Hero Holiday on Quail Island 2019

Hero Holiday on Quail Island 2019

Our trip to Christchurch’s former leper island is something we look forward to every year. Quail Island has a colourful history that connects it with Canterbury’s settlement and the conquests of the early Antarctic expeditions.


It is also a great destination for our Essentials beginners workshop. Our walking tour took us to various beaches around the island. In the past, some had served as training ground for pack animals of the Scott and Shackleton expeditions while others are ship graveyards.


We ended up using them for less serious purposes, like taking our cameras out of auto. Exposure, shutter speed and ISO were successfully mastered by our group of six explorers.


A big thank you to everyone who made this day special. We hope that you enjoyed our little cruise as much as we did :)


Yuletide Celebrations

Yuletide Celebrations

It’s the end of another year. We at Hero Workshops hope you are celebrating with your families in between early morning photo missions!
We thought it would be a good idea to have a look at our favourite new bits of gear this year and make some suggestions as to what Santa could bring if he’s still looking for the odd stocking filler.


Dennis’s pick


Fuji X-T3

Fujifilm’s X series is finally fully capable of capturing fast-paced action. Years of constant refinement have come to fruition with this speed demon of a camera.

Rob’s pick


Sony A7 mk3

Sony’s 3rd generation mirrorless gives you great all round performance, amazing eye focus and 4k video with class leading dynamic range and plenty of pixels.


Dennis’s pick


Fuji XF8-16mmF2.8 R LM

For Fujifilm shooters 10mm used to be the end of the line, but no more: The 8-16mm pushes deep into fish-eye terrain while maintaining a rectilinear perspective.

Rob’s pick


Sony FE 24mm F1.4 GM

Fresh out of the factory to go with your new A7, this do-it-all fast wide prime looks amazing.


Dennis’s pick


Novoflex Magicball

When I received my Magicball I wasn’t sure if we would be friends. But after using it  for a while, this re-invented ball head by Novoflex and I get along great! I love having one giant handle to adjust the head with.

Rob’s pick

Novoflex VR Slim

OK, not new this year, but to together with your A7 and 24mm this completes a killer setup for landscape and astro! Absolute quality and strength, and weighing in at only 700g it’s the first piece of gear that goes into my bag.

Budget cameras

Know someone who is keen to get into photography and want to gift them a solid camera to start with? Have a look through these.

Canon EOS M50
Small and very capable, 4k video, 24mp and decent dynamic range and quite cute also!


Sony Alpha A6000

No electronic viewfinder and not the latest model, but the price is right and you can easily move up the Sony line. Quality images and decent features.

Stocking fillers

Want a few little things to pad out the camera bag?

Ok, so not really wrappable, but in our opinion an essential for an aspiring landscape photographer. All the information you need to plan when and where to shoot

Sirui W-2204

Big, solid, light, waterproof, it’s the tripod that can do it all. We’ve been using them for years and they will last. Not the cheapest but its worth it.

Lens Pen

Keep your lenses dust and fingerprint clear with one of these.

Novoflex Triobalance with Q=Base: The last tripod you might ever need

Novoflex Triobalance with Q=Base: The last tripod you might ever need

A few years ago I did not get the fuss that some photographers made about tripods. At that point, all I wanted was a stable platform for my camera. I had a reasonably priced aluminium tripod that came up to eye-level. You could even attach a camera to it, so what more could I possibly have wanted?

A little later I found that tripods are like lenses: You are always one short of what you think you need. My affordable jack-of-all-trades tripod was soon replaced by a sturdier version for commercial work. Since it was a bit on the hefty side I decided to add a half-height tripod for camping trips in the mountains to my collection. Did I mention shooting in the ocean yet? Salt water does funny things to a tripod, so I added a waterproof one to my collection. You see where this is going …

For classical landscape photography I wanted a tripod that is stable, full-height when used, compact when collapsed, lightweight and cheap. As with any good Venn-diagram-of-things-you-cannot-have-at-the-same-time, I had to pick my poison. Since I found myself doing increasingly more serious landscape work, I wanted as many of these benefits as possible. Especially when guiding groups, the safety gear was starting to take up so much space in my pack that I was keen to go smaller and lighter without sacrificing stability.


As I was looking for yet another new tripod, Novoflex approached me through their New Zealand distributor Progear. They had enjoyed my recent review of their lightweight panorama system, and were keen to send some goodies my way. What’s not to like? After perusing their product portfolio, I came across the Triobalance series, which really seemed a bit ludicrous at first. 


With most tripods you combine a head with legs to have a fully functional tripod. The Triobalance on the other hand comes with a built-in levelling base that can either be used instead of a tripod head or in addition to it. Panorama shooters appreciate how nice it is to have a levelling base.

That made me wonder: Since I exclusively shoot with an L-bracket these days, I did not really need the wide range of motion that most tripod heads offer. What if I just used the built-in levelling base instead?


The lack of a centre column as the other absence of a feature. Due to the compact base of the tripod (no gap between folded legs) and the integrated levelling base, there is simply no space for a centre column. While I absolutely need a centre column for my commercial work, I had not used one for my outdoor activities in years. Another few more grams shaved off the total.


That left me in need of a quick release system. While I could have added a standard Arca compatible clamp, I found a quirky QR system called the Q=Base on the Novoflex website. It took a little digging through their Youtube channel to see it in action. The Q=Base is similar to a standard Manfrotto RC2 or RC4 quick release system, except that it works with Arca compatible plates or L-brackets. I had considered Manfrotto’s RC systems in the past, but did not find it very practical to attach two QR plates to my L-bracket.


The L-bracket (I’m using the slim L-bracket by Novoflex) just snaps into place when pushed into the mount from above. This can be done with one hand and does not require any interaction with the clamp mechanism. To remove the camera, two buttons need to be pressed to load the spring that triggers the mechanism when clipping back in.

While the Q=Base added some weight compared to a standard clamp, it completely freed me from messing around with knobs. I might just be a bit clumsy, but over the years I had many close calls with knobs that were not tightened sufficiently, cameras not sitting in the clamping mechanism correctly, or movement due to changes in temperature. This happened rarely, but when I was wearing gloves in total darkness and being slightly groggy from an early start, it would happen occasionally. I was hopeful the Q=Base would fix that problem for me.


After a short wait (no stock in New Zealand at the time), I received the kit version (TRIOBALC2840) with four-segment carbon-fibre legs and a ton of accessories. The Q=Base was easily screwed onto the 1/4″ mount on the levelling based and secured in place with a small hex screw.

The thing sitting right before me was a strange beast. It just looked like something important was missing. The lack of a ‘proper’ tripod head removes so many knobs and quite a bit of height that it seemed like I was just looking at a bare set of legs.

Overall finish and build quality are in line with every joke that has ever been made about German engineering. The tripod combines absolute minimalism with perfect build quality. It left me with a strong urge of wanting to touch it, otherwise only experienced with Apple devices. The buttons feel great, everything clicks, slides and rotates the way it should. Here’s a list of other features that stood out to me:

  • The best, most over-engineered spikes I’ve ever seen

  • Optional rubber caps for the spikes are included

  • Foam covers on all three legs keep hands warm

  • The legs are removable and can be replaced with other Novoflex legs

  • Stubby little legs for tabletop photography are included with the tripod

  • Some Leki hiking poles can be converted into tripod legs. How cool is that?

  • The top segments of the carbon fibre legs have length markers on them

  • The tripod comes with a nice carrying bag


Manfrotto MT057C4
Sirui W2204
Novoflex TriobalC2840
Sirui T-025x

MF 410
Sirui K20x





I’m aware that comparing these tripods is ridiculous, but I thought they would give an idea of scale. The Manfrotto 057 is a beast of a tripod. Fully extended a step ladder is required to get to the top. It’s strictly a work tool for shooting over fences or for mounting something the size of a microwave oven. The Sirui W2204 is a normal height landscape photography tripod, and a direct competitor of the Novoflex. The smaller Sirui T-025x is a half-height tripod that falls in the ‘better than nothing’ category. I only use it on overnight hiking trips where low weight beats all other considerations. Full extended it will sway in the wind like a blade of grass.


Using a tripod starts with packing it. Where all my previous tripods were awkwardly attached to my Frankenpack with one or two legs, the small diameter of the Triobalance allows me to stuff it upside down into a mesh pocket, securing it with a strap. I love using spikes outdoors, and with these I will have to take extra care not to impale anyone. These things are really pointy!

It does not take much to strain my neck, so I appreciated losing around 300g compared to a tripod of equivalent height and stability. It is good to keep in mind that the Q=Base adds a little extra weight. With a standard clamp you can expect to save around 150g, bringing the tripod down to a little over 1550g.

  • Triobalance with Q=Base = 1807g

  • Triobalance with standard clamp ~ 1650g

  • Triobalance without clamp = 1545g

Setting it up is standard: The big rubberized twist-locks unlock with a half-turn. As with most carbon-fibre tripods, the legs need a gentle tug to extend them. I assume this is an engineering trade-off between easily deployable legs and a secure, snug fit that adds torsional stiffness. The legs adjust to four different angles from 20 to 87 degrees.


Fully extended, the tripod with spikes and Q=Base comes to a height of 151cm, which is perfect for someone of my height (182cm).


Well, it’s a tripod. I found this setup to live up to my requirements when shooting my Fujifilm X-T2. I would not hesitate to use it with a Fujifilm GFX and some of the lighter lenses.

