Field Test: Vanguard VEO AM-264TR

Let's talk tripods for one second. Back in the good old days, tripods were a major part of a photographer's gear, and for some, they still are. You'll still find them in most photographers' office and out and out and about with landscape and wildlife photographers, but for wedding photographers in-particular, they don't always leave the boot of the car. You may be surprised to hear then that I use a monopod at 50% of the weddings I capture, and the advances in monopods over the last few years make them an even more valuable addition to my kit bag.

Wedding photographers don't usually have the time to set up a traditional tripod, their bulky 3 legged stands make them a heavy part of your gear but also a nuisance with hundreds of wedding guests around. Although every wedding photographer shoots in a different way there are some common uses for tripods. Firstly, long exposures are some times required for the night shots of the venue, secondly you may need to capture a bracketed / HDR shot of the venue or wedding reception and finally more and mroe wedding photographers are adding video to their packages and well, a tripod (or rig) goes without saying.

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The best thing about all of the above is that it can be done, with practice and the right gear, on a monopod. We're specifically talking Vanguard’s VEO AM-264TR here, so if you have a traditional monopod, just hold off taking it to your next wedding and keep reading. The VEO AM-264TR has a slightly different design to a conventional monopod, while offering the advantages of being easier to carry and quicker to set up than a tripod. At the base of the VEO are three foldable legs featuring anti slip rubber feet, these foldable legs provide a tripod style stand... but without all the hassle. There's also a ball joint at the bottom which allows for smooth pans and tilting, perfect for wedding photographers who also shoot video. If you don't require the tilting and would rather the monopod stays secure and upright, there's a great ball-head tigthening screw that keeps everything vertical. When the tri-stand feet are folded securley up, which is perfect for traveling, you will find a rubber foot which allows you to use the monopod in all its traditional format.

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I have no problem taking the Vanguard VEO AM-264TR to the weddings I shoot, its superb finish means it's going to look professional, it beats having a tripod were the legs are usually too wide to spread, I can also mount a tripod head onto the top, another plus for videographers. Finally, the sensible price compared to the competition, but yet it doesn't compromise on build quality, gives it the overall winner of monopods with all that tri-stand goodness.

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So if you needed any other reasons why the Vanguard VEO AM-264TR should make its way into your photography kitbag, here's 5 ways I use this funky bit of kit at weddings:

Behind The Scenes

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I'm always looking to capture BTS shots of me working at weddings, it might sound a bit pretentious, but I would reccomend all wedding photographers to try it. Firstly it gives you great shots you can use on your social media, sure couples want to see plenty of your wedding snaps but having a few shots of you working, just reassures them of your professionalism and that it's you that rocks up to shoot their wedding. Secondly it gives you imagery you can use for your own professional development, for me personally, I'm always needing shots of me at work for blog posts and submissions... take this blog post as an example. Finally it gives you cracking pictures you can use on your personal social media accounts, chances are all your friends see your wedding snaps on a regular basis, so giving them something a little different from time to time keeps them engaged in the content you produce.

Lightweight & Easy To Carry

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The great thing about the Vanguard VEO AM-264TR is its weight and size. It's so compact and lightweight you can attach it to the side of your camera bag or even throw on the back seat of your car without any problems. For a reasonable price and insignifacnt weight that it will add to you I can't recommend one enough. When I'm not shooting weddings I still take the Vanguard VEO AM-264TR around with me, it attaches perfectly to my Billingham >> Awesome blog here << and allows me to capture video, high vantage points and long exposures whilst I'm out and about. Geek alert: it also makes for the perfect selfie stick, you can position the monopod and stick the camera on self timer to grab a shot if you're on your own or with family and friends... or you can use as a huge selfie stick if you so wish.

Long Exposures / Venue Shots

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Every wedding photographer needs shots of the venue both inside and out. Typically you will capture these shots throughout the day, when you arrive with no guests around, middle of the day with all the guests in the shot and last thing at night when daylight has passed and the guests are partying away. Typically the shots through the day can be captured handheld, although I do find myself using the Vanguard VEO AM-264TR for the internal shots of the venue and wedding reception to capture bracketed / HDR shots. My main reason is to ensure all the highlights (usually windows / entrances) and shadows are not over/under exposed.. but I'm sure you all know how bracketting works. The VEO with its three foldable legs means it's perfect to grab these shots ensuring the camera stays in a fixed position.. Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom will thank you for this!

