January 2014 Newsletter

Some of the places we've been over the last few months. Utah, Tanzania, Maui, Tucson, Pullman, and Sedona.

Some of the places we’ve been over the last few months. Utah, Tanzania, Maui, Tucson, Pullman, and Sedona.

In this Newsletter:

– Greetings
– Stuff I Like This Month
– January GOAL Assignment: Direct the Viewer’s Eyes
– New Camera: Nikon Df
– Digital Tidbits: Photoshop CC Perspective Warp
– Story From the Field: The Eagle That Refused to Die
– Book Review: Dynamic Posing Guide
– Workshop and Business Updates


For many photographers, photography is all about pixel count, lens resolution and focusing speed. We often get caught up with all the gear and technical aspects around the craft but forget the reason why we photograph. In my case, photography is a gateway that allows me to intersect with other people’s lives. It allows me join their story for a little while and by doing so, I also learn a little bit more about myself.

I’ve put on lots of air miles over the last six months and I’ve been fortunate to participate in some amazing journeys around the world with other photographers who also share my passion. Most of us photographers love to travel because the world is a visual feast, ripe for the picking. We venture out into the unknown, hoping to come home with a masterpiece that represents not only the scene before us, but also the emotions we experienced.

We seek. We search. We hunt. We shoot. Our pursuit of the perfect image never ends and yet somehow we willingly go back for more. Each time we head out with our cameras, we give ourselves another chance at photographic success. Another chance to capture the soul of a scene. Another chance to recreate the beauty that unfolds before us. Another chance to tell the story.

Because I love travel so much, I’ve set up four international trips for 2014 that I know those of you who share my wanderlust are going to love. These trips run the gamut from stunning scenery to amazing wildlife to cultural heritage. I’ve personally designed them for photographers and I’d love to have you join in the adventure.

Cuba – Explore old-world Cuban charm before it opens up to the west. Dates October 4th – 12th, 2014.

Iceland – Landscapes and Birds Photo Adventure. August 12th – 20th, 2014.

Galapagos – Join us on our privately charted yacht for a week of incredible wildlife photography. September 7th – 14th, 2014

Tanzania – Wild African animals beyond your imagination. November 4th – 15th.

More details on these trips can be found below in the Business and Workshop Updates section.

Stuff I Like This Month

1. Adobe has released some new software updates for Photoshop CC last week, and the neatest addition is the perspective Warp tool. Check out the Digital Tidbits article down below on how I used Perspective Warp while fixing a photo from Iceland. Sign up for Adobe Creative Cloud here: Adobe CC

2. Nikon has issued firmware updates for many of their cameras over the last few months. Here are links to the most recent updates:

a. Nikon Df
b. Nikon D5200
c. Nikon D3200
d. Nikon D3100
e. Nikon P7700

3. Think Tank Camera is one of my favorite camera bag companies and I’ve been using their gear since they started business. Like most of you, I already have too many camera bags, but I’m always on the lookout for bags that meet my needs as a traveling photographer. Recently, Think Tank spun off a new camera bag company called MindShift Gear aimed to help adventure photographers work in the field. Check out their series of rotation180 bags. Here’s a link: www.mindshiftgear.com .


MindShift Gear Rotation180 Professional.

January GOAL Assignment: Direct the Viewer’s Eyes

One of the oldest compositional rules in the book is using leading lines to direct the viewer’s attention towards a subject. Your GOAL (Get Out And Learn) assignment this month is to practice using this technique in your photography. Find an interesting object like a building, flower, or mountain and then use something in the foreground to lead the viewer’s eyes to it.

This is a valuable skill to develop and will serve you well if you are a landscape or urban photographer. Here are some ideas to spur your pursuit of this month’s GOAL Assignment:

  • Buildings
  • Sidewalks
  • Streams/rivers
  • Stairs
  • Trails/paths
  • Flowers
  • Driveways
  • Mountains
  • Hallways
Stairs as leading lines

Directing the viewer’s eyes is one of the oldest compositional tools in the book. Here, I’m using the stairs as leading lines to this Icelandic lighthouse.

New Camera: Nikon Df

There have been lots of camera announcements in the last two months from Nikon covering everything from entry-level point and shoots to the mid-range D3300 to the highest end professional D4s. Even with all of these cameras, the one camera that continues to garner the most controversial buzz is the Nikon Df.

The Df is Nikon’s new “old” camera. Df stands for Digital Fusion and it is their attempt to resurrect the glory of the 1970’s and 1980’s cameras like the Nikon FE and FM2 while blending it with the best of modern technology.