Everything works exactly as advertised, starting at the very bottom. The spikes are ridiculous in a really good way. Where my other spikes had issues properly gripping on rocky terrain, these spikes just dig in. A facetted, spiky ball at the end of a long, thin shaft allows the spikes to dig into the terrain, even when the legs are fully spread out to 87 degrees.

The rubberized locks are easy to operate even in cold conditions with gloves on. A flick of the wrist is usually enough to lock or unlock them. The stripes around the top segment help a lot when trying to set all legs to an equal length when not fully extended. I only wish there was a way to secure the legs into the base. It seems Novoflex favoured easy swapping of legs from one tripod to the other over securely seating them. Too much enthusiasm when loosening the leg segments can unscrew the whole leg from its base. While this doesn’t happen to me often, it can be a little annoying. Since I rarely replace the legs with the included tabletop legs, I’d prefer if there was a way to secure them in place with a hex screw. Maybe a dab of Loctite will help.

The mechanism to set the leg angle is simplicity itself. The spring loaded button is easy to operate and I will take it over all the awkward latching mechanisms I have come across.

The integrated levelling base is the central element that lends this tripods its uniqueness. It is operated with a simple lever that allows the base to be swivelled and rotated freely. The angle of adjustments is more than sufficient to level the base on any kind of terrain. Precision adjustments are no harder or easier than with a standard ball head. Shooters who are after ultimate precision will have to stick to geared heads and pay the weight penalty. In the opened position, the mechanism is just on the right side of loose. It rotates in its base with silky smoothness.

The Q=Base is the other unique feature of this tripod. I used it combined with Arca Swiss compatible plates and L-brackets by Novoflex, but it should really work with any other brand. Keep in mind that the safety stop feature might not work with other brands (the camera might fall out), and the friction mechanism might have more or less grip than ideal. More on that below.

The ease of operation is totally worth the 150g weight penalty compared to a standard clamp. In the past I had to fiddle with knobs that sometimes weren’t tight enough. In other cases just one flange was gripping the Arca plate thanks to stupid old me. Especially when changing orientation often, the Q=Base is a revelation. The system allows me to simply drop the camera into the clamp with one hand. A clearly audible click will give me positive feedback that the camera is secured.

But that is only the start. Once clicked into position, the camera sits firm enough as to not move by itself. But with just the right amount of gentle pressure it can still be positioned within the clamp. Trust issues? Just rotate the silver ring to lock the bracket for good. I found the locking ring to be a reassuring feature in strong wind or when used with the camera on a boom. In saying that, the effect was purely psychological since the camera can not fall out thanks to the safety stop.

Over time I have come to trust the mechanism implicitly. Remember, the camera does not move unless you deliberately try to do so. If you use the silver ring regularly, you can screw in a little 10mm rod. The extra leverage will make it a easier to operate.

I have since started using another Q=Base on my work tripod. I switch from landscape to portrait format 100+ times during every shoot, and I just love how it saves me time while reducing the risk of dropping the camera. It is really one of these things I would not want to be without any more.

One small caveat with the Q=Base is that it is quite large in diameter. Both buttons have a strong spring built in, and I could see how it might be difficult to use with small hands. You will see me struggling to press the buttons at one point in the video, which was not caused by the mechanism, but by my awkward attempts not to block the video camera. Novoflex could chose to make the buttons a little bigger, but that would result in more weight.

Coming back to the Venn diagram of things we cannot all have at the same time, there are of course some downsides to this system. The smaller base diameter of the legs allows for a more compact build, but at the same time it reduces torsional stiffness. I shoot a Fujifilm X-T2 with and without a panorama head and have not had any issues with the slight reduction in stiffness. A pro-level full-frame camera with a tele zoom or a medium frame camera might perform differently. For heavier cameras I would suggest to go with more traditional tripods like a Novoflex Triopod (Triobalance without the levelling unit), or a Tripod Pro75 (chunkier Triopod with greater base diameter).

Novoflex’ choice of finish for the aluminium elements comes with a drawback: Their products scratch really easily. Given how beautiful their products look fresh out of the box, every little scratch will hurt. Other brands seem to either paint or powder-coat their products, which results in higher weight and a slightly less high-end look, but they are far less susceptible to scratches than anodizing.


As mentioned above, the low diameter design comes at the expense of additional features like a centre column and a hook for attaching weight. The former is not really a fair criticism of the product, since it’s designed as a minimalist product. The standard Triopod series comes with an optional centre column (with yet another pretty unique design approach). If you need a hook to weigh down your Triobalance, your only option is the ‘triangle supporting pouch’, which I cannot seem to link to. You can find it on their page under accessories. 


At the end of the day it is a matter of picking your poison. Do you shoot L-brackets, do not mind the lack of centre-column or hook, and do value low weight and portability over maximum torsional stiffness? Then a Triobalance with Q=Base could be the right landscape tripod for you.

  • Need a centre column? A standard Triopod might be the better option. You can still combine it with a levelling base and drop the ball head.

  • The levelling base is too limited? Get a standard Triopod with ball head. (Guess what, they have a really funky one!)


Beautiful engineering
Fast and safe quick release system
Lots of accessories included
Lots more accessories to buy
Interchangeability of components with other Novoflex tripods

Lack of torsional stiffness
No centre column
Scratches easily
No hook
Q=Base adds weight
Q=Base might be hard to operate with small hands
L-bracket required to shoot in portrait orientation


I was not quite sure what to expect when I received the Triobalance. It just looked like a lot of important bits were missing, and I was not sure if it would be up to the task. After using it for a while, I was able to lay these concerns to rest. The way I configured my Triobalance with Q=Base was a great fit for how I use a landscape tripod. I have been able to trim out all the fat, resulting in a small, lightweight, full-height tripod that does exactly what it is supposed to do, and nothing more.


Pairing the tripod with my VR-Slim panorama bracket (see my review) further expands the capabilities of the Triobalance. At 2.5kg you have a fully-fledged multi-row capable panorama system.

Which brings us to the main caveat, the price. This will probably not be the first tripod anyone buys, but for landscapes it might well be the last. The Triobalance is a very specialised beast, but what it does, it does really well.

NOTE: Since first publication of this article, Novoflex have release a new, much lighter version of the Q=Base. It should allow you to shave another 150g off this tripod.


Novoflex Website
In New Zealand? Buy one at Progear


In case you missed it in the introduction: I’m Novoflex’ freshly minted product ambassador in New Zealand. After my recent review of the VR-Slim panorama bracket (that I paid for with my own money), Novoflex approached me, asking if I wanted to work with them. I always liked their products, so I jumped on board!

You are probably wondering if this review can be trusted. I did my best to write an unbiased review, with all the good and bad stuff that I came across. It is up to you to decide if I did a good job. Feel free to leave me your thoughts here.


Hero Holiday at Mount Cook 2018

Hero Holiday at Mount Cook 2018

What better place to end a year of photo workshops than a Holiday at Mount Cook? After a cold 2016 and a somewhat rainy 2017 we could not wait to see what challenges the Cloudpiercer had in store for us this time.

Approaching the Cloudpiercer

Approaching the Cloudpiercer

Aoraki delivered yet another climatic extreme. Our troupe of photo afficionados encountered what might sadly be called the Climate Change Edition of the Holiday. Where frozen lakes and icy winds reigned in previous years, this excursion saw us confronted with T-Shirt temperatures at 5am. Surreal!

Kicking it off with camera basics

Kicking it off with camera basics

Fueled by this heat wave, our team of contestants tackled all challenges with an amazing level of energy. Track and lessons alike were tackled in record time. Calling this workshop a Holiday has always been an inside joke due to roughly 20 hours of learning we heap on our students over two full and two half days. And while that does not even include walking and shooting, the gang worked through everything that Rob and I threw at them with a smile.

Getting up close and personal with the geology

Getting up close and personal with the geology

We love seeing a group’s varied bounty after letting them loose at the same location. Once again we were not disappointed by people’s interpretations of their subject matter in wide-angle or tele, long exposure or pano, colour or black and white. Every shot was as unique as its creator.

Being in the moment

Being in the moment

Landscape photography is an exercise in working with what’s available. Almost every morning and evening it looked like the sky was about to explode in a riot of colour before just fizzling out. But our crew was not deterred and worked on their foreground compositions, long exposures and focus stacking techniques.

And then there was that one evening at Tasman Lake when the world went pink …

When the colour you’ve been craving finally shows up

When the colour you’ve been craving finally shows up

Thank you to everyone who joined us on this amazing trip. Toasty weather, beautiful locations and, most importantly, great company made this a memorable Labour Day weekend. It’s just the boost we needed as we go into our summer break. We will be back with new trips and a whole new trip format in 2019. Watch this space!


Basic photo editing

Basic photo editing

I’ve seen a lot of images recently, even some entered into competitions, that could really do with some basic editing. It’s not difficult, it’s not time consuming, and frankly, if you are entering competitions without checking these simple things, you shouldn’t expect the judges to spend much time looking at your image either.

Running through this short list of steps will ensure your image has all of the basics sorted. We will look at how to do this using Adobe Lightroom since its by far the most popular image editing tool. Nonetheless, any photo editing software worth using should allow you to apply the same settings. With Lightroom, the order you take these steps in isn’t important, but keep in mind this might not apply to other editing software.

