Blog & Articles

Choosing a Photo Workshop Company


There are so many people offering photo trips these days, it can be pretty difficult to know who to give your money to.  How do you decide?  There are any number of ways to go. From actual photo workshop companies to photo clubs using volunteer leaders to Joe Blow-trip leader who just wants to get his trip paid for by other people.  Below are a few considerations before you hand over your hard-earned money for a photography trip.   

Trip Goals

What are your trip goals and expectations?  Do you want someone who can actually teach you and help you during all field shoots, or are you okay being left to your own devices during the trip with the trip leaders off doing their own portfolio shooting?  Do you want someone who really knows the area who will give you information and advice from anything to logistics to restaurants to even where the bathrooms are, or are you fine with having to find out that information for yourself? 



What do you expect that your money should buy?  Are you ok with $1500 only getting you someone to take you to a location and abandon you, or do you think that amount should include all trip prep and planning from experienced leaders and hands-on assistance throughout the workshop on every shoot?  Should that money include the knowledge of a leader who knows the place well enough to make changes and decisions on the fly in changing conditions, or simply just a tour guide that shrugs and says ‘oh, well.’



What should you look for in a photo workshop leader? First of all, you should look for a company whose only business is photography workshops who employs actual photography instructors as their trip leaders.  This company should also have a vested interest in STAYING in business.  What does that mean?  The workshop company should be ACCOUNTABLE – accountable for your money and accountable for your trip expectations.  

This means the leaders are accountable for all of this as well. Are the leaders the same people who run the business?  They should be.  You want your interactions to be known by the people responsible for every aspect of the business. 


What are the leaders’ motivations?  Do they just want to get their own vacation paid for, or is it their goal (and their JOB) to make sure YOU get everything you expect from a photo workshop?  Are they just there to point the general direction you should go and then start their own shooting, or are they walking around checking in with everyone and offering help the whole time?


Do the leaders get proper permits for their trips?  All National Parks require Commercial Authorizations for groups who pay someone money to be led through the park.  We have heard of group leaders who don’t get permits and tell their PAYING students to say they are all just friends or club members if a Ranger stops them to ask for permit. This is hogwash and completely unacceptable for someone who just charged you money for a photo workshop. ANY company, organization or individual who charges money to lead a group in a National Park MUST get a permit.  After all, YOU paid for it….they should have it.


Still interested in going on a photo workshop? Well, here’s the sum of our advice….and YES, maybe a little self-serving:  If you are paying SIGNIFICANT money ($300 or more) for someone to lead you on a photography workshop, choose an actual COMPANY whose business it is to run photography workshops. Travel with a reputable company who uses actual photography instructors whose JOB it is to make sure you are happy…..not volunteers who also want to shoot, not a guy who wants his vacation paid for. 

We are not saying you can’t have fun with a group of people who are all paying their own way with no workshop fee being charged.  In that case you should have no expectations of what other’s roles should be and you can just go have fun.  Of course, that could be great! 

 But the bottom line is, if a group, organization or individual is charging you money to lead a photo workshop, be smart with your money and make sure you know what you ARE and ARE NOT getting for those dollars. Make sure you go with the group who gives you the most value for your money. 

2017 Photo Buying Guide


The Holidays are just around the corner and so is decision-time for what to buy that photographer in your life.  Here at Natural Connections Photo Workshops, we get a lot of questions and requests for information on items to purchase for that special photographer.  Given our retail sales and teaching backgrounds, our suggestions are based on personal knowledge of and use of these products.  We only suggest products we know are quality products. 

Below are suggestions for cameras, tripods, tripod accessories, general camera accessories, camera bags, camera straps and lens filters.  We personally choose which products we suggest and have not been approached by any of these companies to do so.  Our only benefit is if you decide to follow the links we provide in order to purchase the item(s). Please NOTE: All items list regular pricing beside them....there may be special deals for the Holidays.  So follow the links to find out! 

Cameras – First of all, on expensive camera gear, let us CAUTION you to purchase from a reputable PHYSICAL dealer or directly from the manufacturer themselves.  There are only a handful of truly reputable ONLINE dealers.  We’ve seen the nightmares personally….online dealers stripping the name brand items (batteries, chargers, English manuals) out of the boxes replacing them with cheap knockoffs and foreign language manuals, and outright lying about whether the product is a USA Warranty or a Gray Market product.  Also, don’t be fooled by some unknown camera store offering 20 additional ‘free gifts’ if you buy the product from them.  99% of the ‘free’ stuff is junk that you shouldn’t even allow near your camera.  Buy the camera from a place you KNOW won’t rip you off, and then buy quality accessories to go with it – not pre-packaged “BUT THAT’S NOT ALL!!” deals.

We personally shoot Olympus mirrorless cameras. They are small, lightweight interchangable lens systems compared to DSLRs, with high quality and are packed with specialty features you can’t get in other cameras.  If you know someone looking to downsize but not sacrifice in quality, this is your system.  If you have questions, shoot us an email.  If you decide to purchase, please use the embedded links below so that they take you directly to a safe purchasing source.

For Olympus Black Friday Deals CLICK HERE

Olympus EM10 Mark III – The entry level camera for the OMD system....entry level, but not stripped of features. Use simply Auto mode or full manual....the decision is yours.  There are two options here:

  • Buy the KIT – (CLICK HERE) Contains the EM10 Mark III Body and 14-42 collapsible lens ($800) for the smallest/lightest combination.  Can be put in a small bag or coat pocket. You would still probably need to purchase the 40-150 (CLICK HERE) if you wanted to add some zoom – a very small, very light 2-lens kit for around $1000. Neither the camera nor these lenses are weather-resistant.
  • Buy the BODY separately (CLICK HERE) and an all-in-one lens like the 14-150 (CLICK HERE).  The ultimate in a small, do it all, travel system.  One lens with fantastic zoom ability…no changing lenses.

