Friday, April 27, 2018

How to Shoot From a Safari Land Rover, Safari Prep and Image Workflow (updated July 8, 2018)

Friends are always asking me how I keep my camera and long lens steady when shooting from open land rovers and jeeps.  As my friends and family know, a simple answer just isn't in my DNA.  And since I can't handhold a super-telephoto lens, my response typically goes like this: 

Cameras, Lenses, and Support Techniques
  • I tweak my packing tactics depending on airline rules, type of planes, camp terrain, type of vehicle, distance of subjects, and the number of folks on the vehicle.
  • Airlines are getting unbearably strict with carry-on weight and trying to figure out what "not" to bring is the most stressful aspect of safari packing.  As a result, I always define priorities before selecting what gear to bring because there are always trade-offs and I limit myself to 3 lenses.  If priorities are rock solid, then missed shots from not having additional focal lengths are less important in the overall scheme of things.  My priorities are Big Cat/polar bear babies (even though I enjoy all wildlife), so in Africa/India, I pack the Canon 1Dx II with the 500mm f/4 IS II and a 1Dx (or 7D Mark II) attached to a 70-200 f/2.8 II/1.4x III combo or the 100-400 IS II.  My 3rd lens is a short zoom or fixed.  For polar bear babies, I pack a 800mm and 1.4x III teleconverter combo because of the need to stay 100 yards away.
  • If scenics, landscapes and animal-scapes are important to you, then consider traveling with 2 smaller bodies to allow room for additional lenses.  See more tips under Putting Camera Gear on a Diet - Ounce by Ounce under the Chris' Packing/Travel Tactics section below.  Keep in mind that every camp/terrain/vehicle is different and you'll never have everything that you want, so just do the best with what you have and be creative.  
  • If I couldn't bring a 3rd lens due to major weight constraints, I'm comfortable with 70mm as my widest because I prefer not to change lenses once I start a trip due to dust issues. Also, if subjects are close, it means shooting down which isn't desirable unless subjects are looking up.  This elephant grouping was shot with the 70-200mm + 1.4x on a full frame.  Since I was focused on repetitive patterns, there wasn't time to take my eye off of the viewfinder and remove the extender aka I could've gone wider.  
  • I also pack a P&S for memory shots/casual video. In 2012, I had one of those once in a lifetime video ops and the tiny sensor on the Canon S95 didn't do it justice, an ache that never went away.  So I switched to a small Sony GW77V 20.4MP CMOS camcorder (30-300mm @ f/1.8-3.8, 6.6 oz.).  That little Sony still delivers when I'm not bringing a Canon G3X  (24-600, f/2.8 - 5.6) or the Canon G7X II (24-100mm, f/1.8-2.8) plus an iPhone. 
  • For those who don't own a 500mm or longer (or choose not to rent), I should note that I've successfully shot with the 300mm f/2.8 as my primary lens on a full frame body on several trips.  This works if you're not a birder, and more so at private reserves in Botswana/South Africa because you can get closer to subjects while driving off road.  I never take my 800mm f/4 to Africa because subjects at longer distances are more susceptible to heat waves, subjects at nearer distances have less depth of field, and because birds are a lower priority.
  • In Botswana/South Africa, I book an extra bush plane seat because of strict weight and safety limits. This enables me to carry gear inside the cabin and mitigates the risk of my checked bags getting bumped onto a later flight. This does happen and when it does, it could take days/weeks for luggage to catch up.  In Tanzania, I drive to/from my destination which avoids bush plane weight constraints.
  • For camera support, my "no brainer" method is to use the Skimmer Ground Pod II with a RRS Monopod Head MH-01 on top of a SkimmerSack molar beanbag for vehicles with roll bars and side windows.  I like the tilt function of mono heads because I can fine-tune my lens angle while keeping my camera/beanbag flat and balanced.  When I need more height for reducing neck/shoulder strain, I stack a flat beanbag on top or add a riser. Since I use 4th Generation's low profile lens replacement feet to save travel weight/space, risers makes it easier to manually focus without catching on beanbags.  
  • I pack several flat beanbags - a custom 8 x 10" ultra suede version that I use to cushion cameras from banging against each other and/or the door when driving around on bumpy roads and a few original Kinesis Safarisacks that I use for the roof or other windows/seats.  I pack beanbags empty and fill them with seed or rice which I request when I book the camps.  This valuable staple is always returned at the end of my visit.  The exception is in Tanzania where I stop in Karatu (near the Crater) to buy my beans (20kg fills a large molar, a small beanbag and a SafariSack) which I give to my driver when done shooting.  Note: beans can stress the SkimmerSack's seams and I reinforce them with Tenacious Tape.  
    • In vehicles with slippery roll bars - i.e., Botswana/South Africa - my "get it sharper” method is to use a collapsed monopod.   The monopod foot is positioned on my seat between my legs, my camera is leaned against the molar beanbag, and I press one knee into the front seat with one foot planted in front of the other.  I also drape an elbow over the roll bar or against it.  As needed, I do the same in reverse using the back seat as the anchor point.  This beanbag-monopod system gives me the most speed and flexibility for shifting side: side, forward:back and pointing upwards for subjects in trees or rocks. And I can sit/wait/watch as long as needed with my body relaxed.  Before the vehicle stops, I'm already in position to get the cleanest shot shooting through thick foliage, i.e., when photographing tiny 5 week old leopard cubs peeking out of their den.  Being able to adjust my camera position freely helps to wrap the light more effectively as well.  And if obstacles or someone is blocking my view, I can lean back and work with the monopod from the floor.  To keep it steady, I wrap my left foot around the lower leg and the mid-section is pressed against my outer thigh/inside calf.  

