December 2012 Newsletter


In this Newsletter:

– Greetings
– Stuff I Like This Month
– November GOAL Assignment: Symmetry
– December GOAL Assignment: Groups
– Tech Update: OWC Mercury Elite-AL Pro Qx2
– Cameras: Nikon D600 Versus D800
– eBook Review: The Photographer’s Guide to Nik HDR Efex Pro 2.
– Product Review: Picosteady
– Workshop and Business Updates

Yucca at White Sands National Monument

Yucca at White Sands National Monument.

As I travel around the world, I am fortunate to have the unique opportunity to speak with people from all walks of life. A couple weeks ago I was traveling on a plane and had a conversation with a man in the seat next to me who was in the midst of rebuilding his marriage. The conversation began with him asking what I did for a living. After I told him about my photography career, he became very enthusiastic and asked all kinds of questions about photography. We talked about what kind of camera he should get, software, creating beautiful images, Bayer pattern color filter arrays … you know, nerdy camera stuff.

Soon enough though, we moved into deep conversation that immediately went to the soul of this man. He shared his heartbreak over his struggling marriage. We talked long about what it means to sacrifice one’s self for the good of a marriage and a family. We had an intense conversation, yet only shared that one brief moment of life together.

Last week, while I was in San Diego running photo workshops, a photographer-friend invited me over to his house for dinner. Like my airplane conversation earlier, our dinner conversation began with cameras (should he buy the Nikon 200-400mm f/4 lens?), then morphed into family and children. We shared stories of our lives while we enjoyed ate gumbo soup and warm chocolate chip cookies. We laughed and shared old times of photo trips into the wilds. All because of the bond we’ve developed around our passion for photography.

These stories and relationships are what I truly love about my job. I cherish the opportunity to meet amazing people and build friendships all around the world. Photography often opens the door into their lives, but it is the relationships and stories that endure. As we near the end of 2012, I encourage you to remember the situations where photography brought you joy and helped build relationships. As you look towards 2013, ask yourself how you will use photography to build relationships as you explore the world with your camera.

Stuff I Like This Month


Time Magazine top 10 photos of 2012

Time Magazine top 10 photos of 2012

1. Time Magazine top 10 photographs of 2012.

2. Adobe has released new versions of Lightroom and Camera Raw to support the Nikon V2, D600 and D5200 cameras. Here are the links to update your software:

Lightroom 4.3 (Win  | Mac)

Camera Raw 7.3

3. Earlier this year I transitioned to the Adobe Creative Cloud for my use of Photoshop, Lightroom, In Design, Premire Pro, etc. A few days ago, Adobe announced free access to video training for Creative Cloud members. Their video training includes videos from the best in the business, such as and Here’s the press release:

4. I enjoy reading the 1001NoisyCameras blog and they regularly compile a blog post titled Photography Soup where they summarize the most interesting photo related articles on the web. Check it out:

November GOAL Assignment: Symmetry


The equator monument at Mitad del Mundo (Center of the Earth) in Ecuador. I used symmetry to create a simple composition with the line of the equator splitting the scene in half. Nikon D800, 14-24mm, handheld. Processed in Nik HDR Efex Pro 2.

Ecuador presidential palace dining room.

I used the dining room table of the Ecuadorian Presidential Palace to split the scene from left to right for a symmetrical composition. Nikon D800, 14-24mm, handheld.

straight highway

This long straight highway was a good subject for creating a symmetrical composition. The dividing line was an obvious choice for splitting the frame in half. New Mexico. Nikon D800, 14-24mm, handheld.

One of the first things you learn in photographic composition is that you shouldn’t center your subject. In fact, photographers often adhere to a compositional rule called the rule of thirds. This states that you should divide your frame into thirds, and then place your subject on one of those thirds lines. This is a good rule and we follow it because we know it helps us produce visually compelling images.

Even though we use this rule, I still feel it is important to break it on purpose every once in a while. Breaking a rule every now and again helps us find photographic inspiration, which elevates our overall photographic game. That’s why last month’s GOAL (Get Out And Learn) Assignment was to create photos of symmetry.

