Welcome to my blog.  It's all about photography of course!

Don’t Want to Carry That Long Lens and Camera Gear Around?

January 20, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Stroller-Pod Well I finally got a 500mm lens for my Canon just before the CNPA trip to the North Carolina Zoo earlier last year.  “It’s a hilly place”, I thought, “I really don’t want to carry sixteen pounds of camera and tripod gear up and down those hills all day.  After all, I’m no spring chicken anymore :)… and I’m still recovering from an injured foot.”

So I decided I needed to create a rolling tripod.  Something easy to move that was balanced and would allow for easy shooting as I swing around the tripod with my new Wimberley head.   Additionally, it had to be quiet.  I thought about some sort of mount on top of a hand truck similar to what we used to use to take trash cans to the street (before they had wheels)… but that would be noisy and annoying to everyone nearby including myself. No… It had to have quiet rubber wheels and locking parking brake for in case I was on a hill at the park… and that’s when it hit me that it had to be a baby jogger.  You know, the ones you see those super fit parents jogging alongside with their kids down the street in the hood?

My next requirement was cost.  I was not going to spend a ton of money on this project. So I went to Play It Again Sports and found this beat up used jogger for $150.  I decided it was still too much money, but had the frame work in good shape, the parking brake I required, rubber bicycle tires and a hand brake (an added plus).  I told the lady at the store I didn’t think I’d pay more than $50 for it as I headed for the door.  She replied, “Let me call the owner of the jogger”.  I didn’t realize it was negotiable.  The owner agreed and five minutes later I had the perfect framework for my rolling tripod.  I still think I paid too much… but I wanted to play with that new lens at the zoo and not break my back in the process.


Image by Jill Bernstein

Once home the baby seat came out easily as it was only snapped and Velcro’ed in place.  I attached wood across the bottom to have a solid floor for two of the legs of the tripod.  I purchased threaded pipe fittings and screwed them to the wood floor and to the front wheel fender. These acted as cups for each of the tripod feet to securely fit into without slipping.  Flipping the former baby sunshade frame forward gave a perfect place to bungee the tripod legs to the cart to avoid overturning.  The last thing I wanted was for this rig to take a tumble with all of that very expensive camera gear.  A couple more bungees from the center of the tripod head to the framework made for a very solid rig. 

Image by Jill Bernstein

Another one of my requirements and one of the reasons for the parking brake was to minimize camera shake.  All that work to only have blurred images would not make me happy camper.  Lastly I added a plastic box that sat on the wood floor to carry my water bottle, jacket and other junk I might need.

This stroller-pod had the type of front wheel where you had to pop a wheelie to turn a corner.  Adding my camera gear bag to the back handle helped balance the rig allowing for easy pop-up-to-turn movement.  However, if I do it again, I’ll get a stroller with a swivel front wheel.

Shooting was a breeze.  I’d roll up to an exhibit and turn the stroller-pod sideways to the animals, lock 

Image by Jill Bernstein

the parking brake and shot from the side as I could easily stand right up to the camera and swing the Wimberley and camera left and right as needed.  Shooting from the rear of the stroller-pod is difficult as you have to lean over the handle that hits you in the stomach in order see in the viewfinder.  However, shooting from the side also allowed me to use my feet as a bumpers against the wheels to prevent the stroller-pod from rolling if the parking brake was not really needed.

In the end, it all worked out great.  I strolled all around the zoo just like any proud mom.  I have to say my baby got more attention than any kid in the park.  At the end of the day, my back, legs and feet felt great as I didn’t lift a thing all day.  In fact, I helped carry other photographers gear from time to time throughout the day.  I was Superwoman (with the help of some wheels)!

As I always say… Anything is possible… You’re only limited by your imagination!

A Rare Sunrise

December 08, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

Yesterday was one of those very rare mornings at sunrise when the sky lights up and paints an incredible picture.  It was SO worth getting my butt out of bed at oh-dark-thirty! 

Later when I was processing the images I just kept thinking what a blessing it was this morning… so I had to share. 

It felt warm out at 68 degrees with a slight humid breeze… odd for December as a cold front approached the Carolina's from the northwest. It was great conditions for shooting and not another person on the beach.