    • For my monopod, I use the beefy, compact and travel friendly Gitzo GM5561T along with a Gitzo Big Foot All Terrain shoe secured with blue Loctite.  I mostly use a .9 lb. Really Right Stuff Monopod Head (MH 01) with a 12 oz. RRS Universal leveling base as needed.  I also like using the 1.8 lb. 4th Generaton Designs Mongoose 3.6 Action Head plus 5 oz. Integrated Low Mount Arm and position all adjustment knobs - lens rotation, the monopod head and leveler - for my left hand so that I can keep my eye on the viewfinder while adjusting things to minimize shooting lag. Note: the newer 3.6.1 version is lighter at 1.4 lb. 
    • RRS's knob version clamps are more versatile if using lens plates from various vendors; but, I prefer their lever version clamps because they're faster to install/de-install throughout the day.  And since I'm always adjusting the leveler knob, there's less risk of grabbing a monopod head knob by mistake.  
    • RRS monopod head/leveler vs the Mongoose: Both weigh about the same but RRS packs lighter without the optional leveler.  The RRS rig is easier to hold on my lap; i.e, when sitting next to a driver; whereas, the Mongoose rig is more stable when leaned against molar beanbags (more surface contact) or laid on the seat (less rotation).  The Mongoose's L shape is nicer for holding while shooting (aka less stress on the lens); whereas, the RRS rig is easier to use when shooting on a roll bar and the subject is perpendicular to the vehicle.  The RRS rig also takes less packing space.  
    • I also use Hoodman HoodEye eyecups on all cameras because the HoodEye comfortably molds against my face resulting in less pivoting or wiggle room. In addition, it cushions the eye from the weight of the camera/lens when shooting up into koppies (rock formations).  Note: they will tear after a year or so from wear and traveling between snug bags dividers.  So, always have a spare handy.
    • Beanbag + Monopod 101: It's important to lock down solid - monopod, face, elbows, knees and feet; and, to relax the upper body.  Whatever set up you use, always keep a hand on your gear to avoid long lenses from bopping someone's head, or whizzing out the window.  If you're changing batteries, cards or a teleconverter - or talking/snacking - have a camera strap wrapped around your wrist for good measure.  In addition, consider connecting your long lens to the camera via Optech's Uni Adapter connector.
    • Before the vehicle stops at the next shooting location, have your monopod legs set up at the right length and your beanbag positioned where you'll need it on the roll bar.  It's also important to communicate with the ranger/driver so that he knows where you want to be positioned and at what angle for the best background and lighting - for every subject that you approach.  When folding up and collapsing your rig, be careful not to pinch your fingers or knuckles unless you want a major ouch. 
    • When shooting, my left hand is pressed against the Mongoose/RRS and not on top of the lens barrel which reduces stress on the lens and camera mounts.  If not, lens mount screws can crack (been there) and one wouldn't know it until the camera starts having errors. 
      • Noise and fast motion are your worse enemies, especially if you want to relax subjects; such as, young cubs, birds or skittish elephant and impala.  Remove all jackets, dry sacks and rain covers before reaching subjects (i.e. 50 - 100 yards away) as noise from fabrics can disturb animals, especially non-relaxed cats and very young cubs.  Also, finish unzipping/zipping up bags as well and refrain from sliding around on the vinyl seats.  Note: Wax your bag/jacket zippers before trips for smoother/faster operation.  If you can turn off the shutter sound on your camera body, do that as well.  
      • Important: Talking should be minimized, so use hand signals with your driver/ranger for clarity and speed.  It always amazes me how much people talk in the bush given that sound carries such a great distance, even to the human ear.  Cats are notorious for going off road and hiding in the bush until noisy vehicles pass on by.  Also, find your own subjects to avoid being in the presence of other vehicles filled with noisy passengers; i.e., moms and babies will be more relaxed in your presence.  I also believe that cats evade negative vibes as well, so be positive and leave the chatterboxes at home.
      • To keep my 2nd rig stable on vehicle seats, I sometimes attach Wimberley M-1's to the lens plate.  They also prevent neoprene covers from getting caught on beanbags when panning.  To assist in shooting the 300/2.8 handheld, I pack my mini-shoulder brace hack - Leica tabletop tripod connected to a 1.1 lb. Giotto MH-1203 655 QR ballhead.
      • For Tanzania vehicles (prefer Land Rovers with row down windows), I stopped packing the monopod and only bring  SkimmerSack/Kinesis beanbags plus a Skimmer Ground Pod II/risers and sometimes the RRS monopod head MH-01.  
      • For "shooting directly off the floor" - i.e. from open Botswana/South Africa vehicles - the SkimmerSack beanbag works great as a lens/elbow rest and a kneelon comforts the knee.  
      • For "shooting subjects in trees", the 4th Generation Designs Monopod Companion with Clamp Post is super light, stable and helps to reduce neck strain.  It weighs 15 oz. and fits in a small baggie.
      • To assess potential shots while keeping a firm hand on expensive rigs, I use a lightweight monocular - the Leica 8 x 20 Monovid @ 4 oz. (same as Ultravid glass) - or Leica 8x20 Trinovid binoculars or retired  Zeiss 8x20 T 2 @ 2.7 oz. in a pinch.
      • Tripod 101/Air Travel: pack the lightest legs appropriate for the longest lens, discounted by the amount of anticipated usage and the amount/difficulty of walking; i.e., I switch between Gitzo 2, 3 and 5 legs albeit not for Africa.  For the 800mm with 1.4x, I use a GT5541 + Wimberley WH-200 combo.  For the 500mm II, I use a GT3540 + Uniqball 45XC combo but have had success with the GT2540 as well.  Note: for safety precautions, I connect lenses to cameras using Op/TECH Uni Adapter Loops.  Regarding IS settings, I normally use IS II or III.  See more specifics below under Putting Photo Gear on a Diet - Ounce by Ounce.  
      Positioning the Vehicle, Be Ready to Shoot in < 5 Seconds
      • The faster you can stop, the quicker you can shoot.  If your driver needs to back up, fiddle with positioning the vehicle or hesitates in turning off the motor, your subjects have either skittered away or relaxed their curious body posture - and, you've just lost direct, wide open eye contact.  And, if you're not ready to rock and roll, you just missed the shot as well.  A minute before the vehicle stops, remove noisy dry bags and have your monopod/bean bags adjusted to the right height and position.  Temporarily cover/protect your camera/lens from dust with a throw over instead.  Also, re-check/decide on your metering.  Be prepared to shoot in 5 seconds or less without swinging your big lens up in a way that startles subjects.  Also have your short lens ready for action.  A male leopard fight lasts 25 seconds or less.  If the driver is fiddling to move you to the perfect position, you just lost some great shots.  So, agree on the best case car position/nose direction in advance - even if you could get closer - and, commit so that you can start shooting ASAP with the motor turned off.  It goes without saying that you need to pick your roommates wisely and that you are on the same page in terms of priorities and readiness.
      • There's never a perfect position when subjects are moving among shrubs or playing erratically, so think strategically and look for clear openings up ahead. Then, have your driver get 30 - 50 yards ahead in order to photograph subjects coming towards you.  If not, you'll only have seconds to shoot before it's time to move the vehicle again (bad for you and stressful for subjects).  Also have a mental plan on how you're going to shoot in multiple directions without having to move the vehicle; i.e., move your body and/or have beanbags set up on both sides of the vehicle.
      •  If subjects are nestled inside shrubs/bushes, look for potential clear openings before the driver stops the vehicle which saves precious shooting time. A bit of grass in the way?  Just shoot and use it for framing.  Then, try other positions after you're gotten some worse case shots; i.e., it's better to crop than not get the shot at all. 
      • Preferably, I like to shoot to the left, with the vehicle angled 30 degrees to the left (10P position) when shooting off of roll bars.  This is more comfortable on the neck/shoulders, great for left eye dominant shooters, and it avoids hitting the driver in the head with long lenses. 
      • With skittish subjects - like mothers with babies and zebras - I always start further away and slowly move closer as appropriate.  
      • With shy subjects - like near distance birds and certain antelope (kudu, nyala, klipspringer and steemboks) - I ask for the vehicle to be stopped immediately and angled 20 degrees to the left or right (since there's no time to fiddle with re-positioning the vehicle or turning it around).  
      • With subjects high up in trees - leopards, birds and monkey/baboons - shooting straight ahead (at 12 o'clock) is fine because shooters can shoot over one another; and, it's more comfortable on the back.
      • Ranger/drivers can't read your mind or predict your real-time shooting objective.  So, communicate clearly and politely before you reach your subject/s.  Hand signals - i.e., cut the motor - are more effective when there's a noisy motor or loud wind.  Be a teammate - aka don't act like a boss - as genuine respect goes a long way.  In addition, drivers respond much faster when you learn key phrases in their local language.
        • It's not a shot unless it's sharp.  And, it's not sharp unless you can print it large.  So, if it takes longer than you'd like to get set up and locked down solid, stick with the basic beanbag (the easiest) and practice with the more complex monopod combo when appropriate; i.e., while waiting around for sleeping lions to liven up.  Know that you'll get more efficient the more you practice. You don't want to be fiddling around when others are ready and trying to shoot; or, risk missing that critical magic moment.
        • Work just as hard in spotting subjects as you have a broader and higher 300 degree line of sight; whereas, ranger/drivers are concentrating on avoiding elephant/anteater pot holes, hidden rocks/logs and thorny trees branches in addition to driving smoothly on bumpy roads while trying to spot for subjects.  
        • Take turns with your buddy on scouting to the right or to the left to increase overall results.  Develop a rhythm for checking near:far and high:low.  Don't get complacent and try to be the first vehicle at a sighting.  Train your eyes to spot subjects in trees and behind bushes as you whiz on down the road (aka easy for drivers to miss). 
        • Key to success: If you have the perfect subject/s but no activity or eye contact, don't drive away.  A bird in the hand is worth it's weight in gold.  Instead, wait for a herd of elephants, baboons, giraffes, impala or hyenas to pass by - preferably behind the vehicle - which is guaranteed to give you great a photo op.  Without these distractions, you'll end up with more ho-hums shots.  Also, it's important to remain quiet so that subjects can communicate with each other without attracting predators. 
        Prior Canon 1D Mark IV/1Ds III Settings:
        Note: Did not delete this in case it's useful to someone

        Getting great images isn't just about what camera and what settings.  But, since I'm always seeing forum posts about "what settings should I use?", here are my custom function settings:

        Group  I/II are all at default except I-7-1. Group III =
        • 1-0
        • 2-1  Moderately Fast  
        • 3-0  Exception: Change to Drive priority for erratic jumping/panning shots
        • 4-1  Always set in case I switch 8-0 to 8-1
        • 5-0  Exception: Change to 5-1 if hunting
        • 6-4
        • 7-0
        • 8-0  Change to 8-1 as needed for low light/low contrast
        • 9-1
        • 10-0
        • 11-2
        • 12 thru 17 = 0
        • 18    High = 10 and Low = 8
        • 19-0
        Group IV are all at default except =
        •  1-2  Switches autofocus to a back button
        •  2-1  Switches auto focus to the "*" button
        •  8-1  Settings displayed on LCD
        •  14-1 Reduces shutter lag

        One Shot Versus AI Servo
        • With the 1D Mark IV, I shoot in One Shot 90% of the time.  That's because AI Servo only kicks in at a certain speed threshold.  As a result, it's more reliable for birds in flight or running subjects than it is for slow moving subjects; especially, when shooting wide open or at narrow depths of field.  Plus for me, it never worked with low contrast, low light subjects (i.e, polar bears) and/or distant subjects that are small in the frame.  The other main reason is that auto focus locks on faster in One Shot.  And, each time I re-focus - aka pumping the "*" button in back - I know exactly what I'm focusing on; i.e., more control over depth of field and composition decisions.  Re-focusing is immediate because I have C.fn III-2 set to Moderately Fast. 
        • So, how do I eliminate the 1 second IS delay each time that I re-focus in One Shot?  I use an unpublished trick that Chuck Westfall shared with me when the Mark III's were introduced. For those using the back "*" button, press the shutter halfway before re-pumping and this keeps IS activated.  This mitigates worrying about timing issues.  I also shorten my shutter lag to .036 seconds (from the default of .055 seconds).

        For Fast Action
        • For leopards climbing up/down trees and cheetahs playing or running, etc., I obviously switch to AI Servo.

        • It's never a sure thing, so a little prayer always helps.
        • On the 1Dx: If subjects are romping around with tons of grass in the foreground, I sometimes find it more effective to shoot in One Shot and recompose with single-point spot AF when at a distance.

