Photo Cascadia Blog
Archive for the ‘Photo Travel’ Category
With the latest interview and featured photographer spot on Photo Cascadia blog we bring you Marsel Van Oosten. Although based in The Netherlands, and area with little in the way of grand landscapes, he truly paints a picture of what it’s like to be a photographer leading adventures around the globe. I was first exposed to Marsel’s inspiring work about seven years ago on Nature Photographers Network (NPN). It was his great photos of Namibia that lured me in. Although I heard of the location before and seen photos, I realized he had some unique takes on the area. Along with photographing remarkable and exotic locales he has an exceptional wildlife portfolio. For years I have listed him on my website as a photographer that inspires. You will see why in this interview and his photographs.
1. Tell us about your life before photography or have you always been behind the camera?
I finished art school with a BA in art direction and graphic design, and then worked as an art director in advertising for 15 years. When I was in art school, I didn’t care much about photography. I could choose it as a major, but I couldn’t see myself messing around with chemicals in my bathroom all day to develop arty farty black and white prints. During my career as an art director, I worked with a great many professional photographers, and that’s when I really learned about the power of photography, how to look, how to select, how to work with light, and about post processing. Over the years it developed from a harmless hobby to a full blown obsession. My photographic style is greatly influenced by my graphic design education and my career as an art director.
2. You have some amazing nature and wildlife photos, which is your focus. What draws you to those subjects over everything else?
Thank you. I love nature, I love animals, I love being outdoors – always have. In advertising, everything was fake. At first, nature photography was a way for me to escape from the pressure and hectic life at an ad agency. The peace and quiet was therapeutic and it was nice to work with real stuff – trees, rivers, skies, animals. The creative challenge was interesting as well. Nature is chaos, and I liked trying to create some order. In many ways nature photography is like graphic design – you have a whole bunch of elements that need to be organized so that it makes sense and looks attractive. For me this is still one the most interesting creative aspects of what I do.
Working with animals is both amazing and frustrating. If you’re a landscape photographer, you have all the time in the world – you walk around, pick a good spot, wait for the magic light, and click. And if the weather does not cooperate, you return the next day – the landscape will still be there. With wildlife it’s completely different. I have no influence over my subject, all I can do is wait and hope for the best. When the light is perfect, the animal doesn’t show up, or when the animal is doing something amazing, it’s usually too dark, facing away from the camera, or hiding behind a tree. It’s very rare to get everything just perfect. And that’s exactly what makes it so addictive – there is always room for improvement and you never know what you’re going to get. It’s the anticipation. You’re looking at a scene, you see the light is perfect, you’ve already figured out the composition, the animal is walking into the right direction, and you’re hoping for those few extra steps to get the perfect shot. It can be really exciting. And when something interesting does happen, it’s usually over before you know it. You have to work fast, make the right decisions in a split second. It’s a lot of fun.
3. Speaking of subjects you have one of the best collections of Namibia photos I have seen. How do you continue find ways to push yourself creatively and come back with different and unique images after visiting the same place many times?
As a nature photographer you have basically two options: you photograph an unfamiliar subject, or you photograph a familiar subject. The first option is by far the easiest – if you subject is unfamiliar, you’re bound to end up with an original photograph. The second option can be very difficult from a creative point of view, especially when you’re photographing iconic places or subjects. I really like the creative challenge that places that have been shot to death give me. You really have to push yourself to your artistic limits to come up with something that feels original, even though the subject matter really isn’t.
When I first visited Deadvlei many years ago, there were hardly any photographs of it anywhere. People could not believe these places were real – they thought it was all photoshopped. After we set up the world’s first photo tour to Namibia, things started to change. More and more photographers visited the country and photographed the same subjects that I had. Every year it became more difficult to return with something original, but every year it became more interesting for me as an artist.
Nobody knows these places better than I do. When I see a photograph taken in Deadvlei for instance, I can show you on Google Earth which trees they are exactly, and at what time of the day the shot was taken – it’s pretty scary. I like visiting a place multiple times, you have to get to know a location to be able to fully understand the creative potential. But the most important thing you have to do is: think. Most of the photographs that I shoot in Namibia I have already pre-visualized at home. I don’t want to waste time walking around, thinking about what I’m going to do if I already know the location. Before each visit, I analyze the shots that I’ve taken there on previous visits, and decide what can be improved upon, or I try to come up with something that’s never been done there before. That’s how I decided to create the first time-lapse from Namibia that was shot entirely at night. Later this year we will visit Namibia probably for the 20th time or so, and I’m still looking forward to it again.
4. If you had to pick your three favorite images, what are they and why? (they are the three in this post)
Resurrection: I’m very proud of this image, because it was the result of creative vision. I had pre-visualized this image years before I was finally able to shoot it, and at a time when all landscape photographers told me that it would be impossible to shoot anything new there anymore – it had been shot to death. It is so difficult to shoot original images at iconic places, but it is extremely rewarding when you pull it off. So many photographers are obsessed about their gear and processing technique, but in the end the only thing that really matters is creative vision. As a matter of fact, this image won an award in the Creative Visions category of the Wildlife Photographer Of The Year Awards. That was a real bonus.
Brave Elephant: Victoria Falls is yet another icon that has been photographed by millions. On my first visit there, I almost decided to leave my camera at the hotel, thinking about the kazillion images that had already been shot there. When I heard from the locals that an bull elephant had been spotted the day before in the vicinity of the falls, I decided to stay a few extra days and try my luck.
