Using the natural surroundings to steady the camera

Posted by on February 18, 2017 in Focusing, It's too blurred, Scene enhancement, Tips, Uncategorized | 0 comments

Tripods are great for keeping a camera steady – but only if you’ve actually got a tripod with you!

If you are shooting hand-held, and sans-tripod, you need to control three types of movement; up and down,left to right,and backwards and forwards. As anyone who has tried to shoot hand-held at a low shutter speed will testify, it is extremely difficult to stand stock still,let alone hold a camera so it is devoid of movement.

The solution is to turn yourself into a tripod; you have two legs already so you need to find a third one, and that often takes the form of a wall, fence post, telegraph pole or a tree.

Stand in front of it and lean back slightly to rest on it. Get comfortable with your back pressed firmly up against your third leg of choice, and hold your camera into your chest.

By maintaining firm contact with the ‘third leg’ you eliminate all three types of movement. Any remaining camera movement is down to your pulse and breathing, so take a deep breath, exhale slowly..and click the shutter button.

Change the strap to make yourself less obvious

Posted by on February 17, 2017 in Safety, Tips | 0 comments

Manufacturers love customers to promote their products for free. For photographers this usually takes the form of a camera strap emblazoned with the manufacturer’s name, and usually the camera model too. Consequently everyone around you knows what camera you’ve got, and that means they also have a good idea of its value.

If you like displaying your loyalty to Canon, Nikon, Sony or whoever, and you use the camera in totally safe areas it’s no problem, but have you ever considered the effect in less safe locations?

In some parts of the world your camera is worth many times the local annual wage, and even in some very refined locations there are plenty of pickpockets and opportunists ready to liberate a valuable camera from it’s owner.  When you use your manufacturer designed strap in such places, remember that it is actually saying ‘This person has untold wealth around his/her neck’. You wouldn’t walk around with a sign on your back stating ‘Ive got £4000 / $5000 in my pocket, so why are you doing it with a camera around your neck?

It’s really very easy to find an unbranded strap for your camera,or you can make your own. Either way you become less obvious, you stop  telling every opportunist thief the make and model (and thus value) of your camera, and consequently you make yourself less of a target for theft or mugging.


Extra uses for your camera bag / rucksac

Posted by on February 17, 2017 in Tips, Uncategorized | 0 comments

It protects your camera and lenses, but it can do so much more.

Here’s a few additional uses…

  1. Hang it from the underside of your tripod to add weight and make it more stable, especially in windy conditions.

2. Use it as a windbreak when photographing flowers and grasses. Place it between the wind and the subject, and you get an area of relative calm.

3. If the side zips off, and you haven’t got anything in the pockets, kneel on it when you shoot at ground level. It keeps your knees warm and dry.

4. Keep an old mobile phone in it, running a ‘lost phone’ app. There are plenty of them available for Android and iPhones, designed so you can find your phone when you’ve put it down somewhere. Unlike a GPS tag for your bag, the cost is insignificant – almost nothing if you have an old phone and a pay as you go SIM card.  If leave the camera bag behind on location, or it gets stolen, just access the app on your usual phone to locate the bag on Google Maps. If you know it’s nearby, just ring your second phone and listen…

5. Add a distinctive logo / decal to the bag so you can instantly recognise ‘your’ bag when other photographers are around.

6. In the absence of a tripod or beanbag, rest the camera on the bag, nestle it in so it is stable, and shoot from there.

7. It makes a great back rest to keep you comfortable and warm while you sit there waiting for your shot.

Can’t shoot while wearing gloves?

Posted by on February 17, 2017 in It's too cold, Tips | 0 comments

Photography in cold climates can be challenging enough, with condensation, batteries going flat in minutes, numb fingers and steamed up glass, etc. You slip on your gloves, warm up a little, then discover that the touch-sensitive controls of your camera refuse to work through gloved fingers. It’s just not fair.

So, why won’t the controls work when you are wearing gloves? Well, the shutter button on many modern DSLR cameras is sensitive to changes in its own electrical field. Your finger can conduct electricity so, when you touch the button, you change the electrical field.  The button knows it has been touched, and the controls light up.