Olympus EM5 Mark II – This is the mid-range camera body and a great upgrade if you want a little more than entry level. Weather resistant with a better focusing system, great image stabilization and amazing video and more customizable features.

  • EM5 Body-Only – (CLICK HERE) - You will choose whichever lenses you would like to go with it.  Again, for a good all-in-one lens, consider the 14-150 (CLICK HERE).  If you want something more high-end, go with the Pro 12-40 2.8 lens (CLICK HERE).

Olympus EM1 Mark II – The flagship camera of Olympus.  This is the pro camera that can do it all.  With the most advanced focusing system for difficult subjects like birds in flight and other quickly moving subjects and packed with ALL the Olympus features, this camera is for Pros as well as any advanced amateur photographer.

Olympus Tough TG-5 - $450 - (CLICK HERE) Amazing quality and features packed into a small point-n-shoot camera.  Impact resistant up to 7 feet and waterproof down to 50 feet. Wireless share and raw image capture. 

**For Olympus Black Friday Deals, CLICK HERE

**For the Olympus WEEKLY DEALS page, CLICK HERE 

Tripod Gear – It is imperative that any photo enthusiast have a GOOD tripod as a base for their photography.  It is very important not to skimp here.  Do not purchase tripods at discount stores or even big box electronics stores.  Here are a few of our recommendations:

MeFoto Tripods – Small, lightweight, foldable and compact – there are 3 different sizes of tripod depending on what camera gear will be attached.  All of these have legs that twist to lock and unlock. All of these MeFoto tripods come with a ball head already attached and a tripod bag included. You may notice there is an ‘AIR’ version of all 3 models we discuss, we prefer the original non-air models for build and quality.

*Backpacker Aluminum – $150 - (CLICK HERE) Very small and compact and lightweight – not for the mid to pro DSLR user.  More for a point-n-shoot camera or a small, lightweight mirrorless system or an entry level DSLR (Nikon D3000 series, Canon Rebel series)

*Roadtrip Aluminum – $200 - (CLICK HERE) Still small and compact compared to others out there – more for mid to pro mirrorless systems or entry level DSLR camera systems

*Roadtrip Carbon Fiber – $350 - (Click Here) Even more lightweight than the regular Roadtrip – still for the mid/pro mirrorless or entry DSLR user

*Globetrotter Aluminum – $250 - (CLICK HERE) The largest in the MeFoto line, but in our opinion the most sturdy and the best option if you have heavier gear such as mid to pro mirrorless gear or mid-weight DSLR gear such as Cannon 80D or Nikon D7000 series.

*Globetrotter Carbon Fiber – $399 - (CLICK HERE) Again, lighter than the regular, but not quite as sturdy for heavier gear

Benro Tripods –  Very good, very sturdy tripods with the clip locks that a lot of people like.  Benro has tripods that are twist locks and flip locks.  We like their flip lock legs the best….and for people want flip-locks, this is the way to go. Benro has A LOT of different versions and options - legs only, head only, leg & head combo.  We are going to mention the legs models and head models separately, but you may be able to find a combo of these that work for you - but remember - you do have to have a head to go onto the tripod legs.  We also recommend ball head styles over pan-and-tilt styles because they are more compact and (we believe) easier to use.  Most of these tripods come with tripod bags included. Here are the ones we like the best:

*TAD 28A (legs) – $130 - (CLICK HERE) This is an aluminum tripod.  Slightly heavier than its carbon fiber sibling, but at a lesser price.  A good mid-size tripod that is very sturdy with clip-lock certainty for heavier pro mirrorless systems or entry to mid-level DSLR systems.  (Two smaller versions are the 18A and the 27A…..but, we recommend the 28A and the 18A more strongly because they collapse down smaller when folded).

*TAD 28C (legs) - $280 – (CLICK HERE) OUR FAVORITE.  This one is carbon fiber and in the middle of the sizes.  We shoot Olympus mirrorless Pro cameras and this tripod is very sturdy without being too large and heavy.  If your photographer shoots mid to Pro DSLR cameras from Canon or Nikon, they may want to go with the larger 37C.

*B2 (ball head) - $130 – (CLICK HERE)This is a great ball head to go with the legs above OR if you are looking to replace an old head. Medium weight with good flexibility.  Works well for light to mid weight DSLR gear and most mirrorless gear. If your photographer has pretty light weight gear, you could go with the B1 at $110.  And of course there is a B3 for heavier Pro DSLR gear.

**Our Highest Recommended Legs/Head Combos:

**Carbon Fiber – $330 -  TAD28C legs/B2 Ballhead – (CLICK HERE) Mid-weight for mid-weight to heavier gear 

**Aluminum - $170 – TAD18A legs/B1 Ballhead – (CLICK HERE) For beginners, smaller gear/mirrorless gear/small DSLR and smaller and lighter tripod that is still very sturdy.  

Tripod Accessories

Tripod Strap – (CLICK HERE) OP/TECH makes a good tripod strap so you can carry the tripod hanging on your shoulder and can quickly open it up to set up and use.  Model 1201012 is around $20.  Tripod Bag – $20-$35 - There are a lot of tripod bags out there and you don't need anything really fancy. But, be sure to get one that is padded and is long enough for the tripod while it is collapsed, measuring it WITH the head on….be sure to measure the whole thing. 

Promaster is a brand we sold in our retail days, and their tripod bags are quite nice…one of these three should fit whatever tripod you have:  


Promaster TB3 – up to 25” - CLICK HERE to purchase.

Promaster TB4 – up to 29” - CLICK HERE to purchase. 

Promaster TB5 – up to 35” - CLICK HERE to purchase.

Random Accessories

OP/TECH Rain Sleeves, 2-pk. – $6-$10 - For the photographer who does not have weather-resistant gear.  They come in three sizes – small, original, and ginormous. 

