The New Manual DSLR Project

Hi, and welcome to my blog. The Manual DSLR Project was started March 30, 2010 with the intent of devoting one year to learning how to use my Nikon D300 in manual mode. I invited you to join me as I took this journey. You celebrated with me as my fingers began to remember which wheel adjusts the shutter speed and which controls the aperture settings. I was brutally honest in sharing my mistakes.

A year passed quickly...and I achieved my goal of demystifying the manual operation of my camera.

While the Manual DSLR Project was intended to be bound by time (one year), I am eager to keep the conversation going. So look for additional posts on anything related to photography. And interact. Let me know if you are reading the blog and find it useful.

All the best...

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Off Camera Flash on a Budget

I have been slow to post lately, for a variety of reasons, but plan to start posting again as my schedule allows. As a step toward the manual flash part of this project, I decided to purchase remote triggers that would allow me to take the flash off the camera, while controlling it manually.

I have the Sekonic L-758DR Light Meter (Black), which is able to work with a Pocketwizard, so when the Pocket Wizard 801-130 Plus III Transceiver was announced, I thought I might go with those. But it took a long time for those to be in stock. In the meanwhile, I read a post on The Digital Story that reviewed the Cowboy Studio Trigger Set. Derrick was impressed, so I took another look at these wireless triggers. But while looking at this set, I ran across the Yongnuo RF-603 N1 2.4GHz Wireless Flash Trigger/Wireless Shutter Release Transceiver Kit for Nikon D1/D2/D3/D200/D300/D700  that allowed the ability to trigger the camera shutter also.

At a cost of $33.64 I figured it couldn't hurt to try a set. And while I only received them this afternoon, I am impressed. I took a quick photo for my son's EMT license and used these to trigger the flash. It worked like a charm. Over the next several weeks I'll run these through their paces. In fact, I think I will order a second set so that I will be able to run 2 flashes and still have another available to operate the shutter. Can you believe a set of 2 with a synch cable for less than $35? And with Amazon Prime, I received 2-day shipping. Not bad at all!

Here's a bonus. I pulled a dusty old Vivitar flash out of my desk drawer, popped in some fresh Eneloop batteries, and hooked it up to one of these triggers. And it worked just fine. While I have a Nikon SB-600, it's good to know that I can use the Vivitar when I want to add a second speedlight.

So keep a watch out here for more testing of these inexpensive, but functional, devices. There is a link below where you can order these from Just make sure you get the right ones for your camera.

All the best...Mike


Saturday, May 5, 2012

Photo Op: Helping Others

If you have been around the photography industry for a while you have no doubt heard of some of the organizations in which photographers help others through their photography skills. The Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep Foundation is one such organization, founded by Sandy Puc and Cheryl Haggard, that provides professional remembrance photography services to parents who have suffered the loss of a baby. Help Portrait, founded by Jeremy Cowart, provides free portraits to those who would otherwise not have access to professional photography. Many of us volunteer our time to photograph charity events in our local area. Clearly, there is opportunity for photographers to help others with their photography.

This is the first photo request that I received through Findagrave.
Recently I discovered another opportunity to reach out through photography. While on a business trip in Dallas I recalled that my dad recently mentioned his grandfather, who often visited his hometown of Grapevine, Texas. We had the opportunity to visit historic Grapevine and walk the same streets (well, sort of) that my great grandfather walked in the early 1900s. While eating in a restaurant in Grapevine I searched Google for my great grandfather's name, hoping that I could find his grave site. That's when I discovered, which not only showed the cemetery (in Dallas) where he was buried, but also included a photo of his tombstone. Because of that site I was able to visit his grave on my way to the airport before returning home on Sunday.

Once I got home I visited the website again to find that my great, great grandfather was buried just south of Fort Worth. Again, there was a photo of his tombstone, provided by a kind stranger. I also learned that my great, great, great grandfather's grave is in South Carolina, though a photo is not yet available of his grave site.

This cemetery was about 11 miles from my home.
This piqued my curiosity and I decided to learn more. is a very cool site that depends upon volunteers to populate the pages. It currently contains more than 79 million grave records. Here is how you, as a photographer, can become involved. Simply create an account on the site and let them know that you are willing to take photos of graves near your home. When a member wants to see a photo of an ancestor's grave, they will fill out a request online. If you are near that cemetery, you will receive an email showing the request. You can then claim that request and, once you find the grave and take the photo, can fulfill the request by posting the photo. I've been a member for less than a week, and this morning was able to fulfill two requests. I intend to fulfill two more that I couldn't get to today.

This is, of course, all voluntary. I am appreciative enough of the person who posted photos of my ancestors graves (and helped me to locate them) that I am willing to volunteer my time to take photos of the graves of other people's ancestors. Of course, you may submit photos that have not yet been requested. So while we were at the two cemeteries we visited this morning we also took photos of several other graves that will be posted on the site. Perhaps someone that doesn't even know about this site will find their ancestor's grave sites because of my willingness to take a few photos on a Saturday morning.

So if you are looking for an opportunity to serve others through photography, there are lots of possibilities for you, including the four I mentioned here. I hope that you will find an opportunity to serve others with your photography skills. And be sure to check out You might just find some of your history there.

Although I am not posting to this site as often as I did a couple years ago, remember that I am still writing iPhone and iPad app reviews every week on So be sure to check them out, and be sure to visit our (relatively new) business site at It's a work in progress, but then again, what part of life isn't?

All the best...Mike

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Getting Started with Manual Flash

Don't you love Spring? I do. I love the weather, the flowers blooming, the birds singing, etc. I have been pretty busy lately, but have had a few chances to get out in the back yard lately and take a few shots most afternoons.

I recently purchased a new Nikon 24-70 f2.8. While I haven't done any "serious" photography since I bought it, it has been on my D300 and I bring it out to use it every chance I get. It's a sweet lens.

And don't think that I have abandoned the Manual DSLR project - Year Two. What I am doing now is getting used to the controls of my Nikon SB600 speedlight. Has this ever happened to you? You pull out a piece of equipment that you use a fair amount to find that you don't quite remember how to get it off of commander mode? That's as simple as a reset of the settings, but my goal is to be as familiar with its controls as I am with my camera's controls.

If you are new to manual flash like I am I have an exercise for you. Place your flash on full power and point it toward a dark area in your house. I pointed it down a dark hallway in which a photo is hanging. Test fire the flash at full power to see how much light it puts out and how long it takes to recycle. Then cut it to 1/2 power and do the same thing. Then go down to, say, 1/16 power. Continue doing this until you get to its lowest power setting. For the SB600 that is 1/64 power.

You should learn two things. First, you should get an idea of how bright your flash is at various power settings. Secondly, you should understand how much faster the flash recycles when at a lower power setting. This should reinforce the philosophy of using two speedlights at half power or four speedlights at 1/4 power instead of using one at full power. Kerry Garrison, at Camera Dojo, got me thinking about this after hearing one of his recent podcasts. It makes sense, and after comparing the flash and recycle time at various power settings, I'm convinced that's the way to go.

Now if I can find my old Vivitar flash that I have had for years...

All the best...Mike