Photography is all about making decisions. Anyone could have made this shot, but very few people would have made that same decision. This is the only photograph in the world, apart from the horizontal version that was featured in National Geographic, that features an elephant this close to the edge of Vic Falls. It is also the perfect example of my ideal photograph: a spectacular landscape image with an animal in it.
Invasion Of The Dunes: Another one from Namibia. My first publication in National Geographic – a double page spread, 10 million copies worldwide. I was ecstatic. This was shot at a time when few people knew this place existed. Daniella and I were the only people here for days. The sand was pristine everywhere, which is no longer the case unfortunately. You can only get this light at a very specific time of the year, as the sun needs to rise at a certain spot to shine directly into the middle room. This room is difficult to find, but it’s the first one that people start looking for when they go here. It is by far my most copied shot ever.
5. You lead workshops around the globe from Namibia to Antarctica. What can one expect on a workshop with you?
We know the locations that we visit very well, so you can expect to be at the right place at the right time, fully briefed on all the creative challenges and possibilities. People that travel with us, usually do so because they like my work and they want to learn from me, see me at work. I like to help people to improve their photography, and teach them to analyze a scene. I have a very specific way of looking at spaces and dealing with shapes, so I try to bring that across. Composition is very important for me, more so than light, so I always give a presentation on that.
Also, part of every Squiver tour is image reviews – each participant selects up to three images from the previous day(s), and I analyze them in front of the group. These sessions are incredibly interesting and educational, also for me. We get people of all experience levels, which is great. We all learn from each other, also from the beginners.
But the main reason that people keep traveling with us, is the fact that we are a husband and wife company – we always lead our tours together. It’s a completely different group dynamic. Photography is a very male dominated thing, but we tend to get relatively more women than other companies because of that. The result is that there is less tech talk, which is good – I don’t like to talk about buttons and sensors all the time.
6. Is there any artist, photographer or otherwise, that has been a big influence on how you photograph or your creative process?
The one artist that has inspired me most, is German landscape painter Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840). His paintings characteristically set a human presence in diminished perspective amid expansive landscapes, reducing the figures to a scale that directs the viewer’s gaze towards their metaphysical dimension. When I first saw his work back in art school, it made a big impression on me, and it’s been a source of inspiration ever since.
But there are so many other great artists around – the internet is filled with talent. I don’t look at much of it, only when I’m going to photograph something specific – I like to know what’s already been done so I can at least try to do it differently.
7. I notice you have entered (and won) a number of photo contests over the years. What are your thoughts on them; are they still a good avenue to stand out? And what contest gave you the biggest exposure?
Most photography competitions are only in it for the money, or to get their hands on your photographs for free. There are many contests out there, and most of them are completely useless. However, I do believe that contests can be helpful.
Photography is an art form, and art is subjective. If you’re a marathon runner, you can tell how good you are by looking at your best time. If you’re a photographer, you can’t. Family and friends always think your photographs are amazing, but they can not be trusted. When I was still working in advertising, I struggled with this phenomenon. I wanted to know whether my images were any good, so I decided to enter a couple of competitions to see what would happen. After I won prizes in several major contests, I knew that my images were good enough to stand out from the millions of others – in the end this was what gave me the confidence to switch careers.
I still participate, primarily because it’s nice to know whether other people certain images are as good as I think they are, and because it looks good on my cv. I know that I’m a good photographer, so I don’t need the ego boost – I hardly ever visit the award ceremonies. If you want to become a professional photographer, participating in any of the major contests is a good way to find out if your images stand out from the rest. There are already so many photographers out there, so if you want to make it, you need to be better than most of the others.
As a nature photographer, there are only five contests in the world that I think matter; Wildlife Photographer Of The Year, European Wildlife Photographer Of The Year, Travel Photographer Of The Year, International Photography Awards, and Nature’s Best Awards. Those are the competitions that publishers, galleries and stock agents look at. My recent win in the Wildlife Photographer Of The Year gave me the most exposure, mostly because the picture (of a snow monkey holding an iPhone) appealed to many people and because the contest has a big reach.
8. When you are not photographing or leading a tour what do you like to do?
I like to watch tv series like Game Of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Homeland, and House Of Cards, and I like to listen to Death Metal. Septicflesh rules.
9. Quick questions:
- Nikon or Canon? Nikon
- Apple or PC? Apple, never worked with a PC
- Photoshop or Lightroom? Photoshop
- Favorite book photography related? Before They Pass Away, by Jimmy Nelson
- Where do you want to photograph that you haven’t? Niger
10. Lastly what is one mistake you made early on whether it was with the photos itself or the business side that you really learned from, and others can learn from as well?
The biggest mistake I have made, is that I haven’t made the switch to photography earlier. I had been thinking about it for years before I finally took the plunge. Making a living with nature photography used to be a lot easier, and it’s virtually impossible now. If you really want something, follow your heart and don’t wait too long. Life is short, and you should do the things that you’re passionate about. Nothing else matters.
I would like to thank Marsel for his time to do this interview with me. To see more of his work and workshop listing visit http://www.squiver.com
Once again another year is coming to a close for all of us which brings time to look back on the past and what might lie ahead for the new year. This year marks the 5 year milestone since Photo Cascadia was born. Surviving the toddler years we are feeling strong with a continued united mission “learn, explore, create” as we intended from the early days. It’s pretty amazing how well we all get along. Some of us knew nothing more than the name and associated photos of each other when Photo Cascadia started. That said Photo Cascadia would not be where it is today without you. Thank you to all of our subscribers and viewers to the newsletter, blog, social media and everywhere else!
