Location, Location, Location!

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A very wise man once said "if you want to take more interesting pictures go to more interesting places". Now as a young photographer I remember running around trying to make somthing out of nothing when it came to locations, and some times it worked. But as I have gotten older I now realize that location and timing are everything in photography.

Now that's not to say that sometimes the stars don't align and you get that unbelievable shot that no one could plan for. It is more realistic that you put in the time on scouting and light mapping and timing everything out to give you the best possible chance of getting the shot you are working toward.  

Some important thing to consider when looking at a location for outdoor photography. 

When I find a location I like, I always look at the angle I need to be in for the shot. In the compass app I take a screen cap with my phone (above) so I have the information at hand when I am planing my shoot. From this screen cap I can tell I am shooting west into a setting sun. This is good info to help plan.  

When I find a location I like, I always look at the angle I need to be in for the shot. In the compass app I take a screen cap with my phone (above) so I have the information at hand when I am planing my shoot. From this screen cap I can tell I am shooting west into a setting sun. This is good info to help plan.  

1. Location, ( literally GPS or address) I always grab a quick GPS location on my iPhone. I do this so it is easy to go back to this place in the future or if I am working with others I can send them the location in google maps so they can easily find it. I also meet a lot of other nature photographers out on trails and it's nice to be able to help them find new exciting locations. 

2. Light, look around for issues regarding light. Will a setting sun be to bright to shot in the direction you will be set up? You might need to try sun rise. Are you in thick tree canopy and need the sun to be overhead to give you the best chance for proper exposure? Again a smartphone compass is a great tool that almost everyone has on them at all times. 

3. Climate, here in FL we deal with bad rain storms almost daily. I know that between 2pm and 5pm during the summer I need to make sure I have a plan in place to deal with storms. Or that in the winter months our high water table causes thick fog in the early morning hours. Researching things like this will also help in determining the direction you want to take in telling the story with your shot. 

4. Terrain, when scouting a location take carful note of the terrain you will be shooting in and anything along the trail you will be traveling to get there. When planing  a shoot the gear you bring will be drastically different if you need to hall it 18 miles up mountains and across rivers, And being prepared when you get there is a must. Tripods, filters, lens, cards, remote shutter, rain gear, water... This stuff gets heavy don't overload with stuff you will not use, plan the shoot and shoot the plan!   

All of these factors will come in to play when out on the trail. I don't plan out every photo, sometimes they come by chance. But when you find a great location and really want to make that capture special. Take the time to plan and give you image the best chance of being the one you have in your mind.

 

Camping Quick Tip

Over the years I have found that when campground camping in cold weather it pays to be prepared for the worst! By the worst I mean a sudden cold front that blows in bringing the temp down to about 20 degrees ferinheight and the air mattress your sleeping on just allows the cold air to get you not only from the top but the bottom. Tents are mostly designed to breath so it's hard to trap enough heat in. A portable heater will just go up and out through your rain fly, and can be dangerous around flammable material. So what do you do?

Photo by William Gillette

Photo by William Gillette

Heated mattress pad! For two reasons. One the heat wants to rise, if the heat is coming from underneath you it will be trapped in your covers and keep them warm as well. And two the heat will keep your air mattress full of air. As it gets colder the air inside your mattress will shrink causing your bed to sag, very bad for your back.

Why not a heated blanket? A heated blanket is ment to go on top of you not underneath, what I have found is that this keeps you top half warm fine, but the air in your mattress will slowly cool down and your bottom will get colder with it.  

A queen size heated mattress pad will run you about $30 and will fold down much smaller than a blanket for space. I always have ours with us, it is just a part of our equipment. We learned our lesson one day in late March in FL when the day time temp went from 75 degrees to a night time of 20 degrees. That was a miserable night! 

Sometimes it the little things like a nice warm bed on a cold night that makes your trip just that much more relaxing. Enjoy!

Geocaching

 

A real life treasure hunt! One of my favorite things to do when I am hiking and camping is to Geocache. Geocaching is basically a global game of hide and seek, one person hides a small countainer full of stuff and then posts the GPS coordinates online at Geocaching.com, then the seeker downloads the FREE moble App on any smartphone to find it.

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The App is simple, one button push and you will see all of the Geocaches in your area. Just select one on the map and then follow the map to the treasure. Once at the container you will find a standard set of items. First is a card or paper telling you that you just found a Geocache. Next is the logbook, this book is left in the cache for everyone who finds it to sign and leave a message to all other finders. Other than those two item you will find "stuff" basically buttons, pins, trinkets, toys... I have even found tool kits, flashlights, money, and an RC car one time. This stuff or swag as most cachers call it is meant to be traded for. #1 rule you take something you leave something of equal or greater value. This makes every cache exciting to find because you never know what you might find! 

