Lowepro Photo Sport BP 300 AW II


Photo 1 – Lowepro BP 300 AW II shown here on the trail with ample hydration capacity, Cotton Carrier Belt Holster, and the all important Bear Spray

Smoke from summer fires has finally cleared enough for us to get back outside to take advantage of Montana’s numerous photo opportunities.  This was also the first chance I’ve had to check out the new Lowepro Photo Sport BP 300 AW II pack.

All-in-all, I am very much impressed with the new design features that Lowepro has incorporated into this pack.  It’s a smidgen larger than its predecessor, the Photo Sport 200 AW (see review dated 1/24/13), allowing a little extra room for more gear.  They’ve also provided a little more in the way of  creature comfort with the addition of ergonomically padded shoulder straps and waist band.  The “Active Zone” back support is also more comfortable and provides a little more air circulation capability than the previous model.

Other noticeable differences in the new BP 300 AW II are bigger zip pockets on the waist band, zippered pocket for the built-in rain cover, the solid internal small pocket has been replaced with a mesh zip pocket, the external pocket in the cover flap is roomier, and the camera pouch has memory card holders built-in to the cover along with an externally adjustable strap to cinch camera gear tight .

Both the old Photo Sport 200 Aw and the new Photo Sport BP 300 AW II have a separate zippered hydration compartment that easily holds a 1-1/2 liter pack, trekking pole holders, a deep cinch-able side pocket that will securely hold a 1 liter water bottle, generous shoulder strap adjustment system, and sternum strap.  One feature that I especially like, on both packs, are the secure sliders on the sternum strap.  I prefer to have my camera readily available for quick access, while still being able being able to hike hands-free without the camera hanging from my shoulder.  With this sturdy sternum strap arrangement, I can utilize my Cotton Carrier Belt Holster (Photo 1), on the sternum strap, without concern that the strap will pull loose (with catastrophic results) as it sometimes does with other fastening systems.

As far as gear, the camera pouch readily held our Canon 6D fitted with a 28-300 mm zoom and still had enough room for a second zoom lens. Filters, battery, etc. can readily be stowed in the top pouch for easy access.  The pack’s main compartment has ample room for rain gear, jacket, lunch or other essentials you might need for a day-long outing.  See Photo 2 for what I typically pack for a day of shooting on the trail in Montana.  The only thing missing is a tripod – I don’t always carry a tripod on day hikes and try to avoid it if at all possible.  I do however find that it’s a must to carry along if I know I’m going to be doing streams and/or waterfalls.

While there are many fine points associated with this backpack, there are a couple of things that have been omitted in this new design that would make it even better from a photographer’s perspective – the first being additional attachment points on the shoulder straps, for extra small gear; and adjustable straps on the bottom for conveniently carrying a tripod.  Neither are sufficient reason for the active outdoors-person/photographer to not consider this pack as top-of-the-line.

Photo 2 - All the essential photo and personal gear, for a day on the trail, can be carried in the Photo Sport BP 300 AW II.

Photo 2 – All the essential photo and personal gear, for a day on the trail, can be carried in the Photo Sport BP 300 AW II.

Lowepro periodically provides us with photo packs for our evaluation.

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Posted by on September 13, 2015 in Gear, Photography


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Keyboard Shortcut To Check How Color Image Looks In B&W

For all you Lightroom fans, this is a quick keyboard shortcut that lets you quickly see how your colored image will look as a Black & White rendition.  With your colored image highlighted in Lightroom – click on the “V” key – that’s all there is to it.  It’s a simple one-step click to quickly preview how your image might look as a B&W.  To get it back to the original colored image click “V” once more.  I use this all the time when I’m scrolling through images looking for likely candidates to convert to black & white.  This work doesn’t stop there, it’s only a start – but then that’s another story for another time….

Stormy sunset over Lake Powell

Stormy sunset over Lake Powell

Quick check using "V" key to see B&W potential of original colored image

Quick check using “V” key to see B&W potential of original colored image




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onOne Software – Perfect Photo Suite 8

The folks at onOne Software just keep making it better with Perfect Photo Suite 8 scheduled for release on November 26th, and currently available as a public Beta download ( 

It functions as both a standalone or within Photoshop, Lightroom, Elements and Aperture.  There are all kinds of new enhancements to the program which are way too lengthy to get into here – but all the skinny is available on the onOne website at the link above.

For me, the neat thing is that all the enhancements, effects and layer tools are available as a multitude of presets that in turn can be easily adjusted to your hearts content.  These presets are just a jumping off point from which you can add your own adjustments and create your own set of new presets, and they can be incorporated additively as your creativity takes flight.

