Nick Carver Photography Blog

Photography Tips, Tutorials, & Videos


Custom Filter Case

As (primarily) a landscape photographer, split neutral density filters are my bread and butter. I have 5 in all plus a solid ND and a polarizer. Split NDs are virtually useless in screw-in ring form, so I opt for the Singh-Ray rectangular filters with Cokin P series holders.

I've gone through several different filter cases from generic to name brand to custom to different custom, etc. There were some specific points I needed in a filter case that none of these fulfilled entirely. I wanted it to be small enough to fit in a camera bag and in a photo vest pocket, I wanted it to be able to attach to my belt or belt loop, I wanted it to be entirely enclosed when shut, I wanted no velcro closure (too loud) and I wanted it to adequately protect my filters without overkill.

Now I'm sure it's no secret among photographers that a CD wallet is a great option for this (if it is news to you - hooray!). The materials used to protect CDs are generally on par with materials used to protect photo equipment so there's no worry there. The sleeves are in a convenient binder-esque arrangement for easy browsing. It's small in width and length and relatively thin. The only problem I kept running into is I couldn't find a blasted CD case that would lay flat when opened. They all had this wrap-around design on the binding that would cause it to shut on itself like a new paperback novel.

Well this post is about a great case I found for this application as well as some of my modifications that make it the ultimate filter case.

First off, the brand of case is Case Logic and it's a 24 CD/DVD CD Wallet. It's great because it lays completely flat when opened - no spring return - and it's covered in this somewhat rubbery outer that has stood up excellently to the elements for me. It features a full zipper that is smooth and has a rubber-tipped zipper pull. It is the smallest CD wallet I have found that will still fit all my filters and its rounded corners and edges make for easy storage. I like it so much, I got two in case they discontinue it. I bought mine at Best Buy - not sure if they still sell them or not.

Now onto the mods to make it even better. I wanted to be able to attach it to my hip belt loop, so I needed to add a carabiner in the upper left corner. I did this by taking some strong string (I used a sunglasses cord I bought at REI), threading it behind the sleeves and wrapping them around the binding pegs (see picture). I then tied it at the top with a slight loop hanging over the edge at the end of the zipper. I recommend melting the ends of the cord with a lighter to avoid fraying. This made it so a small loop of the cord would hang out of the wallet in the upper left corner when the zipper was completely shut. I then attached a small carabiner to this loop and presto, you got yourself a wicked side filter wallet.

To make it even better, I put labels on each sleeve indicating the filter. I did one horizontally on the opposing sleeve for viewing horizontally and a smaller one vertically on the filter's sleeve. The vertical label makes more sense when using the wallet when it's hanging from your side. I then put little squares of thin cardboard on the opposite side of each filter sleeve. This keeps the sleeve rigid when the filter is removed making it much easier to slide it back in later.

I found this setup to work great for me. I just attach it to my right hip belt loop when I get my camera out and start shooting. I have every filter right at my fingertips in a completely sealed wallet (not water PROOF of course, but water resistant nonetheless). I can remove a filter and let the wallet drop to my side with no worries. It has stood up perfectly to many harsh conditions (especially sand and sea spray). I've never had a filter break in this wallet, it's easy to store and transport and it's cheap!

Aperture 2, You Win

Alright, I caved and bought the Aperture 2 upgrade. Was I wrong about the things I said in my previous post? No (for the most part). True, proportional spacing in grid view shouldn't have been dropped in this upgrade and, yes, the jumpy scrolling is annoying as all hell, but there are some pretty awesome changes that actually do outweigh my quibbles.

I will admit that I can understand the advantage of unchecking proportional spacing in grid view in Aperture 2. It's hard to explain without a firsthand demo, but having it unchecked makes things more orderly when organizing pictures, splitting up stacks, creating stacks and all that jazz. It should still be an OPTION, though, not a requirement!

And it seems the "ignore stack groupings" option on smart albums has been replaced by the (surprisingly) more useful "include stack picks only." The way smart albums work in Aperture is a little different than in previous Aperture versions. It's almost like it automatically ignores stack groupings, but still lets you know when an image is part of a stack. It indicates, for example, that both of these images are 5-star, but they are 2 of 5 total images in the stack. It just doesn't show those other 3 images.

As for the jumpy scrolling: That's just straight up stupid. I can't for the life of me figure out why they swapped out the intuitive, logical smooth scrolling of Aperture 1.5 for this jerky ridiculousness. I really hope my dozens of complaints get through for the next update.

Now for the reasons TO upgrade:

- Vignette tool: Incredibly handy
- Smoother straightening: This was a major frustration point for me in 1.5
- Metadata and Projects panels in the HUD: Full-screen mode just got useful
- Retouch tool: Surprisingly effective
- Flip tool: FINALLY
- Interface: I can customize this thing until it's unrecognizable and it makes better use of my screen real estate
- Tether: So easy to do
- Customizable hot keys: I love hot keys even more now
- RAW Processing: WAY better results than in 1.5
- Background export: I can keep working? WHILE images are exporting?! Sweet!
- Faster: Don't ask me how, it just is

Here are some images from my first batch using Aperture 2 - an engagement photo shoot for my awesome friends, Bubba and Lisa. The new adjustment tools made my job much quicker and easier. Thanks Aperture! (cue cheesy 80's high five)

Band Shot Style

Cute Couple

Dusk at the Beach


What'd I do?

