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A Look at the Past for Inspiration

4 Apr

Arnie and I are continually amazed at the famous names in photography that are unknown by most photographers. Back a century or so, people apprenticed under a master artist or went to museums to study technique and gain inspiration. Today, people get a digital camera and go out, clicking indiscriminately away. Of course, this does not apply to those who really want to improve their photography, but one cannot move forward if one does not know about the past.

In our workshops, we point to Rembrandt for the quality and magic of light and mystery of shadow. Was he a photographer? No, but he was an artist, and any serious photographer seeks to be an artist, too.

Most people have heard about Daguerre or at least Louis-Jacques-Mandé’s invention of the daguerreotype process. But how many heave heard of William Henry Fox Talbot and his camera obscura who lived in the charming little hamlet of Lacock in the Cotswolds? © 1864 John Moffat

Many of the photo magazines today pander to the lowest common denominator. So many of the photographs in today’s journals are flat, have no depth. There is no magic of light and mystery of shadow. HDR run amok. Sounds a bit snotty? Maybe, but what is wrong with developing a discerning eye? Anyone can do it.

Some people know the work of Margaret Bourke-White, the first woman photojournalist hired by Continue reading 

Tripods & Ball Heads Redux

19 Oct

Originally published February 19, 2009 … revised … yet again … October 19, 2014

© 2011 Martha Wells.  All Rights Reserved.  From Barefoot Contessa Photo Adventures.  For usage and fees, please e-mail TBC (at) BCphotoadventures (dot) com or contact us at 310 Lafayette Drive, Hillsborough, NC  27278 or at 919-643-3036 before 9 p.m. east-coast time, GMT-5, and we will get you in touch with the photographer..
Photo used with permission © 2011 Martha Wells. All Rights Reserved.

OK, let get down to brass tacks, or in this case, tripods and ball heads.

Teaching photo workshops as we do, we run into tons of questions about equipment.

“What camera should I buy?”

“What lens(es) should I bring?”

I was looking at a review on …”

Rarely, however, do people consult with us on tripods and ball heads ahead of time. In spite of our previous blog on this subject, updated several times since it was originally posted in February of 2009 and an article to which we have directed all our participants since it was published, people rarely ask us for any input on tripods and ball heads.

Are we the do-all-end-all in advice? Of course not, but Arnie and I made our living for decades as successful, full-time, working, professional photographers, and as such, we know what works. And as long-time teachers, we have seen the frustrations of those who try to “save” money.

“I just spent $X on my camera, and those things are expensive.”

Yes, they are, no question. It goes back to the old expression, “You gets what you pays for.” It’s rather akin to filters. Why would you put a $20-30 filter on an expensive lens? After all, your lens is only as good as the weakest piece of glass on it. Yup, you’ve got it. That expensive lens is now only as good as the glass in that cheap $20-30 filter.


Is there any difference when you contemplate buying a tripod and ball head? You spend, let’s say, $3,000 on a camera body and some lenses. That’s conservative in many cases. And you buy a flimsy, $129.99 combo deal on sale? Your $3,000 investment isn’t very safe on that I’ve-saved-money piece of … er … well, you know what I might have said. That is not to say that getting something on sale or second hand isn’t a good way to go, BUT

We are always amazed that people will spend thousands of dollars on a high-end camera and lenses but skimp on their tripod and head. Having a substandard system for your camera and lenses is worse than having no tripod at all. We have seen cameras fall on rocks, head for the drink or briny deep, teeter off porches, and a host of other mishaps. Fortunately for our students, the cameras were caught or rescued in the nick of time, but — and this is a BIG BUT — they were really lucky!

And then, there have been those who were not so lucky. Fortunately, they were in the minority.

© 2011 Laura Palka.  All Rights Reserved.  From Barefoot Contessa Photo Adventures.  For usage and fees, please e-mail TBC (at) BCphotoadventures (dot) com or contact us at 310 Lafayette Drive, Hillsborough, NC  27278 or at 919-643-3036 before 9 p.m. east-coast time, GMT-5, and we will get you in touch with the photographer. Photo used with permission © 2011 Laura Adler Palka. All Rights Reserved.

“OK,” you ask, “what should I buy?”

The first answer is, “Get the best you can afford.” That is obviously a simplistic answer, so we’ll delve further.

First, weigh your camera and your heaviest lens. Add a few pounds in case you want to buy an even heavier lens later on. Both your tripod and head should be rated to handle that weight with a margin of safety of at least another couple of pounds!

We generally recommend looking for something with a load capacity of an absolute minimum of 14 pounds — 18 is much better — for a dSLR camera, and considerably more if you have a medium-format or larger camera.

In the long run, it is cheaper to buy a good system than an entry-level one. So many of our participants have skimped and ended up more than frustrated with their equipment. They ultimately buy something better, and guess what? They wasted their money on that first system. Sometimes, they have indulged in second and third systems before they finally realize that they should have gone for an appropriate system the first time. Realistically, however, budgets are budgets, and each person has to weigh those decisions.

Carbon-fiber tripods are lighter, but they are more expensive than the standard metal ones. That said, the prices are coming down every time you turn around. Wait for a sale.

There are features we like to see in a tripod, to wit: Continue reading 

Camera Firmware Updates

13 May

Why Should I Update?

NikonWe buy these expensive camera bodies and lenses, but we forget to update our firmware. Can you imagine not updating your computer or Smart/Stupid phone? Of course not.

Those firmware updates can provide you with added features. Each firmware update for us has made the camera work even better than before, given us more options, and corrected/enhanced some items.

Arnie and I have had Nikons for a long time. They work for us. Their link to firmware updates is at

Others prefer Canon, Leica, Hasselblad, Panasonic, etc., etc.

Alas, the manufacturers of these expensive little-pixel processors do not let their loyal public know about the latest updates. So, here are some I could find … in alphabetical order … but note the images are just to indicate the brand: Continue reading