Creating photographs that follow the rule of thirds will help produce a sense of dynamic tension while a symmetrical photo doesn’t do this. The rule of thirds image leads the viewer’s eye throughout the frame. When executed correctly, this compositional technique gives the viewer’s eye a starting point and an ending point in the photo, by way of a clean and organized diagonal path.

In many symmetrical images, the eye jumps from the right to the left or from the top to the bottom, never starting at one point or ending at another. Often, symmetrical photographs lead to a viewer feeling unsettled about the picture. Since the eye doesn’t have a place to stop moving, the viewer sometimes feels incomplete.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because symmetry often leads to dramatic results as long as you put some thought into the photograph. Here are three suggestions I have for creating dramatic symmetrical images.

1. Split the frame perfectly from left to right or from top to bottom. By its very definition, symmetry requires that the two halves of the frame are equal in design and shape.

2. Position the camera directly in front of the subject. Standing even a few inches to the left or the right of the centerline will cause the image to appear skewed and off-kilter. Be diligent about this.

3. Scan all edges of the frame to make sure you aren’t cutting off important elements. If the subject is truly symmetrical, then similar shapes/objects will appear on the left and right of the frame in equal proportion. I like to use my viewfinder gridlines to compare the left/right or top/bottom of the frame. If a similar object appears at the same (but opposite) locations in my viewfinder grid, then I know I’ve done a good job lining up the photo.

As with everything in photography, a little bit goes a long way. What I mean by this is that you shouldn’t use symmetrical compositions for all your images of a given subject. In fact, you should use symmetry sparingly. It should be used to offer a different point of view or to compliment your more traditional compositions. Pepper symmetrical images throughout your slide shows or web galleries as a visual break from the normal rule of thirds compositions.

If you didn’t take any photos during last month’s symmetry GOAL Assignment, then now’s your time to get out there and do it. I’m sure there’s a Christmas tree in your living room that will serve as a perfect subject.

December GOAL Assignment: Groups

Group of Porches

Group of Porche automobiles from above.

Your GOAL Assignment this month is to photograph groups. Groups of sunglasses. Groups of cars. Groups of hats. Groups of … you name it. This is an easy shooting assignment, with the goal of keeping your creative eye actively looking for photo subjects. I always encourage people who want to improve their photography to take photographs every day. This month’s GOAL (Get Out And Learn) Assignment is designed to do just that, so get shooting!

Tech Update: OWC Mercury Elite-AL Pro Qx2

OWC Mercury Elite AL Pro Qx2

OWC Mercury Elite AL Pro Qx2 12TB RAIDs.

Storing digital photographs is an exercise that requires constant attention and regular technology upgrades. The more we shoot, the more data we have to store, and the more difficult it is to manage it all. My shooting style and shooting volume means that I tend to upgrade my disk drives about once every year. Now, since I’m shooting much more with the Nikon D800 and D600 cameras, I find that I’m just about doubling my data storage requirements each year.

Two weeks ago, I purchased a full contingent of new 12TB OWC Mercury Elite-AL Pro Qx2 drives to replace my older 4TB drives. The Mercury Elite Pro drives are quad interface, which means they can be attached to a computer via eSATA, Firewire 400, Firewire 800 or USB 2.0. They aren’t the fastest drives available on the market today, but they have a very good price to performance ratio. I connect the Qx2 units to my MacBook Pro with the eSATA connection for the quickest possible transfer speeds.

Quad interface

The Qx2 drives are quad interface, allowing connections for eSATA, Firewire 800, Firewire 400, and USB 2.0.

I purchased these drives at B&H Photo Video. Here’s a link: OWC Mercury Elite-AL Pro Qx2

I configured the drives as RAID 5, which means that 25% of the overall drive space is taken up by internal RAID backup. Therefore, 12TB overall storage capacity is reduced to 9TB of available storage for actual use. I use one of the Mercury Elite drives on my desktop as a working drive and keep a second drive on a shelf in my office as an off-line backup. I sync the two drives on a regular basis using Carbon Copy Cloner. I also maintain a third drive off-site that I use as a tertiary point of safety for my photo collection.

