In praise of silence...

When I heard that Olympus was coming out with the OM-D E-M5 Mark II, being the gear head that I am, I was excited.  When it was revealed that it would have a silent mode, I was absolutely giddy!  How silent would it be though?  I read reviews and watched some videos of others that had the camera before me, but I needed to hear it (or not hear it) for myself. 

One of the first things I did when I unpacked this camera was take some photos.  Immediately I noticed the shutter sound was different.  The sound is a little more subtle than the OM-Ds that came before it.  I then went in search of the setting to make the shutter completely silent.  It's in Shooting Menu 2 as pictured here. When set to silent the shutter cannot be heard at all. I had to check the playback to make sure I was actually capturing images!

When considering this purchase, I thought the ideal application would be for street photography. There are many times I've been in locations where I would have liked to take a photo, a train for example, where I was too close to a subject and firing off a photo would have easily been detected.   Well no more!

The past two weekends I attended both a baby shower and a wedding shower.  Events where photography is welcomed and expected.  What I didn't realize is how nice it would be to take photographs in stealth mode. Often times I was sitting right next to guests and who wants to hear the constant sound of a shutter firing off time after time?  It was so nice to not have to even think about whether or not I was disturbing the other guests.  I even received a few remarks from attendees who asked if I was actually taking photos because they couldn't hear anything.  

I'm so thrilled that Olympus added this feature! Weddings, street photography, anywhere you need to be discrete...this is the perfect mode!

Experimenting with light

I recently purchased a light stand, umbrella and some lights to enhance my indoor lighting for video review recordings.  As I was setting it up, my partner came home and surprised me  with a bouquet of tulips and set them up in a vase on the table.  I plugged in the light and it was like I brought the sun inside the house it was so bright.  I turned around and saw these beautiful red tulips on the table all aglow in the light from this new kit.  Well of course I had to run and grab the camera!

I began experimenting moving the flowers closer to the light and then further away.  I was shooting with my Olympus 60mm macro lens handheld.  I took photos from every angle.  I was having a blast!

The next night when I came home from work, I noticed that the tulips had changed. They began opening up and some began to bend and reach toward the window light.  I started to envision some photos, so after dinner I grabbed my camera and trusty 60mm macro again, turned on the sun, eh, I mean my new light set, and started to make some photos.  This time I decided to use my tripod.  While shooting I realized that my gray wall would make a nice backdrop for the flower. I moved stuff off of the sideboard, moved chairs around and placemats...anything that was in the way got moved. I grabbed a black tray and tried using it as a background. I also directed a light into the tulip to see if I could create an interesting effect.  Two nights with these lights and I still haven't used them for what they were purchased for, but I am realizing that I can get so much more use out of them than I originally thought.  

So the next time you have some flowers in the house, experiment with lighting, angles and backdrops.  They're not all perfect, but I had a lot of fun and I bet you will too!

All photos below were taken with the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II with the Olympus 60mm macro. There might be a crop or two but otherwise they are unprocessed, straight out of the camera JPEGs.

Does your camera make you a better photographer?

I recently purchased a new camera and was talking about it over social media.  A friend of mine asked me if I love photography as much as I love the gear.  Without hesitation I answered "yes!". I admit, I'm a gear junky.  I love reading about it and I especially love hearing user feedback. 

A Facebook friend recently read  CJ Chilver's e-book A Lesser Photographer, Escaping the Gear to Focus on What Matters.  This read seemed to have a pretty profound impact on her. I had read CJ's thought-provoking manifesto some time ago so I decided to spend the $5.00 on the e-book from Craft & Vision.  (side note: If you have not heard about Craft & Vision, check them out. They have awesome e-books at very reasonable prices.)  CJ says "In deciding which photo blogs, books, and magazines are worth your time, it helps to remember our obsession is not cameras, its photography."  When I read this, I was reminded of the conversation I had with my friend.  I do love both and I'm not ashamed to admit it.  I love gear and I don't think it stands in the way of my passion for making images. 

I don't have the expectation that getting a new camera is going to improve my photography.  I'm sure every photographer has heard, "wow, your photos are great! You must have a good camera!"  I always want to hand them my camera and see if they get the same results.  If I bought the same camera as Trey Ratcliff, Thomas Hawk or Valerie Jardin, should I expect to get the same results they do?  I don't think so. If only it were that easy!

Today's technology does help, no doubt, and sometimes it makes the act of making images more fun.  With today's cameras you immediately see your image allowing you to make adjustments on the spot so I can try again to get the results I want. I couldn't do that with film.  But the fact of the matter is, I'm still composing my images, putting my subjects in the best light, and choosing how to frame them.  Technology can't do that for you.  I made great images when I was using my Dad's Canon AE-1 program on full auto mode with manual focus.  Some of my favorite images were taken with that camera.  It was all about the composition, not super fast auto-focus, image stabilization, art filters and all of the other bells and whistles we have today.  

