Selecting a Tripod


Tripod & Hat        In his book, “Backcountry Journal, Reminiscences of a Wilderness Photographer”   Dave Bohn writes, “The trouble with photographers, and anyone else attempting anything creative, and in fact doing anything, is that they get addicted…(and)…I was addicted to the tripod as a necessity for the photography of large landscapes.”

I remembered (and liked) that quote from an article I wrote in October 2013 and thought I should post it again. I can’t say that I am addicted like Mr. Bohn, but I, too, really enjoy using a tripod when I shoot landscapes.

I reread my 2013 article on tripods and decided to repost some of my discussion after talking with a friend about tripods. He is planning on getting a new one as a gift for his wife, and we were discussing what might be the best for her.

When I select a tripod I want one that extends above my head so I can use it on hills. I don’t like bending over to peer through my camera’s viewfinder. I also prefer tripod legs that can be extended out horizontally when the ground is uneven.

I don’t want a crank to raise the center column as that is just added weight, and becomes one more thing to get caught on things. I like a column lock that turns to lock and unlock so I can easily adjust it up or down.

An important feature on the tripod I select is a strong and easily available quick release on the tripod head. The tripod head is another subject completely and my advice is get one that has a reasonable size ball surface and that is lightweight.

A tripod shouldn’t be so heavy that it’s a bother to carry. Nevertheless, it must be sturdy and capable of supporting my camera without shaking. I am always amazed when a photographer uses a cheap, little tripod to hold their camera and lens that are worth well over the thousand dollars plus mark.

I am pragmatic in my approach to photography. Sometimes the conditions are fine for just pointing and shooting, but if I really care about the picture I know I will have better success getting a quality enlargement if I return to the car and get my tripod. That’s just good sense.

I know there are many modern photographers are of the belief that the difference between a blurry and a sharp enlargement is megapixels or vibration reduction features. I can’t disagree with that altogether, but I do think a good, stable tripod is just as important and in some cases more.

Using a good tripod that allows one to stand up straight, take time to analyze the scene, problem solve, compose, and contemplate is an excellent experience. In addition, it keeps the camera from moving.

I suggest buying from people that have used, or at least can discuss, the tripods they sell.  The department stores will allow you to bring it back if you aren’t satisfied, but I am sure they are not interested in paying for the damages to your camera and lens that crashed to the ground while using their bargain tripod.

In recent years more and more quality tripods have become available and are worth owning and using. All one needs to do is spend some time researching and checking reviews.

Photographers spend lots of effort selecting that DSLR and lenses for each purpose they want to use it for. My advice is to take the same amount of effort with that purchase a really good tripod.



Off-Camera Flash in Daylight  

Whatcha Got?

Perfect lighting

A little to the left


The right light

Ya gotta get wet

Who cares about the water

Lets see

Flash the Cadillac


This past weekend I lead another workshop for photographers about using off-camera flash when photographing portraits outside in bright light. As with past lighting workshops my goal was to help participants understand how to use flash in different environments during daylight, and gain techniques that I hoped would help them transform the harsh daylight of outdoor portraits into beautiful light.

I was fortunate to have a great rural location where participants began in the morning photographing our model using a speedlight and a diffusion panel in a bright meadow, then moved to a large, well lit, open barn with two-flash lighting using a shoot-through umbrella and softbox until lunchtime.

After a healthy lunch provided by Versatile Studio we set up by a small tree covered stream, getting both our feet and our model’s feet wet. We finally finished the day photographing the model posing beside an old 1970s Cadillac in a nearby field.

I enjoy guiding serious photographers through their first attempts to use flash as a tool to create better photos, I want them to think of the flash being more than an uncontrollable device perched on top of the camera when it’s too dark in a room to take the photo.

I have been offering off-camera flash courses since the early 1980’s, and still believe they are an important segment of a portrait photographer’s education.

So much has changed in photography, and yet here I am 35 years later, still helping photographers learn how to use off-camera flash. Modern cameras are amazing with sensors that are so much better at capturing light than film was. But just as 30 years ago, serious photographers realize how much more flattering off-camera flash is on someone’s face than just harsh daylight.

