Thursday, December 21, 2017

Gear Bag List - 2 Years Later

Photo by David Watkins,
A couple of years ago this month I provided a list of my camera gear in response to many emails and inquiries.  Today, it is still one of the top questions I still receive.

As my photography continues to evolve and expand, so does the gear in the bag.

Camera gear is an important decision and not one we take lightly.

Before I dive into my revised list (products with links take you to Amazon) - a few considerations:
  1. I am still a believer that the best camera and lens for the task is the one in your hand.  You are the one that creates and composes the images. 
  2. Time in the field will make you a better photographer - not the equipment. Sure, there is equipment that is better equipped for various situations.  You probably won't get the desired  'fill the frame" image of a bird when it is 25 feet away with a 50mm.  
  3. Buy the best you can afford.  As a continuation to #2 - the glass won't make you a better photographer.  I've bought and sold lenses (they hold their value well) when I could afford to upgrade my equipment to faster and sharper lenses.  
Savannah Sparrow by Sheen Watkins

Camera & Lens Brands
I continue to use Nikon cameras and lenses.   Their glass is terrific and I find the cameras to be solid. I would add that Canon, Sony and other brands are high quality and get the job done.  I have also added third party lenses as well as sold lenses that I no longer use.

The camera brand is important, but it's the lens selection based on your photography goals that should heavily influence your decision

Camera Bodies
For birds and wildlife, Nikon's 500D is my camera body of choice as of today.  The cropped sensor format, image quality and speed  is ideal for photographing birds and wildlife.   For landscapes, macro, portraits and street photography, I still use my well-worn, time in the field tested Nikon's 810. The bigger sensor renders beautiful details, colors and tones.

For information on cropped versus full framed sensors, check out my Light Stalking article: Cropped vs. Full Frame Sensor
Winter Beach by by Sheen Watkins
Nikon Lenses - zooms - general purpose and great for travel:
14-24mm 2.8 extra wide angle
24-70mm 2.8 mid range zoom
70-200mm 2.8 telephoto
When do I use zoom lenses? Travel photography, when I'm photographing multiple subject types, when I don't know what I'm going to shoot and want flexibility along with landscapes and wildlife.

Nikon Macro (Nikon refers to them as Micro) - macro lens for flowers, bees, close-up, 1:1.
105mm 2.8

Nikon Telephoto- 500mm FL ED f/4 - telephoto for birds, wildlife
Protective cover for lens (as seen in the photo above) by Lenscoat.
Teleconverters:  Nikon 1.4 III

Nikon Lenses - primes - lightweight, fast and sharp
28mm 1.8
50mm 1.8
85mm 1.8

When do I use primes?  Walk around photography, out on the town with friends, photographing my pets, nature walks where I have limited time, when I want to act like I have a point & shoot.

My favorite little prime?   There's a reason it's a nifty fifty.  A great price performer and just about every time I take this little guy out I have a creative blast.

I don't pull my primes out as much as I should.  The primary reason is that I travel to a lot of my shoots and need to minimize packing and maximize versatility.  When I'm local, I love to bring out my primes.  Light, fast and fun. 

Peach Delight with the Lensbaby Velvet 56mm by Sheen Watkins

Art Lens: Lensbaby Velvet 56mm - a departure from my sharp, all about the details photography.  Lensbaby's tagline is see in a new way.  For those wanting smooth, creamy blur and that unique edge, this company has a series of art lenses to choose from.

Schneider Optics B+W:  Circular Polarizer, Neutral Density Filters
Lee Filter System: 150 Extra Wide Filter System for the Nikon 14-24mm and the filter adapter ring for the 24-70.  Circular Polarizer, Medium Grad Filter and a 6 stop neutral density

Tripod: Manfrotto mt190cxpro4 Carbon Fiber Tripod
Tripod Head:  Really Right Stuff BH-40-LR (available through Really Right Stuff) and and their PG-02-Pano-Gimbal-Head.
Remote Shutter Release: Promaster

Camera bags:
Tamrac Anvil.  This is a big beast that holds a lot of gear and laptop.  When fully loaded, you'll get a workout as the weight adds up.  I use this bag when traveling on large planes or on a road trip. This is  partnered with one of the following for travel as this bag is too large for me to hike with.
Lowepro   They do a great job with lean.  I typically pack my 810, 14-24mm, 24-70, 70-200 and the needed filters in this streamlined bag.
Tenba's Vector Daypack.  This weighs two pounds, holds a 15" laptop and it's completely customizable inside.  Great for day trips and hiking.  I have two so that when I travel on small planes one goes under the seat and the Lowepro goes in the overhead.
Think Tank - for hikes, travel, a muti-short lens bag or camera with a 70-200 attached.  This holster is a pretty cool hipster.