So, what will make me a better photographer?  Practice. Improving my photographic eye. Experimentation.  Will I give up chasing the new gear?  No. Why? Because it's too much fun! :) 

Freehands Gloves Review

If you have to deal with freezing cold weather, you no doubt have to wear gloves when you go out shooting.  Working the buttons and dials on your camera and/or phone can be challenging with gloves.  In recent years, technology has brought us fancy gloves with special tips that allow you to work a touch screen without removing your gloves.  My experience has been that some are better than others and I have even had some that stopped working over time.  Those gloves however, don't offer much for operating your camera.  Sure you can work a touch screen if your camera has one, but rotating dials and trying to press other small buttons can be difficult.  That's when Freehands gloves come in handy.  The forefinger and thumb can be exposed on both hands allowing you to easily access your camera's controls.  They have little magnets that keep the flaps back and out of the way.  They are very comfortable and come in a few different fabrics.  The pair I have on in the video below is a men's small and they were about $30.  You can find the pair I have at B&H and at Amazon.  Note that the Amazon link goes to a size medium.  I couldn't find the style I demonstrate in a men's small. 

Watch the video below for a closer look.  Apologies for the sounds of the geese in the background who chose my recording time to be very vocal.  Also you'll hear my dog shake and grunt.  She's a Pug, she can't help it. :)

Out and About With the E-M5 Mark II

So today was a little bittersweet.  I said goodbye to my E-M5.  This is the Olympus camera that started the love affair with the OM-D series.  This is the camera that permanently shelved my Nikon D7000.  I took the E-M5 that I packed ever so carefully, to the UPS store and sent it to its new owner.  My only hope is that she will get as much enjoyment out of the E-M5 as I did.  No doubt when I acquired a used E-M1 from a friend, the E-M5 took a backseat, but I still loved it and even without some of the bells and whistles, the E-M5 still held a special place in my heart.

Also shipped off today was my Olympus E-M1.  Back in December, I was out shooting and something strange appeared in my viewfinder.  I thought it was dust on my sensor, but nothing appeared on my images and you could not see these smudges when looking through the LCD.  I asked all of my Olympus friends if they had ever heard of such a thing.  There were a few theories, but no one really knew what it was.  I wrote to Olympus and they said that it sounded like a burnt EVF screen from possibly pointing the camera at the sun or bright object.  Well, that didn't happen and of course they were speculating not having seen the camera first hand.  So I filled out the online form, paid the $183.99 advance payment and off it went today.  Hopefully I'll get it back in short order and it won't cost any more than that.  We'll see. Take care of my sweet E-M1 Olympus!

After dropping of the cameras at the UPS store, my Think Tank Perception Tablet was waiting in my car holding another piece of precious new Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II.  It was time for a test spin.  It was pretty frigid out today, so I didn't stroll around town too long, but I did exercise the shutter a bit.  First of all, the shutter does not sound the same as the other OM-D's I own.  At least to my ear it doesn't.  It's a tad bit softer.  I browsed the menu to find where to silence the shutter completely.  True to the word, it's completely silent.  If you put it up to your ear, you can hear a very faint click, but no one near you would possibly hear it.  

The EVF is super crisp.  I had the 12-40 Pro lens on it and while it felt pretty balanced I do miss the beefy grip of the E-M1.  My thumb was riding a bit high on the thumb grip and I nudged the dial a few times accidentally changing my aperture setting.  I definitely need the extended grip, which is on order and will hopefully be here soon.  I'll have more thoughts on the usability and performance in the days to come.

Here are just a few images from my walk around town.  

First Look: Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II

I said I wasn't going to get it. "I don't need another camera." I said. Then I got the emails...two of my local stores got the camera in stock. The silent shutter was a big deal for me.  "Maybe I'll just go check it out" I said.  And then the inevitable rationalization began.  Well, I just sold my E-M5, so I have effectively raised some of the money for it already.  I could just go look, I don't have to buy it.  Don't ever do that if you are on the fence about purchasing something.  Wait...let me rephrase that.  If you are a camera junkie like me, don't ever go to the store to just "take a look". Now here we are and I have a new camera and an unboxing video!

I'm delighted with the looks of the camera.  I purchased the silver and black.  I have wanted this color combo for a long time, but I bought my first E-M5 and the E-M1 used, so I had no choice on the color.  This time I wasn't going to settle for anything else but the silver.  Luckily my camera store had it.  It brings back memories of using my Dad's Canon AE-1 Program.  I loved that camera and this one really brings me back to that time. The dials are knurled and I just love that look. They rotate nicely and are firm, but not overly so.

Olympus has updated the flash. The head swivels from side to side and it's adjustable up and down as well.  It comes with a carrying bag too.  The articulated LCD screen is also welcome. 

