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.

2020’s emerging story: good jobs

   2020 now has an emerging clear dominant issue: good jobs.  As in the kind of good-wage jobs that Trump’s promise of got him elected - not “jobs” that now visibly largely are in nil-wage industries such as fast food and “tipped-wage” restaurants, historically high-schooler pocket-change jobs but now mainly are held by adults lacking any alternative of good-wage jobs.  And it’s a natural for photojournalism.
   With a “truth squad” of downsizing victims - “Good Jobs Nation” - now already having emerged and haunting Trump’s stops in the Midwest, good-wage jobs historically held by adults has become 2020’s clear dominant issue.  “Good Jobs Nation” is a very photographable presence of this issue; unlike how, say, today’s food stamp debit cards prevent any iconic photos of suffering Americans in bread or soup lines of the type shot in the 1930s depression - a fact clearly benefiting both Wall Street and incumbent politicians.
   Good-wage jobs - or the continued dire and worsening scarcity of them - easily outdoes Russia scandals, Kavanaugh’s appointment, or anything else as the dominant 2020 issue.  It is easy to Google up daily news stories of big downsizings of middle-class or near-middle-class jobs - and has been throughout the past month.  In industry after industry, in state after state, good jobs just have kept being downsized in droves.
   The other side of the dire scarcity of good jobs shows, of course, as the huge number of adults stuck in nil-wage jobs historically only teen jobs - obviously, of course, not having good jobs to flee to!

Occupy - here, Occupy Chapel Hill (N.C.), Oct. 22, 2011 - was an early if unfocused good-jobs protest movement.
The ability of large numbers to live in encampments clearly showed they didn’t have good-wage jobs that they couldn’t afford to lose!

The disaster news photo essential

   Press photos of disasters - and their aftermath - are big items for top stories.  Too bad you probably won’t be able to plug your camera’s charger in anywhere nearby!
   The answer is a battery grip.  You may not have tried one - or you may have found one useful for its making for better balance especially when using a long heavy lens, for shooting vertical photos, or for both.  But there’s one other thing a battery grip lets you do - run your dSLR on ordinary “AA” batteries, widely available, if you buy the proper adapter.
   For my Canon 7D bodies, that’s Canon’s BGM-E6 (photo); it lets you run the 7D on six “AA” batteries.  You put the penlight batteries into it - and then put it into the battery grip in place of the rechargeable batteries.  It has the “wiring” all built in - making contact with the “AA” batteries and the battery grip all by itself.  Other Canon dSLRs require different battery grips - and, possibly, different battery holders for “AA” batteries.
   Note that you must buy the proper battery grip for your dSLR - and, if not included with it, the proper adapter for the “AA” batteries.
   Similar battery adapters are common for ham radio walkie-talkies - and, possibly, also for scanners.
   Lowe’s and Wal-Mart are the best places to buy the “AA” batteries - as their low prices make for rapid turnover and fresh batteries.  And each sells them at hefty discounts if you buy a pack of many batteries.  Be sure to get alkaline batteries for longest life.

Battery grip adapter lets you use your dSLR on “AA” batteries.

I redid my business card - and so should you.

   When I recently started running low on business cards, I slightly redid mine - and so should you when you need more printed - before going to the printer.
   My business card is on a low-cost color choice - which allows it to be without the high price of “fluorescent” color paper, yet bright and will get attention.  The printer I use - Markell, here in Burlington, N.C. - does great work inexpensively, being that it specializes in political ad material and commercial ad specialty items.  I buy them by the thousand.
   And I give those cards everywhere.  I leave one on the table when leaving when I eat out.  But, now, in addition to listing the types of photos I shoot - and, of course, the Web address of my portfolio and phone number - it prominently advertises that I license archived photos (see photo).  That is, if you or someone else wants to use some photo I may have shot previously, just call me - and see if I have it and what the licensing rates and terms would be.
   Licensing allows you to continue making profit from your past work - from your hopefully-growing photo library - not only from further work.  That’s why you should always think in terms of licensing, not selling, photo rights.  This is especially important if you shoot politics, sports, or entertainment; today’s junior-varsity nobody may be tomorrow’s NFL star - or tomorrow’s president - and today not been covered by photojournalists.  Former president Reagan played football - and someone had a great photo of him playing high-school or college ball.  The highest-payoff photo will always be someone who became a superstar - taken back when they were a nobody and no serious photos were ever being taken of him or her; licensing allows you to make the profit.
   Of course, I have photos of politicians at top news stories - some at stories they’d much rather forget.  I have the photo that made our likely coming president world famous - and one of the guy about her age urged to run for Congress who conceivably might run against her!  And also the protest movements that roiled then-president Obama’s presidency: the Tea Party and Occupy.  And photos showing the economy - another favorite subject of mine.
   Guess which version of my business card I handed out at the all-but-official declaration of the candidacy of Trump’s likely successor - that was packed with her crew!

My new business card emphasizes licensing of past photos.  
Yours also should.

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.