Looking back at the photos each of us from Photo Cascadia captured this year and the places we visited, we feel truly fortunate. Wherever 2014 took you with your photography adventures we hope you enjoy looking back at what it brought for you. For us viewing this slideshow is fresh reminder of the beauty that surrounds us on this planet. Regardless of politics, religion and other beliefs we all enjoy what earth has to offer us from grand landscapes to intimate scenes. A great quote that sums it up best.
“A landscape image cuts across all political and national boundaries, it transcends the constraints of language and culture.” – Charlie Waite
We invite you to take a few minutes (3:35 if I have to be exact) to see a few of our favorites from the team this past year. Slide show is best viewed full screen at 1080p resolution.
We will take a holiday break from blog posts until sometime in January. After that we should be posting again and look forward to engaging with all of you as we do throughout the year. We hope this holiday season brings you memorable experiences and quality time with family and friends.
Happy Holidays and New Year from the crew at Photo Cascadia!
Adrian Klein, Chip Phillips, David M Cobb, Kevin McNeal, Zack Schnepf and Sean Bagshaw
By David Cobb
A decade ago I traveled through Iceland exploring and planning for my 2006 walk across the island. I marveled at the stark scenery and the long hours of beautiful light-a photographer’s paradise. Today, you can’t fling a spoonful of Slátur (blood pudding) in Iceland without hitting a photographer. Those early feelings in an earlier day I had for Iceland rose again on a recent trip to Slovenia, but on this trip I felt I had barely scratched the surface of discovering the beauty of Slovenia.
The Slovenian photo opportunities are much more than the beautiful Church of Assumption atop an island of Lake Bled–waterfalls abound, gorges seemingly are everywhere, the Julian Alps are spectacular, and the countryside is filled with vineyards farms, and picturesque landscapes.
My trip began in the capital city of Ljubljana (a place I joked was the only city with more coffee shops and bicycle riders than my hometown of many years Portland, Oregon). The streets of old town are attractive and easy to wander with a camera and tripod, and at night they truly become alive with lights reflecting onto the river below. And like many European cities, Ljubljana is topped with a castle that you must explore.
Next on the list was a trip to Lake Bled which is truly in a fairyland setting. From here short trips can be made to the popular sites of Lake Bohinj, Vintgar Gorge, Savica Falls, and other parts of Triglav National Park. I’m sure there are more than a million places to discover, explore, and photograph here, but I only had time for a few as we moved on to our next destination east to the town of Ptuj which is surrounded by rolling hills and vineyards that reminded me a bit of Tuscany or even the Palouse. The rural countryside, green grasses, and fall color combined with the soft light to make for some enjoyable photography. The small city streets are also quite photogenic, and the morning city fog adds an air of mystery to it all. From here we left to explore the northern section of Croatia, a country I’ve visited in the past but wanted to see more. We returned to Slovenia along its small coastline and stayed in the town of Piran–a lively coastal city and photogenic along the harbor.
A two-hour drive brought us back to Ljubljana and completed our loop of the country. The people here were always friendly and knew English well. The food ranged from very good to excellent, so I never had a bad meal. Like I said, I barely scratched the surface of this country’s photo opportunities. Fellow Photo Cascadia member Sean Bagshaw also vacationed here in 2014 and we’re planning to conduct a fall color photo tour of this country with Slovenian photographer Luka Esenko in 2017, so stay tuned for updates.
I often get asked which is the best time to visit the Oregon Coast and why. Most people believe that would be the summertime when the sun is out and the days are filled with blue skies. But as a photographer we don’t want the clear blue skies that most ordinary people would want. This could not be more true for the Oregon Coast as the summers are usually filled with no clouds and just boring blue skies. In the winter is when you get the best sunrises and sunsets which make for great dramatic photos. Yes it is true this is when you get the most rain as well but it as the tail end of these weather systems that you are likely to get these amazing weather patterns that make for great photos. So when choosing a time to hit the Oregon Coast it is best to allow some extra time in the vacation to ensure you allow for some bad days. I usually like to go at durations of week or more to ensure I allow for all kinds of weather.
The motto as most photographers know is that the more unstable the weather is the more likely the sunrises and sunsets will be good. So next time the rest of the world takes cover from the rain this is the time to be ready to capture the best photos especially along the Oregon Coast.
Another advantage to shooting on the Oregon Coast in the winter is the extra amount of rain which makes for better reflections and tide pools. This is especially true after a recent rainfall that make for great reflections of the clouds in the tide pools. I time these with low tides where the beach is more likely to be exposed and add a variety of tide pools and beach patterns. The tide pools really add another dimension to the coastal images along the Oregon Coast.
The tide pools add foreground interest which really pulls your viewer into the image. That immediate draw tells a story by combining a foreground with the background through juxtaposition of elements. The tide pools also add a natural mirror to the scene and double the color and beauty of the scene.
This also adds depth to the image and really enhances the illusion of the 3-D in your images. Another advantage to photographing right after a rainfall is the sand and rain together create nice patterns in the sand. I looks for these patterns in the sand in relation to sand ripples and the way the lines lead through the image. I compose my images so that the ripples and patterns lead to the subject I am trying to highlight in the image. If you carefully compose your images at certain angles you can really take advantage of reflective color off the side of ripples that really draw converging lines toward the subject.
With so many images from the Oregon Coast you really need to think carefully how you are composing your images and making them stand out from other images from the coast.The rain adds a great reflective element to the beach and makes for great reflections. By using the weather elements of winter to your advantage you can really create unique compositions that stand out.
