Cold is Not a Handicap

Ludington Breakwater Lighthouse captured by Z 9 / Z70-200f2.8

The Z 9 has no issues functioning 100% in cold and nasty weather. This question keeps coming in and I’m happy to report with a sample base of four Z 9s, there were no issues (can’t say the same for the photographers :-) shooting with great zeal in the cold. Shooting in a wet Zero, the Z 9 with the Z70-200f2.8 attached ripped at 20fps, autofocusing with AF-C 3D- car all day long. On a freshly, hot out of the charger EN-EL18d at the start of the day, when the battery indicator in the Z 9 at the end of the day hit red, 8818 Compressed Raws had been recorded along with a dozen, one-minute video clips. Shooting as you might imagine wearing gloves and all the rest to stay warm, working with the buttons on the Z 9 worked well too. The only real challenge to shooting this day, finding that hot chocolate between shoots!

Z 9 3D Autofocus – Wow!

feed captured from the Z 9 while shooting stills

I’ve been spending a whole lot of time in the backyard shooting gallery photographing all the critters in the falling snow. It’s been nonstop action and a ton of fun. It’s also provided me we a great laboratory to keep learning more and more about the truly amazing Z 9. I’ve been totally engrossed in the two dozen Red-shafted Flickers that have come to our woodpecker feeders. The aggression they show to each other in competition for the suet is something I’ve never seen before. They are downright nasty to each other. It’s been memorizing and fascinating. And then I took note of the AF Sensor action and was sucked in watching it do its magic. That’s when it struck me to share it with you.

I hooked up a Ninja V and it recorded what I was seeing through the EVF. You’re seeing in the video above exactly what I was seeing as I shot. I put the AF sensor on the eye and then depressed the back-button AF-ON and the Z 9 did all the rest. The fact there is no blackout while I’m shooting stills is still very cool to me. But to the point, watch how the Z 9’s 3D Animal Eye-Detection keeps up in the low light, low contrast of a snowy day with the frantic drilling action of the flicker. I never used 3D until the Z 9 and I now swear by it. Yes, the still images are sharp, the eye is tack sharp! Seriously, the Z 9 3D autofocus … wow!

Workflow ’22

It’s a great question, “What’s your workflow?” My goal is to be out behind the camera and not the computer while using the blessing of digital to learn from my own photography, instantly. So over the years, I have refined my workflow with this goal in mind. As my boys like to say, I’m just a machine because I power through my images so bloody fast. How fast? For example, a 4000 image air-to-air photo mission shot in the afternoon will be edited, tagged, played with, shared, filed, renamed, and backed up by the time I put my head on the pillow. How do I do it so fast or a more importantly, with such efficiency? There are two main factors, the first and the most important one is, I only take those images I like. This is really, really important. Two, I use computers to do what they do best, sort data. The entire blog is about how I take only the photographs I like. Here’s how I go about dealing with images and thoughts you might consider incorporating in your workflow.

Workflow starts at the camera. As I mentioned, I only take those photos I want and like. The camera is set to capture raw files, Nikon Nefs. Those photos I do capture, they are captured as “right” or as finished as possible at the time the camera goes click. Exposure, white balance, B&W or color, Camera Preset, all selected and used so the photograph is captured as finished as the camera and I can create. These basics are not left for post processing to do. Most importantly, all the arranging of the elements or “cropping” is done in-camera through physical placement and lens selection. I wrap this all up in one word, craftsmanship. This makes the workflow so much faster and more rewarding. This is because I don’t have to “previsualize” what the photograph “should look like” later, I can see it right now while sorting. The speed in my workflow starts at the camera then in my case with the Z9 & Z 6II. Inserted in them are ProGrade 1TB CFExpress cards and Delkin 512GB Black CFExpress Cards which speeds up both the capture and then next, the ingest.

At the end of a shoot when I’m back at the computer, I do a number of things. First is launch Photo Mechanic Plus and begin the Ingest process (my ingest settings are to the right). Photo Mechanic Plus is the fastest DAM on the planet, period! It will Ingest (upload) the Nefs and display accurate thumbnails (based on the Raw file & Instruction Set) so I see instantly exactly what I captured. Currently, my reader of choice is the Delkin DDReasder-54 CFExpress reader. It’s the fastest and smallest I’ve found. I want small as it travels in my briefcase along with my computer and drives. Second, I put the batteries from the camera in a charger. Lastly, I check the camera sensor and if needed, I clean it. By the time I’ve all of done this, Photo Mechanic has long finished ingesting all the photographs, formatted the CFExpress Card, and unmounted it so I can reinsert it back into the camera ready to shoot.

I’m a Mac guy with a MacBook Pro for on the road and an iMac M1 back in the office. Both machines are loaded with the same software (Photo Mechanic Plus, NX Studio, Bridge, Photoshop) with the same settings. They have the fastest hardware available so they go as fast as a computer can go with the task at hand.

