The Dark Adobe Cloud

I finally jumped on Adobe’s Cloud subscription, but it wasn’t with fanfare. I’ve recently switched to an all-Mac workflow (good riddance Blue Screen of Death!) and needed to get Premiere onto my Mac for video editing. I heard Adobe let you transfer licenses between platforms, so I was pretty excited to save some money and sent in my request to get my Premiere CS5 Windows edition, transferred over to a Mac license.

To my dismay, the reply was that I was not allowed. Apparently, if you have CS6 – basically the current version – you can do it, but not anything before that. Same for my Acrobat Pro software. So who buys $1000 worth of software and then switches platforms in the same year anyway? And I though I was a poor planner…

So there I went, begrudgingly, onto the Creative Cloud. It’s white and fluffy alright, but it’s got a dark edge that begs the question, “What do you do when you don’t want to pay anymore?” I mean, with all of these semi-pro’s out there these days, there are a huge number of us who are going to give up the dream someday and realize that paying $600/yr. (or even $120 – the new offer for Photoshop and Lightroom-only that Adobe threw out in reaction to initial backlash from photographers about the Cloud) for software that you really aren’t using professionally anymore just doesn’t make sense.

Now you own nothing. Your software disappears the day you stop paying for it, as does your ability to continue working on your images, despite what may have been thousands of dollars spent on subscription fees over the years. Can you imagine if you lost Lightroom after years and years of cataloging thousands of images?

Brad Trent seems to think you should get to keep a version, frozen at the last active update level, once you’ve been on the Cloud for a specified time. This should assure that Adobe has gotten what they need from you and you still get to retire gracefully, applying unsightly amounts of HDR toning to rusty automobiles and urban landscapes well into your 90’s. Seems fair to me.

Brad’s been an outspoken opponent to the Cloud from day one. You can tell he’s softening a little, but this final point, Adobe does really need to address to be fair. Swing over and get his New York “No F-in WAY!” take on it.

Your thoughts?

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f-stop Camera Bags: Performance that’s worth the wait.

If you’re serious about getting good photos beyond the trailhead, you’ve historically had two ways to travel with your camera gear. The first is with a dedicated camera backpack. They offer great organization, quick access and reliable protection. But, with Spartan suspension systems and lacking room for anything but camera gear and a granola bar, they’re a no-go for anything but simple day trips in fair weather. On the other end of the spectrum is your favorite backcountry pack. It features all the room you need for multiple days’ worth of backcountry gear, carries it all with ease and comfort, but lacks horribly in all the places where dedicated camera packs excel.

F-Stop Mountain Series Packs
The Mountain Series packs I’ve used. (L to R) the Satori EXP (62L), Tilopa (48L), Loka (37L) and Guru (28L).


The Build

Enter f-stop’s Mountain-series camera bags. Essentially, they’ve tried to take all the performance of your favorite backcountry pack and mash it up with the features of the best camera bags out there.  The goal is to get you, your backcountry gear and your camera gear wherever you’re headed–be it deep in the backcountry, to the crag, or even getting around town on location.

On the outside, f-stop packs are absolutely bomber. They’re built with burly, waterproof-coated fabrics for optimal weather resistance and stout YKK zippers for excellent, long-term reliability. A beefy and smooth #10-sized zipper graces the busy place on the pack and that’s not to be overlooked.  For me, blown zippers and (a lack of motivation to replace them) have been the number one killer of my camera bags.

Of course, nice, seam-taped and pack-specific rain covers are available separately, but I prefer the lighter silnylon ones from Sea to Summit to help shave some weight and a lot of space.

Profile of f-stop Satori photo backpack with Molle webbing attachments on side and waistbelt.
Profile of Satori with Molle webbing attachments on side and waistbelt.

For external organization, they feature MOLLE-standard attachments and plenty of them. I always felt these were a bit overkill, but they securely accept most lens cases, and you’ll never worry about these things pulling out as you traverse an exposed ridge with a 70-200mm lens hanging from your pack.

In addition to stock compression straps, you can also add their optional GateKeeper straps to pre-sewn attachment points around the Mountain Series packs. With carabiner-like gates on each end and a side-release buckle in the middle, you can attach them to numerous places in variable configurations to carry skis, light stands, tripods, etc., or just use them to further compress and secure your load.  Each pack also features a straight-forward suspension system that delivers excellent comfort with EVA-padding, wicking next-to-skin surfaces and an internal, aluminum frame that supports and distributes big loads really well.

