June 2013 Newsletter


In this Newsletter:

– Greetings
– Stuff I Like This Month
– February GOAL Assignment: Fitness Photography
– June GOAL Assignment: Capture a Concept
– Photo Techniques: Capturing a Concept
– Product Review: Vivitar Close-Up Macro Lenses
– Product Review: Photodiox Step-Up Rings
– Workshop and Business Updates

Manhattan from Rockefeller Center

Manhattan, New York from Rockefeller Center.

Our ears popped as we rocketed skyward through the vertical shaft at amazing speed. The lights were dim in the tight confines of the elevator, but my son’s eyes were big with anticipation. He’d been planning this moment for a long time and couldn’t wait for the forthcoming view of New York City from the top of Rockefeller Center. We exited the elevator and walked into the blinding sunlight that lit up Manhattan more intensely than he could have ever imagined.

The sweeping skyscrapers were truly stunning and my son and I did our best to capture the grand scene with our cameras. My son’s dream of seeing New York from above was finally realized. His joyful smile said it all and it felt good as a parent to help him fulfill his goals.

This spring, my family and I were able to take a weeklong photo trip to New York City to celebrate my son’s birthday. Our elevator ride to the top of Rockefeller Center was just one of my son’s long-time dreams and it was part of a larger goal of his to spend a full week exploring Manhattan’s treasures. So, for his birthday, we packed up the whole family and flew out to the Big Apple to see the city through the eyes of my son.

It was a truly fantastic adventure and quite a delight to see the face of my son light up as he visited Times Square, The Freedom Tower, Statue of Liberty, Grand Central Station, and the Empire State Building. My son brought along his own Nikon DSLR and photographed the adventure from his perspective. We shot side by side for the whole week and took many of the same scenes.

Brooklyn Bridge

Brooklyn Bridge, New York City, New York.

I don’t really know why, but I produced some of the best photographs of New York that I’ve ever created during this trip. Perhaps it was the lack of pressure or maybe it was simply seeing the city in an entirely new light. I’ll have to further explore this phenomenon of “better photos when traveling with kids” and find a way to patent the approach for a future retail product!

Even though photography is my business, it’s also a great way for me to visually experience this world while building relationships. In the case of this trip, it served as the perfect way to hang out with my family sharing something we love.

In other news, my last few months have been filled with travel, leading photo workshops (Los Angeles and New Jersey), and working on three new book projects.

I just finished the first book project with Wiley & Sons as the technical editor for J. Dennis Thomas’ Nikon D7100 Digital Field Guide. The other two book projects are my own and will be produced in a variety of formats such as hard copy, eBook, iBooks (embedded video), etc. One of these books will be on twilight photography and the other will be on a special black and white technique I’m developing. I’ll release more information on both titles as we get closer to their publication dates.

Nikon D7100 DFG

Nikon D7100 Digital Field Guide by J. Dennis Thomas.

I have quite a few more photo workshops available this year that I’ll be running through the Nikonians Academy. If you want to learn your Nikon camera or Adobe Lightroom or Nikon wireless flash, then join me in Seattle this September 5 – 7, or San Diego this December 12 – 15. If you are looking for a full-on photo adventure, then consider these photographic trips:

1. Iceland. We are down to our last seat available for our epic photo adventure to the land of fire and ice. Dates are: July 28th – August 6th, 2013. Link: Iceland Photo Adventure

2. ANPAT 13 in Northern Arizona. An incredible adventure with an amazing group of photographers. We’ll be exploring the massive landscapes and natural wonders of Northern Arizona from October 5th – 12th, 2013. We are down to two seats remaining for double occupancy participants. Here’s the link for more information: ANPAT 13.

3. Tanzania Wildlife Photo Safari. Our annual photo adventure to Tanzania is scheduled for November 4th – 15th, 2013 and is going to be better than ever. I’ve revamped our lodging in an effort to get us closer to the wildlife so we can spend more time shooting and less time traveling. We are down to our last couple of seats for this trip. Here’s the link: Tanzania Photo Safari

DIY Photo Hacks Pinterest Page

Stuff I Like This Month

1. Watch the world change over the course of nearly three decades of satellite photography from NASA’s Landsat program at http://world.time.com/timelapse/. This website is extremely well designed. It allows you to pick a spot on the earth, and then watch how it changes over 30 years through a series of images created from the Landsat imaging satellites. I encourage you to put in the location of your house and watch how your neighborhood has changed over time.

