Using microGAFFER as a Force for Creativity, Concealment, and Kindness

The holidays are fast approaching, and all of us are looking for thoughtful, useful, and (ideally) surprising gifts for those special people in our lives. We at Visual Departures have been honored to see our own microGAFFER® show up several times on “stocking stuffer” lists in the years since it debuted. For photographers, theater technicians, and filmmakers, microGAFFER is almost life-changing (almost.) A 4-pack of microGAFFER weighs less than a standard roll of gaffer tape and fits in any pocket – always at the ready. When you think about it, it makes no sense that a roll of tape weighs more than your fancy new camera… right?

But that’s not the only reason microGAFFER is special. One of the key features of gaffer tape is that it can be removed without leaving sticky residue, and as a result, crafters of all stripes have found microGAFFER useful in their work. We were even fortunate enough to be noted by Michael Hsu in his “The Fixer” column in the Wall Street Journal.

One common craft you’ll see on Etsy or Pinterest — or at your local holiday marketplace — involves taking an otherwise ordinary object and jazzing it up with just the right materials and ornamentation to make it stand out from the crowd. It could be a bag, a notebook, a piece of jewelry, or even a cardboard box – but when the right customer sees it, they simply have to have it. Professional crafters spend a good portion of their time on the lookout for new materials to use (they, more than most, want to stand out from the crowd). Next to standbys like washi tape, the woven-cloth texture of microGAFFER allows another way to add variety to their creations. (And did you know about gaff tape prom dresses? It’s a thing with the kids these days.)

If you’re into home canning or pickling, use microGAFFER to label your Ball jars (don’t forget to write down the Date of Production, just in case something ends up spending a long time at the back of a shelf.) Speaking of which: if you mix up a batch of Alton Brown’s Internet-famous Aged Eggnog and pop it into some Ball jars this weekend, it’ll be absolutely sublime by the end of the year. Or the end of next year, if you have the willpower. (Good luck with that.)

But what if you’re not part of the crafting world? Here’s a tip if you’re planning to visit faraway family: Make your luggage stand out at the baggage claim by tightly wrapping some bright gaffer tape around the handles. Saves time and reduces anxiety just a bit during what’s usually a stressful moment – waiting at the baggage carousel. “Ah, here comes yet another black rollaboard… I wonder if this one’s mine…” Be sure to wrap the tape near the edges of the handles rather than at the apex in order to avoid natural wear and tear.

And should your holidays involve sightseeing in a touristy sort of place, consider “debadging” your fancy camera to make it less appealing to thieves in the sea of out-of-towners with fancy cameras… As the joke goes, “you don’t have to outrun the bear – only your hiking partner.” Anyway, the simplest way to “go ninja” is to place a small strip of microGAFFER across the manufacturer’s logo. For bonus points, layer several strips along various parts of the camera to look like it’s a beaten-up piece of junk. Above all, replace the billboard-style camera strap with something less obtrusive (and more comfortable besides.)

And if you’re so fortunate as to own lots of fancy gadgets, use a small square of gaff tape to do some judicious “blacking out” on those as well. So many electronics use those painfully bright blue LEDs these days! Is it really necessary to have your darkened living room resemble a spaceport on Star Trek? Most inexcusable are the marketing people who force the logo on your TV to light up! You guessed it – on goes a black strip of microGAFFER once again…

Whether you’re a crafter or photographer or neither, I hope this post has inspired you in some way to use microGAFFER in some unusual way. If you haven’t tried microGAFFER yet, here’s a special discount code just for our blog readers. Use the code “INSPIRED” when checking out at microgaffer.com – a little holiday gift from us to you.

