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Aerial Photography Without a Drone

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Taking pictures from a high vantage point is fun. And you don't necessarily need a drone to do so.

I've put together an "Air Stick" that uses an Olympus Air A01 with a 14-42mm EZ zoom mounted on the end of a Manfrotto Compact Xtreme pole. On the other end of the Xtreme I've attached an iPhone 6S using the very secure MeFOTO SideKick 360 SmartPhone Adapter. This rig allows me to photograph from vantage points high above my head.

I also replaced the cheesy ball head that Manfrotto includes with a more robust model that that features a quick-release plate. Not only does this provide a more secure attachment to the pole, but I can quickly remove the Air for packing in my bag.

Speaking of which, this setup is very compact. The Xtreme pole is only 15" long when collapsed. But when fitted with the Air and SideKick, then completely extended, it's 5 feet in length, plus my 6 feet of height, plus however high I hold it over my head... You get the idea.

IMG_0309-aerial.jpg Rooftop perspective using the Air Stick fully extended. Photos by Derrick Story.

There are a number of applications for this set up. Large group shots suddenly are much easier. Just extend the Olympus Air over your head, comfortably compose on the iPhone LCD, and even make exposure adjustments and control the zoom from the smartphone.

Not to mention great vantage points while traveling, on vacation, covering events, or just seeing your local world from a new perspective. The 16MP Olympus Air produces beautiful images captured in both RAW and Jpeg. And you can immediately post your favorite shots via the iPhone.

PB030404-aerial.jpg iPhone 6S attached to the Xtreme pole using the MeFOTO SideKick.

PB030411-aerial.jpg Olympus Air attached to the Xtreme pole using a ball head with quick release.

You can also use the Manfrotto Xtreme as a standard monopod when not pressed into service as an Air Stick. It's light and compact, making it easy to bring along. If you want to see the world from a higher vantage point, but not crazy about flying drones, consider this option. It's easy and it's a blast!

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy Cycling with the Olympus Air.


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The Air Stick has a high Nimbleosity Rating. What does that mean? You can learn about Nimbleosity and more by visiting TheNimblePhotographer.com.

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Cycling with the Olympus Air

The toughest part when mixing photography and cycling is fumbling with the gear. Thanks to the new Olympus Air with 14-42mm EZ lens, that problem is solved. Let me show you how it works.

P9040725.jpg Photos by Derrick Story

What I've done is combined a quick-release mount with a photographer's c-clamp and attached them to the handle bars of my bike. Everything is quite secure. I then attach the QR plate to the Olympus Air so I can easily remove the camera from the handle bars as necessary. I need this for both photography composition, and for bike security when I dash into a convenience store.

P9040752.jpg Manfrotto quick release combined with a c-clamp allow me to mount the camera to the handle bars.

The idea isn't to shoot while riding, although I could if something interesting was going on. This setup is more about access. When I see an interesting picture, I can stop and capture it quickly. I can trip the shutter button on the top of the Air immediately, or use my iPhone as a viewfinder and control center.

P9040722.jpg I don't leave the iPhone mounted to the Olympus Air while riding, even though it's pretty secure there. But when I've stopped and am composing shots, I do use the tandem together.

If I need to take a long exposure, I can use the bike as a makeshift tripod and control the camera with the iPhone detached from its back. And if I want to get off the bicycle all together and wander off, then the Air quickly dismounts from the handle bars to do so.

And unlike many compact cameras, I have a high quality Four Thirds, 16 MP sensor with a variety of different lenses to choose from. So image quality is top notch.

I keep the Olympus Air in my bike bag, and have been mounting it on the handlebars before I head out for any ride, even if it's just to run errands. You never know when a great shot will present itself. And now I'm ready for it.


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The Olympus Air has a high Nimbleosity Rating. What does that mean? You can learn about Nimbleosity and more by visiting TheNimblePhotographer.com.

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I need lighting for product shots, macro work, video interviews, and gosh-knows-what when I'm on the go. But my camera bag has only inches of space to spare. So I've devised a kit using the Ikan iLED-MS Micro Spot On-Camera Light, a film can diffuser, and a Joby GorillaPod Tripod. The entire kit weighs less than 7 ounces, yet provides powerful, flexible, diffused lighting.

portable-lighting-rig.jpg The Ikan LED light with DIY film can diffuser and Joby Tripod. Photos by Derrick Story.

The Ikan light by itself is a nifty unit. It's a lightweight, cool-to-the touch, daylight-balanced, LED about the size of a small flashlight (5" long). The front of the light incorporates a lens system that creates a 30 Degree beam angle providing a directional light well suited for on-camera use or also as a kicker light.

The unit features a discrete on/off switch and is dimmable from 100 to 10 percent on using an integrated thumb wheel on the side. It also includes a built-in diffuser panel, CTO filter for balancing with ambient indoor lighting, and a set of barn doors. Everything folds up neatly. You can recharge it via any USB charger you already have in your bag.

