When I went mirrorless with the Canon EOS R and then got my second mirrorless camera, the Canon EOS R5, I said that I was going to try to use them without the battery grip to keep the size and weight of my system down. During the pandemic, when I wasn’t shooting so much, and my tours all had to be postponed, I didn’t miss the grip, but when shooting in Namibia this year, I was reminded how much I dislike having to crank my hand around to the shutter button when using the camera in portrait orientation without a battery grip. So, with my Japan winter tours coming up in January and February next year, I decided it was time to bite the bullet and get myself a battery grip for the Canon EOS R5.
The BG-R10 is the grip that fits both the EOS R5 and R6 and has a cradle that holds two batteries, giving double the battery life, but more importantly, and the thing that I’ve been missing, is the ability to flip the camera into the portrait orientation and still have access to all of the shooting controls, as you can see in this photo. The AF-ON button is slightly higher than on the R5 body, so it takes a little bit of getting used to, but all of the buttons from the camera body are replicated on the vertical grip, with the exclusion of the video record button, the light button for the LED display, the Lock button and the Mode button.
Without the LED, there is no use for the Light button, and as I generally will be in landscape orientation when shooting video, I can live without the video button and mode button, too, as my main use for the Mode button is to switch between stills and video. There is a lock switch on the battery grip, but that essentially turns off all buttons on the grip, so it does not replicate the Lock button, so ultimately, that is the only button I miss.
I can reach up with my left hand and press the lock button with my thumb, though, so I can live without the lock button too I guess. Apart from that and the price of the BG-R10 Battery Grip, which is almost 1.5X more than previous grips, I’m very happy with it and pleased that I picked it up. The other related expense, of course, is that the battery grip made it necessary to replace my Really Right Stuff L-Bracket. I really dislike shooting with a camera without the L-Bracket, and I was using the smaller version for the R5 without the battery grip but had to spring for the BGR10-L bracket as well so that I’m covered with my tripod plates in both the landscape and portrait orientations. I also like the extra protection that having the bracket along the side and bottom of the camera provides.
Let’s take a step back, though, and take a look at the BGR10-L bracket itself in this photo. It has that signature Really Right Stuff engineered finish and a wide mouth in the corner to allow the battery cradle to be removed to change batteries without removing the L-Bracket. As you can see, the screw that attaches the bracket to the camera slides along so that you can loosen that screw and slide the bracket away from the camera if you need more access to the cable ports on the camera, although you can access them without sliding the bracket out. I only slide it out when attaching the wire holder for video use.
So that you are never left searching for the hex wrench to loosen that screw, there is a hole in the base of the L-Bracket to slide the wrench into and a magnet to keep it securely stuck to the bracket. It’s nice that this is a full-sized hex key on this bracket, as the sawn-off version that comes with the smaller non-battery grip bracket can be difficult to turn, especially in cold conditions when your hands are naturally cold too.
Here’s another photo to show the battery cradle clearance of the Battery Grip, and you can also see how the side of the bracket provides access to the cable ports.
The gap in the side dovetail plate allows up to 70 degrees of swivel of the articulated screen on the camera, as you can see in the following image. This might look difficult to work with, but in practical use, I’ve never really found it much of a limitation to not be able to rotate the articulated display fully.
The other huge benefit of the L-Bracket is visible in this next image, where I show the R5 mounted on a tripod in landscape and portrait orientations. I haven’t moved the nodal point to the exact center of the tripod quick-release bracket for the shot on the left, but the bracket has these markings if you need to adjust to keep the lens axis in the same location as you switch orientations.
Mounting the camera on the side dovetail plate like this will keep the center of gravity above the tripod, reducing the risk of introducing camera shake. If you flop the camera over to the side, you lose that center of gravity, and the camera is more susceptible to shaking in the wind or even due to the movement of the shutter, although this isn’t such a problem with mirrorless as there are fewer moving parts.
One thing I’ve seen a few reviewers complain about is the fact that the BG-R10 battery grip sticks out about 5mm past the side of the camera, and I did find that a little bit annoying, but as you can see in this photo, the L-Bracket masks that to a degree, so that’s a bonus.
You can also see the Multi-Controller on the back of the grip, which is a very nice addition, enabling us to move the focus point around while shooting in portrait orientation. Also, notice the charge indicators that show the status of charging the batteries in the grip if you plug the camera into a power source. Unfortunately, this will only charge one battery at a time.
Even more unfortunate is that you cannot provide just any USB power to charge the batteries in the grip. You have to use the Canon PD-E1 power adapter to charge the batteries. I own a PD-E1 to power my camera when using it as a Webcam and for some microscope imagery work, but I will never take this on the road to enable charging the batteries in the grip. I can’t help thinking that Canon could have designed this to use a wider range of USB power, especially when you consider I have a third-party double battery charger that charges two batteries simultaneously and works with just about any USB power you can throw at it.
Another thing I’d like to cover before we finish is the addition of the QD socket in the bottom of the RRS bracket. I attach a D Loop QD Strap Swivel to the Peak Design camera strap loops, as you can see in this next image. This makes it possible to easily and securely connect a strap to the base plate and remove it quickly by pressing the button at the top of the QD connector.