The extra grip was not available at my store.  They had the two piece set, but because I have the grip from my original E-M5, I only need the slim grip. Olympus went ahead and made the old battery grip portion compatible with the new slim grip, which is fantastic.  

On looks alone, I'm in love with this camera.  In the coming days I'll be giving it a workout and will let you know my first impressions of how it operates.

Take a look at my video below where you can get a closer look at the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II. If you have this camera, leave me a comment about what you like and dislike about it.  

Bengal Gold Revisited

The other day I wrote about concert photography in a small venue.  I had another chance to photograph my friends during their gig at a local restaurant/bar.  Having made some notes from the last time I did the photo shoot, there were a few things I wanted to try.  

The first thing I thought about was my lens selection and how I would carry my gear.  The last time I used only a wrist strap and I didn't carry any extra lenses.  My office is located across the parking lot and so when I wanted a different len, I left the venue and headed back to my office.  I knew I didn't want to do that this time.  I wanted to be able to change lenses quickly, but I didn't want to carry anything bulky and I didn't want to leave a camera bag lying around the floor of a bar. I decided to wear the camera across my body with my BlackRapid strap and carry my Tom Bihn Side Effect with two additional lenses.  In that small bag, which I also wore crossbody, I was able to carry two extra batteries, a lens cloth, pen and pad, my ID and cash. My 75mm f/1.8 was on the E-M1 body and in the bag were my 17mm f/1.8 and 45mm f/1.8. The Side Effect can also be worn like a fanny pack if desired.  I was very comfortable and I was able to easily switch lenses.  (Check out my video on the Perception Tablet where at about the 13:45 mark I talk about the Side Effect and I demonstrate how it can be worn.)

Before the shoot, I checked all of my settings.  I've been shooting a lot of video lately for the blog with the camera on a tripod and therefore my image stabilization has been off.  If there is one thing I needed shooting wide open in a dark bar, handheld, it's image stabilization!  I made sure everything was set the way I wanted it before taking my first shot.

Here are a couple other tips that might come in handy for your shoot:

  • Check your histogram - I check my first few shots to make sure I'm in the right ballpark for exposure.  I can't always rely on the small LCD. You can choose to have the histogram constantly display, but I find it distracting, so I just check it when I need to.  You should get in the habit of checking it after you make any adjustments to your settings as well.
  • Check your photos for sharpness by zooming in on your photo through the LCD. If your photos are too soft, make some adjustments. Better to find out during the shoot while you can still make corrections vs after the shoot when you will have very few, if any, usable shots.
  • Play around with your exposure settings to get some different effects
  • If your camera has art filters, give them a try. I use a custom B&W setting, but due to the harsh red, blue and green lights at the venue, I was getting some strange hues in my images, so I switched to the monotone setting. Because I was shooting with RAW + JPEG, I still had the full color image if I wanted to switch to that later.
  • Take photos of other things besides the band. Foot pedals, speaker grills, bar glasses, and instruments all make interesting subject matter and can contribute to your story.
  • Take photos from different angles. Get low and shoot up. I was lucky enough to be at a venue that had a balcony and was able to shoot down at the band. 

Here are some photos from the night's shoot:

Peak Design Cuff Review

I've been using the Peak Design Cuff wrist strap for some time now and I love it! Yesterday I reviewed the BlackRapid SnapR 35 which came with a wrist strap.  The Cuff is similar in size and weight, but the Cuff has 2 distinct advantages:

  1. The strap is made out of much smoother material that does not a feel abrasive on your wrist at all.  The BlackRapid strap fabric is a little more course and not as silky feeling.  
  2. The BlackRapid strap attaches to the camera body by a fastener that threads into the tripod socket, which means when you need to use the tripod, you first have to remove the strap. The Cuff attaches to the camera's built in strap eyelet of your camera via the provided anchor links. This anchors can stay on your camera at all times.

The Cuff retails for $19.95 (as of this writing). It also comes with two anchor links. I keep one on each camera for ease of use.  Additional anchors are available to purchase in a 4-pack for $9.95 on the Peak Design website as well as Amazon.  You can even wear the cuff as a bracelet when you are not using it on your camera so that it's always at the ready.  

Thanks to the unique anchor links, you can attach the strap to nearly anything that you can secure an anchor link to. The strap is easily adjustable and can be stashed in your pocket, purse or camera bag when not in use. I usually leave mine attached to my camera at all times. 

I had the privilege of meeting the folks at Peak Design last November when I attended the Photo Expo Plus in NYC.  They have a lot of cool products definitely worth checking out. I have the Clutch and the Leash which I will be reviewing soon.  The great thing is they all use the anchor links and therefore it's easy to switch from one product to the next.  

