Lake Superior Sunrises and Travel Tripods

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Lake Superior Sunrises and Travel Tripods
By Bryan Hansel • Issue #41 • View online
In this newsletter, I’m going to talk about one photo that I recently made and then dive into a few practical gear questions. The first is cleaning tripods and ball heads, and the other is my favorite tripod for lightweight travel. I’ll also plug my 2023 photography workshops which are now open for registration and some are filling quickly or have already filled (that plug is now completed).

Making of
With the traveling I’ve been doing, workshops I’ve been teaching, and homeschooling I’ve been doing, it seems like I haven’t been getting down to Lake Superior as often as I’d like. The other morning, I was able to get out for a sunrise.
Unfortunately, shooting towards the sun wasn’t productive. It was overcast and blah. I was watching behind me – you should always look behind you – and I saw that the sky was developing some interesting subtle colors and clouds.
With the water levels back to normal on Lake Superior, I wanted to head to one of my favorite rocky areas. I often paddle my sea kayak between these rocks and I’ve shot them before. There were just enough waves to create a spillover on the far rock.
At that point, I shot over and over and over until I got exactly the right wave and the right clouds.
What made the combo in this shot work for me is that the the visual mass in the clouds reflect the visual mass in the ground. Both the upper and lower right corners have a similar shape and mass even though one is clouds and the other is rocks. I also liked how the diagonals in the clouds reflect the diagonals in the foreground.
To make landscape shots with strong foregrounds work, you have to build relationships between your foreground and the rest of the shot. While there are a lot of ways to create relationships, the visually easiest are to create echoes and contrasts. That is, visually elements that echo each other across the entire picture or contrast with each other. The more echoes and contrasts you build into the image, the stronger it becomes. In this shot, I choose to created echoing relationships using the clouds and rocks, implied lines, similar colors and visual mass.
Technical details: Nikon Z 7ii, 18mm, f/11, 1/6 seconds, ISO 64, Singh-Ray 3-stop reverse ND grad, polarizer. Note: as a Singh-Ray ambassador, you can get a discount when you buy direct and use my code: thathansel.
The waterfalls are running on the north shore of Lake Superior. Here a small stream empties into the big lake.
The waterfalls are running on the north shore of Lake Superior. Here a small stream empties into the big lake.
Spring Tripod and Ball Head Cleaning
This is just a quick note that as winter comes to an end, it’s a good time to clean your tripods. While every tripod is different, they can all be taken apart and the joints cleaned and lubed. Better tripods come with lubrication for you to use. Check out your user manual or your tripod company’s online user manual for specifics.
Before you throw out an old ball head that’s locked up, grinds when it turns or won’t lock tightly, try cleaning it first. While most ball heads can’t be easily disassembled and reassembled, you can still clean them.
To clean them, use WD40 spray. Spray into the ball area and into any screws that you can pull. Move the ball around as you spray it and then spend time working the dirt out. Also, clean out the WD40 with water. You’ll see lots of dirt come pouring out as you do this. Make sure to full dry the ball head after you finish.
I recently saved myself $200+ cleaning my old travel ball head. The panning base wouldn’t lock tight and the ball was getting stuck now and then. After about 30 minutes of cleaning with water and WD40, the ball head works as good as new. I was surprised by how much dirt and gunk came out of the head when cleaning.
My Recommended Travel Tripod
This is my personal lightweight travel tripod. I've been using it for over a year. It's a good option to consider.
This is my personal lightweight travel tripod. I've been using it for over a year. It's a good option to consider.
Lately I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the travel tripod that I use. I’ve been using the SIRUI AM-254 Carbon Fiber Camera Tripod.
I bought it over a year ago and have used it on hiking trips and several canoe trips. It comes with me anytime I don’t feel like carrying my big tripod. I also use it as an emergency tripod for students who suffer tripod failures on photo workshops. I bought it without a ball head, because I have an old Flashpoint Ball Head that I upgraded with a RRS Lever Clamp, but I’ve seen the SIRUI ball head, and it’s good. With the ball head, it weighs just about 3 pounds.
You can’t expect a miracle from a 3-pound tripod, but in most cases I’ve found it more than adequate. In strong winds, I wouldn’t use it fully extended. Other than that with a mirrorless camera, it could be the only tripod you need if you don’t shoot a lot of long lenses.
It packs down to about 20 inches and when fully extended with the ball head, it goes up to about 51 inches. That puts the camera at chest height for me. I find this can be frustrating at times. Sometimes I want to set the tripod up above my head or on a hillside with one leg extended completely and other partially. This tripod isn’t tall enough for some of those situations, but you make compromises with travel tripods. The legs can be tilted to get the tripod completely onto the ground, which is great for macro. The ball head that comes with it is Arca Swiss quick release compatible. That’ll be important for those of you that use L-brackets.
While it doesn’t replace my RRS Versa Series 3 and RRS BH-55 with a panning clamp, it does work well for travel with the understanding that a 3-pound tripod isn’t going to be rock solid like a Versa. At about $200 with a ball head, it consider it to be a good value. Compared to the price of my Versa and BH-55, it’s a bargain!
Until next time
I hope you found this issue interesting and practical. In the next couple of weeks, I’m going to be busy. I’m doing a private 1:1, an online portfolio review, and then I’ll be heading back out to the Badlands and Black Hills for my second trip there this year. I’m excited. I hope to share images from that trip with you when I get back.
The final shot is from last year’s Mother’s Day weekend. We took a canoe camping trip to a local lake. This year the lakes still have over 24 inches of ice!
Did you enjoy this issue?
Bryan Hansel

Covering photography and the intersection of outdoors, public land, perception, adventure, and whatever strikes my fancy about photography.

Also, includes my photos and stories about the making of them.

About me: Photo maker, writer, adventurer & outdoor photography educator.

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