As I also have a socket in the base of the lens plate on my Canon RF 100-500mm lens, as you see here, I can attach the strap with a QD connector, and I can then sling the camera with the strap over my left shoulder, allowing the camera to hang upside-down on my right, which puts the camera in a perfect position to quickly grab the grip, and swing it up to my eye to start shooting.
So, although I tried to avoid going this route, it’s nice to have this system back in my shooting workflow. I find it much easier to shoot in portrait mode with the vertical grip on the battery grip, and the Really Right Stuff L-Bracket completes the system.
In April this year, I tried the Topaz Labs suite of tools and ended up requesting a refund because there were some nasty color casts in the DNG files that Topaz created after I processed some raw files from my Canon EOS cameras and viewed them in Capture One Pro. Since that review, though, I have, on several occasions, missed the pretty amazing noise reduction that the Topaz tools provided. So a few nights ago, after shooting the very dark Lunar Eclipse at ISO 3200, leaving me with a fair bit of noise to clean up, I tried Topaz Photo AI, using a trial license, and was once again amazed at how well it dealt with the noise in my image.
You can’t save your images with the trial license, though, so I bought a license and saved my image as a DNG file. It looked pretty good, and I could not see any color casts, so I was happy with my purchase and somewhat relieved to have that Topaz magic back in my digital toolbox. I was not yet convinced that they had solved their problems with saving as DNG files, though, so today, I’m going to share the Lunar Eclipse shot that I processed with Topaz Photo AI, and then we’ll move on to do a few more tests to see if the problem still exists. This time though, even if I do see the issue again, I’m going to keep the software, as it’s so good. I’ll have to put up with saving my images as TIFF files when the color cast does cause issues.
Anyway, first here is the photo that I shot of the Lunar Eclipse with Uranus (I said Neptune in the recording – sorry!) sitting diagonally down in the bottom left thirds intersection. I forfeited a little detail in the moon, but the noise destroyed most of the detail anyway, so I’m pretty happy with the result. I shot this image with the Canon EOS R5 and my 100-500mm RF lens with the RF 2.0X Extender fitted for a focal length of 1000mm. I cropped around 10% of the image away to give a slightly larger view of the moon. Now let’s test to see if my other images are still getting that color cast when processed and saved in DNG format.
OK, so I just opened the main offending image from my April tests, of a young snow monkey galloping along the side of a snowy mountain, and processed it in Topaz Photo AI. Unlike the previous suite, which had various tools for various objectives, Photo AI has all of the main tools rolled into one application, making it way less cumbersome to use. Here is a screenshot showing the settings I enabled and a before-after of the foot of the monkey, which showed a bit of motion blur from the monkey’s movement.
Click on the image to open the full-sized screenshot to explore the detail. I’m sure you’ll agree that the sharpness of the foot is incredible! Photo AI has completely removed the motion blur and cleaned up the snow on the monkey’s fur.
Here is another screenshot showing the face of the monkey, and again, I’m sure you’ll agree that there is a huge improvement in the sharpness. This is one of those images that had bugged me since shooting it, due to the subject movement, but Photo AI has completely turned that around.
No More Color Cast!
What’s more, I saved the image as a DNG and imported it back into Capture One Pro, and there is no trace of the nasty color cast that led me to request a refund in April! This is amazing! I’m pleased that this works as it should now. Topaz let themselves down by leaving that unfixed despite it being pointed out to them by many people. They have earned my trust by fixing this issue, so I’m completely sold. Topaz Photo AI is amazing! Here is the final photo for your reference.
And to show you what has been fixed, here is the screenshot from the April episode showing the color cast in the DNG file that I saved and reviewed in Capture One Pro at the time. Although it’s obvious, the offending DNG is the one in the bottom right.
To check a wider color palette, I also processed a recent image from Okunikko of a patch of Autumn leaves on the side of a mountain. I was amazed at how much more detail Photo AI brought out of the image, but here is the image in web size to show you that the color is all completely intact. Nothing shifts.
One other thought just crossed my mind, and that is that it is possible that Capture One made a change that fixed this color cast as well, as the Topaz team claimed that there was nothing that they could do, and Photoshop and Lightroom did not show the color cast. I’m not going to dig any deeper than this thought bubble, but I did want to point out that this could be a happy coincidence rather than the result of hard work on the Topaz team’s part. Although they have put a lot of hard work into Photo AI. It does an incredible job almost entirely automatically.
Either way though, I am very happy to have this option now, and without having to save my images in TIFF format, which I dislike doing unless I really have to. Well done to whoever fixed this. Topaz Photo AI gets a huge thumbs-up from me now. Please note that I have not communicated with the Topaz team regarding this review. I bought the plugin with my own money, and the views I expressed in this post are my personal opinions based on my impartial testing of the product.
It’s that time of year again! The 2022 5DayDeal Photography Bundle has just gone live, and this bundle is packed, once again, with goodies to enhance your photography. Today I’m going to share some of the products that I feel are particularly interesting and useful, and of course, links to the sale so that you can stock up on some of the best quality photography education available today.
