Westcott Apollo micro Softbox review

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I recently spent 10 days down in Panama bouncing around the islands of the Bocas del Toro area chasing poison dart frogs. If you have ever seen a poison frog then you know they are small – like really small. There are a few species that are a bit larger, but the particular species that I was chasing after, the strawberry poison frog (Oophaga pumilio), are extremely small. Photographing frogs is always going to be the realm of macro, but these guys are really going to test your reserve!

Photographing macro subjects in the tropics means that you will be using flash – like it or not. The light is just way too low in 99% of the sscenariosthat you are going to find subjects. With multilayered canopies towering upwards of 100 feet overhead, a bright overcast day is reduced to the equivalence of candle light inside of the rainforest. Flash is what is going to allow you to photograph in these conditions, period. But the problem with flash in close quarters, especially when everything is wet and shiny like it is in these tropical forests, is that the light from our flash bounces and sparkles off of everything give our compositions a decidedly “flashed” look. Photographing birds at 50 feet away, using a touch of fill flash is not going to be a problem. But shiny subjects like frogs on the other hand can really cause some problems for you.

In order to overcome these issues we need to diffuse the light. Diffusing the light means that we scatter the light around instead of concentrating it. By scattering it, we are not only eliminating a lot of the contrast of a scene (both good and bad depending upon what you are going for) but we are also reducing the intensity of the flash enough to eliminate the sheen of these frogs. You flash probably comes with some sort of drop down diffuser. Many even come with a little plastic cap that you can stick over the flash to cut light even more. However, if you really want to be able to control the light in your macro photography then you need to move in the the realm of softboxes.

I have used a variety of different softboxes over the years – both really big ones for commercial shoots as well as little tiny ones for macro work. The rainforest is no place for a full sized softbox you would see on a portrait shoot. But it is perfect for something like the Westcott Apollo micro softbox. Measuring just 5 x 8 inches, this thing is the ideal size for in the field macro work.

Basically the micro softbox attaches over your speed light (flash) via a couple of strips of velcro that come supplied with the softbox. If you a shooting in TTL then you can just adjust and shoot as normal. If you are shooting manual this is going to reduce your flash output by about 1 stop.

The results are phenomenal. These softboxes are without a doubt the best I have ever used. Westcott is a top of the line company trusted by professionals throughout all walks of photography – not just macro work. The build and construction is second to none, and the whole things folds flat so I can slip it just about anywhere in my photo backpack while trekking through some pretty gnarly terrain or bouncing between islands by boat. If one of these can hold up to the abuse that I put it through when in the tropics, then they will endure just about anything.

The price is more than reasonable coming it at right around $30 usd.

Below are a few photos that I made in Panama while use this micro softbox.

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Winter 2015 VIP is completed

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So for those of you in the know, the VIP newsletter will be sent out this week. I just finished the winter 2015 edition and it’s being tweaked now. Don’t know what this is? Its quite different than the newsletter I put out called Behind the Lens. The VIP thing is for folks who have joined me on workshops in the past and those who are currently signed up for upcoming trips. The VIP newsletter is sent out quarterly and is a downloadable PDF file all about wildlife photography.

Each edition has a species profile in which I take one particular animal and discuss its natural history and just about everything you need to know about photographing it. Next there is a section on technique, where I write in detail about a particular photography technique that is specifically related to wildlife photography. Finally there is the section called Shoot this NOW!. This final section is all about what you as a wildlife photographer should be out chasing down right now given the season. Often times we as photographers get stuck in a rut. We keep shooting the same old subjects day after day. For this reason I decided to add this last section to help motivate people to step outside of their comfort zone and pursue other wildlife photography opportunities!

This edition:

Species profile: Canvasbacks

Technique: Nail those Silhouettes Every time

Shoot this NOW: Waterfowl

Magazine Articles

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Writing is a big part of what I do. My business is much more complex than just crawling through alligator infested swamps, climbing snow covered mountains, and floating down the Amazon river to create wildlife photographs. With a never ending thirst for knowledge, an obsession for understanding the minute details of the natural world, a life long love for writing, and a background in both biology and environmental history, I guess it’s something of an inevitability. My niche here is taking the complexities of science and cutting research, and deciphering it in such away so as to make it accessible, interesting, and maybe even entertaining for a general audience.

