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NOTE: The January Cuba trip, our very first X-Pedition, has filled. If you would like to receive early notification of future trips, please click through via the link at the end. -DH

This January I'm leading a small-group trip to Havana, Cuba. It will be the first in a series of X-Peditions for photographers.

The last time I was in Havana was 2013, teaching for Santa Fe Workshops. But that was someone else's curriculum. This time the program is ours to design, and we are planning a week of exploring, learning and lots of time behind the camera.

If that sounds like your thing, keep reading.

An Immersive Week

This is not the typical photo tour group, which invariably ends up as some version of a photo walk with everyone getting versions of the same pictures. I'm working with Focus On The Story, a D.C.-based organization for photographers. The trip leaders are myself and fellow journalist Joe Newman, whom I've known for over 30 years.

X-Peditions have a maximum of 12 participants, and are very photo-centric. They include daily instruction as well as plenty of time to explore on your own—or with a teammate, if you prefer.

Photography and Learning

We'll be out shooting at the edges of the day when the light is good, and at other times as dictated by the locations we have lined up. But during the harsh light of midday, we'll typically be in instructional mode. There will be daily talks that not only help prepare you for the day's experiences, but build on your general knowledge around the intersection of photography and travel.

You'll learn how to prioritize your day to become more efficient at producing higher quality photos. This will help you reserve the time to just be a traveler; to absorb the city and watch the world go by. That downtime is important for you (and for your family, when you travel with them.) It also makes you more receptive to the insights that lead to better photos.

We are traveling to Havana under a people-to-people license, which means you'll get interaction with locals throughout the week. We'll work both individually and as a group. We'll be editing, comparing notes, evaluating what we can do better and preparing to go out and do it again.

In the evenings we'll continue the conversation and share our day's experiences, perhaps over a mojito or a glass of Cuba's famous dark rum. This sort of thing is typical when photojournalists are working together (or competing) in a foreign city.

Nights in Havana are vibrant, with the sound of music filling the city. Its economic hardships may be well-known, but life and culture always find a way.

The X-Factor

The "X" in X-Pedition is a nod to Fuji's X series cameras. Small, light, quiet and unobtrusive, Fuji X series bodies are near-perfect tools for photojournalists. And they are ideal travel cameras. I took a leap of faith on my first trip to Havana, bringing only a Fuji X100s with its fixed 35mm equivalent lens. In retrospect, it was a great decision. And it has changed the way I approach travel photography ever since.

So if you are also a Fuji shooter, you can expect tips and advice on how to get the most out of your cameras. Or to even borrow a lens if you like.

Do you have to be a Fuji shooter to come along? No, you don't. (And don't worry, we promise not to try to convert you.) But we do strongly suggest that you travel very light with respect to photo gear. It's good travel photo advice in general, but also culturally respectful in a place like Cuba where the economic disparity is a factor.

The Bigger Picture

Havana is a unique opportunity for photographers. It goes without saying that it is not going to stay unique for very long. The island is experiencing rapid change.

Our goal with this trip, and future X-Peditions, is to help you grow as both travelers and photographers; to gain the skills and confidence to choose future destinations that are off the beaten path.


The Havana trip has filled. If you'd like to receive notification of future X-Peditions before they are publicly announced, please visit Focus On The Story's X-Pedition Cuba page and submit your contact info.
Abstract: Don't just look to still photos for inspiration. Great inspiration also awaits you on your TV.

We may think we are getting a good feel for color as photographers. But you know who kicks still photographers' butts every day? Cinematographers, that's who.

Today, a look at some examples from 2010-era Dr. Who, which we have talked about on this blog before. These guys are near and dear to my heart, because they are unabashedly fearless when it comes to using color to manipulate light—and their viewers. Read more »
It can be scary to add a lot of color to your light. But it's easy to underestimate how much color it takes to transform a scene and set a mood. Don't be shy. Those gels won't bite.

