Replace that stranger with a stick

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We’ve all been there at some point. You’re out and about either alone or with that special someone or family member and you want to be in a picture with. The problem is that if you didn’t bring a tripod, you’d have to rely on a stranger to take your camera and take the picture. While this seems like a relatively simple task, I’m always floored by the way people act as if they’ve never even seen a camera before. Let’s face it, the shutter release has been in the same spot for the last thirty years. Yet we always hear “what do I press?” Next there’s the whole auto focus, press the shutter down half way thing. I don’t even want to go there with that one.

You might want to get an XShot

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I was at my Mac User Group meeting a couple weeks back and one of the members (Wanda) came up to me and she was showing off her XShot. The concept is so simple, it makes me think “now why didn’t I think of that?” Basically the XShot is a telescoping arm with a tripod mount on the end that can swivel. The idea is that you set your camera to use the built-in timer feature, extend the XShot arm and press the shutter. You have a few seconds to pose or look natural while you hold the arm of the XShot out of sight. Being a gadget junkie, I had to order one of these and try it out.

How well does it work?

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The XShot works as advertised. I mean there’s not much to it. I was taking pictures with it within minutes of taking it out of the packaging. It took me longer to figure out how to set the timer on my Canon Powershot 850IS than to actually get the XShot ready. Although the XShot does exactly what it’s designed to do, there are a couple of things you might want to think about. The first thing is that whole framing issue. Since you can’t see the LCD screen, you’re totally guessing on how to frame the shot. However, you’ll probably still do a better job blindly than the average stranger you were using before. The next thing is the auto focus feature. My Canon has Face Detection, but when I reach out to press the shutter and start the timer, I’m not quite in the frame when the camera focuses. In my testing with two people this wasn’t an issue, however, taking a picture of yourself might require you to bring the camera in closer to get the proper auto focus.

The Bottom Line

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For the $19.95 ($29.99 list price) price, it’s not bad. It’s cheaper and smaller than most other solutions I’ve seen. It’s also can offer a huge improvement over the typical Myspace/Facebook profile pictures that I see out there so much (you know the ones where you see the person’s arm in the shot as they try to take their own pictures? Or worse the ones taken in a mirror in the bathroom?). The XShot folds down to 9″ and extends up to 37″. It weighs only 5 oz. Amazon has it for only $19.95.

Another great evening! Thanks!

click to enlarge

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Once again I want to thank all of you who attended my "Evening with Terry White – My Photoshop Lightroom Workflow"! I’m very pleased with the turn out and the enthusiasm that you all expressed. We also had people attending from Europe and it was after midnight their time. So thanks for hanging in there.

 

The recording

If you couldn’t attend live, I did record the session and you can watch it here.

Polling questions/answers. Click to enlarge

 

Some follow up Q&A

Q. How can I learn more about DNG?

A. Check it out here on Adobe.com.

Q. Are there any good deals on Lightroom 2?

A. Yes, here for the full version and here for the upgrade.

Q. You mentioned a 3rd party web gallery that you use for showing client proofs. Which one is it.

A. I use The Turning Gate Client Response Gallery. Check it out here.

Q. You showed how to upload pictures form Lightroom to Flickr, Facebook, etc. How is that done?

A. I use third party plugins. Here are a few: Flickr, Facebook, Smugmug, iStockPhoto.

Q. Which GPS do you use with your camera?

A. I geotag my photos with the di-GPS Pro for Nikon cameras.

Q. Where can we see the Arizona shots you took?

A. Right here.

Q. Where can I see more of your videos, presentations, etc.?

A. Check out my Adobe Creative Suite Video Podcast.

Q. When you were retouching the photo, you said you were using a Wacom tablet. Which one was it?

A. It was the New Wacom Intuos 4 Medium Tablet. See all my gadget and gear recommendations here

 

Retouched shot from the seminar[

TweetDeck is slick!

TweetDeck window - Click to enlarge

TweetDeck window – Click to enlarge

Twitter is gaining in popularity and experiencing explosive growth. It’s not uncomon to see people Twittering on their phones and laptops throughout the day. When you use Twitter on your computer, it’s usually through a web browser. However, there is a full featured stand alone app called TweetDeck, which is free to download.

TweetDeck Twitter Dashboard – Twitter in real-time!

TweetDeck not only takes advantage of all of the Twitter features, but it even displays a small notification window in the upper right corner of your screen when new Tweets arrive. It also has Facebook integration, which is nice! One app to update both your Twitter and Facebook status. TweetDeck also lets you share pictures with Twitpic. TweetDeck is actually an Adobe AIR app (yeah that makes me happy!) That means that it’s cross platform for both Mac and Windows users. If you’re a Twitter user you should really check out TweetDeck.

Download TweetDeck here. Also follow me on Twitter.

USB ports too close together?

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Two USB ports on the MacBook Pro

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Here’s my SanDisk SDHC USB card reader and as you can see it’s just wide enough to block the second port a bit.