  • Small – (CLICK HERE) for mirrorless and small DSLRs

  • Medium – (CLICK HERE) for most DSLR cameras and long lenses

Spudz lens cloths – $5-$10 - Lens cloth that retracts back up into a protective pouch to keep it from attracting dirt, oil or grease while bouncing around in photo bags or pockets. Be sure to get the larger 10x10 size. 

  • The following link is to a RED option that works great so that you can spot it in bags, purses and among other camera gear. (CLICK HERE)

Extra Batteries – You can never have enough batteries so grab one (or two) and throw it in the gift box.  But be wary of 3rd party batteries.  Some are good, some aren’t.  Go safe and get the brand-name ones.  $25-$75 depending on the camera.  Either look at the model directly on the battery or google search the EXACT camera model that is written on the front of the camera….there are MANY different battery models for all the different cameras.

We shoot Olympus as do many of our participants….the batteries are as follows for the Olympus OMD line:

Extra Memory Cards - SANDISK 64gb capacity and 95mb/s write speed - $36 - (CLICK HERE) - Do not buy cheap memory cards. SANDISK is the best brand out there and get one with enough capacity and speed. 

Right Angle Plug Adapter – $8 - (CLICK HERE) For those photographers whose battery chargers have long detachable bulky cords that connect the charger to the wall.  We own 10 of these, attached to all of our camera battery chargers and LOVE them….less bulk while charging and WAY less bulk in the camera bag. Plug this piece in and throw the bulky cord away! 

Tenba Battery Pouch – (CLICK HERE) We LOVE these and have 5 of them. Helps to organize multiple batteries.  Holds two large batteries or 4 medium to small sized batteries. 

LensPen cleaning accessory – (CLICK HERE) Always keep one of these in the bag. We like the one that says ORIGINAL on the package or NLP-1.  Cleans filters and lenses with a pad and a brush. Don’t get the mini sized ones….they are for point-n-shoot cameras and too small to really clean interchangeable lenses. $15  

Pre-Moistened Lens Wipes – (CLICK HERE) Always have cleaning options ready to go.  Easy to keep in the bag or in pockets. 

Kiwi Focusing Rail – $80 - (CLICK HERE) For all of the macro photography enthusiasts out there, a focusing rail is a must for micro-adjustments to get the perfect composition and proper distance from the subject for stunning macro images. This is a very good product for so little money.  Most of these with bigger names cost several hundred dollars.  NOTE:  do not go cheaper than this product.  Other focusing rails out there that are cheaper are terrible.

Foam Knee Pad - $6 - (CLICK HERE) for any photographer who crouches on the ground for their photography.  We seriously get tons of people asking where to get one of these for macro and other low on-the-ground shooting. 

Filter Pouch - $9-$30 - Whether you have just a couple of filters or many, filter pouches help organize, protect and give easy access to your expensive accessories.  

  • OP/TECH Filter Pack - Made for 2 filters - (CLICK HERE) Easily store in the bag or hang from a tripod for easy access during shooting
  • Tiffin 6-filter Wallet - (CLICK HERE) - Holds 6 filters in a trifold wallet style...slimline to fit in the bag or a side pouc
  • Tycka Belt-Style Filter Pouch - (CLICK HERE) - Holds 5 filters and attaches to the side of the bag or to your belt for easy access while shooting (This is the style we use most) 

Lens Filters - Another word of CAUTION NOT purchase lens filters in 'kits'.  Most filter kits include filters made of substandard glass and will degrade the quality of your photos.  Often filter kits throw in an outdated film era filter or two that aren't even in use anymore since the proliferation of digital photography.  Buy filters one at a time for the type and the particular size needed.  A filter is one of those things that if you aren’t willing to buy a good one, then possibly don’t use one at all.  It is additional glass that you are putting over your expensive lenses, so that glass needs to be high quality so as to not impact your images negatively. A good rule of thumb: never spend less than $40 for a filter...and that is for one of the smallest sizes 30mm - 46mm.  You will be from $60-$120 for a good one for sizes 52mm - 77mm....even more for 82mm - 86mm.

  • B+W Polarizing Filters –  A polarizer is the MOST IMPORTANT filter you can have for outdoor photography.  Every outdoor photographer should have one for each of their lenses. Our favorite brand is B+W and it should indicate MRC or 'multi-resistant coating'.  To determine what size you need, you must look at the end of the lens that it is going to go on – there are about 15 different filter sizes out there and you have to look at the lens to see the 2 digit number on the end that has a circle and slash through it immediately to the left of the number….that is the filter size.This link is for a B+W 62mm filter….(CLICK HERE) but you can follow it to Amazon for any filter size that you need. 

  • B+W Neutral Density Filter – This filter blocks light from entering the camera so that it forces the camera to provide much longer shutter speeds that it normally would – good for long exposure images showing blur and motion – ex. Shooting waterfalls.  Same goes as with the polarizer, buy a good one if any at all. We recommend a 3-stop (indicated by (.9) or 8x in the description) to start.  Again, MRC or 'multi-resistant coating' should be in the description.This link is for a B+W 67mm filter, (CLICK HERE) but look for whichever size you need with the same specifications in the name.  

Camera Straps - There a number of great camera straps out there – many for design and many for feel and use. Below are just a few of the ones we’ve used over the years and have liked:

  • OP/TECH Neoprene Camera Super Classic Uni Loop Straps – $16 - (CLICK HERE) If you want comfort from a cushioned, slightly stretchy camera strap, this is a good one.  They are strong and shock absorbing for moving around with your camera on your neck.  

  • Black Rapid - $50 – Black Rapid makes a number of cross-body camera strap models, but our favorite after trying all of them is the CROSS SHOT.  It has a padded and rubber shoulder pad that is comfortable and stays put.  All of the others slide around.  NOTE:  it is the CROSS SHOT….NOT  just the SHOT. 

  1. Black - (CLICK HERE)
  2. Orange - (CLICK HERE)

  • Peak Design – $50-$60 - Another good maker of cross body straps that have connectors that serves to interchange with all of their other products as well.  (We like the Slide for DSLR cameras and the Slide Lite for mirrorless and smaller cameras).

