Remote controls for cameras

   Sooner than later, any serious photographer will need a remote control for the camera.  In fact - after a tripod - it’s probably going to be any serious shooter’s first thing beyond top lenses and a speedlight and a bag to carry them.  Even if only to shoot headshots of yourself or Christmas photos of your family that will include you, you’ll all but need a remote.  And - if you’re shooting news or sports or wildlife with a camera mounted in a weird place, or with multiple cameras - you’ll need a remote.
   Basically, there are two kinds of remote shutter releases - and shutter releases are about all that a remote really can do at all well, since you need to know what’s going to be photographed when the dSLR clicks before you push that button and that really can’t be remoted!  
   The first - and by far the simplest and cheapest - is an infrared one like your TV set’s.  It has a range of about 16’ claimed - and must be designed for your model camera.  For most Canon dSLRs, Canon’s RC-6 (leftmost) is about $20 - and truly is the Keep It Simple Stupid remote, since nothing needs be attached to your dSLR.  Easily used - with either instant mode or two-second delay setting.  Only one quick, easy setting change on your camera.  And really, it’s perfect for shooting headshots or group photos you’ll be in - and where only one camera will be used by only one shooter in the area; it’s thin, lightweight, only one cheap battery and that battery’s found everywhere.
   The second - about $90-99 even for an aftermarket brand like Promaster (center and right) - is a two-piece radio one.  You mount the receiver on your camera’s shoe - and run the appropriate cable to the remote jack on your camera; be sure when buying this kind of remote that the thing’s cable will attach to your particular dSLR.  The transmitter has a short pull-out antenna - good for a range of 100’ - and both transmitter and receiver have user-settable codes, so your competitors don’t shoot your cameras and you don’t shoot theirs; it’s thus ideal for wildlife, news, and sports shooters.  For the Promaster, there are 16 user-settable possible codes.
   Remotes can let you produce the iconic every-hair-in-place movie-poster-look photos using the camera(s) mounted securely easily.  Or the sports photo picked from a dozen cameras all triggered at once.
   But which is better?  I have both - and have used both.  And, really, that cheap infrared one’s my choice most all of the time - because it’s so simple to set up and use, because it doesn’t interfere with mounting a speedlight, etc.

Canon RC-6 infrared remote (top left); Promaster radio remote (center and lower right).
Both are great.


Shooting headshots - Part II

   Just how simply - and how inexpensively - can you shoot great headshot photos?  Very - if you plan it correctly from the start.
   Assume you have the key essentials - a good dSLR, a good lens, a good speedlite, and a good tripod.  If you don’t already have a great background, a piece of foamboard is under $3.00 at Wal-Mart; the basic white one works great for most skin complections and most clothes - while a similar blue foamboard from Office Depot is light blue on one side, dark blue on the other and is thus great for other clothes.  Then all you need to shoot great headshots is a remote and a good diffuser for the speedlite - if, that is, you don’t already have both.  And a simple infrared remote such as Canon’s RC-6 works great.  And all of the things you might not already have will be around for many other kinds of photos - again, at nil cost.
   A speedlite with an inexpensive diffuser - such as the under-$20 Sto-Fen Omni-Bounce - holds up putting out great light a lot longer than any ring light powered by two AAA batteries!  Put the diffuser on the speedlite - and bounce it off the white ceiling; it will be far better at avoiding shadows behind your subject than a ring light mounted on the lens or dSLR.  It will very rapidly cycle - and not change light output.
   As always, any subject who is male or transgendered needs to shave immediately before the session - or every whisker will show!  Hair also needs serious attention before shooting.  They need to be posed with their feet at somewhat of an angle to the camera, but with their face somewhat more towards the lens, to look thinner.  Experiment with posing them looking slightly up, slightly down, and directly into the lens.  This will avoid the “mug shot” look, too.
   Zoomed in rather tight to the face is best.  Expect to shoot dozens of poses - and pick the best from them.  
   Don’t forget to bill the client for the batteries you replace after each session!

   Shot with Canon 7D 24-70 f/2.8 lens, 430 speedlite, Sto-Fen Omni-Bounce, tripod, remote.


