Take your camera!

Attention Photographer friends, your smartphone is good, but not great! I love taking photographs with my iPhone and processing them for fun. It’s a great exercise, and I generally love the outcome. With the skills I’ve acquired through the years, post processing my photos with decent software, I’ve grown to learn how to use not just fun filters and presets with apps on my phone, but even use a few apps that give me really great control over the final image.

I’ll write another post about some of those tools soon enough. But this article is to encourage you to actually take your camera with you everywhere!

I know it can be tedious. You don’t need all your lenses and gadgets all the time. Toss a good prime lens onto your camera and just keep it with you. You don’t need your bag and all the other gear. Just get used to having the camera ready. Leave the settings on your most common settings, and all you need t to do is grab and go.

My only dSLR, aka decent camera that matters, is a FujiFilm XT-1. I keep my 35mm f/1.4 lens on it, without a flash or speed light. I keep it on Aperture priority mode, set to the widest aperture, slowest shutter speed and smallest ISO, 200.

Now that you’re convinced, you should think about keeping it safe. For me, there was a time that I had a dSLR and a CCW with me at all times. (See my job history to better understand that.) So, I wrestled with having two high dollar items, one of which HAD to be concealed at all times. Through this highly practical few years of double “carrying”, I learned a few things I can pass along.

First off, I often carried my weapon “off body”. It’s an option that many women face when concerned with carrying a concealed firearm. I made this decision, and it didn’t take me too long to decide, I hated not having my gun on me. So, the method I had chosen, albeit at very good one, ended up not being my best solution.


I basically carried a man purse. A Maxpedition Versipack. In a sweet deal, I contacted LowePro, and they sold me the guts to a camera bag, with interchangeable hook and loop (aka Velcro) slots inside. It fit perfectly into the non-padded Versipack. I had a quasi-secret camera bag that was truly designed for carrying a concealed firearm. It was my man purse.

The biggest thing we can take away from that experience is that you can get creative in how you transport and store your camera, in light of my challenge to you to always have your real camera with you.

I found a few articles that address what we’re talking about, and I think you’ll enjoy them. The first one is clearly geared towards women, but I think we all can benefit from the discussion.

The next two articles will contribute a little more.

I think the biggest ideas to take away from all three articles is the notion that you’re hiding your gear in plain sight. Now, I NEVER hide my gun in plain sight. If it’s not secured in a holster on my person, it’s secured in a locked safe, loaded or unloaded.

But obviously, with a camera we’re able and willing to take a greater risk. No one is going to steal our camera permanently harm someone else or themselves. After all, a camera is just a thing we could easily live without.

I have a couple of single camera LowePro cases, that are clearly camera cases. They are great. One is standard black, and the other is a nice blue. But, they don’t really encourage, DON’T STEAL MY CAMERA, from the front seat of my truck. And let’s be honest, what I’m saying is keep your camera with you at all teams, I’m saying have it ready all the time. Does that mean take it into work? Probably not. Many cannot even do that. During my career, we weren’t even allowed to have our personal cell phones, let alone a smartphone at work. (That’s a separate issue we chat about another time. Yes, I have policies that are basically named after me.)

So let’s look at what my over all point. Having your camera available all the time really does mean having it as ready as possible during the normal throws of life. When I’m on a road trip, the camera is within reach at all times. If I see something, having the camera packed away is just another excuse to NOT stop and use it. Once thing I’ve always appreciated about my loved ones is that they’ve never made me feel bad for wanting to stop and create a photograph. And I’ve tried to remain just as available for my teenage daughter, who also loves to create beautiful photographs.

So now I’m considering alternate methods of storage and transportation. Just like I might consider a center console lockbox for my firearm to be readily accessible to me as I drive, I might consider some sort of hide in plain sight for my camera.

I think I’m going to start with something low target, like a simple reinforced cardboard box, with your typical camera bag foam padding inside. Clearly LowePro offers these inserts. And as you’ll see in one of the other articles I linked to, so does a company called MountainSmith. There are others, but I’ve used MountainSmith backpacks from my earliest days of backpacking, and I will not attest to any higher quality product that takes a massive beating, and the company that backs it.


This setup will allow me to have my camera hiding in plain site, and make it less attractive for those wanting to smash and grab stuff from my unattended truck. I’m used to having a high situational awareness as it is, just carrying the valuable items I already carry on a regular basis, so this will not increase my nervousness at all. I’m already there. But now I’ll also have my favorite tool for creating great photographs with me more often.