Off-camera flash gives a photographer the ability to choose the best direction of light.

There are times when I am forced to photograph a person without using a flash. I think “forced” is the best word, because I will always use flash if I can, and as those that have taken my advice have learned, in most instances using flash for portrait photography indoors or outdoors is better than not using a flash.

Those attending last weekend’s workshop began to get comfortable using flash.

David Hobby, lighting guru and founder of the blog,, wrote,

“Learning how to light is incremental, creative and fun. There is almost no math involved, nor any difficult technical know-how. In fact, good lighting is less like math and more like cooking. It’s like, you taste the soup and if it needs more salt you add some salt. You’ll see that when we learn to balance a flash with the existing, ambient light.”

“Controlling harsh natural light – one of the most important things to know as a shooter is how to use bad light well. Taking hard, nasty daylight and turning it into beautiful light is actually pretty easy.”

What Shall I Photograph when its windy? 


Oregon Grape


Oriental Poppy in wind

Iris in wind

B&W Iris in wind

I looked out the kitchen window at my wife’s garden. It was late afternoon, the sun was peaking out under the clouds after a light rain, and the garden was glowing with a gusty, light breeze.

Linda mentioned that we hadn’t taken any pictures of the spring garden yet and suggested that it looked so fresh after that rain that I should be able to get some good flower photos in spite of the wind.

Wind? Wind is not a problem if photographers take the time to problem solve. I could increase the ISO or shutterspeed, but that wouldn’t do much for the ambient light, and I like more control. My normal technique for photographing flowers is to underexpose the ambient and illuminate the subject with a flash. I recall years ago having given my photography students a “stop action” assignment. They were to go out at night or find a large, dimly lit room, and use a flash to stop a moving subject in a photograph. All they had to do was select enough flash power at a specific distance to illuminate their subject properly when they released the shutter.

Those were assignments given before modern, computerized cameras and TTL dedicated flash when the flash would always produce the same amount of light and the aperture controlled the amount of light exposing the subject.

My technique for my windy garden was the same. I placed my 200mm macro lens on my camera and attached a ring-light on it. I really like is using a ring light on rainy days. I keep it on manual mode and stay at a specific distance so it won’t under or over expose the subject I am photographing. My ring flash also has ¼ and ¾ power increments to reduce the flash power output if I need it.

Just as my photography students learned all those years ago, when I pressed the shutter the flash stops the movement of the flowers in the wind. Nevertheless, the wind was quickly drying out the plants, so I had to quickly search for leaves that still showed raindrops.

The movement problem was almost solved. I took extra shots when I thought some motion had wrecked my shots, however, it was the sun that became the biggest concern. I had hoped the high clouds would block the sun, but instead of getting more bad weather, I got less, and with the clearing sky I began to struggle with the bright light.

The bright light would have been fine if all I wanted to do was document plants in the sun, but I wanted to go beyond that. Just pointing and shooting is boring. I would have liked to get out lightstands, a couple of off-camera flashes, and even a black backdrop, but the wind continued on, and would probably blow all that stuff over and I never followed up on that option.

So while other photographers might have celebrated the sunny, clear sky and be willing to put up with windy landscapes, I was done for the day.

I think I am pretty lucky that I don’t have to go far when I want to take pictures. Over the years I have looked hard into what is close to me and instead of being one of those photographers that depends on a car to find a location to get inspired. I just look around the yard and adjust my thoughts and camera for what awaits me.












A Rainy Day in Hope, BC – Photographing with Infrared

Wecome to Hope 1

bear crossing 1

Town clock 1

Animal totem 1

Driving thru Hope 1

After leaving the Vancouver Camera Show and Swap Meet last Sunday I decided that rather than make the long drive all the way back to Kamloops and then Pritchard, I would make a stop for the night in Hope along the way.

Hope, British Columbia, is usually just a location to make a quick pull off at a fast food restaurant, or coffee shop. as I drive between Vancouver and Kamloops.