Keep an eye on this company. They are continually releasing innovative products. They recently released "The Slide" which I tried out at Photo Plus Expo.  It's a very comfortable shoulder strap. Similar to the feel of the leash and cuff, but much wider.  Maybe if they like this review, I can persuade them to send me a review copy. :)

Check out my video below for a closer look at the Cuff:

BlackRapid SnapR 35

The other day I wrote a review of Think Tank Photo's Hubba Hubba Hiney.  It's my favorite street bag when I want to travel light, but if you want the ultimate in portability look no further than the BlackRapid SnapR 35.  This bag won't do if you have a regular DSLR. This bag is for small cameras only.  It worked well with my Olympus E-P3 and I can just squeak by with my Olympus OM-D E-M10 without the additional grip.  For small cameras, you can leave the camera attached the strap and when you are ready to use it, you just slide the camera out of the bag and you are ready to go.  I can't do this with the E-M10, there is just enough room to squeeze the body inside the small camera compartment.

This is a well-made, padded bag with zippered pockets on either side and a main compartment that can hold and E-M10 or equivalent sized camera. The side pockets can hold some batteries and even a pancake size lens like the Olympus body cap. But it won't hold much more than that.

You're really getting three products in one: a bag, a camera sling strap and wrist strap.  The strap is attached to the bag and is easily removed for use as a stand alone camera sling strap.   I use this strap frequently as it's sturdy and light and perfect for my mirrorless bodies. When the sling strap is attached to the bag, you can attach your camera to the gliding strap at the same time. If you would like to leave your bag configured this way, you can throw an additional lens into the main compartment instead for even more flexibility. The included wrist strap is a nice addition to this ensemble giving you several ways to carry your gear. It's a smart design and you can easily go from one configuration to another as I demonstrate in my video review below.

For the absolute minimalist that still wants a little protection for your camera  body, this is the setup for you.

Watch my video below and while you are at it, subscribe to my YouTube channel!

Camera Bag Inserts

Today's post and accompanying video were supposed to be about custom camera bag inserts and instead it became  a video about two Tom Bihn bags as well! I'm still new at this review stuff and I tend to get excited which leads me to ramble a bit too much.  Hopefully I'll get better at this and my videos won't be so long! :) 

If you have read my blog, you know that I love camera bags.  I like to have options and using camera inserts can make any bag into a camera bag.  There are a lot of off the shelf camera inserts available for purchase. Do a Google search or search on Amazon and you'll get quite a few results. However, I wanted a camera insert for a specific bag and found Main Street Camera on Etsy.  I contacted them and they agreed to make the insert to my specifications.  They were super easy to work with and I got my custom insert in about 2 weeks.  

The insert was made for my Tom Bihn Packing Cube Shoulder Bag. I bought this bag to stuff in my luggage when I travel so I always have a light bag to carry around. I either stuff it with clothes or just lay it flat in my suitcase. It's made out of 200 denier Japanese Dyneema®/nylon ripstop fabric and is extremely durable and lightweight. I got the idea on one of my vacations to use it to carry extra camera gear, but without padding, it's use to hold gear was limited, so I had the insert made. Now I'm able to use it as an extra camera bag when I'm on vacation.  It's perfect if I want to carry my camera on a daytrip, but I don't want the look or the bulk of a regular camera bag. 

Recently I purchased Tom Bihn's Daylight Briefcase to carry my laptop and other accessories back and forth to work. I realized that the custom insert would also fit in this bag. Watch the video below and you'll see how I fit everything I need to do some street shooting. 

Camera inserts can also be used to store your gear.  I have an old Kata backpack that I no longer use.  It had a large removable insert that I use to keep my lenses organized.  I filled it with lenses and it sits on my closet shelf ready to serve me up my lenses. 

Check out my video to see how I use a briefcase and a packing cube as camera bags. You'll also get a closer look at the custom camera insert as well as a couple of other inserts.

Bengal Gold in Black and White


Bengal Gold hits the big time! Well, not really, but they are the subject of the today's post! Who is Bengal Gold?  They are my friends and co-workers and an excellent 90's cover band.  Check them out at their website and their Facebook page.  Disclaimer: I did not take any of the photos on their website. 

Why am I writing about them on my blog? Well, the post isn't actually about them, it's about seizing an opportunity for photography.  I've never tried concert photography before. Faced with an opportunity to photograph my friends at a local venue; I took it.  I asked my friends for permission first as I didn't want them to feel awkward with me walking around the front of the stage snapping photos.  When trying this style of photography, it's best to ask the venue permission as well.  You never know if they have any rules about photographing their location and even if they let you, they might have rules about how you can use the photographs.  So always ask first!

I had a few things to think about before attempting this shoot.  What lens should I use? How dark is it going to be? What settings should I be using? Do I want to shoot color or black & white or both?  If you are new to a particular type of shooting, do your homework first and plan out what you would like your results to be.

