Ten great gifts for the photographer on your list

Guy Stephens

The holiday season is right around the corner and perhaps you have a photographer in your life, so I thought it would be fun to put together a quick list of gift ideas for photographers.  Here is a quick list I put together this morning to share:

Spyder31) Spyder3 (Express/Pro) - Photographers love to print and share their work, but when the prints come back and the colors aren’t right - well let’s just say there is not much worse than an angry photographer.  If the colors on your monitor are not right, the colors in your print will not be right either.  Calibrating and profiling your monitor is a great way to make sure you are seeing images consistently and should be a top priority for photographers that like to have their work printed.

Datacolor makes a nice line of calibration devices.  I have been using a Spyder3Express with good results.  It was amazing when I first calibrated my monitor and used a printing service that could use my color profile (White House Custom Color) how much better my prints were. If the photographer on your list is not calibrating their display - this is a great gift idea.

2) Lensbaby Composer - Lensbaby makes Creative Effects SLR camera lenses called the Composer, Muse, and Control Freak. Lensbaby’s lenses feature an optic swap system that let’s you swap your optic to do creative and fun selective focus, fisheye, soft focus, pinhole, and zone plate photography.  Lensbaby makes fun SLR camera lenses for Canon, Nikon, Sony, Olympus, and Pentax SLR cameras.

The Composer is one of the most versatile lenses in the Lenbaby lineup.  It allows users to create really cool effects by using a selective focusing system.  The photographer simply tilts the lens and then focuses with a manual focusing ring. The Composer stays in the desired bent position without requiring a locking mechanism and is compatible with the Lensbaby optic swap system.  It is cool and lots of fun!

Polarizer3) A circular polarizer - At a recent club meeting, Spencer gave a great presentation on filters.  Among the filters he talked about was the circular polarizer.  These filters as Spencer mentioned can be great for outdoor photography.  A circular polarizer can deepen intensity of blue skies and reduce or eliminates glare.  They can be great when taking pictures of fall foliage or photos around water where glare can be an issue.

B+W makes great circular polarizers that I would highly recommend.  B+W use Schott glass which is world renowned. They also have very high production standards - which leads to an excellent product.

4) Kelby Training - Sometimes it seems like there is so much to learn as we try to master photography.  Not only are we trying to learn how to use our cameras and equipment, but also living in the digital age we have to master digital tools to help us produce our best photographs.  Training can be expensive, but thanks to the Internet and Kelby Training you can get world class training in the comfort of your home or studio. Kelby Training offers an online training tool that gives you unlimited access to a huge online training catalog, featuring exclusive classes from the industry’s most talented and gifted teachers, for only $199 a year or $24.95 a month.

It’s the perfect way to learn at your own pace, on your own time. You can pick and choose topics that interest you, everything from working with Photoshop to using off camera lighting.  The training is great and so is the value.

Backblaze5) BackBlaze Online Backup - What is a photographers most important asset?  Their photographs of course!  But what if a disaster were to strike and they were to lose their photos?  I don’t even want to think about it, but it is an avoidable scenario.  While many folks do back up their photos, perhaps to DVD or a second hard drive, many times both copies of the photo are in the same location.  What it a fire or flood were to strike - both the original and the backup could be lost.  This is why photographers should always backup their photos offsite as well.

Backblaze is an easy to use and inexpensive offsite backup service.  In fact $50 a year gets you unlimited (yes unlimited - I have almost 2 terabytes on Backblaze) online backup.  It is easy to use and is automatic.  This is a gift that can really keep giving!

6) BlackRapid Camera Strap - Ok I admit it, I hate camera straps, at least I did until I tried the BlackRapid strap.  You see most camera straps hang around your neck, not very comfortable in my opinion, but the BlackRapid is different.  The BlackRapid R-Strap is worn diagonally across the torso from shoulder to hip and is adjustable to fit most photographers.  The weight is distributed more evenly and the camera rides comfortably on your side.  At almost $60 they are a bit expensive for a strap, but money well spent in my opinion.