        1Dx II/IDx/7D II Camera Settings 
        Updated 10.1.17
        •  I try to keep things simple and always review manuals and the 1Dx/1DxII AF Setting Guidebooks at the start of each year as a refresher.
        • Even though I trust AI Servo, I still tend to pump in One Shot whenever possible because it's a tad faster and I prefer the larger green AF confirmation light.  
        • My default settings are: AV, Daylight WB, evaluative metering, Single-Point AF, my modified AI Servo Case #1, High fps, and EV +2/3 for the 1Dx and +1/3 for the 1Dx II.  Note: for all AI Servo Cases (Magenta Menu), I use +1 Tracking Sensitivity for faster acquisition.  Be aware that this also means faster to lose focus as well, so practice and see what works for you.  I change to Spot AF point when shooting through grass.  I find that additional focus points aren't as effective with cat markings - i.e., moving cheetahs, leopards and serval cats - but will use 4 pt. surround during erratic behavior.   
        • My default setting for AI Servo 1st Image Priority is 0 and 2nd Image Priority is +1.  
        • I always stay on AI Servo Case #1 and my default is 1, 0, 0 for slow moving subjects.  If I'm blessed with playful cheetah cubs, I switch to 1, 1, 1 (and 4 pt. surround when there aren't any foreground distractions).  For running/romping cheetahs, leopards/cheetahs jumping up/down trees or subjects that spook easily, I switch to 1, 2, 1 or 1, 2, 2.  Nailing cheetahs hunting is always a crapshoot because we need to stay far enough away to allow them to hunt which normally results in heat shimmers.  I always stay in Case #1 and use My Menu as a shortcut for making changes.  For me, it's faster than using the Q button to switch menus, and then moving between Case #s (which my brain has to translate from sports themes), and it avoids overriding accidents when things are narrowly defined under Registered sets.  
        • My most favorite customization is the ability to set the * button to Start AF/metering in One Shot and High fps; and my AF-On button to Start AF/metering in AI Servo (with no AF characteristics aka a Case #) and High fps.  Be wary of assigning a Case # in this sub-menu because it will override a Case that you set manually if they'e not the same.  If you're not familiar with back-button AF shooting, read this.
        • My M-fn2 button is set to to Start IS when held, valuable because it allows me to keep IS activated when I want to re-focus in One shot.  In other words, it minimizes the 1 second IS delay when re-pumping the back button.  
        • The Depth of Field button is set to switch to my Registered AF point when pressed.  This allows me to switch quickly from a left sided AF point to the most sensitive center AF point (by pressing the Multi-Controller) and/or a registered AF point on the right.  I re-register often and my horizontal/vertical registered points are linked so that I'm approximately where I need to be when I flip the camera.  On the 7D Mark II, register a point by pressing the select + illumination buttons for 3 seconds and on the 1Dx/1Dx II, press the select + ISO buttons.
        • My Menu Items: I set Tracking Sensitivity, AF point switching and Acceleration/Deceleration Tracking as 3 of my 6 items so that I can change behavior on the fly for the currently selected Case without having to drill down under the AF-Magenta menu.  It's my faster way for changing 2nd Image Priority as well.
        • Other My Menu items are: Format Card, Custom Controls,  Record Functions (to change CF card slot) or Date/Time.  On the 1Dx II, I like that I have a Menu 2 as well.
        • My Multi-Controller is set for AF point direction (a press also gets us back to center), the Set button is still set to change ISO, and the M-fn button is used to change the focus point size/area. 
        • Also, I limit my options to speed up on the fly changes; i.e., shooting modes are only AV, TV and M; Zone is disabled; and Low fps is set to 10 (i.e., for lowlight). 
        • set up the 1DxII/1Dx/7D Mark II to minimize time away from the viewfinder. Yes, I could share more settings; but, then you'd never read or study the manual, AF Guide and/or watch Canon videos which are invaluable for those new to these cameras.  I highly recommend that you study, explore, practice, document - and, knock yourself out.  Plus, you'll learn valuable tidbits like fps tops below the max when the battery is below 50%.   
        Focus Points 

        • On the 1Dx/1DxII/7DII, my default is Single Point. Current sensors are more bullish in looking for detail and contrast.  So, when more than 1 point is selected, the sensor could/will lock on something in front of the intended focus point if it has more contrast.  When shooting through heavy foliage, I switch to Spot Focus.  And when shooting erratic running subjects (or polar/brown bears in low contrast lighting), I switch to 4 Point Surround I don't use Auto/61, but set the camera to start focus with the manually selected AF point.  If ever needed, my plan would be to start with Single Point when the subject is small in the frame, re-pump to assist the camera, and then switch to Auto/61 at the last moment (the M-fn2 button would be re-programmed to do this). 
        • When I was using the 1D Mark IV, I never used AF expansion (C.fn III-8) except when photographing polar bears in low light or when panning subjects (left/right points only) for best accuracy.  If subjects were erratic or harder to track - i.e., hawks zigzagging before diving into water or hippos flipping their heads back - I switched to Auto/45 in AI-Servo (initiating focus with the center point).  If I sensed that the camera might have lost focus - i.e., the subject's body moved outside of the ring of fire (focus point area) - then, I'd re-pump to be safe.  
        Selectable AF Points
        • With all Canon cameras: I select my own focus point and try to use focus points that are cross hairs because they're more sensitive and accurate.  On the 1DxII/1Dx/7D Mark II, you can set Selectable AF Point(s) to display cross hairs only so that you don't have to memorize or think about it.  My approach is to display All 61 and select from the cross hairs while ignoring the blinking non-cross hair.  And when using f/2.8 and faster lenses, I try to take advantage of the diagonal cross points 
        • Note: alway try to focus on the imaginary cross hair (or vertical/horizontal line that dissects a focus square) to increase accuracy.  And because the vertical line extends outside of the focus square, be aware that the sensor could focus on something (with more contrast) slightly beyond the focus square.  
        • When I see more than one square light up when I'm in Single point, that's a clue for me re-acquire focus.  I also know that if I focus on something with little to no contrast - i.e., polar bear babies with branches in the foreground - there's a high risk of the sensor focusing on the foreground even when I'm in Single point.   

