Leaving it Behind

So – We are on a long trip and like everyone else, there is the debate on what to bring – and what to leave behind. Some folks say – “If it doesn’t have more than one use – leave it behind”. For most of our stuff, it is easy to decide – leave it behind. It seemed so easy, until it got down and dirty, real dirty.

My beloved Nikon D700 is the latest item to hit the leave it behind pile.



Of all the things I can leave behind – why my favorite camera ?. Simply, it is too heavy.

Heavy, yes too heavy. Add on a couple of lenses (17-35mm, 70-200mm), and it all adds up to a heavy lead.

Heavy, and also hard to keep safe. At least my neck strap doesn’t say Canon 5D Mark iii, or 6D on it – letting every thief (or robber) within 100 yards that you got the goods.


So…My Nikon and all the extra lenses are now being shipped home, in water proof boxes, to wait until I get back from travelling in another 10 months.


I’ll miss you ol’Nikon. We’ve been good friends these past few years.

Alaska Highway – Tetsa River, British Columbia

If you have not yet driven on the Alaska Highway – I highly recommend it !!

If you have driven the Alaska Highway,  at least the part between Fort Nelson and Muncho Lake Provincial Park in northern British Columbia, you would have passed Tetsa River at Mile 358 or Kilometre 558.

There isn’t a whole lot to do here – except fill up on gas, and spend a whole lot of money on cinnamon buns and gas…

We drove down this road August 25, 2013 as part of a road trip extending from Whitehorse to Yellowknife. All photos on this page taken with a Nikon D700 and Nikon 17-35mm lens.





Alaska Highway near Muncho Lake Provincial Park



Rooms for rent – real cheap !



Tesla River Lodge



Eating the “world famous” Cinnamon buns at the Tesla River Lodge



Stuffed moose, deer, wolf and why not buy a pair of PJ’s ?



No Sniveling. yes – the gas is expensive !

Alaska Highway – Blackstone Territorial Park, Northwest Territories

Blackstone Territorial Park, is a small campground located approximately 115km north of Fort Liard, and 166km south of Fort Simpson, Northwest Territories, Canada. The park is located on the bank of the Liard River and is the starting/ending point for many paddle trips and river rafters from Nahanni National Park. From the shores of the Liard River one can see the very popular Nahanni Mountain Range.

These photos from a road trip from Yellowknife to Whitehorse road trip, passing through Blackstone Territorial Park on Aug 3rd-4th, 2013. All photos on this page taken with a Nikon D700 and Nikon 14-24mm lens.


View of the Nahanni Mountain Range from the Visitors Centre


Enjoying the view over the Liard River and Nahanni Mountain Range from the Visitors Centre


Walking along fallen trees along the shoreline of the Liard River


Typical view of the Liard Highway. Yes – it is a gravel road


Making Panoramas with a DIY Panoramic Head and a Monopole

These notes describe the tools and technique that I use to create 360 and spherical panoramas. If you are interested in producing high resolution landscape or architectural panoramas – this is not for you as these types of panoramas require different tools (panorama heads, tripods and lenses). Check out the links below on tools and techniques to create high resolution and architectural (including interior) panoramas.

360 degree panoramas are best described as panoramas that cover up to 360 degrees in a single, super wide image, whereas Spherical panoramas can be described as the viewing of a seamless 360 degree panorama that is displayed on a interactive viewer (e.g. QuickTime VR, Flash or HTML5), and allows the observer (i.e. You) to interactively pan left or right, up and down and zoom in or out to look at the scene in different directions. The end result of spherical panoramas, is to give the observer the feeling of actually “Being there and looking around”.

The first step in making spherical panoramas is to create a seamless 360 photograph, that is wrapped in a sphere or cylinder. There are different methods to capture the separate photos that are stitched to create the seamless 360 degree image; ranging from more accurate (panoramic heads with lens specific clicks) to free hand (dangling a weight from a string over a specific feature on the ground). All methods require that the camera is rotated through an imaginary point ‘entrance pupil’ near the front of the lens to avoid (or minimize) visual off-set (parallax) when stitching the photos. Generally, the fewer images to stitch the less effect of parallax.

The tools that I use include a Nikon D700 camera, Samyang 8mm f/3.5 lens, a very simply DIY (make-it-yourself) panorama head, remote cable, and a monopole. Previously I did not use a panorama head, and simply mounted the camera to the monopole using the tripod screw on the base of the camera. This method works well as long there are no objects close to the lens (i.e. wide open areas), which cause parallax. Now, with a simple DIY panorama head (total cost approx. $10.00) there are fewer problems with parallax. Do note – that these tools and techniques work for me, and may not work for you, nor is this technique necessarily the correct or most accurate.

From top to bottom, I use the following camera gear and tools.

  1. Nikon D700
  2. Cable release
  3. Modified Samyang 8mm f/3.5 lens. I cut off the plastic lens hood to maximize the field of view. Similar lenses are sold as Rokinon and Bower.
  4. DIY panorama head (details on construction below).
  5. Manfrotto Bogen compatible umbrella swivel and Manfrotto 200PL-14 Quick Release Plate.
  6. Kacey adapter to mount the Manfrotto quick release to a standard paint pole type extension pole. The adapter has a 5/8 standard strobe pin on top and standard extension pole threads (3/4 x 5 threads per inch) on the bottom. Kacey website.
  7. Monopole (extendable painters pole), purchased at a hardware store.

