Nasty Clamp


Clamps are an essential tool in any photographer’s toolbox, and it would be difficult to improve on them. Nasty Clamps have done just that by taking flexible arms similar to those found on the previously reviewed Gorillapod and attaching it to, you guessed it, a clamp.

I’ve used mine by clamping it to the chair in front of me and attaching my Olympus audio recorder (via the 1/4″ tripod mount) when I’ve needed to record lectures, choral concerts, and interviews. I’ve also attached external flashes to two clamps and had a quick, lightweight OCF setup. And while it’s not supportive enough to hold up a dSLR, it more than accommodates my Panasonic GF2 as a lightweight alternative to a tripod (or GorillaPod for those who don’t own one). Unlike the GorillaPod the flexible arm is expandable, and you can also pick up a hotshoe adapter that makes it easier to attach OCF flashes (which can be used on an any 1/4″ tripod screw, not just a Nasty Clamp).

While the made-in-USA Nasty Clamps are a bit pricey their utility more than makes up for the cost.

-- Oliver Hulland  

[For those who are looking to save a bit by going DIY here's a nifty guide to make something similar at home.]

Nasty Clamp

Available from and manufactured by Nasty Clamps

Light: Science and Magic


This is the essential book for learning about how light and lighting works in photography. It is used as the textbook for many college photography studio lighting courses (which is how I discovered it, when taking a studio lighting course at CCSF).

Even after taking the class and “mastering” all the exercises, I still re-read this book frequently, and am surprised at little tricks or nuances I never learned before, or learned and then forgot (because that particular thing doesn’t come up with most of my photography work).

-- JC Dill  

[Note: For those interested a sample chapter on how to light a glass of water is available for free. --OH]

Light: Science and Magic
Fil Hunter, Steven Biver, and Paul Fuqua
2011, 326 pages

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

diagram for cover image.jpg
This is the lighting diagram that the authors used to photograph the cover.

raking light.jpg

light science p 98-1.jpg
(p. 98)

Alien Bees Vagabond Mini


The Alien Bees Vagabond Mini is a lithium battery pack which gives USB and AC power, and includes battery, inverter, and charger. I originally bought it to run photo flashes (which it does quite nicely), but I also use it to run my laptop, and it will also run any AC device less than 300 watts.

After seeing the low quality available for other lead acid battery packs, I decided to build my own. Then this came out. The whole package is about $40 more than the price of an equivalent battery pack, and it is a complete package. Other people have verified that it has a “PureSine” inverter.

There are some reports of them not working in 120 degree ambient temperatures of the desert outside of Dubai. They can also apparently be burnt if you run them at 500 watts, and keep pulsing them at 2kw for several hours. I suspect that it is the continuous load and high temperatures internally when pulses are demanded which causes the failures.

Take a look, it really is a cool tool for portable power, and for powering strobes.

-- Michael McMillan  

[Photo guru Rob Galbraith has a very thorough review of the Vagabond Mini for those interested in specifics.--OH ]

Alien Bees Vagabond Mini Lithium Power Pack

Manufactured by and available from Paul C. Buff



This blog focuses on photography rather than just cameras. To paraphrase Lance Armstrong, it’s not about the camera. It’s about the eyes, about seeing, about technical compentance, about tricks, techniques, creativity, and what you do with all the images you make or take. It’s about having fun with photography, as well as making money with it. There’s also a lot about the rights of photographers and the complex issues of copyright and “borrowing” from other photographers. There’s plenty about low tech pinhole cameras, and point and shoots, and phone camera photography. And yes, there’s bits about the newest cameras, but that part is not overwhelming. I’ve been reading it daily (about 3 or 4 short posts per day) for the past 18 months and it is continually helpful. The site is brisk, surprising, informative, current, and is not trying to sell gear. It’s one of the better blogs for enthusiasts of any stripe that I’ve seen. Almost anyone taking pictures will find it useful.

-- KK  

Sample Excerpts:

San Diego-based wedding photographer Aaron Willcox won 1st place in an engagement photo contest with this shot showing a feat of incredible strength. No Photoshop trickery or invisible wires were used in making this image (nor does the guy have Superman-esque strength)

Black Rapid RS-4 Camera Strap


I’ve been shooting photographs for years and the common neck strap has always given me nothing but neck pain. My father though he had found a solution with a neoprene neck strap, but eventually it had the same shortcomings as its predecessor.

One day, while attending a convention, a friend pulled a Black Rapid strap out of his bag. Within an hour I had found and purchased one for myself. The strap slips easily over one shoulder and allows your camera to hang comfortably at your side with no strain on your neck.
The camera attaches to the strap through a custom tripod mount and a carabiner connecting kit that allows the camera to be brought up to shooting position without having to shift the strap (the metal connection slides across the fabric strap). This makes it easy to swing your camera up and shoot in a simple fluid motion, and return the camera back down to your side the same way. Another benefit of this connection method is that it reduces strain on the camera body when shooting with large lenses that have tripod collars.
RS4 Connector.jpeg
The straps are sturdy, well built and come in a variety of sizes and styles including the RS-DR-1 which can hold two SLRs at once, although that’s really more for the professional photographer.

-- Tim Edwards  

Black Rapid Rs-4 Camera Strap

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Black Rapid

Cotton Carrier Camera System


This harness keeps large-lensed cameras (full sized SLR’s) tight to your body as you go through rough country. It prevents the camera from swinging wildly in a bag or around your neck.

I also use it when I am expecting to have a camera around my neck for a 10 or 12 hour day. I shoot locations for films. I have used it for about two months, and the reason for its superiority is that it keeps the camera tight to your body and quickly makes your camera accessible. Also comes as a two camera system. Great for long fashion shoots as well, I’m sure.