Hydration ports and reservoir pockets/laptop sleeves are standard, but being rear-access packs, that presents two problems in hydration mode. Leaking or sweaty reservoirs are addressed with taped, waterproof hydration over bags (available separately) but there is a slight weight distribution issue when you need to hang 3 liters of water a foot away from your back or squeezed to one side of your pack. Admittedly, I rarely carry a hydration reservoir with these packs though.  I often opt to free-up space inside for camera gear or another layer, and a bottle on the outside (they fit easily in the mesh side pockets) is just more efficient.

That all sounds heavy, right? Honestly, they even feel a little heavy, but I compared a number of high-end packs from Arc’Teryx and Black Diamond, and the specs tell us that they’re actually a bit lighter. I attribute that to the fact that these packs are really pretty stripped-down when you get into the details. Essentially, they’re just really fancy carry systems for the thing that makes f-stop bags stand out above all the rest – the Internal Camera Unit system.

It’s what’s inside that counts.

Behind a horseshoe-zippered back panel (that burly #10 YKK zipper I mentioned) is where you will place f-stop’s proprietary Internal Camera Unit (ICU) of your choice, like the key to Brigadoon. It’s so simple it’s brilliant.

f-stop Internal Camera Unit - Large
f-stop Internal Camera Unit – Large

 

Available in eleven sizes, these are essentially what you get on the inside of a traditional camera bag – a padded, fabric-lined cube with moveable padded dividers. The difference is that you choose the ICU based on the balance of camera gear and the rest of the stuff you need to fit into your pack. With an XL ICU in my Satori, I can carry a portable studio on my back, complete with a pro body, 2-3 lenses, and two Elinchrom Ranger Quadras with room to spare. If I’m heading out on a minimalist overnight, I can get away with up to a Medium or Small ICU (with a chest pack), and have enough room for a small tent, stove and the rest of the stuff I need to get by under the stars. And of course, should you really need more room, you always have the option of using external lens cases to free-up additional space by using an even smaller ICU.

Now take that example and extrapolate it to all the different pack and ICU sizes and you begin to see the utility of the f-stop system. And beyond utility, you get value as well, because with 2-3 ICU’s and a pack or two, you might not ever need another camera bag.

And for some icing on the cake, should you not want to bring any camera gear or very little, you don’t need an ICU at all. These packs carry fine as regular backcountry packs by just taking out the ICU. Can you think of another camera bag that does that?

What’s not to like?

Size

Despite how great this system is, don’t be fooled thinking you’re going to bring a serious assignment-worthy level of gear and still have a ton of room for backpacking stuff. With 62 liters being the largest current pack, you’ll be hard-pressed to fit all that inside with your other gear. You’d likely need a 75-80-liter pack for that, but being able to keep a lot of stuff on the outside gives you options. Ultimately, that’s defeats the design intention, but still beats most other options.

Availability

With the versatility of the ICU system, every pack is really like getting at least a three-for-one deal. As it turns out, that’s extra good because getting your hands on one of these babies can be pretty challenging. But keep trying. F-stop encourages you to be patient and order yourself a pack in advance. You’ll get first dibs on new inventory and, if possible, they’ll shift inventory around from their global distribution points to accommodate outages, and won’t charge you until your pack ships. That doesn’t make waiting any easier though.

Odds and Ends

Of course, if you’re human, you’ll find little details here and there that don’t work for you. For me, the extra memory card pockets are a waste (doesn’t everyone use the ThinkTank Pixel Pocket Rockets by now?) and the pockets on the inside of the back panel are too slim to be very useful for much but a few model releases. Even if they were bigger, I’m not sure that being between my back and my camera body is a good place for much but paper or more padding. And the key fabs – great and essential to have; don’t get me wrong–but to use them, you need to keep one of the ends on your key chain. I have enough crap on there already. Please just give me my old clip back.

That’s really about it on the negative side though. And if that’s all I have to say bad about these packs, then the only thing that should really bug you is the availability and maybe the price. But keep trying.  If you’re looking for the most versatile and well-built adventure photo pack out there, they’re worth every penny.

My Picks

The Guru

I always have my camera with me and I use the Guru every-single-day. No joke. With a medium Slope ICU, it fits a Nikon D700 with a grip (barely) and 24-70mm attached, a 70-200 with a foot, and a 14-24mm, or 2 SB-900 speedlights. And that leaves enough room for a jacket, a 15” Mac Book Pro, batteries, filters, grub an SU-800, and more. With a tripod on the outside, you’re ready for almost anything.

