My Gear & Project Kits

I’m often asked what kind of gear I use, when do I use it and more importantly…how to I acquire it without my wife knowing! The first part of this is what is in my working everyday bag. Most of this stuff is with me 24/7, and when she kicks me out into the garage, the camera bag does make a great pillow.

The second half of this section will be a “kits” section or project section. I receive emails all the time about what to use. “Ugh yes, I’m going to be photographing a wedding. What do I need?” First, a bottle of aspirin….just kidding…sort of. To help those of you who are taking the time to read this, I hope it helps. This is not a definitive list by any means and if you ask a hundred photographers what’s in their bag, you’re going to get a hundred different answers.

JUST SO YOU KNOW…
I’m a Nikon shooter. I’m not knocking Canon or the rest of the manufactures out there. If you are using another brand, I’m sure that they will have similar equipment. I also buy all my stuff from B&H Photo out of New York City. I have been using them for over a decade and they have served me well. When I call I get a real human in NYC, not across the pond, if you know what I mean. They have many items that have FREE shipping and there isn’t any tax as long as you don’t live in the State of New York. If you have a love affair with another supplier, by all means give them a call and I’m sure they can get you what ever you need. I will link the items to B&H’s site so you can check pricing and read reviews. I’m offering this info as is and I hope it helps someone out there. I have been upsold and my credit card has been abused by folks at trade shows telling me why I really NEED this new, state of the art plastic thingy. I hope this spares you a few dollars in your quest to acquire your gear.

 

My Gear Bag – What I use on a daily basis.

 

• Camera Bag

OK, first things first. We have to have a vessel to put all this crap equipment in. I bought my bag from Wolf Camera about six years ago. Some of you might know them as Ritz Camera. They went out of business because of online retailers. So what kind of bag would I look for if I needed one? If you are just starting out, anything that is heavily padded and that has different compartments will do. You can check out your local box stores or check an online camera store. Think about what kind of bag you want. There is everything from sling bags, to suitcases and backpacks. I have a duffel bag style and it works great. It has tons of room for all my stuff. I did try a backpack, however I’m bigger than the average bear and the straps were a little short for me. If you are looking for a top notch camera bag, I would check out bags from Think Tank Photo or Kata. I know many folks who have bought these are and are very pleased.

• Camera – Nikon D300

This should be no surprise, photography works better with a camera. Currently I’m still using my aging Nikon D300. It has served me well. This particular camera body is out of production. The Nikon D7100 is a great crop frame body and there is the Nikon D600 and Nikon D800 full frame counterparts.

• Lens – Nikon 18mm-200mm

I use this lens quite a bit, especially if I’m unsure about the location. This gives me a wide focal area to play with. It’s not a fast lens by any means, but gets the jobs done. I only buy manufacture glass. I’m sorry but when it comes to lenses, I’m a snob and I admit it. Lenses will last a lifetime and that is where the image’s quality and sharpness comes from. I have never been sorry that I spent the extra few dollars for the best quality photos.

• Lens – Nikon 50mm f/1.4

This lens I also use quite a bit, it’s sharp, fast, light and small.  If I have to photograph MR. CEO, I’m pulling this one out. This also allows me to hand hold in lower light like when I have to photograph a symphony and flash isn’t allowed.

Impact 12” Diffuser

A diffuser allows me to soften the light on location. This 12” is so small that I can put it in my shirt pocket when it’s folded up. This is a great macro accessory and it’s cheap.

Impact 12” Silver/White Reflector

This allows me to bounce light back into the subject. I can reduce contrast and reveal details that are in the shadows. The silver side is more aggressive and the white is for a more natural look. Again, this is a really cheap item.

Better Beamer

A Better Beamer allows me to extend the length that I can throw my light from my external flash. This doesn’t get used quite as much. If you’re a birder then you would want one. This will help reduce shadows by using flash to fill in some of the areas, especially when the bird is 50 to 75 feet away.

Expodisc

The Expodisc is used for custom white balance. There are times when I have to get it “exact” in the camera and this tool allows me to do just that. There is a “neutral” and a “warming” one. If you are doing general photography, get the neutral one. If you are photographing mainly portraits, get the warming one. Please note this only works if your camera has a custom white balance function.