It’s now time to sit down and go through the ingested photographs. What you see at the top of this page is the Photo Mechanic Plus (PM) light table and what it will look like when I’m finished (files renamed and tagged). I get there starting with the images that were ingested into a folder created by PM on ingest (folder name is the day’s date). The folder PM creates is created inside the folder Moose Shoots that’s on the root (a folder I created prior to ingesting and always use) folder. When I am all done at the end of the day, the Moose Shoots folder will be empty. I have created a video with all my Photo Mechanic Plus settings. These aid me in going as fast as I can while sorting the images. My default is having PM sort the light table thumbnails by Filename (that’s not the PM default). If I’ve shot with multiple cameras and/or I know the camera created a new folder when I was shooting, I manually change the sort from Filename to Capture Time (I make sure the camera’s time and time zone are all in sync for this reason). I start by selecting the very first image (top left corner), hit the Space Bar, and then hit the F key twice. This makes the workspace fill with just the image, having maximized the preview on the computer. I want to see the image full screen and none of the text or filmstrip. Those elements distract the eye from the image. With the workspace all set, the sort begins. For me it’s real simple, if the image is sharp I keep it and if it’s not, it’s deleted. I’ve already decided at the camera I like the image so during the sort it’s just the mechanics asking if it’s sharp. With my right hand, my index finger is on the delete key and the thumb is on the right arrow key. As fast as I can I hit those two keys sorting through all the images.

As I go through the Nefs, I often take a moment to finish an image or two. I encourage folks to do this. I might finish an image to see if I have a huge dust issue to deal with (normally an air-to-air shoot) or apply the finishing approach I thought about when I took the photograph. I will hit the ESC button (image was full screen, this brings PM back to light table) and with that image still selected, I hit Cmd+E (Ctrl+E) which launches Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) where I do the lion share of my finishing (you create this keyboard shortcut in PM Preferences). If I finish an image and save it as a PSD, in PM I will hit the 1 key which gives the image a Red Tag. While going through the images and I come across images I want to finish later, I hit the 2 key and tag it with Yellow. When I’m done with the entire sort, I can bring up just the tagged images in the light table (see illustration to the left, bar found top-right corner of light table, clicking on rightmost box displays all tagged files) so I know what I have finished and what I need to finish. Once all the images in that folder have been finished as PSDs, I tag all the files in PM by hitting the Cmd+A then Cmd+1 (Ctrl+A Ctrl+1).

When I’m sorting through my aviation images, I do one thing I don’t do with any other images. When I’m done with the sort and before I finish them, I go back and keyword all the aircraft. Whatever the model is, that’s what the file receives for a Keyword. For example, a DC-3 is labeled DC-3 and a C-47 is labeled C-47. This is for many reasons, the main one being taking care of clients fast and being accurate. There is a difference between a P-51c & P-51D and I can do a quick search in PM and Bridge for a particular aircraft model. Otherwise, there is no keywording of any of my other images. You can see an illustration of my Bridge sort here.

I save all the finished and unfinished Nefs and all PSDs. I save all my Nefs in which PM keeps organized in the folders I’ve created on external drives. All the Nefs are organized into their assigned folders and each individual image has a unique Alpha Numeric number assigned to it which carries through from the Nef to the PSD. All the Nefs are stored on their own separate drives and those drives are all backed up to other drives. The PSDs or the “Gallery files” are stored on to their own, different drives and those backed up to other drives. Finished PSDs are organized into their own folders such as Birds, Locations, Products, etc (Nefs are organized much more succinctly). To sort through and select my finished PSDs I use Bridge (not PM). Bridge by my default is set to sort the folder by Keyword which will sort alphabetically by keyword and then by file name. I do this for many reasons all coming down to speed. Workflow for us is not only about getting the images captured, sorted, and finished, but also getting them out to clients and you. Bridge is a fast portal to Photoshop for all that is needed, be it for the web, editorial, prints, and to the client fast.

At the end of the shoot and before I finish for the day, the drives are all backed up using SuperDuper. I have moved to using Samsung 4TB SSD drives on the road for my storage. The primary drive resides in my briefcase. The backup drive resides in my camera bag. Since the camera bag never leaves my side, I know that all those images I’ve captured are with me sorted, filed, numbered, and finished. When I get back to the office, the primary drive is plugged in and the Nefs and PSDs are moved over to the main library which is backed up and the end of the process. And that’s my basic workflow. Hope this helps you and your workflow!

The Z50mc … What a Sweet Lens

Grasses in winters grasp captured by Z 6II / Z50mc

A great day of Arctic adventure came to an end with a really nice sunset. At 2:30 PM! My dear friend brought her new Z 50 micro so I took advantage of the opportunity to talk it for a shoot. It was -8, what else would you do? I wanted the sun on the horizon in the frame so I went off on a search for some hoar frost to put in front of it and to let it shine through. I soon found some grasses, perfect for my quest.