Video

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As I mentioned briefly above, more and more wedding photographers are adding elements of video or even full video into their client packages. There are some top photographers out there who are killing the combination of still and moving image and honestly their work is out of this world. For me I use video for various reasons, firstly and it comes back to my professional development again, I use it for blog and social media content. Without giving you a boring lesson on video and social media, we all know video is pushing the boundaries and rules the social media game currently, so the more video you add the stronger your social media presence will be. Secondly I use video to document my journey as a wedding photographer, it might be behind the scenes footage, videos of me working or traveling to awesome destinations. Whilst I might not upload the content, I have it available for when the day comes I want to use it for advertising or create a montage of my year etc. Finally the video can be used to give your clients another add on / package to your work... it goes without saying all couples would love to have a cinematographer/videographer at their wedding but if the budget just wont stretch, offering a video alongside your wedding photography may just be the solution... if you can master it! The Vanguard VEO AM-264TR is perfect for capturing quick video footage, it's not going to set the world alight when you compare it to the camera rigs and tripods out on the market, but if you want something that's quick to set up, easy to carry around, eliminates camera shake and gives you the use of movement and panning with the ball joint, then I highly recommend!

Vantage Points

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I'll let you into a secret, every wedding I capture I always plan to try something new with my photography. It usually consists of a pose I haven't tried before, something experimental with my camera settings, a new piece of kit or most commonly a new perspective/vantage point/angle. Whilst the Vanguard VEO AM-264TR, nor any monopod for that matter, wasn't built for this idea in mind, you can use it to create a collection of new perspectives in your wedding photography. You don't need me to explain this one, it's a case of grabbing yourself a VEO Monopod and trying out some new vantage points!

That's it for the Vanguard VEO AM-264TR review, if you want to find out more about this awesome monopod and to purchase your own visit: Click Here

Field Test: Loupedeck

So I'm going to start this Field Test back to front and for one reason only, the LoupeDeck system blew my socks off and if you're a wedding photographer.. in fact, if you're into any genre of photography, the Loupedeck is a game changer. I used it to edit a full wedding from start to finish, it not only halved my editing time, it made the experience of editing fun again. I was in my element editing with the Loupedeck, I was waking up early to start editing because my workflow had become so smooth and ergonomic... and they're not even paying me to say this, seriously! I could end the field test here and just say get your hands on one, but if you need more persuading take a read below: 

So I get back from shooting a wedding in Treviso, Italy and as usual I have a ton of packages and products sat waiting for me to open up and start reviewing for the Creative Resources and Advice Blog, but there's one I was really excited to get my hands on. The guys over at Loupedeck had let me know they were sending across a system for me to try out and I thought why not give it a proper field test and really put it through its paces by editing a week's worth of wedding images with the Loupedeck on Adobe Lightroom. In a nutshell, the Loupedeck is a console that has a whole host of buttons, twisty knobs and sliders/rollers that all represent those sliders you see on the right of Adobe Lightroom. Its aim is to save you time on both a PC or Mac, become more creative with your photographs and unlock the potential and detail of every single image you work on. Loupedeck was founded by Mikko along with Felix and Eero with an impressive background in developing for Nokia... so let's be honest these guys know their stuff right!? Initially launched on Indiegogo, their campaign finished 488% above target, people could see the huge potential in Loupedeck and they weren't wrong! 

As always, I'm brutally honest with my Field Tests, if I were to purchase the Loupedeck initially without, any reviews to hand, the price does appear to be slightly steep. At £337 approx. it certainly wouldn't be something I would rush into and I would have probably found myself searching Google to see if it really is worth it. Honestly... it's worth every penny IMO. As any professional wedding photographer will tell you, time is money, especially when you're shooting 35+ weddings per year, so any product that can aid your time efficiency certainly is worth considering. 