Another advantage to photographing the Oregon Coast in the winter is there is the number of people are much fewer. To photographers this is important as nature can best be viewed when one admires nature in solitude. I am a firm believer in this and that whenever I can get somewhere and be with myself I can connect with nature more. It is important to really figure out what each scene is telling you and then try to convey that in the story of the image. The absence of people also means the lack of footprints in the sand around your composition which is almost impossible in the summertime. I like the fact that when shooting after a rainfall the beach is again in pristine condition and lacking footprints.
Winter photography along the Oregon Coast also allows for the change of ratio and rule of thirds when composing images. To be more specific when i shoot during the summer months along the coast I am forced to compose an image where I try to not include much sky. Because there is never anything much interesting going in terms of just blue skies it forces me to compose the image to be one-third sky or even less and two-thirds foreground (beach). This really limits what I can do in terms of compositions and really hinders my creativity. In winter, with dramatic skies I can change my ratio to either emphasize the sky or foreground and that choice is mine. Using the mood of the sky I can really add creativity to the images with long exposures, reflective ripples, reflecting tide pools, and mirror reflections off the sand.
With so many advantages to shooting coastal images along the Oregon Coast with winter weather conditions make it a priority this winter to get out and do some shooting.
When I am getting ready to head out for a hike or take my camera gear I normally don’t travel very light, except of course when I am backpacking. One of F-stop Gear’s smaller packs forces me to travel lighter than I normally would and this pack is the Kenti, the smallest in their Mountain series and the one that has the built-in ICU. I really like what it has to offer, some of what differs from other packs I have used whether F-stop or other brands.
Basic Specs – 25 liters, 3.4 lbs (1.54 kgs), 17” tall, 11” wide and 8.5” deep. Exterior is DWR-treated, 330D Double Ripstop Nylon with 1500mm Polyurethane coating. Can carry your DSLR, a few lenses, accessories and some others small items like a snack and light jacket.
Feel – When I first put it on I felt like I was ready to hit the trail for a run, not a hike. Because of it’s size the Kenti sits high which I was not used to but really like as it feels more out of the way around my lower back. When I have this loaded with little room to spare I am pleasantly surprised how well the bag holds with little to no sagging feel.
Build – Every generation of F-stop bags honestly gets better and better, this one is no exception. My first one from them I still have from years ago and I love it because it’s bright red and in great shape but you can see the difference in materials and overall build compared to their newer packs. I see no reason this won’t last through heavy use from the mountain trails to the urban back alley.
Hydration – Something I have asked for and I see is integrated in this pack is a place to put a hydration bladder that is outside of the pack with drain at bottom should it leak. A bladder inside the pack and thousands of dollars in gear is not a good combo. I had no issues putting a couple liters of water in my Camelbak bladder and getting it to fit in the hydration slot.
There are few things to note about hydration for this pack. 1) Although I got the bladder to fit fine I could not make use of the H2O hose outlet as seen in the photos. It’s simply too tight of a squeeze for the front of my hose. That said I had no issues letting it sit between the zippers, they stayed firmly in place. 2) Although my backpacking pack I use is similar in that the hydration bladder sits behind my back it has more of an arch to keep it from my pack. That said even though this area is directly touching your back when wearing the pack it felt fine without feeling the shape of the bladder with water. 3) Unless you want to keep your water bottle in your pack with gear this pack lacks an outside water bottle option.
External Straps – You can carry the tripod on the side which I did a few times yet I would suggest getting the Gatekeeper Straps as this allows for carrying it on the back center area. This would also allow you to carry other items here such as snowboard or crampons if desired. I have a feeling I will be using this pack for that purpose this winter.
Main Body Access – Admittedly I am not used to side access compartments for my camera backpacks. That said once you get used to using it nice to swing it onto one should or the other to get access to your gear without putting your bag down. Top access is roll-down for expandability as needed which is pretty cool (reminds me of my Ortlieb panniers that I use for biking). For side access I notice I don’t always remember which side I have my camera and which has my extra lenses. A trick to remember is referencing your hip belt and knowing which gear is in the side with the hip belt pocket and what gear is in the side without. If you have a mirror-less camera system or something similar in size you could put most of your gear on one side and leave the other for clothes or other items.
Pockets – There is plenty! I still remember a trip many years ago to Europe traveling on the bus talking to some climbers from England. They commented on my pack (and American’s in general) how we have so many pockets and compartments in most of our packs. I can’t deny that is me 100% whether it’s a photo bag or not. You will find plenty of places to put small and medium sized items like filters, batteries and cards.
Weather Resistance – One thing I need is something that is built to hold up to the elements and has a rain cover that you can get as an add on. It’s wet in the Northwest so I need this. Although I use the rain cover when it’s raining I have gone without it for short distances in light rain and the DWR-treated exterior repels water quite well. Don’t forget if you use the rain cover and end up tucking it in the bottom compartment to remove it later so it can fully dry out. I have come close a couple times to leaving a damp cover in there which wouldn’t smell nice weeks later!
Overall I really like this pack and for now will be my go to when I want to travel light with less gear. What is your pack of choice for travel light with your photo gear?
Disclosure Note: I am on the F-stop Gear pro team.
I’ve been a little bit out of the loop for a while now tending to my baby who’s now almost 5 months old. Those who say it gets easier after the first 3 months must have had better luck. He is a real sweet guy, doesn’t cry much, and we are having a great time with him, but boy is he a challenge to get to sleep! Unfortunately his sleep has regressed for now. He was sleeping 7-9 hrs straight at night, and for the past month he has been at about 3 hr stretches at first, then less until morning. I know this is better than some, but it is sure hard to get used to when he was doing so much better. He has been diagnosed with acid reflux so we are pretty sure this has been part of the challenge.