        Metering and White Balance
        • I use AV + 2/3 -1 EV (or +1.5 - 2EV in the Arctic) so that I expose all the way to the right.  That's because one stop of underexposure - i.e., the right column in your histogram - is equivalent to throwing away 1/2 of the available pixels for editing.  I then fix my exposure, tonality and mood in post processing which results in cleaner files.  This way, my subjects are less muddy, especially when they're in shade.  Note: This is with Auto Light Optimizer turned off. 
        • If shooting subjects in trees with the sun behind them (aka in shade), I ignore highlight blinkies that come from areas that will be cropped out of the final image.  I also add a gentle touch of fill flash with a bounce card when possible. 
        • I always use Daylight white balance.  Previously, I used Shade because I prefer the warmer tones of cinema film.  However, I find that I get cleaner files if I shoot in Daylight, neutralize color balance with an eyedropper, warm up the tone, and then remove color casts as needed in Lightroom.  Also, Daylight gives me more post-processing consistency over Auto WB.   
        • I shoot in raw, of course.
        • When using the 7D Mark II, it's important to shoot with a higher shutter speed because everything is magnified due to the cropped sensor.  And if you want more perceived tonal depth, stop down more.  When shooting in flat light, I avoid using teleconverters because files look like mush. 
        • Bracketing is set to 1/3 increments. And a quick HDR sans tripod technique is: One shot, LiveView, bracket = 5 and 2 second timer.  This eliminates mirror slap in between.
        • I'm happiest with files when shot @ ISO 400 or below.  Even though I shoot to the right to eliminate as much noise in the shadows as possible, my brain/eyes can still see noise in my files.  Since I normally have to shoot @ ISO 800 - 3200, minimizing noise takes some finesse in post-processing.
        • My high ISO noise beef:  When I shoot with a shallow depth of field, foliage gets mushy or painterly aka distracting.  If I shoot with more depth of field, dry grasses get crunchy when sharpened - i.e. halos.  Plus, files look more muddy (green color cast from foliage) and using Clarity gets risky.  As a result, I never sharpen in Lightroom, do a small luminous noise adjustment and leave color adjustment on default unless I shot at ISO 3200 or higher.  After I import into Photoshop CC, I use a gentle dose of NoiseWare and then do import sharpening on the green channel.  Then comes the tedious part: I never sharpen grass, foliage, the background or sky aka I mask them out hair by hair.  Note: sharpening foliage makes reflections hotter (brighter) which distracts in my opinion. I also remove remaining color noise around the face/chest with a Hue/Sat adjustment layer as needed.    
        •  I would've missed this rare Indian leopard if I didn't use ISO 3200 back with the1D Mark IV in 2011.  The leopard was barely visible and my shutter speed was down to 1/15 at f/4 aka no man's land.  But, I lucked out with a few shots since the leopard was still.
        • Important: When buying a new camera, test it and learn it thoroughly before going out on safari as every model has it's nuances; such as, 1) some perform better at 1/3 ISO stops as opposed to whole stops which I use, 2) cross hairs vary, and 3) custom functions are different, etc.  Nothing is worse than leaving awesome photo ops on the table because settings weren't optimized, or having a camera that is plagued with error 99/80 or focus issues.  
        To/From the Land Rover or Jeep:
        • To the vehicle, I carry the 500mm II lens/1Dx II covered in a 55L dry sack and the 100-400 II or 70-200mm II/1Dx combo in a 35L  dry sack.  
        • For rain protection in open vehicles, I use 35/55L Outdoor Research Durable Dry Sacks because they last the longest in terms of water/moisture seepage prevention.  They have webbing on the side so that it's easy to anchor them to roll bars/seats with belt straps.  They do, however, weigh 7 oz. each and take longer to dry in heavier rain (waterlogged albeit moisture doesn't get inside).  
        • For dust protection, I use Outdoor Research's Ultralight DryPack Liners 3.0-3.6 oz. I buy dry sacks oversized - aka 35/45/55L - because it's faster to whip cameras in/out, to fold them over several times in rain, and to protect my day bag in rain as needed.  My current preferred dry sack is the lighter weight Ultralight Dry Sacks because they come in a neutral gray (doesn't spook animals) and only weighs 2.5-2.9 oz.  The 45/55L also fits the 800mm/body/1.4x extender combo (with hood reversed).  I also bring a 1.9 oz 15L graphic sack to stow clothing layers and spare gloves, etc. and  a 3 oz. REI backpack cover for faster cover up when vehicles drive by kicking up dust.  After each trip, I fill sacks and covers with water in the tub - to check for water/moisture seepage - and replace them as needed.
        • For my day bag, I like using the Glass Taxi which has an amazing capacity for a small, 2.5 lb. footprint.  With a Test Drive bag attached, it holds my 2nd rig, batteries, a short lens, sunglasses, monocular, P&S/video iPhone, HoodLoupe, sun hat/bandana, remote cables, map/compass, StormJacket rain covers, Zing neoprene pouches/straps, rocket blower/dust brush, Q tips, flashlight/headlamp, microfiber towel, fix-it tools, snacks, sunscreen, eyeglass/Deet wipes, tissue/Wet Ones, first aid, ginger chews, eye drops and gloves/hat/neck gator in winter months.  Tools/personal items are organized in a lightweight meshes.  I tried using cheapo lightweight backpacks but found that the Glass Taxi made it faster to organize and find things. The Glass Taxi also hides/protects gear - i.e., chargers, monohead, monocular, loupes, flashlights, flashes and spare CF readers, etc. - when checked in soft sided duffels.  Increasing, travel weight is more of an issue, so I started using a 12 oz. REI Convertible Stuff Tote a few year back instead.  Since there's less protection from damage/theft in checked duffels, I stow chargers/valuable items in Eagle Creek/Rimowa padded cubes and layer dry bags, the REI tote and straps around them to keep sticky fingers at bay.  This way, my camera bag, the 26L GuraGear Bataflae, remains cleans for air travel.
        • Note: If sunscreen or deet are getting on LCDs/camera grips from your nose or fingers, clean up often throughout the day with a microfiber towel to prevent damage.
        • Straps, straps and more straps: camera and lenses are tucked inside dry sacks or pack covers, and then anchored to the roll bar on the back of my seat with buckle straps.  The straps keep gear from crashing to the ground during sudden stops and/or bumping against each other Prior to anchoring down my gear, I struggled with holding cameras/lenses on my lap without dinging them, causing more tense shoulders, neck and arm strain.  Buy buckle straps at camping stores or strapworks.   Adaptor Loop connectors are nice to have too.  To buffer vibrations, I use a small beanbag under the hood of my long lens and camp blankets under the cameras. 
        • Triple rain protection: Having dry sacks and backpack covers on hand provide double protection when sitting in light rain or driving around in mud.  For heavier downpours,  I also use Pro Storm Jacket Telephoto covers.
        • My comfy little strap secret: Typically, one holds onto to the roll bar for stability when drivers are speeding around like race car drivers.  For height constrained folks, this means that your shoulders are hunched slightly forward and are not braced against the back of the seat.  Instead, I prefer to hold onto a strap anchored to the roll bar behind me.  This way, my body and shoulders are planted to the seat and there's much less jarring when hitting potholes.  And, when I loop my arm completely through the strap (modified with a 2nd short strap), I can lean forward and do side:side 180 turns for more effective game spotting. 
        • I also strap a couple of pouches to the roll bar (Zing neoprene pouches for fast access to a monocular, P&S camera, camcorder or Hoodman Loupe) and a ThinkTank Lens Drop In pouch (for glasses) in lieu of wearing overstuffed vests.  In Tanzania when there's a seat in front, I use a 4 oz. Timbuk2 Hidden Messenger bag as a quasi seat pocket.
        • Back on the home front: after returning home, everything is ceremoniously washed down in the bathtub - the Glass Taxi, dry sacks, pouches, beanbags, straps and Eagle Creek cubes et. al - as they are filthy with dust/dirt and potential hitchhikers, etc.  My worst fear is bringing home a batch of giant orb spider eggs (or ticks).
        Evening Routine on Auto-Pilot
        Updated 2.1.18
        • Download Sandisk UDMA7/Hoodman CFast cards to a 2017 13" MBP using Hoodman USB 3.0/Sandisk CFast readers (w/Cable Creation's USB C:Micro B cables).  I'm also testing USB C readers w/integrated cables (UniTek CF and StarTech Fast) to minimize packing space.
        • Verify that folder sizes (bytes) match up 100% before copying to portable drives.  For drives, I use Samsung T1/T3/T5 SSDs which are fast and save travel weight @ 1oz each.  With the T1s, I use Cable Creation's USB C:Micro B 1 ft cables and with the T3/T5, I use Monoprice's Select Series C:USB C Gen 2 cables (#27923) which downloads @ 26-35 GB/min.  Cable speed makes a huge difference to me as every minute saved from downloading/backing up is more time for analyzing images and prepping for the next shoot.  I also tested Monoprice's 6" Palette Series C:Micro B cables (#14853) but they kept dropping from the desktop, so stay away.
        • As reference for those with USB 3 A ports (like my previous MacBook Air), I used Monoprice 18" USB C:A cables (#13004) for the Samsung T3 (faster than Samsung's stock and Belkin's 10 Gbps 3.1 cables).  With the Samsung T1s, I used Monoprice Ultra Slim A:Micro B cables.  
        • Do a quick image audit.
        • Top off batteries to avoid having to charge from empty and having potential conflicts with generator/travel schedules.
        • Format cards and re-set camera settings; i.e., back to card slot 1 on the 1Dx II/1Dx. 
        • To learn more about field back up tactics and archival strategy, under Backing Up in the Trenches - My Workflow towards the bottom of this blog.
        • Note: be aware that electrical currents from shared camp generators or overloaded lodge circuits may not be as strong as when testing laptops/devices at home; meaning that: a) it may take longer to charge your batteries and laptops, b) too many devices can blow out circuits, and c) you may not be able to complete your nightly back-ups as quickly as planned.  So, set priorities especially when two shooters are sharing a room.  For example, I make sure that everything is backed up before doing any importing in Lightroom; and, I always top off camera batteries nightly as opposed to waiting until they're drained.  This is even more important with the 1Dx II/1Dx as fps drop by 2 when the battery is less than 50%.  Also, I always unplug everything as soon as I'm done; including, the surge protector.  And, when there's an on/off switch, I remove Canon batteries from the charger before shutting off.  That's because AC interruptions will trigger the calibration lights which is a royal pain in the neck.
        • Remove dust from camera and lenses with a Giotto Q Ball Air blower, a small generic paint brush, and a Giotto Retractable Goat brush plus gray cloth for the lens front.  Then, wipe everything down with a damp towel Note: In India and at some U.S. airports, Giotto's Large Rocket Air blower could get confiscated when going through checked bag security because of it's shape.  Smaller rocket blowers don't work in dusty environments, so the Q ball is a good option.  My current tactic is to place the Q ball in a  baggie (tip bent over) and put it right on top inside a checked duffel.  Inside the baggie is a friendly note that says: "This is just an air blower to clean the front of my lenses and inside my cameras on African safaris where there's a ton of dust.  Please allow and thanks in advance".  I started this tactic in 2011 and since then, TSA stopped opening my checked bags.
        • In moderately dusty environments, blow out the inside of cameras with the Q blower to avoid having to do wet sensor cleanings in the field.  If there's dust on the sensor, inspect it with a Visible Dust Mini Quasar 7x sensor loupe and do a manual sensor clean with the blower only.  Note: I never travel with the loupe's original case (quite large).  Instead, I place the loupe in a small Hakuba CF case.
        • Verify that the All Terrain foot, HoodEyes, BlackRapid straps and other caps/screws/bolts are still on and screwed tight.  Do minor repairs as needed.  If there's moisture or rain, store cameras with Zorb-It packs in a baggie (or use rice in a pinch).  Note:  HoodEyes/Canon Eg eyecups are prone to tearing, so I always carry a back-up.  Also, Hoodman loupes tend to break from the lanyard.  As a result, I reinforce with a small plastic tie and threaded dental floss. 
        • Replenish supplies - AA batteries and sunscreen/bug/handy wipes, etc. - and make adjustments to what's carried out to the vehicles; i.e., rain covers, straps, clothing - or not.  I keep a simple checklist visible so that I don't forget important items; and, to help document my workflow for the next trip. 
        • Force myself to get into bed early as 11 - 12 hour days in the field can be draining.  Also, promise myself to drink more water the next day.
        • On the last eve, all the gear is wiped down with a damp towel and dry sacks are rinsed so that items are relatively clean upon return home.  Empty bean bags, dirty straps, dust covers and pouches are consolidated into one dry sack. 