This nighttime portrait of soprano Alexandra Rodrick was a big step for me. It was made about five years ago, when I was just starting to realize how color-fluid real light could be. I kinda knew it, but I still didn't have the nerve to actually do it.

So I took a deep breath and threw way more blue into the environment than I normally would. And not only did I come out alive on the other side, but I ended up pretty happy. Read more »
Abstract: When complementary-gelled lights are falling on the same plane, they can easily rob each other of color. So it is important to make sure your lights are hitting different areas, with minimal overlap.

Above is a two-speedlight portrait against a white wall. White walls are the natural enemy of a gel, and practically live to wash out your color. Especially when using two flashes with dense, complementary gels. Knowing how to keep your multi-colored lights operating on different planes will help you retain more saturated color.

Let's walk through the portrait above to get a better look at how our two lights are working separately—and together—in a variety of ways.Read more »
Abstract: So, did you do Greg's gels assignment? I did. Twice. Below are my results, and what I learned.

Reporting in from our last assignment, in which you were asked to shoot a portrait in three different ways: clean white light, warm/cool light, and warm/cool light with the shadows muddied up with a little green. I did this one along with you—twice—and learned a lot in the process.

Which brings up a valuable point. You can read about this stuff all you want. But until you actually get off your ass and do it, you're not going to learn it.

In other words, learning to use color in your lighting is just like anything else. Read more »
Abstract: The best way to get a better understanding of light and color is to just do it.

In the last part of our conversation with Greg Heisler, he gave what I think is a very good piece of advice about light and color:

"I think what you have to do to be able to see it, is to shoot it. And then shoot it.

Like, shoot it the clean way, with white light. Then the next way is to shoot it with a warm and a cool. And so you see that. And then muddy up the light a little bit, and then see it that way."

So that's exactly what we're gonna do. Read more »
The Swiss government last month issued a recall for ten models of Jinbei studio flash units. While the recall notice has made the rounds on message boards, I am frankly surprised that photo media outlets have not picked this up. Read more »
Abstract: Chromatically complex light adds much more realism to your lit photos.

Today’s Lighting 103 post features excerpts from a bar conversation with Greg Heisler. It's just as if we cornered him at a conference (which I did) and he agreed to have a drink and talk color (which he did).

This is roadmap stuff. It's above and beyond the specific info he includes with each of the assignments in his book, 50 Portraits, the companion text to L103.Read more »
Abstract: You can use your knowledge of color temperature and gels to improve the quality of light in your home.

So far, everything we have done has centered on gelling a single light to create a single desired color shift. But before we make the jump into using multiple colors and light sources, one quick hack for your home's lighting that will help you to improve the quality of light in compact fluorescent and LED bulbs.

Like the gawdawful green-tinged lamp above, for example. Read more »
Abstract: By combining a white balance shift in your camera with a complementary gelling of your flash, you can easily and efficiently alter the ambient color temperature of an entire environment.

In addition to controlling the color of light from your flash, gels can also allow you to alter the color of the ambient areas of your frame. The portrait above, done for the Baltimore Sun, is a good example. I made it as a storm approached, and the light was gray and pretty neutral.

The light was okay, but not great. I really wanted was a stronger color environment for the photo. And I also wanted the subject to pop more. So instead of daylight white balance, I shot it on incandescent (tungsten) white balance. This shifted the expected light source from 5600k to 3200k. In essence, the camera was expecting to shoot under tungsten lights. Read more »
Abstract: You can alter your camera's white balance and gel your flash to "correct" nearly any ambient light color shift. But should you?

Read more »
Abstract: Don't bother gelling a scene that is completely lit by a single flash. But if a second light is involved—even ambient light—it's always better to control color at the source.

PIctured above is Midwest Camera President Moishe Appelbaum. He wandered into a lighting class I was teaching at Midwest last fall, so we pulled him aside and shot him. He's lit by a single LP180 speedlight, fired through a white bed sheet.

(Pro tip: A speedlight fired through a bed sheet will rival the light of the most expensive octabanks in the world—in quality if not in quantity. It all comes down to square inches in the light source. And a bed sheet has a crap ton of square inches.)