2. Making DIY (do it yourself) photography gadgets is great fun and I’ve made quite a few over the years. Since I’ve had so much fun with these, I thought I’d share the different projects I like on my Pinterest page. Here’s the link: http://pinterest.com/mikejhagen/diy-photo-hacks/

3. Lightroom 5 was released this week. Here’s a blog post detailing my favorite ten things about the new version of the program. http://visadventures.com/ten-new-features-i-like-in-adobe-lightroom-5/

4. Nikon Cinema. Check out Nikon’s new website dedicated to great photographers making movies with their cameras. If you’ve ever wondered what your Nikon DSLR is capable of, this website will inspire you to be more creative. Here’s the link to Nikon Cinema: http://www.nikonusa.com/cinema/

Daughter fitness photography

My daughter pausing at an overlook during our fitness photography trek.


Fitness photography

My son and wife hiking through the forest with cameras during one of our fitness photography adventures.

Fitness photography hike

Kids and cameras are a great combination. Both of my children taking a rest during our fitness photography hike.


February GOAL Assignment: Fitness Photography

Your last GOAL (Get Out And Learn) Assignment was to incorporate photography into your fitness activities. I wanted you to stop making excuses and get outside with your cameras to blend fresh air and pixels, while also creating some memories.

I spend a lot of time in the outdoors with my camera, actively combining my love of nature with my love of photography. Many of my life’s most vivid memories involve being in the wild and capturing an incredible moment with my camera. For this Fitness Photography GOAL Assignment, I decided to bring my family along on a hike up Little Si Mountain in the Washington Cascade Mountains. Each of us brought along a camera and we had a ball photographing the trip from four different perspectives.

I’ve gotta say that there aren’t many things more enjoyable than hanging with like-minded souls doing something everyone enjoys. For my family, fitness photography was a wonderful way to connect with each other while doing something of mutual interest. I encourage you to do the same thing. Getting social with your camera in the outdoors will definitely spur your creativity and encourage you to get better. I think you’ll find that it is the perfect conduit to build relationships, tell stories, and share this journey called life with the people you enjoy hanging with.


June GOAL Assignment: Capture a Concept

Your GOAL (Get Out And Learn) Assignment for June is to create a series of photographs that illustrate a concept. What I’d like you to do is write down a concept that appeals to you, then spend the month creating photographs that illustrate the idea.

Here are a few concepts to consider for your GOAL Assignment:
– Fear
– Hope
– Pride
– Need
– Loss
– Time
– Obsolescence
– Elation

For more insight into photographing concepts, read the Photo Techniques article below.

Photo Techniques: Capturing a Concept

track runner

One of the biggest challenges you can tackle as a shooter is to photograph a concept. Most photographers are good at shooting “things,” but not so good at capturing concepts and ideas. Think about the last time you created a series of images while on a trip to a far-off country. Did you simply photograph subjects that randomly appeared in front of you, or did you create photographs with the purpose of capturing an idea? If you are anything like me, my guess is that you saw something interesting, then responded by pressing the shutter button. Going deeper with your photography is a worthy challenge and attempting to shoot a well-defined concept is a challenge I think you should take.

Photographing your next event or trip with the underlying purpose of capturing a concept will elevate the quality of your photography from snap shots, to great shots. Photographs that define ideas such as such as strength or defeat or victory are always more compelling than photographs of pretty scenes. You’ll discover that photographing with the intent to capture an idea often leads to a better body of work than photographing just “something.”

To better understand what I’m talking about here, take a look at these photographs from a recent Jr. High track meet I shot. My intent was to create photographs that defined the concept of “maximum effort.” I knew that kids would be striving to be first to the finish line and wanted to show the races through this idea. I knew that capturing the strain on their faces and their flexing muscles as they pushed their bodies to the limit would tell a better story than general images of the event.

track runner

Before shooting any pictures of the event, I made a mental list of the visual cues that define the concept of maximum effort. I came up with seven things I wanted to capture:

– Gritted teeth
– Strained neck muscles
– Breathing deeply
– Intense eyes
– Grimace
– Flexed biceps
– Clenched fists

Before their races, the young Jr. High kids were laughing and messing around in the infield. However, when it was time to stand at the starting line, their faces turned serious and their eyes became intensely focused. The determination written on their faces was tangible and the feeling was contagious. I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand up as I watched these 12 and 13 year-olds compete for a few intense seconds.