One of the things I’ve had to adjust to on the New MacBook Pro is the fact that the two USB ports on the 15″ model are right next to each ohter. They are not only right next to each other, they are insanely close together. So close in fact that it makes it impossible to plug in some devices and still acess the second port. On the previous MacBook Pro the two ports were located one on each side of the computer. So even if you had a device that was wider than it should be, you still had access to the second port because it was all the way on the other side of the computer.

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As you can see, with the USBconnect in place the second USB port is blocked.

I use my AT&T 3G USBconnect card when I travel. I have one of the older models that has a USB plug that flips down. It’s designed so that when its inserted into your laptop the antenna/card sticks up. This is fine provided that you don’t need to use the port next to it because it almost completely blocks. While I have on occasion wedged another USB cable into the second port, this is not advised and causes the USB cables not to sit properly.

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Although the Synchrotech cable certainly solves the problem with my USBconnect 3G modem it’s a little long for this.

I decided that enough was enough and started looking for USB extenion cables that would solve this issue. I wanted the shortest cable I could get. The first one I tried (thanks to the guys at Sychrotech) was the AirQueue, which was initially designed for the MacBook Air. The MacBook Air’s USB port can also be cramped if you are plugging in a large accessory. The AirQueue is a simple Male on one end Female on the other end 19cm cable. It’s a short extension cable. Simple as that. While the AirQueue certainly solves the problem for most connections, I was looking for something even shorter and more rigid.

That leads me to the Cables-to-Go FlexUSB adapter

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The Cables-To-Go (great company for all kinds of cable/hub solutions) FlexUSB adapter is much shorter than the Synchrotech model and although not as riged as I would like, it’s good enough for what I want to do. This adapter is great because you can angle it and turn it in the direction you need depending on the accessory you’re plugging in. Again, there’s not much to say here. It’s a USB extension that helps overcome (what I consider to be) a design flaw in the new MacBook Pros.

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The Bottom Line

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Here’s the FlexUSB connector angled up holding a SanDisk SDHC card reader

If your USB ports are too close together, you certainly can’t go wrong with either one of these extension adapters. Either one does the trick. However, if you going to want the device (like a 3G card ) to stand up on its own when plugged in or if you want the device to be a little closer to your laptop then I would go with the Cables-T0-Go FlexUSB adapter.

Synchrotech AirQueue $6.00

Cables-To-Go FlexUSB $4.64. (look on the right side of the page for this price)

iPhone App of the Week – Mobile Fotos

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If you use Flickr.com and you have an iPhone/iPod touch, then you’re going to want this app! It is by far the best app I’ve seen to date to browse and upload to Flickr.

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Not only does it let you bowse your own photos, it can use your current location to show you photos that were taken nearby by others.

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I’ve used other apps that let me upload to various services. However, this one is great in that it lets you properly tag the photo and pick the photo set you want it uploaded to before you actually upload it. You can also use Mobile Fotos to view videos on Flickr. I haven’t played with this as I don’t have any videos on Flickr yet, nor do any of my friends. Currently videos are limited to 90 seconds and 500MB on Flickr. So for now I’ll stick with YouTube.

Uploading

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One of the main reasons I use Mobile Fotos is to upload snapshots I’ve taken with my iPhone. The upload feature is the most full featured uploader I’ve ever seen in any iPhone app. It let’s you use every option available for Flickr just as if you were uploading from your computer. You can choose a Title Description, Tags, Set (including creating a new Set on the fly), Group, Location, Privacy settings, Safety Level, Content Type, whether or not the photos hould be Hidden and Resolution. Yep, it’s full featured and this should be the model for all apps that let you upload to a photo service. Even Apple’s built-in upload to MobileMe could learn a few tricks here and seems anemic by comparison.

It Geotags too

Monument Valley shot

Monument Valley shot

One of my favorite features of Flickr is that it automatically adds your photos to the Yahoo map if they contain location information (longitude & latitude). Of course when you take a picture with your iPhone’s camera you have the option of including location information. Mobile Fotos uses that location information and includes it in the upload.

Not always about you

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You can also tap the Contacts icon to see the latest and greatest shots of your Flickr Friends. This really allows you to not only share your photos quickly and easily as they happen, but also to see what’s going on with your friends and family that also use Flickr. You also browse your Flickr groups!

The Bottom Line

There’s not much else I can say! This app totally rocks and does exactly what it’s supposed to do. It’s easy to use, full featured and works great. If you use Flickr, this is your app! Mobile Fotos is $2.99 and available at the App Store here.

AT&T FamilyMap lets you get all big brotherish with family members

attfamilymap21 Click map for a larger view

Sure there have been those times when I’ve walked in the house and wondered, “where is everybody?” Well now I could just go to my computer and find out. AT&T recently launched a new service called “FamilyMap”. If you have an AT&T Wireless Family Plan, then you can sign up for the service and track any of the phones on that plan.

