Take a risk-free test drive with the most comfortable backpack for outdoor photography.

MindShift 20L backpack with full-sized D-SLR , lenses and lots of gear.

My friends at MindShift Gear have just announced a unique opportunity for you to take one of their FirstLight outdoor photography backpacks on a 30-day, risk-free “test drive.”

The FirstLight backpacks are purpose-designed specifically for the traveling outdoor photographer. The two packs are carry on compatible on virtually any regional and large commercial flight, making getting to your destination with your gear a worry free experience.  The FirstLights’ contoured, 11-point adjustable torso harness fits most men and women. A shaped aluminum torso stay provides additional support. The packs also utilize ballistic nylon bottoms for long lasting durability.

They have dedicated water bottle pockets on both sizes, while the 30L also accommodates up to a 3L hydration reservoir. Both have long lens capacity, big stuff pockets, sternum strap whistles, with extra room for your 15″ laptop and personal gear. Use the accessory straps to carry a tripod, monopod or hiking poles. They’ve also included a seam-sealed rain cover. When attached, rain cover allows small to medium tripods to be carried on front or side positions.

The  FirstLight 30L is sized for gripped DSLRs and larger gear and will hold up to a 500mm f/4 lens detached or 400 f/2.8 attached.   The FirstLight 20L is sized for standard size DSLRs and robust mirrorless kits and will hold up to a 200–400mm f/4 attached or 300 f/2.8 and lots of gear and accessories.

MindShift Gear is a group of committed professional photographers and product designers who support conservation and protection of our natural resources and planet. Founded by the creators of Think Tank Photo and conservation photographer Daniel Beltrá, the company is dedicated to building carrying solutions for those who are passionate about experiencing the natural world.

To take advantage of this offer now, call them toll free at 866-558-4465 x1,
8:30 AM – 5:00 PM PST Mon – Fri and they’ll process your free test drive trial. Ask for FedEx Ground shipping and they’ll include it at no charge.  And, be sure to mention Brian Loflin when ordering.

Copyright © 2015 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.
Images courtesy of MindShift Gear.

Hot Lights, LEDs or Flash?


Illustrated from left, above: Quartz hot light, LED panel, Studio flash.

Many folks spend most of their time practicing their photographic craft outdoors. They consider themselves “Natural Light” or “Available Light” photographers. And many do an excellent job with their work. However, when it comes to moving indoors, photographic lighting becomes significantly different and many photographers are somewhat naïve, timid or downright afraid of indoor lighting and the tools required. Sometimes this fear is due to equipment cost, but I believe more often it’s the lack of understanding of the available tools. There are many, many light units available, but only some are designed specifically for photography. Let’s spend a few minutes building a better understanding the tools of indoor lighting for photography and the features and benefits of each.

Continuous Lighting or Flash

First, we basically have two different sources of artificial photographic lighting, continuous or flash. Each source of light has several styles of lighting units and each has its advantages and disadvantages. Let’s look at each.

Continuous Lighting

Continuous lighting, as the name implies, is a lighting source that is “on” all the time; it burns continuously. Two things to consider are the lighting source or type and the style of the fixture or the light unit itself. Continuous lighting basically is available in three different types of sources: Hot lights, Fluorescent and LEDs.


Quartz hot lights in parabolic can (left), and broad quartz soft light.

Hot lights use a heated and glowing filament as a source of light. Contained within a glass tube the filament is sometimes within a specialized gas that adds a special color characteristic to the light. These lights acquired their name because they become extremely hot as the filament burns. Somewhat inefficient, most of the energy used produces heat instead of light. Hot lights are most frequently tungsten white balance in the 3,200 – 3,800 degree Kelvin range. Hot lights come in many different sizes, fixture styles and price range, some quite inexpensive. A specialized type of hot light is the HMI lighting units. Originally HMIs were offered for the motion picture and video industry. These units are generally expensive and have specially constructed lamps and ballasts to provide flicker-free daylight white illumination around 6,000 degree Kelvin.

Fluorescent lighting for photography uses specialized fixtures, fluorescent tubes and ballasts to offer cool, flicker-free light. The color temperature is around 5,000 degrees Kelvin, a little warmer than daylight. Photographic fluorescent lighting is available in several fixture styles and can be somewhat expensive.


Flat LED panel is AC and battery powered, with variable output and color temperature.

LED lighting makes use of new technology light emitting diodes. These lights are now most convenient as they are actually cool to the touch and can be AC or battery powered. LED lighting may be daylight or tungsten color balance. LED lighting fixtures are available in many different shapes from rectangular panels to cylindrical styles and can be somewhat inexpensive.

