Tom Northenscold Photography: Blog en-us (C) Tom Northenscold (Tom Northenscold Photography) Sun, 21 May 2017 22:24:00 GMT Sun, 21 May 2017 22:24:00 GMT Tom Northenscold Photography: Blog 90 120 In Praise of an Old Workhorse IMG_6296IMG_6296 The Nikon D800 camera was introduced in February of 2012. I bought mine in October of that same year. Since then, I have made over 56,000 photos on my D800. It has been all over the world with me. It accompanied me on the 500-mile Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in 2015. You can see from the photo below that it has definitely been around the block.

IMG_6297IMG_6297 Here is the amazing thing. While this camera design is over five years old, the D800 is still number 7 on the DxOMark rankings of digital camera performance, coming in with an overall score of 95 versus 98 for the leader. Digital years are like dog years, so in digital years, this camera is no young punk. While image quality is only one measure of camera performance, it's a mighty important one. Depending on what you shoot, arguably it is the most important measure.

For me, the D800 is like a pair of old jeans. It fits me, nice and comfortably. I can make any adjustment I need without having to look up from the viewfinder. I know this camera like the back of my hands. That makes it possible for the camera to take backstage when I'm out shooting. I know how this camera is going to respond in pretty much any shooting situation.

I am not the type of photographer who chases the latest and greatest camera gear. Don't get me wrong, I have excellent gear and plenty of it, but it all has a purpose and gets used extensively. If I'm not using a piece of kit, I sell it. I've just done that with a couple teleconverters that never found their way into my shooting style.

Nikon launched the successor to the D800, the D810, three years ago. For me, there wasn't enough improvement in that camera to warrant the upgrade. Nikon is rumored to be coming out with the D810 replacement sometime this year (the D820 or D850). Supposedly it will be a forty-some megapixel camera and have the autofocus system from Nikon's top-of-the-line D5. I have no idea whether I will upgrade. We'll just have to wait and see. I suspect if I do upgrade, I will still keep my D800.

_STD0856_STD0856 The idea for this blog post came to me while I was out hiking recently in the Big Woods, on a day of solid rain. I've learned that it's better to leave the D800 in the elements rather than putting it in a bag to protect it from the rain. Condensation is not the friend of electronics, and putting a wet camera in a plastic bag is a surefire way to get condensation. I learned this the hard way on the Camino. My D800 handled these tough conditions like the champion that it is. While I don't punish my gear, I also don't coddle it. When I got back in the car, I dried the D800 off with a bandana that I carry for that purpose (and for wiping lenses). It continues to work just fine.


This outing is a great example of what I love about the Nikon D800. It is tough as nails and puts out some of the most beautiful image files I've ever seen. There is tremendous value in the melding of the photographer's camera with the photographer's vision. That's what I've found in the Nikon D800.


]]> (Tom Northenscold Photography) Big Woods D800 Nikon gear Sun, 21 May 2017 22:24:12 GMT
The Importance of Manually Setting White Balance When I take people out hiking and photographing in the woods, one of the first thing I tell them is to take their camera off Auto white balance. There's a really good reason for this. Below is a photograph from a recent hike at Wood Rill Scientific and Natural Area.

IMG_0044Wood Rill SNAAuto White Balance

Notice how the ground and trees look gray and the leaves are a seemingly desaturated green. The ground cover at the ridge line has practically no color. This photograph was made using Auto white balance. Now look at the photograph below. This photograph is much more like what the scene actually looked like. The leaves are a luscious green and the ground is a deep brownish rust color. By comparison, the first photograph almost looks black and white in places. The second photo was made using Cloudy Day white balance.

IMG_0046Wood Rill SNACloudy Day White Balance

The issue is this--when the light is filtered overhead by the forest canopy, it takes on those colors. Your camera doesn't know what to do with that. If you've ever been in the forest in the fall when the leaves are at full color, the light that surrounds you is golden and warm. If left on Auto White Balance, your camera will try to bring that back into what it considers a normal white balance. The resulting image will look cold with a bluish cast. 

Most times when I'm in the woods, I find Cloudy Day to be the best white balance setting. The Shade white balance setting on my Nikon D800 usually results in too warm of an image. Below is this same scene shot using that setting.

IMG_0047Wood Rill SNAShade White Balance In this photo you sense that the leaves have already started turning, which is not yet the case. I also photographed this scene using Daylight white balance. This example is below.

IMG_0045Wood Rill SNADaylight White Balance While this is a definite improvement over Auto white balance, it lacks the warmth that the scene naturally held. You might ask why any of this matters, because if you shoot RAW you can change the white balance in post. Well, I like to see a reasonable approximation of the final image on the viewfinder when I'm out shooting. True, I can tweak it in post because I shoot RAW, but I'd rather not have to. The less time I spend in post processing the better as far as I'm concerned. I often shoot RAW plus JPEG so that I have a JPEG to share publicly without going through any post processing. If I want that JPEG to look good, I've got to select an appropriate white balance setting. If you shoot JPEG only, then white balance really does matters, because you have precious little ability to change it after the fact.

Setting your white balance manually doesn't just apply to shooting in the woods of course. If you've ever been out shooting on a cloudy day and noticed that your images look a lot more blue than what you're seeing, this is why. If you've ever been in a fluorescent lit room making photos and noticed that your photos look off, this is why. If you've even photographed an amazing sunset, only to find that your images look nothing like what you're seeing, this is why. There are just times when our cameras can't make sense of the color of the light in a scene. That's when the photographer needs to help sort that out.

Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of times where Auto works just fine for white balance, but I find that more times than not, I'm manually selecting the white balance. It's not that my D800 doesn't do a good job on Auto white balance, it's just that there are times when the light is altered in such a way that it goes outside the bounds of "normal" light.