White balance

White Balance.JPG

The first thing to do with your RAW image (because you are shooting RAW, right?) is to set the white balance. This is how the software corrects for different colour temperatures and makes whites look white. For things like product and wedding photography you’ll want to get this as accurate as possible. Start by trying the colour picker on a grey or white tone, or even use a grey card for white balancing. For landscapes you can use white balance as a creative tool, but try to keep it natural.




I don’t know what primeval skill required us to spot crooked horizons. Even if it is just off by a fraction of a degree, we can tell easily, especially when viewing on social media with a lot of straight lines to measure against.

Correcting a crooked horizon in Lightroom is part of the Crop tool. You can rotate the image or use the straighten tool like a spirit level and draw across the horizon on the image, and Lightroom will rotate and automatically crop the image for you. The further off your horizon is, the more image resolution you will loose, especially if it is taken in portrait orientation. So try and be careful when shooting. Most modern cameras have spirit levels built it in that will help you judge your horizon’s straightness.

Dust spots


It’s a fact of life that even with self cleaning sensors you’ll end up with a few dust bunnies at some point. No need to rush it off to the camera store for a clean right away, just make sure you check over each image and use these handy tools to get rid of them.

Use the Visualise Spots tool and zoom in to 100% view to check the whole image. I find sensor dust easier to spot sometimes while moving the image around.

dustspots 2.JPG

Make sure to double check before you print the file or enter it into a competition. At 100% view! Check the whole image!

Lens correction

Lens correction.JPG

Lens correction is always worth doing, since it will fix any vignetting, distortion or chromatic aberration in the image. So what are these problems and how do we fix them? Lightroom has a database of lens information to compare your lens to. It is a really neat feature that automatically applies the right correction settings for you.

Vignetting is when the corners of the image are darker than the centre. It often happens with fast lenses, but can also affect landscapes when stopped down. Lightroom lightens the corners of the image just enough to match the rest of the frame.

Distortion is when straight lines no longer appear straight, most noticeable with horizons and buildings. Note that this setting only fixes pincushion or barrel distortion. It does not apply perspective distortions, for example when you have pointed the lens up at a building. Converging vertical lines are fixed with transform features elsewhere in Lightroom.

Chromatic Aberration appears where different wavelengths of light are not quite aligned in the same way. This usually shows as red/purple or green/blue fringing around bright subjects high in contrast (windows, trees etc). CA’s might not look like much on your screen, but zoom in or print them and they can show up quite strongly, especially after some other processing.

Colour & Contrast


These are the most important settings when editing the look of a photo.

Tone settings

Exposure changes the whole image. It makes all parts brighter or darker, shifting the whole histogram

Contrast stretches the histogram. Adjustments to Contrast make all the whites whiter and blacks blacker.

Always make sure that you do not over- or underexpose your images by pushing them off either end of the histogram.


The following sliders adjust only sections of the histogram. Hold the mouse over the slider to show what section will be adjusted (Pro tip: hold Alt key down to see if you clip any pixels)

Highlights will adjust the brighter parts of the image but not the brightest 10% of the image. You will probably not clip white point pixels with this.

Shadows adjusts the darker pixels but not the darkest. Hard to clip the black point with this.

Whites adjusts the absolute brightest slice of pixels, use it with care because you can easily clip pixels here.

Blacks adjust only the absolute darkest areas of the image, so again use with caution.

Clipping happens when you have absolute maximum or minimum values for a pixel, with no detail showing on these pixels. Avoid clipping where possible.

Presence settings

These settings are a double edged sword. They can either make your image pop or look over-processed. Use with care!

Go easy on Clarity. Watch the edges of any areas high in contrast carefully. When you push this setting too far you, will see halos. +20 maximum.

Dehaze is a very strong effect that adds clarity, contrast and saturation. Use sparingly +/- 5 or 10.
Vibrance increases colour strength perceptually. It is a smart adjustment that increases things less colourful to a greater degree than things already colourful. In most cases it’s preferable over Saturation.
Saturation increases all colours equally. Use it carefully since it can make colours overpowering very easily.



Lightroom provides us some handy tools to deal with image quality issues the technical limits of the cameras sensor has introduced.


With digital photography, we always need to add some sharpening. The capture process typically doesn’t give us absolute sharp images straight from our RAW files. Sharpening is basically drawing cartoon like black lines around detail in your photos. A little helps a lot, a lot makes it look very poor.

Sharpening is usually done in two steps, input sharpening that we apply to our images to correct the above, and output sharpening we do when we are producing a file for use (web or print).


Here we are discussing input sharpening. It is hard to just give out values here because it depends on the subject, image and camera/lens. Generally, it is best to go lightly here. Either leave the defaults Lightroom will set for your camera, or zoom in to detailed areas and gradually adjust the amount, radius and detail levels. When you see obvious lines around your detail like above, it is time to reduce the setting.

The other end of sharpening comes when you export the image. You can choose to add additional sharpening for the format and resolution required.

Noise Reduction

Digital noise is created when the camera system is amplifying the data it gets from the sensor. This is a similar effect to a hifi system that has been turned up too much. The quality of the signal breaks down a little.

If you had to increase your ISO when shooting, a little noise reduction can help your image quality overall. Keep in mind that removing noise has a penalty since you will remove some detail. The noise reduction setting can’t tell noise from image content, so it is always a trade off between the two.

I will not go into a lot of detail here. Again, like sharpening, it is a big subject on its own. Noise tends to come in two types, differences in brightness, and differences in colour.

Zoom in to 100% view (1:1) and look at the noise, identify which of the above types it is, and then adjust the Luminance or Color sliders. You can also adjust the detail levels. Usually, for things with actual detail, you will want the detail slider higher. If there's not much detail you can reduce it for a cleaner look.



When you are finished with your processing, you have to use the export process to get a usable image out of Lightroom.

For web use (facebook, flickr etc) you will want to make sure the colour space is set to sRGB, otherwise the colours will look flat and dull. Usually JPEG is best, Quality somewhere between 80 and 90 will be fine. Reduce the resolution to something reasonable. I find resizing to 2048 on the longest edge gives me a decently large file to upload without being too large in file size. Remember, whatever you upload to the internet can usually be downloaded by others, so you do not want to provide files so high in resolution as to be easily printable.

Sharpen for screen with standard and review sharpness on the exported file.

For print use, talk to your printer to see what colour space they want. Often sRGB is fine, but sometimes they will make use of larger spaces like AdobeRGB or ProPhoto, so choose those if required. Don’t Resize the image at all, send the largest file you can unless they ask for something specific. In addition, choose Matte or Glossy paper for sharpening.

None of these steps take up much time, even when you have just a little experience. Each of these steps is important to provide a quality viewing experience. If you are hoping for a viewer to spend time looking at your image, then the least you can do is take a little time to make sure its presented at its best!

Stacking with Sequator

Stacking with Sequator

One of the first things we talk about on a Hero Astro workshop is the 500 rule: How the Earth's rotation limits your shutter speeds, requiring us to push the boundaries of our camera's ISO, which results in noisier files than what we would prefer.

One option to overcome this issue is to track the stars. This allows you to expose for far longer at a lower ISO, at the expense of causing problems for landscape shooters, as the landscape itself doesn't move. This technique requires blending the finished tracked star image with a separately shot foreground image. This presents its own challenges, and I personally do not prefer this approach.

There is, though, a halfway house by using image stacking software: Taking a small number of shots and using software to stack them. Apple users have been using Starry Landscape Stacker for some time, leaving us Windows people jealous. But now we have Sequator, a Google hosted project written by Yi-Ruei Wu. Luckily, Google like to keep it simple, and the software is freely available to anyone.

So how does it work? It does a few clever things, like rotating and matching star positions. Additionally, it averages pixels from all the source images to reduce noise. Assuming a shooting situation is limiting a single frame to 30 seconds of exposure, we could feed it four files and have 120 seconds of exposure time. In regards to noise, this simulates shooting at a lower ISO. Instead of ISO 6400, we now have the visual equivalent of ISO 1600, and a cleaner end result. It has a few other features around noise reduction and vignetting, but I will have to go into that another time.

Sequator can read RAW files directly, but I found the results poorer than providing it with pre-processed TIFF files.

Sequator merged directly from RAW files

Sequator merged directly from RAW files

My workflow starts with selecting my four images, processing them in Adobe Camera Raw (or Lightroom), and saving them as TIFF files. I kept the processing pretty standard, so nothing too exciting there (if you want to know more, check out the Hero processing workshops) .

Sony A7R2, 15mm, f2.8, ISO 6400, 30 seconds each.

Sony A7R2, 15mm, f2.8, ISO 6400, 30 seconds each.

I then imported the images into Sequator (File-> Star images). You can set a base image for the foreground if you want, but for this example I didn't bother.


Next, I set an output file name, and I recommend using a TIFF format to retain quality.

In Composition I selected the Align stars & Freeze ground options. For the other options, I found the following worked best for this particular image:


It is worth experimenting with options to see what works best for your stack.

In the next step, I identified the sky by drawing a gradient across the horizon. With a more complex horizon, try the irregular mask.


After clicking the start button, it will show a progress box until it finishes the blending process, and then create the output file.

Once that was done, I loaded the resulting image into Photoshop (or Lightroom) to go through my normal processing steps. Be especially careful with anything that moves (lights on the horizon) and around the horizon boundary, as the blended file may exhibit ghosting effects. If that is the case, either re-create the file with a better mask or fix it with the clone tool in Photoshop.

So, how much improvement will you achieve? Have a look at the following images...