After our previous lesson, you might think that this photo is an ideal candidate for a warming gel: caucasian skin, warm background, warm-colored clothing. Why not unify this with a little added warmth?Read more »

In a world where technology is quickly advancing and products are constantly being upgraded, it can be overwhelming trying to decide which version of a device to get.

This applies to phones – for example, choosing the latest iPhone might be difficult. You might be unsure if you should wait for the next iPhone model to be released. But, what if the next model doesn’t have any additional features that make it better than the current iPhone, and you could have just upgraded to the current model without having to wait?

This situation plagues consumers. Just like in the smartphone industry, drone consumers deal with this struggle, too.

DJI, the leading drone manufacturer in the world, has revolutionized the drone market and introduced the latest drone technology year after year (and sometimes within the same year). DJI not only created the foundation for the drone industry, but the company is still dominating the market. With its success, DJI has seen competition emerge through the years – 3DR, Parrot, and Yuneec, to name a few.

As if the market wasn’t already cluttered with DJI’s lineup alone, adding in these brands have created even more of an overwhelming decision for consumers. Sure, with added brands and versions, professional drone pilots now have more options to choose from. But for the average person who simply wants a drone for recreational purposes, the surge in drones over the years has become daunting when it comes time to purchase a product.

DJI Phantom drones in detail

Like many consumers, I struggled with deciding which drone I should get. I had always practiced with a toy Hubsan X4 drone, but I wanted to enter the big leagues. (By the way, cheap toy drones like the Hubsan X4 are excellent beginner drones. Most drone enthusiasts will encourage beginners to start on a cheap toy drone first for many reasons. First, they’re cheap. If you crash, you won’t be out thousands of dollars. Second, they don’t have GPS, so you’ll learn to fly much better in windy conditions. Speaking of wind, the size of my Hubsan X4 is tiny, which wind is no friend of. I had to master the controls of a small aircraft so I could become skilled and prepared for an expensive piece of technology that has GPS to combat wind, a screen so I can see what my drone is recording, and naturally a larger device to fly in the air.)

At the time of purchasing my drone, the latest DJI model was the Phantom 4. As of now, DJI has released the Phantom 4 Pro Plus.

Below the Phantom 4 series is the Phantom 3 series. In the Phantom 3 series, DJI released the Phantom 3 Standard, Advanced, and Professional. After the release of these models, DJI decided to release the Phantom 3 4K, a crossbreed between the Standard and the Professional. After conducting hours of research, I decided to purchase the DJI Phantom 3 4K. Here’s why:

The Phantom 3 4K’s camera produces the same quality as the Professional. What does this mean for aerial photographers? Video quality up to 4K @ 30fps. 1080p @ 60fps. Single picture shooting, three, five, or seven burst shots, Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB), and a Time-lapse feature. Plus, photographers have the option to shoot in DNG, JPG, or both at the same time.

Personally, I am a videographer, so the video capabilities of a drone are what I care most about. For smooth and slow video, 1080p @ 60fps is the perfect video mode to be in. By recording at 60fps, pilots will be able to slow video down by 50%. I also like how the Phantom 3 4K can go beyond 1080p, and, as the name implies, reach 4K. I use my Phantom 3 at this setting when shooting subject I don’t necessarily care about slowing down when editing my footage.

The 4K has five Intelligent Flight Modes that make it your above average drone. Course lock, Home lock, point of interest, follow me, and waypoints all allow pilots’ the chance to do more than just fly a drone. Most notably, the waypoints feature allows users to set custom points while they control the camera. Pilots can save a set of points into their database and fly the same route over and over again.