I chose my 12-40 f/2.8 Pro lens and my 75mm f/1.8.  I knew it would be fairly dark so I would be shooting at a high ISO. I also wanted to try Jamie MacDonald's B&W technique that I discussed in yesterday's post.  I checked a few websites for info on concert photography and jotted down some notes in my Field Notes pad. When concert time came, I was ready to experiment.  I played around with different settings, different focal lengths, ISO, etc.  Some shots were successful and some were not, but the end result was I had fun and I learned a lot.  Next time I go to see this band, I have a few other things I want to try based on my hits and misses from the first time.  

The bottom line is don't be afraid to experiment try something new! See the gallery below for some shots from that night. All shots were taken with my Olympus OM-D E-M1 in aperture priority. Most were at 2000-2500 ISO and all were shot with the lens wide open at either 1.8 with the 75mm or 2.8 with the 12-40mm.


They have one more gig coming up on Tuesday, 2/24/15 at 9pm
Triumph Brewing Company - 400 Union Square Drive, New Hope, PA 18938


Field Notes for Photographers

Field Notes Brand notebook, Fisher X-Mark Bullet Space pen, Tombow Airpress pen

Field Notes Brand notebook, Fisher X-Mark Bullet Space pen, Tombow Airpress pen

Why does a photographer need Field Notes Brand notebooks?  Well, there are many reasons that I am about to tell you. Ok, so you don't really need the Field Notes brand; any notebook will do, but here's why I recommend Field Notes:

  • you can purchase a subscription and you'll get 2 packages of 3 notebooks every quarter. I subscribe to the "Colors" edition. 
  • each edition is a surprise so you don't know what you are going to get until just before they are shipped. Who doesn't love a surprise?!
  • they are thin, compact (5.5 x 3.5 x 0.1 inches), 48-page notebooks that fit in your back pocket
  • subscription editions are limited in quantity. Once they are gone, they're gone. There is something fun about owning a limited edition that could become a collector's item later. Check out what some rare editions are going's crazy!
  • if you don't subscribe, you can order their regular kraft edition that is readily available any time for just $9.95 for a package of 3 in either ruled, graph or plain or in a mixed pack which contains all 3

So why do you need a notebook at all? Let me tell you why carrying a notebook is essential to me:

  1. Paper is always "on". I don't have to wait for it to power up. I don't have to open an app to take a note. I don't have to worry about it running out of battery life.
  2. When I'm preparing for a vacation or any photography field trip, I write down my shot list in my notebook, i.e., grist mill on Potters Mill Road; water fountain at Bristol & Vine.
  3. I keep a page or two in my notebook for locations in my area I want to scout or shoot.
  4. I use my notebook to record camera settings that I may need to reference in the future. I recently tried taking some band photos at a local restaurant/bar. I jotted down some settings I wanted to remember for the next time I would be trying it again (see photos below). If something worked well I want to remember it and if it didn't work well, I want to jot down why it didn't and what I want to try next time. 
  5. I jot down notes of anything I may have needed in the field that I didn't have with me so I know to bring it next time. 
  6. If I'm out with a bunch of photographers I use it to record contact information, gear that someone may have had that I'm interested in checking into, etc.
  7. When my notebook is full, I scan the stuff I want to keep and I store it in Evernote for future reference.

As I mentioned in #4 above I use my notebook to record camera settings.  Pictured here is a page from my notebook where I was recording the settings I used while taking photos of a band. I used Jamie MacDonald's custom B&W settings that I had pre-programmed into my Olympus OM-D E-M1.  If you are an Olympus shooter, check out his video tutorial on how to setup your camera with this custom's awesome! I don't haver permission from the band at this writing to post photos of them, so I posted a photo below I took of one of the pedal boards.

If you are carrying a notebook well then you need to carry around something to write with.  Two pens that I recommend for field use are the Tombow Airpress and the Fisher Space Pen (pictured above).  Both have pressurized refills.  The Fisher will write in any angle and in extreme temperatures (-30F to 250F).  Hopefully you would never be subjected to either extreme, but I have had regular pens skip on me or refuse to write in very cold weather. With these pens this is not an issue. The Fisher is also very small. The X-Mark bullet I linked above is 3.6 x 0.3 x 0.3 inches so it fits very comfortably into the front pocket of my jeans. 

So there you have it. My love for photography, pens and paper all in one post!  Cheers!

Tom Bihn Organizer Pouches Review

If you follow my blog at all, you know I have a bit of a bag obsession. I'm not only obsessed with bags, I'm obsessed with being organized.  I've been this way since I was a kid. I think the Mead Trapper Keeper may have started it all!  Enter Tom Bihn.  They sell some of the best, most well-designed bags I've ever owned. They use high quality material and they are made right here in the USA.