X-Rite Color Checker Passport

The Passport makes my colors what they are supposed to be. There are times that I really need that purple to be purple, not a shade of purple or worse yet a shade of blue. Please note, you have to shoot in RAW format for this work and you need a compatible image editing program like Adobe Photoshop Elements or Adobe Photoshop CC in order to use this.

• Lens Cleaning Cloth

I have a micro fiber cloth that I use to clean my lenses. I use UV filters on all my lenses as not to scratch the actual glass element. This works much better than a sweaty t-shirt, trust me on this one!

• A Quarter

A quarter? This is bail money, just kidding! There are times when someone needs to tighten his or her tripod plate to the camera if it has a screw type of fitting. I don’t do cash so I have to have this on hand as a tool, besides B&H took all of my cash!

• Business Cards

Even if you aren’t a professional, get some business cards. They are cheap and you might even get some work out of meeting someone on location. Or better yet, make a new friend. Have your email address, web address, Flickr address, Facebook address, OK you get the point. This also makes you look more serious and can open doors that otherwise might have been locked. Use both sides of the card to show off your talents. There are companies like VistaPrint and Moo Cards that specialize in this type of item.

• Filter – Circular Polarizer

This is one of the two filters that I carry with me. Since I live in Florida, I’m always around water and that means reflections. A good circular polarizer will reduce reflections and will also make skies bluer and greens greener. Popular companies like Nikon, Hoya and Tiffen make these.

• Filter – Neutral Density (ND)

This is the other filter that I carry. This slows down the light that is coming in through the lens. Neutral density filters from reputable companies, won’t change the color of the scene. These are great to use if you want to get silky waterfalls when there is too much light. I have a single 4 stop filter. If you want the best, get a variable Singh-Ray filter.

 Card Wallet

I have a cheap camera card wallet to keep my cards handy. I can also slip this into my pocket when I’m on location. Here’s a tip, when a card is full, turn it over and put it back into the wallet with the back of the card facing the front. This way you’ll know which ones are full so you don’t waste time putting in a full card back into the camera.

• Camera Cards

I could spend days on this, but here is the short version. Buy good cards. I’m not talking about the $7.99 cards that you get at the local “buy all your crap here” type of place. The best cards on the market right now are from Hoodman. They are made in the good ole’ USA and are built out of one piece of silicon instead of three like the others. They are also guaranteed a lifetime. I also buy smaller capacity cards, this way if a card does fail (I’ve had all of the cheap ones fail at one time or another) then your whole trip or vacation isn’t a waste as you split the photos up on multiple cards.

Nikon MC-30 Electronic Release

I have an “official” Nikon release and I paid the “official” price. What this allows you to do is trigger the camera without touching it. This aids in tack sharp photos. I would call B&H and ask if they have a “VELLO” version for your camera. Vello is making camera parts that work just fine, only for a fraction of the cost. I use this with my tripod A LOT.

• Nikon SB800 Flash Units x 2

These were Nikon’s cream of the crop a few years ago until they came out with the Nikon SB910. There are many times when available light ain’t gonna get it. For example, when I have to photograph food for a dining review at night. I have to create my own studio on site and these allow me to do this quickly and reliably. However, with the advancement of technology in the past couple years, I wouldn’t spend the money on this flash. Vivitar is making very capable flashes for a quarter of the price. For example, Nikon’s SB910 is about $550.00. Vivitar’s DF-583 gives you all the same options for $189.00 as of this writing. You could almost buy a three light set up for what one Nikon flash cost. Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone else was reading this page! Vivitar makes flashes specifically for Nikon and Canon. Be sure you order the right one to work with your system.

• Card Reader

When I travel, the client may not have access to a CF reader since CF is a dinosaur. I keep a CF card reader in my bag at all times. Hoodman makes card readers that work with the new USB 3.0 interface.

Double Spirit Level

I use this when I shoot real estate. This tells me in a flash if the camera is level. Some of you may have this feature built into your camera, since my camera is long in the tooth; this is how I have to do it. Using a level like this saves me hours in Photoshop trying to correct for lens distortion, especially for wide angle lenses. This level slides into the hotshoe, there isn’t any connection for the flash, its just using that foot to hold it onto the camera.

Rosco Strobist Collection Gels

These are used on my flash if I need to correct for the color or add them for a creative effect. Who said the light needs to be white all the time? This collection gives you all the popular colors such as CTO and CTB with all of the varying strengths in between. If you are in a pinch, you can an apple Fruit Roll-Up to change the color to green. Don’t ask how I know this.