I was impressed with the built-in diffuser panel that simply flips over the LED bulb. But there were instances when I wanted even a softer light. So I retrofitted a FujiFilm 35mm canister to create a gentle light for macro and product photography.

diffuser-with-gaffers.jpg FujiFilm 35mm canister with white gaffer's tape for a snug fit.

The film can mounted pretty well in the LED light, but it was just a tad loose. So I wrapped a few strips of white gaffer's tape to create a snug fit.

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The modified light with the film can diffuser works great for close up work. And since I can adjust the output from 10-100 percent, I can get just the look I want. The entire kit weighs just ounces and fits nearly anywhere in my camera bag. In fact, it's so nimble, I may set up a second kit so I can use two-light schemes.


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The Ikan iLED-MS Micro Spot On-Camera Light kit has a high Nimbleosity Rating. What does that mean? You can learn about Nimbleosity and more by visiting TheNimblePhotographer.com.

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If you've shot with a Canon DSLR, chances are good that you have an Off-Camera Shoe Cord 2 stashed away. Well, it's time to break it out!

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I was hanging out with Lumix Luminaries Joseph Linaschke and Giulio Sciorio the other day, and Giulio wanted to test my Canon flash cord on his Panasonic GM5. And darnit, if it didn't work great.

Then I was reading Rico Pfirstinger's excellent guide, The Fujifilm X-T1 111 X-Pert Tips where he wrote that his Canon off-camera flash cable works with the Fujifilm X-T1 also. Son of a gun!

So, I just had to test this with my Olympus OM-D E-M10 and the FL-300R Flash, and wouldn't you know it, it worked again! In fact, I had full TTL capability with flash exposure compensation.

Bottom line is this: if you have a off-camera flash cord by Canon, your mirrorless kit most likely just got an upgrade.


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The Canon Off-Camera Shoe Cord 2 has a high Nimbleosity Rating. What does that mean? You can learn about Nimbleosity and more by visiting TheNimblePhotographer.com.

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Most photographers think a lot about their camera gear. But once the bodies and lenses are packed, there are a few additional items that should be included.

Here are five non-photo accessories that I carry for every trip.

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  • Flashlight - Yes, my iPhone has a handy light for digging around in the bag, but I don't want to use that for working my way down a trail after sunset. And it's not very good for light painting. So I bring an additional light, such as the Ultrafire LED flashlight torch ($15).
  • Swiss Army Knife - I've lost count of the number of times my Victorinox has saved the day. I like the lighter models, such as the Climber II Pocket Knife ($20).
  • Ziploc Bag - Everyone knows to bring one, but they are often forgotten. In addition to everything else they do, put your camera in the Ziploc before you come indoors after a cold weather shoot. The condensation will accumulate on the bag and not your camera.
  • Rubber Bands - They can hold DIY bounce cards to flash heads, stabilize daring camera set-ups, serve as hanging loops, and a host of other MacGyver solutions.
  • Gaffer's Tape - If a rubber band doesn't work, gaffer's tape probably will. You don't need an entire roll, a few strips on the inside of your camera bag should work just fine.

One final thought, if you're flying to your destination, remember to move your Swiss Army Knife from your camera bag to your checked suitcase. I hate having mine confiscated by the TSA.


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These items have a high Nimbleosity Rating. What does that mean? You can learn about Nimbleosity and more by visiting TheNimblePhotographer.com.

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As we roll into Fall and Winter, it's a good idea to have a little extra protection for your camera bag. If yours doesn't include an All Weather cover, you can easily convert a Reusable Shopping Tote into an emergency rain cover.

I prefer the reusable totes to other solutions for a few reasons:

  • They look good. Yes, I could tie a plastic grocery bag over my gear, but that's not really the way I want to walk around the city.
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  • They stuff into a compact pouch that's easily stored in my camera bag, or hook to the outside with a D-ring.
  • They're multifunctional. Yes, if I find myself in a store and need a good looking shopping bag, I have one.
  • They're affordable. I can buy a 4-pack for $20 and have spares for more photo gear or bigger shopping trips. (Or in the case of the one shown, a free give-away at a conference.)

I carry a few office clips (also handy for other uses) and stretch the reusable tote over the top of the camera bag, clipping it at the bottom on both sides. This protects the main compartment of the bag from the top, front, and back. I can attach it quickly, then stuff it back into its pouch when no longer needed.


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The reusable tote has a high Nimbleosity Rating. What does that mean? You can learn about Nimbleosity and more by visiting TheNimblePhotographer.com.

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DIY Slide Digitizers for Fun

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I just read an interesting article on Petapixel, DIY: A Cheap and Effective Rig for Digitizing Negatives Using a Smartphone that shows you how to make an easy rig to use with your smartphone to copy slides.

The article reminded me of how many times, and different ways I've address this type of project. So I thought I'd list them all here for your entertainment and reference.


Review of the Lomography Smartphone Film Scanner

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The Lomo enables you to connect a smartphone, in my case an iPhone 4S, and scan 35mm film strips. The internal light is powered by 2 AA batteries. Operation is simple. Feed the film into the unit using a knurled knob, turn on the light, mount your phone, and take a picture of the illuminated image. Read about the Lomo film scanner here.