Assembling the DIY Panoramic Head

My initial plan for a DIY panorama head was piece of metal plate that attached at one end to the camera tripod screw the the other end extending to the entrance pupil of the lens. However, the thought of the relatively heavy Nikon D700 bouncing up and down on the metal plate deterred that plan. Plans then turned to some way of attaching the front of the lens directly to the monopole. Then I found a muffler clamp. Sliding the muffler clamp over the entrance pupil of the lens – it was a close fit, and the U-shaped clamp only had to be widened by approximately 0.5cm. Scrap UHMW plastic was used to fill in gaps between the lens and the muffler clamp. A sheet of scrap metal (steel) was cut and drilled for the base, and two ¼ thread nuts are used to tighten the muffler clamp (finger tightened only). A coat of black automotive paint and adding the Manfrotto Quick Release Plate – then done !.

Total cost approx $10.00.

Note that the axis of rotation passes through the centre of the lens and the Nodal Point (entrance pupil).

Camera settings

These are the camera settings that I use;

1) File format set to ‘Raw’ 

2) Exposure mode set to ‘Manual’ – Set shutter speed minimum 1/30, aperture f/5.6 to f/10 depending on light conditions. Determine exposure for average light reading, not with lens pointed at the sun.

3) Set focus to manual

4) Set camera to full frame mode

Shooting Technique

To make my life easier, I always use the same lens and camera combination for spherical panoramas. With the shaved Samyang 8mm, I shoot four images each at 90 degrees apart (camera level).

  1. Camera settings as above
  2. Test photos of the scene to set exposure
  3. Walk to desired location, place the monopole on the ground. Remember the starting direction.
  4. Press shutter and rotate 90 degrees to the right (clockwise).
  5. Stabilize monopole, repeat 90 degree rotation and press shutter,
  6. Continue until back to starting point
  7. Done…walk away Click on the photo below to see it bigger.Depending on the scene, I might add two additional photos:
  8. Step back and take a Nadir shot (-90) by holding the monopole at arms length and point camera down to where the monopole was rotated in previous steps, at approximately the same height as the monopole, to create a foot-free image and,
  9. Take a Zenith or straight up (+90 degrees) shot  by tilting the camera up 90º (approximately over the rotation point), duck down, and shoot it. Zenith shots are only taken when in an enclosed space.

One I have the four (or six) photos, they are loaded into PTGui software to create the seamless 360 degree panorama and the spherical panorama. Check the links below for how to use PTGui software.  PTGui saves the spherical panorama as a Flash (.swf) movie that can be displayed on a website.

Examples of Flash (.swf) movies

A view of the inside of the Snowking’s Castle, during the 19th annual Snowking Winter Festival. Click on the image for a larger view.  To view the 360 degree animation. Click Here. This requires the QuickTime Player. Click the icon on the upper right corner of the animation to get a full view. Depending on network speed, the image may take a moment to load.
SCH_4251 Panorama-2-2
SCH_4478 Panorama-2
The view from the top of the Castle, and the “Deadman’s slide”. Click on the image for a larger view.

To view the 360 degree animation. Click Here. This requires the QuickTime Player. Click the icon on the upper right corner of the animation to get a full view. Depending on network speed, the image may take a moment to load.


Bullocks Bistro, in Old Town Yellowknife serves up the best fish in town, and is often featured on CBC Arctic Air.  Can’t think of too many restaurants that actually let you, and encourage you to leave your mark on the ceilings and walls !.

SCH_3491 Panorama-2_TM-TB Click on the image to see it bigger.
To view a 360 degree animation of this scene, Click Here. This requires the QuickTime Player. Click the icon on the upper right corner of the animation to get a full view. Depending on network speed, the image may take a moment to load.


Everyone’s favorite place to be on a hot sunny day….The Beer Garden (2012 Folk on the Rocks)

To view the 360 degree animation of “Snake People” in the Beer Gargen . Click Here This requires the QuickTime Player. Click the icon on the upper right corner of the animation to get a full view.

DIY: External Battery for Flash

My Nikon SB-600 drains AA batteries like there is no tomorrow, and I am tired of replacing or re-charging batteries.

A quick internet search reveals many ways to replace AA batteries with larger, longer lasting batteries. The SB-600 flsh uses 4x AA (1.5 volt) batteries, which together add up to 6 volts.

Wooden dowel, the same width (or slightly narrower) than AA batteries
2 screws (size not important)
Wire (18 gauge speaker wire) from electronics store
6 volt square battery from hardware store.

Total cost $10.

wire cutters
electrical tape
rubber bands

The simplest way, is to make two fake batteries that fit into the battery slots on the flash. Cut two wooden dowels to the same length as AA batteries. Add a screw at one end of each wooden dowel and carve a narrow slot the length of the dowel to fit the wire. Strip approx 1 cm from the end of each wire, and wrap one wire clockwise around each wooden dowel (One dowel with a red wire, one dowel with a black wire). Tighten the screw around the wire. Place the wire in the slot and wrap with electrical tape.


Place the wooden plug with red wire into the (+) slot on the flash, and the black wire into the (-) slot.

Use the rubber bands (or tape) to partially close the door of the flash unit. The door will not close completely since it was not designed to have wires hanging out, however, the door must be closed enough to keep the screw on the wooden plug in-contact with the springs in the bottom of the battery holder.


Cut the remaining wire to the appropriate length, what ever length you decide is best. Strip approx 1 cm from each end. Attach the red wire to the (+) prong of the battery, and the black wire to the (-) prong on the battery. If you get it mixed up, it should not fry your flash. I tested mine.  Instead of the large 6 volt cube battery, you can also use four ‘C’ and ‘D’ cells wired together.

Thanks to Matt Kenney’s post: Diy Photography.net, ‘Power your flash with a flashlight’.