Camera gear is an investment in you.  Take the time to read articles, customer reviews on the retailer's site (the good and the bad) and look at images produced by other photographers using gear you're considering.

Happy Shooting!

Monday, December 4, 2017

Eating "Michigan's" Fire for Breakfast

Fire in the Sky - Omena, Michigan by Sheen Watkins
Over the course of time, I've experienced many of Michigan's finest sights from behind the lens.  My idea of a good breakfast?  A fiery, Michigan sunrise!

I've taken thousands of images trying to reflect the diversity that's commonly known as "Pure Michigan."

With a vivid, intense sunrise glistening over our Great Lakes, it's an easy and energizing way to start the day.

If rising and shining is a bit of a challenge, get a jump start with a rich cup of coffee from Coffee Beanery, one of Michigan's finest businesses operating since 1976.  Or it may be the habitat friendly Birds and Beans Coffee or a cup of hot tea with a squeeze of citrus.

Norhport's Harbor by Sheen Watkins

From late fall to mid spring, Michigan is infamous for our grey, chilly winters.

For those who live (and photograph) here, we also know that gray is just a temporary state.   All you need is an early wake up call to go outside.  There...our breakfast may be served sunny-side up with a little fire mixed in. 

North of Omena on M22 by Sheen Watkins
There are those mornings where the sky's rosy red consumes land and water.   Skies go from twilight, shades of rich rose only to layer Grand Traverse Bay with glistening orange.

If red's not your taste, just wait a few minutes.  The red shifts to tints of oranges and yellows, adding a hint of warmth to the morning's chill.

A Door to Sunrise by Sheen Watkins
When the sun crests the horizon, don't rush the moment.  Just wait.

With a little local knowledge, you can find many interesting little unique treasures for the sun to peak through.

Some of my favorite spots?

Just head up Michigan's M22 on the east side of the Leelanau Peninsula.  Quaint towns of Sutton's Bay and Omena rest on the Grand Traverse Bay's shoreline. Then the veer up onto 201 along Northport's harbor and North Shore drive.

Along the way, savor the moment and let the sun rise to greet you.

Happy Shooting!
Sign up for updates: Follow me

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Finding Scenic, Hidden Treasures ~ "Go Greyhound"

Historic Greyhound Depot by Sheen Watkins
A road frequently traveled may host a few surprises.  Sometimes, you just have to look for the unexpected intentionally.

It's easy to get caught up in reaching your destination quickly, that we may miss some amazing sites along the way.

My family still resides in the same town and house I grew up in.  After many 16-hour road trips from Michigan to Arkansas, I decided to explore the small town we use as a regular stop-over. 

Arriving before sunset, I  "googled" Blytheville, Arkansas just to see what was there.  I was thrilled with the results.

The small town of Blytheville, Arkansas hosts a historic and fully restored Greyhound Bus Station that was built in 1937.   What a beautiful little gem.

Back in the day, this was the way to travel.

Go Greyhound by Sheen Watkins
The station, with a small cafe type setting displayed true to the era decor Moderne Art appointments. All that was missing was a few Bing Crosby tunes.

Inside the station - Sheen Watkins
Within the state of Arkansas and for transportation historians, it is well-known.  From an artistic standpoint, it's modern styling, color and faded neon, it was a fortunate find.

While shooting the exterior, a couple stopped by and asked if I was interested to see the inside.  They had a key, access to the building and loved sharing how the town had restored a colorful piece of history.

For those making the venture up or down I-55 in northeast Arkansas, it's definitely worth a stop.

If you plan on stopping by, bring your widest angle lens (I had my Nikon 14-24mm extra wide) and also a tripod.  The tripod is a must if you want to take a few night shots.

Happy shooting!

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Photography & Packing - Oh the Woe to be on the Go!

Photography and travel pack the perfect punch for adventure.  From new destinations to favorite locations we're rewarded with images and many fun memories.

Icelandair, a wonderful airline - by Sheen Watkins
The good news is that the images and memories don't weigh much.  Our gear, luggage and accessories on the other hand, can be a pain in the....back.

I much rather focus on shooting in smooth waters  than worrying about keeping up with too much stuff!

There are many more efficient packers than me, there are others that are anything but efficient.  With a few changes to my planning and packing process, I've significantly reduced my baggage.   When traveling with camera gear, every ounce adds up fast!