So here are my views and test of the Loupedeck, I've just got back to the UK over 3000 Raw wedding snaps to rate, edit and send to the clients and I'm going to do it all using this awesome new console: 

First Impressions

First impressions aren't everything and in Loupedeck's case, we're all more focused on how the console performs than its overall appearance. But and a big but, there has to be some credit given to the packaging. the Loupedeck comes in a very stylish black box, firstly with its own sleeve that features the logo in raised text which houses the main box. When you're investing in what may be a considerable amount of money to many photographers, you appreciate a well-packaged product and it certainly screams professional from the outset. 

Once you open the box, the console is packed just like you see with those Apple Products: compact, neat and simple. You've got the console itself, the USB cable housed in its own box and a black card with the worlds simplest set up instructions. You can have the Loupedeck from doorstep to plugged within a matter of minutes and still appreciate how sharp it looks along the way. 

The console itself is approximately 400x150x40mm and weighs 600g, it hosts over 50 controls including buttons, rollers and dials. Each one is individually labelled with various effects, controls and adjustments you will commonly see on the right of the developed model in Adobe Lightroom. Everything is clear and from the outset looks easy to use, with everything clearly highlighted with text and pro or hobbyist could pick up the Loupedeck and be up and running almost straight away. The console's look and feel is spot on, the matt black works and there's one LED light that signifies if you're editing Hue,Saturation or Luminance. It's actually quite lightweight, I expected it to feel a little heavier, but it doesn't feel cheap.. all the buttons, nobs and dials feel like they could take some stick... but only time will tell there. 

Set up & Installation

Seriously the installation doesn't even need words, it's simple, works and does exactly what it says on the tin. The black card that you receive with the Loupedeck has two instructions, firstly go to www.loupedeck.com/setup and secondly plug the console in... and that's it, you're up and running. 

Once you're all set up you're good to go in Adobe Lightroom, you'll be given the option to edit some of the custom buttons on the console, you can change these and always come back and change at any other time by just clicking the Loupedeck button at the top of Mac screen (I'm sure this is similar for Windows..). 

In total there is 22 personalised functions you can add to the Loupedeck so it can become more personal to your own workflow. The main being the 'P' functions along the top, these can be easily programmed to your own presets and you initially have 8 of these to change, furthermore you have a second section of 8 to work with which can be enabled by holding down the 'Fn' key on the console. So that gives you 16 available presets, literally at your fingertips that can be applied instantly... you don't even have to take your eyes off the image to apply them, this itself is a game changer for wedding photographers.

You also have the option to change the C1 dial which allows you to have two (using the 'Fn' button) customisable functions set up. Whilst the customisation of the C1 dial is limited, it can be set up for usual adjustments depending on how you edit. I have C1 to adjust both my vignette and level of noise and it works perfectly for me.

I have C2 set up to select my Graduated Filter Tool which I use heavily on my skies within my wedding photography. I also have C3 set up to toggle my Spot Removal Tool on and off, to use both of these tools you will need to grab the mouse as usual but it certainly does speed up by pre selecting the tool and then it's ready to go with your mouse. 

Selection Options

Whilst wedding photographers work flow may differ from person to person, we all start with thousands of images that firstly need selecting to move forward with our edits. Many photographers I know do this outside Adobe Lightroom, but just personal preference I work solely in Lightroom for 90% of my workflow. Loupedeck features a large host of selection tools all available at your fingertips, agreed, most of these selection tools are available on a keyboard. It's good to know they're still the same as a keyboard although the Loupedeck does have a more appealing visual aspect and easier to put your finger on the selection tool, physically, rather than knowing the keyboard shortcuts. 

The console's Copy and Paste features work fantastically well, you literally have 'Copy' and 'Paste' buttons to work with. Again with one click of a button, no keyboard shortcuts, you can copy and paste adjustments to a single image or Fn + Paste to paste the adjustments to all the photos that you have selected in the filmstrip.

You finally have a collection of obvious buttons, Undo, Redo, Brush, Full screen, Before/After, Export and Zoom which shouldn't require any explanation for you readers. 

