Sunday, March 27, 2011

Think Tank Photo, Retrospective 30 Camera Bag Review

Think Tank Retrospective 30

Every photographer needs a good camera bag (ideally a few).  So when it came time to upgrade my trusty old LowePro shoulder bag, I decided to check out the latest bags by Think Tank Photo.  Its not that I didn't like my old LowePro, but I was wanting a bag that was slightly bigger and one that doesn't look like a camera bag.  This is where Think Tank Photo came in with their latest line of shoulder bags called Retrospective.

The Retrospective line are camera bags designed not to look like camera bags, which, if you're a photographer who has spent any time in crowds or in locations where its best to not look so conspicuous, then you can most definitely understand how valuable a bag like this can be.  Think Tank has several sizes and color styles available, but I decided to go with the largest, the Retrospective 30.  I also chose the Pinestone color as opposed to the black.  I think I like this color primarily because it looks even less like a camera bag and also has a more 'rugged' look to it (which should go well with my rugged good looks, cough ;)
Not only does this bag look great, but it has a ton of room!  This bag can easily hold 2 camera bodies, multiple lenses (even a 70-200) a flash or two and all the batteries, cables, gels and what not that you can stuff in it.  The interior is easily customizable with removable, velcro dividers and can be configured to hold any camera body with just about any lens attached.  I like the Retrospective 30 because its size allows you to place a camera with a lens attached in various positions, depending on the lens you use and still have room for various other necessities.

One of my concerns about this bag was whether or not it had enough pockets to store smaller items.  After checking out this bag, I can tell you it has more than enough!  There are neatly arranged pockets everywhere on this bag, inside and out.  The arrangement is smart and designed to hold everything from batteries to memory cards to even note pads.  There are 2 big flat pockets on the inside, front and back, a large flat pocket on the outside of the back, pockets on shorter sides, inside and out and even smaller pockets inside the larger ones.

Another awesome thing about this bag is that while it isn't water proof, it does come with an excellent rain cover that packs away neatly in one of the front pockets.  This was another concern of mine since my old bag was waterproof.  However, I've used other Think Tank products and their rain covers work perfectly.

Something else that is definitely worth mentioning, these bags are built like tanks!  The stitching and hardware that Think Tank uses reminds me of military grade products.  I think it would take years of wear and tear to damage this bag and considering Think Tank's customer support, I believe it would be no problem to get replacement parts or repairs done.  However, I don't ever anticipate this being an issue.

The last thing I really like about the Retrospective 30 bag is how comfortable it is to wear.  My old shoulder bag was a little more rigid and felt like wearing a small TV around my neck.  Since the Retrospective 30 is soft sided, it almost molds to you as you have it around your neck or shoulder and this bag has a huge, no slip shoulder pad which makes it really nice if you prefer to just carry it on your shoulder.  For a large shoulder bag, its definitely the most comfortable one I've owned.  For those interested, this highly sought after camera bag model is available at VERY affordable rates. :)

If you're interested in a new shoulder bag, then I would definitely check this one out.  I picked up my bag at Outdoor Photo Gear which carries every Think Tank product available and their customer service is second to none!  If you're local and would like to check out any of these bags first hand, give the guys at Outdoor Photo Gear a call, or just stop in to check them out.

oh, and as always, click on any pic for a larger view!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

iPhone and Android Photography Apps!

Some time ago, I wrote a short piece on how much I love my iPhone and all the cool photography apps it has.  Well I was just turned on to another cool post on the blog Photography Degrees, that contains many cool links to reviews of apps for the iPhone and the Droid too!

If you have either one of these phones, the blog post above is worth checking out as it contains a load of useful information for the phone-photographer connoisseur!

Also, take your time to view the blog Photography Degrees in its entirety, there seems to be lots of useful info and tools for the emerging and advanced photographer!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Flashing the Sun!

Irene No. 15

First of all, let me say Happy-First-Day-of-Spring!  I'm so glad to see things warming up around here, I've really missed the greenery!

The other day I did a really fun portrait session with a fantastic model, Irene Mukibi.  Irene and I have worked together previously and were looking forward to doing our first session outside together.  We were planning on shooting later in the day hoping for a nice sunset, but due to time constraints we had to pick an earlier time.

For a shoot at this time of day, I would have honestly preferred a more powerful monobloc to have a little more flexibility, but since all that I had with me was a pair of Nikon SB-800s I came up with a small flash solution.  I've heard quite a few folks recently make the claim that speedlights aren't useful outside during the day, but respectfully I have to disagree - completely!  I've used speedlights outside at 12 noon where the sun is quite an unbearable beast to light against with no problems.  While I will admit that using speedlights for that situation isn't optimal, its entirely workable, if you don't believe me, check this out!

Having already picked out a few locations to shoot in, we hopped in the car and headed out.  We were thinking wouldn't it be nice to be able to shoot on a beach, and since we are quite land locked and pretty darn far from the closest beach, we did the next best thing, we located a park that had a rather large, sandy area.

