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Light Time Photography

Nature and Travel Images



I get quite a few questions about what equipment is used to make the images that you see on this web site. The standard response is that it doesn't matter. What counts is learning about light, composition and technique. However, that rarely is a satisfactory answer. So here is the longer answer.

Camera Body    Lenses    Accessories    Filters    Computer Gear    Scanner

Photographic Equipment

I use all Nikon equipment. This does not imply that Nikon is the best, or only choice. There are many excellent systems out there in both 35mm and larger formats. I have invested in Nikon over the years and there are many benefits to staying with one system.

Camera Body

The system is built around the Nikon F5 body. I could go on and on about the features of these bodies, but the truth is, they are not the most important part of the system. The glass (lens) is what is really critical. Different features on the body will only make some things easier to do, but they don't really do much to make a picture better. The F5, however, does offer some advantages with the incredible autofocus speed when working with wildlife. It also helps that you can beat on it and it does not break.

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Lenses

The lens is where it is not worth skimping. It is better to own far fewer high quality lenses than multiple cheaper lenses. I have chosen to use all Nikkor (Nikon) glass since I believe it is the best available for the Nikon system. There are third party lenses available, and some are very good. My experience is that the Nikon pro quality lenses are consistently excellent. The set I own is:
    17 - 35 mm f2.8D AF-S
    28 - 70 mm f2.8D AF-S
    80 - 200 mm f2.8D AF-S
    200 mm micro f4D AF
    500 mm f4D AF-S
    TC-14E 1.4x teleconverter
    TC-20E 2x teleconverter

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Accessories

In addition to the lenses I also use a Nikon SB-26 speedlight mostly for fill flash ( I don't like the look of pictures lit primarily by on- camera flash), a mix of filters and a Gitzo tripod and Arca-Swiss ball head. I can't stress enough the importance of a high quality tripod and head. All the best glass in the world is worthless if it is not supported well. Whenever possible I also use a cable release. Not physically touching the camera body helps greatly with sharpness when using slower shutter speeds.

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Filters

Another important part of any outdoor photographer's arsenal is filtration. I do not believe in using color enhancing or altering filters. There are three basic filters that are essential for outdoor photography.

First, and most used by myself, is the circular polarizer. This is a filter that cuts reflections from non-metallic surfaces which reduces glare, cuts through water and helps color saturation on vegetation. It also deepens the blue in the sky as you move away from the sun.

The second is the warming filter. These come in various strengths, but all serve the same purpose. They warm up the scene which is essentially removing some blue. Our eyes adjust well to different types of light, but film is not so intelligent. At high altitudes, in open shade or under overcast skies film will pick up an unnatural (to our eyes) blue tint. The warming filter adjusts the scene back to what your eyes actually see.

The last filter is the split neutral density filter. This is another filter to help film record what your eyes see. Film has a narrow exposure latitude. Basically, what this means is that film records dark areas much darker than you see them, and light areas much lighter than you see them. The range varies by film type, but is over 10 times less than your eyes can handle. The split neutral density filter helps this by having one half of the glass darkened and the other half clear. When the sky is much lighter than the rest of the scene, the darker half of the filter can be lined up with the sky and it helps bring the scene difference back to where the film can handle it. These filters are square and fit into a holder mounted to the front of the lens so that they can be moved up and down to line up the split line with the horizon.

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Computer Gear

PC's are advancing so fast that it doesn't really make sense to discuss them. I have a Pentium III 500 system that is adequate for photo editing. It does have 384MB of RAM. The more memory, the better. Photoshop is fantastic for preparing scanned images, but for web use there are many lower cost photo editing programs that do a more than adequate job.

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Scanner

There are a wide variety of scanners on the market today. For basic web work, almost any will do. If you want to make prints, only a slide and film scanner will do. These scanners actually scan the negative or slide instead of a print. By scanning the original, and at a much higher resolution, you can obtain detail to make very high quality prints. Using a low cost photo printer you can easily exceed the quality from a common mini-lab.

Film scanners come in a wide range of prices and specifications. I started with a low cost (less than $500) scanner that did very well. I made prints up to 11x15 and have won many competitions with them. Obviously it is adequate compared to much traditional photo printing.

Recently I acquired a Kodak RFS 3600 film scanner. The difference is amazing. It captures significantly more detail, handles the dark areas of slides much better and gives me a large enough file to print 11x15 without having any software interpolate to add information. The prints I am able to produce using the Kodak scanner and Epson Stylus Photo 1270 are easily as good as custom RC prints I can have made locally. It is still not quite up to the impact of an Ilfochrome print, but it is substantially lower cost. The digital prints also have a broader dynamic range than can be captured by any traditional printing process. At this point I think the only way to exceed what can be done at home is with a drum scan and LightJet, or similar, digital laser print.

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