Regardless of the light source or fixture type, a major advantage of continuous lighting is that it can be visualized from the camera and its effect adjusted easily. A disadvantage of some continuous lighting units is they burn at one intensity level. Therefore, to change the intensity at the subject, these fixtures need to be moved closer or more distant.

Electronic Flash

Electronic flash provides a very versatile source of light. It is a high-speed burst of light created by a high energy electronic pulse through a gas filled glass tube. Three major advantages to this type of illumination are that it closely matches daylight in color, it is cool to the touch and it is very fast, often around 1/1000 second or faster. Two types of electronic flash are common, studio strobes and miniature flashes (often called hot shoe flashes or SpeedlightsTM).


Studio flash head (left) and NIKON Speedlight.

Studio strobes are AC or battery powered units in several different fixture types and power levels. Two styles prevail, a self-contained monolight where all electronics are contained within the lighting unit and a style that has the lamp in a fixture separated by a cable from the electronics and transformer unit.


Larger parabolic dish flash head.

The studio flash is more frequently a stand-mounted unit. It may come with a variety of light modifiers and is frequently very powerful. In today’s digital photography, a single studio strobe may provide enough lighting power to illuminate half a basketball court. They are now available in variable power and with electronic TTL controls to be controlled by the camera exposure settings. Compared to other flash options, these units can seem quite bulky, heavy and expensive.


NIKON SB-910 Speedlight miniature flash. One of the most versatile flashes on the market today.

Miniature flashes on the other hand are small, lightweight and versatile units. They are available from many manufacturers, especially the major camera manufacturers. That is an important issue in that the electronics of the camera and flash are required to “talk” to each other. These flashes are available in several styles and power for on-camera and more efficiently, off camera operation. They may be relatively inexpensive.

A true advantage of the miniature or hot shoe flash is the versatility of the power output. Many units provide reasonable high power for indoor events, products and portrait work. A significant bonus of the miniature flash is the ability to turn the speed of the flash burst up to incredibly high speeds, at 1/50,000 second or faster, enabling the demonstration of high speed motion such as hummingbird wings or insects in flight. A table of these high flash speeds possible from Canon and Nikon follows:


Power           NIKON (Sec)                 Canon (Sec)

1/1                   1/1,050                        1/1,000

1/2                   1/1,100                        1/2,000

1/4                   1/2,700                        1/4,000

1/8                   1/5,900                        1/9,000

1/16               1/10,900                      1/15,000

1/32               1/17,800                      1/21,000

1/64               1/32,300                      1/30,000

1/132             1/41,600                      1/35,000

Light Modifiers

In order to use photographic lighting effectively it should be modified. Generally speaking, most light sources offer a small, point source and high contrast light. This in itself is not very appealing as an illuminant in a photograph. Like the outdoor bright sun, it needs to be modified.

The rule of thumb in effective light modification is to make the lighting source larger and closer relative to the subject. Like overcast skies, this procedure results in softer, more pleasing light. There are many ways to do this.

Lighting Fixtures

The lighting fixture is the first step. The fixture is the instrument that contains the lamp and often a modifier in the form of a reflector of several shapes, a diffuser or other styles of devices that modify the light path.


Parabolic fixture.

Fixtures are offered in a variety of styles. The PAR or fixture with a parabolic reflector is a most common type. The size and shape of the parabolic dish controls the width of the beam of light. Commonly available are wide-beam floods and narrow-beam spots or variable-beam PARs.


Fresnel fixture. Note lens in front of lamp.

Another similar fixture is a Fresnel. Similar to a PAR, the Fresnel has a lamp with a reflector behind it and a specialized, concentric curved, Fresnel lens in front of the lamp that forms and directs the beam. These may be as small as 250 watts or as large as 10,000 (10K) watts.

Modified soft light lamp houses may provide softer light from a “Hot light” source by designing an enclosure around the light source that bounces the light backward and from a large integral reflector surface. These are used frequently to light larger areas and products.

Another fixture used predominantly on the stage is the focusing spot or projector. Usually a powerful and highly concentrated beam of light, this style is used for providing highlight on a very small area. To maximize the versatility of any lighting fixture it should be used with an external modifier.

External Modifiers

The beauty of external modifiers is that they may be very inexpensive, quite portable and used with many different fixtures.

Reflectors are by definition a flat surface that can bounce (or reflect) the light from a fixture onto the subject or set. The may be made of many materials. Lightweight foam-style board and frame-supported fabric are most common. Colors may range from white, silver, gold, and gold/silver zebra striped, each with its own set of reflective and color characteristics. They are available in circular spring-loaded styles a few inches in diameter to rigid boards of several square feet.