Then I took a few ambient only readings to get my background locked in where I wanted it, then I set up one of my trusty SB-800s on a light stand and positioned this light in relation to my subject (camera left and slightly above the model's head, pointing down).  With the chosen aperture, shutter speed and ISO I dialed in, I first tried my speedlight at 1/2 power.  While this may have been enough light for someone with pasty, white albino skin such as myself, this just wasn't quite enough light for Irene.  So I bumped the power up to full power and tried another test shot.  Hmmm... this still wasn't quite enough and the one bare speedlight was kicking in some pretty hard shadows, so what to do?

Since I shoot primarily with a Nikon D300, I just about always use my pop-up flash as the triggering method for my Nikon speedlights.  This generally always works unless the pop-up flash can't see my off camera flash, or if the sun is at an angle that the little pop-up just can't generate enough juice to get a solid signal to my off camera flash.  In this case, I was able to use my pop-up flash but I wanted a little more power than that guy had to offer, so I put my second SB-800 on camera to use as the master to trigger my off camera flash.  This gave me several advantages.  For one, it has a lot more power than the pop-up flash.  Two, I can rotate the head of this flash to better see my off camera flash, but the most valuable option was that now, I have a very powerful, on camera axis, fill light.  Since I knew I wanted to get a little more light on Irene, I dialed this flash in at 1/2 power and took a test shot.  BOOM, this was exactly what I was looking for.  So now I had plenty of light on my beautiful model and I had created a very cool, key light with fill combination that reduced those hard shadows on her.  I also placed her where the sun was directly behind and above her which let the sun act as a nice rim light on her, giving me effectively, a three light source setup ...Bonus!

Something else I really liked about this setup is that to me, it kinda gave a beauty dish look using a much more powerful light source on my model.  The only drawback to this situation was the recycle time with my lights.  My key light was taking around 3-4 seconds to recycle at full power so my model would need to hold her poses for a tad longer than she would need to with a more powerful light setup.  Honestly though, this really was no hindrance to either of us, and gave me a very portable lighting setup that yielded some very cool results imho.

Would a more powerful light have worked better?  Well, its all relative really.  To be sure, with a more powerful light I would have had much faster recycle times and would have had more options with modifiers.  Since I needed as much power as my SB-800s could kick out, I couldn't use any modifiers because they would have nuked a few stops of light.  However with this model, hard, bare light worked just fine and to be honest, I really liked the look (and so did the model).  However, had I used more powerful lights, I would be hauling much more gear around, straining my poor old back and taking much more time to setup.

So in a nutshell, can speedlights be used outside during the day?  You bet they can and with some really awesome results.  You can also get in to high speed sync mode which would allow you to use larger apertures for a more shallow depth of field, but I'll save that technique for another post.

Hope you got something out of this and won't be afraid to try your speedlights outside at ANY time of day.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

V.A.L. Voice Activated Lightstand

Over the years I have had an awful lot of folks holding lights and lightstands for me performing a duty affectionately referred to as the V.A.L. - or Voice Activated Lightstand.  When using speedlights or small flashes for your source of light in photography, its easy to just have someone hold it for you, requiring no lightstand to do the job.  This has several advantages for the photographer and the VAL.

First off, having someone hold your light for you, makes it easy for you as the photographer to get the light in the right place without having to go back to the light and adjust it yourself.  Also, your VAL, if trained appropriately, can adjust power settings, feather the light, change modifiers and just about everything else.  Another advantage to having a VAL is, since they are at the location of the light, sometimes they can see how that light effects the subject better than the photographer.  For the VAL, its a good learning experience because being at the view point of the light can really show you how its going to respond on the subject and the VAL can also learn from the photographer. A good VAL is a blessing to photographers and fortunately I've had my share of good ones to help me, including my number one partner in crime.

I've done my share performing the task of VAL for quite a few other folks as well, which leads me to the real point of this post.  Joe McNally and David Hobby (the Strobist) are currently touring the country in a mad escapade called the Flash Bus Tour.  They will be teaching photographers all across the country how to use their speedlights for better flash lit photography.  I can honestly think of no other photographers I would rather see in a seminar than these to amazing guys so when the opportunity presented itself to volunteer as a VAL for their tour, I jumped at the opportunity.  Surprisingly, I just got notification a few days ago, that I was chosen to be a VAL for their Nashville stop!!!

I can't tell you how excited I am about this and the fact that I may get to meet two photographers who have pretty much shaped the way I do my own photography.  Volunteering as a VAL for these guys has several advantages.  One, you get to learn off camera lighting up close and personal, and two, you get to be working with (or for) two of the most amazing photographers in the business!  Being a VAL (for anyone) can be a great learning experience and performing the job for these guys, I'm sure, will be no different.

I'm planning on updating another post after the seminar (around the first of April) to do my review of the Flash Bus Tour and to also share a little about being a VAL for two industry leaders.  I haven't been this excited about something since I got my last Nikon. :)

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Tools for the Job

New Workstation!February was a lousy time for blogging, simply just had too much stuff going on. (that never happens to you does it?)

So I thought I would kick this month off with a brief post about tools for the job.  Photography can be an amazing pursuit that can teach you about yourself as well as sharing something about yourself to others, but it is an expensive passion!  Lenses, cameras, bags, lights, stands etc. can really take a chunk out of your pocketbook and the industry doesn't make it any easier on us poor photogs by constantly bombarding us with new gear and telling us we must have the latest and greatest to achieve our photographic goals, but when it comes down to it, what do you really need to do your job or follow your passion?