Natural Light Portraits In honor of the release of our exhibition catalog The Human Portrait, we’re offering 20% off our popular Natural Lights Portrait workshop that has improved the skills of over 220 photographers since 2015. Sale ends March 3!

Category: Photo tips

Amelia’s first camera

I love forklifts

After my Nikon gear, my next favorite piece of photographic equipment just may be a fork lift. They are just so handy and fun. I wish I had one at the studio.

I volunteer my services at North Dallas Shared Ministries, a well run and very effective organization that offers a broad range of services to Dallas’ poor. Last week they handed out hundreds of free school uniforms.

One of the other volunteers gave me a lift so I could shoot down on the line. That thing strapped around my waist is the Think Tank belt system for my gear. I’ve been using it and loving it for over a year. In this case it was particularly helpful because I didn’t have a loose bag to deal with.


Meet Bob, the head of the studio.

This is Bob, the plastic head that hangs around the studio. We use him as a stand-in for roughing in lighting and as a focusing target in the classes and workshops. He’s pretty nice and is the least creepy of all the inexpensive mannequin heads I could find on Ebay. If you don’t believe me then try the search for yourself. Be warned; you won’t be able to un-see some of those heads once you see them. We tried having an expensive, realistic head in the studio a few years ago but it was just freaking everyone out.


Always carry backup gear on an assignment

I frequently remind my students that the minute they want to start making money from their photography they have to have backup equipment. It isn’t allowable to show up for a job, no matter how small or how much you’re getting paid, and have to leave because of an equipment problem. Well, I was shooting some headshots  for a frequent client of mine last week. The location was near my house and I figured I’d be in and out in about an hour. Half way through the first setup my camera inexplicably slid off my shoulder (I use an UP strap which never, never slips) and my 24-120 took the brunt of the fall. It’s off at Nikon having a $375 rejuvenating spa treatment. When I went back this week I had backups of everything and of course nothing went wrong.

There really is not supposed to be that big ugly gap between the focus and zoom rings!


Green wall, Thai restaurant

Wookie love

Sesha Smith, who assisted me with my film editing project over the last year, sent me a thank you card today. It went straight up on the wall of the editing area. It’s a tiny instant print of a Wookie doll that she and her husband travel with. You can see the rest of her fine work on her website at Convey Studios.


The number of photographers in DFW

A discussion with someone at the national office of ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers) had me wondering where DFW stands in terms of number of professional photographers in the U.S. The fascinating and useful site run by the Bureau of Labor Statistics lets you slice and dice the country by professions using intuitive maps and data. The map below comes from this page showing employment of photographers in May, 2012


Hovering over the separate Dallas and Ft. Worth regions (while on the BLS page) shows that we have 800 and 340 photographers, respectively. That total of 1140 photographers places us in 6th place after NY, Chicago, LA, Orlando and Atlanta. Orlando was a surprise but I’d imagine there’s a lot of photography around the theme parks.

The DFW area already has the 4th largest population in the U.S. and we’re the fastest growing area in the country last year. All this points to our area becoming an even larger producer and consumer of photography and media over the next few years. Good news.

Camera Obscura on a Greek island

When I was doing research for the last trip to Greece I read that there was a camera obscura on the island of Aegina, one of the Saronic islands that are close to Athens and easily accessible by ferry boat. I looked up websites for the camera obscura and saw what looked like a familiar location. When I was a kid in high school in Athens I used to go to the islands with friends to explore and hang out. Near the little town of Perdika in Aegina we discovered some old World War II German bunkers that were still largely intact.  As it turns out, the camera obscura is actually built on one of those bunkers.


As I climbed up the the hill toward the round structure that sense of geographic flashback confirmed that this was the same place. The mostly empty observation bunker had been clad in a new wooden skin and fitted with a row of holes around the circumference. Unbolting a heavy metal door led to a small alcove and through an overlapping set of black-out drapes. The inside of the small space was so dark that I couldn’t see whether there was a floor or any obstructions and had to wait for my eyes to adjust before stepping all the way in. Around the top half of the cylindrical room are a row of rear projection screens, on them are upside down live images of the surrounding scenery. The effect is really pretty stunning. The moving sea, blue sky and peaceful Greek island landscape are projected as a live panoramic movie inside this building of war.


Panoramic photo of the interior is made up of 8 images at 1/8 second, ISO 6400 shot with the Nikon D600. I didn’t have a tripod so these are handheld and stitched together with Auto Pano Pro, then cleaned up in Photoshop. Angle covered is about 340 degrees. I propped the door open and pulled the black out curtains apart a little to let some light in and show the building structure. Normally it would be black except for the glowing screens. Exterior pano is 6 images. Link to a good definition and history of the camera obscura.