And if you’re privileged enough to be reading this, please don’t forget to find a way to do charitable acts during the holidays (and ideally year-round). If you have children, see if they can get involved, too, so they grow up to know charity as a normal part of life rather than something we only remember to do when it gets cold outside. Whether you donate time or money to people in need, let’s seek to make the world a kinder, more understanding, more welcoming place for everyone… no matter who they are, where they come from, or what they believe. Keep in mind the sentiment John Watson urged in his Christmas message in The British Weekly over 100 years ago: “be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Old Friends, New Perspectives (or: From Exoskeletons to ExoLenses)

Over the past weekend, I had a long catching-up phone conversation with my friend of several decades, former assistant, and great photographer Jock Pottle, who now lives in North Carolina. A few years ago, I wrote in this space about Jock and his Digging Man series of illustrations…

Jock Pottle: Free Me

I still think the conception and execution of Digging Man are truly unique and the finished works are absolutely phenomenal. I also wish I had a connection to the art director of The New Yorker because that is one publication (among many) where the fit would be perfect. Hope you visit his site and agree.

Anyway, after our phone chat, Jock emailed this photo. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how it was done, although that may just speak to my lack of imagination at the time. Can you figure it out? (If you prefer to believe it’s simply one of the great photobombs of all time, I won’t try to stop you.)

Jock Pottle: grasshopper

On to another matter… Earlier this year, during our annual trip to the NAB show in Las Vegas, I spent time at the Zeiss optics booth. As always, their lenses for virtually every format in motion picture, television, and still photography continue to be at the pinnacle of optical design and manufacture (just look at this “sliced Zeiss” they had on display). Over the past 50 years, I’ve used Zeiss lenses on almost every camera I’ve owned and many of those I still work with.

But here’s the reason for this bit of unrestrained fan mail: I discovered that Zeiss has designed a series of three accessory lenses for the iPhone. Not one of those cheap 3-in-1 clip-on lens sets you’re probably aware of; think of these as prime optics (they certainly don’t come cheap.) The brand name on the lenses is Exo and you’d do well to check them out at exolens.com. I carry the iPhone 7, and the inherent macro capabilities of the phone’s camera are really impressive. However, mounting the Exo Macro-Zoom lens (with its integral diffuser) takes iPhone macro shooting to a whole new level.

There is a range of options for mounting the lenses to iPhone models going back a few generations. I use the case with a threaded screw mount into which each of these lenses mounts. The wide-angle and portrait (2x) lenses are just as impressive… here are some before-and-after demos of each:

This is as good a time as any to invoke the old adage that any professional photographer has used to answer a question asked hundreds of times — “What’s the best camera?”

And the answer, true now as it has always been — “the one you have with you.” And since I always have my iPhone at hand, it’s what I rely on every single day.

Finding Your Niche – Ultra-Precise Lighting Made Possible by the Dedolight Imager Projection Attachment

As noted many times on this blog, the photography and filmmaking business has seen huge changes in the last decade. Smartphone photos are running on the front page of the New York Times. Lights and cameras have become cheaper, often with little regard to their quality. And what does it mean to be a photographer when everyone is always taking pictures? If you’re a freelancer, this last item is an issue you’re forced to reckon with in order to get paying work. As the saying goes: “it isn’t your fault, but it is your problem.”

One way to stand out from the crowd is to find a niche and own it (preferably in a line of work for which people will pay well.) In the case of Angel Penchev of Bulgaria, that means focusing (sorry) on rare coins and medallions. Watch this video to see how he uses Dedolight heads, including the Dedolight Imager Projection Attachment, to control light across each tiny element on the coins’ faces.

Some time ago, I did a few tests on the focusing capabilities of the DP2. We had recently moved into a larger office space and, much to our surprise, discovered that the previous tenants had left a box of old Barbie dolls in one of the filing cabinets. (Why isn’t it ever a briefcase full of cash??!)

Anyway, I had the tongue-in-cheek idea to use the dolls as models; you don’t have to pay them, they never get tired, and they always sit perfectly still. Using the Dedolight Imager Projection Attachment along with the DPEYESET filters, I was able to easily highlight details like the dolls’ jewelry or eyes. Obviously, this method would work equally well on tiny details on live models — who you do have to pay, but, by the same token, can probably give you more than a single vacant expression.