Performance 

So now we get to probably the most important part, how the Loupedeck performs and does it actually speed up my workflow? Firstly the responsiveness of the basic adjustments are perfect, each dial turns smoothly in the hand/fingertips, and there is no delay in the adjustment happening on screen, it works just the same as using a mouse/trackpad.  As you move the dial up it makes slow adjustments or turn the dial very quickly to move faster from end to end, you can also press each dial to return the selected adjustment to zero.

This isn't advertised on Loupedeck's website but I also found you can make two adjustments at once, for me I found this useful for bumping up my Exposure and Contrast by turning both dials together, which is something I adjust on 99% of my wedding photographs. So not only can you make multiple adjustments within seconds with your fingertips, you can jump from Exposure to Vignette which with a Mouse or Trackpad would require you to move over to your develop settings and navigate up and down. So with all your adjustments such as Exposure, Contrast, Clarity, Shadows, Highlights, Vibrance, Saturation, Blacks, Whites, White Balance, Tint and Vignette all next to each other and accessible to your hand... you genuinely forget about the mouse for all of the above. 

Now we move onto the Rotate/Crop button on the Loupedeck, you've probably noticed it already, is the big bulky round thing on the left of the console. This is an impressive function the guys have added, for Roation it works perfectly well. As a wedding photographer, I'm the first to say I'm not always taking enough care with aligning my shots perfectly, especially when you have a split second to grab a shot. So I'm often rotating and cropping my shots and if I'm truly honest, a mouse can be a bit of a nuisance to get it perfect straight away. With the Loupedeck you move the big chunky circle dial and your rotation grid will pop up instantly, from there the rest is fairly straight forward. You turn the dial left or right until you have the desired rotation, but something that is even better, if you hold the Fn key on the console, your rotation adjustments become more precise ensuring you can achieve perfection every time... this is one of my favourite features on the Loupedeck. The crop feature requires you to press the dial and then use your mouse to crop the image as normal, ok yes you have to use your mouse for the crop.. but when you think about it i'm not sure how else you could achevie a crop using a console. 

The personalised functions are again a huge selling point for me as a wedding photographer, I have about 5 common presets that I use in my work and then maybe 10 others that I occasionally work with. With the 16 personalised functions all available you can quickly skip between presets within seconds, combine that with being able to make multiple colour and lighting adjustments at the same time, you are gaining a huge amount of time saved per image...HUGE!  

The colour adjustments, I'll be totally honest I don't use that much anyway, but for anyone that does, I can see the Loupedeck winning at this well. The console allows you firstly to select Hue, Sat or Lum which activates the colour adjustment wheels along the top. You also have a bright LED to notify which of the above you're currently controlling. These scrolling wheels work very like the dials, you scroll them up and down for the desired colour, you can press the wheel to return to zero and move quickly from end to end for harsher results. 

There are a few adjustments I make which Loupedeck doesn't cater for, firstly we mentioned earlier you will have to grab the mouse to help with your cropping. Secondly, I regularly make Lens Correction Adjustments which again you're going to have to rely on your mouse/trackpad. I have C2 set up to select my Graduated Filter Tool which I use heavily on my skies within my wedding photography. I also have C3 set up to toggle my Spot Removal Tool on and off, to use both of these tools you will need to grab the mouse as usual but it certainly does speed up by pre selecting the tool and then it's ready to go with your mouse. 

The Experience 

As much as the performance is perfect from the Loupedeck, honestly, the experience is what sells it for me. It has completely changed my approach to my workflow and editing, those days during wedding season where I have 5 to 10 weddings all sat on external drives ready to start editing used to send me a little bit crazy with just the thought of working through them all, now I'm actually excited to stand at my desk and start editing. There's something special about how the Loupedeck connects you with the photographs you're editing, something that isn't just quite there with a mouse and keyboard. I think that split second where your eyes have to move off the photograph to navigate down your develop settings or scroll for that desired preset might just be the gap Loupedeck has bridged. Without sounding too cheesy, when I first started using the console, I got the feeling this is what DJ's must feel, creating music with their fingertips. 

I would actually say I've gained more confidence in my editing whilst using the Loupedeck, it's so much easier and quicker to make adjustments, it allows you to quickly combine effects together to get those images just the way you want them. I can quickly work my way through hundreds of wedding photographs and hardly, sometimes never, take my eyes of the actual images I'm editing. 