• 12’ Measuring Tape

When I photograph objects such as collectibles or antiques, I need the camera to be centered to the object as not to distort the subject. This allows me to measure the subject and then I can find the correct distance for the camera height. This is also handy when a student asks if a certain tripod will work. I ask them to stand and we can measure the height of the person according to the tripod.

Notebook and Pen

This is self-explanatory. Put it next to your business cards.

Knife

Knife? I was shooting with a buddy awhile back and got tangled up in some vines out in the bush. He never let me forget it, in so he gave me a Crocodile Dundee knife to get myself out next time. I suppose if you are in a rough neighborhood this might scare anyone away wanting your photo gear!

• Small Flashlight

There is nothing more annoying when trying to find your stuff in your bag in the middle of the night. I do enjoy night photography as well. At least I can see what I’m looking for. Also, this works well if you are in a lower light environment, this will aid the camera in auto focusing.

• Sunscreen

Since I live in the “Sunshine State”, this will help keep me from frying like bacon in a cast iron pan. I use Neutrogena SPF 100+. It’s not cheap, but it works.

• Bug Spray

The mosquitoes are that state bird here, so use lots!

• Paintbrush

This one throws people until I explain it and then they slap themselves in the forehead with, “Why didn’t I think of that?” If you are ever going to photograph beach portraits, you need one of these. It doesn’t have to be expensive, any ole’ paintbrush will work (ugh, not used please) and this will save you literally hours in Photoshop. When a family gets positioned in the sand, especially if they are wearing shorts, the sand is going to stick to their legs. This isn’t going to look real good if they have sand halfway up their legs in the final photo. So, take the extra 30 seconds to brush away the sand when they are situated and this will save your hair in Photoshop and you won’t even need the clone tool!

• Garbage Bag/Extra Large Zip Lock Bag

This is probably the most important of all, which is why I listed it last. Again, living in Florida we get pop up showers all the time in the summer. One minute you are sweating yourself silly and the next it’s raining so hard you can’t see your hand in front of your face. I got caught once in a theme park. I actually had to buy something to get a bag. I wasn’t going to get stuck again, garbage bags work well. Not only for the camera, but I also put my iPhone and $400 key fob for the car and wallet in the bag to keep everything nice and dry. I have found the extra large Zip lock bags at Lowe’s in the closet department, the best $3 you’ll ever spend.

 

You may wonder how I got all this stuff in one bag. Most of the items are small and collapse down to a very small size. If I go hiking into the bush, I don’t take all of this with me, but anytime on a job, I have everything that I would ever need. Some of you know I have other “bags”. I have a light stand bag, lens case, background case and a back up camera bag with an extra camera and other accessories. Do I take all this stuff with me? Depends on the job. As you will see in the “kit” section, I’ll list some of the other lenses and equipment that I use for certain jobs.

 


 

Kits – Per Project List

 

In this section I’m going to list what I would take with me for that particular project. I’m pulling from the equipment that I have. You could substitute brands to make these items more budget friendly. I also don’t have the real top shelf glass either. These are mostly the middle shelf and have served me well. Also, this is not meant to be a complete list. This is what I have used in the past and some projects may require specialized equipment or less. This will depend on your specific situation.

 

Real Estate

* There are a couple of ways to do this. I’ll list both ways.

– High Dynamic Range (HDR)

•  Manfrotto 055XPROB Legs with Manfrotto B468 MGRC0 Hydrostatic Ballhead

• Camera

Nikon 12mm-24mm Lens

Acratech Double Axis Spirit Level (Bubble Level) – Clear

Nikon MC-30 Electronic Release or Vello (Get the specific one for your camera body)

 

– Artificial Light/Flash

•  Manfrotto 055XPROB Legs with Manfrotto B468 MGRC0 Hydrostatic Ballhead

• Camera

Nikon 12mm-24mm Lens

Acratech Double Axis Spirit Level (Bubble Level) – Clear

Nikon MC-30 Electronic Release or Vello (Get the specific one for your camera body)

Nikon SB910 x 10 (Can also use Vivitar flash)

Impact Light Stands x 10

Manfrotto 026 Swivel Umbrella Adapter (Lite-Tite) x 10

 

Portraits

* There are a couple of ways to do this. I’ll list both ways.