        Quick Audit of Images:
        • My priority is to analyze what's working or not in terms of my technique; i.e., camera support tactics and sharpness, metering, depth of field decisions and camera settings.  I emphasize the word "quick" because if not, 2 -3 hours will blow on by; and, it'd be way past a decent bedtime for getting up at 5:30 - 6A in the morning.
        • I use Photo Mechanic 5 as my front end to Lightroom because Contact sheet (same as LR's Grid) and Previews (same as LR's Loupe) is wicked fast.  The preview zooming size can be pre-set and then increased/decreased by simply hitting "z" and/or changed in increments with "option or z" plus the "+/-" keys.  A double/single click gets you back:forth between Previews and the Contact sheet.  And, it's easy to learn assuming that you understand a bit about Lightroom file behavior.  Here's a intro tutorial and more in depth tutorial albeit there are many more now on the web. 
        • I use Photo Mechanic strictly for quick reviews before importing to  Lightroom.  The more integrated method is to re-named raw folders during Photo Mechanic's import step (known as Ingest) which are then dragged into Lightroom (on the dock) for importing.  In Photo Mechanic, any captions, copyright info, keyboards or number/color ratings, if done, can be saved to .xmp files which are then stored in the raw folder.  Sport shooters and journalists love PM because the input window is much larger and easier to access/see than in LR.  If you set up colors and descriptions for numbers 6, 7 and 8 in PM to match LR, the color info will carry over during the LR import.  Ditto for 1 - 5 ratings (in PM, you need to press "fn" plus the number).  In Catalog, press "fn plus the up/down" arrows to scroll through pages. And unlike LR, Photo Mechanic will play your video files.  
        • If you make keyword corrections to files in LR (and your catalog setting is √'d to automatically write changes into .xmp), these changes -  i.e., key words - will show up in PM as well (learn how to via the Dan Cox tutorial linked above). 
        • I don't cull images with Photo Mechanic or Lightroom in the field because I can't really analyze critical focus points/ sharpness; or, assess the sharpness of hairs in areas that are most important on a small 11" notebook.  Unless it's an obvious user error, I wait until I'm cozy with a large monitor before making culling decisions.  If I tossed every unsharp image, I'd never know if it's a user error or a camera calibration problem that needs to be fixed.
        • Plus, an eyeball is not an eyeball until it's viewed on a large monitor.  The normal rule of thumb is that the 2nd or 3rd image in a burst will be the sharpest because releasing the shutter sometimes causes camera vibration.  However, this doesn't always coincide with the best gesture or when a subject's eyes are the most open or when the pupils are pointing in the most ideal direction.  And in my scorebook, it's all about the eyes.
        • I know my keeper rate and when images aren't up to par, I send cameras/lenses in for servicing and calibration.  I prefer sending gear in via Canon's CPS Gold program, as opposed to doing user micro-adjustments, because wildlife subjects are never positioned at the same distance; and, one needs to assume a set distance when micro-adjustments are made for a given lens.  
        Packing List: All But Clothing & Tailored by Trip
        • Dust/Rain/Snow/Salt Water/Bug Protection: Outdoor Research Ultralight dry sacks, Optec/LensCoat neoprene lens/body covers, Zing neoprene pouches, buckle straps, Storm Jackets for camera/lenses 1-2 sizes larger than recommended, ThinkTank/GuraGear/REI rain covers and trash bags. B+W XS-Pro Clear with Multi-Resistant Nano Coating 007M filters (repels dust/water spots). Kneelons, Neos River Trekker hip waders, Adventure Overshoes or YakTrax Pro, Original Bug Shirt/bug pants, SeaSummit/OR bug head nets and InsectShield clothing.
        • Gear Cleaning: microfiber towels (various sizes), Q tips, Giotto retractable goat brush, a small paint brush, Giotto Q Ball Air blower*, Arctic Butterfly II, Visible Dust mirror brush, RayVu/Formula MC Lens Cleaner, gray microfiber clothes, alcohol packets, iKlear packets, Visible Dust 7x Mini Loupe, 30x jewelers' LED loupe, Barnes & Noble pull out magnifier light and eyeglass/iphone cleaning clothes. Note: The Q Ball replaced my larger Rocket blower after I was stopped by security in India. It's less intimidating when the nozzle is bent over, I put it in a baggie with a TSA note, leave it on top of my duffel; and now, TSA never opens my checked luggage.
        • Travel Protection: ThinkTank Glass Taxi/Limo (also serves as a day bag), Tucano neoprene portable drive cases, SunCloud/lightweight plastic case/magnetic holder for eyeglasses, LensCoat neoprene Travel Coats, Giotto microfiber lens pouches, ThinkTank pouches (Flash, Test Drive and Lens Drop-in), mini Rimowa cases (fits the Canon 1Dx charger), medium/large Zing neoprene pouches (protects RRS monopod head/leveler and Gitzo monopod for travel), Zorb-It dehumidifier packets), Fragile labels, and TSA note explaining the rocket blower (always packed on top).  If using a REI Stuff Travel Daypack instead of the Glass Taxi, then I protect chargers, etc. in an Eagle Creek padded cube.
        • Shooting Tools: 1DxII/1Dx/7D II bodies, 4th Gen. bi-directional plates, batteries, 500mm/4 IS lens II, 70-200mm/2.8 IS II or 100-400 IS II, 1.4x III teleconverter, a 3rd lens, 256GB Hoodman/Sony CFast cards, 704GB Sandisk UDMA 7 CF cards (plus 192GB udma 5 cards),  3 remote switches, HoodEyes, LensCoat covers, monocular (Leica Monovid/Zeiss 8 x 20) or bins (Leica 8x20 Compact Trinovids) and bean bags (SkimmerSack, custom 8 x 10" and Kinesis SafariSacks).  So. Africa/Botswana/TZ = a Gitzo GM-5561T monopod with All Terrain Foot, RRS monopod head, RRS leveling base, 2 Wimberley M-1s, 600EX II flash, Demb reflector/diffuser or FlashBender II, CPE-2/4En battery pack w/Eneloop Pro AA batteries/charger. Tanzania = Skimmer Pod w/risers. Tools: OR dry sacks, Hoodman loupe, map, pocket compass, long/short buckle straps, Op/Tech Uni Adaptor loop straps, shoe strings and carabiners. Camera Straps = UP or BlackRapid w/LockStar, SunwayFoto/Desmond clamps and plate. Non safaris = tripod (GT5541LS/GT3540/GT2540), Wimberly WH-200, Mongoose 3.6 w/L plate or Uniqball 45XC plus OpTech Uni loop connecters/Kinesis tripod strap.  Spares: Gitzo foot, Gitzo screw cover, 77mm lens cap, body cap, HoodEye and Nikon flash shoe covers, Optional:  Cotton Carrier, WalkStool, Wimberley M-4 macro arm (quasi panning lever) and Leica 14100 tabletop tripod w/Giotto MH1302 ballhead/clamp (quasi shoulder brace for 300mm/2.8) or Bogen tabletop tripod (quasi shoulder brace 100-400).
        • Camcorder/P&S: Canon G7XII (3 batteries, 128GB Transcend SDXC #1, neoprene Pedco wrap/OpTech case) or Canon G3X (3 batteries, Hejnar plate, 1/2 chargers, hood/viewfinder, 128GB Transcend SDXC #2/older 64GBs, Tether Tools hot shoe adapter, MegaGear neoprene cover/TT Mirrorless Mover 10 case, Transcend USB 3.0 readers) or Sony GW77V camcorder (3-4 batteries, 1-2 chargers, 2 micro-SDHC adapters and 128GB equiv. microSDHC Class 10 cards), small tripod (i.e., Manfrotto 797 ModoPocket, Peco UltraPod or Gitzo 210B/LD26 ballhead combo).  
        • Packing Aids: Eagle Creek Specter packing cubes (labeled with yellow electrical tape), REI dry sacks for separating shoes/laundry, Eagle Creek compressor baggies for reducing space, colored see-through mesh zip pouches, Kokuyo pencil cases, transparent plastic eye glass cases, large/medium baggies, and sandwich/pill baggies.
        • Image Back-up Tools: 13" MacBook Pro (mid-2017) with 2 sets of power adapters/cords, 2 Sandisk CFast card readers, 2 Hoodman USB 3.0 CF/SD card readers, up to 6TB Samsung SSD drives, Monoprice 18" USB-C:USB-C cables, Cable Creations USB-C:microB cable, a few Apple adapters, and a few Patriot SuperSonic Magnum flash drives.
        • Fix it Tools: Fenix PD25/22 and 2 E05 flashlights, 2 headlamps (Princeton/Black Diamond Spot), Barnes & Noble pull out magnifier for splinters, pointed tweezers, Squirt S4 Leatherman w/scissors, Sears Craftman 4 way keyring screwdriver, white eraser, small channel pliers, Canon 2.0mm and 2.5mm screwdrivers (Japanese blades), the correct L wrenches, a General multi screwdriver pen, spare RRS/4th Gen/Gitzo screws and bolts, ties/rubber bands, zipper wax, single use loctite/gum drop semi-permanent glue, single use crazy glue, rubber jar remover, a lens pen, alcohol packets, egrips, my Troubleshooting cheat sheet, and pre-cut reflective Kelty cord.  
        • Godsend Tape: mini roll of yellow electrical, pre-cut duct/gaffers/electrical tape strips spread out in various bags, mini scotch tape, Nathan's neon tape, cloth tape for finger scrapes and Tenacious tape patches (to repair beanbag seams).
        • Electrical: EuroSurge 1,200 joule surge protector, Monster Outlets to Go 4 plug power strip, 2 sets of Int'l plug adapters, a small North America plug extender for airport lounges and a PowerGen 12W/2.4A dual USB auto charger.
        • Apple Paraphernalia: 29/12W Apple chargers, C/USB 3 lightning cables, iClever 24 W Dual port adapter, iPad Pro/Air 2; iPhone X, iKlips drive, iKlear packets, Moshi/microfiber cloths, AM Mist Screen Cleaning block, Just Mobile Gum 6000 mAh 2.5A input/output battery pack, Ultimate Ear SuperFi 10/5 (w/Filo cable, Comfy tips, angled jack) or iMore earbuds, MacBook Pro 13" 2017 w/2 power adapters/cords, one extender, and 2 euro headset jacks. 
        • Note: all things new or altered - i.e., every cable, cord, hub, portable drive, flash drive, screws, caps/covers, adapters, batteries, chargers, memory cards, readers and plates, etc. - are tested in advance (used and connected as if in the field) to avoid Murphy's Law.
        • Misc. Batteries:  2 CamRanger wireless trigger, AA (Canon flash and power packs) plus RadioShack tester, AAA (clock), CR2025 (Canon and Visible Dust), CR2032 (head lamps), CR123 (Fenix flashlight) and LR41 (keychain lights).   
        • Security and Speed Aids: 2 PacSafe TSA luggage straps, TSA luggage locks (plus 2 spares), Nite Ize dual carabiners (size #1/MicroLock), generic carabiners, REI calf wallets, luggage tags plus spares, walkabout travel retractable TSA extender lock, large/small luggage ties, Samsonite luggage cart, zipper pulls (zipquix, Nite Ize and Sargent knots), Streamlight nano/egear Pico keychain lights on lanyards and wrist straps, RFID passport sleeves, plastic organizer sleeves in various sizes, mesh pouches in various sizes, and dry bags to hide valuables in checked luggage.  Note: safari tents/rooms are dark and it's hard to see TSA lock numbers.  So, I like Brookstone's Big Digit locks.
        • Personal: Safari watch (tritium illuminated), 3 Biobands for motion sickness, Cocoon travel pillow, travel clock, mini temperature gauge, nail clippers, keychain flashlights (in every bag, on lanyards), scissors to cut ties/tags and keychain thermometer; eye glasses (plastic/Chum's cases, screwdriver), ThinkTank Lens Drop/neoprene pouch for roll bars, cleaning packets and microfiber cloths); folding tote (Flip & Tumble 24-7); writing/tips: small moleskin notebooks, colored index cards, mini sticky pad, tip planners and envelops, mini metric and money charts, Sharpies, fat Sharpie, silver labeling pen and name/address labels, rubber bands and paper clips; cleaning: woolite soap packets, Dryall spot cleaning pen, mini sewing kit, velcro, rubber drain stopper and Mephisto shoe brush; bug/germ fighters: sanitizer gel/packets, Ben's deet spray/packets, non-deet spray, fly swatter, shower flip flops, StingStop, emergency OTC and prescription meds, alcohol packets, peroxide, slant/pointed tweezers, topical staph antibiotic, Jarrow blister sealed probiotics (25 mil), SteriPEN Freedom UV water purifier, Nalgene bottle, Nalgene cups, rubber gloves, mini pill organizers and spare ziplock/pill baggies); snacks: Starbucks coffee packets/KleanKanteen, Nalgrene bottle lanyard, nuts, turkey jerky, Kind protein bars, ginger chews; dust/grime/harsh water fighters: extra shampoo/conditioner, facial cleansing towels, toners, extra eye drops, nail brush, microfiber hair towel/travel hair dryer; sun damage prevention: sunscreens with zinc/titanium oxide (Elta MD/Chanel and SunForgettable), SPF shirts w/side vents, wide sun hat, sun gloves and bandana. Lastly: disposable toothbrushes, single packet floss, Afrin/Sudafed and ShowerPills for air travel days; and, kleenex packs, daily meds, eyeglasses, vitamins, sundries and cosmetics. 
        • Note: all packets are tested to insure that they're not dried out; and, all meds and personal products are replaced before expiration dates.
        • Sub-Zero Temps: rubber bumpers for shutter buttons, Q tips and lens brush to remove snow, D rings sewn onto parkas and carabiners for hanging mitts, a generic tool to open battery/card compartments, hand warmer pouch sewed into a fleece cap to keep camera batteries warm, spare neoprene lens/camera covers (in case something drops in snow or blows away in gale winds), boxes of Super Hot Hand warmers plus insoles, extra fleece hoodies to double up as needed, a carabiner watch, and a dry sack tucked inside a L611 Kinesis Long Lens case. TBD: a squeegee for removing frost/ice from viewfinders (something better than Q-tips).
        • Other Shooting Tools (as needed): wide and macro lenses, CamRanger, polarizers, Lee filters, angle finder, lighting reflectors, 2x extender, 4th Generation Safari Companion, Naturescapes skimmer with extenders, Leica Tabletop tripod with small ballhead (quasi shoulder brace), kneelons, and a walking stool/stick, etc.