Inside OWC Mercury Elite AL Pro

Here’s the inside of the OWC Mercury Elite AL Pro Wx2 RAID system.

These OWC drives are the fourth set of drives I’ve purchased from this company. I started with 1TB drives, then upgraded to 2TB, then to 4TB, and now I’m using 12TB drives. I’ve never had a drive failure with the OWC products and can highly recommend them for your own use.

To read more about the process of managing your digital images, check out my most recent book titled “Thousands of Images, Now What?” Link:

shipping boxes for OWC drives

When the system is delivered from B&H, the individual disk drives are separate from the OWC housings. Putting together the system is simple and only takes about 30 minutes.

Cameras: Nikon D600 versus D800

I took delivery of a new Nikon D600 about a week ago and have to say that I’ve fallen in love with this little camera. The body size is smack dab in-between the Nikon D800 and the Nikon D7000, so it serves as a great travel camera and packs a punch at 24MP.

D600 soccer

The D600 is a decent sports camera. Although the AF system is slower than the D800, the faster frame rate is better for capturing the peak of action.

Lots of people are asking about the difference between the 24MP files of the D600 and the 36MP files of the D800. I’ve written quite a bit over the last six months about how much I love the 36 MP files from the Nikon D800. Love them! However, the file sizes are huge and I often find myself beating my head against my keyboard waiting for software to render images or for panoramas to merge in Photoshop. Last month, I created a 9-frame HDR panorama from a D800 that was over 50GB in size. And that’s before I added any adjustment layers of filters. Holy cow. Sometimes, the resolution of the D800 is just too much and sometimes we need a smaller, more portable camera body. That’s where the D600 comes into play.

Nikon knows that the D800 files are huge, so they used a 24MP sensor in the D600. In my opinion, this resolution is the sweet spot for cameras right now, given the current state of computer performance. I’m sure my opinion will change as computers get faster and data transfer rates improve over the next few years. But for my goals and my usage, the D600’s 24MP files are great.

D600 low light

Here’s a shot from the D600 in a very low light situation at a restaurant. This image was taken at ISO 6400 with a50mm f1.8 lens.

Another aspect that I like about the D600 is Custom Settings Menu e4. This menu item called “Exposure comp. for flash” (available on the Nikon D4, but not on the D800) allows you to change exposure compensation on the camera independently from flash output compensation. This is significant because on all past Nikon cameras, changing exposure compensation meant that the camera would alter ambient light in addition to flash output. For example, if you were photographing an outdoor scene and wanted to darken the sky, you’d have to dial down exposure compensation, then dial up flash output. Now with the D600 and D4, CSM e4 allows you to dial down exposure compensation (to darken the background), but keep flash output right where it was (for the foreground). Finally!

window portrait

D600 and window light portrait. Nikon 24-70mm f2.8, ISO 800.

The D600 is a decent sports/action camera. Since the D600 has a faster frame rate than the D800 (5.5fps vs. 4 fps), many assume that it is better suited to sports photography. The faster frame rate really helps, but the downside to using the D600 for sports is that the autofocus isn’t as fast or snappy as the D800. While field-testing the camera at a soccer match, I found the slower D600 AF performance hindered my ability to keep up with the action on the field. The D800’s AF performance is top notch, but it’s frame rate is only 4fps. I have to give AF performance to the D800 but frame rate performance to the D600.

D600 sports

More sports photography from the Nikon D600 with the 70-200 f2.8 and 1.4x TC-E II.

Along with this AF performance issue is the lack of an AF-On button on D600. Over the last few years, I have become a convert to the back button focusing method, which uses the AF-ON button. The D600 doesn’t have an AF-ON button like the D800, so I customize the AE-L/AF-L button to perform the AF-ON activation instead. Then, I program the Function button to serve as the AE-L. In the big scheme of things, it isn’t a big deal, but I do miss using the function button for other purposes such as activating spot metering.

