Monopods can Make Music


So often, photos that inspire you are ones taken from new angles, or from angles that you can’t normally get to, or think to get to.  Monopods are great tools in this regard…you can extend a monopod up over your head for more of an aerial perspective, or even turn it upside down to get an angle that might be otherwise pretty awkward or uncomfortable to get into just to get a unique shot.  I love my monopod!

While the good money will always add features and functions that don’t exist on lower end models, I do think that even the most basic of monopods can be useful – to the degree that even going with a Wal-mart brand or generic named vendor can be a sound investment.  If you are talking about just getting to a place you can’t get to on your own (or even with a tripod), the difference between aluminum and carbon fiber on a monopod doesn’t have as much impact here in my opinion.

Now if you are going for the stability factor, yes, a sturdier monopod would likely yield better results, but how much better do you expect from a single-legged support mechanism?  Seriously – even with your own two feet, you can get pretty steady with your shots if you use a good holding technique, tucking your arms in, leaning on a wall or tree, and going between breaths (or shooting between heartbeats as my former Drill Sergeant said in the Army.)  How is one foot going to get you more stability than two feet?  On it’s own, not much, so I don’t sweat much over the vendor here…

Check out these aerial and low angle shots I got with just a Wal-mart tripod and some creative thinking:

Tail Lights

This shot was taken with my monopod and the camera braced against a streetlight.  EXIF Data:  ISO 800 22mm f/22 4 second exposure


I shot this waterfall with the camera upsidedown and me holding the foot of my monopod while the camera was as close as I felt comfortable putting it close to the base of the waterfall.  EXIF Data:  ISO 100 21mm f/11 2.5 second exposure

Boats at Sunset

This serene harbor was shot with the monopod, and the camera braced up against a tack shop.  EXIF data:  ISO 100 18mm f/11 5 second exposure

Downtown Denver

The Denver Art Museum, shot near midnight.  The camera again, was upside down (I rotated it in post), and I held the foot of the monopod to get this low view.  EXIF Data:  ISO 100 33mm f/8 8 second exposure (it’s a tad blurry when you zoom in…)

Denver Photo Walk

This was done when I was shooting with my good friend Tim Tonge as we scouted routes for a photo walk.  I liked this one so much it made it’s way into my eBook as a photo tip.  Again, camera against the ground, upside down, me holding the foot.  EXIF Data:  ISO 800 10mm f/8 1/125th Exposure (note the exposure time here – I could have hand held this, but not at as low an angle as this was..the monopod made the shot!)

The Reward

Here, the monopod was collapsed all the way down to one extension so the camera was just above my beer.  The monopod itself was braced against the table, and I nudged the beer and coaster in until I got this composition.  EXIF Data:  ISO 800 20mm f/2.8 1/30th of a second exposure time


Have you tried a monopod?  The results may surprise you!

3 Reasons to Shoot Photography Every Day

cabo boat

We all have reasons to get out of practicing, but it’s never a good idea to stop altogether.  Once you stop shooting regularly, even your basic skills can start to atrophy. And while shooting every day can sound like a daunting task, people have asked me why it’s important to do this as a photographer.  It’s important because it helps keep your fundamentals grounded. It also serves to keep your eyes active and always looking for new inspiration. There’s so many reasons to shoot every day, but rather than bore you with a laundry list of words, here are  3 reasons to shoot photography every day:

1. Practice Makes Perfect

The first reason to shoot photography every day is because shooting more often will simply make you better! Whether you are starting out in the world of photography or you are an established professional, or even an active hobbyist, there are always things you can learn about your craft, whether it’s improving your vision, your composition, or even refining the controls you have over your gear.  You really only can get there through lots and lots of practice.  Someone once said that it takes 10,000 hours of practice before you can really consider yourself an expert in anything.  Here I would say one caveat and that is to never think you are done learning – adopting that attitude will only blindside you downstream.