– Natural Light

•  Manfrotto 055XPROB Legs with Manfrotto B468 MGRC0 Hydrostatic Ballhead

• Camera

Nikon 50mm f/1.4 Lens

Nikon MC-30 Electronic Release or Vello (Get the specific one for your camera body)

Impact 42” – 5 in 1 Reflector

Da-Lite Background Stand

Muslin Background

 

– Natural Light/Flash

•  Manfrotto 055XPROB Legs with Manfrotto B468 MGRC0 Hydrostatic Ballhead

• Camera

Nikon 50mm f/1.4 Lens

Nikon MC-30 Electronic Release or Vello (Get the specific one for your camera body)

Impact 42” – 5 in 1 Reflector

Nikon SB910 x 2 (Can also use Vivitar flash)

Impact Light Stands x 2

Westscott 43” Shoot Thru Umbrellas x 2

Manfrotto 026 Swivel Umbrella Adapter (Lite-Tite) x 2

Da-Lite Background Stand

Muslin Background

 

 

Macro/Close Up

•  Manfrotto 055XPROB Legs with Manfrotto B468 MGRC0 Hydrostatic Ballhead

• Camera

Nikon 105mm Macro Lens

Nikon MC-30 Electronic Release or Vello (Get the specific one for your camera body)

Impact 12” Diffuser

Impact 12” Silver/White Reflector

Nikon SB910 (Can also use Vivitar flash) (Optional depending on the subject)

 

Landscape

•  Manfrotto 055XPROB Legs with Manfrotto B468 MGRC0 Hydrostatic Ballhead

• Camera

Nikon 12mm-24mm Lens

Nikon MC-30 Electronic Release or Vello (Get the specific one for your camera body)

Nikon Circular Polarizer

Singh Ray Neutral Density Filter (Great for waterfalls)

 

Birding

•  Manfrotto 055XPROB Legs with Manfrotto B468 MGRC0 Hydrostatic Ballhead

• Camera

Nikon 80mm-400mm Lens

Nikon Circular Polarizer

Lots of fast camera cards

 

Sports/Action

•  Manfrotto 055XPROB Legs with Manfrotto B468 MGRC0 Hydrostatic Ballhead

• Camera

Nikon 70mm-300mm Lens (This is a quicker focusing lens than the 80mm-400mm and quite a bit lighter)

Lots of fast camera cards

 

Food

* There are a couple of ways to do this. I’ll list both ways.

– Natural Light/Window

•  Manfrotto 055XPROB Legs with Manfrotto B468 MGRC0 Hydrostatic Ballhead

• Camera

Nikon 50mm f/1.4 Lens

Nikon MC-30 Electronic Release or Vello (Get the specific one for your camera body)

Impact 42” – 5 in 1 Reflector

 

– Flash

•  Manfrotto 055XPROB Legs with Manfrotto B468 MGRC0 Hydrostatic Ballhead

• Camera

Nikon 50mm f/1.4 Lens

Nikon MC-30 Electronic Release or Vello (Get the specific one for your camera body)

Impact 42” – 5 in 1 Reflector

Nikon SB910 (Can also use Vivitar flash)

Impact Light Stands

Westscott 43” Shoot Thru Umbrella

Manfrotto 026 Swivel Umbrella Adapter (Lite-Tite)

 

Night/Low Light Attractions

* This is assuming you can’t use a tripod like at Downtown Disney. Most of the time flash doesn’t work well in these situations due to the area that needs to be lit.

• Camera

Nikon 50mm f/1.4 Lens, Nikon 24mm f/2.8 Lens, Nikon 85mm f/1.4 Lens

 

Weddings

* When shooting weddings, your going to need a back of up everything. No joke. This is one of the most stressful types of photography.

•  Manfrotto 055XPROB Legs with Manfrotto B468 MGRC0 Hydrostatic Ballhead

• Camera x 2

• Nikon 50mm f/1.4 Lens, Nikon 24mm f/2.8 Lens, Nikon 85mm f/1.4 Lens (Leave the cheap “kit” lenses at home. They aren’t going to work in a dark church)

Nikon MC-30 Electronic Release or Vello (Get the specific one for your camera body)

Impact 42” – 5 in 1 Reflector

Nikon SB910 x 2 (Can also use Vivitar flash)

• Impact Light Stands x 2

• Westscott 43” Shoot Thru Umbrellas x 2

• Manfrotto 026 Swivel Umbrella Adapter (Lite-Tite) x 2

• An Assistant

• Shot List From Bride Before Hand

• CONTRACT

 