Here are a few examples for creative images that can be made in short order:

Before and after with adjustments in Perfect Photo Suite 8 Beta 3

Before and after with adjustments in Perfect Photo Suite 8 Beta 3

In this first image, of a face taken from an antique Calliope at Nevada City Ghost Town, we can see the before and after effect.  To create the After rendition, I added a textured background layer in the Layers Module called “cool concrete”, to which a “darker color” blend mode was applied to add more dramatic color to the image.  Then in the Enhance Module, tonal adjustments were made using sliders provided to lighten up shadow areas, and then back in the Layers Module, the funky border was added from a preset – in this case called “Sloppy Border 8” to complete the dramatic look. 


Before and after of mechanical horns

This second image was also created from a photo taken at the Nevada City Ghost Town of a collection of horns from an old mechanized organ.  Quick and easy adjustments were made in Perfect Photo Suite 8 Beta 3 to yield this new colorful abstract illustration shown here next to the original photo for comparison.  For this new image, I started with an HDR Look, from a preset in the Enhance Module.  Then going to the Effects Module, I added a “Strong Vignette” from the preset Filters setting the blend mode to “exclusion” for the resulting wild multicolored look with some tweaking in Perfect Effects for just the right tonality.  And finally adding a “Torn Paper 001” border in the Perfect Layers module to complete the effect.

All things considered, pretty easy.  The learning curve is relatively quick especially for those familiar with Photoshop or Lightroom, and there are quite a few tutorials available from the onOne folks to help get you started.  Give it a whirl and let your creativity run wild.








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Singh-Ray Vari-N-Trio

Virginia Falls

Virginia Falls shot with Singh-Ray Vari-N-Trio Filter

Summer is a very busy and exciting time for me.  The highlight of the season is teaching photography in Glacier National Park at the Glacier Institute and my own personal workshops.  It’s always very satisfying to see students who barely know how to turn on their camera’s become very proficient photographers in just a few  short days.

One of the neatest things is showing students how to achieve that silky, ethereal look to flowing water, and with all the streams and waterfalls in Glacier, there’s no shortage of great subject matter.  The key to this effect is slow shutter speed – 1/4 Second or slower depending on the circumstances and just how much blurring of the water you desire.  Achieving this however can be quite the challenge especially when there’s a lot of ambient light to deal with.

St. Mary Falls - slow shutter speed achieved in bright light with Singh-Ray Vari-N-Trio Filter

St. Mary Falls – slow shutter speed achieved in bright light with Singh-Ray Vari-N-Trio Filter

Using the lowest ISO value and stopping down as much as possible (assuming that’s desirable) are always the first steps to obtain the desired shutter speed.  Sometimes simply the addition of just a polarizing filter is sufficient to slow things down, but then there are occasions when the addition of a neutral density filter is also required.  The problem has always been the need to carry several filters – a polarizer and ND’s with a range of stops to get to the optimal shutter speed.  Now, enter the Singh-Ray Vari-N-Trio Filter.  Not only does this all-in-one filter provide the polarization to get rid of unwanted glare and reflections, but the variable neutral density functionality that’s built in (4 to 8 stops) makes things quick and easy – all with one single screw-on filter.

There are two options for the Vari-N-Trio, a standard and thin ring mount.  The thin ring is pricier but if your budget can afford it, that’s what I’d recommend to avoid any possible vignetting at wider angle focal lengths.  One limiting factor, at least for some, is that the Vari-N-Trio is available only in a 77 mm mount (as of this writing).     For those that may not have a 77 mm lens, step rings are available from most photo supply houses to help overcome this limitation – they allow the thread size on this or any other screw-on filter to mate with a different lens thread size.   Be aware that the use of a step ring may cause vignetting with wide angle prime lenses, and at the widest focal lengths on wide angle zooms.  If you can work with this limitation and/or crop final images to remove vignetting (which is what I’ve done), then this should not be an issue.

All in all, this is a great filter when too much light is an issue as it very well can be when photographing flowing water in direct or mid-day light.  And don’t forget, a good sturdy tripod is an absolute must have when dealing with slow shutter speeds.

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Posted by on October 17, 2013 in Filters, Gear, Photography


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2014 Yellowstone Winter Photo tour

Old FaithfulJoin Rick and Dody Sheremeta in February 2014 for this 4-day fun filled and instructional photo tour into the back country of America’s first National Park.  For those that haven’t experienced Yellowstone in winter, it is one of the most striking landscapes on earth – frigid temperatures and venting geothermal features combine to create a wintry fairyland.  Add to this the abundant wildlife, and you have unlimited photo possibilities.  Rick and Dody will share their knowledge of the Park as well as techniques for capturing stunning images.

We will start each day from the West Yellowstone Kelly Inn and venture into the Park for a full day of exploration and photography in our privately chartered and comfortable snow coach.  The tour includes 5 nights lodging (a non-participating traveling companion can share your room at no extra cost), daily continental breakfast and boxed lunch, snowcoach, Park Passes and photo instruction.

