Buying For Quality Over Price

Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) eating beans and clinging to mother's leg in Sepilok, Malaysia.

Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) eating beans and clinging to mother's leg in Sepilok, Malaysia.

I’m going to relate this piece to wildlife photography, but I find that it works for just about everything.

About a year ago, I realized there were some things I just kept buying twice or more. It was always something that I wanted to purchase the best, highest-quality version of, but after seeing a large price difference I decided to go with a cheaper item that did essentially the same thing.

My thinking at the time was: if ballhead A holds a camera for $60 while ballhead B holds a camera for $640, why go with ballhead B? I will save the money and go with ballhead A. Then I have $580 I can spend on other pieces of equipment.

This seems to make sense, however I would find that when I bought item A, I quite often abandoned it for item B a short time later. Then I was mad that I spent the money on the cheap item A in the first place. I have decided after taking these findings into account that it is almost always better for me to save up and purchase the more expensive, higher-quality item B and never waste my money on item A.

For this reason I purchased the Really Right Stuff BH-55 ballhead from the first example. It costs $640, a tremendous amount more than many other ballheads on Amazon, however it is the best one that I could find on the market, is solidly built so it will last at least ten years (probably closer to twenty) and holds my camera so steady that I never have to fuss with it or wish I had something better as my camera slowly falls over while I try to get the shot (as often happened with my previous ballhead).

At the moment I am desperately in need of a good tripod. I’ve found some good ones in the $300 range, but the one I really want is the Gitzo GT5543LSUS, which is around $1,100. It is always hard not to just buy what you can afford right now, but with this thought in mind I have decided to wait until I can comfortably buy the Gitzo. No reason to waste $300 now that I will need to spend again.

The best way to sell yourself on this process is to think, “Do I really need that new camera now even though I can’t afford the top-of-the-line one that I really want?” and “Can I hold out just one more year and then purchase the best one that I would love to have?”. Most of the times the answer to the first question is no and to the second, yes.

Hopefully this helps. I am currently saving for a top-of-the-line tripod, and after that I will be waiting patiently until I can afford the next top-of-the-line camera for wildlife photography. What are you saving for? I’d love to discuss in the comments below.

Travel Gear For Wildlife Photographers

Opossum ( Didelphimorphia ) running past during the day in Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Occoquan, Virginia.

Opossum (Didelphimorphia) running past during the day in Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Occoquan, Virginia.

Most of you reading this won’t be a full time traveling wildlife photographer as I am. You probably have a place you call home and occasionally travel from there. Even though you travel often you have a base, a place you can keep things. I don’t have this. My bag is my home and everything I own has to fit in there. If you have a house and travel only occasionally, this article probably isn’t for you.

This has been my situation for the past two years. I’ve learned what I need and what I am likely to throw away after carrying it for a month. I’ve made some hard decisions on what stays and what goes and done more hours of research than I care to count on products that are great at their job and at fitting into a small suitcase.

Over the last two years I have found some great products and had some valuable insights that I hope you can learn from. Here is a list of items that I have in my suitcase that I believe every wildlife photographer who travels often should have in theirs.

Sea to Summit Clothesline

This little clothesline doesn't fit many clothes, but it packs down to half the size of my palm and can be hung quickly without any clips or extra things you have to carry. It has small beads on it that clamp your clothes to it.

Get it on Amazon:

Peak Design Everyday Backpack

I carry a backpack rather than a rolling suitcase because outside of America most airlines have weight limits on carry-on baggage (typically 7 Kg or ~15 lbs). My bag usually weighs at least double this. I always see people having to weigh and check the size of their rolling bags that they wish to carry on the flight. I have only had my backpack weighed once, and when I removed a couple items to “carry” them, I was allowed to go without paying an extra fee.

Get it on Amazon:

The North Face Base Camp Duffel

I’ve had this duffel bag for about a year now and I love it. I fully intend to purchase the same one again (though a larger size as I now have more shit) when this one has had enough of a beating. So far it has been beaten quite thoroughly, but it keeps on surviving. It’s waterproof, can be a duffel or a backpack (I usually use it as a backpack) and it fits a ton of stuff.

Get it on Amazon:

The North Face Dry Bag

I bought a 20L North Face dry bag backpack a few months ago and it has quickly become one of my favorite items in my bag. It stuffs into a built in pouch smaller than my hand, packs and unpacks quickly, holds my camera, a jacket, a large water bottle, and still has room for more, and it is lightweight and comfortable. Can't recommend it more if you find yourself going on a lot of day-hikes and don't want to bring along a bulky bag.

Get it from The North Face:

Vibram Five Fingers V-Alpha

The Vibram Five Fingers shoes are one of my favorite summer items in my bag. They are extremely light, pack easily taking up very little space, and are great hiking shoes. You can even hike through the water in them with no issue and they will dry quickly. If they start to smell, just throw them in the washing machine and air-dry. I wore these when I did a five day hike through the rainforest in Sumatra and they were my favorite item of the trip.