P.S. You may notice the large majority of my recent work is all portraiture stuff. Don't fret, nature is still my main game. It's just that summers in Southern California for the nature photographer, shall we say, leave something to be desired. The weather is boring, the heat is relentless, the crowds are ridiculous and the vegetation is...crispy. I'm not a sell-out and I'm not money-motivated (but I do need to, you know, eat). I wouldn't be doing this portraiture work if I wasn't loving it.

Radiopopper Review

Alright, so I got to use my brand new Radiopoppers on a shoot yesterday. This was the first true test of these bad boys because I needed to count on them for several hours at a beach that was 224 steep stairs and one hell of a walk away from my car. If they failed on me, I was boned.

I am happy to report that my Radiopoppers performed with flying colors! Yes, I will elaborate. But before I get in to the nitty gritty of how they did, let me just describe my setup for you. I am shooting with a Canon EOS 5D with a 550ex and Radiopopper transmitter as my master flash. This is controlling 2 Canon 430ex slaves each with a Radiopopper receiver attached. I shoot with the master emitting no flash and I control the output of each slave manually. If I'm controlling my slaves manually anyway, why didn't I just get pocket wizards instead of radiopoppers you say? Well, aside from the ability to switch to TTL in the rare event that I need to and aside from the sweet perk of being able to use ANY shutter speed, these radiopoppers allow me to control the output of each slave from the convenience of my camera-mounted 550ex. That's right, no more walking over to each slave to change the output while I chimp my screen. "Oh what's that? A little too much light coming from slave A. BAM! Handled." Don't even have to change my position.

The Radiopopper website is the best place to learn what these units are and what they can do, but I will sum up the general concept for you here. Basically, they take your Canon or Nikon TTL wireless flash system and change it from infrared-triggered slaves to radio-triggered slaves. This means you can do EVERYTHING you can normally do with your wireless flash system but at a much greater range and without the colossal drawback of your flashes needing to be in line of sight. And yes, Radiopoppers really are as magical as they sound. Not only in their design and functionality, but in what they do for your photography. They give you the freedom to shoot TTL or manual, below sync speed or above, with your slaves in line of sight or not. Radiopoppers spit in the face of compromise. You don't have to sacrifice FP flash and TTL to get radio-triggering wireless. They truly allow you to have your cake and eat it too. I can't even imagine what possibilities this will open for wedding photographers. Kevin King, you are a god among photographers.

I found my radiopoppers to be incredibly reliable. In my shoot of a little over 300 photos, I experienced misfires 10-15 frames. That's a 97% success rate! And that 3% is most likely from flaws in the E-TTL system itself, not the radiopoppers. One unusual thing I noticed while shooting is one of my slaves would randomly fire while I wasn't shooting. I assume this is just from some sort of radio interference momentarily affecting it. But truthfully, I dunno. I should probably ask the guys at radiopopper (who are incredibly helpful by the way), but it's not enough of a problem for me to write an email. I'd say this only happened 3-5 times in the entire shoot. Never caused any problems, either.

The radiopopper units themselves are delightfully simple in design. The transmitter has 2 buttons, the receiver has 1. Press a button to power them up, the green light turns on, they link automatically, the amber light turns on, you're good to go. The transmitter mounts with velcro on top of your master unit and that's that. The receiver mounts with velcro somewhere on the slave (I recommend the side) and then you secure the fiber optic nylon bead over the slave's IR receiver and you're ready. The units are very small and feel real solid. The single AA battery goes inside the unit by removing 2 screws from the back. I've heard some quibbles about there not being an easily removable battery door, but that would be a poor design. These things sip power so it's unlikely you're going to need to quickly change out a bunch of batteries in the field and having a removable battery door would really sacrifice the solidity of these units. I love how solid they are and that's partly because the casing only has 2 parts-the top half and the bottom half. I'll go through the "hassle" of removing just 2 screws to change the battery every blue moon in exchange for such solid construction. The antennas are sturdy and unobtrusive. But even if you damage the antenna somehow, it is easily removed and replaced (you can also get a longer antenna for the receivers from Radiopopper if you want greater range). Overall, Radiopoppers are professionally built and I'm sure will withstand the abuses of a photographer.

The staff at Radiopopper are great. Even though they really have their hands full with backorders, they are incredibly helpful, friendly and speedy. I've found emails are the best way to get support. They are always answered as quickly as possible with a friendly response. The company is a pleasure to work with and I am happy to support them with my purchases.

Can't think of any. Sorry. Besides, even if there were something I feel should be improved, this is a brand new product. I'm sure these things will evolve like all products do over the years. But really, I haven't found anything that absolutely needs to be changed. These things are awesome. I did, however, come up with a different way of attaching the nylon fiber optic bead to my flash's IR sensor. Check it out here.


So in summary, these things are badass. They will make you happy. Go buy them.