  1. Slide - Black - (CLICK HERE)
  2. Slide - Orange - (CLICK HERE)
  3. Slide - Blue - (CLICK HERE)
  4. Slide Lite - Black - (CLICK HERE

Camera Bags – Backpacks, Shoulder Bags and Waist Carry SystemsBackpacks – There is no one perfect bag out there, so generally any given photographer will need several for different trips and different types of shooting.  A backpack is always a good idea so that you can safely store everything in one place and safely get everything from place A to B.

Backpacks – Lowepro makes our favorite backpacks of all brands, and here are a few options:              

  • **Smaller/Mirrorless Systems: 
  • Lowepro Tahoe BP150- $55-$70 (Black - CLICK HERE), (Blue - CLICK HERE), (Red - CLICK HERE
  • Lowepro Photo Traveler 150 - $40 - (CLICK HERE)              
  • **Larger DSLR/Pro Mirrorless with several lenses: 
  • Lowepro Pro Runner BP 350 AW II – $175 - (CLICK HERE
  • Lowepro Photo Classic BP300 AW – $90 - (CLICK HERE)

Shoulder Bags – Good for travel and city shooting to always keep the bag on your person. A great option if you want to travel light and still protect your gear. 

  • Lowepro Toploader Zoom 45 - $25 - (CLICK HERE) Small bag for a mirrorless body and small, or all in one lens attached.  Comes in Blue or Black
  • Lowepro Toploader Zoom 50 - $35 - (CLICK HERE) Slightly larger small bag for small to mid-sized DSLR or Larger Mirrorless - for carrying one body with lens attached.  Blue or Black.
  • Tenba DNA Messenger – $90-$170 - (CLICK HERE) 5 sizes and 4 colors to choose from, so one will definitely fit!
  • Lowepro Passport Sling – $50-$70 (CLICK HERE) Great for travel and sightseeing. Good for holding a body and about 2 lenses plus personal gear like wallets, phones and other sundry items generally needed for travel. Easy cross-body style that keeps everything close and safe
  • Lowepro Event Messenger 150 – $50 - (CLICK HERE) 2 colors - Basic sturdy shoulder bag for a limited amount of gear

Waist Systems – This Lowepro waist system is weather-resistant, comfortable and great for people with upper body/shoulder injuries or strain – the belt is the base then get a couple of pouches to add, but we suggest all 4 pieces below depending on how much gear you own:              

  • Lowepro S&F Light Utility Belt – $50 - (CLICK HERE) one size fits most
  • Lowepro S&F Deluxe Technical Belt - $40 - (CLICK HERE) different waist sizes available              
  • Lowepro S&F Utility Bag 100 AW – $45 - (CLICK HERE) for lenses and other random gear              
  • Lowepro S&F Lens Exchange 100 AW – $35 - (CLICK HERE) for short to medium length lenses              
  • Lowepro S&F Lens Exchange 200 AW – $45 - (CLICK HERE) for longer lenses 

THANK YOU for visiting our site for your Holiday shopping convenience.  If you have further questions please shoot us an email.  AND DON'T FORGET....a PHOTO WORKSHOP is ALWAYS a fine choice for Holiday gift giving! Gift Certificates are available upon request. 

Please NOTE:  if you intend to purchase any of these aforementioned items, PLEASE use the direct links provided to the website so that we get credit for the referral….THANK YOU all for being part of the Natural Connections Family and HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Olympus Welcomes NCPW as First Olympus Workshop Partner


Detail your services

Big news for Natural Connections Photo Workshops!!  Olympus has announced their new Olympus Workshop Partner program and they are officially supporting our workshops.  We will be bringing you the same quality workshops you've come to expect from us, but there will be some new devolopments too!  Just as always, we are happy to have participants who shoot ANY camera system, but we will have some special options for shooters who shoot Olympus or want to try out an Olympus system.  

To read the official announcement from Olympus....CLICK HERE!

Lightroom vs. Photoshop


We hear it every day.....what image processing software should I use?  Although there are tons of image processing software products out there, personally, we tend to stick with the industry standard which is a couple of Adobe products - Lightroom and Photoshop.  

And then the next question is inevitable....well, which one should I use?  Well, it depends.  We use both, but both may not be suited to everyone's needs.  I (Ledra) will say personally however, that I use Lightroom for about 75% of my photo editing needs.  When Lightroom came out it was immediately recognizable as a very different product from the traditional Photoshop. Where Photoshop requires the use of layers and selections and a number of fairly initially confusing tool choices to make said selections, Lightroom employs more of a slider-style type of adjustment....but to the entire image evenly.  Basically, it is just more intuitive for the newer user if you aren't trying to do very involved editing work.

As my work flow process goes....I import my images into Lightroom, add important key descriptive words for sorting and searching purposes. Then I will use the common sliders for white balance, exposure, contrast, clarity, saturation, sharpening, etc. Most everything I need can be done with the basic sliders. 

Now, technically there is a section in Lightroom where you can use a brush to make selections that just affect a certain portion of the image. I will use this very lightly, because heavy use seems to introduce artifacts and can look heavy handed and fake. 

But, if I need to process different parts of the image separately or combine exposures, that's when I generally go into Photoshop. Then I get all creative with selections, layer masks, combining layers and all of those other words that tend to scare the bejeebees out of new photographers.  I finally switched to CC this year for both Lightroom and Photoshop and have found that my work flow process hasn't changed much.  They have added some features into LR like pano stitching that seems to work pretty well without having to go into Photoshop for that.  But I don't really like what I've seen with the HDR portion of LR.  

So our advice?  Definitely start with Lightroom.  It's relatively easy and will get you up and running faster than trying to understand Photoshop.  But don't get me wrong, once you get to a certain level you will want to know the basics of Photoshop too because there are just some things that you can't do in Lightroom.