For clothing:
I bought a packing cube set  (my choice was the Bagail) and also quart and gallon sized Ziploc Slider Bags earlier this year.  Rolling clothes, compressing items into the ziploc bags significantly reduced the amount of storage space needed.  I was further inspired by the you tube video below by Storia. I loved the creative use of many household items versus buying more single use 'organizing tools'.

On a recent trip, I was able to pack clothing, shoes, etc. for 2 weeks in my 22" spinner suitcase using packing cubes and plastic bags combined with a tripod.  The plus?  I had room to spare!

For Camera Gear:
Camera bags - another potential "woe".  I've been through a few and thought I had made purchasing mistakes.  They weren't.  Different sizes, configurations work for various situations.  For example, my durable, 'hold everything but the long lens'  my large, heavy and well padded Tamrac bag is my choice when I can work from and out of the car - which is quite frequent.   Fully loaded, it's over thirty pounds with a laptop.  Not travel or hiking friendly but it is a workhorse.

Waiting to Go by Sheen Watkins
The only piece of photography equipment I'll check is my tripod when I need to check a bag.  It's just too risky to check any other gear.  My cameras, lenses, batteries, filters, chargers, tripod head and my laptop stay with me in 2 carry-on bags.

Think Tank's Digital Holster - compressed, it holds my Nikon 810 with a 24-70mm + filters, spare battery, cleaners, car keys and wallet.  Expanded in length, I can add 2 primes or macro in addition to the camera with the attached 24-70mm.

I've used the holster when hiking with my Nikon D500 and a 70-200mm 2.8 attached.  One of my best bag purchases period!

Lowepro Flipside Series - I use an older version of this series.  It fits a significant amount of gear snugly, plus I can include my 15" laptop when flying in the same area with my cameras and lenses.  I wrap the laptop in a soft, protective cloth.  To access gear, the swing-around, table-top like set up makes it easy to change lenses, find and store accessories quickly.

Here's to making our 'go' a bit lighter and more efficient!

Happy Shooting!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Rain~Snow~Ice~Heat: Just Go!

Fort Lauderdale Summer Sunrise by Sheen Watkins
I have never taken a good nature photo from my couch.

I have never photographed a unique, amazing sunrise or sunset from the kitchen table or when hitting the snooze button.

If it's cold and snowy - being huddled under the blankets won't give me anything to work on in post processing.  If it's hot and steamy, staying in the air conditioned house only brings an artificial chill.

The message is simple:  "go"

It's frigid and cold outside?  Wear layers and warm clothes.  Protect your camera.  Then go.

It's foggy, hazy, and humid?  Wear water resistant clothing, have cleaners and drying cloths for your gear.  Then go.

You're commitments ran over and you may miss your optimal light?  Just go anyway.

It's stormy, unpredictable and not what you planned?  Go with your plan or find another subject.

Autumn in the Lofoten Islands, Norway by Sheen Watkins

Our photography time is creative time.  If you're an outdoor, nature or wildlife photographer, many of our excursions are solo.  Photography moments are wonderful escapes into ourselves where we get the opportunity to translate what we see using our unique eye and perspective.

The more I go, the better and more satisfied I am with my work.  I mentioned the  "Iced Teeth" image below in an earlier blog.  This was taken on an mid morning walk in frigid conditions on Lake Michigan.

Iced Teeth by Sheen Watkins
Wearing layers, sturdy, non-slip shoes and bringing a partner as the area was a bit treacherous.  The elements, the textures, the chill all led to a shoot I'll always remember.  Plus, I have the evidence to prove how crazy photographers can be. 

Within days, these formations melted and shifted.  Those shapes and textures are forever gone in nature.   However, they will be preserved in my images and memory for a very long time.

So let's embrace tomorrow and "go."

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Time to "Eat Crow"

Rough-legged hawk by Sheen Watkins
Mother Nature, in all of her beauty, is not always kind or gentle.

We live part time near a remote small town on the Leelanau Peninsula in Michigan.

Outside of Northport it's quite common to see porcupines, bobcats, skunks, many species of birds and coyotes.

This week, I witnessed the brutal dependency of nature's food chain.
I initially thought I was seeing an injured hawk being attacked by crows.

I rushed to 'rescue' the crow only to discover that a rough-legged hawk had a very live and soon-to-be dinner crow in his talons.

Had I interrupted the process, it would mean a suffering crow that probably wouldn't survive.    Then there would be another needed food target for the hawk if he didn't have this meal.

Protecting Dinner by Sheen Watkins
So,  I decided to photograph the episode.

From capture, to defending his meal, he was he was doing what he needed to do to survive.

