Mike Hagen – Visual Adventures – September 2015 Newsletter

In This Newsletter

– Greetings
– New Books
– New Workshops
– Stuff I Like This Month
– Product Review: Miops Smart Camera Trigger
– Digital Tidbits: Three Minute Lightroom Fix – Hazy Skyline
– Product Review: Aperlite YH-500 Flash
– Workshop and Business Updates


Hello photographers and welcome to the September 2015 Visual Adventures newsletter. The last few months have been a whirlwind of activity with the publication of two books, photo trips to Maui and Iceland, photographing for commercial clients, and running a number of private workshops for out of state customers. I leave this week to the Galapagos Islands for a photo workshop with a group of clients to photograph the beauty and wildlife of this incredible location.

Iceland group

Happy photographers on last month’s trip to Iceland. Join us again in 2016!

The purpose of my newsletters and blog posts is to encourage and teach others how to become better photographers. In this month’s newsletter I try to answer the question of whether or not an inexpensive 3rd party flash is capable enough to add to your photography kit. Also, I review a new style of camera trigger that coordinates with a smart phone. Finally, I talk about a digital technique in Lightroom that should help you rescue hazy travel photographs.

Enjoy the newsletter and send me a note to let me know what great things you are doing to become a better photographer.


New Books

I have two new books out this year for Nikon shooters.

The Nikon Autofocus System

I wrote this book to answer photographer’s questions related to autofocus issues. I run lots of classroom workshops and private workshops. In the vast majority of these classes, the biggest questions revolve around the autofocus system. How to use it for sports, macro, landscapes, travel, etc. I took everything I knew about the Nikon autofocus and put it into this book.

The eBook version is available for purchase right now and the paperback version will be available beginning in November of 2015. Readers of my newsletter and blog will receive 40% off the purchase price of the eBook by using this code at checkout:

Promo Code: NIKONAF
Link: Nikon Autofocus eBook at Rocky Nook

Pre-order a hard-copy version here:
1. Visual Adventures (autographed copies)

2. Amazon.com

The Nikon Creative Lighting System, 3rd Edition

This book keeps on selling and keeps getting better with each edition. We are now into the 3rd edition of this best-selling book. The publisher asked me to update the book for all new Nikon cameras and all new wireless flashes. I added a new chapter on the SB-500 flash, updated all the chapters for new cameras and added a few more real-world examples.

Buy your own copy of the book at any of these links:

1. Visual Adventures (autographed copies)

2. Rocky Nook

3. Amazon.com

Nikon AF cover


Nikon CLS 3rd edition

New Workshops

2016 is set to be an exciting year for our travel and adventure photography workshops. I’ve added four workshops to the calendar including a brand new trip to Prague and the Czech Republic. I’d love to have you along on one of our trips. Feel free to shoot me a message if you have any questions about the trips. Here are the quick links to the information pages:

Read below for more information and links to the workshop pages.


Stuff I Like This Month

New Nikon 200-500mm Zoom

This lens is due to ship the week of September 17 and should be a wonderful addition to the Nikon lineup. I currently use the 200-400mm f/4 and love everything about it … except the weight. The new 200-500mm f/5.6 weighs 5.1 pounds, which sounds like a lot, but is a full 2.3 pounds less than the 200-400mm. Also, the 200-500mm lens costs $1,400 versus $7,000 for the 200-400mm f/4.

I haven’t had the opportunity to shoot with the new 200-500mm, but if past history is any guide, then this lens should be a winner.

Peak Design Products

The good folks at Peak Design are at it again with two new products. The first is the new bag called the Everyday Messenger and the second is the Capture Lens.

They announced these two new products via a Kickstarter campaign and have already raised over $3,250,000 against their goal of $100,000. Peak Design knows how to design great gear and I’m sure these two new products are going to be great successes.

Sony A7RII – Mirrorless Has Come of Age

I think the Sony A7RII represents a seismic shift in the photo industry. It is the first mirrorless camera on the market that meets or exceeds DSLR performance in almost every way. For a thorough review, check out Michael Reichmann’s discussion at his website, Luminous Landscape.