Although I skip a year every so often, I’ve been working with the 5DayDeal team since their very first sale, and from the inside, I have to tell you that they are one of the most professional teams out there and always a pleasure to work with. It’s also very nice to see how sophisticated their production has become. For example, here is a video they put together to showcase this year’s bundle. I think they’ve done a very good job of this.
Anyway, first, let me explain the pricing structure of the bundles, along with savings made on each bundle, and then we’ll pick a few to look a little deeper into. The Main Bundle includes over $2,200 worth of photography education but it’s available for just $98, and, as the name implies, this is available for just five days, until October 18, noon, Pacific time. You can upgrade to the Pro Bundle for an additional $39 and get another $1,400 worth of education. The 5DayDeal team has always been big on helping you to help charities, and you can add their Charity Bundle for $29, adding another $1,300 worth of coolness! The full set costs just $166 with over $5,500 worth of photography education and tools, a total discount of over 97%.
The complete bundle contains 719 training videos, over 135 hours of training, and 2,693 LUTs and Tools. I rarely finish looking through everything available, but if you pick out stuff to ingest as time allows, it is a great way to up your game.
Perfecting the Headshot
So, let’s jump in and look at some of the products in the Main Bundle. The first thing that I wanted to mention is Perfecting the Headshot from Fstoppers. Headshots seem easy, but there is much more to creating great headshots than meets the eye. The number one challenge any photographer has when photographing people is learning how to break them out of the all too common “deer in the headlights” look and make them look comfortable and engaging. In this tutorial, Peter Hurley dives deep into the human psyche and explains why people almost always have apprehension and fear when looking into a camera. After learning what causes people to look that way, Peter teaches you multiple techniques to make your subjects look more confident and attractive in 10-and-a-half hours of content.
Mastering landscape photography
Next up, Mastering Landscape Photography, which contains 20 videos that will show you how to master the finer points of landscape photography with skills such as smoothing out water, creating reflections, showing motion on moving water, panoramas, and more. The course covers must-have landscape photography gear and the features you need in a photography backpack, and techniques for shooting great landscape photos and focusing techniques to create tack-sharp photos every time.
Dramatic Black & White Landscapes
Creating Black and White landscapes is an art all of its own, but help is at hand with the Dramatic Black & White Landscapes course. In this tutorial you’ll learn how to process and create dramatic and impactful black-and-white images utilizing photoshop, including…
– Utilizing smart objects in a black and white workflow – Utilizing Adobe Camera RAW in Black and white conversions – Maximizing contrast – Maximizing visual flow – Using Luminosity Masks to maximize contrast and depth – Cleaning up visual distractions – Controlling visual flow through color seperation
The course contains 4 tutorial walkthroughs with a combined runtime of 1.5 hours
There’s much, much more in the Main Bundle, but these three are some of my favorites. The Pro Bundle adds heaps more material for a relatively small additional fee, so it’s highly recommended. Here is a taste of what’s inside…
Milky Way Made Easy
Despite the non-professional sounding title, Michael Shainblum has done a great job with his Milky Way Made Easy course.
Learning how to shoot the milky way can be intimidating, but this course explains basic and advanced techniques in easy to understand video tutorials. Whether you are just getting starting taking your first night sky long exposure, or are advanced and just looking for some new tricks and tips to elevate your images, you’ll probably find value in this course, which contains 25 videos total over six hours of content, including a section called Single Exposure Shot at Crater Lake.
In this tutorial Michael covers how to shoot and compose a single exposure of the Milky Way. He then covers post processing techniques to clean up the photo and bring out the Milky Way. Even if you are an advanced shooter, this video shares some different techniques that you may not have seen before. You’ll learn techniques for properly planning out and scouting for night sky photography, gear for night sky photography and focusing techniques, including photo stacking.
Other sections include Twilight Blend On the Oregon Coast, Star Trails Tutorial at Sparks Lake, Moonscape Processing at Smith Rock, and Basic Light Painting at Mystic Beach.
Again, there is much more in the Pro Bundle. You can learn Frequency Separation Retouching, Compositing for Portraits in Photoshop, real estate photography, woodland photography, Newborn photography, Mastering the Adjustment Brush Tool, Advanced Portrait Editing Techniques, Launching Min-Sessions like a pro, and a realistic sky replacement workflow.
The Charity Bundle
With the Charity Bundle you’ll learn creative photography concepts, The Thriving Artist Method, exposure blending, creative blurs, the art of digital blending, wedding photography, and a Lightroom sunset workflow, among other things. Plus, of course, the charity aspect of this and the sale itself is one of the most amazing things about the 5DayDeal. Since 2014 the team has given over $2,000,000 to charity, so it’s not just the photographers that buy the bundles that benefit.
So, the 5DayDeal lasts just five days, but this blog post is eternal, so if you arrive after October 18, 2022, the sale will be gone, forever. The team will, I’m sure, be back next year with another set of cutting edge products from some of the worlds best photography educators, but this sale has to end on October 18. If you are in time, do check it out, and if you heard about the sale from me, please do use my link (https://mbp.ac/5daydeal). Please also share this post with your photography friends.