4K vs. Standard

As all of the Phantom 3’s and 4’s can do, the 4K’s camera tilts -90 degrees and +30 degrees, giving users complete flexibility when framing and angling shots. Aside from the better camera quality, one of the main reasons I chose the 4K over the Standard was for the tilt feature on the remote controller. This feature enables pilots to control the camera’s position while simultaneously flying. Tilting the camera is easy, as the controller has a rotating dial on the upper left-hand side. This drastically improves visuals when recording, as shots with upward or downward camera movement give video a creative twist. Plus, the 4K’s controller, like the Advanced and Professional, has a record on/off button on the upper right side of the controller, meaning pilots don’t have to move their hands from default position in order to begin or end a video recording. Pilots can take pictures using a shutter button on the upper right side, too!

The Phantom 3 4K is most like the Standard in that they both have the same flying range – about ¾ mile. This is the downside of the 4K, as many pilots enjoy being able to fly farther than a “measly” .75 miles. For example, the Professional and Advanced can travel up to 3.1 miles. This is an extreme difference to .75 miles. For those who wish to travel over 1 mile with their drone, the Phantom 4K and Standard are not for you. For me, distance isn’t necessarily the primary reason I wanted a drone, so I sacrificed this feature and went with the 4K. I also chose the 4K over the Standard because it features a powerful Vision Positioning System (VPS), which allows users to fly indoors. The Standard does not have this feature.

Another downside to the 4K (which clearly didn’t dissuade me from purchasing it) is that the live video feed back to the DJI app broadcasts at 480p. Surprisingly, the Standard has a worse camera than the 4K, yet its live video feed comes through at 720p HD. Those who wish to have a better live video experience while flying, rather than higher-quality recorded video, the Standard is for you. 480p isn’t terrible, though. All images that are fed back through my app are crisp and clear. I’m sure most people care much more about the final video quality than the temporary live feed any day.

My review of the DJI Phantom 3 drone



Final thoughts and price

While DJI no longer sells the Phantom 3 4K, websites and retailers such as Best Buy and B&H Photo Video sell the drone new, used, and refurbished. The Phantom 3 4K drone has drastically dropped in price to $595. It used to cost $200 more, at $795. Plus, the Standard costs $499, so for less than $100 more, I “upgraded” for better camera quality and a better remote controller. Those interested in the Advanced and the Professional, those now cost $698 and $799, respectively. All in all, the Phantom 3 4K is a great drone that encompasses video quality a professional pilot desires, with total distance like that of a beginner’s drone.

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Abstract: Warming your flash will greatly improve skin tones. Which warming gel you use depends on your subject, the lighting environment, your camera's color palette and personal preference.

I still remember the day I was introduced to warming gels. It was nearly 30 years ago. I was assisting photographer Chris Usher in 1988 on a shoot in Washington for Businessweek. As he was setting up his light he asked me to hand him his gels, absentmindedly muttering, "Always gotta warm the key light..."

And I'm thinking, "Wait, what?"Read more »

Over the past few years, drones have exploded into the consumer technology market. As years have passed, drones have evolved from being simple quadcopters with a standard camera, to full-fledged, production quality pieces of equipment with gimbals and 4K cameras that can be interchangeable. Unlike RC planes that have always been available for purchase at large retailers, drones now have GPS, giving quadcopters stability in the air, particularly during high-wind scenarios. Because of the growing field end excitement surrounding drones, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has created laws requiring hobbyists to obtain registration for their Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS). For individuals who want to turn their hobby into a business, the FAA has a commercial license (Part 107) pilots can purchase by taking a test.


Whether you’re a beginner or an expert when it comes to drones, this list showcases the top drones for sale by DJI today.


Phantom 3 Standard


 The Phantom 3 Standard is perfect for beginner drone hobbyists. This entry-level drone has a 2.7K HD video camera, 3-axis gimbal, and 25 minutes of flight time. The four intelligent flight modes add to the traditional flight experience most drones on the market have. Point of Interest, Follow Me, Waypoints, and IOC are unique features are what make the Phantom 3 Standard the most bang for your buck. In Point of Interest, the Phantom 3 will circle around an object automatically. Follow Me allows the drone to follow a user holding the remote controller. With Waypoints, the user can select multiple flight path points, and the Phantom 3 will fly to each of these. IOC, or Intelligent Orientation Control, allows pilots to control focus on the camera while the drone flies in a single direction. The Phantom 3 Standard also feeds back a 720p live video feed to users’ tablet or smartphone, ensuring a crisp and clear picture while flying.