New Bags from Think Tank Photo

If leather is more your thing, then you’re going to love the new Think Tank Retrospective Leather series of camera bags. They have a very nice timeless urban look to them and combine the best of form and function. Check out the new bags at this link – Think Tank Retrospective Leather

Retrospective Leather

Think Tank Photo’s Retrospective Leather camera bag adds some old school style.

Nikon 200-500mm

Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6 VR ED

Everyday Messenger

Peak Design Everyday Messenger bag.

Sony a7RII

Sony a7RII mirrorless camera packs a 42MP sensor and 399 autofocus points.



Product Review: Miops Smart Camera Trigger

Miops Smart

Miops Smart

Miops sent me their brand new camera trigger to test and it is a cool unit! The trigger has a fairly long name: The Miops Smart, Smartphone Controllable Camera Trigger for High Speed Photography. It is designed to provide photographers with a variety of ways to trigger their cameras in the field.

A few years ago I wrote a review on their earlier unit called the Nero Trigger and found it to be a very capable trigger. The newer Miops Smart takes things a step further and incorporates Bluetooth connectivity with smartphone technology.

Miops mounting

The Miops Smart attaches to your camera’s accessory shoe and connects to the cable-release port to trigger the camera.

The price for the Miops Smart is $239.00 and comes with a cable to interface with your specific camera model. The system will control most modern camera systems including:

Konica Minolta

Sound mode

Here, I’ve configured the Miops Smart to trigger in sound mode.

The Miops smartphone app is pretty cool and works seamlessly with the Miops module mounted on the camera. The app is available for both iOS and Android smart devices. It allows you to control all the Miops Smart functions, but in a much easier to use user interface. Controlling the Miops Smart via the physical device’s on-board buttons can be a little bit confusing, but controlling it via the smartphone app is very simple and straightforward.

Smartphone app.

The smartphone app is very easy to use. It connects to the Miops Smart via Bluetooth and allows you to configure the device remotely.

The Miops Smart will trigger your camera and your flash with the included cable or via infrared connection. When you buy the unit, you’ll need to specify what type of camera body you’re using, and then Miops will send the corresponding cable. If you want to buy additional cables for different cameras, then they cost a reasonable $20.00 each.

I used the Miops Smart to take a photo of a BB gun shooting a piece of chalk. I knew that the chalk would explode into multiple pieces when hit, and that if I photographed it against a dark background, the overall look would be pretty cool. To set up the scene, I placed the piece of chalk about 15 feet away from the gun. Then, I set the Miops Smart to Sound trigger mode. I set the audio sensitivity to level 69 and the delay to 0 (zero) milliseconds.

Miops BB gun shot

Here’s the setup for the BB gun and chalk experiment. I actually placed the gun about 15 feet away for the final shot.

I adjusted my Nikon D750 camera to manual exposure at 1/250 second, f/2.8, and ISO 100. Then, I set my SB-910 flash to Manual output at 1/128 power. Using a low power setting on the flash produces the shortest duration flash pulse. I knew a short flash duration would be critical to freezing the motion of the exploding piece of chalk.

After a five or six trial shots using a piece of cardboard for a target, I had the system dialed in and ready to go. I replaced the cardboard with a piece of chalk, fired the gun, hit the chalk, and captured it all on camera. POW! Very cool. This Miops Smart camera trigger really works!

Miops Smart chalk

Success. The Miops Smart actually works! It took about an hour of setup and testing to get the shot, but in the end, the system works as advertised.

Missed shot

Here’s a near miss with the same setup. In this case, the aim of the gun was just off and the BB skimmed the side of the chalk.

There are seven different programmable modes on the Miops Smart. Each of them are designed to address different needs for different types of photography. The modes are:

Lightning Mode – Triggers the camera from a lighting flash or from any bright pulse of light.

Laser Mode – Triggers the camera when a laser beam is broken. Great for wildlife photography.