        Tips for working on a 11" Macbook Air/13"MBP (2017)

        • Make friends with Apple keyboard shortcuts; especially, the fn + up/down arrow keys for scrolling pages (see more here).  
        • To zoom your screen in and out: 1) press Option/Command + 8, 2) Option/Command + =/- keys (as set up in System Preferences/Accessibility), 3) or pinch the trackpad out/in using 2 fingers.  Note: if you're using a Mighty Mouse, then go to systems preferences and set up Smart zoom which allows you to double-tap on the mouse with one finger. 
        • Command + up/down arrows moves up or down one visible section at a time; whereas, fn + right/left arrows takes you to Home (top of the page) or the bottom of a page.  
        • A cool Facebook shortcut is to use the J and K keys to scroll up or down quickly.
        • Handy Lightoom keyboard shortcuts include: shift-tab to hide all panels versus f5, f6 and f7 one at a time, the f key to get to full screen, the l key for lights out, option/command + 1 takes you to Library mode, the d key takes you to develop mode, the g key gets you to grid mode, and the e key gets you back to loupe view, etc.  
        • Lightroom/Photoshop Stuck Window Tip: If you accidentally drag the menu bar too far to the top-left, it disappears and the window gets stuck.  To get it back, go to System preferences/Displays, √ the Scaled box and temporarily change the resolution (i.e., 1280 x 800) so that you can drag the menu bar again.  If this happens to a 2nd monitor back and the tip doesn't work, then use Displays/Arrangement to move the window.
        • In Safari, to go back or forward a page, use command + the [ or ] keys.  
        • In Photo Mechanic, hide the Toolbar via View > Hide toolbar.  Also remember to purge your Disk and Memory cache under Preferences. Toggle from the Contact Sheet (same as Grid in LR) to Preview Mode (same as Loupe in LR) by clicking the trackpad.  Hide/regain panels with the f key and if needed, press r to get  panels back.  Press z to see your pre-set zoom size and increase/decrease the size with z (or option) + =/- keys.  Or, zoom within a thumbnail on the contact sheet by setting View > Cursor Mode > Loupe and then hitting the spacebar (or clicking) while on a thumbnail.  Command + k opens the keyword window.  Tag and remove tags on previews with t (or command plus +/- keys) and select all tags with command + t.  Command + m renames a file, and the rest is similar to Apple's shortcut (command + a equals select all, command+  i equals info, etc.
        • For USB 3.0 devices, use the cable that shipped with your device to avoid headaches.  
        • To maximize your Apple battery life and other workflow tips, I put together a nice list under the Putting Computer Gear on a Diet section below.  Also, never let your laptop battery drain below 20% when you're not plugged in as it might have trouble waking up.

        The Count Down (One Month Before):

        • Update my Master Pack and Prep List. 
        • Make sure that camera bodies and lenses have been serviced as needed.  If cameras are serviced, re-check all settings as they're often changed.
        • Research firmware updates before installing. 
        • Obtain visas and insure that I have enough blank pages in my passport (and the required number of years remaining).
        • Verify flights/connections and that airlines have my TSA Pre-√ number on file.
        • Verify that immune shots are current; i.e., flu shots yearly and a typhoid booster every 2 years.  Note: always complete at least 2 weeks before travel to avoid reactions.
        • Purchase any sundries, medications or photo tools that need replenishing.  Check all expiration dates as now is not the time that I want OTC meds, emergency antibiotics, sanitizers, sunblock, bandaids and eyeglass wipes, etc. to perform at sub-par levels.  Also, get rested and eat healthy to build up the immune system.  I also start Jarrow 25B probiotics, Primal Herb's Immune formula and lifting more weights.
        • Look for more ways to downsize weight ounce by ounce; and more ways to increase workflow efficiency/speed while minimizing hiccups.
        • Start setting aside crisp/unmarked $1's, $5's and $10's for tips in countries where U.S. currency is accepted.
        • Start cleaning up desktop/laptop computers to make space for new image folders and trip edits.  Also, clear out old email. 
        • Clear the cache (in all browsers) and delete all unwanted cookies aka 95% of them.  If browsers are running slow, reset them as well.  
        • Order portable drives, archival drives, flash drives and CF cards as needed.
        • Update all software - including emergency tools such as DiskWarrior, PhotoRescue, DataRescue and Drive Genius. Note: if upgrading Photoshop or Lightroom, remember to re-check preferences and color settings because sometimes they get nuked.  To optimize Photoshop's performance, see Diglloyd's Mac Performance Guide/Photoshop CS5 along with his CS6 advice; such as, this one with regards to GPU enabled.  Also, E.J. Peiker wrote a nice tutorial on how to use PhotoRescue for CF/SD cards many moons ago.  His process gives you a general idea on how to avoid image recovery pitfalls when using other image recovery software as well.
        • Run Disk Utility's Verify Disk and do repairs as needed.  It's also a good time to run a diagnostic program - like Onyx on travel and home computers - to insure that all are healthy and are void of hidden cache files which hog up space.
        • Maximize laptop space by clearing all images and LR libraries not related to the upcoming trip.  Worse case, delete 1:1 previews.
        • Update a dedicated flash drive with photo/diagnostics software.  I use an old 32GB USB 2.0 Patriot Rage drive which includes all software, manuals, troubleshooting notes and serial numbers.  To troubleshoot a Mac, disconnect all peripherals, check systems preferences, repair permissions, verify the disk, toss out suspect preferences and zap the pram. Worst case, un-install and reinstall suspect applications.  
        • Update a dedicated flash drive with my Documents, iTunes and desktop folders in case I need to free up space on my laptop. 
        • Finalize all decisions on hardware/software upgrades and photography gear.  Test every new purchase for reliability and compatibility; and, add name labels. 
        • Make the time to read manuals and thoroughly learn new cameras and software, etc.
        Creative Goals and Depth of Field:
        • Make clear, specific goals for every trip aka be on a mission. Define and prioritize who and what you want to photograph. This helps in making difficult lens choices; i.e., the high priorities vs. the nice to have (seen a zillion times).  
        • Review depth of field charts - by camera, focal length, f-stop and shooting distance - and do a mental dry run.  My belief is that everyone needs to build their own DOF cheat sheet because style is very personal and the process helps you to memorize tradeoffs i.e., stopping down might only gain a few inches and/or the same lens on a cropped body gives you less depth of field than on a full frame at the same distance, etc.  You can calculate depth of field for your gear at DOFMaster or on their iPhone app.
        • This prep step warms up the thinking cap - getting one to think about what worked and didn't work on previous trips.  It makes me go back and analyze exposure settings on favorite images and what went wrong on sub-par images aka learn from my mistakes.  This helps me to define what I want to do differently on the next trip.  
        • Which body on which lens can make a difference in end results, so yet another thing to think though.  As someone who doesn't like to switches bodies on game drives because of dust, I try to plan out my strategy beforehand.  Stop down - or not?  Many newbies are told to stop way down when using a super-telephoto lens at near minimum distance.  But in my view, the depth of field gain is minimal while the shutter speed can be risky.  For example, on a 1.3x body and 500mm at 10 yards, the gain per stop is only one inch.  Besides, a narrow depth of field makes the eyes pop and provide more shutter speed without having to crank up the ISO.   But, that's just me. 
        • Group shots: It's difficult to capture a grouping of large subjects when using super-telephoto lenses as the physics of getting all heads sharp is not in our favor unless subjects are all standing on the same plane at a distance.  So, focus on isolations or just enjoy the moment.  
        • A 500mm on a cropped camera will have less depth of field than on a full frame when shot at the same distance per the DOFMaster calculator. 
        • Timing, timing, timing: When watching wildlife documentaries, movies or videos, mentally practice shutter release timing and adjusting camera settings so that everything is on auto-pilot.  In fact, you can learn a lot from most any movie that you watch in terms of lighting, framing, focal points, depth of field, color, tonality, style and mood.  Even going back through your point and shoot videos can help in setting up your SLR; i.e., watching the erratic movements of my babies leopards here.  
        • A cheetah will reach top speeds - 65 mph - in only 3 seconds.  If you're after that shot, make sure that you've memorized your "best case" camera settings and are ready for timing the shot at the right moment without hitting the buffer.  You can review a cheetah's stride here.  