Recently I decided put a few of the articles that I have written for natural history magazines online. This list is only a very small sampling of articles and by no means a complete collection. Each article that I have put online is in the form of a PDF and only the text is included – not the magazine layout with photographs and the like. So if you want to get your nerdgasm on, check the new link at the top of the page entitled Writings, or just CLICK HERE.

As time permits, I will put more of these articles on the list here so if you like this sort of stuff, check back from time to time.

 

Wildlife Tracking skills for Serious Photographers

petersonsI am very pleased to announce that this coming year we are going to be adding something new to our Tetons and Yellowstone photography workshops. There are two books that I view to be absolute essentials for serious wildlife photographers. The first is Peterson’s Reference Guide to the Behavior of North American Mammals. The second is Mammal Tracks & Sign: A Guide to North American Species. Mark Elbroch authored both of these books and he will be joining us on upcoming workshops to discuss tracking skills necessary for serious wildlife photographers!

Dr. Mark Elbroch has authored 10 books on Natural History, and dozens of scientific papers. This guy is very well known among naturalists, trackers, and field biologists as one of the top minds in his field. In addition to the above credentials, he is also the project leader for the Teton Cougar Project.

I cannot begin to express what an incredible opportunity that this will provide participants of these upcoming workshops. We are constantly striving to go above and beyond with the workshops that we organize – focusing on photographic instruction, environmental education, experience based learning, and good old fashion adventure. For this reason, we believe that the addition of discussions led by Mark Elbroch will further our goals of offering you the best experience and photography workshop possible.

Want to know more about Mark Elbroch? Check out his bio through the big cat conservation group Panthera: http://www.panthera.org/node/3034

Want to check out the Peterson’s Reference Guide to the Behavior of North American Mammals? Check it out here via Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Behavior-American-Mammals-Peterson-Reference/dp/0618883452/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1323822063&sr=8-1

Want to check out mammal tracking Bible that Mark wrote entitled Mammal Tracks & Sign: http://www.amazon.com/Mammal-Tracks-Sign-American-Species/dp/0811726266/ref=pd_bxgy_b_img_y

Bull Moose Sunrise in the Tetons

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Driving along the base of the Gros Ventre Mountains in Jackson Hole, we were making our way to a river bottom to catch up with the moose rut this morning. As luck would have it however, this young bull moose stopped us dead in our tracks as he worked his away across Antelope Flats. With steam rising into the morning air from a small creek fueled by the Kelly Warm Springs, the peaks above treeline in the Tetons Range began to light up with alpenglow in the background, there was just no way we could pass up the opportunity for photographing this bull against this idyllic setting.  Not a bad way to end this year’s fall photography workshop in Jackson Hole!

Sometimes things just come together for you!

Explosions of Fall Color

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Its simply impossible to escape the Tetons and Jackson Hole this time of year without being mesmerized by the explosion of colors across the landscape. From the reds of mountain maples to the orange of narrowleafed cottonwood trees, and let us not forget the amazing genetic and color diversity of the different aspen stands that also range from yellow to red on their own.

Photographing fall color is not just about capturing the grand landscapes with Autumn hues painted across the scene. Personally, I prefer to chase down these sort of abstract intimate landscapes in the fall. Viewing photographs like this are like looking through a window peering into a forest. Photographs of this nature are all about design and therefore make for good print sales because of their universal appeal.

When I am visually exploring a patch of brilliantly colored forest like this, I am looking to bring order out of chaos. The vertical lines of the aspens become the primary consideration in terms of the composition, followed next by how the color falls across the scene. For my lens choice, I used a Nikon 200-400mm lens at 200mm for this photograph in order to compress the perspective through the forest. In order to further this, I then chose an f/stop of f/8 so as to insure maximum focus across both inside and out of the forest. Photographing this scene in light overcast conditions helped to significantly reduce contrast but left enough light so as to make everything pop. Though exposure rules for digital photograph remain in place while in the field, keep in mind that in film days we underexposed photographs just a bit in order to increase saturation. So once brought into LR or PS consider bringing down the exposure just a touch and bring down the midtones with a curve layer for increase richness in the color of the leaves.