Timelapse Mode – Works just like a timelapse timer (intervalometer) found in most higher-end digital cameras. Will trigger any modern camera that uses an electronic shutter release. You can program the unit to begin photographing in the future, so you don’t need to be present to begin the sequence. This feature allows you to begin shooting after sunset or in the middle of the night when you are sleeping.

Sound Mode – Triggers the camera when a specific threshold of sound is detected. Typical photo examples for this mode are a popping balloon, shooting gun, or clapping hands. I used sound mode to take the BB-gun photographs in this review.

HDR Mode – Will automatically trigger your camera at different shutter speeds to bracket your exposures. Use this mode if your camera doesn’t have a built-in bracketing function.

DIY Mode – This operates with an external port that triggers with your own DIY (do it yourself) sensors including motion, distance, temperature and pressure sensors. Basically, if you have your own sensors that produce an electrical pulse, then you can use them with DIY mode to trigger the camera or flash.

Scenario Mode – Allows you to combine a variety of modes into one criterion. For example, you can enable sound mode to trigger the camera after the laser beam is broken.

Miops scenario mode

Scenario mode allows you to add multiple criteria before the Miops Smart triggers the camera.

Miops Smart battery

The battery installs inside the Miops Smart trigger and then charges via USB cable.

The Miops Smart ships with a proprietary battery. The system charges via an USB cable that is supplied with the purchase of the Miops unit. The same USB port allows you to upgrade the unit with new firmware updates as they become available. The upgrade process is accomplished by hooking up the Miops Smart to your computer.

Connection ports

Different ports on the Miops Smart allow you to connect to your computer, camera, flash and different sensors.

Miops Smart cables

There are a wide variety of connection cables you can purchase to control different camera models.

The Miops Smart is a very cool product. I like the fact that it is designed to work for a wide variety of applications. It is cool to have the same unit function as a lightning trigger, laser beam trigger, and sound trigger. I think everything in our camera bags should have multiple uses and the Miops definitely delivers. The Miops Smart is one smart product and I look forward to using it more often in my photography.

Buy your own Miops Smart at Miops.com.

Digital Tidbits: Three Minute Lightroom Fix – Hazy Skyline

Hazy photograph

Here’s the original hazy photograph of the Seattle skyline as shown in Lightroom.

Adobe Lightroom is my go-to software for managing and developing digital photographs. Each software version gets better and the release of Adobe CC introduced a new feature called dehaze. The dehaze tool is excellent and can really help you achieve a nice looking shot when used on the right type of image.

finished hazy photo

The finished image after a 3-minute fix in Lightroom.

I want to take you through the process of developing an image of the Seattle skyline that I took on a very hazy morning last year. We were traveling to Seattle on a Washington State Ferry, and even though the morning fog had cleared out, the sky was still filled with haze. I knew when I took the shot that I’d be able to massage some detail out of the image in software. Little did I know at the time how easy it would be when using the Lightroom CC dehaze tool.

Here are the steps I used to develop the photo in Lightroom CC. The total elapsed time to complete these steps was approximately three minutes. Here goes:

1. Fix titled horizon crop to panorama. I knew when I took this image that it would look much better as a panorama, so I purposely composed it a little bit loose in-camera to include a bit more of the city skyline. Using Lightroom’s crop tool, I leveled the horizon and cropped the image to a 3:1 aspect ratio.

Crop tool

Open the crop tool (upper right) in Lightroom.

Panorama crop

After selecting a 3×1 aspect ratio, level the horizon and set the crop.

2. Remove Haze. The dehaze tool is located in the Effects panel, near the bottom right of the Develop module. This can be a heavy-handed tool if you aren’t careful, so tread lightly when using the slider. If you go too far with the tool, then the image looks fake. For this photo, I moved the slider to +74.

Lightroom dehaze tool

Select the dehaze tool (lower right) to remove the atmospheric haze.

3. Remove dust and spots. One of the downsides to the dehaze tool is that it brings out any sensor dust in your image. To remove the dust spots, activate the Spot Removal tool from the top of the Develop module. Tip: click on the Visualize Spots checkbox to better see the dust in the photograph.