BlackRapid makes a few different models and even has a strap made specifically for women.  The RS-7 seems to be the current flagship model.  The RS-7 is specially designed to work with BlackRapid?s MODS system. It features attachment points so you can customize your strap with your choice of storage and other features.  Check them out if you hate neck straps too.

iPads7) iPad - While the iPad is not simply a photographers tool, it can be a great tool for photographers for many reasons.  First it is a great portable Internet device, especially with the 3G service.  Having a mobile version of the Internet can be helpful to photographers in many situations from scouting shoot locations to checking weather and sunrise/set times.  Of course the iPad has a beautiful display that is well suited for showing off your images (think a mobile portfolio).  You can also get the optional camera kit and upload images directly to the iPad, handy for both storage and viewing.  Maybe you would like to put on a slideshow of your photos, with the Keynote application you can build and present a slideshow.

There are of course a lot of photography apps available for the iPad as well.  It is a fun an versatile tool.  You can even subscribe to and read photography magazines or books on the iPad.  And if all this isn’t enough? yes it plays “Angry Birds” too.

8) Aperture or Lightroom - Aperture and Lightroom are powerful, easy-to-use tools to allow photographers to refine/process images, showcase photography, and manage image libraries on your computer.  I like to think of them as RAW workflow tools, if you shoot images in the RAW format having a tool like Aperture or Lightroom can save lots of time and energy in processing (think developing) your images.  These tools make it very easy to edit images - change the white balance, crop, adjust your color and sharpness and so much more.

Which one is best for you or the photographer in your life?  That depends if they use a Mac as both programs are supported on the Mac.  Aperture only works on a Mac, so if you are on a PC Lightroom will be your only option.  Both programs support a plugin architecture and work well with Photoshop (should you need the power tools).

Expodisc9) ExpoDisc - Our advanced digital cameras and software allow us to adjust the white balance after we take the shot, but how can we get it right the first time when we take the photo?  Enter the ExpoDisc - The ExpoDisc Professional Digital White Balance Filter is a custom white balance filter that allows digital photographers to quickly and easily set an accurate custom white balance. Consistently producing excellent results in natural, artificial, and studio lighting, the versatile ExpoDisc even excels in difficult mixed lighting environments.

The ExpoDisc is easy to use, you simply place the ExpoDisc in front of your lens and capture the incident light while setting your camera?s custom white balance. Using an ExpoDisc custom white balance will virtually eliminate the need for RAW or JPEG post-capture color adjustments.  I have one on my wish list this year!

10) Composition: From Snapshots to Great Shots - A good book is always a great gift for a photographer.  This upcoming book from Laurie Excell sounds like a great choice.  In this book Excell starts with the basics of composition and explores how the elements of color, shape, angles, and contrast work to create compelling images. Contributing photographers, John Batdorff, David Brommer, Rick Rickman, and Steve Simon, provide unique perspectives on black and white, sports, art history, and other subjects related to composition. Beautifully illustrated with large, vibrant photos, this book teaches you how to take control of your photography to get the image you want every time you pick up the camera.

Of course there are many great books out there - I love the books by Joe McNally, Scott Kelby and Bryan Peterson.  Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson is one of my favorites and one that I recommend frequently.

So there it is, a few holiday gift ideas for the photographer on your list.  Would love to hear suggestions from other readers - what would you recommend or what is on your list? 

Megan is the “cover artist” for an upcoming book

Guy Stephens

One Last Good TimeA photograph of a colorful ferris wheel taken by Megan and shared on Flickr was recently noticed by independent publisher Press 53.  The publisher contacted Megan about using the photograph for the book cover of an upcoming book by Michael Kardos.  Michael Kardos co-directs the creative writing program at Mississippi State University. His short stories were cited as Notable Stories in the 2009 and 2010 editions of Best American Short Stories and have appeared in The Southern Review, Crazyhorse, Prairie Schooner, Pleiades, Blackbird, and many other magazines and anthologies. 