To my eye, the result is better than one stop, but perhaps not quite as good as two stops. It is certainly close, though!

With this particular image, I encountered a downside to using a stacking process. The beams of the aurora, due to their movement, were less distinct. In addition, since you are shooting the same image for far longer, if you combine this with a set of images for your foreground focus, you could be shooting the same composition for five or ten minutes. I still think the extra quality is worth the effort.

Below, the final image has been straightened, levels have been tweaked, and it was run through NIK Colour Efex to create the look. This increases the apparent noise a touch, but the resulting image is still sufficiently low in noise without any additional noise reduction applied. After all, pretty pictures is what we are after!


Hero Essentials: Quail Island 2018

Hero Essentials: Quail Island 2018

Our history with Quail Island has been somewhat difficult. A few months ago another trip had first to be postponed, then cancelled altogether. The weather was just not playing ball, and given the many slippery sections around the island we decided to better not risk anyone's health. 

But since we really, really wanted to go to Quail Island, we promoted our upcoming Essentials beginners workshop to a holiday cruise.


But guess what: Once again we had to postpone by a day, once again the weather was not playing along. Then, finally, all the stars aligned for our little summer holiday expedition to Christchurch's former leper island.


Quail Island had a colourful history over the last 150 years. In the 1850s the island was farmed by two brothers, one of which died in a horrible accident. It changed ownership a few times, before becoming a staging area for several expeditions to Antarctica. For a time its shores even served as a boat graveyard. Despite its reputation the island served as a leprosy colony for only a short time.

Check out this article if you are interested in Quail Island's history. 

Luckily, our time on Quail Island was pleasant and entirely free of any disasters. We broke up our walk around the loop track with short lessons, games and exercises around the basics of exposure, focus and camera settings. By the end of the trip everyone seemed to be quite comfortable taking their cameras out of auto. Well done, all of you :)


The day would not have been half as much fun without the amazing people who put their collective fates in our hands. Quail Island class of 2018: You were fantastic!

Special thanks also to our friends at Black Cat Cruises. Since the scheduled ferry was full, they found us an extra boat and skipper, and got us there and back safely. We wish we could go to all of our destinations by boat :)


Novoflex VR Slim Panorama Bracket Review

Novoflex VR Slim Panorama Bracket Review

For years I had been shooting alongside photographers who use panoramic heads. For my style of photography I never really saw the need. I would shoot the odd single-row panorama, but I was totally fine doing so with a standard tripod head.

As more panoramas started creeping into my work, I encountered more issue with panoramas that would not stitch properly. Ridges in the distance would not align or my foregrounds had zig-zag patterns of misalignment running through them.

The Crux with Parallax

I will try to keep the technical jargon to a minimum, but here's one term we have to look at: Parallax error. Hold up one finger in front of your face, then take turns closing one eye. Your finger will appear to jump around in front of the background since your eyes have slightly different perspectives. The same thing was happening with my panoramas. When I started composing panoramas with more foreground elements, the issue became more pronounced. Without foreground elements the effect is less obvious.


With a standard ball head, my camera was rotating around an axis that did not align with the optical centre of my lenses (a.k.a. the nodal point, the point in the lens where incoming light crosses). As my lens was panning around, it was changing its perspective between shots. This resulted in images that just would not align properly.

The only way to address this issue is to align the nodal point of the lens with the axis of rotation by recessing the camera slightly. Luckily, some problems in photography can be solved by throwing money at them. I finally needed my own tripod antlers.

German Engineering

With zero experience I quizzed a few people on their panorama head preferences. Rob Dickinson in particular had a vast amount of knowledge in this area. He has used most of the common gizmos on the market, from robotic heads for big $$$, to chunky, manual heads. None of these devices seemed to last long in his arsenal. In the end he settled for the Novoflex VR Slim System, and has been using it for a few years now.

Two rows of 9 images each = 18 images total Fujifilm X-T2 + XF16, ISO200, 16mm, f13, 1/3s

Two rows of 9 images each = 18 images total
Fujifilm X-T2 + XF16, ISO200, 16mm, f13, 1/3s

The specs seemed to fit my needs for a compact, lightweight system that would help me tackle my parallax issues. I had a look at other products on the market, but all of them seemed rather bulky, and designed with much heavier systems than my Fujifilm X gear in mind. So I bit the bullet and ordered the VR Slim System.

As a native German I tend roll my eyes when people get excited about engineering from the homeland. But when I pulled the bracket out of the box, I couldn't help myself but feel a tingle of excitement. The VR Slim is a beautiful piece of hardware. The finish feels amazing, and it has just the right amount of heft that speaks of  quality that will serve you well for a long, long time.

Installation & Calibration

The bracket comes out of the box in its origami state. Putting it together for shooting is pretty self-explanatory. How to find your nodal point, on the other hand, is not quite as simple.

The VR Slim bracket packs down into a little aluminium sculpture (notice the SD card, the internationally recognised measure for all things tiny)

The VR Slim bracket packs down into a little aluminium sculpture (notice the SD card, the internationally recognised measure for all things tiny)

The idea behind panorama brackets is to align the vertical axis that runs through your tripod with the optical centre of your lens: the nodal point. To achieve this alignment, the camera has to be recessed a little until the centre of the lens is right above the rotational axis of the tripod head. Unfortunately, this point is in a different place for every type of lens. To make matters worse, the nodal point will move in zoom lenses.

Ready to roll

Ready to roll

There are different ways of finding the nodal point of a lens. You can find a few different methods described here and here. The upper horizontal arm of the VR Slim has a ruler built in, which will allow you to measure the amount of recess for each type of lens. I have terrible memory for such things, so I ended up putting a cheerful yellow sticker on the vertical arm. It lists the amount of recess in mm for my three favourite prime lenses and one zoom lens when it is set to a focal length of 12mm. Easy!

Hint: Don't forget to centre the bottom horizontal arm over the centre of the lens. You should be able to eyeball the adjustment. If you want to be more precise, use an improvised pendulum.

One row of five images Fujifilm X-T2 + XF10-24, ISO200, 12mm, f10, 1/200s Nisi 3-stop soft-grad filter

One row of five images
Fujifilm X-T2 + XF10-24, ISO200, 12mm, f10, 1/200s
Nisi 3-stop soft-grad filter

Once the tedious work of finding nodal points is done, the bracket is ready to shoot. Assembling and taking it apart takes less than a minute. The VR Slim is probably one of the smallest panorama brackets out there when folded down. Which is great, since real estate in my pack is strictly limited.

It would be great if Novoflex could include a $2 neoprene pouch with the bracket. That is less to protect the bracket than to protect everything around it. I cannot overstate how solidly built the bracket is, and I have no doubt that it would eventually scratch other items in my pack.


I would not consider myself an advanced panorama shooter, but some additional benefits beyond nodal point correction became obvious to me soon. While single-row panoramas can be corrected for nodal point shooting with a simple slider, multi-row panoramas are much harder to shoot without a panorama bracket.

The VR Slim and a Fujifilm X-T2 are a nice match

The VR Slim and a Fujifilm X-T2 are a nice match

The ability to adjust the angle of the upper horizontal arm opens a wide range of options for shooting above and below a level plane. Being high up in the mountains sometimes results in having to shoot below the horizon. Astro photography is the opposite. The subject matter is high in the sky, with little going on in the foreground.

Adjustable click stops, spirit level and cool blue anodizing

Adjustable click stops, spirit level and cool blue anodizing

Additional features like the distinctive click stops of the panning base make working with reliable overlap a pleasure. The base can be set to 16, 24, 30 or 48 clicks per 360 degrees of rotation. Alternatively, click stops can be disabled altogether.

Having these discrete stops is incredibly useful when shooting in rapidly changing conditions. I find myself being able to blindly rely on the panning base, thus cutting down shooting time for a given composition. At night these clicks stops turn into a must-have. I found managing overlap for astro panoramas hard to impossible in the past. With the VR Slim it's a breeze to achieve reliable results.

Three rows of six images each = 18 images total Fujifilm X-T2 = XF16, ISO 6400, 16mm, f2, 15s

Three rows of six images each = 18 images total
Fujifilm X-T2 = XF16, ISO 6400, 16mm, f2, 15s


Which brings me to two things I would like to see improved on the VR Slim system. The panning base is a pleasure to work with. Adjustments of the upper arm to change the vertical angle can be much trickier. A big, blue knob is used to unlock the arm, change its angle, before locking it once again with a few turns of the knob. Temperature changes and working with gloves makes this process less than enjoyable. The shallowness of the knob makes it hard to grip, which is aggravated by temperature drops that can make it harder to loosen. This sometimes requires an amount of force big enough to inadvertently move the tripod, thus ruining alignment of the scene I was working on.

The big blue knob on the left sometimes requires elbow grease to loosen  

The big blue knob on the left sometimes requires elbow grease to loosen

The way the knob is designed is probably a compromise to keep total system weight and size down. It would still be nice to see some German engineering smarts applied to an easier to adjust quick-release system, or an integrated click-stop system. I would be willing to carry around a few more grams for the added comfort. Some of the bigger models already have this feature. I would greatly appreciate a hybrid model that carries this one key feature over from its bigger brothers.