        The Full-Court Press (5 Days Before Departure):
        • Re-check all camera custom function settings. 
        • Check for last minute firmware and software updates.
        • Top off camera batteries and/or calibrate as indicated.
        • Re-format CF/SD cards, portable drives and flash drives. 
        • Clean lenses, drop down filters and camera sensors.
        • Identify the number of AA, AAA and miscellaneous batteries needed and use a battery charge tester before packing. 
        • Test screws and pack all fix-it tools.  Note: review my Check Your Screws and Words of Wisdoms post because I'm always seeing folks with loose lens feet or tripod/gimbal screws which is a sure way to wreck your gear/images.
        • Test prongs and pack 2 sets of international plug adapters (one set in carry on and one in checked luggage).
        • Drain/refresh batteries (iPhone/iPad and Mobile Gum battery, etc).  
        • Download Kindle books and Apple/Amazon Prime/Netflix  movies/TV to the iPhone X or iPad Air 2/iPad Pro 12.9" for watching offline.
        • Figure out tips and cash requirements and get crisp/unmarked bills in the denominations needed from the bank.  Separate tips from emergency travel cash and pack in color coded mesh pouches. 
        • Figure out how much to convert to foreign currency upon arrival and in what bill denominations.  Note: hotels have minimal bill denominations on weekends and it's worse if arriving on a Sunday.  Pack more than one ATM card to avoid gotchas when networks don't work or when a card doesn't participate on the ATM's network.  Also print wallet sized currency converter charts.
        • Review airport layouts for lounges and ATM locations; i.e., in Johannesburg, ATMs are only located in the Domestic terminal B, lower level.
        • Update my CJ Lists folder which includes all travel references; such as, hardware and software serial numbers, equipment replacement value, Canon custom functions settings, Canon lenses depth of field charts, shooting cheat sheet, equipment manuals, my Apple/Photo gear troubleshooting cheat sheet, keyboard shortcuts, purchase receipts, medications and prescriptions #'s, medical history, credit card customer service #'s (plus  bank customer service #'s for countries visited), air/hotel reservations #'s, travel insurance, travel notes and local contact #'s, gear/clothing inventory, etc.
        • Verify that my Documents folder, iTunes library, apps, Address book, bookmarks and travel related desktop folders are all up to date before copying from my desktop to the MBP 13" 2017 or 11" Macbook Air. 
        • Since I use iTunes Match, I download any newly purchased music from my iCloud Music Library to the iPhone/iPad.  But if I tweaked/re-ordered playlists on the computer, I turn off/turn on iCloud Music on each device to supersede the outdated library.  Then I go through each playlist and download new songs (select all > right click to download).  Note: if you're an Apple Music user, here's a good article to keep you from getting tripped up (aka losing your music).
        • Copy relevant lists, air/hotel reservations and travel insurance info to my Address book/GoodReader so that info is accessible from my iPhone, iPad and laptop.  
        • Note: Apple's Contacts is a very powerful tool and I use it to store any/all information into a central repository - i.e., I "cut" useful info from hardware/software technical help and support forums, my emails, airline/hotel references, travel insurance policy, personal word/pdf docs, photo/computer troubleshooting tips, and keyboard shortcuts, etc. - and "paste" into a new or existing contact.  Then, I summarize paragraphs into bullet points to make it easier to scroll and read on an iPhone/iPad.  When there's a lot of info on an important subject, I break it down into multiple contacts.  Net:net: any information that I might need for travel or troubleshooting is at my disposal on my iPhone/iPad/laptop without having to access the internet.  I learned my lesson the hard way when my Macbook Pro displayed the kiss of death (LCD went black) after a major power surge tripped it at a safari camp.  I tried all of the normal fix-it steps from memory but forgot to do the infamous PRAM because my Apple troubleshooting notes were sitting on the computer.  Even if I did have access to the internet, it would've taken me longer to research answers then to browse my own troubleshooting list.  In the field, it's important to be self sufficient because travel buddies typically have their own issues to deal with and may not be helpful as expected.  An easy way to start building your own troubleshooting cheat sheet - by product/software - is to cut/paste from forum suggestions, vendor FAQ's, how to articles/blogs and vendor databases/emails to Contacts every time you read something useful.
        • Copy travel docs, personal word/excel docs, .pdf files and new gear manuals into the GoodReader iPhone/iPad app via iTunes/Files Sharing. A scanned copy of my passport and travel policy booklet are also transferred over. 
        •  Make hard copies of my passport/VISA, medical prescriptions and travel/credit cards (with DOB and expiration dates blackened out).  Note: if you haven't done so already and travel abroad more than once a year, register with the U.S. Customs Global Entry program which allows you to skip the long customs lines at your port of entry.  All you have to do is scan your passport and fingers on a lightning fast, self servicing kiosk.  The program costs $100 (good for 5 years) and renewing is simple.  Global Entry members can get a Nexus card for $15 which allows you to go through Nexus lines (aka faster) at major airports in Canada/Mexico.  At most major airports, Global Entry members automatically quality for the TSA Pre-√ program.  Update your airline profiles with your Global Entry number and request TSA Pre-√.  
        • Limit the number credit cards and provide respective companies with travel dates and the countries to be visited.  I use separate credit cards for travel/overseas (only those w/o transaction fees).  Note: make charges in the local currency or else the merchant will charge a transaction fee.
        • Verify that debit cards work in the countries to be visited, and that pin numbers are valid.  
        • Order AT&T's 30 day Passport 1G Plan for $60.  As before, you still need to check for countries that qualify and whether you'll have cell service reception.  Note: to place your order, there's a Confirm page plus a Submit page (easy to miss in a rush). Note: Reset data usage on your iPhone as soon as you land abroad in order to track usage.   In non-participating countries when not on free Wi-FI, only open essential email as a 5 meg photo attachment can cost $40 a pop. While on topic, only view non-sensitive email/web pages when on public wireless networks.
        • Pack clothes, sundries, medications, vitamins, travel folder, personal items, photo/computer gear, snacks, and spares of anything critical to travel comfort and shooting success.  See more specifics under Chris's Packing, etc. Tips below; and replace batteries on travel watches if due for a change.
        • Spray clothes/shoes with permithrin (good for 30 days) and waterproof as needed. 
        • Verify that every item has a label or ID.
        • Pre-pack field supplies for my day kit and make a "grab list" to make getting ready for the first game drive quick and efficient.  That's because when items are spread between bags and hidden in pouches, it's easy to forget things (out of sight, out of mind) especially when jet-lagged or sleep deprived.
        • If checking a small 2nd duffel, distribute clothes and camera support items in case one bag is late or missing in action. 
        • Review/update my Master pack list and weigh all bags. 
        • Then, the real fun (aka serious stress) begins; i.e., deciding what's a must have and pulling out the nice to haves  - i.e., snacks, emergency supplies and new tools to try out, etc. - aka the never ending struggle to reduce weight - ounce by ounce.  
        • Start a new trip notebook - includes reservation #'s, passport info, emergency contacts, important actions items and a mini currency conversion chart - which I keep handy in a cargo pocket for jotting down trip notes. 
        • Review international airport arrival and departure terminals/gates so that it's easy to assess the amount of time needed to get from point A to point B; i.e., at Frankfurt, it can take 45 minutes to get from Terminal B to C (and vice versa) with security checks after de-boarding and pre-boarding.  My goal is to be at the gate at least 30 minutes before check-in; and, longer in places like Bangkok where they do security checks at the gate as well.  I try to have at least a 3 hour layover when heading to a destination.
        • After all last minute items are packed, tuck itineraries into every bag, lock them with TSA locks/plastic ties, and snap photos on an iPhone.
        The Evening Before (or Morning of Departure):
        • Print boarding passes if possible. 
        • Synch the iPhone/iPad, close all open apps (double-click the home button and swipe) and turn off all notifications/location services, Wi-Fi and bluetooth (improves battery life and security).  To synch Contacts from my computer via iTunes, I click on Advanced and Replace Contacts (which supersedes the info on my devices).  This avoids ending up with duplicate contacts/groups on my computer which can take hours to clean up.  It also means that I have to collect new contact info on a notes app when away from home, and then add/update contact info on my computer.  Also, I verify that all Apple apps are updated and that any updated travel list (word/excel), travel docs (.pdf) or new gear manuals (pdf) have been added to my Goodreader app. 
        • Copy Contacts/bookmarks to the laptop: I never use iCloud to synch Contact/bookmarks from my desktop to the laptop because I have a ton of Contact groups and bookmark folders and they get messed up.  This means that although I'm signed into iCloud  for iTunes Match, all apps in System Preferences/iCloud are left un-√d.  Instead, I copy my Address Book and bookmarks from my desktop home library (press the option key + Go in the Finder Menu to get to the Library/Applications Support folder where the Address Book folder and Safari folder reside) to the laptop's desktop in Target mode or via a flash drive. Then I move the Address Book/bookmarks to the laptop's home library (press Replace, not Merge in the pop-up window) which minimizes group/folder duplicates when names are changed.  Similarly, iCloud apps on my Apple devices are turned off to prevent getting hacked and to avoid duplicate contacts/group fiascos. 
        • Before packing the laptop: turn off Airport wireless/bluetooth to save battery life and increase security. Also, verify that file sharing is off and firewall is on (under Systems Preferences) because they have a mysterious way of flipping on/off.
        • Finally, it's game over and time to rock and roll. 
        • Upon arrival at the first international destination (i.e., a layover), turn off data roaming.  Also, reset usage which starts the clock for AT&T's 30 Day Passport Plan and turn on Airplane mode to stop cellular towers from pinging the phone which drains batteries.

        Back in the Saddle Again:
        • First things first - catch up on zzzz's.  The more I sleep on Day One (aka my lights out marathon), the faster it is to adjust to the 10 - 12 hour time zone difference.
        • Next up - back up all images 2x or more.  See "Backing Up for the Long Haul - My Workflow and Storage Devices" below for more info.  The ugly truth is that protecting images for the long term takes time and effort. 
        • Document travel related notes while they are still top of mind - what worked and what didn't, etc.
        • Inventory travel tools/sundries, clean gear, re-order/replenish must haves, and send gear out for repairs as needed.  If not, action items tend to get dragged out.
        • Catch up with family and friends - aka show appreciation to those who tolerate and support our obsession.
        • Store external drives/gear off site in secure, climate controlled facilities.
        • Now, the creative mind is clear to focus on images. 