The book One Last Good Time is a collection of stories set in the fictional town of Breakneck Beach, New Jersey.  The book is due out February 1st 2011 is available for pre-order.

See Megan’s blog for more details or the Press 53 website, which has a nice blurb about Megan.  Nice job Megan and congrats on getting your photo published!

f/8 and be there (at the November meeting that is)

Megan Snider

November?s meeting of the Calvert Photography Club brought us a deeper understanding of aperture and exposure ? and a much deeper appreciation for filters, group member Spencer?s photographic weapon of choice.

Understanding ApertureAfter introducing ourselves to two new members who joined us on Nov. 20 in Owings, Md., Guy and Jeff began part two of their “Understanding Exposure” series ? this time with a focus on aperture. Correct exposure, Guy informed us, is a combination of proper shutter speed, ISO and aperture ? and the latter controls the amount of light reaching the image sensor of your camera. The smaller the aperture, the larger the opening . . . and the more light coming through. That opening also dictates depth of field, which is the amount of blurring present as you isolate a subject for a photograph.

Informative and interesting, Guy and Jeff?s presentation highlighted the many ways we can use aperture creatively: by playing with the exposure values; blurring backgrounds; telling a story; and showing and freezing action. A “storytelling” aperture, they explained, includes a sharp focus with a beginning, middle and end in the frame, and works well with landscapes. No subject is isolated, and a storytelling aperture would be about f/16 or f/22.

Singular-theme aperture involves focusing in one a singular subject ? like a person (for a portrait), flower or other item. Telephoto lenses work well for this sort of work, and an aperture achieving these results ? especially with a blurred background ? would be f/5.6 down to f/2.8.

The “Who cares?” aperture, Guy and Jeff described, is when the aperture isn?t much of an issue for a photograph - or just not a concern. The “sweet spot” there is f/8, or up to f/11. Many people “live” in this range and take great shots.

Following our first presentation, group members shared their photos from our October assignment: fall foliage. With prints ranging in size and texture, autumn leaves came to life on the tables of the Fairview Library?s meeting room. More than a dozen members set out photos and discussed others? work.

Spencer presentingAn avid proponent of filters, Spencer?s presentation was next. Showing plenty of before-and-after photos in line with our fall foliage assignment, Spencer demonstrated the effects filters can have on everyday shots. With choices like round versus square and the variety of solid color options to show contrast in black-and-white photos, Spencer walked the group through the process of finding a filter that could benefit all of us. He left us with some advice: if you?re going to buy just one filter, make it a neutral density one. The effects, especially on sky and clouds, can be impressive.

Following the presentations, the committee formed at October?s meeting to nominate potential board members for 2011 ? Megan, Spencer and Sandy ? put forth their recommendations, and the group discussed the nominees. Teddie expressed her wish to step down as president for the next year, allowing someone else an opportunity at the top.

As of November, the nominees for 2011’s board are:

President: Guy Stephens
Vice President: Jeff Smallwood
Treasurer: Sandy Carr; Bonnie Bryant
Secretary: Megan Snider

Additional nominees are still welcomed; please contact Guy Stephens with thoughts and nominations as soon as possible. Once nominees are finalized, Guy will email group members an online ballot through which to cast their vote. Stay tuned for more information.

Sandy also brought up an interesting opportunity: the chance to replace the aging photographs in the Fairview Library and Calvert County Visitor?s Center. As we try to move forward to the project, spear-headed by Sandy, please email her your favorite photos specifically of Calvert County - any subject within the county; black-and-white or color - as soon as possible. The entries will be examined and passed on for perusal by a county board and, if selected, displayed as part of a Calvert Photography Club exhibit. Each photographer will be credited.