Barbie doll highlighted with Dedolight DP2 and EYESET

Be sure to have a look through some of Angel’s website (I particularly appreciate what he’s done with pasta.) And for more information on how to use the Dedolight DP1, DP2, and their siblings, see the following video:

Eclipse 2017: Let’s Be Careful Out There

Unless you’ve spent the few weeks hiding under your desk for some reason or another, you’re aware of the total solar eclipse that will cross the United States today. Whether or not you’ve traveled to a region that will experience totality, it’s critically important that you take appropriate precautions while enjoying the view.

While astronomy buffs will likely already be aware, some photographers may not realize just how powerful the sun’s rays can be. Watch as the staff of Every Photo Store tests a vintage Canon Rebel XT’s sensor with a six second exposure. Obviously, this is far too long for a solar photograph, but is a reasonable amount of time to expect an average person to stare at the sun during an eclipse. (Trigger warnings: camera abuse, dubstep.)

Lesson learned: do the research in order to find an appropriate filter for the lens you plan to use. And never look through the optical viewfinder!

More importantly, you need to protect your two most precious sensors – the ones inside your skull. Former NASA/JPL employee Rod Ryle lost significant sight in one eye as a result of ignoring safety warnings as a child:

I viewed partial solar eclipses with faulty equipment as a child, and lost nearly half my vision in one eye. Trust me, it’s not worth it. And the worst part? There are no pain receptors in your eyes, so you won’t know you are damaging them until a few days later when it’s too late.

So how do you tell whether your filter or eclipse glasses are reliable? First of all, if they’re scratched, creased, or damaged in any other way, throw them out. Then, check the American Astronomical Society’s list of reputable vendors. Their web server is under extreme strain today, but Google’s cache comes to the rescue. Sadly, thousands of subpar products have made their way to market in the past weeks from unscrupulous vendors, and a great many people across the country are now at risk of permanent eye damage. If your filter isn’t on the list, please… view the eclipse through a pinhole projector instead – a method that’s been in use for thousands of years, and a simple, cheap way to observe the sun safely.

A Minor Rant on Camera Straps

The weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal is always full of great articles in the Off Duty and Review sections, but a recent small feature on camera straps got me really riled up.

Last week I offered to photograph an extended family visiting one of the beaches on Martha’s Vineyard. When I was handed their Canon EOS 5D, my willingness to take what became a very nice photo was accompanied by my insistence that they replace the strap as soon as possible. (“It came with the camera,” is—invariably—the response I receive for my earnest pleas.)

I’ve noted before the unfortunate (and dangerous) practice of wearing a ‘steal me’ advertisement around your neck, where the strap included with your camera lets the whole world know exactly which high-dollar camera you’re carrying. All manufacturers seem to be guilty of this; from their perspective, it’s simply Branding 101. For the customer, though, it begs an extra measure of vigilance while out and about.

WSJ camera strap feature So back to the WSJ: the photo shows a roundup of so-called “dapper” straps—none of which looks particularly comfortable—priced from 29 to 140 dollars. You’d be far better off with a strap from OP/TECH, superbly designed and made in the USA. I have found their Envy Strap to be perfect for both my mirrorless Fuji X-series bodies and my full-frame Nikon SLRs with long lenses. And the price can’t be beat: under 20 dollars. They’re comfortable, reliable, and they don’t attract the wrong kind of attention.

OP/TECH camera strap on Fuji X-E2

Raj, our technology director and blog contributor in his own right, goes one further and uses our microGAFFER tape to obscure the logos on his Fuji X-E2. Not only does it make the camera look more generic to thieves (perhaps even a touch dilapidated); since it leaves no residue, there’s no need to worry about ruining the camera’s finish when time comes to peel and resell.

Raj's Fuji with microGAFFER

Back in the days when I carried as many as three cameras around my neck and two more on my shoulders (zoom lenses didn’t exist), the strap of choice was known as the “Schwalberg Strap”, likely purchased from Marty Forscher’s Professional Camera Repair in New York. Now, it’s two cameras at most, with zoom lenses that can cover just about any optical range.

The bottom line is to spend your money on the things that really help you make better images, rather than just looking the part. More about that shortly, when I address the remarkable supplemental iPhone optics from ExoLens, which feature Zeiss glass.

Allen shooting Nikon tele lens