Infrared Photography


INFRARED PHOTOGRAPHY is so AWESOME! We decided to take one of our Olympus cameras (E-M5 Mark II) and send it out for a conversion to dedicate the camera to infrared photography.  We chose to use Spencer's Camera & Photo.  They are out of Utah, and did a great job.  

So, what exactly is infrared photography, you may ask?  Well, its just plain fun.  In film days, you had to buy specific infrared film to put in the camera.  The film was sensitive to temperature and had to be loaded in absolute darkness.  Plus, you were required to use a specific red filter.  Between the film and the filter, basically only certain wave lengths of light were allowed to pass thorough the lens and be caputred on film.  The look, was basically a black and white look.  But for the landscape photographer, all foilage went white, and skies and water would go almost black.....very stark and ethereal looking images....and a WHOLE LOT of trouble.  

Well, with the advent of digital photography you can actually have a camera converted to capture only these same wave lengths of light - and you can see it happening right in the viewfinder.  Keep in mind, however, the conversion is permanent and the camera will only shoot this type of photography going forward. Plus, you have the option of a straight black and white conversion or a color conversion.  The fun thing about a color conversion is that you get crazy looking color images that you can also desaturate to turn them to the more well known black and white infrared look. 

Another really cool thing about infrared is that you get your best images when the foliage is lit by the bright sun. This goes completely against the notion of only shooting landscape photography during the 'golden hours.'  So, shoot your regular landscape shots during the 'golden hours' and then whip out the infrared converted camera as the sun gets higher, and keep on shootin'!

Check out the below images.  Some of the images retain the color from the color conversion, but some have been transferred into straight black and white and even into a sepia look.  Which do you like better??  The beauty is that you don't have to choose - you can have them all!

So check out Spencer's Camera & Photo ( and all the different kinds of conversions they do. And if you decide you would like to try something fun, tell them we sent you and use this code for $25 off any order over $100: NATURALCONNECTIONS25

Olympus Mirrorless vs. DSLR


Ok, so here is a fun photo proving our point about why we love our Olympus cameras and our lightweight Lowepro bags. 

The contents of the Lowepro Flipside Sport 20L on the right is:

EM1 Camera Body+ battery grip
EM5 II Camera Body + battery grip
EM10 Camera Body + grip
7-14mm PRO 2.8
12-40mm PRO 2.8
40-150mm PRO 2.8
75mm 1.8
1.4x teleconverter
FL600 flash

On the left is the equivalent Canon gear in the smallest bag we had at the store that could contain it all. 31 lbs on the left, 14 lbs on the right......which would you rather hike with or even simply carry around ?!

That's right!  This is one of the MANY reasons we shoot Olympus. 

Are Lens Filters Still Necessary in the Digital World?


Digital photography and processing programs such as Adobe Photoshop have made capturing and processing digital images incredibly easy.  What used to be nearly impossible is now possible with only a few mouse clicks and keyboard strokes.  With the proliferation of digital cameras there are many more people now trying out their hand at photography.  But what a lot of these new converts to photography don’t know is that there used to be these colored or clear glass or plastic things that photographers would put over the front of their lenses to help them capture a specific type of image.  These glass or plastic things are called filters. 

Filters? Oh, right, filters….that’s the drop down menu in Photoshop that lets you do all kinds of crazy things to the image when you are processing it, right? Well, yes and no.  Those are computer commands that affect the look of your photo AFTER it is taken and downloaded into the computer.  We are talking about a physical filter that you put onto the front of the camera BEFORE the shutter is even snapped.

Granted, digital processing of images has eliminated the need for most filters.  You don’t need the red, green, orange and blue filters anymore in order to get black and white images.  Photoshop and Lightroom do a great job of converting photos from color to black and white and allow great leeway in changing tones separately in the image.  Magenta filters aren’t needed to cancel out the green tint of florescent light anymore and you don’t need a warming filter to add warmth to an image either – the white balance and tint sliders handle these things just fine.

Digital photography has almost eliminated our need to spend money on filters -- almost.  However, there are still a couple of filters out there that are absolutely necessary in the quest for that perfect picture.  These are filters that cannot be replicated in Photoshop and affect the photographer’s ability to even capture a certain type of image in the first place.  The two filters a photographer MUST have in the bag these days are the circular polarizer and the neutral density filter. 

A circular polarizer is simply mandatory as it has several functions.  First of all it gives that great deep blue color in the sky that you see in so many landscape photos.  By looking through the camera and rotating the filter you can actually see the sky turn to that deep shade of blue.  The second thing this filter does is to control glare and reflections.  Rotating the filter will allow you to take the glare off of wet rocks and leaves while making colors more saturated.  It will also eliminate or reduce glare on windows allowing you to shoot through.  A polarizer can also be a great creative tool with reflections.  The polarizer will allow you to either remove the glare so you can see through water to the bottom (a lake for example) or it can maximize reflection so you can allow the surroundings to reflect onto the lake’s surface.

The neutral density filter is other important filter we want to discuss.  The only function of the neutral density filter is to reduce the amount of light that gets to your sensor.  It’s up to you to add the creativity.  Basically anytime you want to reduce the amount of light entering your camera in order to have much slower shutter speeds, you need a neutral density filter.  This is a gray colored filter that doesn’t change the color or saturation of your subject, it merely blocks light.  But you ask, “Well, when would I want to use this type of filter?”  The answer is pretty much anytime there is too much light to let you use shutter speed creatively.  For example, if you are shooting waterfalls but there is too much light you can’t get the slower shutter speeds that allow for that beautiful blur of the water.  Other possibilities would be capturing motion blur of people as they walk by or the trail of car lights in the evening as they pass by.  Often there is just too much light to allow this to happen.  Basically, an ND filter allows you to capture photos that would otherwise be impossible to capture.  We suggest at a minimum buying a 3-stop (.9 or 8x) circular ND filter.  We keep a 3-stop and a 10-stop in our bags at all times.  There is also a creation called a variable neutral density filter – by rotating the filter (similar to a polarizer) you can change the degree of density anywhere from 2 stops up to 8 stops.