Spot removal tool

Activate the spot removal tool (upper right) to get rid of dust spots that are revealed after using the dehaze tool.

spot removal

Tip: click on the visualize spots button to allow you to better see any dust in the image.

4. Convert to black and white. Images like this with big puffy clouds scream for black and white conversions. To convert an image to B&W in Lightroom, simply press the “V” key on your keyboard. Then, modify the basic adjustment sliders until you are happy with the final result. Tip: reduce the “blacks” slider to give the image some visual weight.

Black and white conversion

Convert the image to black and white by pressing the V key on your keyboard.

5. Darken the sky. The final touch for any image like this is to darken the sky. This keeps the viewer’s eyes in the frame and is a subtle way to add drama to the photograph. To darken the sky, use the Graduated Filter and adjust the exposure slider anywhere from -0.5 to -1.5 until you are pleased with the result.

Graduated filter

The final touch is to darken the sky using the Graduated Filter in Lightroom.

That’s it. Anybody can use this same approach to breath life back into your hazy travel photographs. My hope is that you will use the method I outlined here on your own images. Have fun and send me an email or drop me a note on Facebook once you’ve succeeded!

finished hazy photo

The finished image after a 3-minute fix in Lightroom.

Product Review: Aperlite YH-500 Flash

Aperlite YH-500

Aperlite YH-500 flash for Nikon cameras.

Aperlite flash company asked me to review their new YH-500N flash and compare it against my Nikon flashes. As many of you know, I’ve been using Nikon flashes for a long time and have written a few books on the Nikon wireless flash system.

Aperlite YH-500

Aperlite YH-500 control panel.

Obviously, I hold the Nikon CLS (creative lighting system) in high regard, so I haven’t really been eager to incorporate other brands of flashes into my kit. However, Aperlite sent me a review copy, so I thought I’d put it through its paces.

The YH-500N is almost identical in all external dimensions as the Nikon SB-910 and SB-900 flashes. From a distance, it is near impossible to tell the difference between the flashes. Up close though is when you start to notice the differences between the units, especially with the controls.

Aperlite YH-500 and Nikon SB-910

Aperlite YH-500 and Nikon SB-910.

Aperlite YH-500 and SB-910 control

Aperlite YH-500 and SB-910 control panels


Which one is the SB-910 and which one is the Aperlite YH-500?

The user interface is completely different than Nikon flashes, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, just different. After a couple minutes with the manual, I was able to completely understand all the flash functions and how to access them.

For a price of about $60 the Aperlite YH-500N is quite capable. It has five different flash modes including:

– TTL (Through the lens metering)
– M (manual)
– Repeating flash (stroboscopic)
– S1 (Slave mode 1)
– S2 (Slave mode 2 )

TTL mode

The Aperlite YH-500 TTL mode is controllable from +3 EV to -3 EV in 1/3 stop increments.

TTL Mode is fully compatible with all current Nikon digital cameras and operates in the same way that a traditional Nikon flash works. Basically, mount the flash on the camera’s hot shoe, set it up for TTL mode, and start taking photographs. The flash’s power can be adjusted by the rear control buttons in 1/3-stop increments all the way from -3 EV to +3 EV.

Manual mode

Aperlite YH-500 manual mode

Manual mode is pretty straightforward and the total power range is from full power to 1/128 power in 1/3-stop increments.

Repeating flash is also very similar to the Nikon models and allows the user to set up the number of pulses as well as how many pulses per second the will flash fire. This mode is useful for photographers who want to shoot photographs of moving subjects like dancers or runners. The flash fires multiple times while the shutter remains open, thereby freezing the subject multiple times on a single exposure.

The two slave modes, S1 and S2, are very well thought out. The first slave mode, S1, operates the flash like a traditional slave where the flash fires as soon as it sees a pulse of light from any other flash.


Slave mode S2 works with the Nikon CLS by ignoring all the pre-flashes.