So far, in my limited use of the D600, I think Nikon has created a winner. I like the ergonomics. I like the quality of the images. I like its performance at high ISO settings.

As with any piece of equipment you purchase, it should fulfill a specific purpose in order to deserve a coveted spot in your camera bag. In my case, the D600 will be used for trips when I need a smaller camera body, but high resolution. I’ll be taking the D600 with me on a trip to Florida in a few days and I am looking forward to seeing how it does for sunrise and sunset landscape photography. I’ll be sure to post more images to the blog.

D600 soccer

One more soccer action shot for good measure. D600, 70-200mm f2.8, 1.4x TC-E II.

eBook Review: The Photographer’s Guide to HDR Efex Pro 2

The Photographer's Guide to HDR Efex Pro 2.

I’ve been using Nik HDR Efex Pro for many years and have grown to rely on this excellent piece of software for most of my HDR processing needs. A few months back, Nik released HDR Efex Pro 2, which has proven to be a substantial and worthwhile upgrade from the previous version. The processing engine is better and the anti-ghosting method is superior. I can say without hesitation that I highly recommend this product and that I use it almost every day.

Even though I’ve been using it for a long time, I still enjoy reading how other photographers use the program. I like learning from their experience and know that I will always pick up a new technique that I end up using in my workflow. Jason Odell of has created a great eBook on using Nik HDR Efex Pro titled The Photographer’s Guide to Nik HDR Efex Pro 2. Jason has been around the photo industry for quite a while now and knows his stuff. He’s produced at least seven eBooks and training videos on software and cameras.

Nik HDR Efex Pro 2

Jason does an excellent job of explaining all the nuances of the Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 software.

The Photographer’s Guide to Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 is an eBook published PDF format. As with other PDFs, you can read it on most tablets as well as any desktop or laptop computer. I read this eBook on my iPad and found it to be well suited for this technology. I have a Tether-Tools Wallee pivot stand that I use to raise the iPad to the same height as my computer monitor. That way, when I’m reading though the book, I can keep the two side by side so I can edit pictures in real time with Jason’s examples on the left, and my working screen on the right.

Jason has done a great job of providing real-world examples throughout his eBook. He includes screenshots of the software along with well-written instructions on how to achieve a certain look. In fact, one of my favorite parts about Jason’s book is his description of how to use selective tone mapping in HDR images to achieve a more realistic look. Most photographers who create HDR images know that it is easy to overdo the HDR effect. Being able to selectively apply tone mapping using a control point is one of the most powerful features of Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 and Jason elegantly shows how to implement this technique.


I used the selective tone mapping technique that Jason describes to prevent haloing in the sky for this image of Yosemite Valley. Nikon D800, 24-70mm f2.8, Gitzo GT 3540 6X tripod.

Almost 100 pages of the book are dedicated to real-world HDR examples. This is cool, since often the best way to learn a technique is by watching how it is accomplished on an actual image. In the first part of this section, Jason gives very-helpful a 10-step plan for working in HDR Efex Pro 2.

The Photographer’s Guide to HDR Efex Pro 2 is 233 pages and organized into five main sections:
1. Introduction to HDR Photography
2. Getting Started
3. Image Adjustment Controls
4. Tone-Mapping Techniques
5. Working with Presets

I recommend Jason’s eBook for photographers who are learning Nik HDR Efex Pro 2, as well as photographers who already have been using the program for a while. I learned quite a few new features about the program and appreciated Jason’s thorough descriptions.

Buy a copy of Jason’s eBook here:

Product Review: Picosteady



Picosteady with Canon Vixia HF R300 camcorder.

Picosteady shipment

The Picosteady ships with the stabilizer unit, a full set of counter weights, mounting screws and the universal smartphone mount.

Picosteady smartphone

Here’s the Picosteady in use with a smart phone.