I'll start with their organizer pouches, but I will be reviewing the other bags of theirs that I own as well.  Tom, if you are reading this, feel free to send me more bags to review!  :)

Organizer pouches. Don't think you need them? Watch my video and I bet you'll be thinking about how you would put them to use.  I show you the pouches that I own, but there are many more on their website. I primarily use the clear organizer pouches and the padded pouches.  The clear pouches are perfect for carrying charging cables, thumb drives, charging adapters, etc. You can quickly see what you are carrying without opening the bag.

Tom Bihn padded pouch with the Western Digital My Passport Wireless Drive.

Tom Bihn padded pouch with the Western Digital My Passport Wireless Drive.

I use the padded pouches when I'm carrying something that I want to be completely protected like my Olympus camera batteries, my MiFi, and my Western Digital Passport Wireless hard drive. According to Tom Bihn's website, their "padded organizer pouch zips with a #5 YKK coil zipper with a plastic slider which is less likely to damage sensitive electronic gizmos. The pouches are made of 1/4" (6 mm) thick foam padding laminated with an exterior of four-ply Taslan nylon and an interior of soft, brushed tricot."

Check out my video below for a closer look at my collection of organizer pouches. If you have  any of these, leave me a note in the comments section and tell me how you use them.  I would love to hear from you! 

Think Tank Photo - Hubba Hubba Hiney Review

I love a good bag. Ok, I don't just love them, I have an obsession.  I'm always in search for the perfect bag.  There's usually one or two things that I would change that keeps it from being perfect.  That said, the Hubba Hubba Hiney is pretty darn close to my ideal bag.  It's small, it's light, but yet large enough to fit my OM-D body and a few lenses.  

When I'm ready for a day of street shooting, I pack my OM-D E-M1 or E-M10, my 25mm, my 17mm and the 8mm body cap lens.  I carry a few extra batteries, a camera strap, Field Notes pad, pen, tissues and a lens cloth.  The main compartment has enough room to carry my E-M1 with the 12-40mm Pro lens attached and the lenses I listed above.  Remove the dividers and other lenses and you can fit the new 40-150mm Pro lens with a body attached. 

Last year on a trip to Chicago, I was able to fit the HHH into my backpack fully loaded and I had plenty of room for other personal items. As my second carry-on, I had my Think Tank Retrospective 5 also filled with gear. This allowed me to have two shooting bag options to choose from during my workshop.  

Earlier I said it was "close" to being my ideal bag. What would make it perfect? I would remove the velcro strip on the back of the bag and add an open or zippered pocket instead.  I'll forgive Think Tank though as this feature allows this bag to be used with their belt system.  That's just me being nitpicky. This is the ideal bag for me when I am street shooting. It holds everything I need, my camera is easily accessible and it fits all of the accessories I need for a day on the street.  It's small size and lightweight design make it a pleasure to carry around all day.

If you like to travel light, this may be the bag for you.

Check out my video review below.

Camera Battery Chargers & 3rd Party Batteries

I'm a photographer and a gear head, therefore, as you might imagine I carry around a lot of stuff: chargers, computers, iPads, hard drives and many other things.  I have bags of cords that I need to carry with me to keep all of my gear charged.  I look for any opportunity to streamline.  Here's one tip that can help you eliminate some of the cord clutter.

When I travel, I often carry more than one camera body. Unfortunately some camera makers change the battery size with every new model.  Currently my main camera is an Olympus OM-D E-M1 and my backup is the OM-D E-M10.  Both use different batteries and so I'm forced to carry both chargers when I'm traveling. Luckily the E-M5 and E-M5 Mark II use the same battery as the E-M1.  Hopefully they will continue that trend so we can continue using the same batteries moving forward.

If you have an iPad or a MacBook you already own something that will eliminate your need for carrying the long cords.  It's the removable "duck head" that is attached to your iPad or MacBook charging brick.  Simply remove it and plug it into the socket that you would normally plug the cord into and voila you can plug it into the wall.  If you don't own either of the Apple products I mentioned, you can buy the adapter on Amazon for just $4.99 (at the time of this writing). 

Something you might notice from the photo above is that I label my chargers.  The charging bay for the E-M10, E-M5 and E-M1 are very similar to one another.  To make it easy on myself I just label them so I can quickly tell them apart.  I use the Brother P-Touch, but you can use any label maker or just write on the charger with a Sharpie pen.

While we are on the subject of batteries and their chargers, let's talk third party batteries. I was a little leery about using them actually, but I also didn't like paying the premium price for the camera brand.  After reading some reviews, I decided to give them a try. I chose Wasabi Power and ordered a set for E-M5.  Under $30 for 2 batteries, a charging bay and a car charger adapter.  Quite a deal, but was it too good to be true?  Not at all. I've been using them for well over a year and have not had a single problem, and the battery life is comparable to the Olympus brand.  I haven't done any scientific tests, but I haven't noticed a difference.  Another bonus is that the charging bay charges Olympus brand batteries too, so when I hit the road, I only have to take the one compact charger with me. I own a set for my E-M10 and my TG-3 as well.  The only downside with carrying multiple cameras is I when I hit the road with all three cameras, I'm carrying 3 sets of batteries and 3 chargers.

