Shooting perfect macros - but where?

   Lighting is one very big problem in shooting good macros - but hardly the only 
problem.
   “Where” is the other big problem.  Putting a background atop the bed’s top works - 
but leaves much to be desired in terms of angles and heights.
   The solution is a standup desk for a laptop computer.  The angles are perfect; so are 
possibilities for additional lighting.
   The laptop desk I found was free - discarded locally.  It obviously had mainly been |
used as a craft and work place - cut and paint marks showed that.  But a couple pieces 
of cheap foamboard would fix that fine for shooting macros; I’d suggest one white one - 
and the other light blue one side, dark blue other side.
   The supports - and it’s on casters - would work perfectly for any additional lighting 
needed; so would the high top “desk.”
   See how perfectly it worked shooting macros of damage for a consumer complaint 
(photo below).


Lighting macros

   Shooting macros involves particular lighting issues - like avoiding shadows.  But there are 
surprisingly simple - and inexpensive - ways to do it.
   One - of course - is diffused sunlight through a window.  It got me my first news photo to run 
big: Kodak’s bankruptcy - and works fine on a day the sun’s diffused by clouds.  It can be 
surprisinglingly great for some work and is of course near-free in cost.
   Forr $99 retail, Promaster’s self-contained ring light is full of LEDs behind a diffuser - runs on two 
AAA” batteries - and screws on the front of various popular lenses via adapters.  It’s a very good 
deal for macros.
   But best of all - surprisingly good - is just your ordinary speedlite, behind a $20 Sto-Fen Omni-Bounce 
diffuser.  Try it bounced off a white ceiling or wall - and then directly at subject.  It certainly works fine 
bounced - but try a few each subject direct; you may well find it works great direct for most.  And it will 
work fine direct for headshots.
   Best of all, that Promaster ring light - and a speedlite - have no difficult power issues.


Promaster’s $99 self-contained ring light - a real bargain.


A really good stylus - and ballpoint.

   If you’re any kind of journalist, you text a lot by smartphone.  Unfortunately, thumbs are a very 
poor way to text - and the styluses sold by the phone company are both poor and expensive, 
while Wal-Mart’s inexpensive ones are poor.  While you occasionally run across giveaway 
combination ballpoint/styluses, they really don’t work well for texting - and the pen filler is hard 
if not impossible to replace.
   Fortunately, Cross (of mid-price ballpoint fame) makes a combination ballpoint/stylus - and it 
is absolutely great.  The pen extends and retracts by Cross’ familiar twist mechanism.  The stylus 
is always exposed on the other end of the pen (photo below).  Retail is between $13 and $30, 
depending on where you see it; at big-box office supply places, about $30.  It’s available in a 
choice of finishes - and doesn’t look cheap.
   The filler is easily replaceable - as typical of Cross ballpoints - with the filler sold widely in 
the office-supply stores.
   It’s great for texting.  The stylus end is small enough - unlike the phone-company and Wally 
World ones with too-big tips.  And it’s firm - easy to text without errors.

Stylus end of Cross’ combination stylus/ballpoint.


Really good bottled water?

   Fortunately, the lens pocket on back of your photo vest is just the right size for a bottle of 
bottled water.  Unfortunately, bottled water is expensive and a mess to drink - as the thin-wall 
bottles crumple as water empties.
   Fortunately, there are better alternatives - and they pay for themselves fast.  And they won’t 
make a mess as you drink them, either.  Each fits that same pocket.
   From absolutely free to $20, refillable water bottles that are sturdy are readily available.
   Your nearest State Farm insurance agent will give you, free, a sturdy refillable water bottle with 
a push-pull drinking spout.  Pick up one or two.
   Wal-Mart sells for $20 an insulated water bottle by Stanley.  One-hand drinking control makes 
it very convenient - and it will provide ice water all day.  Fill with ice cubes before filling the 
remaining space with water - and ice remains in the remaining water 15 hours later.  Holds 
20 oz. of water.
   Save money; #DontBuyBottledWater.

   The State Farm one is free - but the $20 Stanley one is worth it.


A really good tripod at $100 or less?

   Can you get a really good tripod at $100 full retail or just under?
   Promaster makes an aluminum tripod that stickers just under $100 at full-service 
photo stores.  It has flip-lock extension legs - thus avoiding the typical “freezing” 
problem of some aluminum tripods.  It comes with a quick-detach plate to attach the 
bottom of your camera to - and holds a Canon 7D with the typical “L” zoom sturdily for
either of the zooms favored by photojournalists.
   Compatible quick-detach plates are available - and inexpensive.  They attach to your 
camera by screwing into its tripod mount.
   Legs are three sections each - and maximum height is convenient.
   Head has a bubble level - and an angle degree scale.  Head locks and unlocks the
typical way of twisting handle.
   This tripod is lightweight.  In months of using it, it’s proven totally reliable - and 
convenient to use.  It’s been great for doing headshots - even of myself!  It’s very 
well made.


Too shaky to shoot photos?

   Are you too shaky to shoot photos - or are you starting to get that way?
   Sure, you can restrict yourself to shooting only at ultrahigh shutter speeds - or forcing that by setting widest-possible apertures - but either means you’ll be unable to shoot in many circumstances, or constantly be resetting ISO, or both.  And that you’ll be stuck with a peculiar movie-poster-like effect in many photos - near-zero depth of field.
   But there is an alternative - used for a very long time by competitive marksmen and (presumably) snipers: propanolol.  The generic of Inderal, propanolol is a common hypertension prescription drug - and very inexpensive - that drastically cuts tremors; it’s been used for that by marksmen for many years.  It doesn’t have many problematic side effects - unlike some other hypertension pills that are notorious for that problem.  The effect it has on long-shaky people is amazing to friends when they see them for the first time after being on propanolol for a short while.
   And - since hypertension and prehypertension, a condition just below hypertension, is now so common in America - getting it prescribed for legitimate medical purposes is easy.  Talk with your physician.  You’ll be amazed at the improvement in your photos - and be healthier.