We do want to point out that we are not talking about split neutral density filters.  These are rectangular pieces of plastic that are clear on one end and dark on the other with some sort of gradation in between.  In our opinion, these are outdated as well. They used to be helpful for darkening the sky when it was impossible to expose a scene properly in a single frame.  Photoshop has a gradation that will help with this or one can simply take two exposures and combine them in Photoshop. Also, many cameras have built-in HDR features now. 

So, the point today is that the use of filters is not completely dead.  The circular polarizer and the circular neutral density filters are still very valuable tools in the photographer’s bag.  There is some technique that one must know to use them, but it is well worth learning how to do.

How to Choose a GOOD Tripod


Ask any professional photographer the one piece of equipment they love (and detest) the most. More times than not the answer will be his tripod. It is often a love/hate relationship between a photographer and his most steady friend. A tripod is the one thing a photographer needs more than anything else to make great photos, but some days the cumbersomeness of a tripod can be the bane of his existence. However, tripod technology is making great strides and there are many acceptable choices for photographers these days.  

The Tripod as a System

Unless a tripod comes with the exact combination of leg and head options that a photographer is looking for, it is best not purchase a tripod ‘kit’. It is preferable to purchase the legs and the head separately so as to get both a quality head and quality legs, each with the photographer’s desired features that make the most sense for how he approaches photography. Below is some information to keep in mind when evaluating tripod features.

Tripod Legs - Stability

First and foremost a tripod should be stable, and with greater stability comes added weight. When evaluating a tripod, there is always a trade off between weight and sturdiness. The heavier the tripod the more sturdy it is. The lighter the tripod the more likely the photographer is to actually carry it. Carbon Fiber and Aluminum are the two most common materials. Carbon fiber is the lighter of the two. Just think about how the tripod will be used the most. 

If a photographer is into outdoor photography that entails hiking, he will likely choose carbon fiber if he wants the tripod to actually make it back to the car. If a photographer generally never shoots too far away from his car, then the added weight of a heavier tripod may not make that much difference.   

The number of leg sections in a tripod also make a difference. Normally tripods are made with 3 or 4 leg sections. The fewer sections the more stable. However, for those photographers who are taller in stature, a 3-section tripod may not be an option as the 4-section legs tend to extend to a taller height. 

When researching tripods make absolutely sure to consider the height of the extended tripod without the center column extended. Extending the center column essentially makes an expensive tripod into an unsteady monopod. In other words, get a tripod that that extends to the appropriate height without the center column included in the calculation. 

Tripod Leg Movement

All three legs on the tripod should be able to move independently. This means there is no connecting apparatus halfway down the tripod that slides out and keeps the legs in only one position. An appropriate tripod will have an independent locking system. This is a lock on each individual leg that allows you to move one or all of the legs independently and separately of each other.

Tripod Leg Angle

Try to get a tripod whose legs will move outward as closely to 90 degrees as possible. The higher the legs will flip up, the closer to the ground the camera can get. This is important for subjects low on the ground and for macro photography.  If the camera has a center column, make sure it is removable or 90 degree flexibility will mean nothing since a non-removable column will prohibit the camera from getting close to the ground.

Tripod Head Types

Two of the most common types of tripod heads are the Pan and Tilt head and the Ball head. Each of these heads has its own feel. Which type a photographer may choose is often a matter of which one works best for the way he shoots and which one make the photographer the most comfortable.

Pan & Tilt Ball Heads

These heads work either on 2 or 3 different planes of movement or axis points (up and down; right to left; diagonally) and have a handle for each plane of movement. They can be great for precision, but they can be very bulky and confusing depending on how many handles there are to adjust the positions.

Geared Heads – these are a type of pan and tilt head. These heads have the same movement as the general pan and tilt, but they also have gears on the lever that allow for very minute as well as overall head adjustment. They can be used for work requiring a high degree of attention to detail.

Ball Heads

Ball heads come with varying features and come in various prices ranges. Common brands are Arca-Swiss, Kirk Enterprises and Really Right Stuff. The most versatile ball heads have three knobs for adjustment. The main knob releases the grip to allow full movement of the head. The second knob is a tension knob which allows you to dial in the amount of tension the head applies to the ball so as to allow a looser or tighter movement. The third knob releases the panning mechanism which allows the head to twist around on the horizontal plane. They are very compact and easy to carry, but a ball head does have a slight learning curve associated with its use and some can be a bit heavy.The Pistol Grip is a type of ball head but it has a much larger handle that protrudes to one side. You work it as if you are squeezing a pistol trigger. While the trigger is squeezed, the locking mechanism is released and the head can be moved into any position. Then just release the ‘trigger’ to lock the head into the place. These heads are flexible, but the pistol protrusion can get in the way and limit some movement. Pistol grip heads also tend to lack a tension control knob as well. 

Quick Release System

Always a good feature, this allows the photographer to quickly slap the camera body on the tripod or to whip it off in a hurry.  Without the quick release system a photographer would have to literally screw the tripod thread into the base of the camera every time he wanted to mount or remove the camera. 

There are a number of quick release systems out there, but the most recommend are the heads with a quick release plate or L-bracket system. Really Right Stuff, Wimberley, Arca-Swiss or Kirk Enterprises are some of the best. These heads are all based on the Arca-Swiss system, and many of the components are interchangeable between the brands.  Benro and MeFoto are newer brands that have become popular as well. 

Basic Composition - Improve Your Photography Today


Understanding the rules of composition can help any photographer with any kind of camera. Although an SLR camera (a camera body with interchangeable lenses) will help one take the most advantage of these tips, even an amateur with a point-and-shoot camera can immediately improve his photography by applying these rules. 