You can’t help but get caught up in the emotion, especially during the sprints and the relays where kids were exerting at their peak. Since my goal was to photograph their maximum effort I positioned myself just after the finish line. As you expect, the finish line is the point when everyone is pushing their hardest.

If I was after a different concept such as “defeat” or “joy”, then I would have positioned myself farther down the track so the reality of the win or loss had time to set in. If I was after emotions of crying, laughing, cheering, or hugging, then all of that happens down the track at a farther distance. The main point here is to position yourself on the track where you expect to find your best chance for the concept you are after.

track runner

The great thing about photographing Jr. High events is that access is easy since there is no official security or fencing to worry about. As long as you are free and clear of the track, you are cleared to shoot just about anywhere you want. Therefore, don’t be shy about positioning yourself as close to the action as possible.

Because I was close to the action, I was able to use a 70-200mm f/2.8. Sometimes I added a 1.4x TC to get a bit more reach, but this wasn’t necessary.

Track runner

Here are the things I did to capture a concept at the Jr. High track meet:

  1. Decided what concept I wanted to capture (maximum effort).
  2. Made a list of expressions and body movements that would help define maximum effort – gritted teeth, strained necks, clinched fists, etc.
  3. Positioned myself at the point of the race most likely to produce the expressions I was after. In this case, it was just after the finish line.
  4. Got close to the action by shooting from the track itself, rather than from the bleachers.
  5. Timed my photo sequences to begin the end of the race so I wouldn’t fill my buffer before the peak of action occurred.

So, what concept are you going to capture on your next photo shoot? I guarantee that you’ll come home with better shots if you take a moment to think through your goals like I’ve outlined here. Once you’ve captured your concept, send me a link to your images to let me see how you’re doing!

Track runner

Product Review: Vivitar Close-Up Macro Lenses

Vivitar close-up lenses

Vivitar Series 1 close-up screw on lenses.

There are quite a few inexpensive options available for macro photographers wanting to improve the macro capability of their existing lenses. These options include close-up screw-on lenses, extension tubes, and reverse-mounting your prime lens.

For the last 15 years, I’ve kept a set of Kenko extension tubes in my camera bag as an easy way for me to turn my existing lenses into macro-capable lenses. Extension tubes are great, but a full set of three tubes can sometimes be a bit too large when I’m trying to travel light.

Kenko extension tubes

Kenko extension tubes.

I have always been intrigued with the concept of screw-on close-up lenses for macro photography, so I recently bought a Vivitar Series 1 macro lens set from Amazon for $14.25. This 77mm close-up filter set comes with +1, +2, +4, and +10 filters as well as a storage pouch for the four. At under 15 bucks, the price was right for the four-lens kit, so I figured I couldn’t go too wrong by giving the set the ol’ college try.

Vivitar four lens set

Vivitar Series 1 close-up lenses. Storage pouch.

A close-up lens screws on to the front of a regular lens like a normal filter would. The difference however is that these “filters” are actually lenses that increase the magnification of the lens they are mounted on. If you add a +1 lens, then it effectively adds one diopter to your present lens. A +2 adds two diopters, and so on. The maximum magnification of your subject depends on the focal length of your lens as well as the minimum focusing distance of your lens.

The advantage of using a close-up lens is that you can screw it on the front of any of your existing lenses with a front filter thread. Doing so effectively makes any lens you own a macro lens. Another advantage is these close-up lenses are small, and fit in the same amount of space a normal filter would fit.

One disadvantage of these close-up lenses is that they dramatically reduce your depth of field. If you are trying to keep a bug or flower in sharp focus from front to back, then adding these filters will make that very difficult. I found in my testing that even shooting at f/16 or f/22 my depth of field was extremely narrow.

Another disadvantage of screw-on close-up lenses is that many of the bargain brands are made out of a single optical element. This means that they will give reasonable sharpness in the center of the image, but lose significant sharpness at the corners because of the simple spherical design. You shouldn’t expect excellent results from bargain close-up lenses, but should expect pretty good results from more expensive aspherical or coated lenses from companies like Canon or Hoya or B+W.

Salmon berry

A pretty good shot of a salmon berry. The image looks good because most of the subject matter is in the middle of the frame.

So, the big question is do these close-up lenses perform well enough to produce professional results?

Well, that depends on your perspective. If you compose the image so the subject is in the exact middle of the frame, then the results look pretty good. On the other hand, if the primary subject extends to the outer edges of the frame, then you’ll start to see pronounced softness and color aberrations. For example, in the example photograph of newsprint shown here, the images looked terrible at the outer corners and displayed significant color aberration.