Yesterday I was photographing a volleyball match with my Nikon D4s, a camera that has outstanding Auto white balance capability. The gym was lit with fluorescent lights. While the Auto white balance setting worked pretty well, I noticed that the skin tones of the players lacked warmth. The colors weren't far off, but the skin tones were just not quite right. When I set the D4s to Fluorescent white balance, all of a sudden that warmth came back into the players' faces. So even with one of the latest and most advanced cameras out there, it pays to take over control of white balance. You'll save yourself a lot of time and frustration in the process.

]]> (Tom Northenscold Photography) Big Woods D4s D800 Nikon Photo Walks technique Wed, 07 Sep 2016 19:03:27 GMT
The Cycle Of Life in the Big Woods

We have had an amazing spring in Minnesota. Everything is greening up beautifully. Recently I got out hiking at Wood-Rill Scientific & Natural Area on a cool, rainy day. I've written it before, but it bears repeating. Rainy, cloudy days are the best for photographing in the woods. The darks get darker and the colors get more colorful. It's as if the entire contrast range expands by a couple notches (whatever in the heck that means really). The quality of the light becomes magical.

You can see in the image above just how wet it was in the forest this day. The maple seedlings are incredibly thick on the forest floor. The amazing thing is that few of them ever make it to a sapling, much less a full grown maple tree. The odds for making it must be hugely against these seedlings.

The more I work in the Big Woods the more I see the cycle of life at play in my work. I don't see this in a morose or sad way at all. On the contrary I actually find it strangely comforting. I see that the cycle of life is part of nature's way. In a Biblical sense, from dust we have come, to dust we shall return. We are of the earth and of God's creation. To that we shall return.

The tree in the image above is one example of the cycle of life that I keep returning to as a photographic subject. This tree, although still standing, was split asunder during a storm, opening up the forest canopy and allowing untold numbers of seedlings to flourish. Which one out of those many seedlings will replace this magnificent tree only time will tell.

It recently occurred to me that this tree is a visual metaphor for Christ dying on the cross to save us. The fact that this tree forms a cross structure and that it is still standing makes it a wonder to see in person. Last week I led a group from our church on an informal worship walk through these woods. Our turning-around point was this tree. Everyone in the group stopped and looked up in awe at this beautiful, broken tree. It was truly a spiritual moment in the Big Woods.

I've decided not to worry about whether my Big Woods work has run its course. I still find this place magical, so I will go hiking there regardless of whether I have a project running or not. If I'm going to hike in the woods then I might as well bring my camera. After all, it's what I do when I'm hiking...I make photographs. The two just seem to go together for me.

So, if my Big Woods work is getting long of tooth for you, I apologize, but to be honest, I do it for myself more than anything. It's enough if one person says to me that they can smell the woods and feel as if they are transported into the woods by my photographs.

]]> (Tom Northenscold Photography) Big Woods Photo Walks Vision Wed, 15 Jun 2016 21:01:42 GMT
One Camera, One Lens and One Focal Length for 500 Miles _STD3863_STD3863

Oftentimes you'll hear photographers stressing over what gear to bring on a big trip or photography outing. There are a thousand and one "what's in my bag" videos out there. To be honest, I can't stand those videos. I'm amazed at how much gear some photographers lug. To lighten the weight of their bag, if not the complexity, many photographers are moving toward mirrorless cameras. I'm moving in a different direction. I've built up a collection of the Nikon f/1.8G prime lenses. These lenses are a terrific value and provide excellent image quality.

On my Camino de Santiago pilgrimage this fall, I took one camera, the Nikon D800, and one prime lens, the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G lens. I took only one extra battery and one extra CF and SD card. This kit was all I needed for a six-week trek. The battery life on the D800 is so good that I never had to recharge batteries, which is a good thing, because I didn't bring a charger. I did not miss one shot on account of only having the one focal length to choose from. I just zoomed with my feet. After all, I was walking five hundred miles, so what was a few more steps to me.


There is a freedom that comes with only having one focal length to choose from. When I head out to the woods to photograph, I usually go with only the 28mm f/1.8G Nikon lens on my D800. The 35mm f/1.8G lens I brought on the Camino is a great travel and street lens. By going with the f/1.8 version of these lenses, I reduce the size and weight of my kit. I know photographers that just have to have the absolute best lens out there, but for me it's a compromise between image quality, price and portability. The fact is, unless you often shoot with your lenses wide open to get a heavily blurred background, you really don't sacrifice any quality with the f/1.8G versions of these lenses as compared with the f/1.4 versions. Other than the 2/3 stop difference in the widest aperture, the main image quality difference between Nikon's f/1.4 and f/1.8 prime lenses is in the bokeh, or the out of focus highlights. Because I rarely shoot wide open, preferring apertures of f/5.6 to f/8, bokeh is not a big deal to me.

Going at photography with more of a minimalist mindset can free you up to be more creative and observant. Rather than viewing each image-making opportunity as a problem to be solved by employing some piece of gear in your bag, why not approach it as an opportunity to say something meaningful with the camera and lens that you have in your hands.

]]> (Tom Northenscold Photography) Big Woods Camino D800 Gear Nikon Photo Walks Vision Thu, 26 May 2016 22:01:55 GMT
Favorite Photos From the Camino de Santiago

It's been over six months since I returned from my Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. In looking back at my blog posts, I realized that I've never posted any photos from the Camino. With this post I'm rectifying that omission. These are some of my favorite images from my six-week trek across northern Spain. I met so many wonderful people on the Camino and saw some beautiful imagery. I hope to have captured some of what I felt on the Camino. You might want to view the slideshow in full-screen mode to get the best viewing experience. If you mouse over the control bar at the bottom you'll see the icon for full-screen mode.