Arca Swiss p0 head modified with Really Right Stuff clamp

I’ve been using an Arca Swiss Z1 ball head on my larger Gitzo tripod for about a year and love it. I added the Really Right Stuff PCL-1 Panning Clamp for panoramas along with a plate and various accessories. The system is great but kind of heavy so I started looking for a lightweight option for traveling.

I had recommended the Arca Swiss p0 (p-zero) head  to a tutoring client based on reviews and specs. This is an ingenious inverted ball design that means you don’t have to have a separate rotator for panos. Because it’s the ball that mounts to the tripod, when you level the ball head the top plate is automatically parallel to the ground and allows perfect panos without an additional panning rotator.  I also suggested that he put a Really Right Stuff clamp on the head.

It turns out there are two product numbers of the p0 head. The 801213 includes the new Arca Swiss Slidefix QS Quick Release which is not compatible with RRS. The 801211 is $70 cheaper and does not include the Quick Release clamp. My client had bought the one with the clamp so the first order of business was to remove the Arca Swiss clamp. This was not easy. The clamp is mounted with a 6mm screw, but the hex allen socket is pretty small and a metric size that I didn’t have. I took a trip to Crouch Sales, a specialty store here in the Dallas photo district that specializes in “bolts, nuts, anchors and more”. This is one of those great places that serves industrial clients, has deep inventory and the guys at the counter know what they’re doing. The salesman finally found a tool that fit but we couldn’t get the screw to break loose. It took clamping the allen wrench into some vice grips and twisting the wrench until it felt like it was going to snap before the screw loosened. Once the Arca Swiss QR plate was off it was easy to replace it with the RRS B2-40 quick release plate. If you do this modification yourself make sure to order the version with the 6mm metric screw. The model number is B2-40-LR-M6.

The system worked so well for my client that I decided to try one myself. First I called Precision Camera Works, the U.S. Arca Swiss repair center, to ask them about the difficulty of getting that M6 screw out of there. The technician I spoke to said that Arca really doesn’t want that QR plate coming off and soon would probably use an even stronger thread lock that would make it almost impossible to remove. He confirmed that the 801211 was the same head, just without the QR plate but with a small double threaded bolt that is 6mm on one end and 1/4-20 on the other. That’s the one I ordered from B&H. The next call was to the always helpful people at Really Right Stuff to confirm what I was about to do and make sure I was ordering the right parts.

When the head arrived I was happy to discover that a standard 7/16 socket wrench perfectly fits around the double headed bolt, grabs on the built in nut and makes it easy to remove. (SEE UPDATED INFORMATION BELOW FOR CORRECT SOCKET SIZE) The whole process took about 5 minutes. The head is much improved with the RRS clamp and now compatible with my other pano components.


UPDATE: A client had some trouble getting the screw out of the Arca Swiss plate and her experience might help others with the same problem:

I thought you would like to know that I was finally able to get the tripod head conversion complete. I bought a different socket wrench and then it came out easily. I thought I would give you the details, in case you are recommending the same setup to others. I was originally using a 7/16 socket with 12 sides on a 1/2 inch drive. It was not able to grab hold of the bolt. So a friend of mine tried a 7/16 socket with 6 sides, but the walls of the socket were too thick to fit in the space on the Arca swiss head. So I bought a 7/16 socket with 6 sides with a 1/4 inch drive and it worked perfectly. We did notice that there was some lock tight on the bolt. It was the gray lock tight which my friend described as “light use”. Anyway, I’m all set now, and anxious to start taking panoramas!
I needed to convert another one of the p0 heads and finally bought exactly the right tool. It’s an 11mm thin walled socket. Easy to find at a good hardware store. I’d recommend you take your Arca Swiss head with you to make sure it will fit between the bolt head and the recessed shoulder on the head.

I got this email from Allan today:
I got a p0 and have problem removing the double threaded bolt. Do you need to have the pano locked when removing as I noticed it just rotates when not locked and I use a socket wrench.? I even tried the 6 sided socket wrench but the bolt wouldn’t come out. Thanks

My answer:
Allan, I did the conversion again a few weeks ago and had a heck of a time getting the bolt off. Then I remembered how impact wrenches make short work of getting lug nuts off of a wheel. So I locked the pan on the p0, put the socket wrench in place and than firmly struck the end of the wrench repeatedly with another wrench. After about 10 taps the bolt loosened and I was able to get it out. Let me know how yours turned out.
Dear Peter,
Your post on the Arca Swiss P0 with the RRS clamp was excellent. I own a P0 and think it’s wonderful but, like yourself, was unhappy about the clamp options. At any rate, I wanted to give you some updated information that you may find useful. I removed the double threaded bolt with an 11mm thin-walled hex socket. It fit perfectly. In addition, you can use the M6 bolt – as you mentioned – but it needs to be 20mm or less. I tried the 25mm and it hits the ball.
My regards,