Six years ago, I posted a review of my second Tenba Messenger Camera Bag, and I had around five and a half years of use out of the bag. It would have gone longer, but during our Namibia tour this year, our driver passed me the bag via the shoulder strap and told me that the handle had broken. I knew that this would have been caused by the excessive pulling on the handle that he had to do to get it in and out of a tiny space on top of our luggage and that it could have been avoided with better handling, but I think the world of our guides in Namibia, so I said nothing more than something like, “No worries, it was old anyway.”
I haven’t needed to replace the bag since I returned to Japan in June, but I have a short trip coming up, so I had a look around for something new. As I liked my first two Tenba Messenger bags, and after realizing that the smaller bag I bought to fit my Rollie film gear was also a Tenba, I somewhat unsurprisingly settled on getting my fourth Tenba bag.
I needed the bag to fit my 14 Inch MacBook Pro, so I had to carefully read the internal sizes, which were wrong on Amazon.co.jp, but I’m happy to report that my MacBook Pro fits snuggly into the 13 Inch laptop compartment of the Tenba Skyline 13 Messenger. I also confirmed that the MacBook Pro still fits with the plastic cover that I use when traveling fitted.
Note that the link that I have included to the Tenba Messenger on Amazon are affiliate links, so you help keep the MBP Wheels on the wagon by buying with these links if you like what I share today and you are in the market for a bag like this.
Anyway, I shot a few photos to show you how I’m going to be using this bag, and here is the first one, with it housing my 14 Inch MacBook Pro in the laptop compartment and my Canon EOS R5 with the RF 24-105mm ƒ/4 lens fitted in the center compartment. If you have a small enough lens in the right compartment as I did, you can rotate the camera around and have the camera grip keep that flap closed. The lens I have in the right compartment is the RF 15 – 35mm ƒ/2.8 lens, which is a good-sized lens, and it fits nice and snuggly down there.
In the left pocket, as we look at this, I have the Canon RF 100-500mm lens, which is about the biggest lens you’ll fit into this bag vertically, and it’s a tight fit, but it works. In the front pocket, I placed my charging adapter and cables for the MacBook Pro and a couple of SSD drives, as well as cables and a MagSafe rechargeable battery, to charge my Apple devices. I forgot to include my card reader and battery charger for my camera, but they fit into that front compartment as well, although it does start to get a little snug.
With all this inside, the front flap doesn’t close incredibly gracefully, and the bag starts to look a little plump, as you can see in this next image. Depending on the use, I may not always travel with this much gear inside, but it’s nice to know that it will fit in case this is required of me at any time. I like the styling of the bag. It comes in several colors but I like the almost black denim feel of the black model that I chose.
It’s possible to get at your gear by opening the zip that runs along the top of the bag, enabling the user to remove the camera or lenses without opening the front flap. Unlike my earlier Tenba bag, this bag does not have any plastic buckles to secure that front flap, but I’m not going to worry about that. I’m sure it will be fine.
There was a tag attached to the bag that shows that you can also pull the front flap downwards if you want to reduce the tearing sound from the magic tape as you open the bag. I’ve only succeeded in making it almost silent once, but it is a nice touch, being able to get the bag open without making a huge ripping sound when necessary.
Unlike my earlier Tenba bags, I am very happy that this new Skyline Messenger has elasticated mesh pockets on either side so that I can put things like my flask in, as you can see in this image.
Finally, here is a photo of the bag looking slightly less plump, along with all the gear that I had stored inside the bag. For a 13-inch laptop and camera bag, I’m impressed with how much I can fit into the new Messenger when necessary.
The bag is fitted with YKK zippers which feel smooth and haven’t yet snagged at all. It’s made of water-repellent fabric and has reinforced stitching. As I mentioned, the handle on my previous bag came away, but it was the fabric holding the firm padding inside the top handle that gave, not the stitching. If the fabric that this new messenger is made with is a little stronger, I will probably not have that problem on a future tour.
Apart from a few trips that I have planned soon, this bag will be on my upcoming Japan winter tours with me and generally sees a bit of moisture while in Hokkaido, the northern-most island of Japan, and boy am I looking forward to getting back up there for the first time in three years.
After buying my Canon EOS R5 I received several email from people asking if my battery life was shorter than expected. Because I had not been able to run my tours during which I shoot from dawn to dusk most days, I had no real baseline from which to answer with confidence that I saw no problems, but as I used my R5 more, I did start to notice that the batteries seemed to run down pretty quickly.
Initially, I put it down to the fact that a lot of the work I was doing was microphotography, during which I was running my R5 tethered to my computer, and I figured that was eating up the battery. I also thought that it might be down to the fact that I have not been using my cameras with a battery grip, and one single battery seems to run down faster than half of the shooting time we seem to get when there are two batteries in the grip feeding the camera.