It's also got that 'photographer's feel' about it, as professional photographers, we're so used to holding something of value that creates an image, we're constantly using our fingers and thumbs to scroll through shutter speed and apertures and select our focus points on our camera. Then we upload our images to edit and we lose that freedom of our hands, we're almost shackled to a mouse and keyboard. The Loupedeck has something very familiar to using a camera, it's all there at your fingertips, you don't have to look away from the image in front of you. I guess it's very similar to when Wacom tablet came around, which gave illustrators, designers and photographers that freedom in their editing... it's actually surprising it's taken so long for consoles that work in Adobe Lightroom to come along. 

 

Summary

So when Loupedeck mentioned they were sending me out a console to field test I got rather excited and honestly it didn't disappoint. It probably landed during the busiest time for me as a wedding photographer and I was a little hesitant to unbox it and start using it during such a busy period but I'm certainly glad I did. The main selling point for me is the enjoyment and ergonomics it's brought into my workflow, it goes without saying I wont be touching Adobe Lightroom again without the Loupedeck to hand. I edited Kelly & Sam's full wedding, including selecting the images to edit from over 4000 Raw files from the trip, from start to finish the Loupedeck proved an asset rather than a hinderance. For any wedding photographer who spends a considerable amount of time in front of Adobe Lightroom it's well worth consideration. 

If you're looking to considerably speed up your editing time and replace the restrictions of a mouse and keyboard I would highly recommend, of course, it doesn't replace the mouse/trackpad and keyboard fully (although I actually can't remember hitting the keyboard throughout the whole edit). I see the console as a 90% replacement and then using your mouse/trackpad for particular adjustments. 

The price for professional photographers I think isn't any issue, the console is something you will use every time you load up Adobe Lightroom and will more than repay you in time saved. For amateurs and hobbyists the price might be a little steep, like everything it's all personal preference but in my opinion it's a great asset to have in your editing arsenal. 


Below are some of the images I edited using the Loupedeck console and you can view more of Kelly & Sam's Italian Wedding by clicking here!

You can learn more about Loupedeck and purchase your own console by visiting: www.loupedeck.com

Loupedeck Imagery Captured by: DannyRich


Write! App — A must for Wedding Photographers, a simple text editor for distraction-free writing!

Write! is an elegant workspace to create notes, to-do lists, writing projects and texts of any kind. It has the all features of a good word processor packed into a clutter-free interface. I use Write! App daily for my wedding photography business, it caters for all my literature and text needs, like seriously it makes my blogging, client content literature and generic responses a doddle. I was looking for an app like Write! to come along for some time if I'm honest. I've always found myself in a confused mess of text documents and hand written notebooks with important information and then not being able to quickly grab the text I needed. I've only been using Write! for the last couple of months and I’m seriously only touching the surface with its capabilities, but here's a few reasons why it's perfect for wedding photographers and photographers alike!

Minimalistic Interface

Write! keeps what is essential for writing on top and hides all distracting and unnecessary features and buttons. A simple and user-friendly interface was designed especially for bloggers, writers and in my opinion, professional wedding photographers. When I sit down to write a blog post or create some future social media literature I want to solely focus on the task(s) at hand, the interface of WriteApp is perfect for this. Firstly you can jump from document to document and quickly scan through them like you would in an Internet browser with their simple tabbed interface. There's also Cloud-synced sessions which allows you to basically open a new interface, I personally have separate sessions for different categories i.e. Blogging, Email Responses and Social Media Literature... Save tabs together and open them all at once by switching the session. Secondly, you can fade out all paragraphs except for the one you are currently working on to stay in the flow and focus. Lastly you can choose from a Light or Dark theme, personally, I use the Dark theme, it's less strenuous on your eyes and looks bloody awesome!