Awkward to adjust for those of us with opposable thumbs

Awkward to adjust for those of us with opposable thumbs

Additionally, the adjustments knob that holds the quick release plate of the camera is not very comfortable for L brackets or any kind of QR plate that can only be attached front and back, rather than left and right. Since it aligns with the upper horizontal arm, there is no way to grab it comfortably. The easiest way to tension it is to roll your thumb across it with pressure and hope for the best. So far it has never failed me.

Other Benefits

Coming back to the benefits, I like how the system allows me to easily level my panning base. A standard tripod with ball head can be cumbersome to level by adjusting individual legs. If you have ever tried doing this, you know how nerve-wracking it can be to get it level. Using the VR Slim completely negates this inconvenience. Just put up the tripod so it doesn't fall over, then slide the bracket into your existing Arca-Swiss style clamp. Simply use the spirit level built into the panning base to level the bracket by adjusting the ball head. It is really incredibly easy.


Overall I had a lot of fun with my Novoflex VR Slim panorama bracket over the last half year. It has allowed me to extend my panorama game from slighly wonky single row panoramas to effortlessly merging multi-row panoramas at day and night. Recently, I even started using it for my commercial architectural work, which allows me to shoot compositions that were previously impossible.

The build quality of the system is amazing. I love well designed and built hardware, and the joy when holding this little gem of engineering is close to holding one of Apple's i-devices. Novoflex includes a ton of tools, little adapters, an Arca style QR plate, and a hot shoe spirit level. It would be nice if a neoprene baggy was included at this price point, but it's easy enough to find a pouch on ebay for a handful of dollars.

Two rows of 9 images each, 2 bracketed shots = 36 images total Fujifilm X-T2 + XF16, ISO200, 16mm, f11, 1/20s+1/80s

Two rows of 9 images each, 2 bracketed shots = 36 images total
Fujifilm X-T2 + XF16, ISO200, 16mm, f11, 1/20s+1/80s

Those who prefer an easier way to adjust the bracket's vertical angle should have a look at the Novoflex VR System Pro II. It is a slightly heavier but more feature-rich bracket that allows easier vertical adjustments.

When considering the VR Slim system, keep in mind that it was designed with mirrorless systems in mind. Rob regularly uses this system with his Sony A7RII or Canon 5D Mark IV, including a range of Canon lenses. He pointed out that some of his heavier lenses are not a good fit. I noticed the same with my Fujifilm XF50-140 lens. In windless conditions it just about works, but the VR Slim system was clearly meant to be used with lighter kit.

Apart from some minor niggles I'm in love! The VR Slim system has become essential to my landscape and architecture toolbox. These days I really go nowhere without it.


If you are after a more technical review, have a look at SCV Photo Ideas' article.
If you want to learn more about image stitching, check out my recent article.
The VR Slim system on Novoflex' website

Upcoming Workshops

Hero Holiday at Mount Cook 2017

Hero Holiday at Mount Cook 2017

Rob and I were on our way to Mount Cook recently, reminiscing how a whole year could possibly have passed since our inaugural Aoraki adventure in 2016. Yet there we were, car full of snacks and lenses, cruising past Lake Tekapo once again.

The gang (most of them)

The gang (most of them)

It is an open secret that the Mount Cook workshop, while being our favourite, can be challenging in many ways. Just a few steps east of the divide the weather risk is high. Buying food, at least at hours compatible with photography, can take on a 'hunting & gathering' spirit. Yet nothing beats walking through pristine mountain valleys at 5am, chasing a sunrise over crackling icebergs. 

Chasing the light

Chasing the light

Where last year's trip treated us to perfect weather, storm clouds were, quite literally, gathering this time. The forecast was showing rain for every morning throughout the workshop. None of that was apparent when we arrived on a beautiful sunny afternoon. Little did we know that the next few days were going to be an exercise in workshop improv.

Exposure, focus and approach recap in the sun

Exposure, focus and approach recap in the sun

Right on the first morning we had to stop halfway into Hooker Valley. The morning had started with light drizzle that intensified with every step. The group discussed the situation and came to the smart decision to circle back to headquarters. 

This pattern would, unfortunately, repeat over the next days. But while low after low was battering the West Coast in the mornings, the afternoons were ours. We made the best of them by covering our lessons in the mornings, followed by extended excursions in the afternoons. Luckily there is no shortage of amazing locations near Lake Tekapo and Lake Ohau. The Holiday morphed into a road trip.

The Edge

The Edge

That by itself was a good learning experience for our group of aspiring landscape wizards. Three out of four times the heavens conspire to ruin your plans, so you just make new ones. We spent a lot of time analysing weather forecasts together, checked out regional webcams, and came to informed decisions on how to maximise our chances.

Time to get the long lenses out

Time to get the long lenses out

What I loved most about the trip was everyone's stubborn insistence on having a good time. We might have missed out on Hooker Valley this time, but our surprise trips to Lake Tekapo and Lake Ohau were a huge success. Our enforced sleep-ins even allowed us an impromptu astro session one night. 



One thing is for sure: this was not our last trip to Mount Cook! In a year we will probably be cruising through the mountains again, wondering where time has gone. At least we will not have to worry about the weather. With an awesome group in an equally awesome location it will all work out!


Winter Deal

Winter Deal

New to Landscape Photography?

Take full creative control of your photography with our Winter Deal for 2018, and save 22% compared to booking individual workshops. 



  • The Hero Essentials require no previous knowledge. Learn how to take your camera out of auto in one afternoon.
  • Your next stop is the two-day Mini Holiday at Castle Hill two weeks later. Building on your Essentials knowledge, you will learn how to plan, compose and shoot your own landscape pictures in the Southern Alps near Christchurch. 
  • After a few weeks of practicing your landscape photography, you are ready for the next step. Learn the basics of editing and workflow on our Hero Lightroom course.
  • Take your editing skills to the next level with our Hero Photoshop course.


  • $1000 for four workshops and courses as listed above
  • That is 22% off compared to booking individual workshops
  • Includes:
    • Four handouts
    • A welcome package full of goodies
    • The Hero Cheat Sheet 
    • One night's accommodation in the mountains
    • A smile and a head full of new ideas

Landscape Booster

Think of our winter deal as a fast-track to boosting your landscape photography. We are looking forward to having you along for the ride! Please get in touch if you have any questions

Gear Primer

Gear Primer

We live in the golden age of photography. A seemingly endless variety of amazing new camera equipment blazes past our eyes on Facebook, websites and in camera stores on any given day.

Product quality has improved a lot over the last decade, and so it has become difficult finding a bad camera for your money. But unlike our craving for new lenses, our bank balances do not bounce back quite as quickly. So over the next few months (leading up to Christmas, perhaps) we will get you up to speed on the best gear for your shooting style, as well as the best upgrade paths going forward. 


Our focus will be on landscape photography, but this guide will be general enough to cover a wider area of subject matters. We will  include all the major items a landscape photographer needs to capture images that blow your mind. 

Upcoming posts:

  • Camera Basics
  • Camera Advanced
  • Lenses
  • Tripods
  • Pano heads
  • Filters
  • Bags
  • Other accessories

In the next post will be looking at the basics of digital cameras, sensor size, focus systems, ergonomics and dynamic range. We will explore how these features impact your photography, and how to pick the best camera for your needs. Make sure to like our Facebook page or sign up for our newsletter to stay in the loop!



Astro Jackpot

Astro Jackpot

When we added an astro workshop to our schedule we expected it to be popular. Astro photography has seen a lot of interest since astro-capable cameras have become more affordable in recent years. What we did not expect was to be overrun by demand, and then some. We had to add a second workshop which booked out as well. We would have loved to add a third one, but ran out of suitable weekends.




Astro photography is a diva. Getting spectacular results depends on a lot of things to come together: It starts with the Milky Way, which is only visible in the winter months. A brightly shining moon will wash out the view of the Milky Way, so the ideal time for astro is around new moons or on days when the moon sets in the afternoon. And while a cloudy sky adds to a landscape photograph, it will ruin shooting the stars. Organising an astro workshops is quite anxiety-inducing :)

Aurora Australis enters the stage

Aurora Australis enters the stage

So how did it go? In one word: stellar! The weather played along nicely, and on the second workshop a huge geomagnetic storm caused an aurora that paid us a short visit. Mild, clear and windless nights in winter are rare, and as orange lights were dancing along the horizon, we knew we had won the lottery! 

Steel wool + egg beater + rope + backup fire extinguiser = fun

Steel wool + egg beater + rope + backup fire extinguiser = fun

We have gotten pretty good at making our own weather through sheer willpower. We decided to bring a few props anyway, just in case it clouded over. Since our students were quite perceptive, we had spare time to get the toys out. No worries, one of us was standing by with a fire extinguisher, just in case :) 

Dennis' shot with Rob in the frame

Dennis' shot with Rob in the frame

Conditions for astro really do not get much better than this. Thanks again to everyone who gambled with us. We hope you took a memory card full of awesome images home. 

Rob returning the favour

Rob returning the favour


Mystery Meet-Up

Mystery Meet-Up

Exponential growth is a scary thing! Our first few photo meet-ups attracted an intimately sized group of up to twenty people. It was a perfect size for spots like Taylors Mistake, Godley Head and Gibraltar Rock.


The turnout at the forth meet-up took us a little by surprise. Over forty people showed up to capture a sunrise out of Lyttelton Harbour with us. Somehow our Eventfinda listing had made it into various newspapers, and we seriously had to start thinking about how to manage crowds of that size. 