Please note that you cannot charge your Wasabi batteries in your original Olympus charger.  While charging my Olympus batteries with the Wasabi charger has worked for me and I haven't seen a significant difference in the battery life of the two different batteries, your milage may vary.

So if you are considering 3rd party batteries, read the reviews and ask fellow photographers what they use.  At the price point though, you really don't have much to lose by giving them a try.

UPDATE (2/17/15):  I wanted to post an update as I've been receiving some feedback outside of the comments section about the use of third party batteries that I thought were relevant to share.  One person shared that they had 3rd party batteries  swell up on them and they were difficult to remove. He also related that a friend had a similar problem and had to send it back to the manufacturer to get the battery removed and was told that it voided his warranty.  I have not had any of these issues and have been using third party batteries for well over a year.  As with anything, buyer beware in all situations.  I am sharing my experiences, but that is no guarantee you will have the same experience. 

Check out the companion video to this post below. 

Is Photography Art?

I was listening to TWIP Episode 398 the other day.  One of the topics of discussion was whether photography is art. You may have heard recently about a photograph by Peter Lik that sold for $6.5 million. Check out one of the articles about it here.  Who's to say whether photography is art? Was Peter Lik's photo work $6.5 million? It was to the person who purchased it.

On the TWIP podcast mentioned above,  Renee Robyn makes the argument that photography is not art.  It's too accessible and in a lot of cases it's "a cheap form of art"  because there is literally a  "make it awesome button" for a lot of photographers.  She talks about how the software available these days can make a bad photograph average with very little effort. 

I disagree that it's not art. If Trey Ratcliff and I are handed the same camera and lens and are let loose at the same location, I guarantee you that our images would be very different.  Let him process his images and that will set us even further apart. There are many photographers like Trey that take advantage of all the modern technology cameras today have to offer as well as all of the post processing tools.  The work that someone can do with these tools before and after taking the initial image is artistry in my book. It can take hours, if not days to process an image to make it how your mind's eye sees it.  My work is not anywhere near the same level...yet.  I have Lightroom and some other tools but even if I purchase Trey's presets and apply it with that "awesome" button, it's not  going to make my photo look like his.  Do I consider my own photography art? Some of it, yes.  It's my vision and skill with the tools I have that make it so, in my opinion.  Can using someone else's presets make my average photos awesome, most of the time no.

So what do you think? Is photography art? Let me know your thoughts by commenting below.


Cooking for Two

Don't forget to take the time to document your special events.  It's very easy to get caught up in the moment and forget all about capturing it. Tonight we took a cooking class and we had a blast! I brought along my Olympus camera, but it was a bit cramped and there was parsley, shallots and garlic flying all over the place, not to mention hot cooking oil. While my regular camera was awkward in the tight space, there was no reason I couldn't use my iPhone that was stashed in my front pocket. All photos in this post were taken with my iPhone 6.

Armed with knives, a cutting board, a burner and a skillet we were ready to start cooking this four course meal.  The menu:

  • Rosemary Shrimp Scampi Skewers
  • Romaine Salad with Tomatoes, Hearts of Palm Salad, Olives and a Roasted Pepper Vinaigrette
  • Chicken and Pasta with Tomato Cream Sauce
  • Chocolate Bread Pudding
You can almost smell the garlic can't you?

You can almost smell the garlic can't you?

Is your mouth watering yet? It was a little intimidating but we got started with the first course. We sliced, we diced and before you knew it the shrimp were nice and pink.  
Take photos of the food, the instructor, the other participants, the menu or whatever else you want to remind you of the event. They don't all have to be fantastic, fully composed images.  You are just documenting the occasion.  Don't forget to take photos of yourself and who you are with.  As a photographer, I'm not in many of my photographs at all. 

Take shots at different angles. You don't have to get the entire plate in, it can be more interesting to leave some of it out. Do close ups of the cook's hands stirring or slicing. Get some shots that include your surroundings too. 

Above all else, have fun!

If you live in or near Bucks County, PA, check out Carlow Cookery.  They offer a variety of cooking classes, food centered bus trips and their store is filled with fine culinary cookware, bakeware and even some food items. I've been on two bus trips with Denis to New York City and he is very knowledgeable about the shops and the restaurants. I highly recommend his tours and cooking classes.

Photography Packing Checklist

I am a checklist kinda gal.  I create a packing list every time I travel so I don't forget anything.  I make notes on which bag configuration worked best, and if during the trip I find something new that was not on my list that would come in handy to have, I add it. 