1) First and Foremost - The Rule of Thirds Understanding the Rule of Thirds is the single most effective way to immediately transform your image capture skills. Using this rule is achieved by mentally dividing the image into thirds both horizontally and vertically. The points where the lines intersect are called ‘power points.’ Placing the subject at one of these points and placing other areas or secondary subjects in the photo along the dividing lines or along other power points will draw the viewer into the photo and will cause the image to be a much stronger and balanced image.

Using the Rule of Thirds means that the amateur photographer must purposely override his initial tendency to place the subject square in the middle of the photograph. Every once in a while it is ok to center the photograph. But initially it is important to become very familiar with the Rule of Thirds and to use it consistently. After the photographer is comfortable with this concept he can later learn when it is appropriate to actually break the rule.

2) Fill the Frame Another useful compositional rule is to make sure and ‘fill the frame’. The first mistake many amateur photographers make with a digital SLR camera is they tend to capture the subject so that it is far too small within the frame. In other words, the subject and the important parts of the image don’t extend to the edges of the photograph. Don’t make this mistake. Use the zoom on the lens to get closer to the subject or even use the built in ‘foot zoom’ – i.e. get up and physically move closer to the subject.

3) Format – Vertical or Horizontal? Don’t forget that the camera doesn’t just have to stay in the horizontal position. It can actually turn vertically too. Most new photography enthusiasts whip out the camera and just start shooting. The natural tendency is to shoot horizontally and some new photographers will go years without ever turning their camera to the vertical position.Some subjects simply require a vertical orientation. Photographing taller subjects or using a wide angle for unusual viewpoints work well within a vertical framework. If in doubt, shoot it both ways. It is a digital world – it never hurts to have more shots of a subject than a photographer thinks he needs.

4) Simplify the Image A good photograph should reveal a single subject or idea with as little clutter as possible. If someone has to ask what it is a picture of (unless it is a purposeful abstract) then the image doesn’t work. If the photographer has to defend or explain the image, then the image doesn’t work.Try to describe in a single sentence what the image is about: "This is a photograph of driftwood on the beach at sunset." Then begin to eliminate all but the essential visual elements. Is the family walking down the beach the background necessary for the image? Are the random sticks at the edge of the photograph adding to the idea? Probably not. Zoom in or recompose to capture only exactly what is necessary to the image.  

One way to isolate subjects is to experiment with different angles of view. This means getting up above or down below the subject. Sometimes shooting from an elevated vantage point will help you eliminate distracting or cluttered backgrounds. If you shoot from below you may be able to isolate subjects against the sky. Also consider using different lens lengths. Zooming in on your subject is an excellent way to reduce clutter.

5) Look for Lines Lines are extremely important in a photograph as they can have many uses.  If they are interesting enough, they can become a visual topic in themselves: Who could resist the lines of a spider's web glistening with dew or the soft yet sleek lines of a desert sand dune?Lines lead the eye into a scene and they are often essential for showing distance and depth in a photograph. Leading lines appear in various ways. Curved lines can lead just as well as a straight line. Just think of a winding country road that draws the eye into the frame. Also look for intersecting lines, converging lines and even implied lines to help draw the viewer into the image. 

Guaranteed Success

If a photographer incorporates all of these tips into his image capture process, it is sure to make quite a positive change in his photography.  Just remember:  What format is best for this image - vertical or horizontal?  Are there any leading lines that will help pull the viewer into the image?  Is the subject on a power point or one of the dividing lines?  Does my subject fill the frame and have all distractions been eliminated?  If a photographer asks himself these questions when composing an image, he is guaranteed to end up with drastically better images

Photographing and Staying Safe


Getting that ultimate shot can be the ultimate high. Often photographers feel pretty invincible behind the camera. Being behind the camera can offer a false sense of removal from a physical situation. This is not necessarily a good thing. Unless the photographer is okay with being appreciated for his work only after his untimely demise, he should probably make safety during the photo shoot his first priority. Below are some instances where the photographer will want to use heightened care in ensuring his safety.

Trains, Planes & Automobiles

Basically if the photographer is shooting in an area where large metal things are in motion, he should use caution. Yes, that image shot from the double yellow line on a twisty mountain road may look great, but that driver in the car zipping down the road may not see someone standing in the middle of the road in time to stop. Railroad tracks can make really interesting images, but a train can’t stop on a dime or swerve out of the way. Always be attentive to surroundings. It is also a good idea to shoot with a buddy who can act as a lookout if absolutely necessary to shoot in less than safe conditions.                       


Animals simply do not care that a photographer is trying to get a good shot. The photographer is invading their home. More times than not, an animal will retreat at the sight, sound or smell of a human. But there is no guarantee this will happen. There are a few things the photographer can do when in the wilderness to lessen the risk of injury from an animal. Make noise and lots of it (no, bear-bells do NOT count.) The human voice travels very far. Most animals, especially bears will turn and head the other direction if given the opportunity. Take caution turning blind corners on trails. One of the worst things a photographer can do is surprise an animal. If this does happen, the best thing to do is to back away slowly. Never run. A human will never outrun a large animal. And yes, bears can climb trees.

Other important things to know about animals deal with maternal animals, mating season and feeding season. Never get between a mother bear and her babies, ever. Never touch bear cubs, ever. If a photographer finds himself between a mother and her cubs, it is best to slowly but efficiently move to a position that is not between the two. Mating season can also be a bad time to be in the woods. Large animals, like a moose, will charge.  Also, feeding season for bears preparing for winter hibernation can be a particularly tense time in the forest as well. Don’t hang out near known food sources.

Weather and Temperatures

These considerations will affect outdoor/nature/landscape photographers the most. Many of the most spectacular places to photograph occur in terrain that is somewhat extreme. Deserts, mountains, and oceans are among the places that call particularly to photographers.  What some photographers don’t realize is that temperatures and weather conditions can change rapidly in environments like these. Storms can appear quickly and temperatures can drop 30-40 degrees in a matter of hours.  