I want for a walk around the neighborhood, hoping to find a good shot of one of the many birds. But the flew away each time I got close. So I sat down for a bit, and that did the trick. My meds make me shake a lot, so I should have had a tripod, but that’s a bit to manage for me on a walk. I got this one within my focal plane, but grace.

Academic pricing

You all know we homeschool. You all know I love photography. You might also know that our daughter, The Princess, is quite creative and has tagged along on many photo-adventures through the years.

Recently she expressed an increased interest in all things creative. She’s wanting to make real efforts at learning a few mediums for her artistic expression. It was a no-brainer for her to ask for more photography opportunities. When it comes to gear, we’re set. I have acquired a decent arsenal of Nikon gear, that she’s mostly free to use and play with.

On the software side, I’m an Apple Aperture user, which simply works the best for me. As she grows, if she chooses a different route, we’ll help her as best we can. I’m not “that” kind of parent. 🙂

Since she’s homeschooled, and she’s planning on pursuing photography for more than just documenting things, I want her to have all the tools necessary to make a nice photograph. This obviously works out well for her, since she’ll get to use all the same tools I have. In spite of this I set out to see if there were any other tools that would help her out. That’s when I stumbled upon Nik Software’s plugin set. I’ve used them in the past, and already knew that they are irreplaceable  I love their workflow, especially Silver Efex Pro and Color Efex Pro. Great tools!

Like most software developers, they have academic pricing. Awesome! But as I read closer, it became clear that they don’t seem to offer a method for homeschoolers to get access to that great price. So I did what any geek would do, I found the pertinent email address and asked away.

In response, I got copy and pasted text from their website and…

To qualify for academic pricing please provide the qualifying documents listed above prior to your purchase. You can email the documents to supportus@niksoftware.com or fax it to 619-374-7339. Upon approval you can place your order over the phone.

If you have any further questions, please reply to this email or call our Customer Service Department toll-free at 1-888-284-4085 (+1-619-725-3150 outside of the US). Our office hours are Monday through Friday 8:30 am to 5:00 pm PST.

Best Regards,
Zach Petschek

Nik Software, Inc. | Photography first®

7588 Metropolitan Drive | San Diego, CA 92108
Tel – 619.725.3150 | Fax – 619.725.3151
supportus@niksoftware.com | http://www.niksoftware.com

Bummer, was the first response. Clearly, they don’t do much for homeschoolers, nor do they offer any means by which to have a human decide that homeschoolers are worthy of the awesome discount. So I replied, to clarify…

So, Zach, you’re saying that you don’t provide discounts to homeschooling families? These requirements would disqualify nearly every homeschooling family in the US.

Are there no ways for someone with the necessary authority to consider an alternative for homeschoolers?

My final response from Zach at Nik Software…

Dear Trevor,

Our academic discount does not apply to homeschool students or teachers. I can recommend watching one of our Live Training sessions at http://www.niksoftware.com/learnmore. We offer a couple a day about 5 days a week. I recommend this because at the end of every Live Training session they offer a 15% coupon code that you can apply to your purchase.
If you have any further questions, please reply to this email or call our Customer Service Department toll-free at 1-888-284-4085 (+1-619-725-3150 outside of the US). Our office hours are Monday through Friday 8:30 am to 5:00 pm PST.

Best Regards,



Zach Petschek

So, homeschoolers, go home. The 15% coupon code he mentions above would allow me to get the $299.95 Complete Collection, Lightroom and Aperture, for $254.96. Better price, yes. But that’s not nearly as nice as the $149.99 they offer the same product to students and teachers, (some students and teachers).

I guess we’ll shop elsewhere. Anyone have any similar plugin suggestions?


After recommendations from the comments and social media, I took a look at OnOne’s free presets, which lead me to google around for even more Aperture Presets. I found a ton, and am enjoying playing with them.

But the real good news was when I contacted Topaz Plugins for their possible homeschooler discount. Here’s their response:

Hi Trevor,

Yes, absolutely. Eduction is education right!? 🙂 And I’m sure your daughter will love it!

You can use this 25% academic discount code at topazlabs.com/store on any and/or multiple products.

Discount code: XXXXXXXXX (redacted for security purposes)

Let me know if you have any other questions.

Best Wishes,

Stephanie Griffin
Marketing Associate
Topaz Labs LLC
4100 Spring Valley Road, Suite 103
Dallas, TX 75244, U.S.A.