I hope you enjoy the slideshow.

]]> (Tom Northenscold Photography) Camino de Santiago Photo Walks Mon, 16 May 2016 03:47:48 GMT
It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over

Recently I spoke of my Big Woods SNAs (i.e. Scientific & Natural Area) project in the past tense, stating that I thought I was done with this project. But then the spring rains came and the pull of the trail tugged at me again. I've hiked around seven miles at the Wood-Rill SNA in the last few days, with camera in hand.

The spring ephemeral wild flowers have started blooming this week. I've seen marsh marigolds, wood anemones and false rue anemones. The air smells verdant as the rains trigger renewed growth.

Prior to my retirement from the corporate world, I'd typically only get out into the Big Woods during summer and fall. Spring and winter were lost seasons. Since retirement I've been making a concerted effort to get out hiking throughout the entire year. Spring is the season that I've most enjoyed discovering in the Big Woods. I never knew of all these wild flowers. Once the forest canopy fills in there isn't enough sunlight for much of anything to grow at the forest floor, so the spring ephemerals make hay while the sun is shining on them.

Today as I was hiking I thought to myself that I'll likely never really be done with my Minnesota Big Woods SNAs project. I'm not really trying to accomplish anything with this project other than celebrate God's creation. I had told myself that perhaps it was time to move on and start a new project. Granted, it might be time to start a new project, but that doesn't mean that my current project needs to wind down. I still love getting out hiking in the Big Woods, and if I'm hiking, I'm photographing. The two just go together for me.

]]> (Tom Northenscold Photography) Big Woods Photo Walks Projects Thu, 21 Apr 2016 21:21:47 GMT
Seven Reasons Why I Prefer My Nikon DSLRs to Mirrorless D800_85_1.8.highNikon D800 with the 85mm f/1.8G lens

With all the fanboy bluster being posted these days about photographers ditching their DSLRs for mirrorless, I thought I'd post a counterpoint blog article in defense of the good old trusty DSLR. Just so you know, I do shoot mirrorless (i.e. Lumix GH3) but my go-to cameras are my Nikon full-frame DSLRs. I took a look in Lightroom and found that almost 90% of my images dated 2015 and on have been made on my Nikon DSLRs.

I got my first micro four-thirds mirrorless camera in 2010 and now own three of them, so I am no newbie to mirrorless. An interesting paradox is that when friends ask me for a camera recommendation, I usually recommend a mirrorless camera. The reason for this is a bit non-obvious. Many people who are stepping up to an interchangeable lens system camera are coming from a smartphone or point and shoot camera, so they have grown comfortable composing images on the LCD rather than through a viewfinder. Mirrorless cameras have the advantage over DSLRs in that scenario, and it's not a small advantage. The autofocus performance of my Nikons when composing an image on the LCD in LiveView mode is terrible. This has to do with the type of autofocus technology used in LiveView mode. It's different than the autofocus technology used when composing through the optical viewfinder. I won't bore you with the technical reasons for this, but suffice it to say that the snappy AF performance you get on a DSLR when using the optical viewfinder isn't there when you use LiveView. So for those friends who took my advice and got a micro four thirds camera, don't think I gave you bum advice, I gave you advice that was geared at your specific situation. Pretty much all the mirrorless cameras out there are capable of good image quality.

Setting all that aside, I still prefer shooting my Nikon DSLRs (D800 and D4s). Here is the list of seven reasons why I prefer my Nikon DSLRs to mirrorless.

  1. Optical Viewfinder: I still prefer a nice big and bright optical viewfinder over an electronic viewfinder. There is no lag with an OVF and when shooting in burst mode, the mirror blackout is negligible. I prefer to see the scene in front of me as it is, without any image processing applied to the image. Another side benefit of an OVF is battery life. EVFs are a big battery drain.
  2. Lenses: Over the years, I've built up a valuable collection of Nikkor lenses. For zooms, I have the 24-70mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/2.8 VRII and 28-300mm lenses. For prime lenses, I have the 28mm f/1.8G, 35mm f/1.8G, 50mm f/1.8G and the 85mm f/1.8G. I'd pay thousands to recreate this lineup of lenses in another format.
  3. Responsiveness: When I'm shooting street photography, I want to be able to bring the camera to my eye and know that it will be ready immediately, with super fast autofocus and no lag in response. I get this with my Nikon DSLRs. I don't with the GH3. With one button reset on the focus point on my Nikons, I always know exactly where the focus point is going to be--right smack dab in the middle of the frame. There is no such function on the GH3, so when I bring the camera up to my eye the first thing I have to do is find the darned focus point. That wastes valuable time. There is also always a bit of a lag for the EVF to kick into gear on the GH3. That also wastes time.
  4. Mobile Workflow: This one will seem counterintuitive, since my GH3 has builtin WiFi and none of my Nikon cameras do, but hear me out. I find builtin WiFi to be a clunky way to transfer images to a mobile device such as an iPad or iPhone. First you have to put the camera into WiFi mode, then you have to go into the mobile device settings and sign in to the WiFi hotspot created by the phone, then you have to select the images to transfer and then finally you can transfer the images. The actual transfer process is quite slow from my GH3 using WiFi. I'd much rather pop an SD card into a card reader and import images that way. It is much faster and doesn't drain the camera battery. Using the Camera Connection Kit, I can easily import images from my D800 into my iPhone or iPad. When working mobile, I write a RAW file to the CF card and a small JPEG to the SD card. I then import the small JPEGs into my iPhone. This goes super fast. The GH3 only has one SD card slot, the same as the latest Sony A7 series cameras, so the RAW file and JPEG get saved on the same card. Reading those thumbnails in during the import process is significantly slower because of the larger RAW files. If you have hundreds or thousands of images on the SD card, the process of reading in all those image can take a terribly long time. The actual import process is also significantly faster when you're only importing the small JPEG.
  5. Image Quality: The image quality of my Nikon D800, a four year old camera, is still competitive with the best full-frame mirrorless cameras just coming on the market. Compared to the smaller format mirrorless offerings, such as micro four thirds or APS-C, the D800 has superior image quality. If you're never going to print your images large and only share your images on the web, then perhaps you this won't matter to you, but I do a lot of printing at larger sizes, so for me it's a big deal. I love the quality and look I get from my D800 images.
  6. Size: If I were to try and go after equivalent image quality in mirrorless, I'd have to venture into full-frame mirrorless. Yes, I'd save some weight on the camera body, but I'd save nothing on the lenses, and the lenses make up the majority of the weight in my kit. When I'm shooting an event, I'm typically carrying six pounds in lenses (24-70 f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8) and three pounds in a camera body (Nikon D4s). So going from a nine pound kit to a seven-and-a-half pound kit would be nice, but it's not worth the thousands of dollars it would cost me to convert to Sony full-frame mirrorless.
  7. Battery Life: When I walked the Camino de Santiago this fall I took my Nikon D800 outfitted with the Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G prime lens and one extra battery, that was it. I made it six weeks on just two batteries and no battery charger. The weight I would have saved in bringing the GH3 instead of my D800 would have been chewed up in extra batteries, and the GH3 has among the best battery life in mirrorless cameras.

