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Really Right Stuff BH-55 Review

Red fox (Vulpes vulpes) walking across a fallen tree trunk in Occoquan National WIldlife Refuge in Virginia, USA.

Red fox (Vulpes vulpes) walking across a fallen tree trunk in Occoquan National WIldlife Refuge in Virginia, USA.

I have owned the Really Right Stuff BH-55 for about six months now so I think it might be helpful for anyone looking to purchase a new ballhead if I write a short review. The bottom line, if you prefer not to read any further, is that you should stop what you are doing and buy it. I will even give you the direct link: http://bit.ly/RRS-BH-55

I had a pretty good ballhead that came with my Vanguard tripod, but it was not arca-swiss. I’m not sure why anyone makes mounts that aren’t arca-swiss anymore (I’m looking at you, Manfrotto). Just about every L-bracket and universal mounting plate is arca-swiss. Anyway, I ended up having to purchase a part to convert my Vanguard ballhead to arca-swiss. When I did this the screw did not get tight enough and it would always come loose after a few days so my camera would start turning slightly when I had it on the tripod. Not good.

On my next trip I decided to take a small, lightweight ballhead to cut down on weight in my bag. This ended up being even worse, as the ballhead could not handle the weight of my camera. It would tip over as I tried to take photos. Again, not good.

So, when I went home for a short time last year, I decided to say fuck-it and follow my new rule of only buying the best quality items. I went to the Really Right Stuff website and purchased the best ballhead they sell, the BH-55 with a panorama mounting plate for a cool $640. It’s a ton of money, but it is one of the best buying decisions I have ever made.

The RRS BH-55 is heavy. It definitely did not help to cut down on the weight in my bag. But when you hold all five pounds of it in your hand you can immediately tell that it is sturdy. You could throw it through a window and off a cliff and still get stable shots when you put it back on your tripod.

The BH-55 is huge, with a large base that fits perfectly on all of the best tripods, like the Gitzo GT5543LSUS. This means you will be taking advantage of every bit of stability your tripod has to offer. Also, the version with the pano head that I got is great. Once you level the ballhead horizontally and vertically you will be able to take perfect pano shots just by turning the mounting plate, which is also labeled with a guide.

Last but not least, the knobs are amazing. The BH-55 looks like a Little Tikes My First Ballhead due to the massive silver knob that loosens the swivel ball. However, this turns out to be incredibly convenient and easy to find and turn while your eye is in the viewfinder, even if it is minus twenty degrees out.

And definitely get the quick release latch. This is a signature of Really Right Stuff and well worth the slightly higher price. I’ve never had a ballhead that allows me to attach and detach my camera so quickly and still maintain full security.

Overall, the BH-55 with the quick-release latch and panorama head is the best ballhead on the market today. If you spend the large sum of cash on this ballhead you won’t even consider purchasing another for fifteen or more years. This beast will last you basically forever and will always do its job well. Really Right Stuff is one of the best companies out there for camera accessories and this ballhead is no exception.

Bring Your Camera Everywhere

Cream-coloured giant squirrel or pale giant squirrel (Ratufa affinis) on a tree branch in Borneo, Sepilok, Malaysia.

Cream-coloured giant squirrel or pale giant squirrel (Ratufa affinis) on a tree branch in Borneo, Sepilok, Malaysia.

Always carry your camera. This is some of the best advice I can give anyone, especially those in their first few years of learning photography. Carrying your camera everywhere will not only insure that you always get a great shot when you happen to pass by it, but it will also make you a better photographer.

When I first began in photography I shot only landscapes with no people in them. Then I moved on to wildlife photography. Both of those, I thought, did not require me to carry my camera unless I was going out on a specified shoot. If I was going to a beach at sunrise I would bring my camera, or a national park at sunset. I got some great shots doing this. But I missed a lot, too. And more importantly I missed out on the opportunity to familiarize myself with my camera.

When I began shooting stock photography in addition to my passion projects to earn some real money, I decided the best thing I could do was carry my camera everywhere. Some of the most mundane photos I take turn out to be best-sellers on stock websites. What I didn’t know would happen by bringing my camera out every day is that it would become like another body part. Using it feels as natural as using my arm and wearing it as comfortable as moving my legs. Now I feel weird when I don’t have it, like I’m missing something.