Fundamentally, this camera contains the autofocus and electronics of the Nikon D610, with the 16 MP sensor of the Nikon D4, all fit into the old-school Nikon FE body. The word “fusion” is rightly the best description of this camera since it isn’t any one thing, but rather an amalgamation of many.

The Df retails for $2750 without a lens and about $3000 with a 50mm prime lens. At this price point, you know it isn’t a cheap camera and might be expecting it to fit in a certain purchasing category. Many people make camera decisions based on value for the dollar, but that is the wrong way to think of this camera. In fact, if you are looking at the camera strictly in terms of value, then the Df makes absolutely no sense at all. You can easily buy the Nikon D600 or D610 for much less money and achieve a much better value.

However, if you think in terms of pure emotion, then the camera makes perfect sense. The look, feel and weight of the camera is very similar to the old-school manual cameras we all grew up with. I contend that owning a Df is similar to owning a quirky Porsche 914. There are lots of other cars out there that are better values or drive faster or are more reliable, but the fact is that the Porsche 914 is fun to drive. That car has a cool retro look and it is just cool to own. People buy the Nikon Df for the same reasons. It is a quirky camera with throwback design and old-school ergonomics. It’s just cool to own.

In my mind, if the Df gets you out of your living room to take pictures and improve your craft, then it is money well spent. For a photographer, there aren’t many things worse than a new shiny camera that sits on a shelf and the truth is that many people buy the newest technology, but don’t use it. My hope is that the Df reverses that trend.

From an image quality standpoint, the Df is superb. There’s no doubt about it, the 16MP sensor is one of the best in the world for low-light sensitivity and is winning accolades for its ability to take photos in near darkness. Of course, the downside is that the autofocus system is borrowed from the Nikon D610, which doesn’t perform as well in low light conditions. So, we get a great low-light sensor with limited low-light autofocus ability. Hence my quirky comments from earlier in the article.

If you look hard enough, you’ll find lots of reasons to not buy the camera, such as:

  • One memory card slot
  • Less than stellar autofocus (same as D610)
  • Lower pixel count than D800, D610, D7100.
  • Different battery than D7100, D7000, D600, D610
  • No video capability

However, even without these things, the camera is still impressing photographers and I know it will be used create some amazing imagery. At $3,000, each of you will need to decide if nostalgia is reason enough to justify purchasing the camera. I’m going to say that those who might buy this camera already know who they are. They don’t need to be convinced about the value because they like the design aesthetic and the old-school feel. Photographers who are worried about value and ultimate performance need not apply since the camera doesn’t make sense on a practical level.

(On a side note, if you bought the camera and want to learn it well, then you might consider our Nikonians Academy workshops. Because of the popularity of the camera, I’ve added the Nikon Df to our 2014 schedule and will be adding many more across the USA very soon. Here are links to the Df workshops.

Master the Nikon D800, Df and D4 – In Depth 1

Master the Nikon D800, Df and D4 – In Depth 2)

Nikon Df.

Nikon Df.

Nikon Df from the top

Nikon Df from the top. Notice the old-school dials and camera layout reminiscent of cameras made in the 1970s and 1980s.


Digital Tidbits: Photoshop CC Perspective Warp

Last week, Adobe released a number of updates for Photoshop CC, but the one that was most interesting for me was the new Perspective Warp feature. This is a tool that allows you to modify the perspective of elements within a picture while not impacting other parts of the picture. A common situation where this presents itself is in architectural photography where a building needs perspective correction.

For example, let’s say that you were photographing a building with a wide-angle lens and needed to point the camera upwards in order to get the entire structure in the frame. Angling a lens upward causes the scene to keystone or look like everything is leaning backward. The vertical lines of the building don’t appear straight up and down, rather they render as converging lines pointed to the sky.


Here’s the original photograph. Notice the keystoning effect on the buildings that causes them to look like they are tilting backwards

There are a couple of ways to prevent keystoning in the field. One solution is to use a tilt and shift lens such as the Nikkor 24mm f/3.5 PC-E perspective control lens. The downside to this lens is it isn’t cheap at $2,000. Another solution in the field is to shoot with the camera perfectly level. Keeping the camera level in all three axes helps prevent the keystoning distortion caused by tilting the lens. Sometime though this isn’t possible because you are positioned too close to the object and the lens isn’t wide enough to get it all in.