Shooting headshots - Part I

   Shooting headshots - or need to?  It’s nowhere near as hard - nor as expensive - as you think to get great results.
   You need only things that you have - or need to have - anyhow: a good camera, a good zoom lens, a sturdy tripod, either a ring light for macros or a good flash with diffuser, and a remote control for the camera.  The only thing you may need to buy is a background - and that’s quite inexpensive, given what does just fine.  And the cost of any of these things that you don’t yet have is probably less than paying someone else to shoot your headshot - plus, of course, you can use it over and over for many things, not only headshots.
   For a great - but inexpensive - background, you can’t beat foamboard!  Office Depot sells one which has a dark blue background on one side - and light blue on the other.  But - for most all uses - ordinary white foamboard that sells just under $3.00 at Wal-Mart is great.  The dark/light blue one is needed only if your subject wants that background - or wants to wear some outfit that won’t contrast with white, or has unusual complexion.  A sturdy clasp lets you easily hang it from a nail positioning it at a height most all people will fit.   Foamboard will stay perfectly flat - and will avoid having every paintbrush stroke on the wall conspicuously show in each photo!
   The subject - if male or transgendered - really does need to shave immediately before the session; believe me, every whisker will show otherwise!  Blouse or shirt ideally dark with pattern if the background will be white.
   Pose the subject in front of the foamboard with the subject’s feet at a slight angle to the camera - and with the subject facing the camera at a slight angle; this will make her look thinner.  Experiment with her tilting her head slightly up or down; down usually works best.  This also avoids the “mug shot” look.
   Ideally, the face and hair will fill most all of the frame - with a slight bit of the blouse or shirt below.
   Light should be either a flash with diffuser bounced off ceiling - or a ring light of the type used for macros.  Keep in mind that ring lights powered with “AAA” batteries will dim rather fast.  Avoid ring lights with AC adapters - to avoid tripping over your gear!
   Remotes for at least some dSLRs are best the radio kind - not the infrared ones - as the infrared kind will require adjusting the camera settings before and after for at least some dSLRs.
   It’s best to shoot headshots indoors - because that way you and your subject stay comfortable.
   Plan on taking many poses - especially if you’re both the subject and the shooter!
   
   

Shot with Canon 7D, Canon 24-70 f/2.8 “L” USM zoom lens, ring light, tripod, remote.


Ring lights for macros

   The one exception I’ve found the the general worthlessness of on-camera LED lights for shooting stills really does shine - and almost certainly is the best solution for it, and a great buy: as a ring light for macros.
   Ring lights of a variety of types - some very expensive, some at least somewhat less - are sold for shooting macros.  At least some merely bounce the flash of an ordinary speedlite into a ringlike reflector and diffuser - but they are clumsy.  Other inexpensive ones have a speedlite-looking battery holder and control head and are inexpensive - attached to a ring-shaped assembly that easily attaches to the front of your lens and that’s full of LEDs behind a diffuser.
   But - after trying one of the latter type and being very disappointed - I soon ended up with a Promaster RL60.  It is a self-contained unit with dozens of LEDs behind a diffuser, holds two “AAA” batteries - and screws into the front of your lens with any of a variety of adapters your friendly local full-service photo store will patiently fit it with.  A three-position switch on the side allows you to turn on all - or half - of the LEDs.  It’s very bright - and costs about $99 at a full-service photo place, in between the cheap “fixes” and the expensive ones.
   It’s been a great thing for me for shooting macros.

Promaster RL60 ring light - a great buy.


How good are LED on-camera lights?

   How good are LED panel lights for still photo work?  In a word, not at all.
   I’ve tried two - one by Manfrotto (below), the other by Litepanels.  And I’ve been dissatisfied with both.  Neither can provide adequate light beyond the shortest range - unlike a speedlite, and they obviously are intended for on-camera use, as each has a shoe mount.  And neither can work with any but a very narrow choice of lenses.  Neither is suited for macro use, either.
   Absolutely forget using either with your 70-200 or at any serious range; they also have problems covering the entire area your lens will for wider-angle lenses.
   Both run on easy-to-find “AA” batteries - and have easy-to-use dimming controls.  But neither approaches the capability a speedlite and inexpensive diffuser offers - but costs far more.  In short, buy a speedlite and diffuser instead.

Manfrotto ML360 panel LED light.


How do you carry your stuff?

   How do you carry your stuff - not only your photo gear, but your personal items - while shooting news?  I’ve seen shooters work stories carrying backpacks - but they sure aren’t easy to reach into for anything you suddenly need.  And a purse sure is inconvenient to get in and out of a car with when also carrying a dSLR with a nearly-foot-long lens like a 70-200; getting anything out of the purse is inconvenient even outside of the car.
   My suggestion is a photographer’s vest - full of very large pockets inside and out, most with covers keeping things in and weather out.  Sure, a fishing vest may also work - but it may not be as durable and may not have as many pockets or covers on as many.  While few shooters seem to be using them, the use of one by the federal marshal heading courthouse security at the John Edwards trial (below) clearly showed the potential.
   Leave the purse or backpack home.  Have the vest well-organized - both photo and first-aid essentials.  Before going, put your driver’s license, car registration, and insurance card in one pocket.  But keep the vest always set up with the things you might need for a shoot: coins for parking meters, multitool or Swiss Army knife, Band-Aids, cable ties, extra memory cards in a weatherproof carrier, business cards, reporter’s notebook, pens.  And - of course - pill box with several days of any prescriptions you depend on to stay functional.
   Before going to cover a story, put the driver’s license, registration, and insurance card in one pocket; take them out when you get home.  Also bring along a water bottle to keep you functional and able to take those prescriptions; State Farm insurance agents now are giving away a sturdy one - that won’t collapse as it’s emptied - with a push-pull valve; it will fit in one of the lens pockets on back of the vest.

Butch Moore, regional head of courthouse security, wearing such a vest 
at the John Edwards trial.


Repairability - how big an issue?