I have several different camera bags. When I'm ready to go out on a shoot, I choose the appropriate bag and then I stuff my gear in it.  Because I'm always switching bags, I occasionally would leave a critical item behind. This happened to me once when I left my tripod plate in the pocket of one of my bags. 

I decided to create a packing checklist. I printed it, laminated it and it hangs on the shelf  where I keep my gear.  Each time I'm ready to go out, I review the list and make sure I have all of the items I need before I leave the house.  My current list is itemized below.  I don't list my camera gear.  Everything I have is in plain view in the closet.  I just scan it and grab the body and lenses I need for the day.  

If you have a favorite item that you carry in the field, share it in the comments and maybe I'll add it to my list too!

  • Tissues
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Lip balm
  • Sunscreen
  • Pen/paper
  • First aid kit
  • Photographer's emergency kit
  • Extra camera batteries
  • Battery charger with car adapter
  • Extra media cards
  • Tools for tripod
  • Tripod plate
  • Tripod
  • Mini tripod
  • Monopod
  • Multitool
  • Camera strap
  • Wrist strap
  • Handwarmers, hat, gloves
  • Flashlight
  • Headlamp
  • Rocket blower
  • Lens pen
  • Lens cloth
  • Lens wipes
  • Knee pads
  • Ground cover (garbage bag)
  • Rain sleeve
  • Rain cover for camera bag
  • Flash - external
  • Flash bounce
  • Flash - macro
  • Extra flash batteries
  • Cable release
  • Plamp
  • LED light
  • Reflector/diffusers
  • Water bottle holder
  • Point and Shoot Camera
  • iPad
  • iPad camera connection kit

Philadelphia Night Shoot

I'm not a very big night shooter, but when a friend asked me if I was interested in meeting up to take some shots in Philadelphia, I immediately agreed.  We met up with another photographer at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and walked around the area to get some shots of car trails and cityscape reflections in water.  

My friends were shooting using the Live Composite feature on their Olympus cameras and encouraged me to give it a try. It was amazing to see the results develop in front of your eyes, especially when shooting car trails. It's especially useful when you are shooting a subject that has a lot of changing light. All you need to do is set up your shot, set how many seconds apart you want the images to be taken, press the shutter and then press the shutter again when you've achieved the exposure you were after. Thanks to Mike and Frank for the tutorial!

I wasn't too pleased with the results of my car trails photos. I was having a little trouble getting the focusing right using Live Composite and I found the headlights of the oncoming traffic to get very white hot and overwhelm the photo. See my image to the right. 

I did another composite of the cityscape with an exposure of about 9 minutes.  There was some light source that seemed to circle the building which gave the photo a very odd halo look around one of the buildings.  I got the start of some star trails and I think a jet was flying in the photo too as you can see the arc of it flying through the air.  This photo won't win any awards, but it was cool to see the impact of light on the image. 

All three of us got the weird circling lights around the one building.  None of us are sure what was causing it.

All three of us got the weird circling lights around the one building.  None of us are sure what was causing it.

If you are not comfortable with a particular mode of shooting, don't let that intimidate you from going out and giving it a try anyway. There is always room to experiment with a different technique and you just might like the outcome.  I had a fun evening, learned something new, and best of all, I made a new friend!

Here are three additional shots below.

Think Tank Photo Perception Tablet Review

One thing is certain and that is that I have a bag addiction.  I love all kinds of bags and the more compartments and organizers they have, all the better!  I've used bags by Lowepro, Tamrac, Kata and just last year, I was introduced to Think Tank Photo.  I bought the Hubba Hubba Hiney after watching a video course by Zach Arias.  It's my favorite bag to take when I'm doing street photography.  More on that bag another time.  Today I want to talk about the Think Tank Photo Perception Tablet.  This backpack is the smallest in the Perception lineup.  It's made specifically for micro four-thirds cameras.  In my review, which is available on my YouTube channel (embedded below), I'll take you through the entire bag and everything I put in it.  I do want to note that Think Tank includes a rain cover with the bag and I completely forgot to mention it. 

The complete Perception lineup from left to right the Perception Tablet, Perception 15 and Perception Pro. Photo taken with the iPhone 5 at the Photo Plus Expo in New York, November 1, 2014.

The complete Perception lineup from left to right the Perception Tablet, Perception 15 and Perception Pro. Photo taken with the iPhone 5 at the Photo Plus Expo in New York, November 1, 2014.

Also featured in the video is a Tom Bihn organizer pouch and Side Effect.  The pouches come in a variety of sizes and colors. The Side Effect can be worn as a fanny pack or a shoulder bag and as you will see in my video, I use it as a lens holder.  Like Think Tank, Tom Bihn bags are extremely durable and very well made.  I'll be reviewing all of the Tom Bihn bags I own in future videos.

If you own any Think Tank or Tom Bihn bags, leave me a note in the comments and let me know which are your favorites!