IQ variation

This image of newsprint shows how the image quality varies significantly from the middle of the frame to the corners of the frame.

Poor image quality at edges

Here you can see the significant decrease in image quality at the edges of the image.

In the real world, the images I took with the Vivitar close-up lenses actually looked quite nice, especially for images where I intentionally framed the subject in the middle of the frame. For example, I took a few photos of flowers, ferns and salmonberries that pretty good when viewed at low zoom levels on my computer screen. If I zoomed into 100%, then I very quickly found chromatic aberration at the edges of the subject. The aberration was significant enough that I wasn’t able to remove it in post-processing via Lightroom 5.

Fern closeup

This fern image actually looks pretty good since the majority of the subject is located in the center of the frame.

The +1, +2, and +4 lenses all produced results that I found to be mostly usable. The +10 lens was only sharp in the dead center of the image but extremely blurry at the edges. The +10 behaved much more like a Lensbaby or a selective focus lens so I would only consider using it for creative photography.

Close-up screw-on lenses are designed to be able to stack on top of each other in order to provide more magnification. For example, if you stack a +2 and a +4, then the result will be +6 magnification. Even though this is possible, I don’t recommend this method with these bargain lenses because you’ll see an even more significant decrease in image quality. My suggestion is to use the lenses independent from each other.

Chromatic aberration

If you look closely at the top of this purple flower, you’ll see pronounced chromatic aberration.


Close-up of cucumber slices and tomatoes. This image looks ok overall, even under close examination.

In summary, although the Vivitar close-up macro lenses are very inexpensive, they produce sub-par results. If you are an optimist, then you might say that they produce “artistic” results. Some of the images I took were downright unusable, while other images looked great as long as you didn’t pixel peep. If you are ok with blurry edges, then you’ll consider the $15 you spent on the set to be a good purchase. Otherwise, I suggest spending the money on a better quality unit like the Canon 500D.

Canon’s 500D close-up lens is a high-end unit called the 500D that costs around $145.00 for a 77mm filter. It is very high quality and has achromatic elements to correct chromatic aberrations. The 500D doesn’t significantly degrade the optical performance of high end lenses, so can be used for high-end professional macro work. In the case of screw-on close-up lenses, you definitely get what you pay for.

Product Review: Fotodiox Step-Up Rings

Photodiox step-up rings

Photodiox step-up rings.

One of the problems photographers have when buying accessories is trying to get the most bang for our buck. We are constantly looking for ways to maximize an accessory’s functionality across multiple cameras and lenses. In the case of optical filters like polarizers or neutral density filters, it can get very expensive to buy a different filter for every lens you own. A high-end polarizer can cost a few hundred dollars and a variable neutral density filter can cost almost $400! To buy a filter for each lens you own is excessive and can be a recipe for financial disaster.

The solution to this filter problem is to use step-up rings. Step-up rings are the least expensive way to use a single filter on each of the lenses you own. As you most likely know, different lenses are manufactured with different filter thread sizes. Common thread diameters are 49mm, 52mm, 55mm, 58mm, 62mm, 67mm, 72mm, and 77mm.

Step up rings

Set of seven Photodiox step-up rings.

Step-up filters allow you to take a larger filter size and mount it to a smaller lens. For example, most f/2.8 lenses like a 24-70mm or a 70-200mm use 77mm threads. To maximize your filter’s usefulness across all your lenses, you would buy the largest diameter filter to match your largest diameter lens. In my case, I purchase 77mm filters and then use step-up rings to mount them on my smaller lenses. In the case of my 50mm f/1.8 lens, it requires a 58mm filter. Using step-up rings, I can easily mount the 77mm filter by screwing together step-up rings from 58mm to 77mm.

50mm f/1.8.

Here, I’ve mounted a 77mm diameter filter on my much smaller Nikon 50mm f/1.8. This lens has a filter diameter of 58mm.

Fotodiox made the step rings I purchased for this review. I bought them from Amazon.com for $13.49 and am very pleased with the purchase. I’ve used them in the field quite a few times and have no qualms about their fit and finish. They aren’t as heavy duty as step rings I’ve used from other companies, but for the price, you can hardly beat them.

The pros of using step rings are:

  1. Light weight. A full set weighs about two ounces.
  2. Inexpensive. A full set of rings costs less than $20.
  3. Money savings. You only have to buy one large filter in order to use it on any smaller lens diameter.