The way it works

Just like we see on modern day TV shows and Movies, your cell phone is constantly broadcasting your whereabouts via the cell towers (that must be why I see perfectly good cellphones lying by the side of the road). There have been apps like Loopt that allowed you to find friends (for free). Seems like AT&T wants to monetize this by offering it as a paid service (big surprise right?). Right now I’m doing the free 30 day trial. Not sure if I’ll continue it or not. We’ll see. Back to the way it works. You log onto the familymap.wireless.att.com site and once you’ve set up your account you can simply click the Locate button and within 2 minutes that person (actually their cellphone) will be pinpointed on the map.

You can name and save the locations so that they will show up with more meaningful names like “school”, “work”, “the gym”, etc. The accuracy of the location will also be displayed. I imagine phones with GPS’s in them might be a little more accurate, but not necessary if AT&T is only relying on the cell towers. The service works as advertised and it’s been fun to play with. I have a couple of teenagers and well, you know.

There’s also a mobile version of the site for your mobile phone’s web browser (http://attfamilymap.com/m). Looks great on the iPhone/iPod touch.

The Bottom Line

AT&T is offering FamilyMap for $9.99/month to locate up to two family members and $14.99/month to locate up to 5 family members. Like I said, you can try it for free for 30 days and see if it’s worth it to you. Not all phones work with FamilyMap such as the Pay as you Go ones. Sadly it doesn’t help you find a lost phone that’s in your house (still looking for one here). However, it will help you locate a lost or stolen phone that is elsewhere. If you’re interested in AT&T’s Family Map. Check out the website here.

An Evening with Terry White – My Lightroom 2 Workflow

eveningwithterry

Last month I did my first: “An Evening With Terry White!” I was happy with the turnout and the way things worked out so I’m back to do it again. Last month I did Photoshop CS4 Essentials (see the recording here). This month by popular demand I’m back to do another session. Here’s how it works: I will pick an evening and a topic and do a one hour live session on that topic over the internet. There will be no cost to the attendees, It’s on me (well actually it’s on Adobe).

The Next Topic

This second evening will be on “My Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 Workflow.” I will take you through my Lightroom workflow from start to finish. We’ll even detour over to Photoshop for a quick portrait retouch. You’ll see how I bring my photos in, organize them in catalogs, pick my favorite ones, bouce over to Photoshop as needed and deliver proofs and the final images to the client.

Although I’ll be using Lighroom 2, you’re not required to have Lightroom 2 to benefit from this session. Many of the techniques I plan to cover will be applicable to users of the older version. However, if you just want to be up-to-date and all, feel free head over to the Adobe Store. You can buy your upgrade and download it on the spot 🙂

When and where? R.S.V.P.?

This second evening will be Tuesday, April 28th @ 7PM E.T. and it will take place via Adobe Acrobat Connect Pro. Here’s the URL: http://my.adobe.acrobat.com/eveningwithterry

Sign on as a GUEST with your real name. While there is no pre-registration required, this session will be limited to 100 attendees. So it’s first come, first served. I advise you to log in 15 minutes before the 7PM start time as I plan to start on time.

Will you be able to ask questions?

There will be a Q&A session at the end. You will be able to submit your questions throughout the presentation in the Q&A pod. I will address as many of the submitted questions as I can at the end. Although I plan to end the presentation part within one hour, I will probably be able hang out a bit afterwards to continue answering questions. This will give people that only have an hour the chance to see the entire presentation before having to leave.

What you will need to participate

If you’re reading this blog, you probably have the necessary equipment to watch this session. You will need a computer (Mac or PC) with a web browser, a high speed internet connection and the Flash Player. The audio will come through your computer’s speakers. That’s pretty much it! There is no software that you need to install. If you want to make sure that your computer and internet connection are up to par, you can run this test. Although the last part of the test checks to see if you have the “add-in”, it’s not necessary to have it for this session. Go ahead and run the test now so that you’ll be ready in time for Tuesday. Also keep in mind that if for whatever reason your connection is not up to par or it’s not going well for you, there’s nothing I can do about it on my end and please accept my apology now.

What if you can’t make it or you’re 101st person?

If all goes well, this session will be recorded and I will post the link to it the next day on my blog. So if you can’t attend or if you don’t make it into the session due to a large turnout, you will be able to enjoy it afterwards at your leisure.

Why am I doing this and what’s next?

Although I can post videos anytime I want on my Adobe Creative Suite Video Podcast, nothing beats live interaction. I like talking with customers and this will give me real-time feedback. If this continues to work well I will do it again with different topics. If not, well we can’t say that I didn’t try. 🙂 See you on Tuesday!

Charge your iPod or iPhone with a couple of AA’s

energi2go

If you’re an iPhone user you can probably always use some more juice. Especially if you’re a traveler. Although I have a fantastic iPhone backup battery, the one I have requires charging. If I forget to charge it or if it runs out of power then I have to find a plug to plug it in and wait a couple of hours for it charge up.