The photographer MUST be prepared for his particular conditions.  A snow storm is not uncommon for high mountain peaks even during the summer months. Flash floods in the desert are particularly devastating. It only takes a couple of inches of rainfall and a couple of seconds to sweep a car and its occupants away. The key is to research particular areas for all possible weather scenarios for all times of the year. 

Photographer Stupidity

Top on the list of photographer stupidity (second only to petting a bear cub or bison) is when photographers put themselves into situations where they fall or drown. When photographing around raging water or towering cliffs, the important thing for the photographer to remember is to actually watch where he is walking without the camera poised in front of his face. 

Also, protecting photography gear can be a hazard if photographing in areas near a drop off. The photographer’s instinct is to protect his gear. This can cause insufficient effort to be exerted toward protecting himself. If a photographer’s bag or equipment starts to fall over the side of a cliff it is important not to try and save it. Doing so can pull the photographer off balance and he can go over with the bag. Don’t be stupid. Get insurance on the gear and don’t follow it off the cliff or into the raging torrents. Gear can be replaced. 

The Camera Does Not Remove Us From the Environment

Photography is almost voyeuristic in its application. People can (incorrectly) feel that they are only observers to life and that they aren’t immediately a part of what is going on around them. No, that bear in the viewfinder is really right there. That angry person approaching with a clenched fist is really right there. That speeding train or approaching car is really right there. The key to safe photography is preparation and common sense. There is no reason any photo enthusiast must ever get hurt while pursuing his passion if he always remembers to put safety first.       

Does Gear Equal Glory?


Ah, photography equipment – the black hole of the photographer’s universe; the bane of our existence; our lover and our nemesis; our muse and our siren; the place where ‘wants’ and ‘needs’ become inextricably mutated.

First and foremost, I am compelled to state the utmost of truths - it isn’t the equipment, it is the person controlling the equipment!  It isn’t the instrument, it is the artist!  Every professional photographer worth his salt will tell you this.  Every photography instructor will preach it from the tippy tops of his projector stand. 

However, with that said, the reality is all photographers have to buy some kind of photographic equipment, and eventually we all get sucked down into that scary black hole where money and all common sense seem to disappear. There is a key to choosing how to spend allotted photography dollars appropriately.  The key lies within our ability to truly and honestly evaluate our level of desire to pursue photography and the likelihood of our follow through. 

I remember my first years as a photography enthusiast.  I purchased my first DSLR, a couple of cheap kit lenses, and maybe a few Cokin filters. I didn’t know it at the time, but oh how it would expand from there! Now that I am a professional with much more expensive tastes, what do I think as I look around at all of this old equipment just collecting dust? (Other than I really need to learn how to sell stuff on Ebay.)  I wish that I had known then what I know now. 

Let’s take my trusty tripod as an example.  I would have never purchased the $50 tripod, and then the $150 tripod, and then the $300 tripod, and then the $400 tripod.  I would have skipped right to my $1000 set up with the Manfrotto legs and the Really Right Stuff ball head and saved $900 in the process.  But of course, at the time I didn’t have $1000 to plop down on a tripod setup and it would have convinced anyone around me I was absolutely insane had I chosen to do so. 

And so it goes similarly with cameras and lenses.  I wouldn’t have purchased the Minolta body and two kit lenses – I would have gone straight to Canon and purchased my 5D and 4 pro L-series lenses.  But there again, my boyfriend at the time would have had a heart attack because all of that cost more than his first car!

So what’s the point?  Purchasing photography gear is a balancing act between your knowledge of photography gear, your money and your intentions. Unfortunately, the reality is you have to do the best with the information you have at the time.  If photography is just a hobby and you only take the tripod out of the closet once a year at Christmas for the family group photo, then I say buy the cheapest tripod you can find that will actually stand up.  However, if you truly think you will pursue this hobby and develop it into something more, then you should evaluate your photographic purchases entirely differently. 

In fact, maybe our moms had it right all along – buying our shoes a little bit big with ‘growing room’ saves money down the road.  Consider that strategy when evaluating camera gear purchases.  Be honest with yourself about current needs and anticipated future needs and it may save you some money in the end.  But don’t go it alone.  Ask someone you trust about the appropriate gear to buy.  Visit a professional camera store.  Consult a professional photographer, an instructor or at least that really talented advanced amateur you know.  I guarantee their experiences can help you save a lot of time, money and buyer’s remorse in the process. 

Olympus Live Composite Feature


Some really amazing features have been built into the OM-D line of Olympus cameras. They completely change how photographers do long exposure/blub  and night time photography. 

One of the most amazing of these features is called Live Composite. Live Comp is a version of the bulb feature that is found in almost all DSLR cameras where a shutter release will keep the shutter open for however long you like for long exposure and creative photography.  But Live Comp doesn't just take photography a step beyond, it takes it WAY beyond the concept of bulb. 

Bulb is great for things like star trails, car trails and fireworks.  But the downside is that you never know how long to leave the shutter open and you never know what the exposure will look like.  That can be very concerning after you've spent 3 hours at 2am shooting and hoping you captured SOMETHING that will work. 

Well, never worry about this again! Live Comp to the rescue.  It works like this:

  • The camera takes an initial exposure that exposes the base scene as it should be regardless of whether you are looking to add time and streaks like car trails, star trails or fireworks.
  • The shutter is pressed once more after that and the 'compositing' begins.  The camera records and adds only the moving lighter subjects in the the base image never overexposes unlike in the basic bulb setting. 
  • For example:  the image above was exposed for the sky and the buildings initially....THEN the camera starts adding ONLY the car trails as they move through the image. 

The absolute beauty of this is that the city and sky stays looking good, and I have control over when I stop the exposing of the streaks.  I can watch the screen the entire time seeing the streaks build, and then stop the exposure when I like what I see. 

This changes EVERYTHING regarding long exposure motion photography.