If you don’t have a perspective control lens or if you aren’t able to shoot level, then the only option available for you is to fix the perspective problem later in software. There are quite a few automated software solutions designed to help correct perspective distortion, such as Adobe Camera RAW, Lightroom 5 Lens Corrections and DxO Optics Pro 9. Each of these solutions does a good job, but sometimes it is best to do perspective adjustments manually so you have more control over how the image is affected.

Any time you do a perspective adjustment to an image, you are forced to move pixels around and this often requires you to have to re-crop the image after the adjustment. Using an automated solution like Lightroom 5 Lens Corrections means you’ll be limited in terms of what you keep and what you crop. These programs often automatically determine the cropped area and don’t allow you to further warp and bend pixels.

Using the Perspective Warp tool in Photoshop however, allows you to manually control the amount of the adjustment while warping pixels to best fit your own vision. Fixing perspective problems this way in Photoshop takes a bit longer, but can result in a better final result if you know what you are doing.

In the example shown here, I used a photograph of a row of buildings that I recently shot in Iceland. For this image, I used a Nikon D600 with a Nikon 14-24mm lens. I needed to angle the lens upward in order to capture the top of the closest building, so as explained above, this caused the keystoning effect you see in the first figure above.

To fix it, I brought the image into Photoshop CC and activated the Perspective Warp tool by choosing Edit –> Perspective Warp.

Perspective Warp

Access the Perspecive Warp tool from the Edit menu.

The first thing to notice in this tool is that there are two buttons labeled Layout and Warp. You begin using the tool with the Layout button, then click on the Warp button when you are ready to actually transform (warp) the image.

Perspective warp tool

The Perspective Warp tool bar has two control buttons: Layout and Warp.

The way the tool works is by you defining where the different perspective planes are in the image. In the case of the buildings here, there are two planes; one going down the right street and the other going down the left street. After defining the planes, then you can bend and warp them to straighten out the photo.

Here are the steps for using this tool.

1. From the menu, choose Edit –> Perspective Warp
2. Draw one perspective box to the right side of the building. Drag the corners so they follow the general perspective lines of the building.

The first box you'll draw is to one side of the structure. In this case, I chose the right side.

The first box you’ll draw is to one side of the structure. In this case, I chose the right side.

3. Draw the second box on the left side of the building. Be sure to start it very close to the first box you drew. When you do this, the two boxes will automatically merge together along the vertical line between the two perspective boxes.
4. Drag the corners of the second box (the one you drew to the left of the building) so it matches with the perspective lines in the image.

perspective warp

Now, draw another box on the left side of the building. Start the box next to the first one so the vertical lines automatically merge

5. Click on the Warp button at the top of the screen (just below the menus).
6. Manually drag each of the box corners so that the building lines become vertical. Don’t get overzealous and do too much warping or the photo will look extremely distorted.

Perspective warp

Drag the corners of the boxes until your building looks vertical. Notice the white regions where the pixels were pulled out of position. These will need to be fixed by cropping or by some type of tool like the Content Aware Fill tool.

7. After you’ve warped the image, you’ll have white areas from regions where you’ve moved pixels from the edges. You’ll either need to crop these out or you’ll need to use Content Aware Fill to repair these regions.

Perspective warp vertical

Here’s the finished image with nice, vertical lines on the buildings.

I found that when I did this perspective fix using the Lightroom 5 Lens Correction tool, I ended up with quite a bit of white space at the base of the photo. However, using the Perspective Warp tool in Photoshop allowed me to control just the region of the buildings, while keeping more of the lower part of the image unaffected. This meant that I didn’t need to crop out or repair as much image after the fact. Again, the advantage here is you can adjust one aspect of the photo while keeping other parts of the image intact.

There are lots of other cool applications for the Perspective Warp tool that you should also learn about. Here’s an excellent introduction video from Adobe on using Perspective Warp on a layered photograph to merge different elements so they look like they were taken from the same position with the same lens.

Direct Link: http://tv.adobe.com/watch/creative-cloud-for-design/perspective-warp/

Here’s another example from Adobe’s Julieanne Kost.

Direct Link: http://tv.adobe.com/watch/creative-cloud-for-photographers/perspective-warp-in-photoshop-cc-142/

Story from the Field: The Eagle That Refused to Die

Tawny eagle

My new favorite bird in Tanzania is the tawny eagle. Read the story to find out why.

During November’s photo safari to Tanzania we spent a few days in the southern Serengeti near an area called the Gol Kopjes. This region is known for one of the larger lion prides in the Serengeti that is strong and healthy with quite a few young cubs and females. This pride is sometimes called the Simba East pride as well.

One afternoon we came across a mating pair of lions down by the water hole and decided to spend a few hours photographing them and the other lions in the area. As is always the case on our trips, we spend a good amount of time being patient in order to get great images.