This exclusive tour is limited to just 8 participants on a first come basis.

For further information or to register visit our Workshops Webpage


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Lightroom 5 Beta – New Spot Removal Tool

A month ago, Adobe introduced the latest version of Lightroom – release 5 Beta available as a free download (  There are several new additions in this latest release, but one of the best is the new and improved “Spot Removal Tool”.

Wow is all I can say – this is one of the best best things that Adobe has done to improve the overall editing capability of Lightroom.  If you haven’t tried it out, you don’t know what you’re missing.  There are two new features to the Spot Removal Tool.

The first new improvement is the “Visualize Spots” option.  When you select the Spot Removal Tool, in the Develop Module, an optional check box appears right below the main preview image.  When this box is checked, the image immediately turns into a black and white mask-like view allowing you to see spots that you may not have noticed in the actual colored rendition – that is until it’s too late and you’ve already printed it out only to find those ugly dark blotches.  There’s a slider next to the check box which by moving it to the right will increase the contrast of the preview thus making any dust spots stand out even more against the black background.  You use it just as you always have by hovering your mouse over each spot (adjusting the size brush size as needed) and clicking away.  When you’re finished, click the DONE button and the original rendition reappears sans spots – that’s all there is to it.  The first image below shows the original color image of Zion’s famed Watchman with a very light sky and no discernible dust spots – the second shows the new Spot Visualization option with lots of missed dust spots.

Original Image with no obvious dust spots

Original Image with no obvious dust spots

New Spot Visualize feature showing missed dust spots

New Spot Visualize feature showing missed dust spots















The next new feature is just as cool if not more so, and that’s the healing capability of the Spot Removal Tool.  Previously you were limited to only a circular selection but not so any more – now you can hold down the mouse button and drag it creating a brush stroke to make a selection thus providing much more latitude and speed to your work flow.  The image below shows a power pole that mysteriously popped-up in the frame near the bottom – sure I could have just cropped it out but then I wouldn’t be able to illustrate how the new tool works.

Distracting Power Pole and electrical lines - left is blow-up of image showing area selected in red

Distracting Power Pole and electrical lines – left is blow-up of image showing area selected in red






The next image show the pole selected with the Spot Removal Tool.  The last image shows the final edited image without pole or electrical lines.  The fix was quick and simple taking a mere few seconds as opposed to the old way of making many pains-taking individual selections.

Selection with new Spot Removal Tool

Selection with new Spot Removal Tool

Final Corrected Image

Final Corrected Image












Give Lightroom 5 Beta a try –  you’ll be glad you did.





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Singh-Ray Vari-N-Trio

Slow-shutter speed images taken with Singh-Ray Vari-N-Trio filter

Slow-shutter speed images taken with Singh-Ray Vari-N-Trio filter

April was an exciting month for my wife and I – it’s the time that we head south to wander around in southern Utah warming our bones after a long winter in northwestern Montana – kind of a sneak preview of warmer summer months to come back home. This year we were also on assignment from Tamron USA, getting images for an article on State Parks to go in their July E-Newsletter – lots of neat places with interesting photographic subject matter. We spent the entire month in Utah visiting State Parks like Kodachrome Basin, Escalante Petrified Forest, Goblin Valley, Snow Canyon and Pink Coral Sand Dunes among others.

Before leaving, I had just received my new Singh-ray Vari-N-Trio Filter and I was very anxious to try it out. I especially love to photograph waterfalls and flowing streams and hadn’t done so for several months as the opportunities are somewhat limited in the dead of winter here in Montana where we live. So, I was really looking forward to heading south. With both polarizing and variable neutral density capability of from 4 to 8 stops, this filter is ideal for not only eliminating natural glare, but more importantly for me, to control bright light at any time of day thus allowing me to utilize the long shutter speeds necessary to achieve the effects I’m looking for with flowing water – that silky ethereal look. Even with direct sun at high noon on a cloudless day, I was able to capture the image shown here of Lower Calf Creek Falls, near Escalante, UT with my Canon 5D MKII using a 2 second exposure. Wow – that’s pretty phenomenal if you think about it – without the Vari-N-Trio I could never get that slow of a shutter speed. For this particular shot, I used a Tamron 24-70mm VR lens at f/22 and an ISO of 100 – of course a rock solid tripod is essential at slow shutter speeds like this for tack sharp images (Gitzo carbon fiber and Kirk BH1 Ballhead).

This summer, I’ll be teaching students in my Glacier Park Workshops how to capture slow-shutter speed images like the one depicted here. With so many streams and waterfalls in Glacier Park, we’ll have more than ample opportunity to get some really great photos. Check out my workshop schedule for more info.


Posted by on May 22, 2013 in Gear, Photography


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