Normal gloves don’t conduct electricity, they get between you and the button so nothing happens no matter how hard your press.

The solution is to wear touch-sensitive gloves, the same as the ones worn by people using their touch-screen phones in cold weather.  These gloves have conductive fibers woven into the finger tips so the button can still make electrical contact with your finger through the glove.

Problem solved: Warm fingers AND your DSLR controls work as intended.

Space Blanket reflector

Posted by on February 17, 2017 in It's too dark, Safety, Tips | 0 comments

Photography reflectors are usually white,silver or gold coloured sheets that are positioned to reflect light onto the subject. They are great for filling in shadows , highlighting a model’s hair, etc, but they aren’t always easy to carry around with you. They tend to be either large and solid sheets, or fabric in a springy circular frame that can be twisted into a smaller disk and stored in a carry case. Neither is small and light. Consequently there will be times when you could use one outdoors,but you didn’t bring it with you because of the weight and inconvenience.

Space blankets are ultra-lightweight plastic foil blankets designed for use by long-distance runners, at charity runs and as emergency thermal blankets for outdoor enthusiasts. You often see runners at the finish line wrapped up in one as the cool down. They fold up into a tiny package smaller than a mobile phone, weigh next-to-nothing, and have the bonus of also being a valuable item in your First Aid /Survival kit.

Just unwrap the blanket, open it up, hang it/ pin it / get somebody to hold it where it is needed, take your shots, fold it up again and carry on. How much easier can it get?


Boosting localised lighting with an LED torch

Posted by on February 17, 2017 in It's too dark, Tips, Wildlife | 0 comments

Staghorn fungus. Left shot under available natural light. Right shot  illuminated by LED torch

Some situations benefit from a little more light, not in general illuminate everything way like a flash gun does, but in a more specific ‘highlight that beetle’ sort of way.

A cheap and effective way is to use a modern LED torch/flashlight. In the past this wasn’t really a viable solution for three reasons; the light wasn’t truly white, the batteries were forever going flat, and when you dropped a torch with a filament bulb, the bulb broke.

Today’s LED torches, however, have eliminated all three problems. The light is pure white, bright and consistent. The LED’s use a tiny amount of power so the batteries last for ages. Drop a decent LED torch and it bounces rather than breaks. LED’s are thousands of times stronger than traditional bulbs and simply don’t break under normal use.

The better LED torches are water-resistant and allow you to change the beam focus, so you can go from tight beam to widely diffused one in the twist of a wrist.

Placed on the ground behind a flower, lichen or fungus it provides focused backlighting; held above the same items it simulates a beam of sunshine. What more can you ask for from a tiny metal cylinder?

Increasing snowfall,mist, fog or rainfall in the air.

Posted by on February 13, 2017 in Scene enhancement, Tips | 0 comments

When its raining, foggy or the snow is falling, but it isn’t as much as you’d like, you can use flash to exaggerate the amount of precipitation in the sky.

By firing the flash when you take the shot you blast every water particle or snowflake with light, greatly increasing the number of visible particles.  It’s the same effect as a driver putting on his full-beam headlights in fog; suddenly the fog looks twice as thick.

Not got your bean bag with you?

Posted by on February 13, 2017 in It's too blurred, Tips, Uncategorized, Wildlife | 0 comments

Beanbags have become a valuable tool for photographers, acting as a simple, but useful, alternative to a tripod . Beanbags are easily molded to a surface and provide a good support for the camera when perched on walls, the ground, or  uneven / rough surfaces.  Actually, they are really useful when shooting from a car window too.

When you need one but you haven’t got your beanbag with you, you can improvise with a sock. Take off a sock, fill it with sand, soil, rice – whatever you have to hand – and there you go, you have a beanbag.

From experience I suggest you put a plastic bag inside the sock BEFORE you fill it. It makes the sock a lot more comfortable when you have to put it back on again!

And if you are wondering why you don’t just use the bag instead of popping it inside the sock…well… the sock is a lot stronger, softer, quieter and usually a less vibrant colour than a carrier bag.

Secure the focus ring so it can’t drift.