The second slave mode, S2, allows you to use the YH-500N as a manual slave when triggering your Nikon flash system via a Nikon commander flash unit like the SB-910, SB-900, SB-700, SU-800, or pop-up flash. Basically, S2 Mode ignores all of the pre-flashes from the commander flash and then fires the YH-500N flash in manual output mode when the all the flashes in your system fire. This mode is ingenious and allows the YH-500N to “play” with other Nikon flashes, even though it isn’t fully controlled by the Nikon commander. I like this feature and was pleasantly surprised to find it on such an inexpensive flash unit.

The YH-500N doesn’t operate on a specific channel or group, so its power output cannot be controlled remotely. To use it in the Nikon CLS (creative lighting system), you’ll configure the power output from the flash itself, and then the flash will fire with the rest of the system.

The YH-500N operates on standard AA cells and mates with all the standard hot shoe technology on the market. For example it works just fine with the Nikon TTL cable and also works great with the standard Nikon battery packs.

The flash puts out ample power has a respectable guide number of 137 at 50mm, which puts it in the same general power range as the Nikon SB-910. As an added bonus, the flash operates with front curtain sync or rear curtain sync.

So the question everyone wants to know is whether or not the Aperlite YH-500N is worth the price? Well at $60 for flash unit, I think the YH-500N is a tremendous bargain as long as you don’t need to use the wireless TTL capability found in other Nikon flashes like the SB-910, SB-700 and SB-500. However, if you need a capable on-camera TTL flash, or want a capable off-camera manual slave, then I think buying this flash is a no brainer.

Will I personally use it? Yep. I’ll add it to my flash kit and use it as a manual slave whenever I need a background light or kicker in my portable flash system. I’m actually quite impressed with the flash, especially considering the unbelievable price point.

Buy your own Aperlite YH-500N at Amazon.com.

Aperlite YH-500 on camera

The Aperlite YH-500 is a great flash for the money.


Workshop and Business Updates

Iceland Birds and Landscapes

July 17-24, 2016. We’ll photograph some of the most amazing scenery and wildlife Iceland has to offer. From verdant rolling hills to rugged mountains, the landscapes of Iceland are famous for their interplay between light and sky. We’ve also included a few photo sessions with some famous bird populations to stoke your wildlife photography passions.

Info here:

Galapagos Wildlife and Landscapes

September 17-25, 2016. We’ve formed a wonderful partnership with our charter boat operator and absolutely love our on-board staff, guides and itinerary. This photo adventure trip to the Galapagos Islands is an experience of a lifetime. Each day features a different region of the Islands. Our expedition yacht has the ability to anchor close to our attractions and our small group size means that we can be nimble while photographing nature’s splendor.

Info here:

Czech Republic and Prague

October 9-16, 2016. The best of Bohemia in 8 days. This trip is set to coincide with the fall colors. Our photography themes include landscapes, countrysides, castles and chateaus, colonnades, rural houses, forest animals, and street scenes.

Info here:

Tanzania 2016 Photo Safari

Our epic African safari keeps getting better. I continue to optimize our travel schedule so that it allows even more time to photograph wildlife in the field. Next year’s Tanzanian photo safari is scheduled for November 4 – 15, 2016. Join us for a wildlife photography adventure you’ll never forget.

Info here:

Castle at night in Czech Republic. Image courtesy Tim Vollmer.

Castle at night in Czech Republic. Image courtesy Tim Vollmer.

Icelandic puffin

Icelandic puffin.




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: http://visadventures.com/shop/category/camera-setup-guides/

Staying Current

You can stay current with our new workshop by watching for news to be posted at the blog, on FacebookTwitter and Google+.


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.

Custom Group Trips

I frequently put together private trips for groups of photographers who want specialized instruction or guidance. For example, we recently put together a private 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.

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 5, Photoshop CC, 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/ .


Thanks for taking the time to read this month’s newsletter. Feel free to write or contact us if you have questions about our trips or articles.

If you are looking for 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, Instagram, and Google+.


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