I’d been to this same location dozens of times.  Driving down there in the dark, I was watching the sky… the stars… the clouds trying to determine if the sky would break just right and at the same moment that the sun cracks the horizon.  Would it be cloudy out there over the ocean?  Would the clouds appear just enough to hold some colors and light, but not so much that it would be just another gray morning?  A cloudless sky makes for rather boring sunrise shots.  Would the fog roll in?  Would the tides be low enough to see the Coquina Rocks?  My iPhone app told me low tide was at 4:30 AM and sunrise was at 7:03 AM on a rising tide.  These same thoughts run through my head during every predawn drive to the beach.

…Well yesterday was thee day that all of the elements lined up just right...

I was blessed with some great color!



Very Cool Photography Apps for the iPhone - Many of them are FREE

November 14, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

My iPhone has become a valuable photography tool that I carry with me every time I’m out shooting and I’m not talking about shooting with the built in camera.  It goes beyond just a way to communicate, it’s become an important tool that I don’t leave home without.   So I thought I’d share some of the many apps that I have found invaluable in photography.  All of these apps (except one) are not apps for taking pictures with your iPhone or iPad but tools to help you take better pictures with your camera (not your phone).

Note: While this article refers to iPhone apps, most of these apps are available for the iPad, Android or other smart phones and tablets.  Availability varies, but all listed below are available for the iPhone.

Depth of Field Calculator $.99 cents

This is the newest tool on my iPhone.  You can set your camera make and model, your focal length and it will calculate the depth of field for you. Since your depth of field changes with every lens millimeter setting and f/stop, I find this handy to help remind me what my depth of field should be to keep those birds in focus from wingtip to wingtip.  For example, if I’m shooting a 500mm lens on my Canon 5D MIII, I might need an f/8 to f/11 to give me enough depth of field to get the entire bird in focus.  I constantly want to shoot wide open at about f/2.8, so this is helpful reminder for me as a learning tool to get the right f/stop for the perfect depth of field.

For an extra .99 cents it has a handy exposure tool built in.

Flashlight Free

I realize this is stupid… but I can’t tell you how many times this app has come in handy when shooting at night or in low light and I’m trying to adjust my camera or change a battery in the dark.  It’s simple, turn it on and it uses the built in flash bulb lit constantly as a source of light.  Use it too much and you’ll burn down your battery on your iPhone.

Birds $4.99

Fellow photographer Mark Jones inspired this idea.  On a field trip he had a device on which he could call up a specific breed of bird and it played an audio file of that birds chirp, chatter or song in order to attract the birds.  This helped us take pictures of specific birds.   So I looked for something similar on the App Store.  There it was from the Audubon Society.  Here you can not only call birds with songs, you can learn their calls, identify birds you’re shooting and post sightings from where you’re located.

Compass and Weather

I use these apps for weather photography together.  When photographing lightening I will pull up a compass app and rotate it until I find true north.  Then I’ll set the phone down still pointing at true north and then close the compass app and open my lightning app or my Radar Scope to see where the weather and lightning strikes are coming from as compared to my position.  This allows me to point my camera in the right direction for optimal lightning strike stills or time lapse videos.

Lightningcast $3.99

For looking at lightning on a map of your location, I use this Lightningcast app.  It works well for me but there are many lightning apps out there.  I often look at several weather apps to get a full weather picture.

Compass+ $.99

There are many free compass apps.  I’ve grown tired of the ads to I often will pop for the $.99 versions.  This one works fine for me.  It also has a map locator.  I use this in combination with many weather apps to learn the direction of approaching storms.

Radar Scope $9.99

My friend and coworker Meteorologist Nate Johnson at WRAL-TV in Raleigh turned me on to this next app.  It is called Radar Scope.  If you’re looking off into the distance and you see thunderheads, breakout the iPhone and pull up this app.  It’s really very cool… and sophisticated.  Frankly some of its technology is over my head but I can see the rain intensity and distance from where I’m standing… and whether I need to take shelter from the storm.  I love this app.  It is also animating the rain so if I’m doing a time lapse I can set my camera (again using my compass) so that I can make sure the rain bands are moving through my shot by anticipating the direction that the rain is moving.

Easy Timer Free

When I’m shooting at night I can set this timer in the dark easily, set my camera to bulb and go.  When the timer goes off, I can release the shutter.  This allows for very long night exposures without an intervalometer (timer for your camera).  It’s handy for all kinds of things. 

Star & Planet Finder Free

You’ve got to love free and you’ll love this app.  This allows you to find the sunrise before the sun rises.  While it is not perfect you can get a sense of where the sun will rise especially on a cloudy day when you’re just not sure exactly where it is coming from.  This app uses your camera in the iPhone and overlays the stars and planets you choose over your live scene.  This is a must have app… especially with its free price tag.