        Lightroom Library:
        • Several friends asked me how I manage libraries - one per trip or one per year?  
        • I prefer to create a new Lightroom library for each trip and keep it together with the raw folders initially on my laptop, then the desktop while editing images, and then when they're moved with the raw files to external back-up drives.  
        • After editing out the losers, I make a collection of my "best ofs" from the trip.  This best of collection could be 200 - 500 strong, and I work off of standard or 1:1 previews.   
        • As much as I like to get things done and move on, never rush this process.  I'll look at images on the flight/s home to get a sense of my favorites by doing a quick & dirty collection.  But, the real ranking and decision making is after everything is unpacked and put away, after I'm caught up on emails and other tasks, and I'm in a rested state.  
        • Before I begin, I make sure that monitors are properly calibrated.  I had been using Spyder pucks with ColorEyes software for ions. But when I got my 5k iMac Retina, I needed to transfer my ColorEyes license. However, support from Integrated Color went down the toilet in 2015.  So, I switched to X-rite's i1 Display Pro and am a happy camper.  It took several tries to get the profile to my liking, but I settled on D65, luminance @120, V2/matrix, native contrast, flare/ADC on. 
        • I use Razer gaming mouses (Diamondbacks and DeathAdders) because they're fast for Lightroom/Photoshop editing along with a Wacom Intuos4 tablet/Classic pen and an Apple Magic Mouse 2 (for fast/accelerated scrolling using my left hand).  Note: Razer mice are blazing fast and you can tailor the x and y axle speed to your comfort level. 
        • In addition to tagging the Best of's, I develop the story that I want to tell which helps me to get to the short list.  
        • My goal is to develop the best portfolio out there on my favorite subjects, and to have a consistent style that is unique to me. 
        • Next, I start making sub-collections.  At this stage, I work off of 1:1 previews to increase the speed of analyzing images.  I also crop and address white balance to insure that grouped images hang together properly.  
        • I routinely select all (Command + A on the Mac) and save metadata (Command +S) to the files along the way even though I already set my preferences to do so.  And, I back up my LR catalog each night.
        • With sub-collections, I can easily duplicate a WIP gallery and change the order of images to see which body of work is stronger.  If I need to fill in a storyboard, I just grab the appropriate image out of the master "best of" collection. 
        • For me, having one huge library takes too much time to keep all of the links valid, i.e., they break as soon as you move raw folders from laptop to desktop to back-up drives, etc.  Also, I feel that there's less risk of corruption when smaller libraries are upgraded to newer versions of LR and future operating systems.  
        Lightroom Adjustments:
        • Unlike most, I use Lightroom to prep images for editing in Photoshop as opposed to using Lightroom for eliminating work in Photoshop.  That's because I still feel that Photoshop does a better job with tonal correction; i.e., it allows me to be more precise when using channels/masking (important for preserving tonal gradation and wrap around light).  And, using layers saves a lot of time when images need to be tweaked. 
        • I start by purify colors using the white balance dropper and then warm things up just a tad.
        • Next, I adjust exposure, highlights, shadow and white sliders.  My preference is to use tonality to separate subjects from the background as opposed to color balance aka it's more natural.  
        • Then, I do a gentle dose of clarity (< 10) to add mid-tone contrast and dehaze, followed by a gentle tone curve (+5 lights -5 darks as a starting point) and a contrast adjustment as needed.
        • Then, I fine-tune black, white and shadow sliders.  Note:  clarity darkens the shadows in addition to mid-tones.  As a result, images tend to be more muddy and require more attention than before.
        • If I still have problems with hot spots, I adjust the highlight slider in curves.
        • I don't mess with colors except for a little vibrance ('tween 7-10) and saturation (-/+ 5).
        • Then, I stand down and evaluate. 
        • Before I export into Photoshop, I turn off sharpening and bump up luminous noise 2 - 6  for images shot between ISO 400 and 6,400.  That's because I prefer doing selective input sharpening in Photoshop after doing a NoiseWare layer (more precise using masks). 
        •  Once I have the look that I want, I insure that all images in a given gallery have similar treatment for consistency.
        • If you want to read a quickie overview of how LR tonality sliders interact with each other, see this post from an Adobe forum.  
        Photoshop CC Approach:
        • Basically, I use the creative seeing approach that Katrin Eismann taught me many moons ago and it's how my brain sees, analyzes and fixes only what's important.  This means optimizing the main focus and de-optimizing un-important areas along with other distractions.   I aim for a clean, natural, 3 dimensional and consistent look.  
        • 90% of my time goes to making a precise input sharpening mask which I modify/re-use for output sharpening as well.  I also re-use the mask for curves and color adjustment layers when needed.  Masking out unimportant areas using channel masks on a curve layer takes time too; but, the end results make a difference in my humble opinion.
        • The only plug-in that I use is Noiseware.  I bought all of the Nik filters but never embraced them.  With highly touted plug-ins like MacPhun and Topaz, I always test them to make sure that I'm not leaving something on the table. 
        • Editing for large prints take a lot more time because every little distraction shows up big time.  
        • Before I get too far along on a project, I always evaluate images on different monitors and laptops - including, some that aren't calibrated aka the real world - which saves time in the long run.  You'd be surprised with monitor variances with regards to warmth, color casts, white points and shadows (can look muddy).  In addition, I try not over-sharpening because to me, it's distracting.
        • For friends serious about improving photoshop skills, I suggest joining KelbyOne for tutorials all in one place.  There's also the Annual Photoshop User conferences where you have access to a wide array of learning workshops.   
        Focus on the So-What's:
        • Editing tools evolve and change but your vision and execution is what really matters.   
        • It's important to think through what you are trying to communicate and how you're going to grab the viewer's attention and heart before touching any sliders or palettes. 
        • Before starting to edit, articulate what needs to be done and why?  This is the Katrin mantra that was drilled into my head a decade ago.  For example, not every image needs to be sharpened (especially globally); and, it's important to watch for sharpening artifacts along dark/light edges, whiskers and leaves, etc.  I strive to avoid that crunchy look that you normally get with plug-ins and off the shelf actions.  Note: if you want to emphasize something, consider de-emphasizing the inverse; i.e., desaturating, toning down or blurring the background.  Also, I avoid over-saturating or doing color balance adjustments on just the subject/s which looks unnatural to me. 
        • What rules for me is maximizing tonality.  That's what maintains that three dimensional presence; and, I prefer working with channels to accomplish this goal.  That's because when using a brush - to paint in dodging/burning, color balance, saturation, curves, sharpening or noise, etc., we are essentially painting with a flat instrument -  i.e., 10 - 100% (in Lightroom or Photoshop); whereas, light wraps around or falls off a subject.  Using channels in Photoshop helps to preserve this light fall off.  Studying black and white classics helps with developing tonality seeing abilities; i.e., I always refer to my Arnold Newman books because his compositions also tell a story. 
        • There are many ways to tackle objectives - the 30 second, 3 minute, 30 minute or 3 hour approach (again ala Katrin) - and each approach has it's plus and minuses.  So, pick your battles and invest your time where it really counts.   For me, my effort is focused on making a good sharpening mask and getting rid of color cast/noise without ruining the mood of the lighting or flattening out wrap around light that I worked so hard to achieve while shooting.  I also tone down distracting specular highlights (because the eye is drawn to light tones). 
        • If you learn things the hard way first, you'll be able to judge the effectiveness of easier methods (i.e., advancements in raw converters and plugs-in); and, you'll end up with more consistency in your work. That's why, I like to understand what's underneath the engine - exactly what the Photoshop tools and Lightroom sliders are doing (the so-what's) - so that I can minimize overlapping, conflicting and negating effects.  
        • Sharpening: only sharpen what's important.  Also, make sure that your eyeglasses, if needed, are dead-on accurate.  I can't comment on sharpening plug-ins because I never use them.
        • I find it invaluable to take my time when working with new versions of Lightroom and Photoshop as often, the slider algorithms can change dramatically.  
        • The following folks are excellent at explaining what's important and how to tackle different objectives: 
        •  If you want to learn/understand what's happening underneath the engine while performing Lightroom/Photoshop tasks  - while avoiding the pitfalls like crunchy edges, halos and garish colors - then Tim Grey is the go-to guy.  If you can't get into a course workshop (i.e., sometimes in Santa Fe), then subscribe to his Ask Tim Grey newsletters and DDQ Quarterly (you can learn a ton from reading his Q&A format), and pick up some of Tim's books.
        • If you want to better understand retouching, masking, channels and creative seeing, pick up some Katrin Eismann DVDs or books, including her Creative Digital Darkroom (co written with Sean Duggan) or Real World Digital Photography co-written with Sean Duggan and Tim Grey.  I was fortunate to have spent 2 weeks learning from Katrin, before she became Chair of the Masters in Digital Photography Program at the School of Visual Arts in NYC.  Katrin last updated her Photoshop Masking and Compositing book in 2012.  
        • If you want to improve tonality skills - seeing, optimizing and printing fine art ala Ansel Adams - then sign up for a Charlie Cramer workshop.  Charlie studied under Ansel and teaches at the Ansel Gallery workshop in Yosemite.  He only shoots in flat lighting, yet his eye and curves technique can pull out the most subtle nuances in an image while still looking natural.  His prints are drop dead gorgeous and he can start you on your roadmap to beautiful prints as well.
        • Note: none of these skills are learned overnight, or even in a year.  Mastering these skills is a multi-year commitment and is no different than achieving excellence in your professional field or with other hobbies. 
        Don't Rush but Don't Get Backlogged 
        • Don't blast through selecting and editing images, only to conclude "what was I thinking?" down the road.  Handle these new assets with thought and care; and put your best foot forward at the get-go.  It not, you'll find yourself re-doing edits over and over because your brain knows when something is amiss.
        • Also, don't get too backlogged and leave images sitting trip after trip.  That's because some of the emotion and reasons that you took the images in the first place get lost over time.  In addition, it'll feel more like work as opposed to fun the longer you procrastinate.
        Eyeglass Wearers
        • Consider investing in a pair used strictly for computer editing (plus light reading) and verify that the prescription is spot on once a year.  Trust me, it makes a world of difference.



        1. Great tips. My photography is definitely something I need to work on, so I will definitely be using some of these tips on my next adventure!

          DSLR Camera and Laptop Bag

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          Could you please give me a picture of that ? I can't figure how it works even if it seems pretty interesting

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