I saw your post but I am not sure I follow on why you are removing the screw and then using an M6. What is wrong with what it comes with and using, for example, the B2-LR-II?  It has a 3/8” thread which would screw on to it just fine? I am looking for this p0 myself and want to ensure I get the right setup! Kaitlyn

My answer:
Hi Kaitlyn. I first tried a B2-LR-II on the p0 but found it too big for that head. It hangs over quite a bit and gets in the way of handling. The blog post is for the smaller BR-LR which I found to be a perfect fit for the p0 and which doesn’t have a threaded center hole. Also, I liked the idea of using a couple of drops of Blue Loctite on the M6 screw. I do have the larger B2-LR-II on an Arca Z1 head on my larger tripod and it’s a perfect fit there. I hope that helps.

UPDATE MAY 27, 2015

Today I heard from Didier in France about his experience with modifying the Arca Swiss heads. He includes a new way to tackle this problem along with a link to a similar article from a French website.
About Your very interesting article ”Arca Swiss p0 head modified with Really Right Stuff clamp” on your Blog. I made this transformation of the Arca-Swiss head p0, there has several years and I just do the same thing on an Arca-Swiss d4 head. Since 2012, the screw of the clamp is mounted with, I think, epoxy glue. To remove this screw without risking to tear the threads of the hole, I locally heated the head of the screw with a ”Pyropen Weller” equipped with a nozzle ”hot air”. This will soften the adhesive and can easily unscrew the screw, without forcing.

Regarding the head Arca-Swiss p0, I noticed that the black synthetic washer between the head and the clamp degrade stability. I highly recommend to remove it (just attached by a double side adhesive film). Note that the Arca-Swiss heads sold with a clamp do not have this washer.

The same subject on a French forum:,127261.0.html

Recto38 (from France)

Fuji XPro1 Review


I’ve been shooting with a Nikon D4 which is an amazing camera but an incredible pain to haul around on trips. A few months ago I bought a Canon S100 which I think is the best pocket camera out right now but not really up to serious shooting. If it only had an optical finder. . . .

I started looking for an alternative travel camera and after researching dozens of models settled on the Fuji XPro1. I wanted a camera with interchangeable lenses, an optical viewfinder, high quality sensor, good low light capability and a quiet shutter. The Xpro1 fit that spec list and has been getting largely rave reviews on many sites and blogs. In October I took the camera to Santa Fe while I was attending a Writing for Photographers workshop to see what it would be like to shoot without a DSLR. It took some getting used to. I just got back from a three week trip to Greece and shot with the Fuji along with the new D600 (which will be another writeup). This is what I like and dislike about the XPro1:


  • Size and weight: The camera feels good in my hand and doesn’t create shoulder or neck fatigue after a day of shooting. I added the Really Right Stuff hand grip which is essential for me to avoid the cramped hand position that this camera body requires on its own. Fuji makes a hand grip but it lacks the vertical Arca Swiss clamp for shooting panoramas and inexplicably covers up the battery and memory card compartment on the bottom of the camera. As usual, the Really Right Stuff option is well thought out and blends beautifully with the camera body. I use the Think Tank belt system and I can get the body/lens combo, the second lens, 2 spare batteries, Manfrotto 209 table top tripod with 492 ball head, cleaning kit, flashlight and a couple of other tidbits in the compact Skin Body Bag. This worked out well when I wanted to put the gear away while walking through a dicey neighborhood in Athens last week and let me keep the gear dry when we got caught in the rain.
  • Sensor image quality. The new Fuji sensor with randomized pixels and no anti aliasing filter lives up to the hype of creating sharp images with no moiré. It makes me wonder why it took so long for a company to do this and I’m curious to see if this chip design shows up in other brands soon. The low light performance is just fantastic with low noise up to ISO 1600 and very useable images through 6400.
  • Lenses: I bought the 18 and 35mm lenses, equivalent to a 27mm and 50mm on full frame. The 35 is just exquisite and I agree with all the other glowing reviews of this little gem. The 18 has a reputation for being soft at the edges which is true but not near as bad as I expected.
  • Hybrid optical/video finder: This is a super cool bit of technology and one of the biggest attractions of this camera. Being able to see data overlaid over a live optical image is helpful and sets the bar for all other cameras of this type. The surprise for me was how often I used the EVF which I thought I would hate. It makes shooting in very low light not only possible but fun by offering a full brightness image in dark environments that are almost impossible to view and frame with the optical finder.
  • Overall build quality: Fuji has done a great job putting together a solid looking and even more solid feeling camera. If you haven’t handled one of the models in this line you might be in for a surprise.
  • Shooting style: Holding a rangefinder style camera really does make you see, think and shoot in a different way. It’s more deliberate and this camera tends toward a subtle picture making machine rather than the big artillery feel of a pro Nikon or Canon body. It’s a nice feeling.