Picosteady balance

This image shows how you pivot the counterweight to balance the Picosteady from side to side. Since the LCD screen is extended on the camcorder, the counterweights need to be pivoted to the other side to keep the camera level.

Lots of companies make excellent camera stabilization equipment for video equipment, but much of the available gear is expensive and complicated. The designers of Picosteady recognized these issues and set about designing a small, functional, and inexpensive camera stabilization unit that anyone could afford. The Picosteady is specifically designed for small video cameras like a camcorder, GoPro, mobile phone, Mirrorless camera or small dSLR like a Nikon D3200.

A few months back, I found Picosteady fundraising campaign on and asked the designers if I could test out their product in the real world. They shipped a sample to me and I’ve been testing it in a few travel and local scenarios over the last few months.

The PicoSteady ships with a stack of weights and a universal smartphone mount that is used to hold an iPhone and or similar-sized phones. My current mobile phone is the Samsung Galaxy SIII (which I totally love), but is too big for the universal smartphone mount on the Picosteady. The designers at Picosteady tell me they are working on new smartphone mount solutions, so expect to see these in the near future.

For my testing, I used the PicoSteady on my Canon Vixia HF R300 camcorder. This is a palm-sized video camera that I use for “grab and go” filming on-location and for my kids’ soccer games. Balancing the Vixia camcorder on the PicoSteady was extremely easy. Simply mount the camera to the top of the stabilizer, then add counterweights until the unit is balanced. The base of the Picosteady has a built-in pivot for the counter weights to make it simple to level the camera. I’d guess that it only took me 5 to 10 minutes to set up the Picosteady and begin filming. The designers at Picosteady have created a “how-to” web page for those setting up the camera for the first time. Here’s the link –

The PicoSteady isn’t designed for larger SLRs, so don’t try to use it with something like a Nikon D800 and a 24-70mm f2.8. It will work with smaller SLRs like a Nikon D3200 with a kit lens, but I think that you’ll get the best results from something like a point and shoot or a Nikon 1 V2 or a Panasonic GH-3 mirrorless camera. Larger dSLRs and video cameras should really be mounted on something like the Steadicam Merlin for best results.

So, the big question is, “does it work?” My answer is “yes.” Using the PicoSteady greatly reduced camera shake while improving the overall fluidity of my shots. I was able to achieve steady video in a variety of situations from wildlife to kids to walking outside. The key to obtaining excellent quality video footage is in how you hold the unit. Every move you make has to be as smooth and steady as possible. To get the best video, you’ll need to bend your knees and avoid any quick/abrupt movements while recording.

One of the more difficult aspects of shooting with a unit like the PicoSteady is figuring out how to rotate the camera during the shoot. For example, let’s say that you are panning with a subject as it moves from left to right. With a regular hand-held camera, you would simply twist your torso as the subject moved across your field of view. Things are different with a stabilizer like the Picosteady though because they are designed to be stable in all three dimensions. This means that when you rotate, the inertia in the system keeps the camera pointed straight ahead.

Other stabilization products are designed with built-in thumb wheels or similar devices that allow the operator to rotate the camera around the pivot axis. While the PicoSteady doesn’t have the thumb wheel, you can still use your thumb in-between the pivot point to rotate the camera. It isn’t as elegant as the more expensive units, but it does work pretty well. The other option is to rotate very slowly and deliberately. This will allow the Picosteady to slowly come around since the pivot point and anti-dust boot provides just enough static friction to allow the rotation.

In video production, slow camera movements are essential for creating a great viewing experience. Moving quickly is a recipe for disorienting the viewer, so slow and steady wins the race. Therefore, the slow rotation rate on the Picosteady isn’t a problem.

I recommend the Picosteady for videographers needing a stabilization platform for small cameras. It is flexible, lightweight, and small. I was able to easily fit the Picosteady into just about all of my camera bags, which is a big consideration for my travels. In fact, I’ll be bringing it with me on my Christmas vacation to Florida next week. I like the Picosteady and know you’ll like it too.