So the plan for our latest meet-up was to capture a mid-winter sunrise at an easier accessible location. But when 160 people had signed up for our meet-up at New Brighton Pier, we decided to quickly find a megaphone. Seriously, where did all of you people come from?

On the day we were greeted by a dense bank of fog. While previous events had attracted more people than expected, this time our counts showed numbers ranging from 60-80 photo-nuts. After a look out of the window, many must have decided not to bother and stay in their warm beds. I can't say I blame any of them.

So the weather turned out to be a blessing in disguise in more than just one way. First of all we did not need to use our megaphone. We also had the time for a a quick chat with most of you. Sorry if we missed someone, we really did our best :) 

Then, finally, the fog was a great opportunity to practice working with whatever conditions are available. A commentator had pointed out that the pier has been 'shot to death', so the fog helped with putting a spin on things. Between it and the scaffolding we faced unique conditions that might not present themselves ever again. It was one big mystery shooting!

Rob and I did not get a chance to take more than a few casual snapshots due to our duties as utterly charming hosts. Check out the Facebook event to see the amazing results by other photographers, and how they managed to put a creative spin on a foggy morning. There are also a few behind-the-scenes shots that give you a better idea of the size of our little stampede. 

To name just a few: Daniel Bartolo did an amazing job capturing this seagull in midflight. I particularly love how he edited the shot. Harriet Thomas captured a very bold close-up of one of the pier pylons. Watch her doing her thing a few shots above. I quite like Simon Jefferson's architectural shot of the main building's roofline for his creative use of colour grading and lead lines. If you want to have a good laugh, look at what Rob managed to capture swooping in from a galaxy far, far away. The list of amazing shots just goes on and on. Make sure to check out everyone's work

After a quick coffee Rob and I had to say our goodbyes, since our next heroic group of photographers was already waiting for us. And so we moved on to Hagley Park to explore the basics of exposure and focus.

It was a strange experience to drive out of the gloom that enveloped the coast, and into a bright, sunny day.

I just love how most people have Canon cameras. See the shot above? As so often we were hunting for this or that setting in a late-model camera. Who better to point everyone to than Mr Canon Ambassador Rob Dickinson, and enjoy a little more of the glorious sunshine to take snapshots of the group :)

So we went from invading a dramatic New Brighton Pier with its steam-punk growths to exploring the basics of aperture, shutter speed and ISO while almost getting sunburn. Just another day at Hero Enterprises!

A big thank you goes to everyone who made the day so special: All you people who braved a cold and dreary morning in pursuit of creating something unique. Then there are the heroines and heroes of the Essentials. You guys played along with all our silly games like champs. Thanks for allowing us to watch that sparkle in your eyes. Many thanks also to the friendly person who lend us a megaphone that we luckily didn't have to use. I'm sure the residents near the pier are grateful for little mercies.

Interested in future Meet-Ups? We announce these at ever shorter notice to keep numbers in check. Watch our Facebook page and our website for updates. 

If the Essentials sound like they could be for you, we still have a few spaces available in October

The 6D Mark II experience

The 6D Mark II experience

I was lucky enough to spend a weekend with the newly released Canon 6D Mark II, thanks to Canon New Zealand. Here are a few impressions of the new camera though it's certainly not an extensive, or technical review. For these please look for dpreview etc at a later point. I'll be writing this from a long time 6D user's point of view and talking about what’s new, and also trying to answer the many questions I got through Facebook.

To get one point out of the way before you read too far, this was a pre-production version of the camera. As such I won't be talking in detail about image quality. This is high up on everyone’s list including mine, but I feel it would be unfair to discuss this at this point, and I'm looking forward to finding out how the camera measures up with dynamic range and ISO noise myself. Also, note I had to use Canons DPP to convert my raw files as Adobe has yet to be updated.

Right, onto the camera. It certainly feels and looks like a '6D'. Weight-wise, I doubt you would notice any difference without measuring them, certainly not when you have a lens and an L plate etc on. It generally feels well put together, and the controls have definitely been reworked. The main dial on the back is grippier making it easier to use and the shutter button feels nicer. Apart from the new AF button (next to the shutter button), and the flippy screen, all the buttons are in the same place, which makes it easy to use in the dark.

My first time out shooting with it was in heavy drizzle with no ill effects, so let’s hope the 5D Mark IV-level weather sealing is as good as it says!


The biggest obvious change is the addition of the articulated touch screen, a first on full frame Canons. This is by far my favourite feature of the camera and something many have been waiting for. I shoot most of my landscapes in live view with the tripod typically down low, or somewhere difficult to see the viewfinder. With the 6D II you just swing the LCD around to an angle that works for you and shoot away. Once you are shooting landscapes with it you won't want to go back.

Anyone familiar with Canon's touch interface (from the EOS M onwards) will know how good and useful it is, swipe and pinch zooming, quick settings etc are great fun. The new dual pixel AF and touch focus/shooting works really well, even in really low light, shooting a focus stacked set simply by tapping the screen!


Together these two aspects make shooting with the 6D II heaps of fun, by far the easiest landscape shooting I can remember.

One other positive change is the shift of the cable release socket to the front. This makes it easier to get to and use, though any L plates will likely have to be adjusted for the cable coming out at an angle.

Another big change is the autofocus system has had a total rework bringing it into the 21st century. It now has 45 autofocus points, every one a cross type, though these are all in the centre third of the viewfinder. The spread is (as far as I could tell) identical to the 6D but there are many more of them so the corners of that area are far better covered. The outer points are far more usable than the 6D's, doing an A/B comparison the 6D II snapped focus with any point where the 6D would hunt significantly for some. There is also a new AF button for focus point and group selection near the shutter release making it easy to switch.

Auto focus is not an area I tend to overly use but it felt like a very solid system, more so than my original 7D and something I would rely on. I didn’t get chance to track any moving subjects though (apart from the cat).

Overall performance was quite zippy, 6.5 frames a second and the buffer is much larger. I don’t often machine gun subjects but I fired at least 18 frames with my slow SD card, and it's supposed to go up to 21 frames. The 6D's buffer struggled with 6 frames, my 7 shot brackets always had the last frame taken substantially later than the preceding 6!


Canon have also updated the viewfinder to an LCD version, like similar higher end bodies. This can also now display a 2-axis spirit level (very useful for me!) and a grid display. The grid is somewhat odd in that it’s a 5/3 line with lines across the absolute centre points rather than what I would have expected on the thirds lines, anyhow you can switch this off if not required.

I didn’t get a chance to shoot any video, I did quickly try out the 4k time-lapse mode which is under video functions and produces a video file (with no source stills). This allows you to meter for the first image or each frame. Yes the 6D Mark II doesn’t shoot 4k video, I'm personally not bothered as I don’t shoot video, and no other FF camera at this price point does. I am surprised though that is isn't an option as this camera will sit in the market place for several years.

The 6D Mark II has an all new 26mp 'dual pixel' sensor, a modest (~30%) increase in pixels so it will offer slightly more detail or cropping ability over the 6D. Remember that you need 4 times as many pixels to double print size (mp is linear, print has 2 dimensions). File resolution is 6240 x 4160 which is enough for a 20" print at 300dpi compared to 18 inches with the 6D, or 28 inches with the 5DsR. The path to truly high resolution large files is still stitching. Otherwise 26mp is more than enough for a high quality A2 print.

Resolution comparison 6D vs. 6D II, both at 35mm

Resolution comparison 6D vs. 6D II, both at 35mm

Other new things are a built in basic intervalometer, a bulb mode timer so you can shoot over 30 seconds without a cable release, and new coms (Bluetooth and NFC). The bulb mode timer is a welcome addition, the Bluetooth seemed to be a very quick and easy way to access Wi-Fi, which I found a pain on the 6D to setup.

HDR mode still only produces (and available in) jpg mode and I've no idea why, and oddly the camera still only offers a mini USB2 connection in 2017?  I'd also hoped for the 5DsR mirror lockup feature but that wasn’t included on the model I tested, not a huge issue as I usually shooting live view anyhow.

So "would you buy it"?

I tend to judge loan gear from Canon in how much I miss it when I send it back... and I must say I am missing the upgrades, especially that flip out screen, which makes shooting with the camera a real breeze. Canon have a habit of producing underwhelming specs that lead to a very well rounded capable camera. Ultimately though for me this will come down to image quality and improvements on the sensor. Assuming it gets a similar dynamic range to the 5D Mark IV/80D and the slight step up in noise at higher ISO I think I will be a great overall package and personally, if that's the case, I will be upgrading.

It doesn’t sit alone in the market place though and will be competing against other cameras like the Sony A7 III and the Nikon D750. I am invested in canon lenses and love the ergonomics, operation and lens line up.

Thinks I loved:
Flippy/touch screen
Dual pixel focus
Bulb mode timer

Things I liked:
Cable release position
Much improved AF system
Extra weather sealing

Things still on my wish list:
A good ettr/average time-lapse exposure system (a wish!)
RAW in HDR shooting
4k movies
More advanced 5DsR MLU

Which workshop is right for you?

Which workshop is right for you?

When Rob and I started Hero Workshops we wanted to do things differently. We were passionate about passing on our love with photography in an active way, rather than running yet another photo tour outfit. 

We believe that it is important to learn photography in many short lessons that slowly build on each other. A fun and relaxed learning environment goes a long way towards retaining newly acquired knowledge. That is why we take turns between short but concise lessons, and practical application with a lot of time for individual questions. And since we do not feel at home in the classroom, we will spend as much time outdoors as possible. 