Covering the shutdown - suggestions.

   Thus far, Washington’s shutdown - now about a month so far - hasn’t produced any iconic photojournalism.
   About the best news photos to come out of it as of yet are overflowing outdoor trash cans, trashed restrooms, and chain-sawed trees in national parks or in areas normally maintained by the National Park Service.  However, no really iconic photos yet have run.
   The coming opportunity for really iconic news photos is very late February or early March - as early March is when the first group would normally get their food stamp benefits loaded to their EBT debit cards, while very late February is when people would start running out of February’s benefits that are being uploaded Jan. 20 at the urging of Washington to make sure everyone gets February’s benefits during the shutdown.  However, current news reports in major dailies say that it’s unclear if - let alone when - March’s benefits will be issued if the shutdown continues.  That would mean 38 million Americans starving due to the shutdown - starting in late February or early March.
   Even the early-issued February benefits have an obvious problem: recipients are being told that they will have to last all of February - plus, of course, the last 12 days of January after their early issuance.  However, beneficiaries already received the January allotment - so that won’t be when the real problem hits; the real crisis starts in early March - in the event that the shutdown continues and no March allotment is uploaded to beneficiaries.

Look for scenes like this Oct. 14, 2010 Tea Party rally in Greensboro, N.C. if March’s food stamps don’t go out because of the shutdown.
This is the shutdown’s opportunity for iconic news photos.


Time to change all your batteries

   It’s time to change all your batteries again - and not only in photo gear.
   Make New Year’s the day you change all nonrechargeable batteries you have - and you won’t suddenly find yourself with something that doesn’t work when you need it most.  Clocks, flashlights, radios (including scanners and memory backup batteries - and, of course, speedlites and ring lights for photos.  And anything else.
   I strongly suggest Ray-O-Vac alkaline batteries; I’ve never had one leak - nor go dead in less than a year without use.  Lowe’s sells them cheap in bulk packs of 36 for the ultra-common “AA” variant - and also “AAA” ones.   And - needless to say - use only alkaline batteries; anything else just won’t run as long in use.
   For speedlites, also change them in June - as they are out in hot and freezing cars often.  And I’ve never had a bad experience changing those every six months that way.
   And replace any battery when you use it.  Let your client pay if it’s in photo equipment.  That way, you always start any job with fresh batteries.
   It’s easy to remember when to change batteries this way.

 

Don’t forget the one “AA” battery your small tactical flashlight uses!
Flashlight about $26 at Batteries Plus.


Why you need to keep rights to your photos.

   About a month ago - on Election Day - Steve Carter (below) was elected as a county commissioner here in Alamance County, N.C.   And I had the photo of his early days in local politics - and own all rights to them.
   I’d met Carter while covering the early days of the Tea Party movement - when he was both local organizer of the Tea Party movement and local head of the “establishment” Republican Party.  He was the person who organized Tea Party rallies and related events - and who played a key role in the merger of the leaderless Tea Party with the “establishment” Republican Party in this state.  He was one of the early people - if not the first - to try to field a “uniformed” wing of the Tea Party in this state, which eventually resulted in such an element at Tea Party appearances at the state legislature whenever they were trying to influence legislation.
   Carter tried to get elected to public office previously in the early days of the Tea Party - but failed.  However, he continued in his role in both the Tea Party and Republican Party - including organizing a campaign stop for the 2012 Mitt Romney campaign that I covered when Romney’s son Tagg came to campaign for him locally.  Eventually, he did succeed in getting elected.
   Will he run for higher office?  I doubt it - but, if he does, here’s one of the photos of him running a joint meeting of top local Tea Party and Republican activists in his home.
   

Steve Carter at meeting of top Tea Party and Republican activists in his home, 
Burlington, N.C., Jan. 19, 2011.


The really good pocket tool?

   There are all sorts of pocket tools - from Swiss Army knives to Leatherman multitools of various sizes - each favored by somebody, but for a working photographer and particularly a working photojournalist, it’s very hard to beat Leatherman’s Juice S2 (below).
   Unlike most all pocketknives, it includes a pair of pliers - a really good pair of stout pliers.  It is about the best pair of pliers I’ve ever seen - including by comparison with ordinary pliers; it includes a wire cutter, a needle-nose pliers, and an ordinary pliers.  There are few pliers jobs it can’t handle well - as well as a whole toolbox of pliers.
   It also includes a few screwdrivers - both straight and Phillips.  Also included: scissors and a bottle/cap opener.  
   The knife blade is razor-sharp straight from the factory - very unusual for pocketknives.
   Best of all, it’s capable of most all work - while sized to fit in a woman’s hand; it easily carries in a pocket or photo vest - not needing a separate belt sheath.  And it’s even capable of most emergency auto fixes.
   If it has one weakness, it’s that bottle/cap opener - but, honestly, how many times do you really use one on your pocketknife?
   The thing’s overall design seems obviously inspired by a World War II escape tool issued to the predecessor of the CIA - but that was an afterthought to an ordinary pocketknife.

Leatherman Juice S2.
Just over 3” long folded.