One of the most eye opening things about Geocaching comes when you first download the App. The first time I pushed the find a cache button I realized that these things are everywhere! There were fifty to sixty in my home town, I walked within feet of some of them for years and did not even know they where there. But the best part is that some of them led me down back roads and to nature trails that I never knew about. I have lived in this town for over thirty years and just last year found amazing thing miles from my house that I did not know existed. 

This is by far one of my favorite outdoor activitys and now my friends and family are all into it! I have found several hundred caches in just two short years. And every time we camp, hike, backpack, or if I am just out shooting a few nature photos, I always check to see if there is a Geocache near by! Download the App

Get Out There! 

 

Camping Quick Tip


Photo by William Gillette

Photo by William Gillette

Here is a quick tip. Throw a permanent marker in with you camping gear today, if you wait you will forget. When camping in groups it helps to mark drink cups, bottles, cans, even plates. This will benefit you in two ways. First, everyone will know which drink is there's. Second, people especially kids tend to reuse disposable items like cups when it is personalized. Saving money, storage space, and the beautiful environment we all love.  

S'mores Remix.

Photo by William Gillette

Photo by William Gillette

Try this! Next campfire grab a mixed bag of Fun Size chocolate bars. I am a fan of the Almond Joy S'more! Mix and match, part of the fun is trying somthing outside the box. A friend of mine loves York Peperment Patties on her S'mores. There is always the classic but it's awesome to kick it up a notch! 

"Controlling Light" Part 2

This is the second video in a four part series called "Controlling Light". A photography basics video that will help you better understand the Manual (M) settings on your camera. Knowing what these settings are and how they affect your camera will help you understand how to use them

Tent Stake Basics


Photo by William Gillette

Photo by William Gillette

If you are buying a tent or have bought a tent in the past here is some information that might come in handy.  

Pictured here you see three different style tent stakes. And if you have camped in your lifetime I am sure you have seen at least one of these before. When you buy a tent it will always come with enough stakes to stake it down, and now a days the most common supplied factory stake is the small aluminum J or L style one pictured in the middle. What you may not know is that these stakes are all intended for different soil conditions, so depending on the part of the world you are living in or going to be camping in you may need to purchase different stakes to keep you tent held tight to the ground. 

Being an avid camper I have camped in almost every soil situation and have learned (sometimes the hard way) that things like stakes will always be overlooked when planing your next adventure. So preparing now for all future trips is easy and relatively inexpensive.  

First off, let's learn what each of the stakes above are used for. We will start with the top one, the yellow one. You may also see this in green plastic or even made out of aluminum. But the basics of this one are wide flat splines that run the length of the stake. This feature makes this stake work great in sandy or loose soil, but I do warn you that one hard root, shell or rock can easily crack or break this style stake. 

Next the common factory style stake, the middle one. This stake works best in firm or clay type soil. Small surface roots like grass are fine but since this stake is usually aluminum it will bend easily if you hit larger roots or stones. In sandy or loose soil this stake will pull out in the smallest wind. Making this stake unusable.   

The last stake pictured here the long steel nail with the high visibility orange top. This stakes rugged design makes it work perfect for hard packed stoney or rootie soil. It's length also gives you more strength in high winds. This stake also works great on canopies which act like sails in the wind. 

I recommend you alway carry two styles in your tent gear. I always carry the sand style stake and the steel nail style stake in my gear at all time. The nail style stake will work anywhere the factory aluminum stake will so keeping all three is overkill. Also if you have ever used the factory aluminum stakes you most likely have bent them more often then not.  

Useing the right stake in the right situation is very important, cutting corners can and will be costly or dangerous. I hope this helps you on your next adventure. Now get out there! 

What is That Sound!? ( Campfire Story )


This is a true camping story that I love to tell around the campfire. 

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One Birthday camping trip a few years back, my girlfriend and I headed off to Hillsborough River State Park. In Hillsborough County, Florida. A beautiful state park on the banks of Hillsborough River. One night after a long day of canoeing, hiking, and Geocaching, the girlfriend and I were cooking dinner over the fire. If I remember it correctly this all unfolded somewhere between the wood grilled hamburgers and a Reese's peanut butter cup S'more.    