We had been photographing this pride for a few hours. The male was mating and there were a number of females in the area drinking water and hunting wildebeest, warthogs, and zebra. It was a fun afternoon and we were burning up the pixels in our cameras like crazy.

Tawny eagle

On safari in Tanzania, we found this tawny eagle on a low branch. The poor bird had a broken wing.

During one of the lulls in the action, one of our Landcruisers spotted a tawny eagle in on a low snag about 200 yards away, so we went over to investigate. As we approached the eagle, we noticed that it didn’t spook and fly away. Upon closer inspection, we noticed that the beautiful eagle had a broken wing and was perched on the low branch trying to stay away from danger on the ground.

Tawny eagle

The tawny eagle was nervously eyeing the nearby lions as it tried to protect itself by staying above the ground.

We photographed the eagle from a few different angles, then decided to pack it in for the evening and head back to camp. We discussed the bird’s predicament and were convinced that it would be dead by morning since we were convinced it wouldn’t be able to defend itself through the night from hyenas or lions.

Tawny eagle

As we approached this handsome pair of lions the next morning, we noticed the tawny eagle on the ground between them.

Tawny eagle

At first, it looked like the eagle was dead, but then it reared up and started fighting the lions.

The next day, we headed out for our game drive and drove by the area where the lion pride was located. The male lion was standing in the stunning morning light and he had a female next to him. Both looked utterly majestic. We drove closer to the pair and saw that there was a dark object on the ground just in front of them. We trained our long lenses on them and saw that the two of them were standing over the same tawny eagle from yesterday. We were sure we were going to find a dead eagle, but instead, we saw the brave eagle fighting for its life. The bird flopped onto its back and raised its talons into the air. It fought off the advances of the lions until they gave up and sauntered off to shade themselves under an acacia tree.

Tawny eagle.

Later that afternoon, we found the eagle surrounded by no less than ten lions.

We left the scene to photograph a cheetah, then came back to the spot a couple hours later to find the tawny eagle surrounded by 10 lions this time, all wanting to snack on it. The eagle went into defensive mode and fought off all challengers from the young juvenile cubs to the older and wiser adults. Each of the lions took their turns swiping at the desperate tawny eagle and soon it stopped moving entirely. It looked like it had given up and died from exhaustion.

Lions in retreat

After putting up a good fight, the lions started to back off.

It laid there in the blazing sun, motionless. The scene looked like something out of an apocalypse movie with heat waves lifting off the savannah and death looming overhead. With their play toy certainly dead, the lion pride lost interest and went back to their watering hole. Amazingly, when the coast was clear, the tawny eagle slowly lifted its head up off the ground and looked around. Seeing that nothing was around, it popped up on its feet like nothing had happened. It had risen from the dead for at least the third time in two days. What a sight to see. The eagle was alive and strong enough to fight another day.

looking around

After the lions left the area, the eagle looked around to see if the coast was clear.

Eagle on feet.

In an instant, this incredible eagle was back on its feet, ready to fight another battle. What an incredible bird.

Amazingly, this back and forth between the lion pride and the eagle played out at least two more times that day. At the end of our second day, we passed by one last time and the scrappy eagle was still on the ground, still fighting off predators.

One of the fun things about going on a safari that specializes in photography is that you are able to spend the time necessary to get the shots and tell the story. As one of my Tanzanian guides named Mollel says, “Patience always pays.” Regular tourist safaris drive quickly from point A to point B without ever really spending the time to watch nature unfold before them. My travellers and I were happy we took the time to record this event. Each of us have a new respect for what it takes to survive on the Serengeti. For me, I have found my new favorite bird: the tawny eagle and its ability to fight off predators in the face of certain doom.

Book Review: Dynamic Posing Guide

Dynamic Posing Guide

The book Dynamic Posing Guide: Modern Techniques for Digital Photographers is all about learning how to pose the human form. The book’s co-authors, Craig Stidham and Jeanne Harris, lay out the premise of the book by stating that the people in the photo make the biggest difference when telling a story or selling a product. Knowing how the human body moves and the subtle effects a different pose can make is paramount to creating a strong image.

The Dynamic Posing Guide is much more than a book full of posing recipes. Rather, it is a well thought out guide on the theory behind posing. It spends just as much time explaining the why as it does explaining the how.

dynamic posing guide

The book has lots of excellent color images showing field techniques

The authors have separated the book into logical chapters that cover topics such as diagramming the human figure, rules of posing, seated posing, posing on the ground, camera angles, equipment and breaking the rules. The first chapter alone is worth the price of the book as it does a great job of describing the different parts of the body and how they relate to the final image.