Get it on Amazon:

Gaffers Tape

Tape is something I always find myself needing. That's why I bought a roll of gaffers tape and rolled it around a few pens to make it smaller and more packable. I use this weekly so it is worth the little space it takes up. Gaffers tape is about as strong as duct tape, but lighter weight and more comfortable if you use it on a surface you need to grip, etc.

Get it on Amazon:

Slim Waterproof Camera Cover

You never know when you will be out on a shoot and a downpour will begin. Especially in the rainforest. That's why I carry a very cheap, lightweight rain cover for my camera and lens.

I can’t find the thin, plastic, throw-away one that I have. I bought it at a camera shop in Christchurch, NZ. But here is a better one I will get next time:

Pelican Case For SD Cards

You're a wildlife photographer so I can only hope you bring more than two SD cards with you when you go out in the field. Therefore you need something to carry these fragile little chips in. Spend the $34 and get this one rather than going the cheap route. This case is waterproof and crush-proof. It's also slim and lightweight.

Get it on Amazon:

Tripod And Ballhead

An excellent tripod and ballhead are necessary for great photography. Even though they are bulky and heavy, do not skimp on these items in order to save space and weight. My tripod takes up more space than almost anything else in my bag (besides my huge boots), and even though I hate packing it, I’m always glad I have it. I have an old tripod at the moment while I save up for a high-end Gitzo, and I have an RRS BH-55 (lever release and panning), which weighs quite a bit.

Get the RRS BH-55 here:

Get the Vanguard tripod I currently own (264AB) here:

Get the Gitzo I want (GT5543LSUS) here:

Calibrate Your Lens (And AF Settings For 6D Mark II With Sigma 120-300 2.8)

Thomas’s Langur (Presbytis thomasi) eating a huge jackfruit in the jungle of Bukit Lawang, Sumatra.

Thomas’s Langur (Presbytis thomasi) eating a huge jackfruit in the jungle of Bukit Lawang, Sumatra.

As a professional wildlife photographer, you always want to have tack-sharp shots for your portfolio or clients. Sometimes the images look sharp on the back of your camera when you’re in the field, but then you get home and notice the focus is actually on that branch just behind or ahead of your subject’s eye. This can ruin a photo, making us smack ourselves and call ourselves names.

I once went to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia and spent over an hour in the middle of a small herd of deer - mostly does and young bucks. They came so close to me that some of my photos using a 300mm lens were full-frame portraits. It was amazing and I could not wait to get the photos home and onto the computer so I could share them with the world.

Unfortunately, when I got home I was incredibly disappointed with what I saw on the computer monitor. Most of the images had missed focus, focusing instead on a tree or branch about six inches to a foot behind the deer. I was heartbroken.

After researching the problem, I discovered the AF Microadjustment setting (on Canon; AF Fine Tune on Nikon). With this setting one can adjust where the focus hits, either closer to or further from the camera than is the lens’ standard setting.

I bought a focus calibration tool on Amazon and got to work as soon as it arrived. The process is easiest to do tethered to a laptop so you don’t have to keep switching the SD card from the camera to your computer, but you can also do it from the LCD screen on your camera.

Once you have your focus tool, set it up and put your camera on a tripod. Set the camera so that it is perfectly level - not tilting to either side and pointing perfectly straight rather than tilted up or down. Put the AF point in the center of the frame and point it at the center of the focus tool. Set your camera to shoot JPG since we are looking for speed over image quality.

Now take several pictures - one at -15, -7, 0, +7, +15. Check these five photos to see which has the best focus, that is sharp on the “0” but fading out evenly to the other numbers. When you find the one that is closest to correct, take five more photos in that area. For example, if the -7 photo was closest, take five more photos at -5, -6, -7, -8, -9. Repeat this process until you think the focus is set perfectly.

This may take an hour or so, but it is well worth it. This is especially true if you have third-party lenses like Tamron or Sigma, which tend to be further “off”. Now you will be taking sharp photos every time (as long as your shutter speed is high enough).

If you have the same camera and lens as I - a Canon 6D Mark II with a Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 Sports - you are in luck. I have already done the work for you! You can just set the settings to +10 on the Wide (120mm) end and +14 on the Telephoto (300mm) side. If you also have the Sigma 2x teleconverter with this lens/camera combination, set it with the TC to +10 on the Wide (240mm) end and +15 on the Telephoto (600mm) side.

I hope you found this article helpful. Let me know if you have any questions, I know it can be quite confusing. I think I played with this for around four hours the first time I ever did it.

How To Sell Your Photography Gear

Sell your old photography gear to make money for new gear.

Sell your old photography gear to make money for new gear.

There are two great ways to sell your photography gear. Craigslist is not one of them. To get the “too long, didn’t read” version out of the way, they are Amazon and eBay.