The Loka and/or Satori

It’s no surprise that the mid-sized Loka sees the most action, just like my mid-sized alpine packs, and it is rightly one of their more popular bags. The Satori EXP, to me, is just a bigger Loka, so I refer to them in the same breath, separated only by the amount of gear I need to bring on any given trip. As I mentioned earlier, the Satori has also been surprisingly convenient around town for location shoots, allowing me to use it with an XL ICU and a wheeled hard case to easily move around a ton of gear.

 

More Info

http://fstopgear.com/

 

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Happy Accidents

Outdoor Research climber/athlete Graham Zimmerman shot with Black Diamond Fusion ice tools over his shoulder.
Outdoor Research climber/athlete Graham Zimmerman shot with Black Diamond Fusion ice tools over his shoulder.
Northwest climber Graham Zimmerman is off to Alaska and Pakistan this year hoping for more first ascents.

So often with personal work, I initially skim over the results and get off a few quick home runs to the usual social media suspects and up on the site. You can’t lose. You feel great knowing you nailed it and you get to advertise new work you’re really excited about.

Then you can just sit back and wait for the throngs of art directors to begin calling based on your latest Facebook post.

OK–so maybe the phone doesn’t ring.

But in reality, you know that a deeper pass will reveal something even better. This was one of those shots. I knew it was in there. I just needed to find it.

This shot, in fact, was a happy accident; the result of a failure in frequency transmission or reception. My main light, ideally triggered by the attached Pocket Wizard, dropped out. It left just the cross light of a pair of strip boxes and, for me, this is the keeper of the series.

The subject is Graham Zimmerman, an enigma of the northwet (not a typo) climbing scene. When not sequestered in far-off field geology assignments, he can be found freely exploring far-off lands for unclimbed lines. Recently, he’s been busy in Alaska, the Waddington Range and, this summer, he’ll be off to Tahu Rutum, a 6,651m tower in Pakistan’s Karakoram range. You can read more about all of it here.

He also just happens to be one of the nicest and motivated guys you’ll ever meet. But that’s how they roll ‘em here in the Pacific Northwest–strong and focused, but always respectful, as the scale of the geography and objectives dictate.

-Jim

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South Seattle’s Women of Influence

Detective Cookie
Detective Cookie of the Seattle Police Dept.

Chess is a smart-person’s game. That’s an assumption that Detective Cookie of the Seattle Police Department, uses to her advantage when empowering the youth of South Seattle. “Growing up I thought I wasn’t smart enough for chess,” she said in an introduction at a small Seward Park gathering of influential women on Saturday. “In reality, anyone can play chess with the right instructor, and I can teach someone to play in half an hour.”

In that half-hour, she sees her kids go from thinking that chess just isn’t in their DNA, to empowered by a new sense of intelligence and self-worth. Sometimes it’s the little things that make the biggest differences.

I shot this (in a 6’x8′ space!!) for the Rainier Valley Post blog, and the beginning of a personal project I’m presently calling 98118, showcasing people making a difference in the zip code often referred to as America’s most diverse. More often than that, folks call it the ‘hood, seeing only the the 11 o’clock news version of a region grappling with gang violence poverty, bad schools and more. But what they don’t see in the crime headlines is an amazing and diverse group of individuals fighting to make it something else. Not to gentrify it mind you, but to bring equality and opportunity to it’s residents. I’ll be trying to bring those people into the spotlight a bit, aiming to show a more hopeful side of the South End that’s filled with potential. More to come, and more space and creative environments to show it!

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What it takes

I just read Lee Morris’ article entitled, “The Photographers You Idolize Are No Better Than You.” At first I thought, “Oh boy, here we go – yet another oversimplified article about going pro from someone who’s likely making more money as an armchair consultant that actually shooting.

Boy was I wrong.

I have to say that this is one of the finest pieces I’ve ever read on what it REALLY takes to make it as a pro photographer. There are so many of us out there now doing the “part-time pro” gig that it’s easy to imagine that this is really the future of the industry. I hear the dragging negativity all the time from some of the full-time people I approach to assist – “This is a dead industry – why would you want to be here?”

To make matters worse, there has been an entire industry spawned on educating people on just how “easy” it is to be a pro photographer. There is no shortage of people teaching and writing about it – qualified or not. If you’ve spent any time learning photography, you’ve surely run across a book or a blog or two in your time, or maybe even taken a workshop, and thought, “Really?” All of these conflicting signals can suck the motivation out of you, leaving you running through the doors of mediocrity and the safety of a cubicle.

Lee Morris, however, lays it all out. He notes rightly that there are indeed “big time” shooters out there who stumble over what some of us would consider elementary stuff, and we’ve all seen very successful images we were sure we could have improved upon. That critiquing is human nature and is helpful in learning to an extent, but too much of it sucks valuable mental and emotional energy from your limited pool of resources that should be focused on success. Great photographers needn’t always be great technicians or stand-out artists, but what they do share is an ability to set goals, make plans and achieve them.