Objects For Online Sales

•  Manfrotto 055XPROB Legs with Manfrotto B468 MGRC0 Hydrostatic Ballhead

• Camera

Nikon 50mm f/1.4 Lens

Nikon MC-30 Electronic Release or Vello (Get the specific one for your camera body)

Impact 42” – 5 in 1 Reflector

Nikon SB910 x 2 (Can also use Vivitar flash)

Impact Light Stands x 2

Westscott 43” Shoot Thru Umbrellas x 2

Manfrotto 026 Swivel Umbrella Adapter (Lite-Tite) x 2

Da-Lite Background Stand

White Seamless Paper

 


 

Getting Started Into Photography

 This is a really big question that I get almost on a daily basis, “What photography gear do I need to get started?”. This is really a broad subject. I don’t like to ask this question as I don’t like to get into peoples business, but I need to know what kind of budget that folks are setting aside. Most folks who come to me are ready to step up to a Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR). I’m not picking on point and shoots here, but when someone asks me how to take a certain type of photo, my response is usually the same, “It’s the lens.”. That is the biggest advantage of a DSLR is that you can change how it “sees”. What I’m suggesting here are two different kinds of kits, one is a “crop” sensor and the other is “full frame”. I’ll explain these more in detail below.

A word of warning here, I don’t recommend buying the “kits” that you see in the box stores and warehouse clubs. These are usually paired with cheaper parts and can be hard to grow into, as the photographer gets more experienced. What I suggest to folks is to buy the camera body and lens separate. This is more expensive in the beginning but they won’t be buying twice as in buying this stuff later down the road. So it’s really cheaper to buy the better stuff up front and save money in the long run. That is why I also tell folks to put the majority of the budget into lenses. These will last a lifetime as long as you stay with the brand. For example, any Nikon lens made since 1970 will mount on a current camera body. They won’t all auto focus, however they will work and some of the older lenses are really great. Camera bodies will come and go, but lenses will stick with you forever. This is why it’s so important to buy really good “glass” a.k.a. lenses. If you buy lenses that have plastic in them, they won’t produce the best quality images that a lens which is made of metal and actual glass. It’s common that the lens will be more expensive than the camera body. Also, buy manufacturer lenses. These in my opinion will give you the best image quality. There is a reason why those “other” brands are cheaper; they have to cut corners somewhere to get the price down. I was in on a test once where an engineer tested a manufacturer lens against a cheaper lens and the result was astounding. The manufacturer lens was consistent quality through all the f-stops where as the other lens was all over the place. Again, I see this as a lifetime investment so I don’t mind spending the extra few dollars for quality. One last thing, don’t buy “import” or “gray market” lenses. The camera manufacturer won’t service these if they should break for any reason. Reputable camera stores such as B&H Photo in New York, New York will show you the difference. One will be marked with “USA” and the other will be marked “Import”. The import versions are usually cheaper. The USA versions come with a five-year warranty. You can also check this by turning the lens over and at the base where it mounts to the camera; there will be a serial number. If the lens is a USA lens it will start with “US” and then the number, such as US123456.

 Crop Sensor

Crop sensors are cheaper and what you see at the big box stores and warehouse clubs. These are great for birding and wildlife and they have the appearance of making a lens look longer than it really is. Where these are weak in design is that some of them are made of plastic and they get “noisy” meaning that there is a digital grain that appears as the ISO increases. However, depending on your budget, these are a great way to get started. I’m going to recommend what I would buy, there are cheaper camera bodies out there and I can list these as alternatives.

Recommended:

Nikon D7100 (24.5 mp)

Nikon 18mm-200mm

• UV Filter, 72mm (Tiffen, Hoya & Nikon all make great ones)

Extra Nikon Battery

• Camera bag that you can get along with

• Microfiber cloth to clean the lens

 

Depending on the type of photography that you do, you may want:

•  Manfrotto 055XPROB Legs with Manfrotto B468 MGRC0 Hydrostatic Ballhead

• Vello Shutter Release

 

Alternate Cheaper Camera Bodies:

Nikon D3200 (24.2 mp)$ *Note: the D3200 doesn’t come with just the body, you have to buy it as a kit.