Yeah for companies that get it! Topaz Labs will be getting my business, even if their plugins were 3x the cost. I love to vote with my dollars!

The future is now…er…not yet.

You photographers out there are most likely aware of the alleged shift in product design for dSLR’s. The companies have banned together to deny us the viewfinder…or something like that. 🙂

Apparently when the big dogs switched from film to digital, in their SLRs, they kept the mirror. The mirror is basically necessary so we can see what we’re going to photograph. Then when you press the shutter release, the mirror flips up and the actually viewed image can be captured by the sensor, which is behind the mirror when it’s down.

We could loose the mirror, but then we’d either have no viewfinder, or we’d have to have a digital view of what’s being “seen”.

I know that’s a poor description, but it’s the best I could do with my layman’s understanding.

Enter, the mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, MILC. Yeah, I know. There are actually a few different names for these newfangled cameras, but “mirrorless” seems to be sticking.

Trey Ratcliff actually discussed all of this much better than I have even tried, on his blog, Stuck in Customs. Seriously, go read about it all there. Then come back, please.

Now that you know all about these newfangled mirrorless/3rd generation camera systems, I’ll get to my point. I picked up one!

Since I’m a Nikon guy, I looked first at the Nikon 1 series. The upcoming Pentax K-01 caught my attention as well. Honestly, I really liked what I read about both cameras. I believe that the Pentax K-01 is a better camera, and would have served me as well, if not better, than the Nikon 1 series.

However, the lower price of the Nikon J1 is what won me over. (That was a mistake. More on that later.) Plus, Nikon had just announced an adapter that would allow me to use my existing family of F-mount lenses on the new J1.

So I picked up a J1 package, with two lenses;  a 10-30mm and a 30-110mm. Both lenses have VR. I got mine at Costco, which threw in a 16gb sdcard and a case. Oh, and I chose the white model! (It comes in red and black as well.)

Nikon J1

Right away I tried using it more often than my D7000, and various lenses. It was easy, I will admit. It still is. For most life photography, it’s just real easy to grab and go. Two lenses for everything from 10mm to 110mm. (FYI, with the 2.7 crop factor of this sensor, that means 27 to 297mm, in 35mm terms.) That’s pretty much everything I’d need! Yes the speeds of the lenses are a huge factor, and so are the relatively smaller number of easily reachable features. The lens speeds, I can adjust to working around. I simply bump my ISO when I can’t get a comfortable shutter speed. Also, the VR helps with the lower shutter speeds.

The best feature, to me, is the insanely fast autofocus. It just works. It’s automagical, and it happens even when you’re not pressing the shutter release halfway down. I love it!

The rapid fire is quite cool. I can shoot 10 fps, on the special fast mode, with some limitation. The focus becomes fixed, and is limited to a semi-manually selected focus point. But the regular rapid speed is 5 fps, and that’s with the live focus! I generally use this mode all the time. BTW, they call it continuous mode. I used this mode to help capture this shot of my dad, 4x4ing this past week.

Dad 4wheeling

Overall, I like the camera, and am glad I bought it. It will serve me and my family well for quite a while. I hope to be able to use it to instruct my wife in the use of more features, to get better photos. Eventually I hope that she’ll begin using it more and more, freeing me to acquire that Pentax K-01, or whatever fits the role even better.

The single largest problem with the J1 is not any one single feature, it’s a bunch of little frustrations. The smaller sensor, really isn’t a problem. The lack of a viewfinder, I’m getting over it. Even the lack of bracketing I’ve adjusted to using the tripod and exposure compensation.

The problem is that everything I want to do is 7 million clicks deep in a menu setting. The features I want are simply too buried. I thought that the big camera companies were hoping to convince dSLR users that these mirrorless cameras are their future. What I’m feeling is that Nikon doesn’t care about the J1 being useful for me, but for the pocket camera user, as an upgrade.


Side note: I wrote this post with MarsEdit. I had great hopes for MarsEdit. It sucks. This would have been 10x easier within the WordPress app.

Not just hot chicks


Every so often a new photo-sharing website comes along. Without giving you a history of photo-sharing websites, I’ve participated in a few. First Zooomr, then Flickr, then SmugMug, and now a new one500px.com has arrived on the scene. It’s being talked about a bit, and it caught my attention too. Like most of the other photo-sharing sites it has a free account and a paid account. Basically you have some limits for uploading and whatnot, with the free account. I haven’t decided yet if I want to take the plunge, and fork over my cash.