Morris distills it down further to the simple fact that there are doers and talkers in the world, and, at the end of the day, the doers simply get more done, despite whether they are the best or even great at what they do. You can be an “average” photographer in the professional arena and soar to great heights by making and executing a plan, being savvy, and taking opportunities wherever they arise. So whether you dream of being the next Joe McNally, or the best Dad in the world; start talking less and doing more.

The only thing Lee left out is that fact that you don’t have to be stuck as a talker; it’s not a life sentence. You can do. I tend to oscillate between the two. I can sit at my copywriting day job and talk about the big day when I go full-time again, but I’m also becoming more and more aware of the wisdom that Morris is dropping; shooting more and talking less.  I am becoming more of a doer every day, inching ever-closer to the full-time dream. And the real magic is that the more you do, the more you’ll find disconnected pieces falling into place.

Thanks, Lee, for the inspiration. It’s a long road, but there will always be room for the passionately committed.

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Creative Inspiration From the Land of Makebelieve

Sometimes it’s a struggle to come up with things to shoot and write, and it seems the harder you try, the harder it gets. Then someone creates something like this and you remember that the most important part is to do what the Doorman said: “Feed you head.”

Happy Thursday, world.

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Failing to Send is Way Better Than Failing to Try.

Panorama of the Complete Evolution Traverse. Sierra Nevada, California.
Panorama of the Complete Evolution Traverse. Sierra Nevada, California.
Panorama of the Complete Evolution Traverse. Sierra Nevada, California.

The mountains of the world are full of spectacular things to photograph. Often though, the immensity and emotion are absent from the still images that travel on a compact flash card back to civilization. One thing I’ve often tried to remedy this, is to take more panoramas. Rarely however , do I return to the files to actually stitch them all together.

Compelled to get a submission off to my stock agency, I was recently digging through my archives of a trip to the Sierras, where my wife Maria and I  had hopes of completing the Evolution Traverse.  We had been to the Wind River’s the year before to try the Cirque of the Towers traverse (Cirque Traverse) and failed. It only makes sense then, that the following year, with the mantra “Failing to send is way better than failing to try” running through our heads, that this legendary objective made sense. We recalibrated expectations, thought of Plans B, C and D, and even committed to some recon. All for naught though, as we realized that our objective was far beyond our expectations and that we probably need plan E (another trip back), to get this one done.

So that’s a little background on this particular panorama. That’s Maria making salmon and cheese tortillas on 12431’ Mt Spencer that breaks the traverse roughly in half. We climbed this thing to get a little perspective and sat in awe as our definition of “successful” shrank the traverse into sections.  After much hemming and hawing and running out of time, we settled on a day excursion that would take us up what was purportedly the finest section of climbing on the entire traverse.  We ascended the large scree gully just shy of the summit of Mt Darwin (the high point on the ridge above the lake) and planned to finish on the spur that comes out towards our position. In about five hours from camp, we only got about halfway, thanks to some apparently undercooked Golden Trout the night before, and the spectacularly exposed and confusing climbing along a knife-edged ridge of to-die-for granite spires and blocks.

It’s interesting to note that Peter Croft, who did the first ascent of this traverse in 1999, completed it in less than 24 hours, while most proficient climbers take a minimum of 2-3 days. Croft’s in-a-day achievement is nothing short of mutant and, had I not already known Peter to be far too kind for such a gesture, you’d almost think he drew that line in the sand to just mess with you.  Not surprisingly, underestimating the time needed is cited as the most common cause of failure.

I wouldn’t have missed failing on that for the world.

Hopefully, with a little background, this long-overdue panorama lets you feel a little sun on your face, an alpine breeze on your skin, and maybe even jump-starts some plans in your head.

Good luck and get after it,

Jim

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The Studio is Christened!

Studio beer shot
The inaugural studio shot. Problem is, I hate to waste beer, so...

This weekend saw the humble doors open on the Vertizon Photography Studio. Maybe I should call it “Studios”? Is that spiffier?

Anyway, I thought I’d take some iconic thing and replicate it for the test run. Here we have the classic “beverages on plexiglass”. A 30-dgree gridded spot behind, a strip bank above, and two speedlights blowing through a plexiglass base. Probably could have use a little more juice in the strip bank, and there are some reflections of the studio in the glass. But man it was late, and I’d already drank the stout and the porter because not enough light was getting through their murky depths. Yum.