By carrying my camera everywhere I started to take so many more pictures. Most of these I delete in Lightroom when I go through them later. But it doesn’t matter. Each photo was an opportunity to feel the wheels of my camera spinning beneath my forefinger and thumb as I changed the aperture and shutter speed. Each was an experience in finding the AF-Point button without looking and scrolling in the right direction to move it across the frame. Every photo I look at reminds me of an exact moment--a specific time and place in my history--and the emotions of that moment come flooding back.

Another benefit is increased sales and therefore increased income that allows me to continue progressing in this field that I love. Carrying my camera everywhere allows me the opportunity to expand my focus and discover new areas of photography that I may not have explored otherwise. It gives me a taste of the life and struggles of a portrait photographer, a street photographer, a macro photographer, a travel photographer. All of these disciplines then come together to form my style when I return to wildlife photography. All of them improve my photography and my skill as a photographer.

Now, do you have any excuse to not carry your camera with you next time you go out, and every time thereafter? Bring it to the park when you walk your dog, bring it on your walk to the corner store to buy deodorant, bring it to the Roman ruins on your vacation to Italy, and bring it to your dentist appointment. Bring it everywhere and you’ll never say, “Wow, that’s beautiful. I wish I had my camera.” Plus, you’ll become a better photographer.

What’s the weirdest place you’ve ever brought your camera? Let me know in the comments below.

Top 6 Apps For Photography

Rhinoceros hornbill (Buceros rhinoceros) perched on a tree branch on the island of Borneo in Sepilok, Malaysia.

Rhinoceros hornbill (Buceros rhinoceros) perched on a tree branch on the island of Borneo in Sepilok, Malaysia.

These are the best six apps I use for planning and executing my wildlife (and occasionally landscape) photography. Enjoy!

1. Clear Outside - Android / iOS

This app is incredible. It is the first and often only app I open when I am deciding whether to go out to take photos or stay in bed for a bit of extra sleep. It tells me the temperature, how much wind there is, the wind direction, and most importantly for me, the cloud coverage of low, mid, and high clouds. If you don’t know already, a lot of high clouds and little to no low and mid clouds make the best sunrises and sunsets. This app will also tell you sunrise/sunset and golden hour times. And the best thing is Clear Outside is free on both iOS and Android.

2. Easy Release - Android / iOS

I shoot some stock photography. Although I am typically uploading editorial photography since I do a lot of traveling and have several tourists, brand names, or recognizable architecture in my photos, I do occasionally require a model or property release. This is in the hopes of selling the image to a wider audience at a higher price. For this I keep Easy Release on my phone. The releases from Easy Release are accepted on almost every stock image platform as official release forms, so I find it to be worth the $9.99.

3. The Photographer's Ephemeris - Android / iOS

TPE is an app that shows the sunrise/sunset times, moonrise/moonset times, as well as the exact direction/location of both. To be honest, I find myself using this app less since I picked up Clear Outside, however I still refer to it often when I am in a new location and want to know exactly where the sun will be rising or setting. If you are on Android as I am, you are in luck. It is only $2.99 on Android but $9.99 on iOS.

4. Tides Near Me - Android / iOS

This app is pretty straightforward. It shows the tide times at your location. Incredibly important when taking photos at the ocean or sea. I use this all the time when I go to Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Reserve in Virginia as the tide in the bay changes the water level in the marsh. I’ve also seen animals like foxes running along the shore at low tide. These are all things I can consider when checking the tide along with the temperature and conditions from Clear Outside and sun direction from The Photographer’s Ephemeris. I also used to use it in Fiji to check when it was safe to make the three hour walk along the coast to the bus stop.

5. My Gear Vault - Android / iOS

If you know FroKnowsPhoto on YouTube then you probably know this app. You enter all your gear, its value, and serial numbers, and then you are able to purchase insurance for said gear. As I travel full-time, I am not able to be covered by their insurance. However, I still use this app to keep a list of my gear in one place with the serial numbers in case anything ever gets lost or stolen. It’s also cool to see how much all of your gear is worth.

6. My Aurora Forecast & Alerts - Android / iOS

This is an app that I have never used properly, so I can’t say much about it. But at first glance it seems to do its job, and I have it on my phone just waiting for the day I finally make it to a place where I can see the Aurora (Borealis or Australis, I’m not picky). When I do, this is the app I will use to track its power and visibility.