To learn more about the PicoSteady or order your own, visit their website:

The Picosteady retails for $149.00 plus shipping.

Workshop and Business Updates


Join me on a photographic journey to the land of fire and ice. I’ve set up this trip with renowned photographer and trip leader Tim Vollmer to show off the best of Iceland in the summer. We’ll be photographing birds, landscapes, cities and villages as we travel in our own private vehicles around the stunning country. I’ve limited the number of participants to 10 so photographers can get the most out of this adventure.

Find more information here:


We only have four more seats available for the November 2013 photo safari to Tanzania. This will be our fifth Tanzanian photo safari and I would love to have you come along to experience the adventure of Africa.

Here’s the link for more information:

Masters Series Workshops

I’ve just returned from four days of workshops in San Diego. The D800 and D4 workshops were extremely popular and full of vibrant photographers asking a million questions on these top-tier cameras.

Join me in 2013 for more of these Masters Series workshops in cities all around the USA. We’ve already posted workshops in Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, and New Jersey. We’ll be adding more very soon.

Kissimmee/Orlando – Jan 10-13, 2013

Fort Lauderdale – Jan 17-20, 2013

Los Angeles at Samy’s Camera – Mar 7-9, 2013

Fairfield New Jersey at Unique Photo – Apr 4-7, 2013

Check out our workshops here:

Flash Workshops

Our Nikonians Academy camera and flash photography workshops have all been completely revamped to include the Nikon D800, Nikon D4, Nikon D600, Nikon D7000 cameras as well as the Nikon SB-910 and SB-700 flashes.

Master Adobe Lightroom 4

Adobe Lightroom 4 is one of the best software programs out there for digital photographers. We’ve updated our Lightroom workshops to show the best of LR4, so if you’ve ever wanted to learn how to leverage the power of Lightroom in your workflow, then this is the right workshop. I’ll be running these all around the USA through the Nikonians Academy.

Lightroom 4 Essentials Workshops

Staying Current

You can stay current with our new workshop by watching for news to be posted at the blog (, on Facebook (, Twitter (@MikeJHagen) and Google+ (


Our Visual Adventures website is the new hub of our business operation. You’ll find links to everything we do including our books, workshops, products, newsletter, blog and photo galleries. For now, our previous website will stay put in its present form, but we won’t be adding new content there.

Iceland Photography Workshop

Custom Group Trips

This last August, I ran a custom photography trip for six photographers who wanted to improve their nature photography. We spent a few days in a beautiful national park working on photography techniques and learning new skills. Next year, I’ll be running a custom trip for a small group of people to Tanzania.

If you have a group and want to arrange a custom photo trip similar to this, contact us and we’ll put together an incredible itinerary just for you. I run custom trips for people all around the world on topics ranging from nature photography, landscape photography, urban photography, location portraits, and just about anything else you can imagine. Simply email or call and we’ll give you all the details for how to go about creating the trip of your dreams.

Private Tutoring and Consulting

Every month I run private workshops for people who want to learn in a one-on-one environment. These are great for folks who want to focus on specific topics related directly to their interests. Topics have included product photography, learning your camera, Lightroom, Photoshop, Aperture, Capture NX2, wedding photography, color management, nature photography, digital workflow, macro photography, location portraiture and many others. I also regularly consult with businesses, schools, organizations and museums to assist with their photographic and digital workflow needs.

If you have questions about private tutoring or business consulting, call (253) 851-9054 or visit our site here: .


I sincerely wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. My hope is that this newsletter inspires you and encourages you to keep improving your photography through daily practice.

As always, if you need more photo encouragement during the month, be sure to check out for regular updates, news, tips and commentary. Also, I encourage you to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

Best regards,

Mike Hagen
Visual Adventures (previously Out There Images)
PO Box 1966, Gig Harbor, WA 98335
twitter: @MikeJHagen
email: [email protected]
office: 253-851-9054
mobile: 360-750-1103
fax: 206-984-1817

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