So there you have it, these are my seven reasons for preferring my Nikon DSLRs. I know this won't stop the mirrorless bandwagon, but at some point you start feeling like a neanderthal for still preferring to shoot DSLRs. Perhaps this has some therapeutic value for me, telling the world that I'm not a dope, that I do have reasons for preferring my DSLR gear. On one blog comment thread I was basically accused of sticking my head in the sand when it comes to innovation. I'm as big into technical innovations as the next person, and probably more so, but I guess the lesson is that one person's innovation may be another's limitation.

]]> (Tom Northenscold Photography) D4s D800 DSLR GH3 Nikon gear mirrorless Wed, 13 Apr 2016 15:35:24 GMT
Straight Out Of Camera I had an interesting question at the last open studio. Someone asked me if my images as printed were "straight out of camera." People often want to know what, if any, post processing I do on an image. I recall one visitor to the studio suggesting that I had heavily doctored the colors in the first image below. I assured him that those were the colors I saw that day. I don't heavily edit my images, and none of them have been worked over in Photoshop, but if you shoot raw files as I do, you've got to do some amount of post processing. The reason for this is that unprocessed raw files can look rather flat and lifeless. JPEG files, on the other hand, have actually been processed in camera to give a certain look.

The benefit of shooting raw files is that they contain a significantly greater amount of information than a JPEG. This allows you to adjust the shadow and highlight areas of the image much more effectively. You can also adjust white balance in post with raw files. If you want to achieve realistic skin tones, something we humans are hyper-critical about, you are much better off shooting raw.

It's important to realize that the image you see on the camera LCD display is actually a small JPEG image, so it is a "processed" image. You aren't actually looking at the raw file on the LCD. When I'm out shooting and I look at an image on the LCD I am looking at a rough approximation of what the final post-processed raw file will look like. I suspect if I were seeing an unprocessed raw file I'd be unimpressed and wonder what was wrong with my camera.

I thought it might be interesting to show some before and after photos of unprocessed raw files and post-processed raw files, using my typical adjustments. I'm not going to go into details about what I actually adjust, because I think you'll see that it's really nothing special. Typically I'm adding a small bit of contrast and bringing up some of the shadow areas. If I spend five minutes on an image, that's a lot of time.

So here they are, the before and after images of a couple of my Big Woods photos.





]]> (Tom Northenscold Photography) editing post processing technique Sat, 09 Apr 2016 19:41:54 GMT
Emotionally Compelling Photographs _TRV3944-EditLady of Nájera

I've been thinking lately about what makes an image compelling. There are so many technical factors to consider when making a photograph, from exposure to focus to noise to compositional structure, but those things don't add significantly to the emotional content of an image. They can add to the mood, but they do not carry the weight of the emotional content. The emotion comes from finding the short stories and poetry in a scene. The lead off photo in this post, Lady of Nájera, almost invites me to compose verse in response. What has been the substance of her life? What is she thinking of as she faces that blank wall? Was she once one of those school children emerging from the archway in the background?

Paris Shop Dog In this next image, the emotion that comes to me first is humor. It's that little dog standing guard at the shop door. Then I see the Beavis and Buthead t-shirt in the window. The man stepping out of the frame adds a bit of tension to the scene. But all in all, I just have to smile when I see this image.

_LND3542-EditFace in the Crowd

In the image above that I call "Face in the Crowd," the emotion that comes to me is curiosity. I have no idea why the woman in this photograph looking at me as she is. She almost looks trapped as if she wants out of something or somewhere. I have no recollection of this woman turning to look my way when I made this photograph. Regardless, her doing so made the photograph. I like the composition, but if she hadn't turned to look at me, it wouldn't have the emotionally pull.

Tokyo Under the Tracks I'll end this post with the photo I have titled "Tokyo Under the Tracks." This photo evokes a sense of mystery and intrigue. I was walking by the elevated train tracks in Tokyo in an area that was definitely not the high-rent part of town. Below the tracks were these small, hole-in-the-wall restaurants. The man approaching me in the steamy air could have come straight out of central casting. 