Circular diffuser (front) and reflector. Flat units with spring steel frame make packing and use simple. Often, mounting on a light stand with arm is helpful.

Diffusers are translucent fabrics that soften the light by scattering of the light that passes through the material and create the ability to make the light source larger and closer relative to the subject. Diffusers may be circular or rectangular and range in size from a few inches to 20 feet.

Umbrellas and soft boxes are essentially external modifiers that act like parabolic reflectors or enclosed reflectors with a diffuser material front.


Silver reflective umbrella with Nikon SB-910 Speedlight electronic flash.

Umbrellas are perhaps the most simple of the two in that they mount with the lighting fixture pointing into the inside radius of the umbrella curve. When mounted on a light stand the light fixture and umbrella will make a much broader and softer light for the subject. Some umbrellas are soft white or some are silver and produce a more hard-edged, spectral light. Some are translucent and, when used in a “shoot-through” style, act as a circular diffuser. Some umbrellas now offer an opaque silver fabric with a diffusing panel for the open end, creating more of a soft box effect.


Lastolight EXBox soft box is designed for Speedlight miniature electronic flashes. Softbox units come from 8 inches (shown) to several feet in size.

Soft boxes are three-dimensional fabric modifiers constructed with an internal spring rib to enclose the lighting fixture. Often made from high temperature, or flame-proof fabric the light bounces around the highly reflective inside walls and through translucent diffusing baffles at the opening of the soft box. Soft boxes are available in rectangular or square shapes from a few inches across to several feet in size.

Grids are honeycomb-like screen modifiers that fit onto the front of a lighting fixture that directs the light into a very constricted pool. Grids come in a variety of gradations of modification from 100 to about 600 or more, each spreading the light to a different degree. Fabric grids are also made for the front of soft boxes to provide a more controlled direction for the soft, diffused light beam.

Snoots are like funnels that are attached to the front of the fixture that narrow the beam to a very small circle.


Barn doors on parabolic light fixture.

Barn doors are four, hinged parallel flaps that operate in four directions on the front of the fixture. In this manner the beam of light may be shaped and directed at will and may also be kept away from areas where unwanted.

Gel holders are often used in conjunction with barn doors to attach transparent colored gelatin filter “gels” in front of a lighting fixture. These gels may be used to correct the color temperature of the lamp or to provide a creative color effect.

Flags are opaque materials that block the light path. Originally rectangular fabric hanging on a pole, they looked like a flag, hence the name. Today, flags are lightweight materials like plywood or plastic or opaque fabric held within a framework and mounted on a secondary light stand. They are used anywhere to control the unwanted path or spill of light.

Gobos have a couple of meanings in the world of photographic lighting. The first and truly correct is that of a specially perforated disk, cut into numerous shapes that go before the optics in the fixture (gobo), creating a patterned light shape on the surface of the set. Most frequently, these are metal or glass disks that are inserted into the fixture itself. The resultant shape of light and shadow may resemble anything from clouds to trees or leaves, etc. A secondary, yet less accurate meaning is anything that is placed into the light path to block, cut or modify the resulting lighting form.

Cucoloris or “cookie,” is an opaque object that when placed into the light path will create a crafted shadow. Common examples can include a window frame with its panels that create the impression of window light on a wall because of the shadow. Frequently, cookies are cut from thin, and lightweight wooden panels into very nebulous shapes simply to create an abstract shape on the background. Cookies are most often positioned on a second light stand in front of the fixture so that the size and hardness of the shadow can be varied.

Grip Equipment

It is understandable that these many fixtures and modifiers require specialized support in use, regardless whether used indoors or outside. It can be effective to have an extra set of hands to hold, or grip, the modifier. As such, grip equipment includes the many different support and connection pieces from clamps, stands, booms, etc. that are used in the industry.

The many grip tools are too numerous to list here but the most important tools include light stands and arms for the mounting of light fixtures and light modifiers. Light stands are commonly a tall, vertical pole that is adjustable in height with tripod feet with a fixture mount on top. Light stands come in heights from a few inches tall to hide behind a portrait subject to light the background to many feet tall to hold the heaviest of lighting fixtures at 200 pounds or more. A lighting arm mounts to the light stand with a knuckle swivel device to hold and give control to various modifiers.


Traditional light stand with grip arm and flag.

As can be seen, the lighting arsenal for photographers is great. One doesn’t need to employ every type of fixture and modifier. Early on a photographer should plan the needs based upon foreseeable requirements and plan a system for the future. Some will prefer studio types of strobes, others may opt for Speedlights. Regardless, the early plan should keep in mind versatility, compatibility and room for future expansion.