  • Slow focusing speed: This was the biggest criticism of the XPro1 before the firmware update in October but since the camera uses contrast detection instead of the faster phase detection on DSLRs, it just takes a little longer to focus. Often the lag is unworkable and results in lost shots.
  • Shutter lag: Yes, there is a bit of shutter lag which goes against the street style shooting that this thing seems built for. I found myself trying to anticipate movement to get the moment I wanted but was often frustrated by the small delay.
  • Battery life: After reading positive reviews for the Pearstone after-market batteries I bought two of them to supplement the Fuji battery that came with the camera. Both brands work about the same but I found myself using all three batteries some days with moderate shooting and some use of live mode and quite a bit of image playback. Battery life is definitely a problem for me.
  • Placement of the Q, AF/EL and Focus buttons. The first two are just in a stupid place, right under the edge of your thumb and far too easy to hit accidentally which is a big surprise when the Quick menu pops up or your exposure is whacked because you inadvertently hit the Exposure Lock button. I got better at it but this is a major irritation with this camera. The Focus mode button, as many others have noted, is in the crazy position in the bottom left corner of the camera. So when you’re in shooting position you can’t really get to it to move your focus point without breaking the traditional and stable left hand cradling, right hand shooting posture. I usually shoot with just the center focus point active and was able to bypass this problem most of the time but when I needed to move the focus point it was difficult. There is a programmable FN button on the top deck right next to the shutter release which would be a great place for the Focus select but of all the things you can program it to do, Focus is not one of them.
  • Price: This is an expensive camera. Body and one prime lens are $2,300. Yes, much (much!) cheaper than a Leica which I think it competes with and often bests, but still expensive. Disclaimer: I’ve never shot with a Leica so the above statement is based purely on trolling websites and reviewing specs. I know there is something special about Leicas but I’ll never know since I likely won’t ever pay that kind of money for a camera. I also drive a Toyota instead of a Mercedes or BMW.
  • Lack of diopter adjustment and shallow eye relief: Fuji left off the diopter adjustment for some reason which meant that I had to buy a +2 screw in diopter to make the camera usable while wearing glasses. This mostly fixed the problem but when using the optical finder with the digital overlay the real image and the data image are not in the same virtual plane. If you have young eyes that are still flexible enough to quickly shift focus distance then this probably won’t bother you. If, like me, your eyes have a few years on them then the difference in the focal planes is at the least an irritation and for some will be a deal breaker. Add to this the fact that with glasses it is almost impossible to see the whole image at once because of very shallow eye point and the finder can be a real frustration. I did adapt after a couple of weeks but it is not anywhere as intuitive and natural as looking into a DSLR prism and focusing screen.
  • Remote shutter release: Here’s where they took the old school idea too far. This camera has a threaded cable release which is kind of neat and a throwback to earlier film cameras. But to leave out an electric or infrared remote is just silly. I use the self timer set to 2 seconds for all tripod work but it would be nice to be able to trip the shutter with no physical interaction or vibration.

On the fence:

  • Traditional lens aperture ring: When I first picked up the camera my old muscle memory came back from shooting for years with the aperture ring where God intended it, on the lens. So I was initially thrilled to have this feature again. But then I found myself accidentally changing f-stops when I picked the camera up and had to start really watching out for this. So maybe God was wrong about this. Nah, it’s probably me again.
  • Prime lenses: This isn’t a Fuji thing at all. I was looking forward to the creative constraint of shooting with a pair of prime lenses. I’ve always believed and taught that limiting your tools puts you in a smaller creative box which makes you work that much harder and often yielding more interesting photos. I still believe that but, boy, I sure got tired of switching back and forth between just the two lenses I bought! Now I really understand the allure of the Fuji X100 with it’s single, non-interchangeable 35mm equivalent lens.

Lots of people stopped to talk to me about the Fuji. There’s huge interest in this size and style of camera and many other photographers are right where I am, wanting something of high quality but small size and quieter than a DSLR. I think and hope that Nikon and Canon will have to answer to this breakthrough camera and maybe in a year we’ll have something this good but faster and better laid out.

If you own one of these I’d be interested in your experience with this brilliant but frustrating camera.