To make an emotionally compelling photograph, you have to be in the present and aware of your surroundings. When a photograph invites poetry or prose, then you've got something special. That is a photograph that someone can get lost in. That's what I'm always going for. I don't often get it, but when I do, it's pretty special.

]]> (Tom Northenscold Photography) vision Wed, 06 Apr 2016 19:47:34 GMT
Seeing In 35 Millimeters The other day I was out hiking at Wood Rill, shooting with my Camino camera gear, the D800 and the 35mm f/1.8G Nikon lens. I was also working on my battery saving Camino technique, which is to use manual focus and turn off the image review on the LCD (that'll be another blog post). On the D800 you can take advantage of the rangefinder capability when manually focusing. The camera will indicate when you are in focus through the information display on the optical viewfinder. Basically, you move the focus ring until the camera says you're in focus on the spot you've chosen.

I noticed a funny thing as I approached scenes to compose an image. As usual, I would walk up to a scene, frame it up in my mind and then frame it up in the viewfinder, deciding where I wanted to put the focus point. What I found was that, more often than not, the camera was already in focus. Remember, I was using manual focus, so the only way the camera would be in focus was if I was the same distance away from my focus point as in the previous shot. The takeaway for me is that I'm starting to see things from the perspective of a 35mm prime lens. That's good news.

Taking one lens on such a big adventure as the Camino de Santiago makes me a bit nervous, but knowing that I'm "seeing in 35mm" gives me comfort that I'll be just fine.

]]> (Tom Northenscold Photography) 35mm f/1.8G Big Woods D800 Gear Nikon Photo Walks technique Fri, 11 Sep 2015 21:34:41 GMT
A Million Steps On The Way When I hike my mind tends to wander. I'm nerdy enough to turn to doing math problems in my head to pass the time. The other day while on a training hike for The Camino, I got to thinking about how many steps I will take on The Camino de Santiago. The Luce Line Trail that I hike and bike has tenth-mile markings for the first five miles, so I counted how many steps I took in a tenth of a mile. I got exactly 200 steps per tenth of a mile, which works out to 2,000 steps per mile.

Okay, now it's time for the math. Let's see now, The Camino is roughly 500 miles long. 500 miles multiplied by 2,000 steps per mile works out to a whopping 1,000,000 steps! I worked the math a couple different ways to make sure I got the same answer. These trusty boots and trekking poles are going to have to carry this body over a million steps on The Way. I'm actually more worried about my knees, legs and hips holding out than I am the boots and poles. Well, worried might be too strong a word. I actually expect I will make it, although I'm sure I will experience my share of aches and pains.

I leave two weeks from today. I look forward to sharing the journey with you in words and photographs.

]]> (Tom Northenscold Photography) Camino Tue, 08 Sep 2015 21:08:53 GMT
My Camino Camera Strap Solution IMG_0003ThinkTank Camera Strap

One of the more significant equipment questions for walking the Camino was what to use for a camera strap. This may not seem significant on the surface, but when you're carrying three pounds of camera gear for five hundred miles, it becomes super important. Whatever I chose had to be really light (that ruled out most of the systems out there), it had to handle rain well and it needed to spread the weight of the camera through the backpack straps rather than riding on my shoulders or neck.

I found the perfect solution in a cameras trap I already owned, the ThinkTank Camera Strap V2.0. I actually got this strap as a freebie when I bought a ThinkTank bag. The beauty of this strap is that it has a ring on each strap that I could slip onto a carabiner. My Osprey Stratus 36 bag has straps on the arm straps that hold a carabiner. This allows me to carry the camera weight through the backpack straps, distributing the weight much more evenly than a simple neck strap. The camera remains in perfect position for me to raise it to my eyes to shoot in either landscape or portrait orientation. When I'm hiking the camera stays nicely positioned, not bouncing or swinging around. 

Thr last thing to figure out was what to protect the camera with if I ran into really heavy rain. The D800 is weather sealed,but if I were caught into a huge downpour, I'd want to protect it. I looked at lots of solutions on the web, but they all seemed overpriced and over engineered. What I finally landed on was simple...a bag. Not just any bag, though. An Apple Store bag. If you've ever shopped at an Apple Store, you will know that they have the best bags ever...period! The bags are double thickness and have a drawstring. I found that the small Apple Store bag fits perfectly over my D800. I can then cinch up the drawstring if I want to give the camera even more protection. 

I love it when things I already own can be repurposed to meet a need perfectly, at no incremental cost. 

]]> (Tom Northenscold Photography) Camino D800 Gear Nikon Thu, 03 Sep 2015 23:54:35 GMT
Trying out my new "Goldilocks" 35mm f/1.8 lens _TRV3032Fallen TreesNikon D800 with 35mm f/1.8G Nikon Lens

In the interest of reducing the weight of my Camino pack, I have decided to take one lens, the 35mm f/1.8 G Nikon lens. I had planned to limit myself to lenses I already owned, but I just couldn't get my pack down to 22 pounds and bring two lenses. I figured the 28mm f/1.8 Nikon lens would be my landscape and cityscape/interiors lens and the 50mm f/1.8 Nikon would be my street shooting and portrait lens. The 28mm is a bit wide for street shooting and the 50mm is too narrow for landscapes. So, in typical "Goldilocks" fashion, I decided that Nikon's 35mm f/1.8 G lens would be just right. There's a reason most fixed-lens enthusiast cameras have a 35mm lens. When I used to shoot my old all manual Nikkormat film camera, all I used was a 35mm lens.