Then I went to Namibia this summer and got my first chance to work with the EOS R5 in my usual way, out in nature, shooting as I always have, and it soon became very clear that my batteries were running down at least twice as quickly as they have always done. Much more quickly than my first Canon mirrorless camera, the EOS R. I started to think that maybe there was a problem with the camera’s design, as the batteries were running down too quickly for practical use.
I tried to monitor how I was using the camera over the first few days but couldn’t think of any reason the batteries were running down quickly from my usage. Then I noticed that the battery level indicators seemed to stay full until shortly before they completely ran down. They looked full one minute, then the next minute, they were flashing red in the electronic viewfinder, telling me I need to change the battery, and that indicates a problem other than the camera using more power than I’m used to.
So, that night, I figured I’d try connecting my camera to a USB cable and charging my batteries in the camera. I dislike doing this with a passion, as it takes a very long time to charge the batteries, and you can only charge one battery at a time. This is also the reason I dislike the standard Canon battery charger than comes with the EOS R5 and similar cameras that use the LP-E6NH battery because it only charges one battery at a time.
Then that same thought process led me to what I would find to be the cause of my poor battery life. Because I don’t like to charge just one battery at a time, I have for many years used a third-party battery charger and have otherwise been very happy with the two I’ve owned, but it turns out that my latest charger was not successfully charging the LP-E6NH. It was working fine with the LP-E6N that the 5Ds R uses, but the latest battery with the H appended to the end of their name was not fully charging, despite the battery charger showing that they were fully charged and the camera also reporting that they were fully charged when I initially put the battery in.
For the following two weeks, I put up with charging my batteries in the camera, and believe me, I was happy that I had this option, as I did not bring the standard Canon charger. When I got home, I sourced a new double charger that supported the new LP-E6NH battery, and once again, I have something that properly charges my batteries, runs on USB power, and takes two batteries at once.
Being a bit of a geek, I like the digital readout and the information this charger provides as it charges my batteries. It is also less than half the size of my previous charger, which was small. That is a very welcome change as we fight to get out gear onto airplanes with ever-increasing luggage restrictions.
The other thing I wanted to stress was the importance of troubleshooting technical issues. I am probably a little more optimistic than some about trusting that Canon wouldn’t make a camera that runs batteries down as fast as I saw. It was not a usable camera when the batteries ran out as quickly as they did. I also know, though, that some people love to find problems with gear and find some kind of twisted enjoyment in being in a position to complain about their gear.
I did find another problem with the R5 as I traveled, as Canon added a button to the LED screen that puts the focus point back to the center when you moved it away from the center. For some reason, though, they placed that new button over the histogram, as you can see in this photo as I started shooting in the Quiver Tree Forest on our first shooting day in Namibia.
I called Canon Support about this after getting back to Japan, and they kindly told me a setting that would work around this issue, but I didn’t want to use my camera in the state they recommended, and they did agree that it was probably an oversight that the icon was displayed over the histogram. I requested that they register it as something to try to fix in a future firmware update, but I have confirmed that it was not fixed in firmware version 1.6 released after I reported the issue. I mention this because I wanted to make the point that I don’t think Canon is perfect, but I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt until I have proof that they’ve made a bad design decision.
So, to finish, I want to leave you with some takeaways. Firstly, if you are having issues with short battery life and if you are using a third-party battery charger, please take a moment to check that the charger supports your batteries, especially if you’ve upgraded your camera since buying the charger.
Secondly, if you do notice something wrong with your gear, try to exhaust all of the possibilities before jumping to the conclusion that the manufacturer of your gear has messed up. As photographers, one of our strongest skills needs to be problem-solving. This goes for almost everything we do. In the studio, for example, when the light doesn’t look quite right, we must identify what is wrong and how to fix it. Everything we do involves cause and effect-related decisions, and that goes for problems such as the battery issue we discussed today as well.
Also, note that I will not provide a link for the actual charger I bought, as the same charger on Amazon.com does not mention support for the LP-E6NH battery. You’ll need to find something in your market if you are seeing a similar problem to that which I’ve described today.
Before we finish, I would also like to mention that we are currently locking in on the participant numbers for our 2023 Namibia tours, and we now have one space left on both the April and May tours, so if you would like to join us, check out our tours page and see if there are still spaces available. If the page says, they are available, proceed to the tour page and pay your deposit to secure your place. If you need more than one place, let me know and I’ll try to figure something out.
A few weeks ago, in my monthly Patron-only question time event, I received a question about creating and maintaining a photography website. I pulled together my thoughts, and the talk went well, but a few things have changed since then, as going through my website and taking stock of some of the plugins I was using got me thinking about a few areas in which I may be able to improve the site even further.
Before we start, I should let you know that my site is built on WordPress on a dedicated server. I have used and recommended working with WordPress for many years, as it enables me to extend the platform almost endlessly. Although we’ll talk about the danger of having too many plugins, if managed well, it’s a very liberating and useful platform to build pretty much any kind of website on.