We want to help first-time camera owners with no photography knowledge to develop all skills they need to create beautifully shot and edited landscape images. At the same time we want to give experienced shooters an opportunity to mix and match workshops that fit their needs. 

Check out this diagram to better understand how the workshops build on each other:


While levels 1, 2 and 3 seamlessly connect to each other, photographers are free to jump on board at any stage. Let us have a look how the levels build on each other.

Level 1

If you just walked out of the store with your first camera, the Essentials workshop is your starting point. We will spend an afternoon exploring how your camera works. Short teaching segments are interpersed with a lot of practice and games. 

Level 2

If you already have a little knowledge about manual exposure and focus, then you can jump right into a Holiday, Mini Holiday or Landscapes workshop. Do not worry if you are a little rusty. We do a quick refresher of the most important basics at every workshop. Our student-to-tutor ratio is kept really low to have enough one-on-one time. 

The Holiday will allow you to condense the lessons of Landscapes, Lightroom and Photoshop into one long weekend in an amazing location. The Holiday also allows us much more time to apply your newly acquired skills in world-class spots around the country. 

No time for a four-day Holiday? Just combine a Landscapes or Mini Holiday workshop with our Lightroom and Photoshop workshops to cover the same curriculum.

Level 3

Our level 3 workshops are a good addition to your skill-set if you are familiar with basic landscape shooting already. Level 3 jumps right into the special shooting requirements for your field of specialisation. They also offer a higher proportion of shooting time than any of the other workshop except the Holiday

Do not worry if you need a quick refresher on a specific topic. We will have plenty of time to cover your questions. 


The following table will give you an overview of the most important prerequisites for each workshop. Please keep in mind that there might be additional requirements for an ideal learning outcome. See the individual workshop pages for details.



As you can see, it does not matter where you are in your photographic journey. Our workshops are designed to either carry you from zero to hero, or pick you up at any place in between. 

Feel free to contact us at any time to discuss your requirements. We are looking forward to have a chat with you! 

Frankenpack - A Pain-Free Photo Backpack Mod

Frankenpack - A Pain-Free Photo Backpack Mod

How to combine an ergonomic day pack and a camera insert to create a pain-free alternative to classic photography backpacks.

I’m 38 years old, and I’m a bit of a wreck. A lifetime spent behind a desk combined with bad luck playing the genetic lottery will do that to you. I love tramping (aka hiking, if you are a non-Kiwi), but years ago I was not enjoying the experience any more. Back and neck pain had finally caught up with my sedentary lifestyle. It was time to find a new carrying system.

I fell in love with Aarn Packs, a New Zealand outdoor gear company that specialises in ergonomic backpacks (or bodypacks, as they call them), after exploring the market for a while. Considering that they completely reinvented backpacks, that’s a bit of an understatement. I started using one of their bigger overnight packs and my pain just went away.

Aarn Liquid Agility

Aarn Liquid Agility

When I started getting into photography, their photo front-pockets really came in handy as well. While these pockets are great on overnight trips, they are a bit cumbersome for landscape photography.

And so I went on and bought an F-Stop backpack. The Guru is a classical photo pack that is accessed through a zippered back compartment. I loved that design since it allows me to just drop the pack in the dirt, unzip the whole pack panel, and have a clean space to work with. My F-Stop was an amazing photo pack that suffered one big problem: It was built by a company with an emphasis on photography rather than ergonomics. Within an hour of carrying it fully loaded, it was literally a pain in the neck.

The ICU fits nicely

The ICU fits nicely

So I had a chat with the friendly team at Aarn Packs to see if they had a pack that could fit a standard camera insert (F-Stop calls them ICU). To my surprise they did: Aarn’s Liquid Agility 30L day pack. I compared measurements of pack and ICU, and things looked promising.

Once I put both parts together, it was almost like the pack had been made with the ICU in mind. It fits perfectly with some room to spare at the top. Since the back panel of the pack happens to be rigid in places, the pack will not bulge and spill the contents stored in the ICU. It is as good a fit as you will ever get with two products that were never meant to work together. The fit is nowhere near as snug as in an F-Stop pack, though. Where an F-Stop pack can be unzipped with one hand, the Liquid Agility needs a bit more coercing. Where my Guru was boxy and rigid, the Liquid Agility is soft and malleable. The Aarn Pack just takes a little longer to open and close.

F-Stop Pro Large ICU

F-Stop Pro Large ICU

However, that is a compromise I’m more than happy to make. Just like my tramping packs, my new Aarn Frankenpack simply made all the pain go away. Let’s have a look at how they pull that off.

Shoulder-straps: The pack uses a technology called U & V flow. Normally each shoulder-strap is sewn into the pack at the top and bottom. It is really just a rigid strip of fabric with some padding. The straps on this pack on the other hand are free-floating. They form a loop that freely moves through a clip (top) and a little tunnel (bottom). While that sounds awfully technical, it feels amazing. Where a normal pack keeps my shoulders from rolling freely while I am walking, they can move naturally with the U&V system. It’s hard to explain how this feels, except really floaty. Using a normal pack feels as restraining as a straight-jacket in comparison.

Left: The V-Flow loop connects the top sections of both shoulders. Right: U-Flow does the same at the bottom, where the strap runs through a tunnel.

Left: The V-Flow loop connects the top sections of both shoulders. Right: U-Flow does the same at the bottom, where the strap runs through a tunnel.

Hip-belt: The belt is fairly sophisticated for a pack of this size. It is adjusted with two straps on each side. A belt with a single strap can only be pulled painfully tight to achieve a good fit. Two straps on the other hand allow to mold the belt exactly to the shape of your body. I find it achieves a much better fit with less padding, while staying more comfortable at the same time. This is really important since the hip-belt should carry most of the load. It takes weight off the shoulders and eliminates neck-strain.

The carrying system

The carrying system

The pack has a lot of the standard bells and whistles. With the ICU fitted, there is still space at the top of the main compartment. That’s where I put my filter pouch. The inside also has a small zippered compartment where I keep my business cards.

The outside sports two large stretch pockets and a ton of loops, straps and attachment points. I can easily attach a 0.7L water bottle and a full-size tripod to the outside.

The whole front of the pack is one big zip compartment. It runs along the whole height and width of the pack, but it lacks a little in depth. Throw something in at the top, and it will drop all the way to the bottom. It has two smaller zip compartments on the inside, but they are too small to store anything bigger than a mobile phone. To be fair, the front compartment of my F-Stop Guru was equally awkward to use. I assume this is a design drawback of packs with rear-accessible main compartments.

Note that you can attach Aarn front pockets (non-photo ones) to this pack to gain more easily accessible storage for little nick-nacks.

Right: The straps easily hold a full-size tripod (Sirui W2204)

Right: The straps easily hold a full-size tripod (Sirui W2204)

The plus in carrying comfort comes with a few drawbacks. Where an off-the-rack F-Stop pack is opened and closed in seconds, the Liquid Agility requires a bit more coercing. The V-Flow strap has to be unclipped at the top, and the zippers do not run quite as easily due to the softer materials. Especially when closing the pack two hands are needed to straighten out the zipper. This is largely due to the ICU fitting so snugly at the bottom. This is not a design flaw, but a drawback of me stuffing a third-party ICU into a pack it wasn’t designed for.

Aarn Packs constantly improve their packs. What I would like to see in future versions of the Liquid Agility is a redesigned front compartment. Items just drop to the bottom, never to be seen again.


There is a lot to like about this pack. It fits a standard F-Stop ICU, which easily turns the Liquid Agility into the most ergonomic photography backpack that I’ve tried. Materials and craftsmanship are beyond reproach, and it fits plenty of gear, clothing and extras for a landscape photography outing of several hours. I went from trying to keep my F-Stop pack as light as possible and still coming back in pain, to throwing extra stuff into my Liquid Agility and not minding the pack at all. This backpack comes with a few drawbacks, but if you value ergonomics above all, you should give an Aarn Frankenpack a chance.


Aarn Liquid Agility
Read more about Aarn’s pack technology here and here.
F-Stop Large Pro ICU

This article was first published on the Lightforge blog

Meet-Up at Crater Rim

Meet-Up at Crater Rim


Crater Rim in Christchurch has some pretty amazing views across Lyttelton Harbour. Smart as we are, Rob and I had worked out the one day in autumn when the sun seems to rise right out of the mouth of the harbour. So, naturally, we thought we'd share this magic day with our fellow photo geeks. (If you wonder how we managed this incredible feat of foresight, have a look at Rob's article about planning apps

On the Monday before the event we noticed that only a handful of people were signed up. We were totally happy with a more intimate event, but advertised it in a few more photo groups anyway. 

Even though numbers had surged by Friday, it did not prepare us for the utter madness that greeted us at Crater Rim on Saturday morning. 


The scene was almost worthy of the circus at the Church of the Sheppard or the Wanaka Tree on a slow day. An estimated 35ish people had gotten out of bed early to greet the sun with us. What an awesome turnout!

We parked up Summit Road to a point where one poor guy got stuck in a ditch. In the spirit of Top Gear we had to abandon him eventually to get up to our spot in time. Whoever you are, we hope the professionals got you sorted out quickly :)

For Rob and me, Crater Rim has always been an all-or-nothing location. We either find ourselves in a cloud, or it's an intensely glary sunrise with not a single cloud around. As it turned out we were blessed to the no-cloud option. Not ideal, but us photographers can't be picky. We'll work with whatever bone mother nature throws our way.