As we sit talking about our day, I start to hear something way off in the thick forest behind me. It sounded like maybe a raccoon rustling the underbrush or maybe a passing deer traveling an old trail that runs along side the campground. At first I did not think much about it. It was a cool night in March so we sat close to the fire side by side with our backs to the forest, the fire pit between us and the tent. With no moon and a lot of cloud cover the night seemed very dark and you could not see much farther than the edge of the fire glow. As we talked about the normal campfire things I caught the sound of rustling leaves getting a bit louder, and then louder, then faster and LOUDER! And it suddenly appeared to me that something was running through the forest directly at us!! And as it got closer it sounded BIG! In my mind flashed images of every horror film, rabid dog, and pack of wolves. I stopped talking and looked at my girlfriend quickly, she looked back at me and for a split second no words needed to be spoken. She jumped up and ran full sprint toward the tent. And no lie I jumped up, pushed down both chairs on there sides in front of me and took stance facing the woods like a football linemen waiting for the blitz! I stood starring into the darkness, heart pounding out of my chest... Out of the extreme darkness running full blast came... Four babe armadillos with there mother. They scurried over the arm of my chair around my feet and continued there way back into the forest. 

I laughed out loud to myself for a minute and then went to find my girlfriend, who I found two campsites away. LOL. The next day was my Birthday and on a long hike on the Florida trail I asked my Girlfriend to marry me, she said yes. What a great trip!   

Camping Overkill!


Photo by William Gillette

Photo by William Gillette

I hear so many stores about people being under prepared on camping or backpacking trips. But when on the trail I tend to see more people over prepared, including myself sometimes. 

Over prepared? Countless times,  I have passed hikers on a back country trails. Hanging from there packs I have seen Dutch oven, cast iron skillet, gallons of water, full size camp chair, extra shoes, full size Ax... Not saying that they are not going to use this stuff but is it worth the weight? 

Car camping is a little different story. Not carrying it miles on your back, I say bring that 10 lbs cast iron Dutch over. Bring the big camp chairs and the gallons of water. But even car camping can be over done. For instance I have a folding standalone hammock that I bought years ago that I take when we car camp. I have set it up fifty times and might have sat in it two times. LOL. It actually has been used more often to cover firewood, odd when I keep four extra tarps in my equipment. This year I am going to make it a point to slim down my setup. What is it that we truly need, or more so what is it that we will truly use?   

As for for my camera gear... I need all of it! 

 

 

SD Survival


Photo by William Gillette

Photo by William Gillette

SD Survival.

Here is a helpful tip for your next outdoor adventure. Always keep a small SD card (or whatever your camera uses) labeled Survival in your camera case. On this card keep information in photos, that will help you in the event of an emergency.

Examples 

Trail Maps, Area Maps, Photos of eatable plants, knot instructions, trap and snare diagrams, poisonous plants from that area, poisonous snakes...  

The idea is to give your self any information that would help you in a dangerous situation. If your planing a trip, take the time to do a quick search for these things for that area, and then just snap photos of your computer screen. Most photographers will have plenty of batteries in there pack to keep a camera running for days so you can reference these photos at any time.   

I also have made it a habit to take a photo of the trail map at the trail head before I head out, I have used this on several occasions to find my way back to my vehicle. I also put useful info on my card that I use as a photographer like tide information for the week I am shooting near the ocean, sun rise and sun set calendars, light meter calculators... 

It always pays to be prepared for the worst even if you never need it. If you have other ideas for the SD survival card share them! You may help save a life. Be Safe!  

and get out there! 

 

 

Get Your Feet Wet.


Photo by William Gillette

Photo by William Gillette

One of the many lessons that I have learned over the years in this great hobby is, never be afraid to get your feet wet! Literally, 

When you first see an amazing photo opportunity your first instinct should be to look for the best possible shot of your subject. Sometimes that shot is not always obvious. When first approaching this set of falls I noticed a few phographers along the shore up near the top of the falls. As I looked at the location I decided to take a little different approach. Testing the waters depth with my monopod first and then stepping into the ice cold stream. I hopped up on a few rocks and found a place to anchor my tripod. I set my camera up, very carefully I might add. And snapped a few frames. As I was packing my gear a few minutes later I noticed that two of the other photographers had been standing on the shore where I went in to the stream. I finished packing my stuff and slowly went back into the stream towards the two. As I did they stepped into the water and headed for the pile of rocks mid stream that I had just returned from. Back on shore I dumped the water from my boots collected my gear and headed back up the trail.  As a photographer I believe it is my goal to bring to frame the parts of nature that are seldom seen, an angle that is not so common, or a story that hasn't be told. Sometimes you can not simply do this standing on the shore. Be safe, be smart, but most of all be adventurous.