You can find AA batteries just about anywhere

That brings me to the Energizer Energi To Go portable power for iPod. This was the Woot special of the day a couple weeks back and I ordered a few of them to try and give out to friends and family. Of course since it doesn’t say that it works with the iPhone or the iPhone 3G, I really wanted to give it a try and see how it would work. The iPhone 3G and all current model dockable iPods get their power over the USB pins. So only the most recent chargers tend to work with them.

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The Energi To Go is a simple device that you pop 2 AA batteries (included) into it and flip out the 30 pin dock connector and sit your iPod or iPhone on it to begin charging. You should be able to get at least 1-2 full charges from an almost dead iPhone battery out of AA’s.

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The Bottom Line

My FastMac charger is definitely more feature rich and is designed specifically for the iPhone. However, it’s also 3 times the price of the Energi To Go. The Energi To Go has a cheap feel to it. It feels as if it would break easily. However, as long as you don’t abuse it, it should last. Although I have not had any problems with it on my iPhone 3G, it does NOT specifically state that it is iPhone compatible. I also like the way it docks behind the iPod/iPhone instead of on the bottom like some other batteries. The 30 pin dock connector is also adjustable for the thickness of your iPod or iPhone for a good fit. The Energi To Go is $29.99 at Amazon.com.

iPhone App of the Week – TripIt

tripitlogo

I got hooked on TripIt.com when I first checked out another iPhone app called FlightTrack Pro (see my review here). FlightTrack Pro is strickly for checking your flight status, gates, departure, arrival times, etc. Although you can use the app in a standalone fashion, it really sings when you link it to your FREE TripIt account.

The TripIt service works great for me. I love it mostly because it requires very little effort on my part. I simply forward my email itinerary that received from my travel agent or airlines to plans@tripit.com and like magic my account populates with all the details of my trip. The flight portion of the trip is picked up by FlightTrack Pro.

Although TripIt does have an iPhone/iPod touch friendly version of their site (http://mobile.tripit.com), I was thinking how much I would love to have a dedicated app. FlightTrack Pro is cool for the flight info, but I want all the details of my itinerary at my finger tips. Nothing beats standing at a hotel reception desk and being able to go right to my confirmation number.

My wish was granted

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TripIt sent me an email this week letting me know that they had released their iPhone app and I clicked the link immediately to download it. Once I had the app on my iPhone I put in my TripIt account login info and as expected my upcoming trips were on screen. As a matter of fact I was already on one of those trips at the time. Everything was there just like the website. Confirmation numbers, check in/out times, phone numbers (which are clickable to dial), all the details of my trip were right there.

tripit-itinerary tripit-details

Room for improvement

The TripIt app works exactly as advertised! Although I’m happy with it in its current form, there are some things that would make it even better. The first improvemet is actually a biggy! The app only works when you have an internet connection. There’s no logical reason for this. The app should be able to DOWNLOAD your itineraries to your device and then only use the internet for updates. That’s the whole advantage of having a native app! Otherwise you might as well just use the website.

The next one is that revolves around social networking. I’ve started linking up with friends, colleagues and family on TripIt so that we can kinda know where each other is. The app doesn’t give you any access to your TripIt Network. Again, this should be an easy add since the info is already there in the database that the app is pulling from.

Lastly, the app doesn’t have any editing capabilites. Earlier this week I checked out of one hotel a day early and booked another one that was closer to the airport. I forwarded the confirmation for the new hotel to the plans@tripit.com address and it showed up properly, but there was no way to change the fact that I was checking out of the first hotel without going to the website to do it. So if your plans change or you have a new trip, you’ll have to make those changes via the website and email.

The Bottom Line

I love TripIt.com! It’s FREE! It just rocks! The TripIt app for iPhone/iPod touch is a great first start, but there is so much more potential for an even better app. If you have a TripIt account (and there’s no reason not to), then you should download the TripIt app from the App Store.

My Arizona Photographic Adventure and Drive From Hell

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I knew I had week off coming up in April and unfortunately due to bad timing it was the week after my kids’ spring break. So here I am with a week off and wanting to make the best of it. I’ve been itching to go to Antelope Canyon ever since I saw Scott Kelby’s shots from his 2007 trip. Since I had a week off I decided to make the best of it and go on a photographic adventure. No family, no friends, just “me time.” Time to do things on my own, explore and just be me. So I really started asking Scott about the locations he went to and as luck would have it, he told me that everyone else told him the best time to go was in April! I said, OK that’s it I’M GOING! I booked a room with a non-refundable deposit at the Courtyard Marriott in Page Arizona and now I was committed. Next I booked my flight and rental car.

First stop, Horseshoe Bend!

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Any landscape photographer will tell you that the best times to shoot landscapes are in the morning (sunrise) and the evening (sunset). The reason for this is the sky looks its best and has the most beautiful color at these times. It’s almost magical!

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An example of that magical sky I was talking about. Sunset in San Francisco at Coit Tower.

So I drove from the Phoenix airport (4 hours) directly to Horseshoe Bend to try to catch the sunset. I got there in what I thought was enough time until I realized that after climbing the first steep hill, it was about a mile to Bend. I was really hoofing it to race the sun and make it to the “cliff” in time. I got there setup my tripod and started shooting.

Although I got the shot, I would have liked to have had a little more time to capture it from a few more vantage points. After I got the shot I learned my first lesson about shooting in the desert. I turned around to head back to the car only to see a horizon and terrain that all looked the same. If there hadn’t been other people walking ahead of me off in the distance I could have easily walked back in the wrong direction. I wouldn’t have been lost, because I knew the general vicinity of the car. However, I could have walked several hundred yards out of my way.

I used to laugh when I saw the iPhone commercials advertising the apps that help you find your car. I downloaded one of those apps the minute I got back to my room!

Antelope Canyon, the main reason for my trip

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Scott started telling me about other places that he learned about after his trip that he wished he had photographed. One was Horseshoe Bend. While all of the spots he was telling me about were interested and definitely worthy of capturing, I had my heart set on the slot canyons. I was awestruck by the sheer beauty and colors of these magnificent canyons.

Like I said above, the best time to shoot landscapes is in the early morning and in the evening. However, for the slot canyons, you actually have to wait a little longer until the sun is a little higher in the sky to get the beams of light coming down. Since the sky isn’t the main focus of these shots. It makes sense.

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So since I had a sunrise coming and didn’t want to waste it, I headed to the closest “Scenic View” point to grab some shots of the lake. Unfortunately, there wasn’t really much magic in the light because the sky was completely clear. It’s the sun lighting up the clouds in the sky that really makes the shots pop. Although I got a couple decent shots, nothing was really setting me on fire until I turned around and saw my rental car. The sun was lighting the Mustang perfectly! It looked like a car ad. So I grabbed a couple shots and was happier with those than my lake shots.

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I went back to the hotel, had breakfast and headed out to the slot canyons. There are actually two different locations to shoot the famous canyons. There are the upper slots and the lower slots. It seems like the Lower Slots are for the pros and the upper slots are for the tourists. My guess is that because you have to physically climb down into the lower slots, that most average travelers aren’t going to go through the hassle.

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This is actually the entrance to the Lower Slots. You just start climbing down gear and all.

When I got down into the lower slots every photographer down there had a tripod and an dSLR. There were only about 10-12 people down there. So there was plenty of opportunity to get shots without anyone being in your way. Most of the folks down there were on a tour. I had heard that the tour of the lower slots wasn’t worthy it and you could just pay and go on your own. That’s what I did! The lady at the desk asked me if I was going to be taking pictures? I said “yes” and she then handed me a sticky note to wear that said “Ken’s Photography Tours.” She told me that I would have 4 hours to shoot. Wow! 4 hours? Not sure who Ken was, but I was glad to have the extra time with no rush.

The lower slot canyon is MAGNIFICENT! It’s hard to get a bad photo there. Also because there are so many different angles and vantage points, no two photographers are going to walk away with the exact same shots. I got exactly what I came for!

Although I was totally happy with what I got in the Lower Slots, I decided to head to the Upper Slots on the other side of the road (about 1/4 mile down). This canyon required that you actually go with a group. They have to drive you to the entrance, which is about a mile (or more) away from the parking lot. Although you’re in a group with a guide, the guide was totally cool with you taking your time to get the shots you wanted. I was probably the only Pro Photographer in this group and I have a theory as to why. The best light had already past for the day. It was after 2PM and to shoot the Upper Slots to get the beams of light that you would want, you have to do it between 11AM and 1PM. I was amazed by how friendly the guide was in that he was even taking the time to help people change the settings on their point and shoot cameras to get the best results.

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I was the only one in this canyon with a tripod and YOU NEED A TRIPOD! Most of the time I shot in Aperture Priority Mode which means you set your desired f stop and let the camera figure out the shutter speed. In some spots you can easily be taking 10-30 second exposures. It’s impossible to hand hold a camera and get a non-blurry shot that long. Now of course you can crank up the ISO so that you can shoot hand held, but then you’re going to be sacrificing image quality and introducing noise. I wanted to keep my ISO at 200 the whole time. Even though I was on a tripod, I still used a cable release. This reduces the vibration that you could get by using your hand to press the shutter release on the camera body itself. If you’re a tact sharp fanatic, then you could even shoot using the mirror lockup feature.

Although I missed the beams of light for the day in the Upper Slot Canyon I was still glad that I went. It is “different”! There’s no climbing involved and it’s much wider on the inside. I planed on coming back the next day to get the beams, but that didn’t happen…

An adventure and a nightmare

Since I was done for the morning and achieved my main objective for the trip, my attention was now on “what am I going to shoot at sunset?” I started thinking about the Grand Canyon and then someone I was on the truck with coming back from the Upper Slots mentioned Bryce Canyon. They showed me a calendar that they bought with an incredible image in it. Of course I wanted to take a shot like that. So I went back to my room and reviewed the shots from the Antelope Canyon. I got so absorbed by them that I skipped lunch. Now it was 4PM and if I was going to make it to Bryce Canyon by sunset I had to leave NOW!

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I plotted my course in my Garmin nuvi 765t and I was on my way. I thought for a second, “I should grab some food before I leave, but the restaurants in Page were in the opposite direction.” “I’m sure I’ll pass something on the way and grab food then.” BIG MISTAKE! I learned a hard lesson that day. I assumed that like most highways I’ve driven on in my life, there’s always a fast food place, gas station, convenience store, etc. Um NO! That isn’t always the case!

I got about 10 minutes out of Page and noticed I had no cell service. No biggie right? I now know the definition of “the middle of nowhere!” I saw NOTHING for 115 miles. Nope, nadda, nothing! No gas station, no little store, no nothing! Oh well, I’ll suck it up and get something when I get to Bryce. This is where the real fun began.

I’m a gadget guy. Although I know that gadgets are not perfect, I tend to rely on them heavily. Today was no exception. I never once looked at a map. I was blindly following my Garmin, which had never let me down. The nice lady on the Garmin told me to make a right turn. I almost skidded off the road because the right turn was on a road so small that I didn’t see it until I was right up on it. I stopped! There was a sign in front of the road that said “4 wheel drive recommended. AND ” This is NOT a road to Bryce Canyon.” Wow! OK apparently a lot of people must have been routed to that point since they made a sign for it. So I went back to main road and kept going. Of course the Garmin recalculated a new route and I had another right turn in 14 miles. This time the road was paved so I took it.

This was a road right out of a movie or car commercial. It was winding and beautiful country. Amazing scenery. Fantastic and the kind of road you would really open up on with a sports car 🙂 My next turn was coming up in about 21 miles. I enjoyed the road and got to my next turn. It was unfortunately another dirt road. However, this one was bigger and there were no 4 wheel drive signs. There were even signs telling you how far the next road, city, etc. was. I looked down at the Garmin and it said I’d be on that road for 30 miles and then basically be 6 miles away from Bryce after that. I thought about it! I really didn’t feel like taking a dirt road, but at this point it was either turn back and miss the sunset or go forward the endure the dirt road.

I started down the dirt road and for the first couple of miles it wasn’t too bad. Then things started getting a little tricky. I was going up and down hills, around bends, etc. I even crossed a couple of very very very shallow streams of water. I’m not kidding. I then noticed that I hadn’t seen another vehicle yet. I also noticed that there were only one or two houses every 5-6 miles. I started to freakout a little on the inside. Anyone that knows me, knows that I rarely ever freakout on the outside, but I was really starting to come unglued on the inside. I kept thinking, “if this car breaks down or if I get multiple flat tires I’M SCREWED!” I had no cell service, no food, a very small amount of water and I was alone! No one knew where I was at this point. Then the adventure got kicked up a notch. The road started winding up and down and around the mountains. There were NO GARDRAILS! Nope, nadda, nothing. You drive a few feet to far to the right and start sliding and you’re off the edge of a very steep cliff. I’m not afraid of heights, but I’m definitely afraid of falling! On the inside I was bouncing off the walls! I was thinking that If something happens, I’ll never be heard from again. Rocks were hitting the under carriage. I was spinning left and right in the sand. Most of road was like driving over one long series of speed bumps. I was also secretly wishing that this Mustang was KITT from Night Rider and could transform into a 4 wheel drive F150. Sadly, that never happened.

Yes, I know that there was a time when there were no cellphones or GPS navigation. Yes, and our parents had to walk 5 miles to school up hill both ways. I get it. Call me spoiled. I am!

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This was the longest 30 miles of my life, but I finally made it back to the pavement. However, it took so long (over an hour) to drive the 30 mile death road that there was no way I was going to make Bryce by sunset. My attention turned towards “how the hell am I gonna get back to the hotel?” There is no F’ing way that I’m going back down that dirt road especially in the pitch black of the night. I got to a small town and pulled in to a strip shopping/restaurant/gas station area. I noticed the store was just closing. I walked into the restaurant to use the bathroom. As soon I came out, they were closing too. This entire little town closes down a 7PM and it was 7:05! OK, fine no food – I’ll live, but still how am I going to go back?

I decided to turn back but stay on the paved road. My logic told me that there had to be a paved route back to Page. I’m sure these little towns get their supplies by semi-trucks and there’s no way a semi-truck is going to make it on that dirt road. I drove for about 20 miles until the paved road dead ended at…wait for it…another dirt road. I turned back around and headed back toward Bryce. The Garmin had indicated that I could have stayed on that road and made it back to Page. Although this seemed to defy all directional logic in my mind, I was willing to try anything not to go back on a dirt road.

I kept driving past Bryce Canyon and of course the sky was a gorgeous blue that I’ve never seen before. Oh well! My luck started to change for the better though. I found a gas station that was (OMG) still open! I raided the snacks, water, flare guns, satellite phone (OK, I’m kidding) and supplies like I was preparing for World War III. Although I had enough gas to make it back, I filled up anyway. As I was walking out of the door, she was turning off the lights. I had just made it in time.

The main road looped around the mountains and took me back to Page on the darkest drive I’ve ever had. Had I taken two seconds to look at a map before leaving Page, i would have seen that you could absolutely stay on the main road all the way to Bryce. Technically the Garmin was doing its job. It was routing me the “shortest route” to Bryce Canyon, just not the smartest route! This is a problem with ALL GPS units. Moral of the story, always take a look at map before you head into unfamiliar territory. I still love my Garmin nuvi 765t and it’s absolutely the best GPS that I’ve ever used. However, it’s not perfect and no GPS unit is!

Monument Valley?

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After the 5 hour driving ordeal I had the night before, I wasn’t too keen on driving anywhere else. I was way to exhausted to get up and go back to the slots. However, a friend of mind: Mia talked me into continuing with my plans of shooting Monument Valley before heading home. I’m glad we talked, because she was right! “When are you ever going to be in that area again? I’d go if I were you!” I already had a tour setup with a guide. So I packed my bags and checked out of the Marriott. I was going to go up to Monument Valley to shoot the sunset and then head back to Phoenix to catch my morning flight back home. I looked at the map this time (like 5 times) and saw that there were paved roads all the way there 🙂 The Garmin performed flawlessly and routed me there with no problems. Needless to say, I had enough stuff in my car to last me a week if need be :/

Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate. Although I was getting to Monument Valley at the right time, the skys were completely overcast.  Clouds are usually good for sunset/sunrise, but these were like thick black storm clouds. So there was not going to be any magical light tonight. I still proceeded with the tour. Worse case scenario was that I wouldn’t get any shots that I liked, but I’d have a good time on the tour. I booked a private tour with Kéyah Hózhóní. This company came highly recommend by Scott Kelby and the difference was, these guys not only had 30 years of experience, but they were also photographers. So they not only knew the sites, they also knew exactly where to stand to get the best shots. My guide was Carl, the son. Carl was great! We made the best of it and I got some pretty decent shots.

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We made it to our first stop and I started shooting when I realized that for some of the shots I wanted to use my 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lens. So I asked Carl to give me a minute while I switched lenses. I opened my backpack and then it dawned on me that I had accidentally left my 70-200mm lens in the trunk of the rental car. I took it out to move some stuff around and forgot to put it back in. In hind sight I should have asked Carl to take me back to retrieve it. After all, it was “my” tour. Oh well, next time!

The tour would normally last 4 hours, but the wind really started whipping up and I was getting sand in places I didn’t even know I had. I can still taste it. We both agreed that the light wasn’t really going to get any better so we wrapped things up and I went back to the car. Carl was really concerned that I was disappointed. To be honest, I really wasn’t. I had a good time and it certainly wasn’t his fault that the weather wasn’t optimal. I would definitely call him again if/when I go back.

My gear, my settings

One of the biggest questions I got was “what settings did you use?” Most of what I shot was using Aperture Priority Mode. I shot anywhere from f 5.6 to f 11. Although Aperture Priority Mode works most of the time for landscapes, it doesn’t work all of the time. With Aperture Priority the camera is using its built-in light meter to set the shutter speed. It doesn’t always guess right. It doesn’t always properly expose the image especially when you’ve got a bright sky and a subject in the shadows. So in those cases I switched to manual mode and set the shutter speed to what I wanted it to be.

I used my Nikon D700 and I shot 100% in RAW. I kept my ISO at 200 and when there was a case that I needed longer exposures I used my Gitzo Traveler Tripod and Kirk BH-3 ballhead. To reduce the chance of camera shake I used a cable release. I also used my di-GPS Pro to geotag all my shots (with the exception of some of the ones in the Slot Canyons where there wasn’t a clear view of the sky for the GPS to lock on to).

My main lens on this trip was the Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 Lens! I was told that I would really want to use a wide angle lens for most of what I was shooting. While I do own a Sigma 10-20mm lens, I really wanted one that would take advantage of my full-frame D700. I have used/reviewed the Nikkor 14-24mm lens before. However, I don’t yet own one. The lens costs about $1,600 and I just really don’t do enough landscape shooting to justify owning it (at least not yet). So I did the next best thing. I rented it. I met the guys from LensPro To Go at Photoshop World Boston. So I decided to give them a shot and the experience was awesome. They shipped the lens and it was in EXCELLENT Condition. They even shipped it in a nice pelican case to ensure that there was no damge. I rented it for 2 weeks even though I really only needed it for one week. The price difference between 1 week and 2 weeks wasn’t that much. I also opted for the additional insurance.

If I had it to do over again…

This was an exciting trip and for the most part I got out of it everything I wanted. However, now that I’ve done it there are a couple of things I would have changed. First of all, I would have done more advance planing and research on places to shoot. I was kinda frustrated trying to figure out where to be for sunrise and sunset. Also there were places that I would have gone to, but they required permits in advance. There also doesn’t seem to be enough details out there. For example, at Rainbow Arch, you have to hike to it (like most of the attractions here). How long is the hike? A mile or 14 miles?

The next one is a little more obvious to frequent travelers. I really only needed about a day and half in Page to get Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend. So there was no reason to stay there the whole time. Next time I would have booked hotels for the other nights in the other places I wanted to shoot. That way I would always wake up at the location I wanted to shoot the sunrise in instead of having to drive there in the wee hours of the morning. I would have stayed at Bryce Canyon one night and Monument Valley the next. This way I could shoot in the morning, drive in the afternoon and shoot the sunset and sunrise of the next location.

The next thing is a minor one. My rental car (a very cool black Mustang) had Sirius satellite radio. Great! However, there were times I wanted to listen to my own music, podcasts, etc. There was an AUX jack and yes I even had the right cable, but I just didn’t think it would work because the AUX button on the dash switched to the Sirius radio. So next time I would burn a couple of audio CDs. This car even had an MP3 CD player. So I could have put hours of music on a single CD in MP3 format. As a matter of fact I should just burn two CDs now (one MP3, one standard audio) now with my favorite music on them and just keep them in my luggage. That way I won’t have to think about it. I do have some loaded on the Garmin, but not enough for a several hour drive. Also with the Garmin it relies on a built-in FM Transmitter. While it does work, I’m just not a fan of FM transmitters.

FAQs

Q. I noticed you said you brought both your MacBook Pro AND your Epson P6000 backup unit. If you’re bringing your laptop, why did you need the P600?

A. Because I’m paranoid! I use the P6000 to backup immediately after the shoot while I’m still out in the field. I don’t take my MacBook Pro into field. I leave it in the hotel. When I get back to the hotel, I import the cards into Adobe Photoshop Lightroom on my computer. Then I start the review process, retouching and sharing online with friends and family.

Q. You said you used a guide at Monument Valley, but not one at Antelope Canyon or Horseshoe Bend. Is a guide really necessary? Can you just explore?

A. In all the spots I went to, you can export. Even in the Upper Slots the guide saw that I was a pro shooter and asked me if I just wanted to go shoot on my own? However, at Monument Valley, there’s no way you’re going to no what’s where without a guide. While you can certainly just pay and drive in on your own, you’re gonna miss stuff! I didn’t want to miss anything! I was standing right next to things that Carl pointed out that I would have otherwise missed.

Q. I see that your brought your Gitzo Traveler Tripod. Did you carry it on the plane? I thought you couldn’t travel with something like that for fear that it could be used as a weapon?

A. I’ve heard that too. As far as I’m concerned it’s urban legend. I’ve traveled with a tripod in my carry on luggage more times than I can count and never had an issue. As a matter of fact on the way back home I was subject to a “bag check” (a frequent thing for me). They were having problems seeing through all the electronics in my suitcase. They even pulled out the tripod, looked it over and put it right back in. The problem wasn’t the tripod, it was my Garmin bean bag mount. They couldn’t see through it.

Q. I see that you used a GPS and cable release. Is it possible to use both at the same time?

A. YES! That’s one of the main new features of the di-GPS Pro in that it has a 10 pin terminal pass-through port built in on the top. The non-pro model doesn’t have that feature.

Q. Did you forget anything?

A. Yep! I forgot to bring my hat. Luckily this time of year the temperatures are very mild. I’m not a hat guy, so I always forget to pack a hat. I have a growing “hotel gift shot hat collection” that you wouldn’t believe. I almost forgot two important pieces of gear. Since the backpack is not my everyday bag I had to pack it by taking items from the computer bag I do use every day. I almost forgot my MacBook Pro power cable and my Firewire 800 CF card reader. While I could have bought a card reader at the local Walmart, the MacBook Pro power supply would have been a little more challenging. Luckily I remembered both items at the last minute before leaving the house.

Q. Was there any technology that didn’t work?

A. There was only one small problem. I brought my GPS vent mount and the Mustang vents are circular, so I had a hard time using it and just switched to my bean bag mount (which I just happened to bring as a backup) instead.

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I brought my 3G wireless card so that I wouldn’t have to depend on hotel interent. Of course this area of the country doesn’t have 3G coverage. So I ended up using the wireless at the Marriott, which was free. Otherwise, all my gear performed very well!

See all of my current gear recommendations here!

Check out my shots on your HDTV via Apple TV

If you have an interest in my photography and want to see it on your big screen and you have an Apple TV, there’s a way. Simply go to the Photos option on the menu and choose MobileMe. Select “Add Gallery” and key in “terrywhite“. You see all my public albums and any new photos I post from here on out. It’s really slick the way it works!

Otherwise you can see my Page Arizona shots here and my Monument Valley shots here.

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