Nikon D5200 (24.1 mp)$$

*NOTE: These are made of plastic where as the Nikon D7100 is made of metal.

 

Full Frame Sensor

Full frame sensors have quite a few advantages. First, I should explain what a “full frame” body is. If anyone remembers the four letter f-word….film, it was 35mm. A full frame sensor is the same size as the film used to be. The lenses are what they say they are. For example, if you are using a 50mm lens, it’s a 50mm lens; you’re not seeing it as a 75mm as with a crop sensor. Full frame camera bodies are a huge advantage for anyone shooting landscapes and architecture as they can grab more area. Another big advantage is the ISO to noise ratio. This allows the photographer to shoot at ISO 6400 with very little noise for example. If one has to shoot in lower light environments where flash is prohibited, this is the camera for you. These are typically bigger camera bodies to house the bigger sensors. These do come at a bigger cost. You’re going to have to make sure that you buy “full frame lenses” and not the cheaper crop sensor lenses. In the Nikon world these are designated with a “DX” on the lens. If you can swing it, this would be a great investment, if it’s a little more that you want to spend, the Nikon D7100 is a great place to start.

 

Recommended:

Nikon D800 (This is 36.5 mp, it’s a monster)

Nikon 28mm-300mm

• UV Filter, 77mm (Tiffen, Hoya & Nikon all make great ones)

Extra Nikon Battery

• Camera bag that you can get along with

• Microfiber cloth to clean the lens

 

Depending on the type of photography that you do, you may want:

•  Manfrotto 055XPROB Legs with Manfrotto B468 MGRC0 Hydrostatic Ballhead

• Vello Shutter Release

 

Alternate Camera Bodies:

Nikon D600 (24.5 mp) $

Nikon D4 (16.5 mp) $$$$

* NOTE: The D600 is a level below the D800 and the D4 is a level above the D600, hence the extra dollar signs!

 


 

Computer and Software

 First off, I’m not here to start a computer war. We all have what works and what we like. With that said, I’m going to list what I have been using for over 20 years, not only for photography, but when I used to be in the printing industry. This will be a short list, as I really don’t use a whole lot of software for my photos, I try and get it the best in the camera as possible. I used to do graphic design for 16 hours a day so I would rather be out shooting than behind a desk. Also, I don’t get too artistic with my photos; some of my photo friends are very talented and can pull this off. They have every plug-in under the sun to do all kinds of things. You can get as lost in the software as you can in the camera gear.

 

Computer

Apple Macintosh

I’m an Apple guy and have been since I was in second grade. Also, these are what we used in printing shops. Macs get a bad rap as folks think that they are limited, there isn’t any software written for them and they are expensive. Well, here are some facts; again I’m not trying to start a PC vs Mac thing here. If you equip a PC to the same specs as a Mac, it’s gonna be about the same price. Also, every class that I have been in for photography, they always ask the same question, “How many using Mac?” In a class of 500, 495 hands go up. Then the response usually goes something like this, “Well, I guess the rest of you are here to represent Windoze?”. Lately, I have made many trips to the Apple store as I have clients that are switching on a weekly basis. Most of the photo editing software out there is written for both PC and Mac. In fact, Adobe Photoshop Elements has both the PC and Mac version included in the box. Here’s a little tidbit that most people don’t know. Macs will run WINDOWS! Yes, I have done it in the past and I have a few clients that are running specialize software that is written just for Windows. We load a copy of Windows on the Mac HD and it will boot and run Windows. How cool is that? The other big seller is that Macs don’t get viruses. I have never gotten a virus and I don’t run virus protection. I usually get about 10 years out of my Mac before I have to retire it, as the software requires newer technology at that point. Part of this is that I max the machine out when I buy it as far as hard drive space, ram, processor and so on.

At the end of the day, use what you like and what you can get along with. I do know how to use Windows and I have to. When I go to a client’s home for a private class, it’s a mixed bag, but if they have Windows, you have to be able to show them what they want to learn on their system.

 

Intuos Wacom Tablet

About 15 years ago, I gave up the mouse. I went to a photography class and Wacom was there demonstrating their tablets and why they were better than using a mouse. After the 60-minute presentation, I couldn’t buy one fast enough. In a nutshell, it’s faster than using a mouse and they are also pressure sensitive. This is great if you are masking in Photoshop for example. No more messing around with the opacity slider. Also, no more risk of carpel tunnel. They come is various sizes and features. The entry level is the Bamboo series. They work great and I have one in my laptop bag for on location use. The next level up is the Introus line. This is what I use in the office and has served me well for many, many years. If you won the lottery, you can look at the Cintiq line. These start around $2,500 and go up from there. This replaces your monitor, keyboard and mouse all together. Once you get used to using a tablet, you’re going to throw your mouse in the trash.