Hidden Landscapes in the Tetons

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The weather has been an absolute horror these last few days in Jackson Hole. Rain, rain, and then more rain. This morning we had a little change with a touch of snow, but not enough to do anything for us in terms of our photography. With all of this crazy weather, the wildlife photography has been somewhat hit and miss. Sure we have photographed massive bull moose and black bears, but over all things have been a lot slower this year.

Luckily though, this is Jackson Hole we are talking about. Wildlife, though it may be my particular cup of tea, is not the only game in town when it comes to photography. Let’s not forget that this place also happens to be one of the top landscape photography locations in North America as well. So when nature tosses you lemons, you put a shorter lens on and make lemonade.

This photograph is from Lupine Meadows at the base of the Tetons – a particularly favorite location of mine for capturing some of the more subtle details of the Tetons range. With gold and reds mixed in with the dark green of the spruce and fir trees on these lower ridge lines, the pulsating clouds that crept up and down the mountain all morning made for some really cool scenics.

The fun part about photographing situations like this is that these moments are evanescent. The scene is constantly changing as the fog rolls down and lifts up, breaks apart in one place, and thickens in another. From one minute to the next, completely new compositions reveal themselves and then disappear forever. It can be trying at first to wrap your mind around compositions when they are so fleeting. However, given a touch of patience you begin to see the different possibilities before they actually occur and with time begin to create order out of chaos.

The two ridge lines cutting across the photograph offer strong compositional elements thanks to the repetition and diagonal lines they create. Once visually found, this became my base from which I knew I wanted to create a photograph of. When the fog comes rolling through like this in the Rocky Mountains, the scene can quickly become very monochromatic in nature. With the splash of color thanks to the hues of Autumn, I was able to do so much more. After I developed a general idea of what my composition was going to be, it was then a matter of waiting out the fog. As it rolled up and down, new scenes and even elements revealed themselves until finally, the one that I had pre-visualized in my head began to develop.

ISO 250 | f/11 | 1/15th | 200mm | D4

Rut in the Tetons

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With a chance of snow in the immediate forecast, the golden hues of aspen and narrow leaf cottonwoods lighting up the edges of the forest, the evening bugles of elk filling the air, and the moose, those lumbering giants of the river valleys battling it out for the hearts and minds of the ladies all across the valley, I can honestly say there is no place else I would rather be right now! This place is like Hotel California. You can check out any time you want, but you can never leave. Given that we made the monumental decision to pack up and move across the country to North Carolina in order to film a documentary, coming back out here two months later like this and experiencing everything that I love about this place in just one single day has me already looking trying to find a rental house to pack up and move back out here to.

 

Red Pygmy Rattlesnakes

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North Carolina is a strange place. Its on the list of the top ten most biologically diverse places in the United States. On the western side of the state there is the Smoky Mountains which harbors more species of trees than the entire continent of Europe and is literally the salamander capital of the world. Moving east you then find the long leaf pine savannas such as the biogem known as the Green Swamp that harbors more species of carnivorous plants than anyplace else in the world. This is a truly extraordinary place.  Continue reading »

Wyoming Wolves Protected Once Again

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Yesterday on September 23, 2014 Wyoming wolves were once again brought under the protective folds of the Endangered Species Act. A judge overturned the 2012 ruling that gave Wyoming control over small population of wolves living in that state.

As soon as Wyoming obtain legal control over wolves, they were immediately listed as an animal that could be shot on sight or killed by whatever means necessary in 75% of the state. The remaining quarter which are those areas around the National Parks, a hunting season was established and tags were being sold for around $25.

This is tremendous news and comes about from so any people and organizations fighting tirelessly to stop Wyoming from erasing decades worth of hard work and millions in tax payer dollars that was spent to bring the wolf, and apex predator and crucial ingredient to the Rocky Mountains’ ecosystems back from extinction in that area.

For more information on this court decision check out: http://www.spokesman.com/blogs/outdoors/2014/sep/23/court-reinstates-endangered-status-wyoming-wolves/