One of the questions during our discussion was about my theme and how I integrated it with the Elementor Pro plugin. The theme I was using until just a few days ago was called Bridge, and I have used it for many years without thinking of changing it, until now. The thing is because I have bolted on so many things, like the main menu and all of the sliders and other page elements, I realized that the theme itself had become quite easily replaceable.
On a copy of my website, I change temporarily to the standard WordPress theme, and there were only a few areas that looked really out of whack. I had also become somewhat dissatisfied with the Elementor Pro plugin because there was a critical error that occurred after every update when updating the database. Despite many people complaining about this for several years, it was never fixed, so I revisited a plugin that I used briefly a few years ago and liked, which was a different page builder called Divi.
I had forgotten a large part of the Divi proposition, though, probably because I was so happy with the Bridge theme that I simply ruled this out. Still, Divi can be installed as a page builder inside another theme or as a full-blown theme with a page builder built into it. I grabbed and tried the full-blown Divi Theme and was impressed with how far they’d come over the last few years since I previously tried this product from Elegant Themes.
I figured I’d give it a try and found that my reliance on the Elementor page builder on some pages made the migration to Divi very difficult, as backing out of the Elementor page builder back to regular WordPress pages rendered many pages in various states of disarray, ranging from a mess to a total disaster. Turning on the Divi page builder is less destructive. Most pages can be converted to Divi with a few clicks, but once using the Divi Visual Builder, the amount of control you have over the page elements is astounding.
I’m treading cautiously because I imagine backing out of the Divi Visual Builder will be as destructive as backing out of Elementor pages. So, where possible, I’m trying to stick with vanilla WordPress. Still, some pages are made a lot easier by the Divi Visual Builder, and I’m feeling pretty comfortable that I’ll stick with Divi, so when necessary, I’m flicking the switch. Besides, I also paid for the lifetime license, so unless Elegant Themes pull a swift one on their users, I should be set now for the foreseeable future.
It’s taken me the best side of a week to check all of my pages, though, mainly because of the clean-up and rebuilding that I had to do, so I haven’t yet made anything cool with Divi that I can show you, but as you visit posts if you are maintaining your site, especially if it has a blog, take a moment to check out the blog page, and the way the individual blog posts now look, including this one.
The featured image at the top of each post, the metadata, as well as the navigation is all coming from the Divi Visual Builder. I’m not sure if it will stay, but as you scroll down to the bottom of the post, you might also see a snazzy little animated divider between the post and the comments. That is created with the Divi Visual Builder and added as part of the blog post template created in the Divi Theme Builder, which is the place to create and assign templates to various posts and page types. You just create the template, and Divi ensures that all pages that match the criteria you select, such as all blog posts, are served using that template.
Anyway, a large part of the question I answered in the August Question Time was about the dos and don’ts of running a photography website, and as I came up with a chunk of advice, I figured I’d share some of that with you today. Please note, though, that first-hand discussion on these topics is a privilege of our kind supporting patrons, so if you want to get involved first-hand, please consider becoming a patron too at https://mbp.ac/patreon.
Photography Website Dos
Share Your Work
These aren’t necessarily in any particular order, but one thing you have to do if you are hanging your hat as a photographer is share your work. I can name numerous photographers that have built a pretty respectable name for themselves as photographers without really sharing any of their work. I’ve spoken to people about this, when people have said something like, “Oh yeah, I know said respected photographer, he’s great!” and I’d gone on to ask which of the photographer’s photographs are their favorite, only to be presented with a blank face. They don’t have one because they’ve never seen any of the photographer’s work. Can you call yourself a photographer if people can’t even recall any of your photographs?
Later I’ll share details of the Meow Gallery and Lightbox, which are the plugins I use to create my galleries, including all of the Portfolio galleries that you will find under the menu at the top of each page. If you decide to share various portfolios in multiple genres, as I’ve done, you can also create a tiled gallery of portfolios using the Divi Visual Builder. Click on the Portfolios link to see what I mean. Note that behind the scenes, these are defined as Projects to Divi, not Portfolios.
Show Large Images
Also, when setting up a photo gallery to share your work, try to share your images as large as you can be comfortable with. I’ve seen amazing photographers share their work in 500 pixel-wide images because they are scared of people stealing them. This, for me, is an immediate put-off. If I’m going to give someone my time to look at their work, I at least want to be able to see their work at a decent size. Sure, some people will steal your work, so go and get a lawyer and claim your fees and damages. The majority of the visitors to your website, though, just want to enjoy your work, so try not to hamper that process by sharing tiny images.
Another piece of advice is to stay focused. If you are running a business or just a hobby website, it’s important to share relevant work. If you are a wedding photographer and we are talking about your business website, then you should only be sharing wedding photography. In the case of wedding photography, of course, you will need model releases from your subjects, but staying on topic will help to keep your audience engaged.
Create an About Page
Ensure that you create an About page that tells your audience and potential clients all about you. Include some of the achievements that help to give you credibility. People sometimes need a little help understanding why they should be interested in what you have to say or your ability as a photographer if they are thinking of hiring you.
Many of the plugins I have used and those that I’ll recommend shortly come with example pages, sometimes multiple pages that help you to build nice looking About pages, and sometimes entire sites that look nice, so explore the templates and install a few to see what you can create.