AFS_35_1.8G.highNikon 35mm f/1.8 G Lens

Today I took a bike ride to the Wood Rill Scientific and Natural Area to have a bit of a hike. I took my Nikon D800 and my new 35mm f/1.8 lens. The short story is that I felt right at home with this lens. Nikon's f/1.8 G prime lenses are one of the best values going. Plus, at 11 ounces, this lens is half the weight of its f/1.4 counterpart. I almost never shoot wide open, so the bokeh of an f/1.4 lens is lost on me. The vast majority of my images are shot at f/8 or f/5.6.

I am primarily a prime lens shooter with my D800, so I am happy to add the 35mm f/1.8 lens to my kit. This should be a perfect walkabout lens. I think it will be the perfect lens for my Camino.

]]> (Tom Northenscold Photography) 35mm f/1.8G Big Woods Camino D800 Nikon Photo Walks Mon, 31 Aug 2015 08:10:46 GMT
Bringing My Nikon D800 On A 500-Mile Walk FullSizeRender 2 In one month, I embark on the 500-mile Camino de Santiago. I will walk the Camino Frances, which begins in the French Basque village of St. Jean Pied du Port and covers 500 miles through northern Spain, ending in Santiago de Compostela. I plan to complete my pilgrimage over five weeks, averaging about thirteen miles a day. I've been working hard to get my pack down to 22 pounds, including my camera gear.

Clearly, making photographs along the way will be a huge part of my Camino. The choice of camera is not an easy one. The factors I've considered in making this decision are listed below:

  • Image quality
  • Ability to capture RAW plus JPEG to an SD card
  • Battery life
  • Weather sealing
  • Weight
  • Lens choices
  • Handling

The two main choices I have are the Nikon D800 and the Lumix GH3. While I do plan to bring my iPhone 6+, I'm not considering it my main camera. In terms of image quality, there's no question that the D800 is way ahead of the GH3. The GH3 images are good. The D800 images are great. It's just not close. Most times the GH3 images are "good enough," but for such an epic journey, I want the best image quality I can get with the gear I have. The D800 gets a big edge here.

Both of these cameras can capture RAW plus JPEG, but the D800 can save a RAW file to the CF card and the JPEG to the SD card, whereas the GH3 saves both to the same SD card. The reason writing a JPEG to the SD card is important to me is that I plan to use the SanDisk Wireless Media Drive to move photos to my iPhone for subsequent sharing on Facebook and iCloud. The D800 gets a slight edge here based on the redundancy of having a CF card and SD card.

As far as battery life, the D800 is multiples better than the GH3. With normal shooting, I can get 1000 shots on a D800 battery and 400 on a GH3 battery. Based on testing I've done, if I turn off image review on the D800 and use manual focusing, I can stretch battery life to several thousand shots. Because the GH3 has an electronic viewfinder I cannot eliminate the battery drain from the EVF, but I can turn off image review. Regardless, the GH3 is going to go through several more batteries than the D800. I don't want to count on being able to recharge batteries during my trek, so I plan to bring enough batteries to cover the trip. For the D800 that is one battery in the camera and one as a backup. For the GH3 that would be one battery in the camera and probably five more in my pack. The D800 and GH3 batteries weigh exactly the same, 3 ounces. The D800 gets a big edge here.

Both my D800 and GH3 are weather sealed and I've shot with both in rainy conditions with no ill effects. I did notice some short term strangeness with the GH3 out in Glacier National Park after hiking in rainy conditions. The camera started firing away without me pressing the shutter release. Powering the camera off and then on again seemed to resolve whatever issue I was experiencing. The D800 gets a slight edge on this factor.

The D800 weighs one pound more than the GH3, so clearly the GH3 is going to win on this criteria as far as the camera body is concerned. My main walkabout lens for my D800 when hiking is the 28mm f/1.8 Nikon. For the GH3 my go-to lens is the 12-35mm f/2.8 Panasonic. Those two lenses weight almost exactly the same. To cover more focal length range, I would add the 50mm f/1.8 Nikon lens for the D800. That lens weighs 8 ounces. So the D800 kit comes in 1 pound 8 ounces heavier than the GH3, not taking into account batteries. If you factor in the extra GH3 batteries required, the weight difference between the two kits comes out at 12 ounces, in favor of the GH3. Overall, the GH3 gets the edge here by a significant margin.

In considering lens choices, I am limiting myself to the lenses I already own. I am fortunate to have a nice selection of fast f/1.8 prime lenses for my Nikon camera. I don't have the same for my GH3. Don't get me wrong, the 12-35mm f/2.8 Panasonic lens is a terrific lens, but I've found that the extra speed of f/1.8 primes can be extremely important when shooting inside dark, old cathedrals. To be fair, I do have the 20mm f/1.7 Panasonic lens, so I could cover the low-light situations with that lens, but at the cost of another 4 ounces. All in all, I'd call this close but give a slight edge to the D800.

The final factor I have considered is camera handling. This is bit more of an intangible, but after shooting with both systems for some time, I have to say that the D800 has always felt much more natural in my hands. I do like the GH3, but the D800 is like an old pair of jeans, it just feels more comfortable.

So, as counterintuitive as it might seem, I am bringing my heavy Nikon D800 on a 500-mile trek where every ounce counts. I'll let you know how it turns out.


]]> (Tom Northenscold Photography) Camino D800 GH3 Gear Lumix Nikon Photo Walks Sat, 22 Aug 2015 22:56:46 GMT
Hands On With The SanDisk Wireless Media Drive SanDisk Wireless Media Drive

This is a quick hands-on impressions post on the SanDisk Wireless Media Drive ("WMD"). My write-up relates to a very specific use case. I use the WMD to transfer photos from an SD card to my iPhone. That is the only thing I use it for, so that's all I'm going to write about.