-- Dan McWilliams  

Cotton Carrier Single Camera System

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Cotton Carrier

Hakuba Camera Neck Strap

CM Capture 5.jpg

Most compact digital cameras come with a lousy wrist strap. I say “lousy” because they often lack a slider to fit them to your wrist (which makes them more prone to fall off). And in any case you can’t put them around your neck, which is often a better choice if you need both of your hands when you’re out and about.

That’s why I’ve replaced those straps on my compact cameras with this Hakuba neck strap. I first found one about six years ago when I nearly smashed my Nikon CoolPix 880 on rocks while on a hike with my newly wedded wife in the Virgin Islands.

The strap is thick nylon which feels sturdy around your neck. Wearing the camera around your neck gives you both hands free to hold onto rocks or your spouse (hey, we were newlyweds then!). It also has a slider so that you can turn it into a wrist strap (albeit a long one) when you don’t want to look like a dork with a camera around your neck, and it has a quick release for when you need to quickly detach it from the strap.

There are other straps that might be OK, but I like the durability of the Hakuba strap.

-- Ben Rothfeld  

Hakuba Digital Camera Neck Strap

Available from B&H Manufactured by Hakuba

Rubber Band Lens Filter Wrench


Recently, I read a photography blog that said that everyone needs to own a filter wrench (a specialized tool to help remove filters from lenses), because sooner or later you will need to remove a filter that has been tightened onto your lens and you can’t remove it without one of these special tools.

A few years ago I had a stuck circular polarizer filter. These are more difficult to remove than the usual filter because the front element rotates freely – it’s the back element that you need to grasp to remove the filter from your lens. For most people it’s a bit difficult to position your finger tips to just grab the back element without also grabbing some of the lens.

I went to the rental department of my local photography store to see if I could borrow a wrench to remove it. They didn’t have a filter wrench in their rental department tools, but instead of trying to sell me something I didn’t need, they showed me how to use an ordinary rubber band as a filter wrench!

The ideal rubber band will stretch some, but not too much, as you place it on the threaded edge of your filter. It provides just enough extra grip to your fingers to grab onto the slippery and thin edge of the filter for you to simply unscrew the filter from your lens. You just need to carefully place the rubber band so that it is only touching the edges of the filter and not the edges of the lens.

Now I keep several rubber bands with my lens filters, and haven’t yet had a filter that I couldn’t remove with a rubber-band wrench.

-- JC Dill  

Rubber Bands
75 for $3

Available from Amazon

Costco Photo Center


Though I claim to be a photographer I don’t own a printer. I can’t stand dealing with ink cartridges or printer profiles. Instead, I rely on Costco Photo for most, if not all, of my photo printing needs.

Costco is the cheapest place I have found that prints on high quality Fuji archival photo paper in sizes up to 20″ x 30″. At $9.99 for a 20″x30″ print, it’s 1/3rd the cost of the previously reviewed Pictopia (though, admittedly, they lack the same range in sizes). You do not need a membership to use the Costco Photo Center service on-line but it necessitates that the prints are shipped to you. Larger prints are shipped rolled in a tube. If you are a Costco member you are allowed to use custom color profiles while also adding the option of picking up your order at the nearest Costco which can cut down on turn-around time.

I have heard on forums that Costco Photo Centers vary significantly in quality, and that some labs are run incredibly well and are capable of producing results equivalent to far more expensive services, while others have wonky colors with less than dedicated staff. In my experience, if I ever have a problem with a photo, no matter how minor, they are very, very quick to reprint while also letting me keep both (which is a nice bonus).

-- Oliver Hulland  

Costco Photo Center
20″x30″ print on Fuji archival photo paper

Available from Costco Photo Center


If you’re a hobbyist photographer you know that you can never have enough camera lenses. Advanced amateurs can often justify the purchase of some of the more expensive, but very versatile, lenses such as the many variations of Canon’s 70-200 lens. The tricky part comes when you want to play with some of the more esoteric and special-purpose lenses, such as extreme wide angles or super long telephotos. If you only use the lens once a year it’s really hard to justify the many thousands of dollars the lenses can often run.

In my case, my favorite specialized tool that I don’t own for my camera is a Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L. The magic is its ability to tilt and shift, so that it moves in relation to the sensor plane, similar to the movements you’d get with a large format camera. These lens movements can allow a photographer to control focus and perspective–for instance, keeping vertical lines from converging when photographing a tall building. For this reason a tilt/shift lens is often used when shooting interior and exterior architecture shots, but in my case I find it highly entertaining to use when photographing landscapes. Whether it’s the Racetrack in Death Valley National Park or the Virgin Narrows in Zion National Park, the lens is a ton of fun for me to use. Using the lens’ movements, it’s possible for me to achieve perfect sharpness from the nearest object in the frame all the way out to infinity.


When I need a TS-E 17mm, which would cost about $2,500 to purchase, I rent it from There are several lens rental companies with a web presence, but I’ve always had excellent results with Lensrentals. They have reasonable prices (far cheaper than renting from my local pro camera shop), offer insurance, don’t require a deposit, and don’t place a hold on my credit card. They always make sure the lens arrives a day or so earlier than you actually need it.

Their service is also incredible. A friend of mine once rented two lenses for a trip, and UPS lost them. He called Lensrentals and they immediately shipped out two new lenses via overnight delivery for no charge. They even offered to drop ship to my friend’s vacation destination to ensure he didn’t miss the delivery.

If you want to play with a fun lens to expand your photographic options, the TS-E 17mm from is hard to beat.

-- Neil Enns

Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L
$93 + $25 shipping for 5-day rental

Available from Lensrentals