If you sell anything online, I strongly recommend working with a plugin called WooCommerce, which is free, but you will probably need to pay for a plugin or two to make it work how you need it to. This is how they monetize their business, so don’t be afraid to pay for some of it. Note that if you are selling digital products, though, I highly recommend Paddle and have a section on this towards the end of the post.
Another selling tip I learned early on is if you are going to talk about a product or service that you are about to launch, ensure that you have your commerce pages up and running before talking. If you ask for the mail addresses of people interested in buying whatever you are about to launch, 80% of them will not buy anything. If, however, you have a buy or pre-order button, you will make many more sales because people will put down their money while they are excited. It’s human nature.
Build a Mailing List
On a related note, you must build a mailing list of people that want to hear from you. Whether you live in Europe or not, ensure that you abide by the GDPR because a proportion of your audience will almost certainly be in Europe, but start to build a mailing list as soon as you can.
It may come as a surprise, but the audiences you have spent years building on social networks will no longer see your posts simply because they follow you. You now have to pay to reach more than a few hundred of your most loyal fans, so unless you are prepared to pay to reach people you have already gotten interested in your antics, a mailing list is a direct link to their mailboxes and for at least a proportion of them, that will get their attention.
There’s often more than one way to enable people to subscribe to your mailing list. If you hit the Contact Us link under the Connect menu above, you’ll see a checkbox to subscribe to newsletters. If you turn that checkbox on, you’ll see the interest groups you can select so that you only receive newsletters on the subjects you are interested in.
Also, because I send my newsletters out via a service that uses a specific domain and email address, I used the same domain to host a sign-up and maintenance form for newsletter subscribers, which you can see at https://mbp.news. You must have checkboxes unchecked by default to be GDPR compliant and allow people to choose what they want to receive, not deselect what they don’t want to receive.
Include Images in Social Posts
Unless I have you running off to delete your Facebook page, when you do post to Facebook or any other social network, ensure that you have a featured image assigned to your posts, and even if you are just posting about something random, find an image that illustrates or compliments what you have to say. Simple text these days is not likely to grab anyone’s attention, even if they have been chosen from your wider audience to be presented with your post.
Photography Website Don’ts
Don’t Expect Any Visitors Without Doing Any Work
If you build it, they will not necessarily come. Just because you made a great-looking website doesn’t mean people can find it or even be interested in looking for it without a little push. You have to work in some way to build an audience and you have to work to keep that audience engaged.
As you know, I built my audience by starting a Photography Podcast in September 2005. The Podcast is 17 years old this month! At first, I didn’t expect my entire life to be changed by what I started, but I’m pleased with how things have progressed. I can’t say that it has been easy, though. A lot of work goes into creating a releasing a Podcast, including creating the blog post and also an eBook for each post for my kind Patreon supporters.
I have reduced my commitment from a weekly podcast to release at least three episodes per month, and that is still tough at times, but that’s mainly because I’m busy doing other things to forward my business. The decision to release the blog post for all episodes, including the backlog, was another part of my success. Having 17 years of blog posts helps with Search Engine Optimization or SEO.
Don’t Dilute Your Message
In general, I recommend that you stick to a consistent message rather than diluting it with various topics. Still, as you’ll have seen, I talk about many different photographic genres via the guests I’ve had on the Podcast over the years. My Photography work is mostly nature and wildlife interspersed with my travelogue-style episodes when I travel, so there is a general theme. The idea has always been to talk about photography through my own experiences in the hope that it helps you with your photography too. I’m super humbled and honored to have received messages of thanks over the years from people that I’ve been able to inspire, so I know I’m doing some things right.
Avoid Too Many Plugins
As I mentioned earlier I do recommend working with WordPress as your base platform because it gives you the freedom to add plugins to make it do different things, but I do recommend trying to keep the number of plugins you use to a minimum. This is ripe coming from me because there was a time when I was running over 100 active plugins. At the time of this episode, I still have 64 active plugins, which is a lot, but a lot less than 100. I am constantly evaluating whether or not I need each plugin. If I can remove anything and maintain all the required functionality for the site, I don’t hesitate to deactivate and remove plugins.
When you run lots of plugins, the risk of them conflicting increases, and conflicting plugins can cause all sorts of annoying problems. One of the most annoying things is that when you do get a problem, the first thing plugin developers ask you to do is to deactivate all other plugins and see if the issue persists. This is generally not possible on a live site, so you must clone your site to a staging environment to check.
If you allow people to create accounts on your website, especially if you run something like WooCommerce and save customer details, you have to be especially careful about security. Many companies ask for access to your website when they need to troubleshoot an issue with a plugin. Although you can probably trust most of these people, I choose not to trust any of them because that’s the only way I can be sure that no one will steal my customer or user information and sell it to a third party.
Create a Staging Site
If you must provide access to your site to a third party, I highly recommend using a plugin like WP Staging Pro to make a copy of your website that will be accessible under a subdomain, and before you create an account to let the third party in, you have to delete all user accounts and all order information from your e-commerce solution. The only way to protect your users’ and customers’ personal information is for it to simply not be there.