I think what I like the most about all the photos being uploaded is the balance. It’s not just a bunch of over-hyped semi-nudes or over HDR’d crap, that the secret magician in a closet at Flickr deems worthy of Explore. I think I’m actually seeing beautiful photographs, worthy of the title “art”.

So, I thought I’d start a little series, right here, highlighting some of the great photographs I stumble upon at 500px. Rather than start a new blog for it, I’ll just give it a catagory. If you like what I share, but don’t want to follow all my other insane rants and wacky opinions, just follow the feed for the category.


Untitled by Helga Bondarchuk (helga_bondarchuk) on 500px.com
Untitled by Helga Bondarchuk
shadows by Mel MOC (melha) on 500px.com
shadows by Mel MOC
*** by Антон Бабушкин (Anton_Babushkin) on 500px.com
*** by Антон Бабушкин

****** UPDATE ******

I began writing this post several days ago, with the WordPress app on my Android-powered T-Mo G2x. (Love that, btw.) At that time I was mostly viewing photos from the handful of contacts I already had, and a few others. My opinions of 500px were highly effected by those photos. Obviously that opinion was a bit skewed. Sorry for that.

I readily admit that my title for this post is inaccurate. I really do love the overall format, style, and interactivity at 500px. I’m already sold. It’s more photograph-centric than Flickr, and that’s a very good thing. With the addition of a few more community oriented features, like groups, I could see myself migrating to 500px from Flickr in no time.

However, I also believe that one more feature is required first. Without some kind of filter or consent related option for the nude content, I cannot and will not recommend 500px to my friends. I really have no care if I’m viewed as a prude, or any other term. The fact remains that I can love photography as an artform, without having to accept the short-term-results-oriented photographers who can’t create wonderful art without needing nudity.

Drobo and Amazon S3, possibly the best backup partners!

Many months ago I decided that I wanted a decent backup system for my massive photograph library. I’ve been using Apple Aperture to manage my photos, and the library has been growing and growing. Our main computer is my work station and the family computer, so the wife has been adding to the iPhoto library as well.

This year I upgraded my camera from the 6 megapixel, Nikon D40 to the 12.3 megapixel, D300. That’s over double the amount of megapixels in each photo now. This converts into much larger file sizes too!

I had the iPhoto library local on the Mac Mini back then. The Aperture library was being managed on an external LaCie harddrive. That system worked, but had no backups. If I lost a harddrive, I’d have been sunk. So I committed to reorganizing my file management system, so that I’d have an increased likelihood of not loosing data. The Drobo was my solution. With its built-in redundancy, I was able to also be free to upgrade, at minimal cost. Earlier this year, I got the basic Drobo, and two 500 Gb drives. This didn’t give me an outrageous amount of space, but it got me started. I moved my iTunes library, iPhoto library, and my complete Aperture photo library to the Drobo, freeing up space locally and a harddrive. I re-tasked the harddrive for Time Machine backups, and was generally more pleased with myself!

As time went on, I began to desire an off-site backup. What if my house burned down? In fact, what does everyone want to get, when you see the hills of California on fire every year? The people are frantic about getting into their homes, to retrieve their photo albums. That’s really all that the insurance company can’t replace.

We stopped shooting with film, and getting regular prints made years ago. So, the entirety of my 4 kids’ childhoods is contained, as photographs, on that stupid Drobo! If I lost that, I’d freak out!

It didn’t take long to convince myself that getting my important content backed up, off-site, was vital. In fact, my advice would be to get your important data off-site, before you set up a local backup system! If I lost everything, I could simply log into my account, via FTP, and one very long download later I’d have it all. This kind of off-site backup is really best described as a “cloud-based”. The regular 0ff-site backups are generally more expensive.

I looked at a wide variety of options. I host this site with Dreamhost, and thought of them first. Naw, they don’t like you using your storage for personal stuff like that. You can do it, but it’ll cost you if you’re caught. I really don’t want to do it like that. Then I looked at some of the others. None really compare to Dropbox, so I stopped looking. I signed up, and ran a test.

It’s pretty cool that you can backup as easy as just dropping your stuff on a folder. That’s really easy! Most people will get what they need with Dropbox. However, I really wanted to setup my backups through FTP, allowing me to setup an Automator action to do it regularly. Yeah there’s other ways, but that was what I wanted.

