 Professional Final Review

Last December, I purchased the MindShift Gear Rotation 180 Professional backpack and posted my initial impressions of the bag to my blog (read that article here).

I promised in that review that I'd come back later with some follow-on analysis about the bag after I had a chance to put it through the paces. After all, with a bag this expensive, you want to know how it held up to real world shooting, not just a studio session!

I must say the MindShift Gear Rotation 180 Professional met and exceeded my expectations in every way possible. It has held up beautifully to hundreds of miles hiking and traveling and I have always been able to get my equipment loaded comfortably and easily - no matter what I'm packing! The rotation feature works just as well as advertised and will change the way you think about photography backpacks.

The video review below goes in detail about this bags performance over the past 10 months of use and gives my final impressions of this outstanding bag. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to any photographer looking to change their hiking experience - I could have saved alot of money to buy this bag first!

Join Kristen from Scenic Traverse Photography as she provides a review of the MindShift Gear Rotation 180 Professional Backpack. This is one of the best bags for adventure and outdoor photographers on the market, and Kristen will walk you through her favorite features.

Quick Shot: Ivy League

Cambridge is known for having a few wonderful colleges and places of higher education. In the United States, we refer to the most prestigious schools as the "Ivy League", but I think this Cambridge college building is actually more appropriate for that term!

In (kinda) related news, our furniture that was shipped from the US has arrived in our new home, meaning the Scenic Traverse Photography studio is back up and running! It's nice to sit in a chair with my computer on a desk for a change! I've been planning LOTS of big stuff, so stay tuned for lots of new content, including a big "behind the scenes" blog in the near future!