Bottom Line: The Lomo is fun to use and convenient, but the results are so-so at best.


DIY Copy Stand for iPhone 3GS

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If you've ever tried close-up work with the iPhone, you know you have two challenges. The first is holding the camera steady enough to avoid camera shake. The second is getting the plane of the camera parallel to the plane of the subject to avoid distortion. This little device helps with both, plus diffuses the light for a more flattering rendering. Read about the DIY Copy Stand here.

Bottom Line: It might not be pretty, but this rig produces great results.


DIY Slide Digitizer with Olympus OM-D and Leica Projector

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This set-up solves the quality problem by using an Olympus 60mm f/2.8 macro lens with an Olympus OM-D E-M1. The Olympus 60mm has excellent edge-to-edge sharpness, plus a small barrel diameter to correctly couple with the slide projector. I simply remove the lens that came with the projector, then point the 60mm optic toward the illuminated slide. Read about the DIY Slide Digitizer here.

Bottom Line: It's a bit of a hassle to set up, but the digitized slides look great and can be used for a variety of purposes.


Canon 5D 35mm Slide Digitizer - DIY

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If you have a full frame DSLR, you can easily digitize your favorite 35mm slides at home. I'm using a Canon 5D, Sunpak 444D flash, and a 1980s slide copier. That's all you really need. Read about the Canon 5D Slide Digitizer here.

Bottom Line: If you find the parts, you'll like the results.

So there you have it. A roundup of whacky, but often effective devices for digitizing content. What can you come up with?

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All the stuff that ends up in the bottom of your camera bag - spare change, rubber bands, bandaids, pain reliever packets - and more. The problem is, you're carrying it around all the time, yet you can't find the items when you need them. It's a lose/lose situation.

My solution? The MacGyver Box for Photographers. This is just one of the weekend projects that I write about in my latest post for lynda.com Article Center, Photography Hacks: Power Charging, Repurposed Loupe, MacGyver Box.

You'll have to jump over to the lynda article to learn about the alternative charging methods for your mobile devices and how to repurpose an inexpensive loupe for field work. But I'll cover the MacGyver Box right here.

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Start with an emptied-out filter box, then assemble all the widgets that you need to have accessible in your camera bag. I use rubber bands, coins (as screwdrivers too), paper clips (SIM removal tool), Bandaids (great for emergency tape also), pain reliever, flash drive, white business card (bounce flash card and ID too), wire ties, and safety pins.

They all fit nice and neat in this box that stashes easily in your bag, yet can be located quickly. No more digging around in the depths of your kit, only to be rewarded by being pricked in the finger by an open safety pin.

More about the MacGyver Box and the other goodies at the lynda.com Article Center.

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Make a Shade for Your Camera's LCD

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Very few things in photography are as tough as composing on an LCD in bright conditions. It's basically "guess and shoot."

I've designed a simple solution using a cardboard jewelry box. It's easy to make, has adjustable depth, and can double as an accessory storage container. And the best part is, in bright conditions, it really works.

I explain how this gem works in my latest article for the lynda.com Article Center titled, Photography Hacks: Make an LCD Shade, Battery Protector, and Lighting Field Kit. It's the first installment of a 3-part series that I'm authoring for the site.

accessories-in-box.jpg When it's not shading your LCD screen, the shade can serve as a handy accessory box.

If you've got a little time to tinker this weekend, you might want to take a look at this post. I think you'll like what you end up with.

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My original iPad was in virtual retirement on the top closet shelf. Since it doesn't support iOS 6 or 7, it seemed destined for my personal electronics museum. And that seemed wrong.

The battery is still good, the screen is colorful and bright, and the wireless is just as viable as ever. I was determined to make it relevant again.

ipad-picture-frame.jpg The original iPad displaying a slideshow of my work in what used to be a dark corner of the stairwell where my iHome AirPlay speaker system is located.

I found a wall mount for it at Padbracket.com and decided that my old iPad could become the ultimate digital picture frame. After a few days of use, I can't imagine why I waited so long. (There are a variety of creative wall mounts for your iPad online. Shop around a bit to find one you like.)

The setup is easy. Create an Album in the Photos app specifically for the images you want to display on your new digital picture frame. Then go to Settings > Picture Frame, and select the Album along with the other options you prefer, such as transitions and display time for each image.

When it's time to show off your work, you don't even have to unlock the iPad. Push the Power button, tap on the Picture Frame icon in the lower right corner, and enjoy the show.

You can change things up by running a weather app with pretty pictures and the local temperature. There are still many available for iOS 5.

I like that my original iPad is back in business. And the looping slideshow brightens up that corner of the studio. If you have an iPad collecting dust, you might want to give it new life as a digital picture frame.


iPad for Digital Photographers

This is the kind of stuff I write about in iPad for Digital Photographers-- now available in print, Kindle, and iBooks format.

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Join me on my Instagram site as I explore the world of mobile photography. And now Instagram features 15-second movies too.