Copyright © 2015 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

Increase Depth of Field with Focus Stacking

Cactus stack & None-Sm

Combination image of cactus with spines. Deep focus stack with 28 images, front to back, (left) and single image from center of stack (right). Nikon D800, 105 mm F2.8 Micro Nikkor, SB 910 flash and circular diffuser.

There are many times when a single image, even at the smallest aperture simply will not produce enough depth of field (DoF) to render the image sharply. This is regardless of the lens quality, camera or technique. The image above is a demonstration from a recent Nature and Macro Photography Workshop.

We have learned that DoF is dependent primarily on Aperture. (The bigger the aperture number; the bigger the DoF.) But DoF is also dependent upon Subject Distance, and lens Focal Length. As we get closer to the image and increase our lens focal length in macro photography, the total measured distance of the DoF gets smaller. Working in close-up am macro photography we are working against ourselves when it comes to DoF. Therefore, we need to improve upon this fault.

To extend the DoF we can now rely upon computer blending of several images into one with greatly extended DoF. Each image is focused at a different distance from the lens. An additional benefit of this technique is the use of a middle range, somewhat sharper aperture. When blended in computer software, part of the resultant image uses near focus detail, part uses mid-focus detail and another uses far focus detail, and so on. Often, as many as 10 or more sequential images are “stacked” and blended into one.

This blending process can include the use of multiple layers in Photoshop or free software called CombineZ or Zyrene Stacker. However, the most powerful software and today’s industry standard is Helicon Focus. The current version is 6.3.7 and its cost ranges from $30 to $200 depending on length of subscription service and number of computers licensed.


Nikon D2Xs, 50 mm flat field EL Nikkor lens on bellows, two SB-800 flashes, tripod. Image magnification in camera: 1.6X.

In this image (above) of the head of a bee 53 individual images with a different point of focus from the antennae to the rear of the head were made. Each image was spaced 0.005 inch from one another from the front to the back. These multiple images spanned the overall distance of o.265 inch, (or about a quarter of an inch).

So as you can see, focus stacking can help produce a little more DoF or a great amount as in the bee. It is also useful in landscape photography to produce foreground, midground and background in equally sharp focus.

Copyright © 2015 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

Tiny Views: A Nature & Macro Photography Workshop

Lenses were recently turned to the smallest of creatures at Mo Ranch in the heart of the Texas Hill Country. A dedicated group of eight Central Texas photographers from novice to accomplished image makers gathered for the the third Nature and Macro Workshop led by Austin natural science photographer, Brian Loflin.

Stick insectA walking stick or stick insect of the family Phasmatodea appears as if by magic from camouflage among a grouping of wildflowers. Close focusing lenses and dedicated lighting makes this possible.

The photographers endured three days of classroom work and photography in the macro lab and field capturing a diverse cross section of natural subjects — all much smaller than the proverbial “breadbox.”

The workshop features the tools, techniques, processes and procedures for capturing high quality images of our smallest natural world via digital camera. It includes: The equipment for nature photography; Understanding and perfecting digital exposure; How to make pictures extremely close; Lighting with off camera flash; Focus stacking; Wide angle close up-images; High key, white box and black box photography and much more.

Some of the student’s images from the workshop include:

Details found on a prairie coneflower, Mark Laussade.Macro workshop Macro workshop-2
A tarantula with reflection and Fire ant- Don Simpson.DBS-Peekaboo Terantula DBS - Fire Ant 2
Praying mantis and unidentified bee (possibly a mason bee)-Doug Farrell.

DSC_3853-reduced DSC_3726-reduced

A whimsical nature assembly and coneflower detail- Cathey Roberts.



Participants have high praise for Brian’s workshops and instruction, stating, “Thanks to Brian for the extensive preparation that he did for our workshop. He has expansive knowledge and photographic expertise. On top of that, he is a very capable communicator and teacher who shows much interest in his students. He goes above and beyond what you would expect in order to make the learning experience worthwhile and memorable. Our workshop was first rate!”

Brian Loflin is a veteran nature photographer, author and teacher. His multi-day workshops include Nature and Macro Photography, Bird Photography in South Texas and Flash Photography. Classroom instruction includes Nature, Macro, Flash, Photoshop for Digital Photographers, Photoshop Lightroom and Composition & Light. He has authored photographed and published several books on natural science with his wife, Shirley, including the award-winning Grasses of the Texas Hill Country, and Texas Cacti. Another book featuring Texas wildflowers is in current production.