A big thank you to everyone who came along. You're all heroes for getting your butts out of bed early!

With this many people attending we had a hard time catching up personally with everyone. It was just like organising a party. So many people, so little time! If you feel neglected, make sure to call us out on the next meet-up. 


Hero Holiday Queenstown 2017

Hero Holiday Queenstown 2017

Sometimes you have to be lucky. With our recent Hero Holiday in Queenstown we could not have been any luckier, had we scripted it. We were literally wedged in between two cyclones. One of our students made it just in time after being delayed by flooding of biblical proportions on the North Island.

Heroic posing

Heroic posing

But our luck did not stop there. Our group of students was not only incredibly charming, most of them were veteran photographers as well. They say that doctors make the worst patients. We hope we passed the test of making the workshop interesting for total newbies and experienced workshoppers alike. We even had a landscape painter with 30+ years of experience attending, of all things! Many thanks to Lindsay for not shooting down our creativity modules at every turn. I'm sure you could have!

Getting it all lined up

Getting it all lined up

Labelling a workshop with 14-hour days a Holiday is something of an inside joke. Then again there's no better way to get people used to the idea of being at the mercy of sunrise and sunset times than to jump right in. Fortunately our guys were total champs at getting out of bed at ungodly hours, then standing in the cold and dark, listening to our ramblings at 6am in the morning. 

Sweet classrooms

Sweet classrooms

It can be heartbreaking to drag people away from a beautiful location just because the clock is ticking. We try to keep a good balance between utterly polar factors like spontaneity and scheduling. A few times we had to drag people on to the next thing on our list. Since no one was kicking and screaming, we considered that a win. It's a good strategy anyway: Maximise your chances by moving on to do something different every now and then. It's too easy to get stuck on one thing.

Suddenly, astro!

Suddenly, astro!

One of my favourite moments of the whole workshop happened when we arrived at Lake Hayes in the very early morning. While astro photography was not part of the curriculum, we ended up compressing some of the lessons of that morning in favour of shooting the stars. Why waste time talking when conditions are perfect to hit the shutter button?

Click, click

Click, click

There was so much to enjoy about this trip. The group was awesome and laid back, the weather went easy on us, and hey, after all it is Queenstown! There's something to be said for conveniently accessible world-class spots, followed by amazing food after a day of hunting and gathering the light.

We are pretty lucky, aren't we?


Rob and Dennis were the ultimate professionals who shared heaps of valuable knowledge, including apps, planning and safety equipment. We applied that knowledge at awesome locations!

The excellent organization and planning meant that not a moment of the long days was wasted. It was also great to hang out with a like-minded group of enthusiastic people. I would recommended the Hero Holiday to others without hesitation.
— Nick Farrelly about the Hero Holiday at Mount Cook 2016

Landscape Photography Apps Compared

Landscape Photography Apps Compared

The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it
— Ansel Adams

An epic landscape image starts life in your imagination, but turning that idea into a finished image needs a little planning. What season will work best, what kind of conditions, sunrise or sunset, blue hour or astro? Where will the sun rise or set? What else is close by if conditions dont work out?

Like most Landscape photographers I have a mental calendar of places and times, but to really plan a shot I use a whole bunch of tools to help. I'll be looking at three of the most popular ones here. They all show you the basics, and let you save locations or entire plans and will let you fill your diary with shoots.

The Photographers Ephemeris



'TPE' was the first serious sunrise/sunset tool I found, originally just an online web tool using some maps API's, its still available for free online. Its the simplest tool out of the three here, but sometimes that makes it the quickest tool to use. It'll show you the basic sunrise and set positions, moon cycle and positions, elevation and even a Bortle map for light pollution.

Simply set the date and location you are interested in, and it will show you the ephemeris details in the lower panel. Swipe between information and use the time slider to see where the sun and moon will be.

It is fast and simple, and will get you the basic info without much effort.




Known on iOS for the last 4 years to have a great balance between features and ease of use, Photopills gives you many tools to help your planning.

The primary 'Pills' are:

  • Planner
  • Sun/moon finder
  • Exposure and DoF calculators
  • Time lapse
  • Augmented reality
  • Star trails/spot star calculators

Alongside the Pills tab is 'My stuff' where your own plans, awards and points of interest sit, and 'Academy', where links to the user guide, videos and even T-Shirts exist.

The meat, though, is the planner, and superficially this looks a lot like TPE.

By using the top panel you have several more options for information display, including the milky way (visibility and centre finder).  Swiping between these shows you different information. One of the key things here is each panel has a button on the left to enable its special feature (milky way arch or blue/golden hour colours etc).  These can all be enabled or disabled independently.

The centre section showing the map has a few buttons: One to expand the map almost full screen, cutting down on clutter, and others to drop target pins, etc.

The lower panel shows by default a 24 hour graph you can scroll or zoom in for more precise control over timing.

Below this is a row of buttons for saving/loading plans, finding stuff, and the Augmented reality (AR) modes. You can also easily share your plans with others online.

Photopills daytime AR mode

Photopills daytime AR mode

The AR modes are heaps of fun. Hold the phone up to the scene and it will show you (after calibration) exactly where the sun or milky way will rise or set at any time of year. This is probably the best tool for planning when you can visit the location beforehand.

and night AR mode

and night AR mode

One of Photopills' secret weapons is the desktop widget that can run live on your phone's launcher (or notification area on iOS). These can show you all the info you need for today, or list your plans. From here you can launch directly into the app.




I've used this app for a few years now, as it was the most complete Android option I could find. It was always tricky to use because of the depth and clutter of the interface. It recently underwent a complete redesign, which makes it far easier to use than before.

Planit!Pro covers all the same basic ephemeris information the other two apps do,  plus a few other modes like meteor showers, light and shadow, panoramas, and tides. It is in fact the only planning app that does include tide information, even though on my phone it is a little slow to use. The list of tools include:

  • Camera/scene location (2 pins for distance/elevation etc)
  • Depth of field
  • Panorama
  • Sunrise/set, twilight and special hours (golden, blue hour etc)
  • Exact positions of sun/moon
  • Stars and star trails
  • Milky way location
  • Meteor showers
  • Dark skies
  • Time lapse
  • Sequence (sun/moon over time)
  • Exposure calculator
  • Light and shadow
  • Rainbow position
  • Tide height, Tide search
  • Map modes including google street view

The milky way finder is great, and it has a zoomable bortle scale light pollution map. Both combined allow you to plan your astro trips quite well. This is paired with the milky way calendar, which quickly shows you the best time to shoot (moon cycles and time above horizon etc).

One of the cool things with Planit!Pro is you can search by event then filter the results. So I can search a location for low tide in the next month and then filter by golden hour or new moon or whatever and it will show me a list of dates/times that meet my requirements. Makes planning something complicated far simpler!

Panorama mode will calculate how many shots you need for your composition based on your focal length.

It does have an AR mode, but its far more difficult to use compared to Photopills. Though it does have the ability to plan your composition on location with photos taken previously.

There is a free version lacking some key tools for avid landscape/astro shooters. It is worth trying before you buy the full version.


Its difficult to dismiss any of these three apps. They all do the job, and do it well.

TPE is by far the simplest, and that makes it quick and easy to use. Its also far more limited, but covers the basics of sun and moon positions and moon cycle.

Planit!Pro has some incredibly powerful tools if you take the time to learn how to use the app. Even with its reworked interface and built in help, it is often tricky to use. The flipside is it's incredibly versatile, and can combine a bunch of tools/views in one to give you all the information you will ever need. It is also the only one with tide information!

Photopills, at its most basic, is almost as easy to use as TPE. At the same time it offers almost the depth of Planit!Pro. It has become truly cross-platform recently, and has the most awesome AR mode.  It is also a lot more social than the other two apps, with plans shared between groups. love the widgets.

For me, I am more likely to use Photopills now, as it has a nice combination of depth, features and ease of use.

Meet-Up at Godley Head

Meet-Up at Godley Head

Avoiding the glare

When you spend as much time planning and preparing landscape photography workshops as Rob and I do, the reason for our efforts sometimes fades into the background.

Waiting for sunrise

We started Hero Workshops for our shared love of photography, and to enable others to enjoy it as much as we do. When spreadsheets and emails threaten to take over our lives, it's time to call a Hero Meet-Up, meet other photographers, and head out to shoot.

Rob looking for his camera

The latest iteration at Godley Head had a rough start. Bad weather required us to postpone a previous attempt on short notice. Imagine our bliss when the forecast predicted a calm, sunny morning this time. We were finally getting away from our spreadsheets!

Not the worst way to use an old bunker

It was a beautiful morning to be out and about. The light breeze invited to just sit in the tussocks and watch the sun rise over the horizon. Not that we did sit down. The photos weren't going to take themselves, after all.

Unfortinately, the lack of cloud cover didn't allow us to take the killer shots we had gotten out of bed for so early.

Getting all the gizmos ready

As so often in landscape photography, we had hoped and planned for certain conditions, and made the best of what we got in the end. It is almost always the unexpected shot, taken after packing up and taking out my gear twice, that I end up liking the best:

Lyttelton Harbour & Banks Peninsula

Lyttelton Harbour & Banks Peninsula


Hero Meet-Ups are randomly announced landscape photography events. Join us for free advice, take photos with us, and have a coffee afterwards. Watch the Meet-Up section and our Facebook page for the next event.