Native Cloud & More

This has to be one of the best selling points for me, as a destination wedding photographer, I am constantly on my travels. I had a bad habit of locating my generic email responses by searching in my sent mail. Furthermore, I'm always writing new content for blogs and want to switch between devices (iMac, Macbook & iPad). With Native Cloud your documents are always at hand both on Windows and Mac, there are no third-party apps required to sync between devices. So if you're writing some new content or taking notes one device, you can access that on any other device through the cloud, it even autosaves as you type, you will never lose a very important document in the middle of writing. You can also store an unlimited number of documents at no additional cost. If you're not connected to the cloud or you don't wish to cross platform a document, you can save it locally.. the features are seriously endless with this app.

Note Taking

Now I bet you think I'm pulling your leg with this one, I mean do you really need an app to takes note? Well, I didn’t think so until I started using WriteApp. For every client meeting I go to, I have a note taking document open to jot down all the couple’s details, questions and plans. The compact view that moves tabs to the side to take less screen space. Works perfectly well with the Alt + ` shortcut that brings Write! instantly from the system tray.

Impressive Writing Aids

It goes without saying any good document/text creator needs the generic aids so Writing tools like configurable Autocomplete, Intelligent Spellchecker and Unlimited Ctrl+Z all come with WriteApp. The spellchecker works like any other and for someone who is terrible at spelling, good job I'm good with a camera, it's needed. The handy self-learning Autocomplete that analyzes the structure of your document and gives you options as you type is also a great asset to have, and it seriously speeds up your writing speed.

 

The full Write! experience is just $19.95 for a Pro subscription if you love the features, particularly if you’re looking for something to bridge the gap between restrictive free tools or other apps that don’t quite feel right for drafting medium or long form content. There's plenty of free and paid writing solutions out there, some may be better suited than others, but for me and my wedding photography, Write! works perfectly and doesn't break the bank! 

 

To find out more visit: www.writeapp.co


Hard Drive Storage Cases from ProStorage

In this digital age, data breaches and file corruption are some of the most serious threats to your business. Whether you work in the wedding photography industry or another creative industry you understand the crucial nature of data security and confidentiality. Of course, cloud storage has come on leaps & bounds in the last decade and as a wedding photographer, I certainly use the cloud to store edited backups of all my wedding snaps. But when it comes to storing my RAW files I used external drives and with the ever growing image file sizes, you can certainly eat your way through these during a wedding season. Regardless of whether you’re self-employed or work for a large corporation, you are undoubtedly aware of how important it is to archive this digital data. With so many hard drives full of sensitive data piling up, how can you ensure information security? 

Whether you work from home or an office, having multiple hard drives lying around the workspace can lead to disorganisation and a loss of data. So first tip, watch my video on BACK UPS. If you have multiple hard drives, it’s a good idea to organise them or at least store them in a durable container where they can be preserved.  This is where the ProStorage units come into play.  ProStorage is a breakthrough product designed specifically for secure, offline digital data storage or “cold storage.” Their products provide businesses and individuals with confidence that your data is safeguarded from potential competitor hacks and network failures, not to mention everyday dust and grime. ProStorage cases accommodate up to 24 hard drives and are specially designed with closed-cell, anti-static foam to provide layered protection from static electricity and shock.

If you have multiple hard drives with a multitude of information stored on them, it is important to organise them in a way that allows you to find what you are looking for when you need it. What’s the point of having several years worth of information available to you if you can never see it again? The ProStorage Units have individual slots for each hard drive, which makes it simple to stick labels above each slot or even on the case cover itself.

Most external hard drive cases on the market today lack the protective features incorporated by ProStorage. Many cases are lined with nothing more than a layer of velvet or some other type of fabric, comparatively offering very little in the way of shock absorption or static resistance. They typically come equipped with a hard-shell exterior made of plastic, polyurethane or neoprene, but in the absence of shock-absorbing interior foam, the impact of a fall or jostling will still be transferred to the delicate hard drive inside.

Additionally, most hard drive storage cases currently on the market are designed for light personal use; at most, they only hold a few hard drives. The only storage systems with the capacity to accommodate 18 to 24 hard drives are the ones manufactured by ProStorage.

A lot is riding on your personal or your organisation’s ability to safely archive and store its proprietary information and sensitive data. The modest investment in a ProStorage system protects you against the devastating costs that can result from file corruption or a data breach. 

Images courtesy of DannyRich