   How big a factor should repairability of discontinued gear be in your purchasing decisions?  In my experience, not at all.
   The issue of Canon (supposedly) no longer repairing some prior versions of their top-grade “L” lenses came up on Facebook this week.  But my experience says not to worry about that - but to buy the earlier version used at a big discount if it’s reportedly fine with pro users.
   I’ve had three 7D bodies - plus 24-105 f/4 “L” IS USM, a 24-70 f/2.8 “L” USM, and a 70-200 f/2.8 “L” IS USM lenses.  I’ve also had a G15 and prior G-series digicams as backups for the dSLR gear.  And none ever needed service of any kind.
   Of course, the dSLR bodies and particular lenses being weather-sealed was a big help; I shot stories in driving rain with all.  But that G15 also got plenty of use - and bounced around everywhere with me, but always was good to go.
   Back in the film era, I had a Minolta rangefinder and my mother a Konica SLR; neither ever needed any repairs.  Even that knockaround Instamatic I started with didn’t need repairs.
   Buy good gear, take good care of it - and you’ll be fine.

This G15 bounced around everywhere with me - just fine.


Decline of a once-great daily

   In the 1970s and 1980s, the Greensboro, N.C. News & Record was a great daily.  Four sections daily - most locally produced. 
   In the 1980s, it expanded into a metropolitan paper - derided by a local weekly as “The Eleven County News & Record” or the acronym “TECN&R.”  It printed five regional editions - and had bureaus in adjoining counties of the 11.
   When I had a portfolio review there in Sept. 2010, it had a robustly-staffed newsroom - even as the overall economy died.
   Since then, it was bought by Berkshire Hathaway - and has been through at least three big downsizings, two in the past year.  It had entire levels of middle management downsized.  Its current directory looks like a high school paper.  And it got gutted to two, sometimes three, sections daily - largely cut and pasted from the wire.
   Pitching something to an editor there this past month, I was told it now really is only the TWO county News & Record - far down from when a local weekly ridiculed it as the ELEVEN County News & Record!  This county - among those 11 - it basically now no longer covers, that editor told me.
   An appreciable percentage of ad space now is a Berkshire Hathaway real-estate ad.  Needless to say, you can’t get high ad rates from yourself!

Photos from this then-recent Tea Party rally were a big part of my portfolio review.
Greensboro, N.C., Apr. 15, 2010.


Covering 2020: Democrats

   Covering 2020?  The Democrats have two possible presidential contenders who cannot be written off - as absurd as each seems.
   Although the July-August 2017 issue of “Atlantic” reported that top-echelon circles of the Democrats listed 28 unnamed possible credible contenders - as in potential contenders who’d be taken seriously if they ran - the two seemingly-absurd “sleeper” possibilities are Hillary Clinton and Oprah Winfrey:
   Hillary: despite age, losing twice to nobodies, apparent health problems - and decades of sometimes contradictory paper trail - must be tempted by Trump’s failure on the issue that elected him: middle-class jobs.  Thousands of middle-class jobs in many industries got downsized in the past three months.  Add his flip-flops on “DREAMers” and guns recently - and Trump is very weak for 2020; he only won by 75,000 in three key states.  Ironically like Trump is a cult of personality; her 2016 campaign even had hashtag #PantsuitPower.
   Oprah: extreme paper trail problem of many years of unscripted daily shows, a nobody - but has to realize that another guy lacking any political experience just won!  Lacks any political agenda, though.
   Either of these is worth including in your photo library - starting now.


Covering 2020 - Republican Party

   Covering GOP presidential wannabes in 2020?  There are four Republican Parties - based on stories I’ve covered - with considerable overlap among the first three:
   Trump dead-enders: Named after similar to-anywhere followers of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, they will back Trump no matter how bad things get.  They are functionally all white - and overwhelmingly retired, from any part of U.S.; that age makes his slogan “Make America Great Again” resonate strongly with them - because age makes them remember when this really was a great nation.  They are driven by the economic, social, and foreign-respect collapse of America after the Vietnam War - and their view that Trump can restore what had been.  Like cops or Mafia people in that they don’t care if you like them - but are obsessed with being respected.  It is a cult of personality - and I’m hardly the first observer to say that: Trump is America’s first personality-cult president.  Trump is, of course, their cause.
   Tea Party: Functionally all white - but all ages; driven by economic collapse of middle class.  Just want back affluence; not particularly interested in any one president or candidate.  But their logical 2020 candidate is Newt Gingrich - who campaigned at Tea Party rallies in his 2012 presidential campaign.
   Social-issues right: All white, all ages but most older, mainly heartland.  Driven by abortion, gun rights, or same-sex marriage; really not interested in economy or foreign policy.  Ted Cruz again their likely candidate - as in 2016.
   Country-club Republicans: Driven by economic concerns of the affluent - tax cuts, Obamacare, etc.; don’t care about much else.  Mitt Romney - as in 2012 - is their logical guy, if he can get elected to the Senate in Utah.

Mitt Romney’s son Tagg campaigns for him, Burlington, N.C., Oct. 17, 2012.