With the many delicious holidays coming up, we should have plenty of opportunities to shoot Megan?s favorite of all subjects: food! Whip out your camera and document your Thanksgiving meal (or leftovers), the cookies baked for holiday swaps and the feasts prepared before Christmas. Our next group meeting is Saturday, Dec. 18 at the Prince Frederick Library, and bring your favorite food photos to share for our next assignment.

Meet up with the group at our next field trip, too ? this time to the Solomons Christmas Walk in Solomons Island at 3 p.m. Dec. 4. Take in the gorgeous lights and decorations near the boardwalk. More information is available here.

Happy holidays, and happy shooting!

What’s Your Backup Plan?

Jeff Smallwood

When I attended the club?s photo trip to the Calvert Marine Museum a couple weekends ago, I decided I would come prepared and really make an effort to get some unique shots. My kids were coming with me and my parents were down visiting too, so getting some portrait and family shots would be one of my goals as well.  I loaded up my camera backpack with a wide variety of lenses, grabbed my bag of fully charged batteries, tucked my monopod and tripod into the bag, flash…check, filters…check. All loaded up, we headed out.

Little did I know how unprepared I actually was.

Let me say that I started the day really happy with how things were turning out in the camera. I took some shots I was really happy with.  We lucked out and were in the discovery room at feeding time so I got some great closeups of the animals feeding and I took some really unique photos of the kids too. You know those days where you can?t wait to get the card unloaded onto your computer so you can see the photos full-screen because you know there are some gems? That was how the day started.

Memory Card mixtureThe day ended with my Canon telling me that the memory card wasn?t recognized and asking me if I wanted to format it. Huh!? I?m not sure about anyone else, but when that happens I feel like I?ve been split in two. The first side says ?no, this isn?t happening!? and the second side says ?relax, there?s probably a temporary glitch and the memory card is fine, don?t freak out?. Well, the former ended up being reality. I keep a spare memory card with me, so I was able to get some shots toward the end of the day, but nothing like the shots I had when the day started…those lost images will only live on in my minds eye.

I?m a very diligent (some would call draconian) when it comes to backups, but I hadn?t experienced a memory card failure in a long time. Unfortunately, the last time I experienced this problem was on holiday in Ireland in 2005. When it happened before I was able to recover most of the shots using recovery software. This time was a different story, so I thought why not use this lesson as an excuse to remind everyone how important backups are (not that a backup would have helped me two weeks ago) and make sure everyone knows that you can sometimes recover images from faulty cards.


As soon as I saw the card error on the camera screen, I turned off the camera. I took out the card and reseated it in the slot. Sometimes a card error can be as simple as a piece of dust getting in the way. That didn?t work, so next I took the card out and wiped off the contacts (I?m using an SD card, so the metal contacts are visible) and again, reseated the card. Nothing. From my experience before I knew that recovery software is where I?d have to turn next.

I?m on a Windows PC and when I put the card into the computer, it wasn?t even recognized as being there. I might has well have inserted a rock into the card slot because there was no response, nothing, nada. Trying to open the drive in Windows just prompted with the ?Please Insert a Card?. Time to bring out the heavy guns.

The two pieces of software I?ve used in these situations are CardRecovery and iCare Data Recovery. Both pieces of software were able to find the memory card and scan it (an 8GB card), even though Windows couldn?t, so that?s a plus. The negative is that neither piece of software could recover a single photo. In this case I do not blame the recovery software though, I think the memory card was just too far corrupted (every single sector scan came back as a bad sector). I?d been using that card for over 4 years, and to be honest, I probably should have taken the card out of regular rotation and replaced it with a newer card sooner.

I?m not going into a thorough review of these software packages here but I did want to note that each package has a trial mode where you can see if something can be recovered or not. Then you can buy the package if it looks like it will fit your needs.