I also change my admin password on the staging site so that the third party has no way to sniff my password and use it to access the production site. The important thing is to use your imagination, think of ways that could be potential security holes, and plug them up on your staging site.
Another good plugin is Shield Security which helps to fortify WordPress in various ways to help keep out the bad guys, and there are audit trails as well, so if something goes wrong, you have a good chance of seeing who got in and what they did.
HollerBox is a great plugin to show email subscription forms or popups to alert site visitors to things you might be promoting. Keep in mind that people generally don’t like popups, but when you consider the amount of work that you put into your site, it’s fine to impose on your visitors to a degree. In many cases, if you promote things that you feel might benefit your visitors, you may find that people simply needed to be made aware of what you are selling or promoting.
The menu at the top of the MBP website is created with a plugin called Max Mega Menu, which enhances the standard WordPress menu system. It can be integrated into any theme, although some will take more work than others.
Meow Gallery and Meow Lightbox are responsible for creating most of the image galleries you see on our website and also for displaying the cool Lightbox that you see when you click on the images embedded into posts and the images in my portfolios etc. The Meow Gallery works with standard WordPress galleries, so you don’t end up with lots of proprietary galleries that leave you dead in the water if you decide to change plugins. There are many different styles of galleries to choose from and they all look great.
Meow Lightbox looks great and above all, I love the fact that it displays the EXIF shooting data for images that you upload to WordPress. You can also define a class that tells Meow Lightbox not to display when an image is clicked, say for when you have an image that you need the visitor to click to jump to another page or website. Just add the class you defined to the image in the WordPress interface, and Lightbox will ignore it.
As customizable as WordPress is, there may be times when you have to add some code to make additional features available. For this, I use Post Snippets Premium. This enables me to check the inventory of my tour booking products and display text either telling a visitor that there are still some places left or that the tour has sold out and offering a link to contact us to be added to the cancellation waitlist.
Slider Revolution is another plugin I would not like to be without. Although some of the sliders that you see on my website were made with Smart Slider Pro, for many years now I have preferred Slider Revolution and use it for most of the animation that you see on this website.
YOURLs Link Creator
Although there is a WordPress plugin to link the two sites, I also strongly recommend using a product called YOURLs Link Creator to create a server that creates short links for your WordPress posts and pages so that you can avoid sharing long and cumbersome links in your Social Media or verbally, as I often do in the Podcast audio. You’ll have heard me give a short link such as https://mbp.ac/789 to jump to this episode of the Podcast. To create that link I have set up a YOURLs server and I simply enter the keyword 789, which is the episode number for this week’s podcast, into a field in the WordPress post editor. Then when I publish the post, the YOURLs site automatically creates the link for me.
It’s important to get a very short domain for use with your YOURLs server. I was pleased when I was able to get mbp.ac for this purpose. I also recommend getting an SSL certificate for your server, and your main server for that matter. Running a site on plain HTTP now displays warnings to potential visitors, and search engines will lower your score considerably if you don’t run your site on HTTPS with a trusted SSL certificate. Ironically, the YOURLs team do not have an SSL certificate, which is pretty strange in 2022.
One other service I’d like to recommend you take a look at is Zapier. Zapier is used to automate tasks and link online services that would otherwise not be able to talk to each other. It can be costly, but if you automate several tasks that would generally take up your time to complete, you will make your money back over the year. I have Zapier announce new MBP blog posts on my social media networks, and it also grabs user details for people that sign up for newsletters via my contact form, which otherwise has no newsletter integration. It can take a little time to put together complicated Zaps, but once they are in place, they start to save you time and money immediately.
Paddle for Digital Products
One last recommendation is Paddle if you intend to sell digital products online. International taxes on digital products such as software and ebooks are now so complicated that you need to sell through a third party that takes care of taxes for you. Some countries have put unrealistic requirements in place as well that just cannot be met by small businesses. I’m not sure if this is still the case, but a few years ago, India required that you hired an accountant in India to process your tax payments. When you sell just a handful of products in India a year, it’s not realistic.
Another reason that I chose Paddle, after several other companies that fell flat, is because Paddle correctly includes the Japanese Tax Registration number for companies selling in Japan into the invoice they generate. I asked FastSpring to do this more times than I can remember, and it was never done. Also, note that although FastSpring may contact you to show your WordPress website working flawlessly with their WordPress plugin, their plugin is a piece of crap, and they don’t support it. If you get stuck, you’ll be told you are on your own.
If you sell digital goods via WordPress, Paddle is the way to go. Note, though, that Paddle also do not have a WordPress plugin, but they have resources to make coding what you need to sell products a breeze. I created several code snippets in Post Snippets Premium that I embedded into my product posts, and then each product is created with a WordPress Custom HTML widget.
OK, so that’s about all the advice I have on creating and maintaining a photography website for now. Note that none of the products or links provided in this post are sponsored in any way. These products and services are what I use daily and are recommended purely because they are great, and I hope you find this useful.