I have always liked the appearance of the picturesque little town just off the highway along the Fraser River. That was first settled when explorer, Simon Fraser, arrived there in 1808. The Hudson’s Bay Company started a trading post in 1848.

In more recent history Hope received acclaim when it was the location for the Sylvester Stallone Rambo movie, “First Blood”, and then, “Shoot to Kill”, staring Sidney Poitier and Kirstie Alley. The area’s mountains also stood in for the Himalayas in the movie “K2″.

However, in spite of all that the main reason for my stop was I knew I’d be tired after my long day at the swap meet, and, in addition, I thought it would be fun to wander around town with my camera the next morning. I chose to bring the camera I had converted to infrared. I thought shooting infrared would bring a fresh and very different visual interpretation to the heavily forested setting.

There is a poem by Robert Burns wherein he writes, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”. I thought of his prophetic words as I checked out of my motel room the next morning under a pouring rain. Disgusted with my crappy luck I stopped for a coffee and doughnut before leaving town. I was resigned to just head home. But as I sat in my car sipping on my coffee texting my wife that I was heading out, the rain lightened up and I decided that in spite of the cloudy overcast I would try my infrared camera anyway. I thought, what the heck, any photography is fun and the worst that can happen is I’ll have wet hair for the trip back.

I meandered down to the riverfront and zigzagged back through town. I discovered that at some point town residents began erecting large chain saw carvings everywhere. So I took pictures of them along with those of the city streets until the rain picked up again and my glasses got too wet to see.

The best time to shoot infrared is on sunny days, so the rainy, heavily overcast environment wasn’t all that exciting. But I was intent on the pictures by this time.

I must say that I wasn’t really successful, but there were a few images, that with some postproduction help worked out reasonably well.

The rain won this time, but I think I might go back to that scenic little town nestled in the Fraser Canyon. It’s not that far from my home and a nice easy drive, and I’ll take Linda with me. However, we’ll wait for a sunny, dry day and I definitely will try infrared again.

Infrared is such a fun change from normal digital shooting. And similar to purchasing another lens, the cost of having an old camera converted is well worth it.

The Vancouver Camera Show and Swap Meet       


Lots to buy

Wow a 4X5

Sales tecnique

What about this tripod?

Try this one

One of my favorite photography events, the The Vancouver Camera Show and Swap Meet, has come and gone again this year. For over 20 years I have spent the weeks prior to this long-running event, that has now reached it’s 40th year, looking forward to the day I get to attend this ever-so-fun photographer’s gathering put on by the Western Canada Photographic Historic Association, and organized by Siggi and Brigitte Rohde.

There cannot be a better way to spending a rainy spring day than being surrounded by a vast array of cameras and photography equipment, all the while getting a chance to talk with other photographers.

Again this year I made the journey from Kamloops the day before and lodged overnight so I could arrive bright eyed and eager to join the other vendors setting up at early the next morning.

I go wondering what the latest trends will be, or what is popular with the photographers that attend. And, of course, keeping my fingers crossed that the equipment I have on my table is what they are looking for.

The last few years there’s been a major change in the venders being replaced by a much younger crowd. The stuff they have on their tables is much the same, but the vendors’ faces are younger, and there are a lot more women standing behind the tables discussing and selling photography equipment than there was when I first started attending.

As I have said before, the word “diversity” is the best way to describe the mixture of photographic types coming to this camera swap meet. There were all kinds of lifestyles and interests, and specialties in photography, film, digital, past and present technology. However, what they all had in common was that they all were excited, searching for sweet deals that I am certain they got.

This year was no different than last, in that I spent an exhilarating day talking non-stop with other photographers about their different interests in photography and, as always, it was invigorating.

The Vancouver Camera Swap Meet is a splendid way to meet and exchange information with other photographers, and to look at and check out a grand selection of photographic equipment that would not be so accessible anywhere else in Canada.

I write this every year, but I’ll say it again anyway. I had a great time with the photographers I met this year and the depending on who joined me at my table, the conversations always changed. My day of selling was a success, as it was for most of the dealers and very happy bargain hunters I talked to at the end of the day.

Camera's Shot

And…when the camera decides to take a picture by it’s self….