Posted by on February 13, 2017 in Focusing, It's too blurred, It's too dark, Tips, Wildlife | 0 comments

There are some situations where you focus manually, but don’t take the shot straight away. Such situations tend to come about because your subject moves quickly and you won’t have time to focus and still get the shot.Wildlife and nature shots are classic examples where you’d do this.

For example, you may focus on a branch, then wait for the bird to perch there, or focus on the rapids and wait for the canoe to whiz past that exact spot. Another common situation is focusing at night, where you’ve set the focus earlier in the day, and waited for the light to fall before taking the shots as the badger emerges from its den, or the deer walks down the path.

For these shots the correct focus is critical so, once you’ve set it, you need to make sure that it doesn’t shift.

Unfortunately it’s all too easy for the lens to be knocked, for a loose focus ring to slip a little, or thermal expansion and contraction to shift the ring ever so slightly. As a result your carefully focused shots turn out to be not so crisp after all.

Luckily, this can be easily prevented with a small strip of sticky tape, or a sticking-plaster from the First Aid kit.

Focus the lens in manual mode, then stick some tape across the focus ring so it is attached to the lens body and can’t be turned. Check the focus is still spot on, then relax knowing it can’t be changed until you peel off the sticking tape.

Travel and street safety tips

Posted by on February 13, 2017 in Safety, Tips | 0 comments

On most occasions there aren’t any problems with looking smart and using a bespoke camera bag. However, when travelling in different cultures, and especially if the local daily income is less than you’d pay for a coffee, it makes sense not to be flaunting a fortune in expensive camera kit.  Whilst most people are honest, there are always those who, for whatever reason, might pose a threat to you and your kit.

This is where a skill known as ‘situational awareness’ comes to your aid. Being constantly aware of your environment, spotting and eliminating risks before they become problems, and always having a ‘get out’ option will make your life both easier and safer.

These six simple ideas help you blend in, stop you looking like an outsider, and protect your camera equipment from theft.


  1. Dress to match the local scene. BLEND IN SO YOU AREN’T AN OBVIOUS SOURCE OF ATTENTION. That means no new trainers and designer tops when everyone around you is wearing tattered shorts and t-shirts, and no tattered shorts when all around you are in suits and hand-made leather shoes. In fact,it’s not just sensible security, it’s also being respectful to the local community. Communities share an identity, and if you choose to dress differently you mark yourself out as not one of the community.
  2. Ditch the camera bag and use an old backpack  instead. You could consider using an open bag,but backpacks have the advantage of zips and fasteners on the pockets. Choose a ‘day sack’, a small backpack that is just large enough for the kit you are carrying, and make sure it is as tatty as the environment demands.  A tired old ex-army backpack suggests that you are a traveller, gap-year student or hippy; you aren’t rich and that bag more likely contains old socks and underpants – not a worthwhile target at all.
  3. Put an anti-theft wire mesh bag inside the backpack. These can be bought easily and will prevent opportunists slashing the pack while it’s on your back and stealing the contents from behind you.
  4. Keep expensive kit out of view when it’s not needed. Keep that 200mm zoom in the backpack, not slung around your neck, when it’s not in use. And for smaller lenses, ditch the soft leather lens pouches and use hiking socks instead. If somebody does see you reaching into your bag,all they will see is socks rather than expensive leather pouches.
  5. Remember where you are and where you’ve just been. It’s all too easy, especially in a new location, to get lost in the moment, the shots, the atmosphere etc, and then think..where the Hell am I now? If things do go wrong, knowing how to reverse out of the situation is essential. Make a mental note of landmarks, street names and junctions so you’ll recognise them when you need to.
  6. When you stop for a rest, a coffee or a doze, ALWAYS slip a leg or an arm through the backpack straps so it can’t be removed without you knowing about it. Stashing it under the table is not good enough, not even in a supposedly secure location. I lost an entire camera bag that way whilst in the cafe of a very secure European museum; the ‘safe’ environment resulted in my guard going down and I placed my bag by my feet, under the table. It seems a well-trained child crawled under the table, removed the bag, passed it to an adult and that was the end of my kit.