One of my favorite aspects of the book is how the authors break down posing into various elements. For example, they include a full section on how to deal with hands and another section on how to position the feet. Another section on the differences between posing for seated positions versus standing positions. At the end of the book, they show how to put it all together in the field.

posing feet

Little details matter and posing feet correctly will improve the impact of your photography

Throughout the book, the authors show numerous examples where they pose the same model in a variety of ways under the same lighting conditions. They quickly and effectively show the right and wrong way of doing things side by side. This is immensely constructive and a great way for readers to learn.

Even though the book is primarily targeted to photographers who want to improve their portrait and fashion photography, I know this book would be a tremendous help for amateurs looking to create a more professional look while posing their kids, friends and neighbors. For most people, simply understanding a little bit about where to put the hands or how to pose someone who is skinny vs. someone who isn’t skinny will dramatically improve the quality of their images.

Good bad posing

The authors show many examples of good versus bad posing all throughout the book.

No book is perfect and there are a few things in this book that I didn’t like. First of all, they should have titled the book Dynamic Posing Guide for Women since the book doesn’t cover posing men or children in any significant way. With the exception of one example, all the photos and illustrations were of women. The second thing I think could have been better is how they reference the illustrations and figures. I found it very confusing to find the figure from the text or the text from the figure. Finally, the reference to digital photography in the title is a bit of a misnomer, since the authors really don’t address anything in the book that is specific to digital, or film for that matter.

Overall though, I give the book a solid thumbs up and an official Mike Hagen stamp of approval. I like it and I think the authors have done an excellent job at simplifying the more difficult aspects of posing people. As long as you keep in mind that the target audience is fashion and model photography, I know you’ll appreciate the book. Without a doubt, the Dynamic Posing Guide is an excellent resource and I will be referring to it many times in the future.


  • Excellent posing theory
  • Great examples and photos


  • Only focused on posing women

The Dynamic Posing Guide is 197 pages and illustrated in full color. It is available in soft cover or as an eBook. Purchase your own copy on Amazon here: Dynamic Posing Guide.

Workshop and Business Updates

Tanzania 2014
Our 2014 trip to Tanzania is going to be better than ever with an optimized travel schedule aimed at allowing us even more time to photograph wildlife in the field. This year’s Tanzanian photo safari is scheduled for November 4 – 15, 2014. Join us for a wildlife photography adventure you’ll never forget.

Here’s the link for more information: Tanzania Photo Safari

Iceland Photo and Bird Adventure – Summer 2014
I’ll be working again with photographer Tim Vollmer to bring together a beautiful photo tour of the Land of Fire and Ice. Last year’s adventure was epic and I can’t wait to return to the land of fire and ice.

More information here: Iceland Photo and Bird Adventure

Cuba Photo Adventure Trip
Join us to photograph the relics of old Cuba before it transitions to the modern western influence. Our trip will operate on the official People to People visa created by the US Department of Commerce. This allows USA citizens a legal way to enter Cuba and experience the culture. We’ll be photographing every single day in areas ranging from the city of Havana to the rural Vinales.

More information here: Cuba Photo Adventure Trip

Galapagos Photography Adventure
The Galapagos Islands are one of the most amazing wildlife sanctuaries on planet earth. Join us as we photograph incredible animals while traveling on our own privately-chartered expedition yacht. This is a trip on just about every photographer’s bucket list and we are already 50% sold out. Don’t wait too long to sign up for this one.

More information here: Galapagos Photography Adventure

Masters Series Workshops
We’ve added new Masters series workshops to the Nikonians Academy schedule to help photographers get the most out of their cameras, software and accessories. Our workshops run in cities all around North America and Europe. We hope to bring them to a city near you very soon. This year’s workshops cover:

  • Nikon D600/D610
  • Nikon D7000/D7100
  • Nikon D4/D4s
  • Nikon D800/D800E
  • Nikon Df
  • iTTL Wireless Flash
  • Lightroom 5

Sign up for the workshops here: Nikonians Academy

Mike Hagen’s Books

Our how-to books continue to sell well and are designed to help photographers excel at their craft. 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 (almost sold out)

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: Nikon Camera Setup Guides

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.


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/ .


Thank you for reading through this month’s newsletter. I hope it provides you with some new ideas and inspiration. As always, feel free to contact me if you have questions about our trips, books, or anything related to your pursuit of photography.

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, and Google+.


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