Copyright © 2015 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved. Images copyright by their respective makers.

Photograph South Texas Birds-Only Two Seats Left!

Workshop Dates: October 30 – November 1, 2015

Goluch Jays
Image by participant, © Richard Goluch.

Just two months away, only two seats remain in this workshop. Don’t miss an opportunity to Join noted photographer Brian Loflin for a highly instructional, hands-on bird photography workshop in the heart of the South Texas flyway. This workshop features a half-day of full, hands-on instruction and three half-days of shooting in some of the best South Texas birding habitat available where the neotropical South Texas varieties abound. The late-October date takes advantage of cooler temperatures and the opportunity to photograph a large variety of resident and migrant species.

Take a moment to view participant images from previous workshops here:

The workshop will be held at the Laguna Seca Ranch north of Edinburg, Texas in the heart of the lush Rio Grande Valley. Features of this 700-acre ranch are purpose-designed for photography and preserved with all-native plants and animals. It features four constant-level ponds, each with permanent photography blinds oriented for the best use of light. Each location has been hand-crafted, and they all provide outstanding birding and photographing opportunities. Nearly eighty species have been listed on the ranch. Laguna Seca Ranch clearly offers a unique South Texas birding and photography adventure!

At Laguna Seca Ranch we bring the birds to you! We will set up natural perches considering the best photographic light possible. Most photography of the best scenarios is just 12-15 feet from your lens! Birds have water, dripping attractions and are fed year-round so attraction of the best species is stress-free.

Dolph-Laguna Seca 3-484
Image by Participant, © Dolph McCranie.

This workshop is designed for serious photographers who are competent in the use of their camera and equipment, yet may not have experienced the thrill of producing bird photographs of the highest quality. Copious instruction will include hands-on demonstrations in bird photography, understanding best exposures and camera settings, and the use of flash. Instruction will also include how to set up in a blind and shooting etiquette, setting up perches, best management of backgrounds and light and much more.

“Brian put so much work into this workshop, it was amazing! He took care of absolutely everything that you could imagine, meals, lodging, bird attracting set up, and always making sure that we were comfortable. At times there were so many birds around us, you didn’t know which shot to take first. We all had a great time, and I am ready to go back again! ” –C.C. – Austin, Texas

For more information see: RGV Bird Workshop
or, Email direct to: bkloflin@austin.rr.com

Copyright © 2015 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

The Queen Emerges


Several days after the Monarch eclosing, I had the second chrysalis develop. This butterfly was a Queen. I was a bit late in starting preparations so I missed the first part of the emerging process. I did however get some images in the process.

The cameras, setup and procedure was the same as the Monarch, except that I used a live stem of Blue mist flower, a Queen favorite.

Here is another pair of views of the same adult:

Queen Butterfly

Extreme close-up

Copyright © 2015 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.

Emerging Monarch Butterfly

Monarcg butterfly emerging from its chrysalis.

In July, 2015 I was given a couple of butterfly chrysalises by a friend and butterfly enthusiast, Linda Avitt. They were very near the state when they were ready to emerge (or eclose, as the experts say) as adults.

I quickly went about setting up my lab as an expectant photographer knowing I would see adults at any moment. I wanted detailed closeups, and timed sequential images and video of the event. So for all the stills, I used SB-910 Speedlights with Lastolite EZBox Speedlight modifiers and reflectors. For the video, I used a daylight balanced, flat LED panel. All lighting was balanced for balanced flash and ambient light exposure.

Cameras included Nikon D800 for stills (RAW and JPG) and Nikon D90 for the MP-4 video. Timed sequences were setup using  Nikon’s MC-36 remote cord intervalometer set to shoot every ten seconds. All cameras were securely mounted on tripods. The composition was set loose so there was ample room around the chrysalis for the emerging activity so nothing had to be moved.

For the staged insect, I picked a fresh stem of butterfly weed and kept it in a bottle of water. The chrysalis was secured to the plant stem with a drop of super glue, mimicking the natural attachment. Everything was clamped securely to the lab table.

Test images were made and exposures adjusted and composition and equipment fine tuned. All was in readiness, only to wait. This was Tuesday morning at 7:57 AM. And wait. And wait. . .  NOTHING!

Finally, the color began to change at 11:22 PM, some fifteen hours later. So much for the butterfly being ready to go. So it is with nature photography. The following sequence is selected from 45o images made that evening and early the next morning. Times are listed within each image.

So after a twenty-seven hour process a pristine male monarch butterfly was released into my garden and I was able to take a nap!

Butterfly collage

Copyright © 2015 Brian Loflin. All rights reserved.