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DJI Mavic Pro


The Mavic Pro is the first drone of its kind, rivaling GoPro’s Karma drone. The Mavic is small and foldable – so small, in fact, it can fit in a standard size purse. For individuals who can’t spend $1,499 for the Phantom 4 Pro but want similar capabilities, the Mavic is for you. The Mavic has 4K video resolution, can travel up to 4.3 miles away (just like the Phantom 4 Pro and Inspire 2), and obstacle avoidance. The Mavic’s obstacle avoidance only aims in front of the aircraft, which may be a detractor for some consumers, however to have this feature at all is a luxury. Plus, the Mavic has ActiveTrack – a feature that allows pilots to tap a subject, of which the drone will follow. The Mavic’s flight time clocks in at 27 minutes and speeds max out around 40mph. While the Mavic is space-saving and is a powerful device given its size, it is because of the Mavic’s size that pilots experience difficulty flying in heavy winds.

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DJI Phantom 4 Pro


The Phantom 4 Pro is DJI’s latest installment of its Phantom series. Improving upon the Phantom 4’s features, the Phantom 4 Pro takes aerial imaging to the next level. The Phantom 4 introduced a forward-facing obstacle avoidance system, so users could fly without having fear of crashing into an object. Unfortunately, this system only worked while flying forward. With the Phantom 4 Pro, this obstacle avoidance system has been expanded to face the front, sides, rear, and underneath the aircraft, providing 5 directions of obstacle avoidance. Flight time also improved with the Pro, as users can take flight for 30 minutes. The camera also received improvements; Pilots can now record 4K video at 60fps, plus the Pro has a control range of over 4.3 miles. An additional feature that many drone enthusiasts have long waited for is the built-in bright screen. This makes flight much easier for users, as the sun can oftentimes create a glare on a mobile device or tablet while flying, making it difficult to see the video transmission. The draw feature is also revolutionary because it allows pilots to literally draw a flight path on the DJI Go app’s map and the drone will fly the route. The Phantom 4 Pro is made for beginner hobbyists and commercial operators alike, given its easy-to-use interface and

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DJI Inspire 2


 The Inspire is a step up from the Phantom 4 Pro, targeting professional filmmakers who are in the commercial drone industry. The Inspire 2 is larger and bulkier than the 4 Pro, however the camera quality is unparalleled. Quality doesn’t stop at 4K – the Inspire 2 stretches to 5.2K. Although many people in the world do not have 5.2K quality screens, recording in this quality will ensure the highest output quality on any device. Like the 4 Pro, the Inspire 2 travels up to 4.3 miles from the user. Flight time varies between 25 and 27 minutes, and top speeds max out around 58mph. The biggest selling point for the Inspire 2 is for its versatility when it comes to cameras. Users have the option of mounting and unmounting cameras, giving them multiple cinematic styles, all using a single drone. Plus, the Inspire 2 keeps with the predecessor’s “master-slave mode” feature, allowing one person to control the UAS with a remote, and another person to control the camera with a second remote. The Inspire 2 is also cinematographers’ first pick because of the 360 rotating gimbal. This gives camera operators greater flexibility and further maximizes on the various angles users can capture while up in the air.

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Whether you purchase a Phantom 3 Standard, Phantom 4 Pro, Inspire 2, or Mavic Pro, you will be pleased knowing you are buying a quadcopter from DJI, the world’s leader in drone sales. The Phantom 3 Standard is for entry-level consumers who are new to the drone industry. The Mavic Pro and Phantom 4 Pro are also for beginners, but those who wish to have a better experience and are able to spend more money. The Inspire 2 is intended for aerial cinematographers who are willing to spend over $2,000 for a drone, and for those who want the flexibility of changing cameras.

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