The reason I say avoid Craigslist, as well as all the other local sites and apps like LetGo and Facebook Marketplace, is because you will get hundreds of scammers calling you and, likely, not a single serious buyer. Your text messages and call logs will be filled with people trying to just buy it now for your highest price and they will pay you with PayPal.

These PayPal payments they send you will look just like the emails you receive from PayPal when you are paid, but they will be forged and link to a website that looks like PayPal but will steal your information. Then you will unknowingly send off your $5,000 lens and be out a lens and the payment. No bueno.

That’s why I like to stick with the two big players. Even though they both take about 10% from your sale, the extra cost is worth it to have them deal with the payments, handling, and any returns. This way you know that people are legitimate when you make the sale.

So, to start listing your items on both of these sites you will first need to make an account. For eBay you can do that here, and for Amazon Seller Central, click here.

Once that’s done, take a few good pictures of your item (that shouldn’t be hard, you’re a photographer after all) and upload them to your sales page so buyers can get a sense of what they are buying. For the description, I like to take snippets of the manufacturer’s description, since they spent thousands of dollars on good copy and it’s there for the taking, as well as write my own specifics on the particulars of my item.

Then just hit post and wait for the buyers to come. This could take days or months depending on the item, the asking price, the quality, etc. Be patient. Selling at a good price is very much a game of patience. Think of the lowest number you are willing to accept before posting and write it down. Put it on your wall if you have to. Don’t go below that number. It will sell for the price you want if you give it time.

Let me know if you have any favorite places you like to sell in the comments below.

Winter Gear For Wildlife Photography

Left to right: Patagonia Down Sweater, Patagonia Torrentshell Rain Jacket, Amazon Essentials Sherpa Lined Hoodie.

Left to right: Patagonia Down Sweater, Patagonia Torrentshell Rain Jacket, Amazon Essentials Sherpa Lined Hoodie.

I don’t want to blab on in the intro and scare you off with a long article, so without further ado, the following is a list of gear I use for photographing wildlife in cold environments:

Patagonia Down Sweater

Amazon Essentials Sherpa Lined Hoodie

Patagonia Torrentshell Rain Jacket

These three items make up the entirety of my outerwear. Since I travel frequently, I picked two items (both Patagonia jackets) that can be packed down into their own pocket and stuffed in my checked luggage without taking up much precious space. The other I will wear on the plane to keep warm, and so it doesn’t take up space in my bag (a North Face Base Camp Duffel - M).

Just a brief description of how I use these: If it’s slightly chilly I will just wear the down jacket or the hoodie. When it gets quite cold I will wear the down jacket over the hoodie. When it is below freezing, I will add the rain jacket on top, to further insulate, break the wind, and keep any rain or snow off. Of course the rain jacket can be worn alone on any rainy day.

A white-tailed deer (odocoileus virginianus) stands under a snow covered evergreen in the winter in Virginia, USA by Ricky Kresslein. Shot at 1/320 sec., f/2.8, ISO 800.

A white-tailed deer (odocoileus virginianus) stands under a snow covered evergreen in the winter in Virginia, USA by Ricky Kresslein. Shot at 1/320 sec., f/2.8, ISO 800.

Under these I wear a simple long-sleeve shirt (typically a cheap Henley from Amazon Essentials).

These three items when paired together have kept me warm in just about any situation I’ve found myself in.

For the bottom half of my body, I wear long-johns, like these from Patagonia, and a pair of Air Force camouflage ABU pants, though any camo pants should do. On snowy or rainy days you will want to have something waterproof over these. I haven’t found a good one at a decent price yet (Patagonia makes nice ones but at a high price) so I can’t recommend one. Just search for waterproof pants and you should find something to suit you.

As far as accessories, I’ve gone cheap again with an Amazon Essentials Beanie. I tend to go expensive on the stuff that matters and cheap on the everyday stuff if you haven’t noticed. My good jackets are all quite expensive, but the long-sleeve shirts that go underneath I skimp on. I recommend always buying the best when it comes to the stuff that really matters.

Gloves are one that I go hard on. I recommend a nice pair of photographers gloves from Vallerret. These will keep your hands extremely warm while allowing you to pop off the finger and work the camera. Make sure you get a pair of glove liners too, so your exposed finger doesn’t go numb.

Ricky in a Balaclava.jpg

As for socks and shoes, any good waterproof hiking shoes will do the trick, but a nice pair of rubber boots will allow you to wade into creeks and ponds where you may not otherwise be able to get the shot. I like WigWam socks because they last a long time and keep my toesies nice and cozy.

I also just started wearing a camouflage balaclava, and it has been a game changer. Definitely pick one up. My body always tends to be hot while my face is frozen and this thing takes care of that issue.

And that’s it. If there is anything I missed, leave a comment letting me know. I’d also love to hear what you wear or if you have any suggestions for things I should add or change. Hope to see you out in the cold!