From the beginning, I had decided that I was willing to pay for this service. DropBox is cool because the first 2 Gb is free. Most will be fine with that. Me, however, I’ll be needing much, much more. The next step with DropBox is $9.99 for 50 Gb, then $19.99 for 100 Gb. Neither of those are enough either.

Poking around, I found an article that made me realize that most of these cloud-based backup solutions are using Amazon S3 for their data. They’re just writing cool apps to make it easy for regular folk. Well guess what?! I already have a sweet app for accessing Amazon S3! It’s called Transmit, by Panic Software. I’ve been using it for all my FTP needs for several years. I love it! It didn’t take a genius to find a simple article telling me how to set up Transmit to access my Amazon S3 account. Oh yeah, I had to set that up too. Being an Amazon customer, from their massive store, I already had an account, which made the whole thing much easier.

Amazon S3 is:

Amazon S3 provides a simple web services interface that can be used to store and retrieve any amount of data, at any time, from anywhere on the web.

Basically, Amazon.com has built one of the most robust websites in the world. When have you seen Amazon.com going down? It’s even older than Google! All of their data is spread all over the world, so if a server goes down in Bakersfield, and I was viewing content on that server, they just reroute my viewing experience to another server, somewhere else.

So now they’re just providing that kind of data storage to me! Here’s the catch…wait for it…IT’S CHEAP! Really really cheap! The first day, I uploaded one folder, with just a small amount of data; 2 Gbs worth of photos and some other stuff. I can’t remember what the total amount of data was, but is wasn’t much more. They charge for the upload and then the storage. My total cost for that month was $2.57. That’s it!

So, on December 1st, I decided to jump in with both feet. I set up the whole back up! Right now, I’ve backed up my entire photo library, iPhoto and Aperture. I’ve also included all my RAW files. It’s all there! The first big back up took like 3 days, non-stop! That’s mostly because my ISP is Comcast, and they suck. It would drop me occasionally, and Transmit would be forced to re-log in, and pick up where it left off.

Then on December 7th, they announced a sweet price drop, and they’re waiving the upload fee, until June of 2010! SWEET! Now is the best time to jump on that price drop! So I can upload all sorts of stuff, and I’m only paying for the storage right now. That’s 15¢ per GB! They drop the price at several tiers, the first one at 50 TB. That’s $154/mo. for 1 terabyte of storage!

Since most people won’t be backing up a whole terabyte of data, here’s a more normal look; 10 GB = $1.50/mo.

So, where am I now? I’ve set up the account. I’ve chosen the folders I want backed up. Oh, I forgot to tell you that Transmit can easily synchronize a folder, without rewriting content that’s already there. Maybe that’s normal for all FTP apps, I don’t know. It’s cool for me! This way I don’t have to worry about eating up bandwidth, when Amazon starts charging for that again.

I set up a few “Favorites” in Transmit, and then I set up a simple Automator Action. I saved the action as an .app. Lastly, I set up an event in iCal, calling my new application in the alarm.

Now I’m good to go! I have it syncing each Saturday evening, and I don’t have to think about it anymore. Below are a few screenshots of the whole process…

In Transmit, input all the important information about your new Amazon S3 account.
In Amazon S3, top most folders are called "buckets". I'm naming my main backup folder, "trevor-photos"
I chose to "Upload" my data and to have it "Update" it. This will keep my bandwidth down.
Here's the Automator Action. It's pretty self-explanatory. Make sure to save it as an Application.

Photo flashback #1

So, I’ve been a photo-loser lately. I have a whole day’s shooting sitting in my Aperture queue, just waiting to be processed. Please forgive me!

And since I haven’t posted enough regular posts lately, I thought I’d toss up some of my more popular photos from the past year or so. These are my personal favorites, from your favorites of mine. Enjoy!

Smith & Wesson M&P 40C
"Smith & Wesson M&P 40C"
Where much is done...
"Where much is done..."
"Mt. Zion"
USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76)
"USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76)"
Sunrise, Santa Inez Valley
"Sunrise, Santa Inez Valley"
January Challenge, day 24
"Self Portrait"
2008 Challenge, week #12
"2008 Challenge, week #12"

Death Valley update…

Hey all! Are you coming to the Death Valley Photo-thingy this weekend?

So, I failed to do a good job of letting everyone know a few details last week. Sorry. Here’s the basics…

If you need to contact me, try my mobile: 805-490-6255. Let’s meet at 6pm (1800 hours), at the Park Headquarters. Below is the map: