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String Monopod

How about a monopod that weighs less than half an ounce? TDS virtual camera club member Brian Reynolds writes:

"I never really liked traditional monopods. What I have found to be very useful is what some people call a string monopod.

Here's how to make one version of this device.You need a 1/4x20 eyebolt, two 1/4x20 nuts, and a length of clothes line (or any line that doesn't stretch). Put both nuts on the eyebolt, and then carefully attach the eyebolt to the camera's tripod mount. If you over tighten the eyebolt you can damage the camera's bottom plate. Gently tighten one of the nuts against the camera's bottom plate, and then tighten the other nut against the first. The nuts will prevent you from over tightening the eyebolt when you re-attach the eyebolt later. Now you tie the rope to the eyebolt.

To use the string monopod attach it to the camera, drop the rope on the floor, step on it, and then pull up to put tension on the rope.

I've had very good luck with this. For last year's Solo Photo Book Month project, I shot on the streets of Manhattan with a handheld Yashica Mat 124G and a string monopod. I was able to use shutter speeds as low as 1/30 second.

So, if you're not the trekking pole type, the string monopod might be just the solution for you on the trail.

Thanks Brian! If you have a great outdoor tip, or favorite piece of equipment, send it along to me. I'll feature reader submitted tips on a regular basis.

Previously in Outdoor Gear for Photographers

"The Great Outdoors" - Digital Photography Podcast 218

Portable Camera Stability - Outdoor Photo Tip #2

Sunset Portraits - Outdoor Photo Tip #1

New Series on Outdoor Gear for Photographers


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Snail Close Up with LP-Micro Litepanel

I recently added a Litepanels LP Micro Compact LED Light to my DSLR kit. In part, because I wanted a continuous light for close up photography and for video with the Canon 5D Mark II. I chose the Litepanels Micro because it has good output for a small light, is 5600K daylight balanced, has an adjustable intensity knob, uses 4 AA batteries, and it's virtually heat free.

Even though the panel is over 3" wide, the light sometimes seemed a little harsh for certain subjects. I decided that I wanted to make a diffuser for the Litepanel, so I constructed one using only a letter-sized sheet of paper and a large rubber band.

First thing I did was mount the LP Micro backwards in the hot shoe so it sat back on top of the camera. I then folded the paper as shown to create a larger surface area and attached it to the Litepanel with a rubber band. I cranked the power all the way up, mounted my Sigma 50mm f/1.4 lens on the Canon 5D Mark II, and increased the ISO to 1600. I shot in Aperture Priority mode at f/2.8 for this shot of the snail. (Click on the image for an enlarged view.)

LP-Micro DIY Diffuser

With the diffuser, the quality of the light was much softer, yet, there were still nice highlights in the photo. I shot the picture at night when the snails were out having their meals. Even diffused, there was enough output from the Litepanel for me to shoot at 1/30 at f/2.8 in the darkness. Because the light is continuous, I can better compose the shot, and work quickly.

The Litepanels LP Micro Compact LED Light is not cheap: about $275. But I like having it in my kit along with a regular flash for these types of subjects.

Photographs by Derrick Story. Click on images to enlarge.


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DIY nano Stand for iPod Video Recording

The 5th generation iPod nano has terrific new functions such as an intelligent FM radio receiver and a video camera that can record hours of SD movie capture. One challenge that I encountered while recording video, however, was finding an easy way to steady the camera for scenes where the subjects were stationary, such as during a speech or a musical recital.

By modifying two parts of the packaging for the nano, you can quickly create a stand that works on any horizontal surface, allowing you to record super-steady movies. When not in use, the stand folds up so it's nearly as compact as the nano itself.

All you have to do is drill a hole in the flexible holder that your iPod ships in. I simply put the nano in the holder, marked on the clear plastic where the camera lens is with a Sharpie, removed the nano, drilled the hole, then reattached the iPod. When you're ready to record, stand it up in the open lid. You'll find that you have a number of adjustments that you can make just by moving the iPod around in the open lid. This allows you to get just the right recording angle.

When you're done recording, place the holder in the lid and secure with a rubber band. You can leave the nano in the holder if you know you're going to record more video soon, or put it back in its regular case.

A couple of additional tips: 1) drill a largish hole because the microphone is next to the lens and you'll get better audio pickup. 2) if you drill a second hole on the side of your stand, you can plug in the headphones also and use the stand for hands-free movie viewing.

One thing that I always mention to people who purchase Apple devices is to hang on to the packaging. There are always components that they can repurpose later for accessories such as this DIY nano stand.

More DIY Projects

You can find more do it yourself projects in the DIY section of The Digital Story, including:

DIY Copy Stand for the iPhone 3GS

Convert Your Roller Suitcase into a Tripod or Mic Stand

DigiScoping with a Compact Camera


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Digiscoping is the art of using a spotting scope to increase the lens magnification of a compact camera. I first heard about the practice when birders with expensive monoculars would try to get photos of their subjects by holding their digicams up the eyepieces of their scopes and taking pictures.

When I was at the very top of Oracle Arena Friday night for a Warriors game, I had the Canon PowerShot S90 in my pocket and an Orion EagleEye 8x32 Wide-Angle Monocular around my neck.


Both of these images are from the upper part of the second deck at Oracle Arena in Oakland, CA. The top shot was digiscopped while the bottom image was captured with the Canon S90 at 105mm. (Click to enlarge.)


Right before tip-off, I had what I call a Reese's moment: what if I did my own brand of digiscoping using the monocular as a tele-extender for the S90? After all, the S90 can handle high ISOs and the zoom lens seemed like it would fit OK with the eye piece for the Orion. And did I mention that I was way up there in the cheap seats?

My first digiscoping inclination was to zoom the S90 all the way out to 105mm so the image filled the frame while I held the monocular in front of the lens. But I had a hard time getting a sharp image with this configuration. So I then back it off to 85mm, and finally got the best results at 50mm. The only downside to this approach was that I had an image circle in the middle of the frame with black all around it. But it was worth it to get the sharper picture. You can see this effect with the Greg Oden photo. For the shot of the jump ball (top of the article), I cropped out the black area.


Here's Greg Oden of the Portland Trailblazers preparing to shoot a free throw. The scoping effect will be cropped out later. (Click to enlarge.)


I played with a lot of settings on the S90, and most of them worked OK. I had to keep the ISO at 800 or above to deal with the lighting and the optics. At one point, I switched to the Low Light setting on the mode dial, and just left it there. Even though I lost some resolution doing so, it was just so easy, and the images looked better than at many of the other settings.

Obviously this kind of DIY rig isn't for serious work. If I were covering this game as a shooter, I'd be down on the floor with my DSLR and fast glass. But on this night, I was just a spectator in the cheap seats with a little time on my hands. And this is yet another example of: the best camera is the one you have with you.

More Articles About the Canon S90

Five Lesser Know (but very cool) Features on the Canon S90

Canon S90 Raw Processing Comparison: DPP vs ACR 5.6 RC

Did Canon Really Improve Image Noise with the PowerShot S90?

"Compacts for Serious Shooters" - Digital Photography Podcast 201

Is the Canon S90 the New G11?


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Of all the DIY projects we write about, light modifiers are still my favorite. I have a nifty collection of flash diffusers and unusual lighting tricks that I think you'll want to keep in your back pocket.

The DIY Flash Diffuser with Paper and Rubber Band is one of the coolest and simplest devices to date. All you need is an old press release and a rubber band.

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And don't forget about this Ring Flash Diffuser for a compact camera. Finally, a legitimate use for styrofoam.

Here's a collection of Five Poorman's Lighting Mods from DIYPhotography.net. I think the barf bag flash diffuser might be my favorite from this list.

And finally, one of the all time classics is to use a windshield reflector from your car as a fill light for outdoor portraits. My favorite of these reflectors (designed to keep your car cool on hot days) has white on the inside and silver on the out. This gives you two surfaces to choose from depending on how intense your fill light needs to be. Give it a try!


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If you travel with a roller suitcase, then you can easily convert it into a tripod for long exposures through the hotel window and for general photography work around the room. And the best part is, this conversion only adds another 6 ounces to your travel load.

All you have to do is position the suitcase where you need your "tripod," extend the handle, then attach the Pedco UltraClamp Assembly ($23.25) and mount your camera. The UltraClamp can support any compact camera, and most light DSLRs such as the Canon Rebel T1i with kit lens. I've used this rig for years, and the UltraClamp works as well today as it did when I first bought it. Plus, you can mount it to chairs, tables, or anywhere else the clamp will tighten. Unlike other rigs of this ilk, the UltraClamp includes a ball head, so chances are you'll be able to position the camera exactly as you need.

When I'm in big cities, I love taking night shots through hotel windows. I'm usually up fairly high and have a good perspective on the hustle and bustle below me. Be sure to turn off room lights if you're shooting through glass, and get the camera lens as close to the window as possible. I also recommend using the self-timer to ensure you don't jar the camera when you press the shutter button.

But wait... there's more! I also make sure I have a few heavy duty rubber bands packed when I travel. They come in handy for all sorts of tasks, including making this portable mic stand from the extended suitcase handle. The one thing I don't want to do is hold the mic when I record TDS podcasts on the road. Those rustling sounds are quite annoying. So I mount the microphone on the suitcase handle and sit on the edge of the bed to record the show. It works great.

Roller suitcases are definitely handy in the airport as you travel from one terminal to the other. But they're also useful once you reach your destination... that is, if you've packed a few key accessories to transform them into creative tools.


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Editor's Note -- Recently I was corresponding with TDS member Brian F Wilkie about a project he was working on. Brian had figured out how to create a unique type of photo album where he output pages with snapshots printed on them, then bound these pages together in a binder. I loved this idea and asked Brian to write a short article for us, which he kindly did. So, in his own words, here's how Brian Wilkie creates his unique output, complete with Lightroom templates so you can do the same. Thanks Brian!

Using Lightroom 2.4, a Canon Pixma Pro 9000 printer, and Red River Paper's excellent Premium Gloss DUO 8.5" by 11" letter-sized stock, I'm able to  create a handsome looseleaf bound album quickly, and fairly easily.

In Lightroom, I start with a  grid filter which gathers all images taken in a  particular year with a rating of 1 star or above. The choice of rating will vary with how hard you are on yourself and whether you want to include family snapshots as well as fine art images.  Select all of the pictures (command A), then create a collection called Album 20XX (filling in the appropriate year). Now, you can use delete to remove any images which are repetitive, virtual copies you made for different print sizes, or black and white versions. By the end of the process you will have a good idea of how big a printing task you have undertaken.

Printing

You can download a pair of print templates that make good use of the real estate on a US letter page, as long as you have a printer that can handle borderless printing. These templates provide 4 prints up at 5.5" inches by 3.67" inches on a page. I use the "rotate to fit" option so that portrait mode images are printed as large as possible, although this means that on some pages viewers will need to turn the binder on its side to see the pictures oriented correctly. I also enable Page Number under Page Options to help keep track during printing, and the Identity Plate option for my Logo. Finally, the Photo Info option is enabled using Capture Exposure Date as a template. Be careful not to be too wordy in captions or the text will wrap around and the photo size may be restricted.

Printing is done using the appropriate ICC profile downloaded from Red River Paper with Print Sharpening set to "High" and Media type to "Glossy".

The printing itself is completed in two passes. First, the User Template "4up letter+data Odd" is selected, then Print is clicked. At this point, settings options become printer and computer operating system specific. As I mentioned before, I use a Canon Pro9000 on a Mac running OS 10.5. In the print dialog box under Paper Handling, I select Pages to Print - Odd Only. I also select Page Order - Normal. Under Quality and Media I select Media Type - Glossy Photo Paper and Print Quality - High. Under Borderless Printing, I select Amount of Extension - Min. This allows the page number to be visible on the final print since Lightroom puts this in the extreme lower right corner of the page.

After the first pass, carefully flip over the set of odd pages and put them into the paper feed. The top sheet should now be the back side of page one, but careful experimentation is called for here. Select the user template "4up letter+data Even" and click Print. Now under Paper Handling change  to Pages to Print - Even Only.

All you need now is a good quality 3-hole punch. Remember, this is heavy paper stock. Then put the pages in to a quality 3-hole binder.  I use a nice leather one from the local office supply store. The end result is a good looking, well printed, and durable album. By my calculation the cost is around 28¢ per image, less if you shop around for discounted Canon ink.

Using Old Lenses on New Cameras

Of all the cameras I had in the past, my favorites were made by Contax. The first model I bought (when I had absolutely no money) was the Contax 139 with the Zeiss 50mm f/1.7. I later added the Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 and 135mm f/2.8 lenses. It was thrilling every time I picked up the camera. Over the years, I had other favorite bodies too, including the 167MT and RX.

After I made the transition to digital photography, I sold much of my film equipment. I did keep, however, my absolute favorites. I wasn't quite sure why at the time; I just didn't want to part with everything from the past. So I still have the Contax RX body, 5 prime lenses, and the pocketable Contax T. I also kept the Hasselblad 500C with both the 80mm and 150mm lenses.


The Transamerica building in San Francisco. Shot with an Olympus E-P1 with a Zeiss Distagon 35mm lens mounted. Photo by Derrick Story. Click to enlarge image. See more images with this rig on the TDS Flickr page.


I didn't use any of this equipment for a long time. Then, when I started shooting with the retro-looking Olympus PEN E-P1 camera, I got a hankering to try the collection of Zeiss lenses on that body using the Rayqual Micro Four Thirds adapter for Contax M lenses. I wrote about the experiment in the article Zeiss Lens on Olympus E-P1? Oh Yeah!. There are some good reader comments there too.

When I wrote the article, I promised to publish shots using a Zeiss lens on the E-P1. My opportunity appeared this week when I had meetings in San Francisco. I packed the Olympus with the 35mm Zeiss Distagon lens, and clicked photos as I walked from one appointment to the next. You can look at the set of images on the TDS Flickr page. These are Raw files processed in Adobe Camera Raw.

I had a great time shooting these images. I was manually focusing with the well-damped focusing ring in the Zeiss Distagon. I set the E-P1 in Aperture Priority mode and used the click-stop aperture ring on the Zeiss lens to set the f/stop. In all honesty, I felt more like an artist than a snapper using this rig.

Now that I have the bug, I'm going to see about mounting these lenses on my Canon 5D Mark II. Since it's a full frame sensor, everything should look as it did when they were mounted on my Contax bodies. I'll keep you posted. In the meantime, I'm going to continue to shoot with the Olympus E-P1 and my collection of Zeiss glass.


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Zeiss Lens on Olympus E-P1? Oh Yeah!

The Olympus PEN E-P1 is a versatile camera that can accept Leica, Nikon, and Zeiss lenses with the right adapter. I have a small cache of Zeiss prime lenses in the Contax M mount that are part of my Contax RX kit. Since I don't shoot very much film these days, I've been looking for a way to put this wonderful glass to work. I read about the Novoflex Four Thirds adapters, but I could not find the Contax mount anywhere (the Leica version seems more plentiful here in the States).


Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.7 Contax MM mount on an Olympus E-P1 using a Rayqual CY to M 4/3 adapter. Photo by Derrick Story


The Search for a Contax Adapter

After scouring the Web for any adapter that would work, I found a great site called Japan Exposures that had all sorts of photographic exotica, including Rayqual Micro Four Thirds adapters for Contax M and Nikon F mounts. I purchased the Contax mount for 18,700 Yen, and they shipped it to me within a few days. I had a very good customer experience with them.

Mounting the Lens on the E-P1

The Rayqual mount is excellent. There's no wiggle at all. It's finely machined and has a solid feel. The first lens I tested on the E-P1 was the Zeiss 50mm f/1.7 MM. The set up is easy. You mount the adapter on the body, then attach the lens to the adapter. Everything clicks into place. There are no electronic contacts on the adapter, so you work in aperture priority mode. Focus with the lens wide open, then if you need too, stop down to make the exposure. The E-P1 sets the appropriate shutter speed for you. It worked great. If you have lots of light, then you can focus stopped down. Although I must admit, what I wanted to do was shoot wide open most of the time taking advantage of the unique qualities of the Zeiss Planar lens.


Top view of Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.7 Contax MM mount on an Olympus E-P1 showing the Rayqual CY to M 4/3 adapter. Photo by Derrick Story


You can configure the E-P1 for manual focus-assist giving you 7X magnification with just a push of the OK button. I love this mode and use it to get the focus just right, then back off to normal view and take the picture. Focusing on the 3" LCD was easier than I expected. Working with the silky smooth focusing ring and the click-stop aperture ring on the Zeiss Planar provided a truly classic photographic experience.

Picture Quality

As far as picture quality, my favorite lens was the Zeiss Distagon 35mm f/2.8. The shots were beautiful at every aperture setting. Next, I also liked the 50mm f/1.7 and the 85mm f/2.8. They were a little softer on the edges than the 35mm, but still quite good. I was disappointed with both the Zeiss 135mm f/2.8 and 200mm f/3.5 telephotos. They weren't as sharp on the E-P1 as they are on the Contax bodies. It seemed to me that the E-P1 performs better with the wider and standard lenses than with the longer focal lengths. I will continue to test and report more on this.


Existing light shot using the Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.7 Contax MM mount on an Olympus E-P1. The ISO was set to 1600, aperture to f/1.7, and was able to get a shutter speed of 1/30th even in this very, very low light. Photo by Derrick Story


Final Thoughts

Shooting with the Contax lenses on the Olympus E-P1 is a brand new experience. It's so unique, it's almost hard to describe. I'm once again focusing the camera myself, yet I have a big 3" LCD with digital focusing assist to provide a new twist on the process. The camera looks good with any of the Zeiss lenses mounted, and the shooting is outright fun. Most of the camera functions work just fine, including flash, image stabilization, and even movie mode. There are a few gaps in the metadata because the camera can't report aperture or focal length, but you get ISO, white balance, shutter speed, etc. The shots look different than with any other lens/camera combination.

For the time being, I'm going to work with these lenses on the E-P1 and see how it affects my photography. I'm already feeling more creative every time I pick it up. I'll publish a collection on our Flickr site soon.


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You can make photo art notecards that won't be just good; they'll be professional too. And I'll show you how. This workflow uses Aperture software, an Epson printer, and Red River paper. It's fast, efficient, and archival. Once you're set up, you can print just a few cards whenever you need them, or for larger runs, spend a rainy afternoon creating entire sets of cards to sell or give as presents. Of course you can make substitutions to this workflow, but if you have the tools listed here, that's where I'd start.

Equipment

  • Quality ink jet printer. I'm using the Epson R2400 for this project.
  • Red River notecard stock. For glossy surface, use 60lb. Pecos River Gloss (#8451) and for matt surface, I recommend Premium Matte C2S (#1567). Both stocks are 7" x 10" and fold down to a 7" x 5" note card.
  • Photo software. I highly recommend Aperture 2 (or later) for this project. Why? Because I create the notecards using Aperture's book making tool. This allows me to design everything precisely as I like, and then it remembers all my settings so I can revisit the project at any time and print more cards that look *exactly* like the original set.
  • Envelopes. You can use what ever you want here, I found Darice 5" x 7" envelopes at the craft store for about 10 cents each.

Designing Your Card

Since I'm using Aperture, all of my images were already organized. I decided to make a themed set of cards featuring my recent shoot at Bodie State Historical Park in Northern California. I highlighted half a dozen shots for this project, then clicked on File > New from Selection > Book. This is the first step to opening the layout tool. Next, in the following dialog box, choose "Custom" from the "Book Type" popup menu. We won't be using any predesigned templates for this project. Click the New Theme button, give it a name, such as "5 x 7 Notecard," and enter the following information:

Page Size - Width: 7", Height: 10", Margins - Top: 5.5", Bottom: 0.5", Inside: 0.5", Outside: 0.5". Then click OK.


The Aperture layout tool. It was originally designed for books, but it's great for notecards too. Click to enlarge image.


Your selected images will be added to the new project you just created, and you'll be greeted with the layout tool interface. Open up Master Pages (Gear icon > Show Master Pages), and click on the 1-up template. Go back to the Gear icon and choose "Show Layout Options." You'll see new dialog boxes appear above the Master pages that allow you to specify settings.

Go back to the Gear menu, choose Add > Photo Box. A placeholder box will appear on your 1-Up Master page. Click on it to select, then add these numbers to the Size & Position box that's above the Master Pages box:

X: 0.50, Y: 0.65, Width: 6.00", Height 4.00", Angle: 0°. You can adjust these settings later to your particular tastes, but this will get you started. Then right-click on the photo placeholder and choose from the popup menu: Photo Box Alignment > Scale to Fit Centered. You've now set up your template. You can add text by choosing Gear > Add > Text box. Type your text in it, then click on the "T" at the top of the interface to format it. You'll probably have to rotate it 180° if you want it to print correctly on the back of the card.

Now go to the Pages box (below Master Pages) click on the 1-Up thumbnail, and drag a photo from the Filmstrip to the empty placeholder in the big browser window. To make sure your Master Page settings are honored, I recommend going back to the Gear icon and choosing: Reapply Master. You've now designed your first notecard. You can add more notecards by going to the + icon and selecting "Add New Page" from its popup menu. I created eight of these 1-Up pages for my Bodie notecard set.

Get Ready to Print

As with any big printing project, make sure your screen is calibrated and your printer is full of ink and ready to go. I choose the R2400 for this project because it handles card stock easily, plus it seems to like Red River paper. To avoid paper feed problems however, I only load one sheet at a time for notecards.

For notecards using the 60lb. Pecos River Gloss, use the following settings in Aperture.


The Aperture Print Dialog. You can save your settings as presets so it's easy to print the job later on. Click to enlarge image.


Select the notecard you want to print, then click the "Print" button in the lower right corner of the Aperture interface. A dialog box will appear with "Custom Book Preset" selected in the left hand column. Make a test printing one card, so I recommend that you use the "From X to X" setting instead of Print All. Next, select your printer from the popup menu. And for paper size, I've had great luck with 8" x 10" sheet fed (even though the paper is really 7" x 10"). I set the ColorSync profile for Epson glossy paper (in this case, SPR2400 PremGlsy Photo.icc), then click the Save As button in the lower left corner to save this preset. Give the preset a descriptive name, such as "R2400 7x10 Notecard Glossy," click OK, then print. Aperture will remember this preset, and you can use over and over again.


Sample notecard before folding. Red River paper is scored in the middle so it's easy to fold and get a professional looking card. Click to enlarge image.

You have other options in this dialog box too, such as setting Black Point (which opens up the shadow areas) or increasing gamma (which brightens up midtones). The nice thing about these adjustments is that you can tweak your output without having to mess with the picture itself. If I do make print adjustments, I note those settings in the description area of the photo so I can use them again next time.

To print matte surfaced cards, I swap out the black cartridges in the R2400, then create a new preset in the Aperture Print dialog box that uses the Enhanced Matte Paper ICC profile. I then load up a sheet of Premium Matte C2S and make a test print. If I'm not satisfied with the initial output, such as the shadow areas rendering just a little too dark, I make a "New Version from Version" by right-clicking on the image. Now I can adjust the image for the matte surface and try another print.

lynda_aperture.png

Since all of my print settings are saved as presets, and my card layouts are saved as templates, I can come back to this project when ever I want to print additional cards. If you use Aperture's Vault, it will save your settings to a backup drive.

Final Touches

Once all the printing was done, it was fun to spread out the cards and choose my favorites. Some images looked better with the glossy surface while others were really nice on matte. I carefully folded the cards along the score, then bundled each one with its matching envelope. I even found 5" x 7" cardboard boxes at the craft store that I could use for packaging sets of notecards.

Obviously there are variations to just about every step in this process. You can use other photo applications or printers. The tools I chose were the result of testing, with these being the easiest and most efficient.

And I have to say, now that the project is over, making custom notecards from my own pictures is very satisfying.


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