The cons of using step rings are:

  1. Rotation. Since you’ll most likely be stacking the rings, they might rotate a bit. So, if you are using them with a circular polarizer or a variable neutral density then sometimes rotating the front element of the filter will cause the step rings to rotate. This isn’t always a big deal, but can be frustrating.
  2. Cross threading. Since the step-up rings’ threads are shallow, they do have a tendency to bind with the filter. There were a few times I had difficulty screwing on or unscrewing a filter because it cross-threaded with the step rings. For some reason, mounting my polarizer directly to the lens was easier than screwing it on the step-up ring. Just be careful when screwing on your filters that you don’t damage the threads.
  3. Vignetting. A small diameter wide-angle lens will probably vignette if you have to stack too many step-up rings for your filter. For example, a smaller 24mm f/2.8 with a 52mm filter thread size might vignette when you are trying to mount your 77mm polarizer simply because of the overall depth of step rings.  In the case of my small 50mm f/1.8, it doesn’t vignette because of the longer (narrower) focal length.

There are other types of step-up rings that step directly from one diameter to another. For example, you can step from 58mm to 77mm with one ring, rather than stacking four Fotodiox rings to make the same jump. The big advantage of using a single step-up ring is the filter ends up being mounted closer to the lens, thus preventing the vignetting issue I described above. The disadvantage is you will need to buy a specific step-up ring for each lens diameter.

58-77mm step-up ring

58-77mm step-up ring. This allows you to make the jump from a small diameter lens to a large diameter filter with one ring.

I highly recommend the use of step-up rings if you are looking to manage the overall cost of your photography equipment. Spending $15 for a set of rings will save you hundreds of dollars in filters you don’t need to purchase for each of your lenses. In my mind, step-up rings are money well spent.

Workshop and Business Updates


I know that it is a bit late to be planning your summer trip, but we have one remaining seat for our Iceland photo adventure beginning on July 28th, 2013. If you are considering bringing along a spouse, then we’ll make a special provision so both of you may come.  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 will get the most out of this adventure.

Find more information here:



We have four remaining 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 with me to experience the wildlife and landscapes of East Africa.

Here’s the link for more information:


Also, we’ve just posted our 2014 Tanzanian safari scheduled for November 4 – 15, 2014. Immediately following our November 2014 trip, we have scheduled a mountain gorilla photography adventure in Rwanda from November 16 – 20 that will be epic. I’ve reserved a full three days of gorilla treks into the Rwandan cloud forests to maximize our chances of coming home with stunning images of these imposing creatures.

Mike Hagen’s Books

Our how-to books continue to sell well and we are in communication with our publishers about the next round of reprints. More information here: http://visadventures.com/shop/category/photo-books/

–       Thousands of Images, Now What?

–       The Nikon Creative Lighting System, Using the SB-600, SB-700, SB-800, SB-900, SB-910, and R1C1 Flashes

–       Nikon Capture NX2, After the Shoot

Masters Series Workshops

Our next Masters Series workshops are scheduled for Seattle, and San Diego. I’ll be teaching classes on the Nikon D800, D600, D4, D7100, D7000, Wireless Flash, and Adobe Lightroom 4 through the Nikonians Academy.

Seattle September 5 – 7, 2013
San Diego December 12 – 15, 2013

Sign up for the workshops here:

Nikon Camera Setup Guides

If you are looking for information on how to set up your Nikon camera, then check out our Nikon Camera Setup Guides here:


Staying Current

You can stay current with our new workshop by watching for news to be posted at the blog (http://visadventures.com/blog/), on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/MikeJHagen), Twitter (http://twitter.com/MikeJHagen) and Google+ (http://gplus.to/MikeHagen).


Our Visual Adventures website www.VisAdventures.com 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 www.outthereimages.com will stay put in its present form, but we won’t be adding new content there.

Iceland Photography Workshop

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: http://visadventures.com/services/private-travel-tours/ .

Custom Group Trips

I frequently put together private trips for groups of photographers who want specialized instruction or guidance. For example, next month I’m 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 to a destination, contact us and we’ll put together an incredible itinerary just for you. Our custom photo adventures are 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.


I sincerely appreciate each and every one of you and want to thank you for reading through this month’s newsletter. Feel free to contact me if you have questions about our trips, books, or anything related to your pursuit of photography.

As always, if you need more photo encouragement during the month, be sure to check out http://visadventures.com/blog/ 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
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