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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!

Photographer’s Tools: Tide Charts

Boulders Along Laguna Beach

Low TideIn this first installment of my "Photographer's Tools" series (wherein I will discuss tools and tips to help photographers make better pictures), I will cover an often overlooked tool for photographers: Tide Charts. Whether you live by the ocean like me or you are planning on taking a trip to the coast, you better make room in your camera bag for tide charts (figuratively of course, who really needs to "make room" for a tide chart? That's just ridiculous).

In my own experience, and I think many photographers would agree, the success of a good image lies in the pre-shoot preparation. Whether you're shooting a scenic or a portrait, it's all about how prepared you are when the time comes to click the shutter. Tide charts can give a little window to the future that will help make your coastal shots that much better.

Mr. KrabsI personally love to include rocks and tide pools in my coastal pictures. Rock formations along the beach and boulders strewn across the white sand seem to make a regular beach picture so much more unique. They add texture, weight and shadows to otherwise mediocre photos. The mussels and sea life found in tide pools at low tide create even more interesting additions to a landscape and are amazing photo subjects all by themselves. With tide charts, you can find out to the minute when the tide will be at its lowest. You can plan ahead knowing that these rocks at this location will be exposed at this time of day. And by scouting out the location ahead of time, you can even get a mental image picture of your shot before you set foot on the beach.

ShapesFor example, I know the beach of Crystal Cove State Park in California like the back of my hand. When I looked at the tide charts the other day and saw that low tide would be at 6:57pm, I knew this park would have some interesting rocks and tide pools to play with for some sunset shots. I didn't waste any time looking around other beaches or deciding where to go. Since I knew the tide would be low, I knew Crystal Cove was the place to be.

This brings me to my next point: I only went out and took pictures on this day BECAUSE the tide was low at sunset. Normally I don't bring my camera out for any landscape work if there are no clouds in the sky. I am bored easily by cloudless skies and this day was clear as a summer afternoon (seeing as how it WAS a summer afternoon). But I knew low tide at sunset would be a pretty good bet, even with no clouds, so I packed my gear and headed out. Had I not checked the charts and had I not known what gems low tide could bring me, I would have stayed in and done other work. I'm sure glad I went, because I had a lot of fun and was really pleased with the results.


With amazing devices like the iPhone, tide charts can be at your finger tips at any moment in any place. I don't have to print out a tide chart every month and remember to slip it in my bag, I have all the information at my fingertips. A great site that I have bookmarked on my iPhone is www.tidesonline.com. Its simple interface and logical layout make for a great online tide chart.

Just After Sunset

Low Tide at SunsetThese charts are not only valuable for the low tides. If you know of a place, for instance, that would be perfect at high tide at sunrise, use the chart to find a date when the high tide is right when you need it. Or if you know that the waves are biggest at high tide at this particular beach, find a date when the high tide is at the right time and get out and shoot them.

If you do go out at low tide and are navigating across tide pools, please be responsible. Tread lightly and watch where you put your foot. That slimy rock might actually be a sea slug and those mussels latched onto the rocks are not, in fact, indestructible and they are living animals. And be smart. If you know it's mid-tide but the tide is coming IN, don't put your camera bag where the tide will catch up to it and don't get trapped on that rock outcropping as the tide moves in around you (almost happened to me, folks).

Tide charts are your friend. They are incredibly accurate and give some hint at what the future holds along your favorite beach. Use them.

Fishermen

Mini Canyon

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.


CONCEPT:
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.

RELIABILITY:
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.

BUILD:
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.

COMPANY AND CUSTOMER SERVICE:
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.

COMPLAINTS:
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.

RESULTS:






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