 

Software

When it comes to software I use only a handful of titles.

 

Adobe Photoshop CS5 (Out of Production)

This may surprise some folks that I’m using software that is about five years old that this point. This gets the job done and gives me all the options that I want and more that I’ll never use. What about Adobe Photoshop CC? Personally, I wouldn’t touch that with a 10-foot pole. But, it’s the NEWEST and BEST thing going; we all MUST HAVE IT…right? I’m sure this has lots of new bells and whistles, but it has one MAJOR DISADVANTAGE, it’s a subscription based cloud service. What does that mean? Easy, you are going to donate a monthly amount from your credit card to use this software. Here is the part that most folks don’t know, once you start using it, you can’t go back! For example, if I were to use the new Photoshop CC, when I open my CS5 files, it’s gonna ask me to save my file to the updated version. OK, I click SAVE. Now my file won’t work with CS5…see how that works? If you don’t continue to pay the monthly fee, they turn off the service and now you can’t open any of your files because they only work with the new version of Photoshop. Great for Adobe, sucks for users, however there are a couple of alternatives.

 

Image Editing Alternative #1

Adobe Photoshop Elements

This is the smaller brother to Photoshop CC and IS NOT IN THE CLOUD. This is really inexpensive and can be found at just about any office supply store or online. It will do what most photographers need without being gouged. This is actually what I teach in my classes and is very popular.

 

Image Editing Alternative #2

Gimp

I personally haven’t had a chance to play with Gimp yet, but here is why it’s so attractive. It’s like having Photoshop CC for FREE. That’s like someone handing you a check for $1,000! It’s open source and there are developers working on this all the time. I believe that since Adobe has drawn a line in the sand, this is going to become very popular real fast. As I get time, I’ll start to look into this and possibly create a class just for Gimp. Also, it works for both PC and Mac.

 

Nik Plug-In Suite

This is my dirty little secret and I’m proud to admit it. Yes, Photoshop will do everything, however I find that Nik can do it faster and easier that Photoshop. This software has saved me DAYS on processing a big job. Any of the photos that you have seen in the Blog section, have been touched by Nik in some form. Nik is now owned by Google and they have reduced the price drastically. When I bought all of the modules four years ago, I spent about $700. Once Google bought them and took them over, they reduced the price to $149! I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. At this point, they are giving it away and it will speed up your workflow like you won’t believe. This works in Photoshop CS3, CS4, CS5, CS6, CC, Photoshop Elements, Lightroom and Aperture on both Mac and PC systems.

 

Photomatix Pro

I have been using Photomatix Pro for over five years now for my HDR photography. It has served me well, but it can be difficult to work with if you are new to the software. There are different modules and sliders to play with and if you’re not careful you can end up with that horrific HDR look that everyone thinks that all HDR is supposed to look like. I’m not a big fan of the Tone Mapping function as I think that it gets too wonky. I use the Exposure Fusion module and has worked well, in fact the clients that I shoot for, including magazines haven’t even picked up that some of the photos were a bracketed shot. You can download a trial version that works forever, it just watermarks your final photo until you pay for it. Google “Photomatix Pro Coupon” and you should be able to get 15%-20% off which makes it about $79. It’s download only and works on both PC and Mac.

 

HDR Expose 3

I think this is going to be my new love affair and going to replace Photomatix Pro. It’s so much easier to use and I think faster to process the photos. I have been using the trial version for a bit and I’m really impressed so far. The results have been realistic and the interface makes sense. Also, there is a phone number. I called with a question and I got the owner of the company that’s here is the good ole’ USA. Photomatix is located in France, I’m not knocking them but I would rather keep the money here at home for US jobs. I’ll be blogging more on this as I work with it. There are also coupon codes and this also works for both PC and Mac. You can also download a 30-day fully functioning trial.

 

This will get you pointed in the right direction. Again, by no means is this a definitive list. This is what I have used in the past and has worked for me. As situations come up, I’ll add to this page. Thanks…

Keep your glass clean…

Spencer