Planets Free

“Planets” is another excellent resource for looking at the night sky and identifying the constellations.  It is not a live directions view, you’ll need to determine which direction you are facing and rotate the sky in the app to the direction you are looking.  Again, you can’t beat free.

GoPro Free 

If you have a GoPro camera then the GoPro app is a must have tool.  It provides a wireless live view (3-4 second delay) since there is no viewfinder on a GoPro camera.  This app allows for remote trigger to start and stop recording, allows for remote set up and more.  Note that you cannot see a live view while the camera is recording. 

LightTrac $4.99

This is probably the least used of the apps I have.  It shows the direction of light and directions of shadows.  I find it a little difficult to understand and really don’t find a good use for it yet.

Golden Lite Free

Golden Lite a.k.a. Golden Hour simply shows you the time of day in your area when the light will be best to capitalize on that golden hour… or when the light is just beautiful before sunset and just after sunrise.  It also has a compass, will show sunrise/sunset times and more.

PS Express Free

PS Express is Adobe’s free Photo Shop for iPhones app which allows for very basic corrections of photos on your iPhone.  It allows for pictures to be taken through the PS Express App or recalling an image from the Camera Roll on your iPhone.  Built in are several filters (such as vibrant, dream, glow, vivid, haze, etc.) that allow for different applications that can automatically be applied to your photos as well as basic image correction. 

iStockPhoto & Shutterstock Both Free

Both iStockPhoto and Shutterstock have free apps for people wishing to search and purchase stock photography via their smart phone.   

iStock Contributor Free

I love this app since I’m an iStock contributor. This free app shows photographers and graphic artists who sell images on iStock their latest revenue, last images purchases, last image approved, pending images and more.  

Photographers Contract Maker $2.99 (there is a free lite version)

This is by far one of my favorite apps.  If you’re going to sell any of your images that have people or private locations in them, you’ll need to get a Model Release Form (or Location Release Form) signed.  This app allows you to use the Photographers Contact Maker boilerplate form or pre-load your own Model Release Form.  Then while you’re out shooting and you run into situation where you take an image with someone in it, you can ask the person in your shot to sign a form right there on the spot.  Simply pull up the Photographers Contract Maker form you have pre-loaded, ask the subject to type in their information in the fields provided in the app, when completed the model can read and sign the contract with their finger or stylist right on the phone. Once done a completed signed version of the contract is produced and can be emailed to all parties involved right from your smart phone before leaving the shoot.  I love this app and have used it many times.  It is great for approaching strangers after photographing them in real life situations.  People are always more than happy and flattered that you wish to use their likeness.  I’ve never been turned down yet.  Of course I always volunteer to share a copy of the image with the person as a "thank you" for allowing me to use their image.   It’s well worth the investment if you sell your images anywhere.  Yes there is an iPad version of this one.  I have both.

No Budget Slate Free

For those who want to use a slate at the head of a series of photos, time lapse sequence or video, this little slate is handy and free.  The only downside is you’re very limited on the open text you can enter on this little iPhone slate. Some fields only allow a few characters.  I’ve found slates on the iPad I like better (below) but when I’m out away from my vehicle, I’m not going to carry my iPad just for a slate.  This comes in handy as a backup as I will always have my iPhone with me. 

I like to slate a lot of my shooting sequences for stills, video and time lapse sequences as it helps me keep track in post-production of which flash card I’m using, subject matter and so on.  Stacking of images in Adobe Bridge helps keep things neat and easy to find.  Using slates with stacks is like having a title sheet on top of a stack of pictures identifying what is in the stack.  Thus all I need to see in Bridge are the slates of subjects on top of image stacks which help me find my images quickly without having to peruse thousands of images.

TIZA Slate $1.99

Since we're talking slates... While this is not for the iPhone but for the iPad… this is the slate I use and like the most shooting video and time lapse sequences on my DSLR.  I realize that all of that information is in my Meta Data but it is just easier when looking through thumbnails of stacks to find exactly the shots series I want.   Additionally when shooting video the clap board is vital in keeping audio synced with video should they be separated during the editing process.

Tide Chart Free and $1.99 Version

For those of us near the beach, we like to know what the tides are doing to help us understand the conditions and visibility of rocks and objects we might want to photograph along with knowing what wildlife might be active.  For example shore birds often feed at low tide or subsurface rocks, old pier pilings etc. might only be visible at low tide.  This app gives us a quick glimpse of tide conditions and when it the best time to shoot. 