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Cleaning Your SLR

Sensor Versus Mirror

I’ve written several times on the blog about cameras, sensor dust, and cleaning your SLR.  You can review those here, here, and here (5 Ways to Clean, 5 Times to Clean, and 5 Ways to Avoid Dust).  I’ve also elaborated a bit on the various options for cleaning your SLR from the no-contact to the wet and dry methods, but I’ve never really addressed the fundamentals behind camera dust in question.  So, when someone asked recently on Quora about the Self-Cleaning Mechanisms in SLR’s, I figured a more complete write-up might help.  This was posed on Quora recently, and in the interests of sharing the points I made there to any of the reading audience here, figured it’d be worth inclusion.  So, without further ado – here’s the full skinny on SLR’s and self-cleaning:

The Self-Cleaning Mechanism

Dust Delete

The self-cleaning mechanism of SLR’s has many larger concepts that need to be addressed to fully understand what is happening, but in basic principle, a camera will use the battery to either shake or vibrate the dust off, or, it will negatively charge air particles that will attract the dust off the sensor and let the now airborne dust fall down to the dust trap at the bottom of the sensor.  Having said that, there’s a couple additional points to make in this question that can help:

Sensor Cleaning Versus Mirror Cleaning

Sensor Versus Mirror

The internal self-cleaning addresses the sensor itself, whereas DIY cleaning methods really are addressing the mirror that reflects an image onto the actual sensor.  Unless you want to lock the mirror up (such as on older cameras) and clean the actual sensor, any cleaning efforts you do on newer cameras is really only addressing the mirror.  Because of that, the internal sensor cleaning will address the sensor cleaning adequately, but does not address the mirror in the SLR  (until of course the dust trap fills up and needs to be emptied by an authorized professional from Canon, Nikon, or other third party).  When it comes to cleaning the mirror, you will have to do that yourself.

Is the dust really being removed?

While the self-cleaning function does “remove” dust from the sensor, through either vibration (or shaking), it’s not really removing the dust from the camera.  Here is where the larger question of “where does it go” remains unanswered for the most part, and also where the usefulness of the feature sort of falls flat.  Inside cameras that have this feature, there is a dust trap at the bottom of the sensor that catches dust when it is shaken off the sensor and/or sensor mirror.  Simple laws of physics suggest that eventually this trap will get filled, which means it needs to be emptied, or you need to send a camera in for cleaning.

Preventive Maintenance

While I have personally found that the self-cleaning feature is useful to a degree, the fact that dust is not being removed entirely from the camera detracts from its value, as well as the consideration that difficult or stubborn dust is not removed sort of devalues the benefits in the long term.  Instead, incorporate a system when using your camera to avoid introducing dust in the first place, such as some of those mentioned already, including, but not limited to:

1.  Keeping the camera pointed down when changing lenses
2.  Using a changing bag
3.  Turn the camera off before removing a lens
4.  Change a lens as quickly as you’re able – the longer the face is open the more chance of additional dust being introduced.
5.  Keep your camera clean and try to change lenses in less dusty situations (i.e. not in the middle of a sandstorm)

DIY Mirror Cleaning

There are several methods of dust removal you can use such as the use of a Rocket Blower (also use with the camera pointed down), mirror wipes, lens pens, and other similar products.  These are often categorized as no-contact and contact cleaners.  Within the contact cleaners, there are also sub-categories:  wet and dry cleaners.

No Contact Cleaners
No contact cleaners (blowers) use a puff of air to dislodge dust from the mirror and when used properly, the dust will fall out of the camera entirely. A great product in this category is the Giottos Rocket Blower.

Giottos Rocket Blower

Contact Cleaners – Wet Versus Dry
Dry cleaners generally refer to the brushes like Lens Pens that act like a paintbrush of sorts that sweeps dust off the mirror.  Conversely, the wet cleaners use a pad and a liquid that is swiped across the mirror to swab the dust off with a quick drying agent (usually some form of an alcohol) – the one I’ve used is a combo of Eclipse solution and PecPads.  Both of these often come with increased risk of damaging your camera, so I would only recommend these for those comfortable with the mechanics of cameras in general.  The dry cleaners are less likely to damage, but still carry some risk, so keep these in mind in your cleaning approaches.


I’d also be interested in hearing what others think of the “Self-Cleaning” SLR’s…do you use this feature?  Do you find it useful? Do you clean your own camera, and if So, how often? Feel free to sound off in the comments below!