The Nikon D800 does not have built-in WiFi, so if I want to be able to share photos when I am in the field, I need some way of getting those photos to my iPhone. Unfortunately, the Apple Camera Connection Kit cable doesn't work with an iPhone. I've tried Eye-Fi SD cards and found them to be way too flakey and difficult to configure, so I've given up on them. This is where the SanDisk WMD comes in. It has an SD card slot and 802.11n WiFi built right in.

When I power up the WMD it automatically creates a WiFi hotspot. My iPhone automatically connects to this wireless network. I usually insert the SD card into the WMD prior to powering on, but it really doesn't matter when I do that. Once the network connection is established, I open up the companion iOS application and navigate to the Photos section. I see every JPEG file on the camera's SD card in thumbnail view or list view with a smaller thumbnail. I tap on the thumbnail if I want to see a larger version of the photo. I select the photos I'm interested in sharing and transfer them to my iPhone. The transfer speeds are fast...much faster than when I transfer photos from my GH3 using the built-in WiFi. When using my D800 on trips, I typically save a RAW file to the CF card and a small, basic JPEG to the SD card. That keeps the JPEG file size down to a manageable level.

The battery life on this little bugger is fantastic. The spec is for 8 hours of battery life. Since files transfers take place so quickly, I go months between recharges. My WMD has 64 GB of internal flash memory in addition to the SD slot. I plan to use that internal flash memory as a backup for the JPEG files. That way I'll have the original RAW files and two copies of the JPEGs. True, I won't have a backup of the RAW files, but that's a risk I'm willing to take. The unit itself is quite small, coming in at 2-1/2 inches square, half an inch thick and weighing only a couple ounces.

To sum it up, I highly recommend the SanDisk Wireless Media Drive. I love it when a device works every time you power it up and is simple to configure. No muss, no fuss!

The 32 GB version is available at B&H for $72.

]]> (Tom Northenscold Photography) SanDisk WiFi Wireless Media Drive gear mobile wireless Sat, 18 Jul 2015 22:38:46 GMT
A Photographic Composition Challenge _STD4929_STD4929

One of the things I enjoy about photographing in the Big Woods is the compositional challenge it presents. With so much random clutter and chaos all around you, it can be difficult seeing your way through to your composition. Yesterday I set an additional challenge for myself on my hike at the Wood-Rill Scientific and Natural Area. Normally, I put the 28mm f/1.8G prime lens on my D800 when setting out for the woods. This time I decided to use the 85mm f/1.8G lens. I practiced what I have taken to calling deep stacking. What I mean by this is that you work your composition through the entire image, front to back.

There is something about the repeating lines and the softening as you move to the back of the image that I find really intriguing. The challenge is in providing separation where you need it and in composing essentially in three dimensions. To be honest, I'm not sure whether it works in both these images. I think it's one of those things that needs some time to settle in. I do find that over time, my thoughts about certain images evolves, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.

What I do know is that I had a lot of fun using the 85mm f/1.8G lens in the woods. It was a new way of seeing in the woods for me. I'm going to keep working it.

]]> (Tom Northenscold Photography) 28mm f/1.8G 85mm f/1.8G Big Woods Composition D800 Nikon Photo Walks Vision Sat, 21 Mar 2015 21:21:44 GMT
Photography As A Spiritual Discipline

I often ask myself why I make photographs. First, I should say that most of the time when I make photographs, it is when I am walking about, whether in the woods or in the city. If I'm walking, I'm making photographs. That's pretty much how it goes with me. Those who have traveled with me will vouch for the truth in that statement.

I've read that bringing a camera on walks insulates and isolates you from your environment. I suppose if you're simply snapping away, then perhaps that statement is true. For me, however, the opposite is true. When I'm making photographs, I am tightly in tune with my surroundings. It's as if time slows down and everything becomes much more clear. I can't explain it any better than that.

So where does spirituality enter into all this you might ask? Well, this is only one person's experience and perspective, but I offer it up for what it's worth. When I'm out making photographs, I am forced to slow down and take everything in. This puts me in a place where I am in wonder at humanity and this amazing world in which we live and move and have our beings. When I am in that special place, I marvel at God's creation, whether it be in the sad look in the face of a small child or in the complex beauty of an intimate landscape.

I find that making photographs of what I'm experiencing puts me in much closer touch with that experience. I remember the back stories and I remember the backdrop. This turns the process of making photographs into a spiritual experience and discipline for me. Perhaps that is what keeps me reaching for my camera when I'm heading out.

]]> (Tom Northenscold Photography) spirituality vision Thu, 19 Feb 2015 02:28:57 GMT
Doubling Down on Nikon DSLRs

What am I doing buying this hulking, behemoth Nikon DSLR at a time when others are downsizing into mirrorless cameras and ditching their DSLRs? You might say I'm crazy, and you'd probably be at least partly right, but before you send for the padded wagon, please allow me the opportunity to give you my rationale.

Like it or not, I often find myself shooting a lot of events in dark surroundings where flash is not an option. Almost half of my 2014 images were taken at an ISO of greater than or equal to 4000. Roughly fifteen percent were taken at ISOs of greater than or equal to 6400 and apertures of f/2.8 or wider. That is the ragged edge of what I am willing to shoot on my Nikon D800. So for the kind of shooting I do, low light performance is critical. I would love to be able to get good images at ISOs of 12800 and slightly higher. That would enable me to stop down a bit, say to f/4 or f/5.6, to get a bit wider depth of field. I'm not comfortable shooting at ISOs higher than 6400 with my D800. With the D4s I am.