Level Free

Use this app to level your camera and or tripod.  This is especially useful when shooting panoramic sequences that will later be stitched together. While software these days help with uneven shots, the better shots you have to begin with, the better odds of a great final product.

TimeLapse Helper Free

This is a time lapse calculator not an intervalometer for your iPhone.  However there are several apps for the iPad and iPhone that will allow you to create time lapse video right in your smart device (but not this app).  Using those apps would require a tripod or mount for your device so that your phone or tablet does not move while recording the series of time lapse images.  Those apps will shoot the images and compile them into a movie right on your smart device.  Search the App Store for Time Lapse Movie Makers if that’s what you want.  I’ve seen them, but I don’t shoot my Time Lapses with them.  I want the quality of my Canon cameras or the GoPro to get the best final movies I can make.

This Time Lapse Helper allows me, in the field, to figure how long to shoot, how many images to take or the total length of the finished video will be based on frame interval (time between frames), frames per second (in finished video such as 30 Frames Per Second) and time shooting (how many hours do I need to let the camera run) etc.  I realize that sounds confusing.  An example would be if I wanted a 20 second finished time lapse video (say of clouds dancing across in the sky) shooting one frame every five seconds and 500 images with a playback rate of 30 frames per second, this calculator tells me that I need to shoot for 50 minutes with those parameters.

Other Apps - Surf, Wind and Snow Apps - There are apps out there for those who like to photograph surfing, wind boarding and snow skiing… to help show the current conditions.  These are not apps I currently use but thought they were worth mentioning.  I use regular weather apps to determine what the surfing conditions are in this coastal town.

There are hundreds of apps out there to assist the photographer.  There are other apps that help you to be creative with your smart phone such as Instagram.  Apps like Instagram are not for me but there is a huge fan base for them.

If you have any apps that you like to use that help you with photography, I’d love to hear your comments here.  Feel free to add your favorite app tools to this article in the comment section below.

Happy Shooting!




Kure Beach Pier in a Super "Cinco de Mayo" Moon

May 06, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Kure Beach Pier - Super Moon Saturday

While the press made a big deal about the Super Moon last night it really was not a huge moon and the clouds hide the moonrise at the horizon. However, the fact that the moon was rising ten minutes before the sunset helped to keep enough light in the sky providing an interesting photo opportunity. The Super Moon is when the moon passes closer to the earth than normal causing it to appear bigger and brighter.

Despite the clouds, I came away with a great night out and a couple decent shots. This one is my favorite of the bunch.

I shot this in a much darker environment than pictured here, but the long exposure, the bright moon reflection and light from the pier above made for an interesting light. I love the way the variety of light made water shimmer, the pattern in the sand as well as a nice glow from above in the humid sky. It was so dark I had to use a flashlight to set the focus on the pilings under the pier.

What you can't see here is the distant flashes of lightening over my left shoulder as a storm approached and hundreds of people out and about enjoying the evening.

Several friends showed up with their cameras with a similar idea to try and capture a good shot of the Super Moon. While the moon is not in this shot (just the reflection) it was the Super Moon and the timing that got me out shooting pictures last night.

It was a Cinco de Mayo that felt like a warm summer night (even though it is still spring) and actully made for one of my favorite Saturday nights out in a long time. You can tell I don't get out much on a Saturday night anymore. I would much rather be at the beach with a camera on a warm night than hanging out in any bar or night club any day! It was a good time had by all.

The Green Swamp

April 21, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

Pictures from the Green Swamp.

Well I finally got a chance to go to the Green Swamp today. The Green Swamp is located in Brunswick County, NC and is owned by the Nature Conservancy. I have to say I’ve added it to my top ten list of favorite places to shoot photographs around here. It is just beautiful.  


While it can be wet at times, the area we hiked through today was open grassy or fern covered forest. Skip (friend and tour guide today) said that these called savannas which are actually considered islands. They are covered in a variety of ferns, sweeping grasses and blooming plants of all kinds.   The savannas were broken up by pocosins which are lower lying wetland thickets with trails (some with wooden planks to keep you dry from the mud) cutting through to the next savanna.  The trails were obvious and well marked.

Pictures from the Green Swamp.

Along the way we found lots of Venus Fly Traps, a few Orchids (but not many yet) and tons of beautiful views of the forest with long shadows lush with greenery. This is one of my new favorite locations for photography.


Thanks Skip for taking us. Now I see what you've been talking about for so long.   More more Green Swamp pictures go here.


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