Some other benefits are that these software packages can sometimes recover photos that have been deleted from your memory card and from your computer?s hard drive. They can also sometimes recover images from memory cards that you?ve accidentally formatted too. So if you?re missing photos because you had a momentary lapse of reason, all hope is definitely not lost.


Keeping backups in this case wouldn?t have helped because this issue occurred while shooting in the field, but I wanted to touch on how we do backups in my house in case the information is helpful.

#1 You shall Backup (1/365) I can?t stress it enough, if you aren?t backing up your photos (or your entire file collection for that matter), do it now. Figure out a solution that works for you and start doing it today or tomorrow. Murphy rules here and failure will strike when you least expect it or could afford the loss.

My wife?s backup solution is Memory Manager which is a software package by Creative Memories. It handles all the photo organization and categorization tasks, but uses the concept of a memory vault and makes it very easy to backup and restore photos, both all at once and incrementally. It also does a good job of automatically reminding you when it?s time to do another backup.

I?ve used other photo organization tools that offer backup capabilities too, but I?m a geek and a power user, and although those software package are good options, those solutions don?t work for me. When it comes to backup, I want 100% control over what happens and my personal backup solution is a little program called SyncBackSE which I?ve been using for about 6 years now.

SyncBack can be used to backup anything, not just photos, and I use it to backup my entire PC. But I have a specific ?job? setup in SyncBack that keeps a synced copy of my entire photography folder (as well as my music, documents, etc) on two external hard drives and I run that backup job every week. Two hard drives? Yes, two, and here?s why.

Why Double the Backup?

First let me say my entire backup solution cost me about $230 over the last 3 years, but that?s only because I have a LOT of data to backup. Two 500GB external drives and the SyncBackSE software total about $170 if you bought them today.

The first backup I make is on an external hard drive that I keep disconnected from the PC until actually performing the backup. Keeping it disconnected and turned off protects the backup content from the typical computer threats, like virus, accidental deletion, power surge or regular hardware failures (although I do have preventative measures in place for all those threats).

Off-site backup for Dallas companies The second backup is another external hard drive that I keep disconnected from the PC, but this hard drive I keep at my office, outside the house. I bring it home once a week, do a backup, and take it back to my office the next morning. This second copy is my disaster recovery and protects the data from catastrophic threats like flood, fire, or theft.

Sound excessive? Maybe for some people it sounds excessive, but look at it this way. People have been taking photographs and documenting their lives and creativity for a long time. Never in human history has it been simpler to protect those irreplaceable artifacts with about 10 minutes of work. When I was a kid we couldn?t copy our film, music albums, tapes (8 track anyone?). We couldn?t keep a backup of our wedding photos or kids birthday shots. When you?ve got thousands of shots, documenting years of events and countless memories, having a disaster recover for your photos (and other files) is a no brainer.

One last note, there are now online services that provide a more turnkey disaster recovery type backup. These services backup your data to an online server and keep it synced so that if your computer crashes or is destroyed, you?ve got a recovery option online. My in-laws use Carbonite backup, which costs $55 a year for unlimited size but it does have a few limitations (only backs up certain file types, only works on your internal hard drive, no files bigger than 4GB). Again, my goal is not to review any product offerings but rather wanted to mention that online backup services do exist should that sound like a solution that fits for you.

  • When it comes to memory cards, you usually get what you pay for. Cheaper memory cards are usually, well, cheaper and may not have the long term reliability you want or expect.
  • If your card fails or appears corrupt, don?t assume all is lost. There are recovery options that may be able to salvage the photos. After the card does fail, it is best to do a low-level format and test the card to see if it?s still usable. For me, even if the card appears ok, it goes into the emergency-use-only bin.
  • Get your photos off the camera?s memory card and onto your computer or other backup solution quickly. The longer you keep photos on the card, the more likely they are to be lost forever.
  • Make a backup. Whether you want basic backup software or a geek level solution, pick one and use it.
  • Make another backup.
  • Keep a schedule so you remember to make the backups.
  • Did I mention make a backup?