If I was going to get a new camera, I wanted it to replace everything that my Nikon D700 does for me so that I could eliminate a camera from my collection. The primary area where I have used the D700 since buying the D800 is for sports and action photography. The Nikon D700 can shoot at a frame rate of up to 8 frames per second and has an excellent autofocus system. I was thinking about getting the Nikon Df, which also has excellent low-light shooting capability and is quite a bit less expensive than the D4s, but it's really not an event or action camera. The Df frame rate is slower than the D700 and the autofocus system is not as advanced, even though the D700 came out seven years ago.

The one mirrorless option out there for a terrific low-light camera is the Sony A7s. There are two major problems with that option though. One is that I would have to make an investment in a new line of lenses, which I'd only do if I were getting out of Nikon completely. I am definitely not getting out of Nikon. The second major issue with the A7s is that it is a slow camera. It does not have an autofocus designed for action nor does it have a fast frame rate. So the Sony A7s is a non-starter for me.

Now that the dust has settled, what I have is a high-resolution, image-quality champion, in the D800, for my nature, landscape, portrait and travel photography and a fast-shooting, low-light monster, in the D4s, for my event and sports photography. I can imagine that I may switch back and forth between these two Nikon cameras for my portraits work.

When I really want to go light or when I want to shoot video, I will reach for my mirrorless system, the Panasonic Lumix GH3. There really is no micro four-thirds camera out there that will meet my needs of superior low-light performance and fast autofocus. The physics of a smaller sensor puts the micro four-thirds system at a distinct disadvantage to full-frame cameras when it comes to low-light capability. Concerning autofocus performance, the latest offerings from Panasonic are closing the gap with high-end DSLRs, but they're not there yet.

So that's where it's at. To be investing in Nikon's top-of-the-line DSLR when others are moving lock, stock and barrel to mirrorless may be madness, but to quote The Bard, there's method in my madness.

]]> (Tom Northenscold Photography) D4s D700 D800 GH3 Gear Lumix Nikon Fri, 09 Jan 2015 23:26:42 GMT
A Beautiful Cacophony

The other day I was out hiking on the frozen creek bottom at the Wolsfeld Woods Scientific and Natural Area when I came upon this scene. The day was one of those thick, gray days that we occasionally get here in Minnesota in winter. I was out shooting for the December assignment for the Photo Union League, a group I participate in that meets at the Mpls Photo Center. The assignment this month was the beautiful mundane. I figured I would challenge myself to make black and white images in the Big Woods on a dull, gray Minnesota winter day.

When I came upon this scene, what struck me was the seeming impossibility of it. It appeared that the tree branches were emerging from some underworld, as if in a surrealist's line drawing of some crazy scene that couldn't possibly exist in nature. But there it was right in front of me. If you told me that you thought there was just too much going on in this image for you, I'd just have to nod my head and say, yup, there sure is a lot going on. But to me, this image captures a feeling of a place at a specific time. I could go back to this same spot later in winter when more of the branches and undergrowth are covered in snow and I might not find this scene nearly as compellling. I'm sure I will be back here before winter is gone, so we'll just have to wait and see.

Compositionally, what I strive for in an image like this is first a feeling of place. I try to balance the visual weight of the various elements within the frame so that there is the right balance of tension and calm. That's about the best way I can describe it. Typically I do not go for symmetry. As I like to say, symmetry is overrated. I have stopped believing that everything within the frame must be completely contained within the frame. The tricky part is deciding what should be contained within the frame completely, what should be in the frame but can exit the frame, where it should exit the frame, and what should be completely outside the frame.

While I'm at it, I should take a moment to wax a little techie and sing the praises of my Nikon D800 camera and Nikon's 28mm f/1.8G lens. This combination has become my favorite camera and lens combination when I go out shooting in the Big Woods. The detail captured in the D800's 36 megapixel images is stunning. Take a look deep into the image above in the upper-middle where those trees are way in the background and you'll get a sense for what I mean. In addiiton, the dynamic range on the D800 is simply amazing. Taken together, this ability to capture such amazing detail with such a wide dynamic range helps me capture the feeling of a place in a way that I can't match with my other gear.

With that, I'll leave you with another black and white image from this day.


]]> (Tom Northenscold Photography) Big Woods D800 Nikon Photo Walks composition vision Thu, 18 Dec 2014 01:32:24 GMT
The Value of Real Live Community

With all the connectedness in our virtual lives, do you ever find yourself craving real human interaction? I certainly do. I have found a photographic community of the flesh and blood variety here in the Twin Cities at the Mpls Photo Center. This community is the Photo Union League (PUL). The PUL is a group the meets monthly and is facilitated by Sally Mars. Each month we are given an assignment. The photos in this post were for the "Darkness" assignment. Each month we bring prints related to the assignment to show and discuss. The discussions are more about the photographer's artistic vision and what we as the viewers see in the work rather than a critique session.

We'll have 15 - 20 people showing work in any given month. The discussions are refreshing and enlightening. Hearing someone express what they see in your work often brings out elements in your photography that you weren't even aware of.

It's too easy these days to rely strictly on social media sites for our photographic interaction. A few years ago I found myself spending so much time on flickr that I felt it had become a huge time sink. So one day, I decided to go cold turkey and I completely cut the cord with flickr. All the sudden I found I had more time to actually go out and shoot. I was craving real human interaction with photography. I have found that with the Mpls Photo Center and the Photo Union League.

If you can find such a community I highly recommend getting involved. If you can't find one, maybe you can create one. You may find, as I have, that people are much nicer in person than they are in a virtually reality world.

]]> (Tom Northenscold Photography) Mpls Photo Center Photo Groups Photo Union League community Sun, 23 Nov 2014 20:09:53 GMT