I turned on the Z 6II and focused the lens manually to 3/4 life size (turning on the camera required), flipped out the monitor, and went to work. The first challenge was to get the grasses lined up with the film plane so those I wanted in focus were all in focus at the same time. I was shooting at f/2.8 as I wanted the sun a warm orp as you see in the photo. Once the plane was lined up, I moved physically back and forth until the elements were sharp. The Z50mc is a gem making this entire process real easy. What a gorgeous, sweet lens. Great addition to the Nikon micro legacy.

Gloves 2021 Edition

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“My fingers are soooo cold!” I hear this often from photographers even though they have gloves. Seriously, folks with tens of thousands of dollars in camera gear invest in the worst gloves. I want to change that with my suggestions for this winter’s season best. This is my annual Glove Review to help you find the gloves right for you. Many years ago my friends started to talk about their gloves in levels, a system I have come to embrace with the higher the number, the colder the ambient air conditions. Here’s my glove recommendations for 2021, Levels 1 – 4. (I have an entire 90min class on being prepared for winter photography over at KelbyOne for much more in-depth discussion).

The gloves and mittens you see here, I take them ALL with me whenever I think it’s going to be cold. And when I go out shooting, I have them ALL with me to keep my hands warm according to temperatures. When the wind comes up, you put on Level 1, when there are wind and cold, Level 2 and when it’s really, really cold, Level 3 and since I’m the only crazy one who owns the mittens (besides my wife Sharon), I have a Level 4 (see below). And there are times when I will wear a Level 1 under my Level 4 so I guess we could call that a Level 5. Now if you only brought a Level 1 and I’m wearing a Level 5, who do you think is going to have cold fingers? Bottom line is pretty darn simple, you think you’re going to need gloves, have Level 1 through Level 3 with you IN THE FIELD so you can enjoy the great shooting at hand. Here are my recommendations for Level 1 through 3 gloves for this year.

When our sons got into xcross skiing I found the Swix XC gloves and fell in love. When I went looking to replace my gloves this year, I turned to XC gloves again finding smartphone touch now common. These are what I got for myself. Gloves A (Level 1) are the all-important windstoppers Manzella Silkweight Wind Ultra Touchtip Gloves. Gloves B (Level 2) are what I wear most often, the Swix Star XC 2.0 Gloves. This first pair ( A ) is when it’s just starting to get cold. This next pair Swix Star XC 2.0 Gloves ( B ) is what I wear probably the most of all of these. The Swix Star XC 2.0 Gloves (same glove as I recommended in years past) simply rock with lots of warmth and flexibility. They have a special material on the top to cut the wind. These are the gloves I always have in my jacket and take care of my hands the majority of my shooting. When going to extremes like when the air temp hovers around zero of lower, I turn to ice climber gloves or Level 3. These seem to change every other day and this season is no different. The pair I got this year is (Gloves C ) the DAKINE Titan Insulated Gloves. They do look bulky but I found them to work really well. They keep the digits warm, permit basic operation and ability to push some buttons. You can push all the buttons on the camera body. You can even run a video camera with them. All these gloves come from my favorite store, REI.

Note: At the time this post was written, all gloves were available at REI. As of today, A & C are out of stock. Click on the “Similar” button to see replacements.

My favorite though are ones my family gave me years ago for ultimate in cold weather protection. These gloves mittens I love to shoot with! Actually, they are custom made trapper mittens that are strictly for cold weather use.

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How cold? Well, at 12degrees my hands were almost uncomfortably warm, not perspiring but almost too much warmth. Working in places like Yellowstone or the Arctic in the winter, these mittens are so perfect. Yeah, I can squeeze off the shutter, no, can’t work any other feature on the body. No, can’t buy these at REI. They are a two-layer mitten, a heavy wool removable liner, and outer Beaver fur. I just can’t wait to get out in the cold and put them to use! Thanks, family!

The key here is, no one glove does it all. I hope this helps you keep shooting in the worst weather which often yields, the best photography!

Ergo Love

hanging Z6II / Z14-24f2.8 over a creek via the amazing Ergo!

A couple of months of pounding the Platyball Ergo and I’m more in love with it than ever! First is the compact size and weight making it perfect for packing in the checked luggage and taking it anywhere. The second is its stability even in unstable worlds. The third is its one-handed operation even when wearing the bulkiest of gloves. The fourth is its headcover, the true definition of KISS. And lastly, in the cold and rain, it works just the same as any other time. Mostly though, I love the fact that someone thought so outside the box to literally put the idea of a tripod head, on its head. Love this thing!
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