I apologize to the people who have been waiting so long to get in on a workshop, but plan to start getting busy soon-things just take a bit longer with the new one around!
I have contacted most of you who wanted a workshop last season and gave you first grabs at my schedule for this year. I have filled up one workshop, and some private spots, and am tentatively scheduling another for May 29-31st. Cost would be $495/person and I am keeping it at 5 people max. This workshop would start a bit before sunset on the 29th, and end after a sunrise shoot/early morning shooting on Sun. This would be in addition to any private or small groups I can fit in as well around the same timeframe.
I am also accepting clients for other times of the year as well if my schedule permits.
More information on my workshops can be found here.
Feel free to fill out a contact form on my website if you are interested in setting something up and I will try my best to accommodate you best I can.
If you are just interested in finding out a bit about my editing tips and tricks, my set of image editing videos can be purchased here.
I grew up backpacking in the California Sierra and Oregon Cascades with my family and have continued to explore the back country and high mountain wilderness ever since. In my twenties and thirties I spent most of my time in the wilderness climbing, carrying ridiculously heavy packs and taking the most direct path to whatever summit was close by. These days I prefer to take more leisurely trips into the wilderness to photograph mountains instead of climbing them. My most rewarding outdoor experiences come from spending a few days with the camera, far away from more crowded roadside landscapes. When I first began going into the wilderness to photograph I simply traded out my climbing gear for camera gear, convinced that a heavy pack was the hallmark of a burly woodsman. Now that I have both hiking boots planted firmly in middle age I find that carrying too much weight has become painful, demoralizing and potentially injury inducing.
In the past few years I have made it a priority to lighten my backpack so I can get up in the hills with a minimum of suffering and maximum of comfort and mobility. It is a work in progress, but I now have a set-up that seems to be working well for me. I figured some people would be interested to know what my back country kit is composed of and that was the motivation for this article. Fellow PhotoCascadian, David Cobb, also an avid back country photographer, previously wrote an article detailing his lightweight backpacking set up. Most of my gear choices are based on suggestions from friends and some basic Internet research and comparison. I don’t have any personal or financial stake in the companies or gear on my list. I genuinely like and endorse all the gear I’m using. However, there are many other options out there which would work equally well or even better.
My main goal is to keep my total fixed pack weight (not including clothes, food and water, which varies day by day and season by season) under 15-18 pounds.
Pack – I use an Osprey pack that is closest to the current Xenith 75 Model: 5.4 lbs. This is the one place where I am willing to go a little heavier for better comfort and load distribution. I find that a good pack can make a heavy load feel lighter than it would with a less able but lighter pack.
Tent – Big Agnes Copper Spur UL1 : 2.5 lbs. Super roomy single person for the weight and very weather proof for a three season tent. I love the big side entry door and high ceiling.
Sleeping bag -Three season – Mountain Hardwear Phantom 45: 1.2 lbs. Good for me down to about 35 degrees F. Cold weather – Marmot Helium: 2.4 lbs. Good for temps down into the low teens or even colder if I wear layers. Both of these down bags are super comfy and light.
Pad – Big Agnes Q-Core SL: 1.1 lbs. I’m getting older and stiffer so the 3.5 inches of air cushion really helps me get a good night’s rest. It also keeps me warm down into the low teens.
Stove – MSR Pocket Rocket: 0.2 lbs. Super light, super small, super fast, super reliable.
Kitchen Kit – MSR Quick Solo Pot: .5 lbs. It’s a pot.
Water treatment – Katadyn Hiker: 0.75 lbs. Basic and reliable, although not the lightest out there.
This puts my basic kit at 11.65 or 12.85 lbs depending on which sleeping bag I take. I have another couple of pounds of odds and ends like first aid kit, head lamp, 10 essentials kit, fuel, mug, etc. That brings me up to about 15 pounds total. This leaves about 20 pounds for extra clothing layers, food and camera gear to stay under my 35 pound limit. For camera gear I choose from the following options.
Camera – Canon EOS 5D mark III or Sony NEX-7
Lenses – 24-105mm or similar. 16-35mm and/or 70-200mm if essential.
Tripod – MeFoto Road Trip or Gitzo Mountaineer.
Camera clip – Peak Design Capture Pro Camera Clip. I hike with my camera outside my pack so I’m ready to shoot at any time without needing to take off the pack and unload it. I find the Peak Design clip an excellent way to carry the camera outside the pack in easy reach.
Depending on how light I want to go will determine which camera, tripod and lenses I take. For the most lightweight rig I’ll take the Sony NEX-7, single 16-55mm lens (roughly 24-82mm equivalent) and the MeFoto Road Trip tripod.
To start off I know Chip covered this camera in one of his recent posts yet I figured I would provide my thoughts and images for what it’s worth.
As I was packing up for a backpack trip this past spring my DSLR equipment seemed heavier than usual. Tip top shape I was not yet a lazy couch potato waking up from winter hibernation was not me either. At this point I figured it was time to start shopping for a mirror-less setup that would shave significant weight for backpacking, long hikes and other travel situations where lugging bulkier or heavier gear was less than optimal.
I looked at a number of models online reading many reviews and talking to some photographers as well. Eventually I settled on the Sony a6000 and Sony lenses, for a number of reasons. It’s the newest model in what has been known as the NEX series. The Sony a6000 is a 24.3MP APS-C HD CMOS with BIONZ X image processor. ISO range 100 to 25,600. Shutter Lag of only .02 seconds with 11 fps and weighing well under one pound!
I have had the camera for a couple months now on several outings, even to photograph a wedding for a family member. This has given me enough time to detail my thoughts and opinions which fall in both the good and the not so good sides.
What I like
Weight – One of the primary goals was to buy a good interchangeable lens system that shaved many pounds from my DSLR setup. Weight details come from weighing my gear on a mailing scale, not product descriptions. The lightness did not go unnoticed on my first backpack trip using this setup. I will let the data do the speaking here.
Size – Besides The Sony a6000 weighing in at less than half the weight of my Canon DSLR setup it’s about half the size too. This photo shows my typical Sony and Canon setups for comparison. As small as it is I can put it with the pancake mid-range lens in a coat pocket to carry around if desired (tad too large for most pant pockets). I am pretty sure I sounded like a broken record to my wife after explaining my excitement a half dozen times that I had to contact f-stop to send me their new tiny micro ICU because their “small” size I have was too big!
Speed - Shutter speed is lightning fast. I am very in impressed with it but I guess I shouldn’t be with the 179 point phase detection and 25 point contrast detection system. The double digit 11 fps from this sized camera is mighty good. The auto-focus works very well with good results. If the camera is on you can be that person that aims, focuses and snaps a sharp photo in… well, a snap. Notice I said camera powered on. If it’s not you will have to wait up to 5 or 6 seconds for the camera to power up which is a little slow.
Price – Considering I am used to spending $2k to $3k for just a camera body this one rings in lower than most lenses I use for my Canon setup. At $650 without lenses ($750 with kit lens) it’s hard to go much lower price wise. Additionally 2 out of the 3 lenses I bought, 55-210mm f/4.5-6.3 OSS and 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS kit lens, that run on the cheaper side are decent lenses. The 55-210 I bought on sale for a whopping $148 and the 16-50 came with the camera for an additional $100. The 55-210 is better than I expected and the 16-50 does the job but is definitely soft on the edges, plan to crop about 10% to 15%. But what can you expect for the price!? The next best option with similar range is the 16-70mm for $1k which I am debating getting for myself. The 10-18mm f/4.0 is $850 (and the most I have paid for a full plastic lens) yet it’s a pretty solid wide angle. And for you prime users there are a number of options all with decent price points and good reviews when paired with this camera.
Menu and Controls – From all that I have seen prior NEX cameras had much less user friendly menu which is one reason it kept me at bay, picture oriented which for me is slower and takes longer to find what you need. That said I find the overall ease of navigating the menus a fairly short learning curve. It’s all text based now and similar to Sony a7 series. Adjusting the aperture and shutter in manual mode is easy and only a couple clicks for ISO adjustment. My hand grips the body rather well. It’s as small as a camera can go. Any smaller and it would be too small for me.
Dynamic Range – This is good too. What I am able to pull down from the highlights and pull up from the shadows is fairly decent. You still want to shoot to the right yet it’s good to know I have a little wiggle room here. Below is a sample comparison with the raw file and the single processed shot.
EVF – Although this also falls in the negative category the one advantage is that you can use this to image review for already taken images and zoom in for the details. Rather than separate setups for your large LCD, simply put your eye to the eye piece and the image review changes to the EVF automatically. This is helpful in bright situations where it’s harder to see the LCD.
Apps and Wireless – Although I don’t use them all it’s nice to have a myriad options for how you take photos and get them onto your phone or computer. For example they have a free phone app called PlayMemories (although limited in features) will allow you to trigger the shot and send a 2MB file to your phone if you choose.
IQ/ISO – This really is one that ends up in both the positive and not so positive category. Overall it’s amazing to see what a small camera with 24MP can produce. In the right situations and ISO it produces a very clean file with excellent detail. Not that I shoot much JPG yet the in camera processing produces a cleaner less noisy JPG vs RAW at higher ISO’s. That said I can clean up the noise pretty well on the RAW so that it’s almost as clean. Here are some examples around ISO.
Video – Although I am not a big video guy this seems to produce good videos from the little I have played with this feature. It’s full HD 1920 x 1080 with 30 or 60 fps.
Could Be Better
This is where most of what I like about the camera stops, albeit the positives are significant for me. Realize besides an iPhone for snap-shots I have been shooting with only a full-frame Canon DSLR for many years now so I tend to get picky about certain things. Also some of what I list is not meant to be a knock to the a6000 but rather things to simply be aware of. Below is my list in no particular order.
Battery Life – What can I say other than this thing EATS through batteries faster than a 5 year old eating through his Halloween candy stash. Keep in mind that although I have live view on my Canon DSLR I don’t use it unless I need to so I am used to a single battery lasting many days for most of my shooting. My perspective might be different if I was heavy live view user prior to this camera. For the Sony I would say plan on using 1 to 3 batteries a day depending on how much you are using your camera. Total battery life is around 90 min. If long exposures or video is your thing I would have an arsenal of batteries.
IQ/ISO – In Chip’s post he mentioned images looking good to ISO 400. I would say that is true, maybe up to 800 at most. After that it really goes downhill for me which is unfortunate. This will limit bumping up the ISO if you are into night photography or working with low light often. That said depending on your end goal cleaning up with noise removal tools has vastly improved the last few years and go a long way to making a decent image from the ISO 800 to 1600 range as long as you are using good glass. Using the cheaper lenses, not so much.
Weather Resistance – Keep in mind this camera is not weather resistant in any way, or the lenses I bought for it. I got caught in a major downpour on the Oregon coast only carrying my camera in my thin coat jacket pocket. I am sure it was quite a site to see me jogging with my four year old daughter in one arm and using my other to try and cover my pocket with the camera as we searched for cover. It survived but lesson learned.
EVF – I know some folks like electronic view finders (EVF) yet for me optical is much preferred despite one comment about the one piece I like about it. It’s very noisy in low light which gets tougher to ensure sharp manual focusing.
Battery Charger – Really this is lack of charger. Who plugs in their camera to charge!? I would have preferred Sony raise the price $25 and simply include the charger. It seems odd that I need to buy this separate. Not to mention there is no visible sign that the battery is fully charged without turning on the camera, another strike against direct charging. I bought the Wasabi Charger and extra batteries from Amazon and it’s working fine to also charge my two Sony batteries.
Sounds – I run my Canon as silent as possible. The only sound you hear is the shutter. That said I cannot figure out how to turn off the sounds for auto focus, timer, etc which I would rather not have. If you are reading this and I missed how to do it please email me. This would be welcome news to my ears.
Bracketing – For landscape photographers being able to auto bracket with timer is a big deal. I am used to using a remote trigger yet if I forget it or it breaks I know I can always use auto bracketing with timer on my Canon. Not an option on the Sony. Additionally from my testing don’t even bother trying to press the shutter for bracketing on a tripod. Your images are almost surely to come out soft or blurry. I bought the Sony RM-VPR1 Remote.
Weight – Of course you are wondering why in this section when the light weight was such a plus. Well it’s not a negative to the camera or lenses by any means. It’s simply something to be aware of which is that using a very light camera and lens setup on a lighter tripod is more susceptible to shakes and vibrations resulting in soft shots. Hanging your pack from your tripod can help yet it’s not fool proof. Don’t forget to chimp your images because what you think is sharp might be anything but.
Dial Size – For me it’s not an issue yet I could see someone with larger hands finding the controls tougher to work with, especially the dial on the back. That circle dial controls many functions and isn’t much bigger than a dime. Again I cannot blame Sony because with a smaller camera comes smaller buttons and controls. If you tend to shoot mostly in auto mode then this is less of an issue.
Lens Selection – Although able to buy a wide, mid and telephoto Sony lenses that are good, overall they need to beef up their lens selection (this applies to APS and full frame). It would be nice to buy higher quality lenses for all the same focal ranges I have with my Canon. Hopefully this is coming soon. My only real complaint with the current lenses I have is are soft in the corners. A little bit of lens correction and or crop goes a long way and still leaves a big file.
Overall it’s a good mirror less camera system with room for improvement to be great. For any hobbyist or photo snapper it’s a dream. For someone looking to high quality work for prints and stock it’s good to meet the needs with some exceptions that I covered above. I did not buy this to replace my DSLR system and I would not recommend that unless you have a old or bottom end DSLR. This is a great compliment to your DSLR system for when you have to or simply desire lighter traveling and still want great quality photos. The price is certainly right. I spent about $2,000 for my full setup which includes the body, three lenses, two polarizers, battery charger, four batteries and remote trigger.
Chances are you would rather be out exploring and enjoying outdoors whether curb side view, hiking miles into the woods, paddling majestic waterways or the myriad of other options instead of reading a blog post. I can relate, seeing amazing places in photos and videos is rarely enough.
Not long ago I was having lunch with someone that said something I could not relate to at all. He said seeing amazing places in videos and photos is good enough for him and he doesn’t need to go see them himself (obviously he is not a photographer or outdoor enthusiast). For me it’s the exact opposite. When I read, see or hear about locations that offer great adventures or fantastic photo opportunities I want to go. It whets my appetite for more. I may never get to a particular location I am viewing photos of or dreaming about yet it certainly fuels the fire to simply get out. Being an armchair adventurer is not the goal. Getting out is and that is exactly what happens!
One way I get inspired is watching flicks that make me think about places I have been, where I want to go, how I take my photos. Below is a short list of movies that makes me excited about getting out for the next outing or capturing the next spectacular photo.
One Man’s Wilderness
Few of us will ever attempt (or even desire to attempt) what Richard (Dick) Proenneke does for many years of his life. After spending decades working in the rat race around age 50 he decides to leave it all behind for year-around living of solitude in the Alaskan Wilderness. He creates his cabin, tools and more documenting his journey in writing along with some video and photo work.
I first heard about the story when someone gave me the book as a gift and since then I have also received or purchased multiple documentaries on his story. I will likely never make such an extreme change in lifestyle yet it’s a great reminder to me how important alone time is outdoors for photography, for rejuvenation, for simply reflecting on life and escaping the hustle and bustle daily life brings for many of us.
If you are picturing Angelina Jolie as a Russian spy right now chances are you are on the wrong blog. During the summer of 2010 I was getting ready to head for bed one evening when I figured I would watch a few minutes of TV before calling it a night. There are not many shows I watch and considering our TV gets less than 20 stations (mostly CSPAN and community access) you can tell our family is not big tube watchers. That said a couple stations I do enjoy from our wide assortment includes OPB and Discovery. That night I clicked on OPB and was immediately engulfed with what was on…which I found out afterward was the short film SALT. I subsequently took the time to watch the full video less than a week later.