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The Power of Personal Work

Project UnbreakableGrace Brown is a 19-year-old photography student at the New York School of Visual Arts. Her photos are not amazing or groundbreaking from a technical standpoint. In fact, they’re pretty average. However, what they do have is that awesome power to speak in a way that only personally inspired work can. With a topic as unfortunately prevalent as sexual abuse as a platform, her work, a Tumblr project called Project Unbreakable, provides an immediate and very personal connection with the conservatively estimated 213,000 individuals who are victimized annually in the U.S. alone. That’s one victim every two seconds.

Her work, which captures victims holding signs with haunting quotes from their abusers, shows the breadth of victims (men, women and children across all social and economic strata) and gives a glimpse into the trauma of the experience.

On the upside, her work, appears to be helping victims work through their traumas and gain some sense of power back from their abusers. I can’t help but think of the power that the It Gets Better project provided for so many, and hope that Grace’s work can do the same.

I’ve always felt that photography is at its best when it forces you to stop, look and think – whatever it makes you think about. In that respect, Grace’s work is awesome.

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What’s Wrong with This Pack?

K2 Pilchuck Sidecountry Backpack

 

K2 Pilchuck Sidecountry Backpack
The K2 Pilchuck Kit. "Everything you need..." with the exception of some glaring oversights.

The other day, I heard about a reportedly increasing trend to offer “sidecountry” packs at retail, with avalanche safety equipment included. Interesting, I thought, but how do you package a $300 avalanche beacon with a pack, shovel and probe, and not make it a bitter price-pill to swallow?

Well, have no fear. The folks over at K2 have provided the answer – leave out the beacon.  Who wants something as specialized and as expensive as a beacon chosen for them anyway? There are so many features, technologies and user interfaces available, that buying one takes some research. Add that complication to a pack purchase and you have “a dog”–industry parlance for something no one wants, or at least is willing to pay for.

That part of what K2 has done seems reasonable. However, it’s the way it’s sold on their website that implored me to write.

K2 says, “The K2 Pilchuck is a no-nonsense minimalist pack that’s thin enough to wear while riding lifts, but equipped with all necessary features for short excursions beyond the ropes. The Pilchuck kit comes complete with the Rescue Shovel and Avalanche Probe Alu 300.”

The questionable bit about this is that they aren’t including the only tool that could possibly make the other two useful–a beacon. And even if there was a beacon in there, does one just grab this kit and go? Perhaps an even bigger void is an avalanche-aware skier.

Consider the target demographic for these packs. They’re primarily downhill resort skiers, don’t have any avy gear and likely have never used any before.  It’s also highly probable that they have little to no avalanche safety training. I’m going to add that they are likely younger skiers and, as with all good youth, a perceived immunity to danger only complicates things. At best, they’re prone to sketchy judgment when the freshies are just on the other side of the rope, and they’ve just picked up a new sidecountry pack full of misplaced confidence. Of course, that latter affliction knows no age boundaries.

Now, I’m no K2 hater. To the contrary, my first “real” skis were a pair of hot pink, 200cm KVC Comps with matching Tyrolia bindings that I skied on for two, life-altering seasons at A-Basin in the early 90’s. It’s just that I believe this is a missed opportunity for K2, a beacon partner and all of their customers.

Here is a pack being sold to virtually pre-qualified beacon customers, ripe for the picking.  Hell, most manufacturers pay good money for that sort of demographic filtering. Throw a paper beacon replica in, or on there, put some good information on the back directing them to the vendor and some references to learn more about traveling safely in the backcountry and sidecountry. It’s a win-win situation.

On the flip side, continuing to promote a false sense of confidence sets the tone for a sales-over-safety mentality of marketing that could put our new-found sidecountry access here in the states in jeopardy. I, for one, think that the industry has an immense responsibility to promote safety, giving the uninitiated a fighting chance to make the right choice. A quick tally of the potential winners and losers in each scenario makes the choice absolutely clear in my mind.

Regardless of your thoughts about this particular K2 pack, my main point is a much larger one to consider. Tools or no tools, John Race, avalanche educator, IFMGA-certified guide and owner of The Northwest Mountain School sums it up best.

“What you cannot package into a kit is the thought process that keeps folks out of trouble.  If I had to prioritize between good judgment, a beacon, a shovel, or a probe, I would take the mental process over the gear any day.  Just because you own the gear does not mean you are ready to use it.”

 

 

Resources:

The Northwest Mountain School

Leavenworth, WA–Avalanche Education and Global Climb and Skiing Guides

The Northwest Avalanche Center

Regional, go-to resource for daily avalanche forecasts and snow conditions.

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