As a bystander, I wanted to save the crow.  I also wanted the hawk to eat.

The balance of nature.  The balance of life.  Nature in all her beauty has a side that is uncomfortable and painful.

As a photographer,  I'm grateful to see and enjoy nature in her finest.  I'm also grateful that she shares her reality - it's up to us to ensure that the complete food chain, the balance, is protected.

Plucking before eating  by Sheen Watkins

I also appreciate that no matter how tough my week, or day may be - I'm not being eaten by a hawk.

Happy Shooting!

Friday, May 5, 2017

So Ugly I'm Cute: Eyes Peeled/Cameras Ready!

Birds when first hatched don't rival their parents in the looks department.  With a lot of textured skin, sparse down they are interesting to watch and still adorable photograph.

A few weeks ago, I travelled to Edisto Island, South Carolina.  It was near the state park where I saw an adult Great Horned Owl take flight to search for food during the day.  I noticed a small movement which turned out to be a very young owlet.  (I named him Einstein, pretty original!)
"Einstein" by  Sheen Watkins

Great horned owls though, even in their earliest stages have that look of intellect that has given them their well earned name of "Wise Owl."

Austin, Texas - A Wise One by Sheen Watkins

As we are in the heart of migration and nesting season...keep your eyes peeled and your cameras ready.  Birding is going to be at it's best this time of the year and over the next few weeks.

Happy Shooting!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Etsy? Website? Photo Sharing Sites? Do You Have the Time?

Painted Bunting by Sheen's Nature Photography
With all of the options to share and display your work, it can become a huge time commitment just to keep up with your accounts.  We're artists and we'd much rather be behind our cameras, photo processing software, paint brushes and other creative mediums of choice.

In today's environment, it is almost a must to have web visibility.  And yes, that also means with visibility comes risk.

Risk that you won't get traction.  Risk that you won't get "likes".  Risk that you won't get a return on your time investment.  Risk that you won't make the needed income to support your full time, part time or 'just in it to cover my costs'.

Risk is mitigated by reach and by maximizing your visibility.  Here's a few tips to consider as it is continues a journey.

Schedule - If you maintain multiple social media sites, have a schedule of when you are going to post.  For example - Facebook:  Mondays, Wednesday and Saturdays; Instagram: Tuesdays and Thursdays on occasions. Consider posting different images in a given week as many followers may be following you on both sites.  If they see the same thing multiple times a week, the impact is lost and potentially their interest.  My schedule on my facebook page is fairly consistent.  My Instagram is a work in progress.

Consistency - For those with multiple selling sites with the same offering such as a "nature" web page and a "nature" Etsy Studio, upload your images to each site at the same time.  This makes it easier to keep track of your additions and by doing it at one time, also minimizes rework.  If you're just getting started with Etsy and you already have a website that's loaded, don't worry.  Just start uploading the new mages at the same time. Over the course of time, add your other work you'd like to sell.

Reach - Tag, tag and tag your artwork.  With all of the SEO capabilities embedded into websites, this makes it faster for your work to be identified in a search from a customer looking for something specific.

For illustration I typed in the phrase: Snowy Owl Sheen Watkins.  Click on this link and you'll find pages of listings (some not all good by the way).  This search identified my tagged owl photos, links to websites, my articles for Light Stalking and Loaded Landscapes, my Sheen Watkins website, my older website on Fine Art America that's still open and my new Etsy Studio:  SheenWatkinsStudio.   Tagging definitely works.

Snowy Owl on Etsy by Sheen Watkins Studio

Recently, a fun website dedicated to owls, Owl Stuff posted my snowy owls from Etsy and the overnight traction was significant.  Had my images not been tagged, they would not have been as readily located.

Blog - Blogs do not need to be long to be effective.  Blogs DO need to effectively connect you with your audience.  It may be educational, philosophical, a funny story of how you captured a photo.

Look for an upcoming blog on how I made this photo:

Iced Teeth by Sheen Watkins/Sheen Watkins Studio

Your blog offers insight into the artist behind the work.  Initially I blogged weekly and over time shifted  to random blogging as I started writing for other sites.

Final tip:  Producing and publishing quality work is a must.  Sure, that photo of your dog that's really adorable and funny (and blurred) should be shared.  Fido's perfect place (unless you are a pet photographer) is on your personal Facebook page for your dog lover friends to enjoy.  Keeping your professional photography site stocked with your professional work will never confuse your customer or send the wrong message.

Do you have a tip to share?  Add a comment or two or email me directly at

Thanks for following and happy shooting!