Murray Fredericks as a landscape photographer documents his numerous solo adventures on Lake Eyre in Australia. Besides stunning video and photos he talks about what he is thinking while spending weeks alone on this vast open lake including SAT calls with his family. I place this in the must-view-category for any landscape or adventure photographer.
Baraka and Samsara
Anyone that is serious into time lapse photography knows of the movies Baraka and it’s recent sequel Samsara. When I first met my wife over a decade ago she mentioned a movie Baraka playing at our local independent theatre that I would likely enjoy. Entering the theatre filled with mostly empty red velvet seats I had low hopes. Walking out I was in awe. 96 minutes of amazing footage with no words other than a few tribal chants.
Since then I have purchased Baraka and earlier this year my wife bought me the sequel which I have also watched and enjoyed just as much. If you have not seen either of these you are missing out. They are worth your time.
The Other Side of the Ice
There are two kinds of people, those that gravitate to the ocean and those that gravitate to land. I am naturally drawn to spending my time on land with a little water sprinkled in for good measure. I have full respect for those that can spend many weeks and months on a ship and little time ashore.
In The Other Side of the Ice a family successfully navigates the infamous Northwest Passage over a five month journey. It does not happen without amazing views, emotional struggles and close calls. I will say this is the only title in this post that I have not seen the whole movie. I read the book which I feel was very good yet all the reviews and trailers for the movie don’t excite me as much as the book. If you are not a book reader then the movie is an option.
There are very few of us left on planet Earth choosing to live without most of what the modern world offers… smartphones, high tech cars, piped heat/water, online ordering, the list goes on. This documentary shows the life of trappers and their families living in Bakhtia, the heart of Siberian Taiga. It’s a reminder that we don’t always need all the fancy gadgets of the modern world to survive and be happy. When I leave the house and forget my iPhone, and I wonder how I will do a few hours without it I need to remember and think of folks in this film. Although not the life for me to live day-in-day-out, they obviously do quite well with very little. What can you do without?
At home sick one day roaming Netflix streaming I came across this movie. I remembered hearing about it yet hadn’t taken the time to watch it until this point. Amazing documentary, plain and simple. If you are in search of adventure, good stories and amazing visual feasts look no further. It’s hard to watch and not want to back your bags the next day for exotic lands. When thinking of travel and adventure documentaries, 180 South is first to come to mind.
I leave you with a quote from another movie about adventure, Into the Wild. I love the book and movie yet it’s more main stream which is why I left it out of this post.
“The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure.”
– Christopher McCandless
What movies get you excited about getting outdoors for photography or fun?
By Adrian Klein
I stand there watching the sunset feeling as remote as one can be. No other people except my friend and I, enjoy the sounds and smells of nature. That is the beauty of the Badlands in Central Oregon for those that don’t want to involve a big backpack or hiking trip covering a large distance or elevation to escape. You feel very removed from it all yet only miles up the path and miles up the road is a bustling town.
Only hours earlier my friend and I were sitting in the sun at one of Bend’s newer breweries. No shortage of good ones to visit yet that is a different blog post. After finishing up our meal and IPA we set out on the highway. It was a short drive. About 20 miles and we were at the trailhead for Oregon Badlands Wilderness.
It’s May and as you step out of the car you quickly realize why this is no place to visit in summer. With the high expected of 70 degrees Fahrenheit it’s a cooker in my book when the sun pokes through the clouds. It’s the weekend yet the trailhead has all of three cars, including ours. This is my second time here and neither time was busy.
The Badlands is high desert. There is no water source when you are out there unless you consider putting out a bucket to catch rain drops that infrequent the area. The lack of water is made up by very easy hiking even with a full backpack. The elevation is basically flat. Our 3 mile hike maybe gained a hundred feet. Well in all reality lost 100 ft too so let’s just call it even.
The few trails throughout the wilderness are easy to follow. That said a GPS and map would be helpful if you venture too far off trail. Everything looks the same and I could see getting lost while off trail as an easy achievement whether intended or not. Here is a map for more details.
Now to the photography aspect, this is a blog relating to photography after all.
- Spring – The wildflowers are out usually in April and May and the temps are comfortable.
- Summer – Avoid unless you like very hot dry conditions, without a water source, and no flowers. This place would not appeal to me for photography in summer.
- Fall – The temps are back to comfortable and Rabbitbrush will add some nice color to your images.
- Winter – Going when a light layer of show has fallen appears to be the right choice. I plan to try it this winter.
Overall you have options every season except summer. My personal opinion of course.
Points of Interest:
- Views – If you want to get up “high” your only options are a few large rock formations such as Flatiron Rock that will get you up just high enough to see over the trees and out to the mountain ranges.
- Flowers – As mentioned the spring season will bring a variety of flowers. My photos only show a few types that you will see.
- Trees – One of the highlights of this place is the endless assortment of knotted and gnarled juniper trees. Not as cool as the timeless bristle cone trees yet I saw many that remind me of them.
- Rocks – Some of the rock formations were rather interesting. I saw a number of cool colors/textures that would make for possible triptych photos as well as the more common anchor for your foreground when taking landscapes.
- Weather – Going in spring increases your chance of more dramatic skies. All seasons except summer has a decent shot to experience something except dull gray or crystal blue. We were fortunate enough on our trip to get some thunder and lightning rolling in around sunset.
In summary if you are looking for an under-visited desert with compositions that take a little time to find (but are worth the time finding) then this is a place worth taking a trip to. We chose backpacking to be close to where we wanted to take the photos yet hiking in early or later in the day is certainly an option as long as you are well equipped to find your way.