Business Cards For Your Photography Business

Proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus), or long-nosed monkey, close-up portrait in Bako National Park, Sarawak, Malaysia.

Proboscis monkey (Nasalis larvatus), or long-nosed monkey, close-up portrait in Bako National Park, Sarawak, Malaysia.

There is definitely some debate about whether business cards are necessary these days. With the internet and smartphones, is it worth it to carry around a stack of paper with your information on it, or is it better to just put your info in someones phone or give them your instagram handle if they are curious about your work? It’s completely opinion, but I like to have one or two business cards on me at all times.

I will admit that I have only been carrying business cards for six months now and I have only given them out to two people. However, it costed me less than $20 to print two-hundred cards, less than a day to design them, and now I carry them everywhere in my wallet.

I would bet that these two-hundred cards will last me about ten years, and in that ten years I may lose more than I hand out. However, when you meet someone new, especially an older person who may have a lot of influence or connections, how likely are you to ask them for their phone to type in your information? I find it far easier to take a business card out of my wallet and hand it over.

For the small price and time commitment, I would highly recommend buying business cards. You can download a photoshop template straight from Vistaprint to design your card with ease. I favor a minimalist style (mine is white with a black logo on the front, and my website on the back with phone number and email in the lower-left corner), but you can do whatever your heart desires.

It’s important to spend money on our business if we want it to grow, and this is just a small expense that could lead to your next big client. Take a minute to design and purchase your cards right now. Even if you never hand one out, I don’t think you will ever regret making them. Just in case.

The Night I Almost Froze To Death

A white-tailed deer (odocoileus virginianus) stands under a snow covered evergreen in the winter in Virginia, USA.

A white-tailed deer (odocoileus virginianus) stands under a snow covered evergreen in the winter in Virginia, USA.

Not long ago, right after I had received my new Sigma 120-300 f/2.8 lens in the mail, my brother and I decided to go to Shenandoah National Park for some wildlife photography, hiking, and camping. It was the beginning of summer, which we figured was the perfect time to go. It would be warm but there wouldn’t be many other tourists yet.

We packed up the car with enough supplies for three days of camping, though I thought we may be gone for at least a week. Our tent was second-hand, borrowed from our other brother’s Cub Scout camping trips, and the sleeping bags were about twenty-years-old, with memories of childhood sleepovers stuffed inside of them. We packed some of those camping meals in a bag that you see at stores like REI for way too much money, and then we headed out on the two hour drive.

When we arrived in Shenandoah it was as we expected - the campsite was nearly empty and there weren’t many other cars on the road. This was going to be great. We set up our camp and went for a hike.

The hike we chose was a short hike to a short waterfall. Nothing special, just something to get our legs moving and see what type of scenery we could expect. I got some photos of the waterfall and then we hiked back. Overall, it only took a couple of hours.

Back at camp we cursed as we cooked up a couple of those meals-in-a-bag. The were too small for one person despite their claim that they serve two, they tasted like cardboard, and the consistency of the egg meal was more like grits than scrambled eggs. We forced them down anyway.

Soon after lunch, a group of young deer circled our camp, running in circles and chasing each other. We quickly pulled out our cameras and started snapping pictures, excited that the wildlife had come to us. Soon we were lying in the dirt surrounded by curious deer who didn’t seem to mind a three foot proximity to humans. We stayed with them for about an hour until the sun was too low to continue.

After dinner it was off to bed. It had gotten below freezing by this time so we were happy to get out of the wind and into our sleeping bags.

About two hours after getting into our sleeping bags and turning out the lights, I asked Sam if he was still awake. He was. Both of us were so cold we couldn’t sleep. The temperature had dropped to nineteen degrees, despite being in the eighties during the day, and our sleeping bags were not made for this.

Every time I moved and touched a new section of the inside of my sleeping bag my hand nearly froze to it it was so cold. How could something made to keep a person warm get so cold? Sam and I debated going to sleep in the car. We debated driving home right then, at midnight, then again at two a.m. It was only our will not to wimp out that caused us to endure the pain.

That night was by far the coldest night of my life. When we woke up, the water in our bottles was solid ice. We left immediately without doing the other hikes we had planned on. Next time I camp in Shenandoah I will either do it in the summer or bring better gear. Don’t camp at high altitudes in the spring without Winter gear.